Surprise for Annie
Buddy tugged at the ragged patchwork quilt on his army style cot. The room was freezing cold. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw his mother poking at the coals in the old wood stove trying to get a spark from last nights fire. Paper boxes were nailed over cracks in the boards. Buddy could lie in bed and read the comics nailed to the ceiling to keep the cold from penetrating the room. He turned on his side pulling the small lumpy pillow over his head, tugging the cover under his chin uncovered his toes. He knew he had to get out of bed and try to find scrap lumber or old broken furniture to be used in the stove.
At fifteen, he was man of the house. His father had left to get a WPA job but never returned. Sliding his legs off the cot, Buddy pulled on his dirty, holey socks and black rubber boots, one of his finds from the garbage dump. The boots flopped on his feet but they were the only footwear he owned. He was already dressed having slept in his clothes for warmth.
Annie, his four-year-old sister, was sitting on an old rusty bucket close to their mother. A three-legged table was thrown in the corner to be broken for kindling. Annie, Buddy, and their mother, Rosalie, lived in a one-room shack. The small stove had a porcelain door to the oven and several holes for pots. The house always smelled of smoke and fresh baked bread. The boards were splintered and rough. Blankets were hung over the four windows in extremely cold weather making a dark and dreary atmosphere.
Putting his feet on the floor, reaching for his tattered patched coat, he headed for the door. Hearing his mother say, "Buddy, I’ll have oatmeal in a minute”, he paused to answer.
“I’ll eat when I get back. I need to check the dump.” Buddy wanted to get there early not because of the good finds being carried off but because the town boys teased him about being poor and scouring the dump for bottles to sell and firewood. Closing the weather-beaten door, he ducked his head pulling his frail coat collar around his face, and faced the icy wind. To carry his finds, he pulled a rusty, dented wagon with Western Flyer barely readable on the reddish side. The few cents he got from his bottles was given to his mother. She barely kept the family fed by doing ironing for the elite society.
Arriving at the dump, Buddy saw the pile wasn’t much bigger than the last time he was there. Climbing to the top of the pile, he started throwing debris to one side. After finding a dead cat, old clothes and four bottles, he stumbled going back to his wagon. He fell on something hard. Digging thru the dirt and goop, he found a tricycle frame. Maybe he could find enough parts to make Annie a tricycle for her birthday. He knew there wouldn’t be any money for a gift and knew his mother wished she could get Annie a birthday present.
On his way home, he always stopped at Reynold’s One Stop Country Store to sell his bottles. An old gray-bearded man drinking an Orange Crush and a spotted dog were on the porch when Buddy arrived at the store. GR----, The dog snarled at Buddy. “Pete, hush! Don’t mind Pete.” Nodding Buddy carried his bottles into the store.
The one light was hanging down in the center of the once white but now brownish ceiling. Cans behind the counter needed dusting and a few had missing labels. The wooden floor showed signs of wear and hadn’t been swept in a long time. The store was only used by the few people that lived in Zoe, Mississippi. Accepting seven cents and a piece of red and white stick candy for Annie, he thanked Mr. Reynolds and left the store.
Leaving the porch, Buddy said bye to the old man still sitting in the old unpainted rocker with the dog beside him. The old man asked, “What’s in the wagon?”
"A tricycle frame. My sister will be five next week. Maybe, I can find enough parts to make her a tricycle.”
“I’m Al Tawndy. I ran the old service station for years. You find the parts and I’ve got a few tools if you need them. Aren’t you Deke Shanklin’s boy?
“Yes sir. My names Buddy.”
“I know your daddy and mother. Haven’t seen them in a long time. Sorry he left you all in a fix.”
Buddy looking at his feet embarrassed said, "I have to go. I go to the dump everyday maybe I can find some more parts". Buddy searched the pile of throw-aways every day but couldn’t find anything that resembled tricycle parts. Discouraged but determined not to quit, he remembered Mr. Tawndy. Asking Mr. Reynolds where Mr. Tawndy lived, Buddy trudged down a weedy path behind the store, arriving at a small neat whitewashed frame house. Pete lying on the porch let out a growl. “What is it boy?", came from the house. Opening the door, Mr. Tawndy spied Buddy. “Found any more tricycle parts?”
“No sir, and I’ve looked every day”.
Mr. Tawndy raised a dark eyebrow. “Buddy, let’s look behind the old service station. There used to be a few houses there.” The old building had broken windows and was surrounded by knee-deep grass. “Let’s check the back. Watch for snakes.”
Following Mt. Tawndy around to the back of the building, Buddy kicked weeds, found old bricks cans and just junk. Discouraged and almost giving up, he kicked a piece of metal. Pulling weeds apart, he saw a tricycle frame with handlebars and wheels. The frame was tangled in weeds and old wire. Buddy yelled, "I found one.”
Mr. Tawndy hurried over.”Let’s pull her out.” Pulling the frame out into the open, Mr. Tawndy said, “This is what we need.”
“There’s no seat.”
“Follow me home.”
Arriving back at Mr. Tawndy’s house, Buddy followed the man to a weather-beaten shed. Stooping to enter the low door, he came out holding a bike seat. "This belonged to my little girl years ago and I’ll be glad to give it to Annie. Leave it here and come back tomorrow. I’ll get sandpaper and paint and we’ll fix Annie a pretty tricycle".
Annie awoke slowly looking around at the familiar shabbiness of the room. Today was her birthday. She sat up twisting her neck as if a gobbler looking over her brood of chicks. She didn’t see anything for her birthday. Spying her mother and Buddy in the kitchen, she climbed out of bed. “Mama, what did I get for my birthday?”
“Annie, there isn’t anything.”
As Annie screwed her face to cry, Buddy said, "Annie, I've got a surprise for both of you. I’ll be back soon.” As Buddy went out the door, there was a surprised look on his mother’s face and a look of anticipation on Annie’s.
Buddy slowly opened the door dragging a shiny red tricycle behind him. Squealing with joy, Annie jumped on the seat. “Buddy, where did this come from?”
“Me and Mr. Tawndy found parts. We sanded and painted it for Annie.”
“Buddy, how do you know Mr. Tawndy?”
“I met him at the store. He said he knew you and daddy”.
“Did he say anything about me?”
“Buddy, that’s your grandfather,-my father. We haven’t spoken in years. Maybe, it’s time for us to be a family again. With your father gone, we could use some help. When you see him ask him if he wants to come by. Now let's carry Annie outside to ride her tricycle.". Going outside, they both watched Annie learning to pedal her tricycle with her long blonde hair blowing in the breeze. Walking slowly up the path was an old grey bearded man followed by an old hound-dog named Pete.
Author: Revia Perrigin