Copyright 2005 David Castlewitz
That was Greg Daley’s mother on the six inch diameter television screen. The round-faced girl with fuzzy dark hair – Miss Patty — was a friend to Uncle Joe and Crispy Clown. Greg called her Mom because the first time he watched the show his grandmother had said, “That looks like your mother!”
One hand at her dimpled chin and the other in her expansive lap, Grandmom had squinted at the tiny screen and called out, “John! John,” in a voice that could be heard in the candy store at the front of the house.
While Miss Patty and Uncle Joe and Crispy Clown tossed cream pies at one another and the kids in the audience howled, John Daley opened the door and said, “What is it, Millie?”
Tall and muscular at age 75, he appeared as fit as he did in the fifty-year-old photograph Greg often admired, which depicted a young Grandpop in a police uniform, his wooden nightstick at his shoulder, his hair dark and wavy, though now it was thin and white.
“It’s Vivian,” Grandmom said, pointing.
Grandpop hooked his thumbs under his thick belt. “Morton’s still out. I can’t stay.” He peered closely at the TV. “It’s not her,” he announced.
“I bet it is. Look at that face and how she walks.”
Greg brightened. Grandmom was usually right about things. When she told him to wear galoshes so his feet stayed dry or to take a sweater in case a warm morning turned into a cold afternoon or to avoid the alleys because the older kids patrolled them and looked for second graders to beat up, she was right. Disobeying Grandmom meant coming home with wet socks or freezing at afternoon recess or getting punched by a sixth-grader.
Having turned seven last May, Greg was the youngest, shortest and skinniest boy in class. He always played Baby Jesus in the Christmas Pageant; teachers said his soft face and round nose were perfect for the part, especially when they gave him a dark wig to cover his blonde curls.
Studying Miss Patty on the screen day after day, Greg looked for anything that resembled what he remembered about his mother. When he thought of her, Greg pictured a large body and recalled a sweet odor. He remembered being carried while wind slapped his cheeks. Billowing steam washed across a train platform. A shrill whistle hurt his ears. Then he was crying, standing up in bed, Grandmom beside him, Grandpop pacing.
Uncle Morton had brought the TV home this past September, just in time for Grandpop to watch the Philadelphia Phillies lose four straight to the New York Yankees in the World Series of 1950. Knobs on the front adjusted the sound and the picture. A large knob with numbers changed the channels. For the first three months, only adults could touch it. But by year’s end Greg was judged sufficiently trained to operate the TV, though Uncle Morton warned him not to change channels too quickly. Just one click at a time.
Greg always obeyed Uncle Morton, who’d been in the army during World War Two and had come home with two metal pins in his right leg and a slight limp when he walked. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he’d studied business administration for two years. With a ready smile and blue eyes, his stylish crew-cut and his cleanly shaved face, Morton was always busy with one thing or another. He sold newspaper advertising and business stationary. He had his own line of greeting cards and enticed his girlfriends to help with the artwork. Whenever there was a neighborhood parade, he took to the streets to sell balloons and pinwheels.
His main job, though, was to help his father in the candy store, a business that the elder Daley had started when he left the police force ten years before.
Sometimes Greg overheard his uncle and grandfather arguing. He tried not to listen. He didn’t want to be punished for eavesdropping, which Grandmom considered the worse thing a boy could do. But, once, hearing his mother’s name, he opened the door to the store so the voices wouldn’t be muffled and stood very still so he wouldn’t make a telltale sound.
“It’s holding me back, Pop,” Uncle Morton said. “What if I got married? What if I moved out?” Uncle Morton paced near the front door. “I didn’t have to come home,” he continued. “If Vivian hadn’t dropped her little problem off on you, maybe I wouldn’t have.”
Grandpop stared at Uncle Morton.
“I’m 35-years-old, Pop. I’m not a kid. I don’t have to do this!”
Grandpop sat behind the glass counter with its trays of penny candies. Front Street traffic rumbled past, the trolley cars and trucks and automobiles making a racket. When Uncle Morton left, Greg tried to comfort his grandfather.
“I’ll keep you company, Grandpop,” Greg had said.
“Get out,” Grandpop shouted, and Greg scampered away, like a puppy fleeing a rolled-up newspaper.
The Uncle Joe and Crispy Clown Show came on every day at 4:30 PM. Greg usually had more than half his homework done by that time. The other half he did after supper, since he wasn’t allowed to watch TV at night anyway.
Greg loved Miss Patty. He knew that Uncle Joe never punished anybody. Crispy Clown never chased any of the children away. They were a happy family and even if they got into a food fight with cream pies they always hugged and kissed and made-up afterwards.
“You really like that show,” Uncle Morton said one evening after Uncle Joe offered his Goodbye Salute – the edge of his right hand touching the brim of his cowboy hat. With the TV turned off, Greg went into the kitchen for supper. Grandmom always had it on the table by 5 PM.
“I love Miss Patty,” Greg said.
“Looks like Vivian, doesn’t she?” Grandmom said.
Grandpop took his customary chair at the head of the white wood table. Greg sat on the window side, across from Uncle Morton, and lifted his spoon in anticipation of Grandmom’s soup. It was Thursday, which meant minestrone followed by spaghetti and meatballs. The days of the week and the meal of the day were incontrovertible. Monday was liver and Tuesday was beef, with Wednesday pork chops and Thursday spaghetti, followed by fish every Friday. On Saturday, hot dogs and beans and sauerkraut. Sunday was the day for chicken and dumplings and large helpings of roasted potatoes.
“You still think that’s Viv?” Uncle Morton grinned. “We’ll get real close and check her out when we go there.”
“Did you get tickets?” Grandmom asked, her green eyes brimming with tears, a smile on her dimpled face. “You did, didn’t you?”
Uncle Morton nodded. Grandpop grunted and started in on his supper, twirling spaghetti on his fork, tipping it with a piece of meatball. Then he pulled his soup bowl close and spooned some of it into his mouth. “Hot,” he complained. “Too hot, Millie. Too hot.”
Greg sipped his soup. He liked to finish it before starting the rest of the meal. It was what Miss Patty called “Good Manners.”
“I got two tickets for next Wednesday,” Uncle Morton said. He tapped Greg on the wrist. “Do you want to go?”
Greg didn’t understand what his uncle meant. “Go where?” he asked.
“To see Miss Patty.”
Morton laughed. “Uncle Joe. Crispy Clown. Miss Patty. I’m taking you downtown to see the show. You’ll be in the Little Folks Gallery.”
Greg brightened. “I can? I didn’t know regular kids could do that.”
“You sure can,” Uncle Morton said, and then explained how his new girlfriend, who worked in the studio’s accounting office, had arranged for Greg’s ticket. Only some of the kids who came to see the show were picked for the Gallery. The rest were in the auditorium, along with the adults, behind the camera and the lights, their view sometimes obstructed. Kids in the Gallery, however, saw everything.
For the next five days, Greg imagined what it would be like to see Miss Patty and the others as real people instead of images on a screen. He pictured himself cheering when Uncle Joe came on stage. He saw himself pointing and shouting warnings when Miss Patty was about to have a trick played on her by Crispy Clown.
Wednesday came. Uncle Morton met him at school when it let out at 3 PM and they hurried to the elevated train and took it downtown to where Channel 4 had its studio. There, Greg met Uncle Morton’s girlfriend, Miss Carol. She led him onstage, where he joined two dozen other boys and girls crammed into the Gallery.
What looked so spacious and sturdy on television, Greg discovered to be made of plywood and cardboard, with folding chairs for seats. He had hoped to be in the front row, but was placed in the fourth. Luckily, the chairs were on risers so the last row afforded as good a view as the first. He might still shake Uncle Joe’s hand or get a pat on the head from Crispy Clown or, more importantly, a hug from Miss Patty.
Cables snaked across the floor, lights jutted from the ceiling, and a camera on a large tripod was positioned at the front of the stage. The set consisted of benches and stools and other structures, like Crispy Clown’s oversized playpen with its collection of stuffed animals, and a cardboard barn where Uncle Joe sat to tell his stories. A canvas backdrop provided the rest of the scenery and Greg saw that the pebbled lane down which Miss Patty always danced was very short and that the house behind her was a painted image.
The auditorium filled up, adults and children taking their seats. The rows stretched far back. There was even a balcony, like at the movies, and it filled up, too. Because of the glare of the stage lights, Greg couldn’t see where Uncle Morton sat. He hoped his uncle could see him. He wanted to wave, but didn’t because the stage manager had warned them not to. They were part of the show and that was a genuine honor and they shouldn’t spoil it by waving or making faces or otherwise misbehaving.
Soon, the pimply-faced stage manager gave a signal and the auditorium went dark and the footlights brightened. There was sudden applause from the audience. The Gallery Kids applauded as well. And Crispy Clown bounced out of his playpen. He did a somersault and clapped his hands and jumped up and down. Uncle Joe waved his cowboy hat as he emerged from the cardboard barn.
Greg stared at the pebbled lane, his mouth open. There was Miss Patty. She wore a blue dress with white lace. Her feet were encased in golden slippers. She was small and her face was round, her lips bright red, and she had gold dust in her dark hair. She danced down the lane and she and Uncle Joe and Crispy Clown hugged and kissed while music exploded from below the stage. It was the familiar tune that Greg heard every afternoon at 4:30 PM.
Miss Patty sang a song. She was the best part of the show, Greg decided. Miss Patty. His Mom. Delighted, he squeezed his legs together and squeezed his hands together and squeezed his lips together to keep from exploding with joy. But he couldn’t stop himself from shouting, “Mom,” when Miss Patty curtseyed to the kids in the Gallery.
She looked up. Some of the children giggled. Again, Greg said, “Hi, Mom. I’m here. Me. Greg. Hi.”
Miss Patty traded looks with Uncle Joe. There was laughter and applause and a sudden swell of music.
Commercial, Greg thought when he saw Uncle Joe and Crispy Clown come over to greet the kids in the Gallery. The stage manager hurried up the aisle to the last row.
“You the kid who talked?” the stage manager squeaked.
“Mom?” Greg said as the stage manager dragged him from the Little Folks Gallery. Greg appealed to Miss Patty. “Don’t you know me, Mom?”
Crispy Clown leaned close to the beautiful woman in the blue dress. “You keepin’ secrets from us, Pat?”
“Drop dead, Gus,” she replied. “Hey, kid. You’re not supposed to talk. Didn’t Jack tell you the rules?”
“Back in 15 seconds,” came a shout from the wings. Uncle Joe took his seat in front of the barn. Crispy Clown sprawled in his playpen and hugged a pink Teddy Bear. Miss Patty, looking annoyed, sat on a stool in front of the Gallery. When the show returned, Greg knew, the camera would be on Uncle Joe and he’d tell a story about his days out West when he was a cowpoke fighting bandits.
But Greg wouldn’t hear today’s tale. Jack took him backstage. Uncle Morton and Carol met him there, amid the cardboard houses, ladders, fences and other props.
“What’s the matter?” Uncle Morton asked. Jack told him. “So? So he talked.”
“He got Miss Patty mad,” the stage manager said.
Carol’s eyes welled up behind her round glasses, her fingers entwined in her black hair.
“Don’t worry, Carol,” the stage manager said. “She doesn’t know you got the kid the ticket.” He chuckled.
Uncle Morton sighed. “Why’d you say anything?”
“Grandmom told me she’s my mother.” Greg stifled the urge to cry. He wanted to see the rest of the show, but Uncle Morton and Carol were taking him to the exit.
“My mom thinks Miss Patty looks like my wayward sister,” Uncle Morton said to Carol.
“She could be my mother,” Greg whispered as they left the studio. “My mom is pretty like that, isn’t she?”
They crossed the street. “We don’t have to tell anyone what happened,” Uncle Morton said. “Okay?”
Greg smiled. If they didn’t have to tell Grandmom then he wasn’t in trouble. At least he’d seen some of the show. And he’d be sure to watch it every day. If Miss Patty was his mother, then Crispy Clown might be his brother and Uncle Joe could be his father. They were his family.
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