Yes, the day was perfect for a stroll with Charlie. Together they walked down the street with Charlie stopping every few minutes to sniff the next bush or flower along the way. I think I should get you a treat at Bow Wow’s. You deserve one for being a good dog with Dr. McGrath. On the corner, Bow Wow’s was Charlie’s favorite spot to stop because he knew that Minnie would buy him his favorite peanut butter mini-cookies. Next they would go ‘round the corner to the Key West shop and Minnie would buy herself a frozen key lime cheesecake on a stick. It could be freezing outside but if Charlie and Minnie were downtown a stop at Bow Wow’s and the Key West shop were a must. Sitting down on a bench by the Key West shop; Charlie jumped up to meet Minnie’s gaze and wag his tail in pure excitement for the cookies he knew were for him alone. And Minnie would sit quietly eating her frozen key lime cheesecake on a stick; saying nothing but quietly remember Brian as she looked at the railroad tracks.
Mom, can Stupid Mikey come and stay for supper tonight?
Brian, you know full well that I do not allow you to use that language in this house.
Aw Mom, that’s just his nickname. All the fellas say it. We don’t mean anything by it.
Nevertheless, it is not acceptable and you may not call him Stupid Mickey or Stupid anything for that matter.
Yes, ma’am. Can he come over tonight? And spend the night too?
Yes, dear it’s fine with me. Don’t forget to wash before dinner.
Yes, ma’am. May I please be excused now?
Yes you may.
OK. And with that Brian swung open the back door by the kitchen and yelled, “Hey Mikey! Stupid Mikey! She said it was OK!!!” And running out the door while it slammed behind him Minnie couldn’t get a word out before Brian was gone. Poor Michael she thought to herself. Poor unfortunate little boy she thought to have a horrible nickname. A skinny little boy with slick back hair, thick glasses, and sad little cow eyes. Michael looked up to Brian and Johnny because they both played baseball so well. Michael was made for running that was for sure but not for hitting balls very well with a bat. And so, after so many misses at bat their coach yelled one day in a fit of frustration, “Hey Mikey don’t be so stupid and just hit the damn ball!” And from that point the nickname stuck. But Michael never seemed to mind it coming from Brian or Johnny. From them it was a badge of honor that they even let him be their friend. Days in the Florida sun were filled with fishing on the lake, going down the Wekiva River on inner tubes, and best of all, orange grove fights.
Ah yes, there was nothing like a good ‘ol orange grove fight to make your mother angry from all the juicy wet rot all over your clothes. It was the same every time: Frank and Arthur being the oldest were against Johnny, Brian, and Stupid Mikey. Now the key to a good orange grove fight was to find the most juicy, smelly, rotten oranges; grapefruits were even better on account of their size. Then, piling up one’s ammunition was key as well as finding the best spot behind a tree to hide while catapulting rotten oranges at your enemies. The winner was the one who hit the other the most right on the chest. The head was technically off limits but this never stopped Arthur from aiming at Brian and smashing the most gooshy of his oranges in Brian’s face so that juicy pulp dripped all in his hair and face. Coupled with the strength of the Florida sun; the stench became even stronger.
Frank Jr. would announce the start: OK boys. Now remember let’s make it a fair fight and may the best men win. One, two, three, fight!
And with that the boys would launch into a veritable citrus war that would soon see poor Johnny down almost immediately as he raced from tree to tree only to be pummeled by Arthur and Frank Jr.
You’re out, cried Frank Jr.
Aw geez. Sorry guys, and with that Johnny would walk back to the house and sit on the steps by the back door next to the kitchen to watch the remainder of the citrus war games by the side of the house.
And then came the strategy: Let’s get Brian. Stupid Mikey can’t defend himself against us and will most surely surrender. OK Arthur. You’re on.
With this the two older boys began their orange assault on Brian that left him stunned and sticky on the ground. Poor Mikey didn’t know what to do so he climbed up a tree and tried to hide in the branches.
Mikey, it’s ok. You can come down now. Just say you surrender and the game is over.
Never. I won’t. You’ll have to come and get me!
Mikey. Now really. We promise not to hurt you. Don’t we Frank? That’s right Mikey. Arthur and I won’t lay a finger on you.
OK. Well, then I guess I can come down now. And with that Mikey climbed down and landed on the ground. Just then Brian and Johnny ran up behind Mikey and before he knew what hit him they had him; Brian by the feet and Johnny had grabbed him around his waist and together the two had picked up poor unfortunate little Mikey and were dragging him over to the dock.
Let me go! Let me go now! What are you doing? I was on your side!
Frank Jr. and Arthur stood smiling in silence as the younger Poppe boys threw Mikey into the lake with one heave hoe. Splash!
There they were: the four Poppe boys standing on the dock looking down at poor Mikey all skinny and drenched in the lake reaching around in the muck for his glasses.
Now that was not necessary!
Frank Jr. calmly looked at the skinny little boy and pulled him out of the water. Aw come on now Mikey. They didn’t mean you any harm. It just means you’re one of us now. Alright. Let’s all go and get ready for supper.
Minnie loved to cook for her brood of boys and Frank. Tonight would be a family favorite: fried chicken, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes with gravy, and apple pie. Nothing pleased her more than to sit and listen to the boys share stories about their day.
Mother, the boys are ready for dinner. Frank Jr., would you please say grace?
For this meal we are grateful, Lord. Please bless the ones who grew the grain for making of this bread, for all they had to do. Bless those who made and cooked this food, whose eyes and hearts and hands Show vision, love and laboring that each one understands. Reveal Thy Word to us, O Lord, for it is just and good, and walk Thou in the harvest fields. Give us our daily food. Amen.
So, what did you boys get into today?
Without a breath Mikey started, “Well first they had me covered in rotten oranges and then when they promised me that the fight was over Johnny and Brian threw me into the lake and I didn’t do anything!”
Minnie looked over at the guilty parties, “Is this true?,” she smirked as she asked this. Poor unfortunate Mikey. He somehow seemed to be at the center of all the family practical jokes.
Yes, ma’am, admitted Johnny.
Well then you must apologize you two right now.
We’re sorry Mikey. Yeah, said Brian. Just then Frank nudged Brian, I mean yes, we are surely sorry for what we have done. Amen. Frank could not help but give Brian a look that said to stop laying it on so thick.
Michael, I am sure the boys meant no harm. They have a particular way of showing that they care for you that’s all. Do you understand?
I guess so Mrs. Poppe. Mrs. Poppe?
Do you think we could go into town tomorrow and get ice cream?
I don’t see why not? Frank, are you alright with this?
Sure Michael. It’s fine with me.
The next day after lunch the Johnny, Mikey, and Brian started down the road on foot toward the ice cream shop. Turning down to the railroad tracks the boys decided to walk length of the rails and look for snakes and various other rodents that live along the tracks.
Do you think you can jump the tracks when a train comes by?
Shut up Mikey. I’m not playing your stupid game.
What’s the matter Brian, you afraid?
No, what’s the matter Mikey, you stupid?
Stop that! Stop calling me that.
With this the boys were on the ground fighting and pawing at each other like bear cubs.
Good god you two! Stop fightin’ or you’ll be found out and we’ll never get to go into town alone! To further get their attention Johnny kicked dirt in their faces.
Coughing with dirt covered faces the two boys get up and continue walking along. It was about two in the afternoon when the train came by. Before they could say anything Brian took off running. Mikey and Johnny didn’t know what to make of this so they just stood still and watched as Brian ran ahead of them. It was at that instant that Mikey knew and yelled, “No Brian! You’re not doing it right! Stop! No! Don’t jump!”
The telephone rang as Minnie was finishing up her ironing for the day. Hello. Yes this is Mrs. Poppe. Who is this?
Mrs. Poppe, hello this is Officer Barry.
Officer Barry? Is everything alright?
No, ma’am I am sorry to inform you that there has been an accident by the railroad tracks…
Minnie could never remember the rest of the phone message. All she could remember was the sound of screaming. Her own voice screaming…. Frank!
Frank had been called at work too and came home to find that Minnie had passed out by the phone table. Gently he picked her up and took her upstairs to place her on the bed. Better that she should stay here. Frank called his sister Eunice to come and stay with Minnie while he went downtown.
Oh no, Frank. I am so sorry. How awful. How is Minnie? And Johnny? Have you told Frank Jr. and Arthur?
Yes, they know Eunice. I am meeting the boys downtown.
I’ll be there straight away Frank.
Thank you, Eunice. I love you.
I love you too, Frank.
Frank leaned over his Minnie and gazed at her tear stained face. I love you Minnie. I love you so much. Gently he kissed her, turned away, and walked out the door to get into his truck.
Death was not something that Franks’ boys had yet known. The three of them sat with Mikey on a bench at the hospital. Mikey ran up to Frank, and choked so hard to get out his words; Mr. Poppe… I swear I didn’t tell him to do it! I didn’t know he would jump! I was just playin’ I didn’t know he would jump! Please sir, I didn’t mean for him to jump! With that Mikey buried his head into Mr. Poppe’s chest. Frank put his arms around Mikey.
I know that Michael. I know.
Quietly, Frank was lead into the room where Brian’s body lay. Was this Brian? How could this be my Brian? He leaned forward and could only shake his head to say to the doctor that it was his boy that lay there on the cold metal table. My boy.
Minnie had just begun to wake. Eunice leaned over her, My darling I am here. Eunice. Can I get you anything?
Brian. Frank. Where is Frank?
Dear, he went to….to see about Brian.
Frank and the boys came home a few hours later after dropping Mikey off at his home and meeting with his parents to discuss what had happened. Nobody was at fault. It was an accident. They all knew this. Mikey was not to blame. But they could not convince him of this and quietly he went to his room to be alone for awhile.
The funeral was of course a somber occasion but Minnie and Frank tried very hard to keep the mood gentle so as not to upset Johnny too much. They were especially close; Johnny and Brian. Afterward, Johnny and Minnie walked along the lake and up to the dock.
Johnny, the thing is, everybody dies. I’m going to die. You’re father is going to die. Even you someday. But thing to remember is what a life we had with him and how lucky we were to have him with us; even for just a little while. Do you see?
I’m trying to but I don’t understand why he had to die now. I miss him. With that Johnny’s eyes began tear up as he looked out at the lake.
I miss him too my darling. Very much. But remember dear, God is in the trees. Look up and now you can see Brian with Him too. Isn’t that wonderful?
Yes, that is…..
Minnie finished up her key lime cheesecake and looked over to see that Charlie had fallen asleep next to her on the bench. I miss you Brian. But then, she looked up at the trees and smiled. I love you so much.
Come now Charlie. It’s time to go back home. Charlie jumped off the bench and back down the street walked the two to find the car and drive back to the lake, the house, and finish the rest of their day together.
To be continued…..