Jerry West And The Snows Of Yesteryear [Part 2]

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By Eric Le Roy

Content 18+ (maybe even 21+)

Part 1:

The Late Innings

Now a lot of the shops and businesses were opening, and through the vast draperies of snow that reminded him of some sort of grand circus tent or bazaar full of an endless array of curtains with glittering designs from maybe Turkey or some Arab land with belly dancers bearing beautiful gleaming jewels in their navels, he felt himself returned to the same world that had been there when he emerged from the bus station.

Taft Elementary School was not there anymore. In its place was a long, large oblong building that said out front “Sunbelt Equipment”. He wondered

for a moment if he had come to the wrong place, but then he looked across the street and saw that the house where Judy Britton had lived was still there. He realized that he hadn’t seen her since she was 12 years old, but he remembered the day in the 6th grade just when school was almost out, so it must have been late in May, he recalled, when Judy had let him sit next to her, and for those last minutes of the school term, it was like she had been his girlfriend.

She had had a pert nose on her smart alabaster apple of a face, and eyes that danced with amusement and the vaguest hint of a cynicism that perhaps turned into acid in the years to come (but that he couldn’t know), and her brown hair was full of waves or like a forest of brown birds. She had been the one he wanted back then. Her and Sue Barnett.

As he stared at the building which had been her home, he felt an urge to go and knock at the door, but he understood how foolish that would be. By now, neither would recognize each other, although he was curious. It’s just that he knew no one would be at home, at least not the person he wanted to see. Back then he had been a callow boy who had never kissed anything but his dog or his parents goodbye, but now he remembered Judy and he imagined a blown up version of what she had looked like when she was 12 – same age as him –, and he desperately needed to be inside her, to have sex with her long absent soul, to love her and fuck her and love her and fuck her – with tender but maniacal devotion. But she was only a ghost, and, as he could not see her or imagine her and there was no place to whip himself open and finish the job himself, he kept going. After a while, the memory lapsed, as did the parties they had never attended, the trips they had never made, the children they never had together. But why had he wanted her so badly just now, when back then it was just a 6th grade infatuation that passed like an adolescent summer?

He headed toward Fitches Drug store, and as he wandered along in the ankle-deep snow and among the now stolid pillars and columns of daylight, he considered Time and Time’s Nature. He was not the slightest bit of a religious bent, at least not in any way he could grasp and hold onto, which therefore meant that he trusted cemeteries more than any vision of Heaven he could call up in his mind. Yet he had always retained the vision that everything in the past – all its sayings and doings, smiles and frowns, uproars and silences, loves and losses, had been assigned to little capsules or bubbles that kept floating in the cosmos of his mind, mostly minding their own business except when he wanted them back, at which moments he could summon them and enter the bubbles himself. Then everything was again just as it had been back then.

Those old worlds and ways of doing things were dwelling still, as always, among the constellations of his mental markers and blowing in the wastes of his interior galaxies. Those old towns, those little restaurants that they had stopped at along that two-lane road through the mountains from Martinsburg to Morgantown. The diner in Sutton where they always paused to eat. In the outer world, the people of such establishments were all dead of course, resting in the sanctuaries of wooden or brass containers, their bones now an Alpine white and all in the same posture; had they been upright instead of supine, it would have been as if they were on their feet together, giving Death a standing ovation. Now they were nothing.

But Gary knew better, because all he had to do was think about them to bring them back to life. A lot of drinking over the years had perhaps taken the edge off his perception-capacity in some ways while placing it on red-alert in others. He only had to remember, just think hard enough, and everyone came rushing back to life, kaleidoscopic in their snowy fervor to resume their old shape and form. They were thus alive in a way beyond both cemetery and church, but rather in the cupboards of the individual mind, Gary’s mind. He could still taste the homemade apple sauce that his great-grandfather Pap Pap made in that house at the end of the dusty lane called George Street up in the hills of Morgantown, and he could still see the spotty, gnarly little applies, miscreant in their autumnal playground, apples that had tumbled from the trees to litter the sloping yard out back. Pap Pap could turn them into a magic stew that he had never seen duplicated since, Back in Martinsburg, he could hear Patsy Cline singing “I Fall to Pieces” and remember playing a game with his young mother wherein he always ended up sending her to the ‘Poor House.”

“Not the P-o-o-r House???” she would plead.

“YES,” he would cry in triumph. “The POOR HOUSE!!”

“Ohhh No ! PLEASE !”

“Hahaha Hahaha!”

Like a little tyrant or heartless governor. But it was all in fun.

Now Judy faded back into whatever her life was now or lifetime had been, and Gary knew that the drug store was just up ahead. He wondered if it was there and if they called it a ‘pharmacy’ now, since ‘drug’ had become a pejorative word. Gary knew enough about drugs to verify that. He had kept his head and neck just out of the mire of the alcohol-enriched quicksand that wanted to suck him under, but somehow he had never been able to drag himself out of the swamp completely.

On he went into the full day, his imaginary worlds shrinking into the prosaic imitation which was the here and now. All the real, true strangers, he saw clearly, were in this desultory place, this faceless Pic ‘n Save store that constituted the Street. His intimate contacts were in their proper bubbles, preparing for Christmas at this very moment, and just waiting for Gary to think about them.

As he went further and the unrelenting snow, which was losing its downy softness and becoming heavier, not yet as in a blizzard, but just more…dominating, he noticed that the cars began to change, and the small, sleek models, many of them foreign, began to get larger and more cumbersome. Along the street next to the parking lots and businesses, he began to notice cars he hadn’t seen for a long time. Buicks, Mercuries, Chevrolets, and Fords with massive bodies and designs of bumper and headlights in the front which, when he was a child sitting on the porch on that big yellow house on Queen Street in Martinsburg, had used to remind him of human faces; he could pull them out of the machines and assign identities to them, as if the faces of the cars held actual human character. Now, to his amazement he was seeing the same thing, and it was simultaneously unnerving and comforting.

As he went on down Bigley Avenue, he thought about Crescent Road, where he used to play Little League baseball. There was a ball field on the Crescent Road side and as the huge lot extended, connecting Bigley with Crescent, the Bigley Avenue part looked out upon a diamond which was used for softball and Senior Little League baseball. It was here that Gary stopped and focused his eyes and saw the surviving expanse albeit under the snow, and he wondered how green it was. Back when he was a kid playing for Pauley Cleaners and then Big Star (supermarket) – he remembered that they wore green and gray uniforms – the field had been a green that became emerald under the lights they installed when he was 11 – until the big flood that left only a brown surface, like a burnt battlefield in the aftermath. He had played out his 12th year on that patch of dust bowl dirt, mud, and crust where the infield and outfield merged with no line of demarcation.

The blanket of snow had put many memories to rest. He tried to see across the way and imagine where second base had been. He remembered that time in the 6th and last inning of a close game he was only ten years old and had bunted his way onto first base to the surprise and cheers of his teammates, and then got thrown out foolishly trying to steal second. David McNeil had looked at him incredulously as he moped off the field, tears in his eyes. “What were you d-o-i-n-g???” McNeil had cried. And Gary had cried all the way home in his grandfather’s car.

So now he tried to imagine where second base had been, but he couldn’t be sure. He started to walk away, took a long look back and then trudged on. Behind him could hear Leon Wallace, the manager of his Senior League team, Warner’s Drugstore, yelling “Smithers !!! Goddamn it ! What in the Hell’s the matter with you??” – but he didn’t care what Wallace was yelling about. He kept going. “Come back here!” Wallace cried across the snow.

As it was a winter’s day, the afternoon was short and sudden, and brought with it the glow of darkness. Now Gary’s legs were starting to get tired. The contents of the flask were dwindling and the raw gums of weariness had clamped themselves to the edges of his mind. He was like a tired old car running on empty. But he really needed to find out if the drug store was still there, or else see what it had become. The rising snow was starting to concern him because in order to reach Carson Street he would need to go up into the hills, and by then, except for the street lights – if they were still there and working – he would be climbing in snow up to his knees in deceptively sparkling gloom.

He was getting very hungry and for some reason he started thinking about the A & W Root Beer establishments of the past. That was the best root beer he had ever had – served in a horn-shaped container with icy, sloshy froth rising from the top. And they served ‘footlong’ hotdogs that you could rub down with mustard, ketchup, and relish – though he usually just stuck to mustard. Back then it was curb service, meaning that you could sit in your car and the young waitress would come running out to you to take your order. (In California apparently they wore skates, but this was West Virginia, so they walked. Or sort of jogged. They didn’t have those places anymore. Shoney’s gave curb service too back then, and the milkshakes were real, not the artificial goo that soon came along to replace them, the glue-like stuff that he had first tasted at Burger Boy.

There were drive-in movies too. You just pulled into the lot with your best gal and found a place facing the big screen where you could park next to a speaker that sent the audio into your car. All you had to do was roll down the window and hook it up. There was a little shop at the edge of the drive-in where you could get your popcorn and coca cola and then return to your car. He reckoned that a lot of young couples had their first sex watching ‘The Mummy Strikes Back’ and 'Frankenstein's Daughter’. It was the best place imaginable to do it, even better than the lover’s lanes cubbyholed around town where the cops were always creeping up hoping to see some teenage girl getting finger-fucked by her pimpled beau when they flashed their lights on them. Of course, there were always cars sitting next to you at the drive-in, but mostly they were up to the same things unless there were a pack of kids in the car. Then you might have to settle for a hand job. There needed to be some napkins on the seat. As you shot your load, the kids in the next car thought you were playing a game with them when your face contorted into some kind of ecstatic monster shape. Ah, the innocence of youth.

Three Dollars a Pop

The light was leaving the sky and Bigley Avenue was dipping slightly just as he remembered it would. He knew he wasn’t far from Fitches’. Memories crawled back. His Grandma used to take him there all the time for shakes or soft drinks, sometimes marshmallow sundaes, and buy him sports magazines or comic books called ‘Classics Illustrated’. He wondered if they still had some kid that they paid to sweep the parking lot out back.

Approaching, he was startled to find a couple of people standing outside even though it appeared that the place was closed. It was hard to tell what kind of business it was now, but it no longer looked like a drug store. Then he saw who the people were: Doc Cahoun the elderly white-haired pharmacist and Mrs. Richardson, Johnny’s Mom. Johnny was a star basketball player for Lincoln Junior High School. It was just the two of them, standing there sentry-like, or as if they were waiting for a bus. For some reason, Gary was not surprised at all.

Through the wind, Gary called out, “Mr. Calhoun ! Mrs. Richardson! How are you?”

But they just looked at him. Well, how would they know him now, he reasoned? They hadn’t seen him for years. But to his astonishment they hadn’t changed at all. “Doc Calhoun! Mrs. Richardson !” he shouted again. “It's me, Gary Smithers ! Do you remember me from way back?”

But they just kept on staring at him, or maybe, like mannequins in a darkened department store like ‘Diamonds’ (he remembered the name; it was the choice store in town long before anyone knew what a mall might be). It was hard to see, but it looked like their eyes were sunk back in their heads and it unnerved him.

“How’s Johnny?” he addressed his question to Mrs. Richardson, and then quickly moved on. But then he stopped and called back, “Guys, you can’t fool me. I know who you are.” With that he turned once more to the street.

Doc Calhoun said in a merry voice, though somewhat thin: “When you finish sweeping the lot, come and get your three dollars, Gary.” Gary whirled as if someone had touched him with an electric wire, but the blizzard instantly became calm in him, and he smiled. He remembered. They both remembered.

“Okay !!” – he heard himself shout in a tone strangely high, the same pitch he recalled being chagrined by when he tried to imitate Jack Fleming on the big tape recorder his grandparents and Mom had bought him for Christmas one year. He had invented a WVU basketball game and done the play-by-play, believing he sounded just like Fleming. But when he heard his own piping voice for the first time, the illusion disintegrated, leaving him flustered and humiliated.

Now a city bus arrived, grinding doggedly through the parting banks. The slot-like doors seemed to open automatically. A heavily-coated driver sat impassively at the wheel as if he hadn’t moved in a thousand years. Doc Calhoun fished out three dollars from his coat and thrust it into Gary’s hand, winked, and hopped deftly aboard the bus, very gracefully considering his years. Mrs. Richardson, her face full of the vague smiles of unremembered things, nodded amiably and climbed aboard. The bus coughed and chugged away. They waved at him from the back window, as the now ebony tube of a bus was swallowed by the glittering white city-sea around it.

Gary pushed the fistful of snow mechanically into his pocket and set out for the hills.


The Snows of Yesteryear

All day, the question of why he was doing this had fluttered in his mind, but vacantly, like institutionalized children romping trancelike in a playground with instructions coming from a loudspeaker. The bus station in Ohio. The bus station in Charleston. They were the real purgatories, the halfway houses of the homeless soul. They were like all Greyhound bus stations, big and small: everything you had ever seen, known, or been told about suggesting that life was at least redeemable, if not beautiful, was shown to be counterfeit here; all comings and goings became non-events.

The problem that engulfed him more and more was the realization that he belonged with them. Once he had thought himself just a merry, lusty, drunken visitor to this litter-strewn curb of eternal departure; there had been places he could go to shower and sleep and resume the masquerade. But now he saw that, in a truly dark but simultaneously scar-bright mental parking lot that he could either hang around in or hot wire a car out of, he preferred to hang around. To hang around the edges. That was who he was.

It had all started back in Ohio when he had drunkenly bought a Greyhound bus ticket to the first place that had come to mind. Why not Charleston? After all, it had been where so many things he had fumbled through in his early days (here he laughed in spite of himself, imagining what an oddball assortment of dreams and dumpsters his biography would have constituted had anyone wished to write it), and where all the adventure stories of his puppyish mind had been formulated: in some ways he had remained that child, a child sitting alone in an all-night diner in some town or city whose name no one could recall.

Of course, it was really Morgantown, where he was born, and Martinsburg, where he served out his first handful of years, that started it all. He left Martinsburg when he was eight to go and live with his grandparents. Didn’t they say that the first seven years were the formative ones? Back then he had been protected from everything but nightmares. Nothing could hold back the zombies, born of his terror of the dark, that stalked him through empty gray cities of abandoned factories and derelict warehouses until they finally cornered him and came on to consume him. Then, just as the storybooks say, he always woke up.

Except for once. The zombies had broken through the waking urge and dragged him silently to one of the hapless factories where the machines, unmanned unaffiliated, simply stood there in bunches, and along the corridor in the back were rows of lean metallic lockers. He had fought against them as they dragged him through the ‘shop’ area until they reached the nameless lockers. Keys were produced, there was a rasping gasp of a sound as a locker, and then the zombies stuffed Gary in it upside down, so that he was left standing on his head. Afterwards, they shut the cabinet door on, and in the narrow dark, he heard the lock snap like a leg breaking, and then the muffled sound of their feet as they departed. This locker would be his eternal home. Screams would not be heard.

His grandparents had finally bought him a shiny blue nightlight – a little round badge that responded to darkness by giving off a glow – to plug into the wall, and this helped somewhat, for now he had a point of reference other than the monsters lurking in the big open closet where the hanging coats and heavy sweaters dangled, harmless by day, malevolent by night. In later years, he had of course come to understand some of the basic reasons why people feared the dark, but why had his terror been so intense? Why had he been cast amid the devils of 2 and 3 and 4 A.M.?

Gary had been a nervous little boy and sickly. If he had been born in Victorian times, he probably would have perished. They wouldn’t have known what to do, except wait for him to expire and then dress him up in a prim black suit for a last photograph among the living before his interment. One day he had fallen over a loose board and run a nail into his back. By now all the particulars had died away, but apparently, it had been a grim situation. Yet somehow he had kicked and thrashed his way forward, an apparently much-loved and even spoiled only child. He was bright and no one detected the slums that were forming in his mind. To those melancholy slums he would go in later years with smirking and leering avidity. He never understood why he wanted what he wanted there.

As the years passed and passed, and past, present and future melted together, he had begun to see how, one by one, people went away and how one event swallowed another, just as Grandpa’s Studebaker used to gradually swallow up the miles on that black slip road through the mountains from Martinsburg to Morgantown. As dogs and people and places died away through the years of his life, Gary began to notice that his personal horror at the thought of death was mingled with an odd identification with it, as though it were a temperamental companion, stronger than him and thus able to ignite fear, but at other times a sort of lazy shadow which, when it was sleepy he felt no fear for at all, and even wanted to kick for causing him so much trouble.

All his struggles with God thus far had ended in a stalemate. If God appeared at all, He did so as an inscrutable hieroglyphic which Gary eventually grew exasperated trying to read, and ultimately enraged that he should be required to do so. He saw that God stopped no plane crashes nor saved any abducted children (usually revealed by police investigations as discarded populations of the garbage cans), and gradually his intellectual curiosity and general indifference to God mounted into a sometimes savage rage, dripping like saliva from the teeth of a starving wolf whose once-friendly overtures the lambs had rejected.

And the parties of his college days gave way to alcoholic and drug-thickened odysseys that led from the slums of his mind into the literal sleaze wards of the cities. There he had found his own people, heaven’s orphans, the pitbull men and tantalizing women of hell.

Yet he had never ever, not once, lost the vision of a cabin of light, somewhere beyond the wilderness of the years. This place was not a Christian or any other kind of religious heaven; rather, it was a cosmos full of bubbles, and in each bubble some scene of his life reenacted itself again and again and again in perpetuity. They came back whenever he wished. He thought about them and their lights brightened; he forgot them and their lights dimmed and went out. It was like a train set that a child abandons at bedtime, simply turning off the lights and leaving the wagons full of passengers neither drowsy nor wide awake, but only in a state of waiting and waiting for the lights to come back on at the child’s return.

He wanted to go up Hillsdale and find his old house, and now he understood that this had been his mission all along. The magnet. He wanted to feel the breath of the past no matter what stony shape it had assumed now. This was a question many had asked: leave the past alone or try to wake it up and force it to answer old pent-up questions? It was like having an obsession that became more intense with every attempt to resolve, dissolve, and banish it. The mind of a stalker, he imagined: surely this bouquet of roses will fix everything!

What would happen afterward he had no idea, probably a long, long trek back to the bus station and another ticket to somewhere else. To Cincinnati, he guessed. Or Chicago.

The snow was gaining ascendancy now, and traffic had stopped. Probably because it was treacherous to drive, people were just staying home. A few stars were out, but like a game of hide-and-seek, they kept disappearing behind the clouded night, so that his glimpses of the gradually steepening road became less here, more there, back and forth, as if according to the wind’s desire. He felt the cold, but at a distance, like the personalities of his old classmates.

As Hillsdale Drive went on and on, up and up, he felt the snow rising to his knees, and it required a huge effort to keep lifting his legs and thrusting forward. Sometimes he stopped and looked around. The silence was so huge that a few of his old fears started to come back, but every time it happened a star would look out from behind the sky’s blanket, and he would take a deep breath and press forward.

He remembered the years he had spent in England. All of those people existed in a special bubble of their own, particularly down at the Ring o’ Bells and over at the Hat and Feather, where he remembered the rainy nights drinking cider and the half-hippy, always scruffy students in their cheap fur coats and with roll-up cigarettes. Now, as always when he wanted, the veils lifted themselves away, revealing the polished faces of the past, young and headstrong again in their rambunctious sexuality and fever of living.

Women named Rosy and Helen. Helen Haig was an avant-garde yet earthy young woman he had always wanted when he was a student at the University of Bath, and eventually he found and had her in London years later. He would have stayed with her… She was one of those from the Hat and Feather, and he was attracted from the start. That first night when they reunited in London had been one of his best. Now she was with him again, briefly, ever so briefly there on Hillsdale where surely she had never been, and just as quickly she moved away from him, and he was alone once more. Then came and went the black ringlets and deepening eyes of Rosy Pierson.

When he arrived, weary but full-hearted at the edge of Carson Street, at the brink of its dead-end slope, he could not really make out the house, but he knew it was there. He glanced to his right at the house where Chuck Higby had lived and moved on down the street in the waist-deep snow, past the Markhams to the left and Ashleys on the right. Nobody was home anywhere, that much was clear. But the old white house at the end was there: 2205 Carson Street.

At that moment, to his surprise, a small light came on at the top of the house, as if according to some kind of cue, and he shook himself and climbed the steps that ran next to the garage. This led to the front door. The snowfall was now a blizzard, but he knew, he understood, that the white wind had been leading the way all day, like a friend.

He fumbled around for a bell to ring because knocking at the door seemed a silly thing to do under the circumstances. Sure enough, there was a button, but no sound came out of it; however, the door was unlocked, so he pushed his way in. Immediately, amid the snow that covered what amazingly looked to be furniture if not mounds of old stored material from the past, he was able to make out the contours of his old life. There was the room to the left where his Grandma’s Mom, old Grandma Martin, had sat and watched TV before she died and beyond that was, without the partition separating it from the living room, the back area where Grandma and Grandpa slept. The TV was gone, of course, but he remembered Grandpa’s habit of lying prostrate on the floor in front of the TV until he fell asleep, annoying everyone with his snoring. To the right was the other room where all the ham radio equipment had been and the long hallway which led to the kitchen. Upstairs were two bedrooms, one of them his and the other occupied by Grandma Martin. By his window had been the towered pole atop which was the antennae that Grandpa used as a radio signal to reach the rest of the world. That was when Gary had feared the goblins climbing up and joining the closet monsters in his bedroom.

But all of that was gone, and the ramshackle old house with its deep chill there by the edge of the brambly woods that dipped on down to places he had never ventured – was only now a museum of darkness sufficed with swirling banks of snow, filled the rooms with something that contained every innocence and guilt, memory and forgetfulness, that one could ever imagine. He felt no disappointment at the present condition of the house; he was just glad to have made it back, as though it represented some kind of pilgrimage, a revisitation to things that had mattered once.

Slipping and scuffing on the snow, he braced himself on the railing and mounted the stairs. He reached the top and stood peeking back and forth, and he saw no more than he had expected: darkness and desertion on both sides. So it was up in the attic where the light was coming from, and he could not imagine who might be upstairs, some strange housebreaker or squatter huddled over a desk and wrapped in a shroud of patchwork clothing. Who it was and what he was doing didn’t seem relevant. In the past, he would have been suspicious and doubtlessly afraid, but now it seemed that something peaceful was up there and as if the attic had become the source of all the starlight in the world.

He mounted the stairs to the attic, his feet a numbed muddle of snow and the snow’s anesthesia. The door gave way easily, and he strode into the momentarily blinding sanctuary from which immediately came the noise of many simultaneous actions, the attic bigger than he could possibly have imagined and the lights showering down over the shoulders of the people waiting for him in the room.

His Grandpa was shouting in a microphone, “W8HRO! Calling! “W8HRO! This is Keith calling – King Easy Ida Tear Henry!” And then there was fuzz on the other end as Grandpa waited to see if anyone would pick up his signal. His hair was the same – a flat top – and he was wearing the same ashen black sweatshirt as always. A cigarette was burning in the ashtray. As always.

“Willie, where’ve you been?” he said smiling. ‘Willie’ had always been Gary’s nickname because Grandpa had a nickname for everybody. His first wife Hilda (Gary’s ‘real’ grandmother) was ‘Meg,’ and his wife now, Doralice, was ‘Pork’ – not the most charming thing you could call a woman.

‘Pork’ was coming out of the kitchen, bringing ‘Keith’ Beckett a cup of hot coffee. She plonked it down beside him, and looked over at Gary, “It’ll be time to eat soon, Gary, so wash your hands.”

“They’re clean, Grandma,” he answered.

“Well if you say so, but I don’t believe you. Did you see Kelsey?”

“Who?’ asked Gary, and then he recalled the name of his best friend. “No, Granny. I guess he must have been busy today.”

Just then Tarzan came trotting into the room followed by Klu. That seemed a little strange because Klu had been gone several years before they got Tarzan from the Humane Society. But now they were together, and this delighted Gary. He could see the snow flickering against the window, ever busy and, as if were, watchful.

“Go say Hi to Pap Pap and MaMaw.”

“They’re here too?”

“Why of course they are, Gary. It’s Christmas, isn’t it?”

Gary didn’t know if it was Christmas or not, but another room appeared, and he went into it. Sure enough, there sat Pap in his sweater, gray hair swept back and big knotty hands rubbing themselves together. MaMaw sat beside him with her long face and streaming white hair. She looked so much older than Pap, though they were about the same age.

Gary loved his great-granddad. Often he would sit in his old-fashioned black car, which to Gary always seemed like something out of a gangster movie, maybe like Frank Nitty or Eliot Ness on ‘The Untouchables.’

“Pap Pap,” Gary asked suddenly, “Can I go sit in your car?”

Pap Pap looked up kindly. “After supper maybe.”

“Did you cook up some of that applesauce?”

“Sure did. Ask your Grandma.”

Just then Grandma said, “Gary go down the hall and look at the Christmas tree. We finished decorating it while you were out playing in the snow. Your Mom will be here soon.”

“From Martinsburg?”

“Where else?” said Grandpa, putting down his headphones. “She should be here in a minute or two.”

Pap Pap and MaMaw came out, and together with Grandma, they went down the hall into the room where the Christmas tree glistened with bulbs and lights and icicles made of silver tinsel.

“Wow!” cried Gary. He started counting the presents. There were probably a dozen just for him. He had asked especially for a tape recorder so he could practice calling the West Virginia basketball games, just like Jack Fleming.

Then a buzz came from a doorbell somewhere, and everyone ran to open it. His Mom came in wearing a wintry coat and, with some effort, carrying a suitcase. She was beautiful, her eyes radiant and her brown hair flecked with snowflakes. Gary knew she would always be like this. If she was ever going to get old, she’d be old by now, an old voice in him said, then quickly ran away like an excommunicated shadow..

He ran to hug her. “Hi Mom! Hi Mom!”

“Hi, Gary! Oh, how I’ve missed you!”

“I’ve missed you too, Mom!”

“Well, are you ready for Christmas?”

“I sure AM!”

“I’ve got some presents for you in my suitcase.”

“Wow. I love you, Mom. I’m not sending you to any Poor House!”

Jane laughed. She was 26, and the years ahead were still only beginning.

Just then some noises started coming from Grandpa’s workroom. “West over to Willie Akers. Akers to Patrone. Now Ronnie Retton. Retton drives, feeds West. West shoots a 20-footer. Goooood! Mountaineers on top 2-0.”

“Come on, Willie,” Grandpa shouted. “The game’s starting!”

Gary forgot about his presents. He smiled at his Mom that he idolized even though she didn’t live with him now. Everyone was beaming.

“Now Jim Ritchie passes it over to West. Jerry holds the ball, looks around. Hands it to Bob Cloussen. William & Mary sits back in a zone. Now West goes behind a screen and fires. Gooood! Mountaineers up by four, just like that!”

Grandpa was sitting next to the radio, listening intently. Gary sat in the chair opposite, and the dogs lay on the floor.

Before long, Jerry West scored again.

Gary would soon eat dinner, maybe at halftime, and then put on his pajamas just in time to listen to the second half. Outside, the snow had wrapped itself around the old house like a mythical serpent, but intending no harm, there only to seal everyone in for the winter evening.

The Mountaineers were winning 43-28 with 10 seconds left in the half, and William & Mary called time out to set up a last shot to try to cut the gap. Gary got up and padded down the hall in his sock feet, the dogs trotting dutifully behind him. On his way, he tried to look out the window, but the snow had made such a solid backboard that he could see only his reflection. His face was thin and serious, like that of a child-violinist about to sit down for a long and difficult lesson in a country where the buildings all looked like prisons. His hair cropped to match Grandpa’s, Gary’s eyes, little twirling marbles of blue that had seen eight years of the earth, gazed into each other, and for just an instant, Gary thought about the hobos Grandpa and Grandma had warned him about.

“Don’t ever let any of them touch your dinky, “Granny had said, ominously.

The Christmas tree twinkled, and Gary went to put on his PJs, then settled back among the rest of them. Now he knew his Mom would be young forever. The shared joy was that of a glittering bubble blown from a child’s special ring that one dipped into magic liquid and then gently blew out into the air so that it could enjoy dancing its bright moment of life.

Before long, the great West had scored again. Grandpa was puffing on his pipe and smiling now that the Mountaineers had the game in the bag. Little Gary knew it would be the best Christmas of his life.

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