A Good Night To Be Born

December 19, 1993|By Priscilla Cummings

Will Newcomb stood in the front door of his family's Eas Baltimore rowhouse staring at the Christmas lights that blinked red-green-yellow around the Wesolowskis' front window across the street.

"Why can't we just stay here?" he asked, frowning.

Will didn't want to go to Grampa's for Christmas Eve. He was 8 years old and he wanted to do the things his family always did on Christmas Eve after church: See the lights downtown, get pizza at Harborplace and then some Sticky Bun ice cream pie (his mother's favorite) at Vaccaro's on the way home.

"Maybe Mom will be back soon," Will said hopefully.

Behind him, Will's grandfather pulled on a thick gray overcoat. "No telling how long she's going to be at the hospital, Will. Those babies may decide they can't wait."

Will swung around. "But the twins aren't supposed to be born until February -- Valentine's Day!"

"I know," Grampa said. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I hope they make it. But right now I've got to get back, Will. Got five heifers and Lucille waitin' to be fed."

His grandfather had a farm in Carroll County. He used to have a herd of black and white dairy cows, but not anymore. Just the heifers, who don't need to be milked, and a lame donkey named Lucille.

Will loved the farm. He built tree forts there and raced his bicycle full tilt down Grampa's lane, stirring up a huge cloud of dust. It's just that he had other plans for Christmas. He was counting on getting a new pair of Rollerblades. He and Robbie were going to skate tomorrow in Patterson Park. The day after Christmas, Mrs. Peterson was supposed to take Robbie and Travis and him to the Air and Space Museum.

"Come on," Grampa said, setting a heavy hand on Will's shoulder. "Get your things."

As they started up the interstate, toward the Beltway, Will looked out at all the machinery that loomed over the Port of Baltimore. His father was down there somewhere, operating a crane that unloaded containers from foreign ships. The containers looked like railroad cars without wheels. You couldn't tell from the outside what was in them, but Will's father told him the containers were filled with things like wine, Walkmans and ceiling fans.

His father got extra pay for working today. He said they needed the money because of the twins.

Those babies, Will thought bitterly. They were taking over already.

At the farm Will was further disappointed to see that his grandfather didn't even have a Christmas tree, nor any plans for dinner.

"I guess I was just going to open a can of tomato soup," Grampa said, scratching one temple. "But we'll run down to the store and get something. If you want. Just let me rest awhile, OK?"

While his grandfather stretched out on the couch, Will moved out the back steps, where he picked up a stick and broke it in half. What a dismal Christmas this was going to be, he thought.

Suddenly, he had an idea. He threw down the stick and walked across the dirt driveway to his grandfather's toolshed. His mother would have a fit if she could see him now, he was thinking as a wry smile crept onto his face. He took what he needed and set off up an old cow path into the pasture.

The day was cool, quiet and gray. Two crows bickered overhead and disappeared into the nearby forest. Up near the pond, where Canada geese stopped in the fall, Will spotted a 4-foot hemlock and attacked the narrow, prickly trunk with his saw. He'd watched his father and Grampa do this last year and was sure he could do it himself.

At the farmhouse, Grampa stood in the kitchen, stroking his long white mustache with two fingers as Will came in, dragging the tree behind him. When his grandfather finally grinned and shook his head, Will didn't know if he was more amused or amazed.

"I haven't had a Christmas tree since your grandmother passed away," he said. His eyes grew moist. "She did love a tree. I know she had lots of ornaments and things stashed away in the attic. I couldn't tell you where precisely. But if you want to take a look . . . "

Will climbed the narrow, dark staircase and hunted with a flashlight for nearly an hour. He found piles of neatly folded dress material, curtains and bedspreads -- even a trunk full of his father's high school trophies -- but no Christmas decorations.

One thing Will did have stashed away in one of the closets upstairs was a "rainy day" box full of games and art supplies. He dug out some colored construction paper, grabbed a pair of scissors and a stapler and set to work on the kitchen table making a long paper chain.

He thought about his mother as he was cutting, hooking and stapling, one colored strip after another. And he remembered something she said to him that summer at Ocean City, when Will first learned he would have a brother or sister in February (before they knew it was twins). "It take nine months to make a baby," his mother had explained. "If they're born earlier, their little lungs might not work right."

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