Winter and I were well acquainted, too well. Winter always seemed to have something special and miserable in mind just for me. And I hated it. Growing up in Canada you simply can’t avoid it – and there were some years I really, really wanted to avoid it.
Winter in the city and winter in the country are totally different. In the city, a snows drift almost always exceeded your height (or lack of it) and were filthy. Snow drifts in the country were almost always white, majestic and regal. Mother Nature sculpted the most gorgeous ones with the wind. Add a coating of thin ice to act as a preservative and some of the gorgeous drifts lasted almost all winter. Some of them lasted so long they became old friends, and when they melted away it made you sad. But they were always reborn into something new and beautiful.
Peter wanted to introduce me to snowshoeing. Going to get the mail in the summer was taxing and frustrating at the best of times – which meant battling almost every airborne menace known to humankind. In the winter you had only one enemy and that was the cold. I really disliked getting ready to go out for a jaunt to a mailbox that was only five minutes away in the summer. But let me tell you right now when you live up north you’ll be glad for every layer you have on, every goose feather in your down filled jacket, and for every really ugly sweater you ever got at Christmas. You may end up looking like the Michelin Man but at least you’ll be warm because when the wind howls from the north the cold can be mind-numbing.
We were out snowshoeing, enjoying ourselves despite the cold. Peter had his phone in his Fanny pack and heard its familiar chirp. It was a text message from Dr. Willowby. He was taking advantage of our Christmas gift to him. We gave him and Wilma a gift certificate for “one day (24 hours)” of babysitting anytime he and Wilma needed a break.
“Taking advantage of the gift certificate. Need break. Can you pick him up or do you want me to drop him off?”
When I read the message I was mildly terrified and happy at the same time. Trina sent her own message. “Take good care of Kenny. I want a full report in the new year.”
Dr. Willowby wanted us to take care of Kenny on the 3oth of December. We texted back that I would pick him up in the MG. After I got back to the cottage I texted Dr. Willowby a message.
“Does Kenny have a car seat?”
Almost immediately he texted me back.
“Transport Canada says he should have one. He says he doesn’t need one. Guess who wins? I’ll help with the setup for your car.”
True to fashion he forgot one vital piece of information. The pick-up time. After a flurry of text messages, we settled on two in the afternoon.
Neither of us slept well the night of the 29th-30th. I hadn’t babysat for ages and Peter had never babysat at all. But this would be a good test for both of us. I roared down the road leading to Lightning Point and Chez Willowby. When I arrived in the MG I honked the horn to announce my arrival and parked beside a small Kenny-size snowman.
When the car came to a stop I rolled down the window. Kenny and Wilma were waiting just behind the screen door. “She’s here” a small voice yelled from behind the screen door.
I got out of the car and began a slow trek to Chez Willowby. As I waded through the snow Kenny burst out the house in a dark blue snowsuit, jumped off the porch, and immediately started hugging my leg. He looked around for Peter.
“Where’s uncle Peter?” the hyper munchkin asked.
I put my hands at the top of my knees and I bent over to answer him. He had such an angelic face. But behind that angelic face was a demon just waiting to be unleashed.
“Peter’s back at the cottage making sure it’s nice and warm for you. He has already brought in extra wood to make sure you’ll be warm tonight.”
Wilma waded slowly through the deep snow towards us.
“Bill can’t figure out how to get the car seat out of our car so you’ll have to take him as is. Here is the bag containing Kenny’s pajamas. There’s also a complete change of clothes along with Mr. Spanx. I think you should know he likes to sleep with me and Bill. So don’t be surprised if you get a small visitor tonight.” Wilma handed me the overnight bag.
The winter winds howled and the sky looked ominous. More snow was supposed to be on its way. Kenny had a short crew cut and Wilma came over and put his hat on. He protested loudly.
“For Pete’s sake watch the ears, Grandma.” This verbal gem was new.
Wilma covered Kenny’s ears. “Another contribution to his vocabulary from his grandfather,” I asked if there were any special orders.
“Try to have him back at 3PM sharp tomorrow. Trina is taking Bill, me, and his Lordship out to dinner” said Wilma before she was drowned out by the scraping sound of a snow plow. Kenny got into the passenger seat of the MG. I buckled him in and went to say hello to Dr. Willowby. Just as I reached the porch Kenny leaned on the horn. His Lordship beckoned. As I made my way back to the car I passed Wilma.
“Tell Dr. Willowby I wanted to say hello but his Lordship requested my presence.”
Wilma started to laugh. Before I returned to the car I double checked the return time with Wilma. After that, I walked back to the car. The snow was really coming down so I brushed off the windshield.
After I got in I asked Kenny about Mr. Spanx.
“So who’s Mr. Spanx Kenny?”
Kenny was surprised I knew about Mr. Spanx. He turned his head and looked at me.
“How do you know about Mr. Spanx?”
I told him his grandmother told me about him.
“He’s just a dumb old toy I play with sometimes.”
His gaze returned to the countryside and the snow outside. Well, so much for that line of questioning. I decided to concentrate on driving while he looked out the window. Kenny appeared to be having a great time in the car. The belt buckle wasn’t too restricting. While Kenny was looking outside the window he started asking me questions.
“Aunt Cassie, how old is uncle Peter?”
I watched the highway as it was slowly swallowed by the snow.
“He’s thirty-five years old Kenny. Why do you ask?”
“Wow. That’s old. Where there any dinosaurs around when he was my age?”
I laughed and tried to imagine Peter playing with a dinosaur. “No, I’m pretty sure he didn’t have any dinosaurs to play with.”
“And how old are you?” he asked.
The little sneak caught me by surprise.”I’m only thirty-one years old. Just one year older than your mom.”
“Did you have any dinosaurs to play with?”
I snickered again. “Nope. No dinosaurs for me either sweetie.” I tried to pinch his cheek. His arm went up defensively. I made a mental note not to do that again, and to tell Peter too.
“Why do you want to know our ages, Kenny?”. I tightened my grip on the steering wheel. Precious cargo on board.
“I just wanted to know just in case I have to dial 911 or something. You never know when something might happen. Grandpa says to always be prepared.”
We came to Norland, crossed the noisy Bailey Bridge and onto Highway 45. Kenny was flabbergasted at the size of the boulders we passed. The road got rougher when we pulled onto Buller road and I slowed down. When we got to the road that led to the cottage the poor kid was bouncing around like a loose loaf of bread. But he said he was having a ball. I began to toy with the idea of getting a car seat installed. Kenny was fascinated by the size of the snowdrifts. I noticed Peter standing in the middle of the road and I pointed him out to Kenny.
“Whose that over there Kenny?” Kenny looked over the dashboard.
“It’s uncle Peter! What’s he holding?”
Peter was standing by the side of the driveway waiting for us and holding a huge sign.
“Welcome Kenny” was all it said. Kenny beamed the biggest smile I have ever seen.
“Hey, that’s me!”
“That’s right. I think your uncle likes you a lot.”
“A whole bunch Aunt Cassie?”
“A whole bunch too.” That kid was so cute I wished I could keep him. I wondered if the boy Peter and I would have would be like Kenny.
After I parked the car Peter opened the car door. “How ya doin’ sport? Did your aunt Cassie behave herself?” Peter proceeded to unbuckle Kenny. To my surprise, he lifted him up into his arms. He took his overnight bag from me and ushered us both inside. After closing the door he put Kenny down and started taking off his snowsuit. “I’m gonna get you out this suit so you can stand by the fireplace and warm up.” He got Kenny out his snowsuit in record time. He hung up the snowsuit in the furnace room to dry. Then he helped me out my jacket. I took my boots and snow pants off.
“There, now I feel human again. I know there’s a very good reason for all those layers but every time I put the jacket on I feel fat. Do you like your snowsuit Kenny?”
Kenny was standing by the fire getting warm. His lack of response spoke volumes.
“WOW,” he said loudly “This fireplace is big!. It’s almost bigger than me.” Kenny leaned against the fireplace and could feel the warm granite stone. He looked up and saw the cathedral ceiling. And his mouth opened. “This place is huge!”
Peter started chuckling pleased Casa Christopher passed inspection. “There are two floors. This is the floor is where we eat and sleep. Downstairs we keep things we use outside during the summer and the slot car set.”
When Kenny heard the words “slot car set” his ears perked up.
“You mean that place is real?”
“Very real. It’s just down those stairs behind me” croaked Peter and his thumb pointed behind him.
“Could I take a look?” asked Kenny excitedly.
“Sure thing. After all, you’re the owner” croaked Peter who walked into the kitchen to refill his new water bottle. A little surprised by Kenny’s reluctance to look for himself Peter hiked up his pants and knelt. He motioned for Kenny to join him. Peter balanced on the balls of his feet and steadied himself by holding onto Kenny’s shoulders.
“Do remember Christmas night when I showed you that photo of a really large slot car set?”
“Yes sir,” said Kenny. Peter was slowly losing his balance so he chose to sit on the floor.
“I’d really appreciate it if you could call me Peter. Do you think you can do that for me?” Kenny nodded. “And before you forget what the slot car set looks like I’ll show you the photo again.” Peter got his phone and showed him the photo of what he owned downstairs. Kennys eyes got wider and wider. “You mean it’s all mine?”
“And it’s downstairs right now?”. You could see the excitement rapidly grow in him. But also looked hesitant. Too much was happening too fast.
“I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you and I take a look together,” said Peter.
Kenny nodded. Peter picked Kenny up in his arms. Peters’ cheeks puffed out when he picked up Kenny.
Kenny put his arms around Peters neck and the two of them went downstairs. They almost looked like father and son. When Peter flicked on the lights Kenny squealed with delight.
“It’s all yours. And it’ll be here every time you come here”.
It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of the slot cars zipping around the track. I quietly went part way down the stairs and observed a grown man being trounced by a ten-year-old boy. The car Peter controlled soon skidded off the track and fell to the floor. Peter took his time retrieving the errant automobile. Kenny then said something he heard his grandfather say.
“C’mon old man. Times a wasting” was quickly followed by an excited chuckle.
The look on Peters’ face was one of total surprise. Nobody had ever spoken to him in that particular manner before. He looked at me in a state of shock. “Did you hear what he just called me?”he whispered. I nodded my head excitedly almost laughing. “I think that means he likes you, Peter.”
“No mocking the infirm Kenny. I’ve been practicing. Prepare to be pummeled!”
It was obvious Kenny didn’t know what pummeled meant. So Peter re-worded what he said.
“I’m going to beat your pants off Sport” The race ended and Peter prepared the track for another race.
While Peter was preparing the track Kenny ran over to me and put his mouth close to my ear. “Aunt Cassie. Whatzit mean when uncle Peter calls me Sport?” I had to think fast.
“It’s a term of endearment.” Kenny’s expression told me all I need to know.
I put my mouth close to his ear and my hands on his shoulders. “It means he really likes you,” I whispered.
I patted him lightly on the behind. “Now get back over there and show that old man who owns this track”.
They stayed downstairs till dinner. I was preparing dinner and listening to the banter between uncle and nephew. I really don’t know who was having a better time, them or me. When everything was ready I went to the top of the stairs.
“Will all racers please report to the track kitchen! It’s mac and cheese tonight.”
They both came up the stairs reluctantly. They were both laughing and giggling. Kenny appeared first while Peter made sure everything was disconnected and the lights were off. While they were eating Peter made a small request of Kenny. “I really like you. I just wanted you to know that Kenny. And I was thinking it might be a good idea if I was the only person you called Old man. Does that sound alright to you?”
The answer was as cute as hell. After clearing his plate in record time Kenny crawled into his uncle’s lap and started munching on Peters salad. “Sounds OK to me” was his only reply. He then proceeded to munch on the cucumber on his uncle’s plate. Peter had his arms around Kenny’s waist. Then Kenny paid Peter the ultimate compliment. “I like you uncle Peter. You’re a little kid just like me only way bigger.” Peter held my hand and hugged Kenny. I think we passed the uncle and aunt test.
…yes, still more to come