This is a work of fiction.
It was Lydia’s turn to help with the dishes. While the boys ran around, burning off breakfast, Lydia washed and I dried.
“I heard them,” she said.
“What did you hear, and whom?”
“Benjamin, Samuel, and David.” She stopped talking and scrubbed vigorously at something that was cooked onto one of the frying pans.
I waited for her to finish getting it clean, and when she handed it to me, I said, “Thanks. What did you hear them saying?”
“Benjamin asked if they wanted anything besides the phones.”
“Oh. What did they say?”
“Samuel asked for a T-shirt, some expensive jeans and shoes. David didn’t know yet.”
“Did you hear anything else?” She rinsed out the mixing bowl she’d just washed and handed it to me.
“Benjamin said something, but he was whispering, so I couldn’t understand him.”
“Thanks for telling me. When did you hear them?”
“Before school was over.” She looked sad. “Do you know they call Dad a mean name?”
“No, I didn’t. What did they call him?”
“It’s gross,” she said. “They say ‘upchuck.'”
“That’s not nice of them. Was this when you heard them talking about the phones?” She nodded.
“I heard Samuel say, ‘Hey, guess what I got.’ David said, ‘What?’ Samuel said, ‘Upchuck’s credit card!’ David said, ‘How?’ Samuel said, ‘Easy. I just took it out of his wallet when he wasn’t watching. Piece of cake. He’s practically blind.'” She started to cry.
“Would you like a hug?” I said.
“No thank you,” she said. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Grandma, can I ask you a question?”
“Yes.” She didn’t speak, but washed a plate. I waited while she rinsed it off and then she handed it to me.
“I don’t know how to ask it.”
“Is it about one of the boys?” She shook her head. “Your dad?” Headshake. “Oh, is it about Stacey?” She nodded. “Is it about what to call her?” She shook her head.
“She said I can call her Stcey.” She took a deep breath, and I wondered if Stacey had said something she shouldn’t have. “I don’t like it when she tries to hug me.”
“Do your mom and dad hug you?”
“Sometimes, but they know me. Stacey doesn’t know me.”
I was always up for a challenge, and I had two: dealing with Lydia’s discomfort and finding out why she hadn’t told anybody about the credit card incident. However, the dishes were almost done, and since we needed to go haul water from the lake, I decided to leave the credit card issue for now.
“She wants to show you that she loves you and cares about you. Moms usually want to hug their children. Does she hug the boys?” She nodded. “When we get back, I can help you talk to her about it.” She nodded.
“Please, and thank you,” she said.
“Great. Now, it’s time for us to go and get some more water.”
The walk to the lake was mostly uneventful, although Freckles did complain about how long it was. When we got there, everyone filled their buckets.
“How come hers is so small?” Sammy said, pointing at Lydia’s pail.
“I made sure each person’s bucket was the right size for their age and strength,” I told him. “Let’s carry these back to camp.”
We were halfway back when Freckles walked up beside Lydia, took her bucket from her, and dumped it upsidedown.
“We’ll wait for you,” Sammy said, looking at Lydia and grinning widely.
“That wasn’t nice, Freckles.”
“What? I was helping her carry it.”
“If you want to help somebody, you need to ask first. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll leave the full buckets here, and Frecles, you carry Lydia’s empty bucket back to the lake, fill it up, and walk it back here, and then Lydia will carry it the rest of the way back to camp. Sammy and Curly, you can follow us or wait here.”
Sammy wanted to wait, but Curly came with us. Freckles was not happy, but he was careful not to spill a drop as he carried Lydia’s pail back to where Sammy was waiting.
We got back to camp without further incident, although I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be able to stop the boys from teasing, harassing, and otherwise bothering Lydia.
“I’m starving,” Sammy said, as soon as he’d put down his bucket.
“Me too,” Freckles said.
“Yeah,” Curly said.
“What would you like for lunch?”
“Real food,” Sammy said.
“Well, I have some bags of chips,” I said. “We could have those with a salad.”
“Do you got salt and vinegar?” Sammy said.
“Sour cream and onion,” Freckles said.
Lydia made a disgusted face.
“What kind of chips do you like, Lydia?”
“Barf chips!” Freckles said.
“Don’t be silly,” I said. “Let’s go and see what kind of chips I have.”
The boys found what they wanted, but Lydia looked disappointed.
“Is there another kind missing??”
She shook her head.
“Can you tell me out loud please?”
“I don’t like chips,” she said.
“Oh. What would you like with your salad?”
“Um, can I have a hotdog, please?”
“Sure. But just in case you like these, I have pretzels.” Lydia’s face lit up. I found the bag of pretzels and then we all spent an hour sitting at the picnic table, chopping veggies and making a lot of crunching sounds. It was too much fun, and I didn’t correct anybody’s table manners. Even Lydia laughed when Freckles pretended to be a caveman eating some kind of beast he’d just slain.
Then it was time for dishes. It was Sammy’s turn. He refused to help me wash or dry a single dish. Begging, demanding, or trying to force him to help wasn’t going to work, so I decided on an incentive.
“Freckles and Curly, it seems like your brother isn’t up to working today. We need to get these done, so would you be willing to wash and dry? I’ll pay you double your usual to take up his slack.”
Sammy jumped up from the picnic table and said, “Hey, that’s not fair. I said I was just tired and neded to sit down for five seconds. Christ.”
“Christ gave his life for us all, so there’s no need to throw his name around like that,” I said.
Lydia looked befuddled and said, “Who’s Christ?”
“You might call him Jesus,” I said. “He’s the baby we celebrate at Christmas.” She still looked unsure.
“She’s a sinner!” Freckles said. Lydia looked scared and bewildered.
“Don’t be mean,” I said. I decided to talk to Lydia about it later. Stacey and Chuck’s wedding hadn’t been religious at all, but I’d just assumed she knew who Jesus was. “Now, Sammy, are you ready to help me with the dishes?”
“Yeah, for double pay.” I shook my head.
“On their next turn, Freckles and Curly will be paid double, but if you want double, you need to be ready when I ask you.”
“I said I was.”
“Great. If you want to earn double pay, then you need to both wash and dry.”