TUESDAY: A House for Duffy


Copyright is held by the author.

“Hawk,” my Dad said, lifting a finger from the steering wheel.

“Where, where?” came a chorus of three eager voices from the back seat. My sisters and I looked out the car windows, searching, each of us wanting to be the first to see it.

“Back there,” my Dad said, “on a post.”

“Ahh,” we answered dejectedly. We missed it.

We were driving from Oakville to Cambridge on a Sunday afternoon to visit Granny and Grandpa Drew. I imagine my Dad resented it a little. He worked six days a week as a teacher and housemaster at a Private boys school and spending a Sunday with the in-laws on a day that was perfect for a game of golf was probably not his idea of fun, but he said nothing. He wasn’t a complainer. He was a man of few words.

He drove with his freckled left arm out the window, tapping his fingers on the roof of the car. My Mom rode shotgun and my sisters and I lined the back seat of our red Rambler station wagon. Having forgotten to shout “Dibs no hump!” ahead of my siblings when we loaded up at home, I was stuck in the middle.

A game of I Spy With My Little Eye lasted for a while until my younger sister and I got tired of being outwitted. A couple of rounds of “Found a Peanut” killed some time, but it was an hour’s drive and that was long enough for us kids to get bored. At the mid way mark my parents were struggling to keep us entertained by noting any thing of interest flashing past on the rural route.

“There’s a house for Duffy,” my Dad announced pointing out the window. Our heads snapped around and we sat up straight, craning our necks to see. In the middle of a dusty field sat a derelict farm building, windows smashed in, front door hanging from its hinges and holes through the roof. My sisters giggled. My Mom rolled her eyes.

I looked at that house and I panicked. My house? Why was that my house? Was this some kind of prophecy being spoken by my Dad? I was a serious and thoughtful kid and as that shack disappeared in the distance I went quiet while I pondered my Dad’s prediction.

We were heading north to my grandparents house where my Mom used to live when she was little. My Mom had grown up and married my Dad and we all lived together now, in our house. But, I didn’t know how that worked. I couldn’t picture the transition. The whole process of becoming an adult frightened me. I didn’t know how you did it. What would become of me when I grew up? Where would I live? These were big questions and I had no answers. I began to imagine myself poor and ragged and hungry living alone in that tumbled down shack and I began to weep.

“Mom, Duff’s crying,” my older sister reported from the backseat in a bored tattletale whine.

“What?” my Mom asked turning around in the passenger seat.

“Duff’s cry-ing,” she repeated with exasperated emphasis.

“What’s going on back there? Duffy, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?”

“I-I-I d-don’t wa-want to live in a hou-house like that,” I stuttered, my lower lip a-tremble.

“What?” my Mom asked.

My Dad burst out laughing, which for him was not an audible response. He was not only a man of few words, he was a man with a silent laugh; you never heard it, you only ever saw it in action. His blue eyes crinkled up at the corners and he blew out through his nose, “Hff-hff-hff,”while his shoulders lifted and fell and his chest heaved convulsively in a sidesplitting chuckle. He shook his head in disbelief.

“Jesus Christ,” he said.

“Sweetheart, you don’t have to live in a house like that. Daddy didn’t mean it,” my Mom consoled me.

“B-but he sa-said it was a house for m-me.”

“He didn’t mean it. He was only joking,” she said, then turning to my Dad, “Honey, don’t say things like that to the kids. It upsets them.”

“Jesus Christ!” my Dad said again. “It was a joke!”

My sisters smirked beside me, no doubt feeling superior, in on the joke with Dad. My Mom dug in her handbag and passed a crumpled Kleenex to the back seat.

The warm breeze coming in the driver’s side window fluttered the tissue as I blew my nose. My Dad’s strawberry brown hair ruffled in the wind. His fingers resumed tap-tapping on the roof of the car. Relief settled upon me as the countryside flew past. It hadn’t been a prediction. Only a joke. I didn’t need to figure out how to become a grown up, not today anyway, not yet.

“Hawk,” my Dad said pointing out the windshield.

“Where?” we asked in unison from the backseat as the family Rambler rolled on.

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  1. The author Jennifer Smith brought me along for the ride through the countryside and stirred up memories of days gone by of my family as I am sure many others out there reminisced … Thanks for sharing …

  2. Nicely done. Had the same experience, except with us it was a ‘fliget’ instead of a hawk. Evocative descriptions of the father and the three girls in a gentler time, without the influence of technology. Loved the ‘bored tattletale whine’ -and a great conclusion. Thanks.

  3. Ahh the long car rides in the back seat with sisters! Keeping occupied required great imagination. You painted a vivid picture of the innocence of youth. Word smith par excellence!

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