A Present for Mommy: a John Dunn story

The new baby finally arrived at Kevin’s house across the street during the night of the white moon. Monday, April 2nd by the calendar.

Another boy.

Indeed that’s right, the new baby made four, all boys.

“Not another boy,” two of the Cameron Street ladies exclaimed on the morning of the revelation, reeling back in mock horror at their dashed hopes for a dash of femininity in the new family increase.

But that’s the way those things happen. The night before the white moon there were the three lads: Matt, nine; the prophet Daniel, six; and chatty Kevin, turned over four, who had just started going down to the junior kindergarten to get used to the school bus on a regular basis come September.

Waiting for the new baby had been a chore for Kevin. From Christmas on he’d wondered whether the new baby would be a boy or a girl. Every time he asked he got a little more frustrated because Mommy couldn’t seem to give me a straight answer. “You can’t rush a baby,” she told Kevin. “It’ll come, but only when it’s ready, and only then will we know if it’s a boy or a girl.”

Each time when Kevin came across to our house for our regular chat, the occasion became opportune to get an update on the new baby.

“Where will the new baby sleep when it does come?” I asked. “Have you decided where it’s going to sleep?”

After careful consideration Kevin gave it as his opinion that “I think it’s going to sleep in the same room with Mommy and Daddy.”

During the month before the night of the white moon, Kevin’s interest in preparations for the baby had been building up in earnest. He had asked if we had a crib that we weren’t using any more, and I allowed as how we did have such an article, and that the crib would certainly fit a new baby. It had been in use in our house for twenty-five years for a succession of infants, but it was now in retirement out at the farm. We sure didn’t expect to be using it again. “So, if you think the new baby would like it, tell Mommy, Kevin, and if she says yes, I could put it in the back of the half-ton and bring it down from the farm.” Kevin’s preparations for the crib ended, however, on that imprecise note, and the last month of waiting crept remorselessly on, until the denouement on the night of the white moon, when the new baby really did arrive on Cameron Street, and was called Conor, another brother for Kevin.

Three days later Kevin wondered in the most casual way in our chat if there might be a present at our house for the new baby. Say a teddy bear. Or even a cookie.

I allowed as how there used to be a teddy bear too, but it, like its friend, the crib, had gone into permanent hibernation. Cookies, on the other hand, might indeed be closer to the mark.

Did Kevin think it might be too close to supper for snack time? The scales of relative advantage and disadvantage tipped wildly on the balance beam. In the end, pragmatism overwhelmed common sense. “Let’s go out to the kitchen and see,” he suggested drily.

I lifted the cookie can and its precious cargo down from the hiding place above the refrigerator. Kevin had two: so did I, plus one for Conor, just in case.

Is there juice?” asked Kevin, his eyes levelling on the handle of the refrigerator door.

“There’s always juice in this refrig, Kevin. Does Junior K have juice at snack time too?”

“Sure do. I like apple juice,” said he, swinging the refrig door wide open to look inside. “Hey, there’s orange juice too,” he exclaimed.

I poured. “First a.j. for Kevin, and now o.j. for me, and Bob’s Your Uncle.” The containers went back into the refrigerator. “Guess we’d best take our snack time out to the front verandah,” I urged.

“Yeah,” said he, “And Bob’s Your Uncle, eh?”
“Right on,” I agreed, as we sat down on the verandah to resume our chat, until Kevin heard the call to come for supper. The sight of Conor’s cookie sitting on the table, alone and palely loitering, prompted Kevin to examine the disadvantages of cookies for new babies. “Conor has no teeth yet,” he said. “Besides, the cookie would go stale soon.” It would be a shame to see a cookie go stale. “Besides,” he concluded, “all the baby wants is milk. Milk. Milk. That’s all he wants, just milk.”

Matt called just as Kevin finished off the remaining evidence in an extended snack time.

Easter was late and Mommy took Kevin and Conor down to spend a couple of weeks at Grandfather’s farm near Kemptville. Kevin returned from that advantage to Cameron Street with tales of many wonders to be found amongst grandfather’s livestock. He told of feeding hay to sheep and lambs, of getting water for the ducks and geese, and feeding the chickens. There was even a rooster.

“A rooster,” I enquired, tingeing my voice with disbelief.

“Yeah,” said Kevin. “He’s so big my grandfather told me not to get too close to him because a rooster can run at you and try to bite, and that could hurt.

“When you were feeding the chickens, though, Kevin, did you feed the rooster too?”

“Sure did. With the chickens, same as they got.”

“But how could you tell the rooster from the hens?” I enquired.

“The rooster’s got this big tail and the feathers all fall down right to the ground. And he’s got a big red thing on top of his head. But you should hear him crow. H O L Y!” Kevin could hardly contain his admiration.

“Kevin,” I urged, “I haven’t heard a rooster crow in fifty years. What does it sound like?”

My friend went suddenly speechless. Then his head went back. Way back. His throat crackled, and his voice rose up, way up, and held, ‘sostenuto’ fashion while the rafters split. Tingling vibrations cracked off the bricks like spitting aftershock from a near lightning strike. The rooster’s fanfare expired among the rafters because of scarcity of breath, but its flawless run left his grandfather’s foreman of the flock grimly holding onto second place, and lucky to have the silver medal.

I applauded boldly. “Do you have a rooster up at your farm?” the entertainer asked.

“Not that I’m aware of,” I returned obliquely. “There may be one out there, but on a farm with trees and bees, you don’t find many roosters. But there could be one that I don’t know of. “Always the positive approach with the Jr. Kg.

“But Kevin,” I asked, “Since we don’t have a teddy bear any longer, and since Conor has no teeth for cookies, is there anything else we could think of for a present for the baby?”

“I don’t know,” said the colleague.

“In that case, maybe we really should be thinking of some kind of present for Mommy. What about that?”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “What could we get for her?”

“Let’s put our heads together and see. Now, she probably has to get up early in the morning to feed the baby. Does she have something to waken her up?”

“No. Whenever the baby starts crying, she gets up. That’s all.”

“We could get her an alarm clock.”

“She has an alarm clock, but she doesn’t use it,” Kevin explained.

“Well, if she had a rooster like the one at your grandfather’s at Kemptville, it would crow first thing every morning. That would be a lot better than a baby or an alarm clock, wouldn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Kevin’s eyes lit up instantly. He could see the picture right away: the difference between a soulless clock and a genuine live, raucous rooster – the difference between dull and sparkling. His eyes thrilled at the colourful but enigmatic bursting morning on Cameron Street if a rooster’s crowing were to scald the daybreak with an Ode to Joy.

“Yeah”, he said again, with increasing agitation and enthusiasm. “We could get a rooster and put it up on the roof just outside the window where Mom and the baby sleep, and they could both wake up at the same time.”

“Great thinking, Kevin,” I said, feeling and obligation to encourage his budding, creative instincts. “I’m sure Mommy would appreciate that. Maybe then, a rooster is just what she and Conor would like as a combined present for both.”

“Or,” said Kevin, with a further refinement of the idea, “We could put it on the roof of the house here, and it could jump down and maybe go over to the top of the garage….”

“Yeah,” I allowed, ruminating on this kind of modification a bit ruefully.

Fortunately at this juncture the joint planning force suffered a break in its continuum. Matt came to the verandah to say “Time for supper, Kevin.”

“All right,” said the junior planner, and turning to me, the senior, he said, “I’ll come back after supper to see what else we’ll have to do.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “’Cause we’ll have to sort out the strategy.”

“What’s that?” he asked, pausing on the threshold.

“All the details to make the plan operationally ready. An old army word, Kevin,” I explained. “From the Greek. Means we’ll have to fix our base of operations, set down objectives and sort of lines of communication for Operation Rooster.”

Matt held the door open patiently because Kevin had been caught up in the web of grand strategy. “Know what?” he three back to me.

“What, Kevin?”

“We could even put the rooster up the street at Bill Villeneuve’s house, and from there it could wake up everybody on the street at the same time.”

“That’s a real breakthrough, Kevin. Great insight. Do you think Mommy would let her rooster stay at Bill’s place?”

“Oh sure. That way one rooster would waken everybody.”

“Sounds like a great strategy to me. The Greeks would be proud. “

“So,” said Kevin, turning for the last time at the bottom step outside the verandah door, “Bob’s Your Uncle, eh?”

“Right on, General. Bob’s Your Uncle.”

John Dunn
February 7, 1991