Pippa

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As I made breakfast for Kik’s children today… Dutch sat at the island in his usual perch… a million questions…a heart full of wonder…his face the living echo of his father.

I set heart shaped chocolate chip pancakes in front of the children…

Dutch: “Why did daddy name you Pippa?”

My breath caught, lightening struck my heart.. and just like that I could see Kevin and I. One small red head in plaits a larger boy sitting next to me his face a mask of frustration as we held a well loved book… No way I could tell that story. The story I hold in the most sacred place of reserve.  I opened my mouth to speak and no words came out. My eyes caught Kiks. She pulled up a stool next to the children and gently told them…

“As you know…Pippa and your father grew up together. ……”

Her voice paused as she looked up at me. I nodded. As she told the story my mind floated back…

You see when I met Kevin he had Dyslexia… He was a math savant and had a wicked good memory but.. He had the sort of tutor at our Catholic school who had zero understanding of what pride means to a boy who had come from his circumstances. He’d had a massive argument with his mother and Uncle before the Christmas Holidays and had sworn to quit school at 12. He had the very basic of reading skills and it pained him deeply to read outloud. The school was threatening to hold him back a year despite his other high grades. He was ashamed and shame was never an emotion Kevin did well. My mother as a successful self employed woman was run ragged during Christmas. So Kev’s mama often looked after me. That Christmas season Kevin was at his most hateful and surliest. In my innocence.. I brought my favorite book to him, Pippi Longstocking. I remember he was sat on the bottom bunk. His brother’s stereo was on and he was beating out the beat with a set of drumsticks on the wooden rail.  His little sister Shannon and I crowded him and asked him to read it to us… His face went beat red. “Get lost you two” he spat out… I wasn’t used to being chased away by him. I was his pet and his sister was the treasured baby sibling. I hesitated as we stood up and he threw the drumsticks, yelling at us to get out…

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It affected me more than it should have.. But I had a complex childhood. I raced outside without a coat or shoes.. in stocking feet i crawled thru and hid in the bushes outside. I sat there reading aloud to myself until I heard the leaves move as Shannon pushed in next to me. “Mama sent me to get you..” she said and my eyes went full of tears….Not even for Kevin’s mama would I come out of the bushes. Shannon crawled back out.. Minutes later.. There was my Cajun King parting the branches and plucking me out and dusting me off. … I went quiet as he tried to make it all right. He took my little 9 year old hand and led me inside. His Mama made Swiss Miss Cocoa with tiny marshmallows. He took my book in his hand and haltingly began.. He faltered painfully with words that were so easy to me. I sensed his frustration and shame.. With one little girl on each side of him he struggled thru…we would help him with words. His oldest brother Kyle came home in the middle of this and watched us without Kevs notice. He then told Kevin that he should read the story at Christmas.. that it would make his Mama proud… Kevin said nothing. The day progressed. That evening as Kevin walked me home. He tweeked my pigtail and told me to bring the book again tomorrow… Bye Kevin I shouted after him my hand waving… Bye Pippa he shouted back with a cheeky smile… I paused inside the front door watching the wind ruffle his hair..my nine year old heart falling in love for the first time ever.

He practiced the book until he memorized it. That Christmas eve he read it outloud to astounded silence and his mother’s tears. Later in the day I raced to their house after returning from my Grandparents.. I remember his Mama pulling me in close as if I was one of hers and saying teasingly Merry Christmas Pippi… Eyes locked with Kevin, I said no.. It Pippa. He calls me Pippa.

I watched Kiks retell this tale… I watched my friends watch her. I watch her children and I felt tears gather again. Its 34 years later and I can still remember ever nuance of that Christmas. It was the first Christmas that I knew Kevin’s family, having met them the spring before. That house of love. Those people. That boy who became The King of the River. I wish I could honor them and their story with more adornment then these simple words.

Instead I will just repeat the last words I ever read from Kevin hand. An often repeated quote.

” I am the sea and nobody owns me.”

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