Once Homer picked another Bible story, Jamie asked Miss Kuelmann to give Homer some lessons that would help him learn to read it. He complained about the assignments she gave him, but Jamie and Sam kept prodding him and he did them.
When Jamie got home from school, his mom said, “Jamie, I have a letter for you.”
Amazed, he took the letter and held it out to admire it. Mail was rare and this was the first letter he’d ever gotten. It was from Sam and when he opened it, he found a card inside with such fancy writing it was hard to read.
He deciphered the message and when he realized it was an invitation to Sam’s birthday party Saturday afternoon, he almost panicked. He didn’t have much money so what could he possibly give Sam as a present?
Jamie put the problem to his grandpa who thought for a bit while he rocked in his chair. “Well, first off, he won’t expect nothin’ expensive. The point of givin’ Sam a present is to tell ‘im that you’re his friend. Think of somethin’ you and your friends do that Sam probably don’t. Sometimes folks who live in fancy places don’t do things that you take for granted.”
Jamie thought about what he and Homer did all the time and snapped his fingers. “I got it! Marbles. We play marbles at school and Sam doesn’t know how. I’ll give him a bag and teach him.” Jamie liked the idea because a five-cent bag of marbles was in his price range.
His grandpa nodded. “There. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
Jamie gave five pennies to his dad who said he’d buy a bag next time he went to town. Later, when Jamie looked at the little cloth bag of glass marbles, he was disappointed. They didn’t look like much of a gift, especially for Sam.
His mom came to his rescue. She found a small box for the marbles, wrapped it in fancy paper and put a bow on it she’d saved from Christmas. When she finished, it looked like a real birthday present.
Friday night, Jamie took a bath and his mom laid out his church clothes. Jamie was looking forward to going to the party, but taking bath and wearing uncomfortable clothes took some of the fun out of it.
The next afternoon, Jamie’s dad got the car from the machine shed and drove him to Mrs. Lily’s. Jamie got out and waved as his dad pulled away.
Sam opened the door before Jamie got a chance to ring the bell. “Hi, Jamie, I’m glad you’re here. Now we can start the party.”
“Great, who else is here?”
“Only you. We need two people because you can’t have a party by yourself.”
Jamie laughed and handed Sam his present. “My grandpa says the same thing.”
“See, I’m right. Thank you for the gift. Come on into the kitchen.”
Mrs. Lily was lighting candles on a small cake. “Hello, Jamie. Thank you for coming. Sam, make a wish and blow out your candles.”
Sam closed his eyes, took a deep breath and blew them all out on the first try.
Jamie pointed at the candles while Mrs. Lily cut the cake. “There’s only eleven candles.”
Sam said, “That’s right. I’m eleven today.”
“But I’ll be thirteen in the spring. If you’re eleven, why are you in seventh grade?”
“I’m not. I’m in eighth. Remember the first day of school when I told everyone I went to a private school in New York? We did a lot more work there, plus I went to summer school.”
School in the summer? Jamie liked school, but he didn’t know if he liked it that much. “Well, I guess that explains why you’re ahead.”
Mrs. Lily served a scoop of ice cream with Jamie’s slice of cake and he happily dug in. Store-bought ice cream was a rare treat.
Sam shook the box. “Can I open your present?”
“Sure. I hope you like them.”
He unwrapped the box and held up the bag. “Marbles! Thank you, Jamie. I’ve never had marbles before. Can you show me how to play?”
“The rules aren’t hard, but it’s easiest to learn by playing a game or two. First thing is to scratch a ring in the dirt about five feet across.” Then Jamie said, “Er…that may not work right now what with the weather. We can’t play marbles inside.”
Sam thought for a moment. “Sure we can. I have an idea.” After they had finished their ice cream and cake, she took Jamie’s hand, pulled him out of the kitchen and upstairs to a large formal dining room. Pointing at the carpeted floor, she said, “How about this?”
The carpet had a design of overlapping circles and Jamie said, “That’s great. The circles are a little small, but they’ll work.”
He dropped to his knees on the edge of a circle and Sam did the same next to him. Pulling two shooters out of his pocket, he handed one to Sam. “This is an extra you can have. Dump your marbles out and I’ll explain how to play.”
For the next hour, Jamie and Sam played marbles. They rolled fast on the carpet, but it worked. He was surprised at how good Sam was, even as a beginner and decided not to play for ‘keeps’ because he’d have all his marbles in nothing flat.
They were finishing a game of ‘Ringer’ when Mrs. Lily came in. “Sam, Mr. Jorgenson told me the sauna is ready.”
“Thank you, Aunt Lily.” Sam sat up and said, “Want to try something new?”
“Yeah, sure. What?”
“Aunt Lily is from Sweden and over there they take sauna baths.”
“What’s a sauna bath?”
“Just do everything I say and don’t ask questions. It’s easier to do than explain. I promise you’ll like it.”
“Well, I just took a bath last night, but if you say so, it’s okay with me.”
They collected the marbles, went downstairs and then into the basement. Sam pulled a stack of towels from a closet and gave Jamie two. He pointed at another room and said, “Go into that changing room and take off all your clothes. Wrap a towel around your waist and I’ll meet you back here.”
“All my clothes?”
“You don’t wear clothes when you take a bath do you?”
“No, but I don’t take a bath with somebody else, either.”
When Sam smiled and pointed, Jamie took the towels and went to undress. He came out wrapped in a towel and a case of nervous goose bumps. Sam was waiting for him and since he was wearing only a towel, Jamie thought Sam really did look like he’d just turned eleven years old.
“It’s going to be really hot inside, so use one towel to wipe off sweat. This is what we’re going to do.” After the explanation, Sam asked, “Ready?”
“I guess so. But if it’s that hot, won’t we get cooked like Thanksgiving turkeys?”
Sam grinned and shook his head. When he opened the door, so much heat poured out that Jamie took a step back. Sam grabbed Jamie’s hand and pulled him in. “Let’s go. We don’t want it to cool off.”
It took Jamie a few minutes to get comfortable, but after that, it seemed like the heat was soaking in and pushing the winter out. He decided those Swedes really knew how to take a bath.
Sam said, “We’d better quit. You shouldn’t stay in too long the first time. We have one more thing to do. Spread your towel out and lie on it facedown.”
Jamie stretched out on the wooden bench, looking over his shoulder to see what Sam was doing. From a box, he gathered up a bundle of thin branches with leaves still on them.
“Hey, what’re those for?”
“These are birch switches and I’m going to brush you with them. It doesn’t hurt and you’ll like the way it feels. Relax and close your eyes.”
When Jamie closed his eyes, Sam pulled the corner of the towel around Jamie’s waist loose and flipped it to one side. Then he took the branches and brushed Jamie’s from his shoulders to his heels. It felt wonderful and was disappointed when Sam quit and flipped the towel back around his waist.
“Done. Tuck your towel in and we’ll can go out.”
They stood outside the sauna wiping their faces and chests with towels. Sam said, “Now we’re supposed to run outside and roll in the snow to cool off, but since there isn’t any we’ll have to wait.”
Jamie grinned and blushed. “Skinny-dipping in the snow instead of the creek.”
“Right. It’s great fun. You’re so hot you don’t feel the cold. Since we can’t do that, Philip has filled tubs of cold water in each changing room. Get in as quick as you can and stay in until you get a little cold. Then dry off, get dressed and I’ll meet you here.”
In the changing room, he dropped his towel and slid into the water. The water was cold, but he didn’t feel it and he soaked until he was chilly. Sam was waiting for him when he came out.
“Did you like it?”
“Yeah. It was great. Can we do it again?”
“Sure. How about the first time we get lots of snow.”
“Okay. I’ll remind you.”
They went upstairs and met Mr. Jorgenson in the kitchen. “Jamie is ready to go home?”
“Yes, sir, as soon as I get my coat.”
When Sam walked Jamie to the front door, he said, “Thanks, Sam, it was a great birthday party and I’ll invite you to mine in the spring.”
Sam smiled and took his hand. “Thanks for coming. I’ll look forward to yours.”
Jamie opened the door and looked toward the northwest at the sky. “Almanac’s calling for snow real soon. Better get ready.”
“I can hardly wait. See you Monday at school.”
He waved and walked to Mr. Jorgenson’s truck.