Grandpa's Harmonica

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Chapter 5

The next morning, when Jamie picked up his books and dinner pail in the kitchen, he had a brainstorm. Rooting around in a cupboard, he found another lard pail and then dug a stack of cookies out of the jar on top of the icebox. He wrapped them in waxed paper, put them in the pail and then trotted out the back door.

At school, he waved at Keith, Ken and Doc riding in and then sat on the porch waiting for Sam. When he drove up, Jamie jumped to his feet and trotted to the truck.

Jamie held out the pail as Sam got out. “Hi, Sam. You might want to use this instead of your lunchbox. It’s lots bigger.”

Sam took the pail, shook it and lifted the lid. He looked at Jamie asking a silent question.

Blushing, Jamie said, “I thought you might like some sugar cookies. You know, what with being new and all…”

Sam smiled. “Thanks, Jamie. I like sugar cookies.” He opened his lunchbox, loaded his dinner into the lard pail and put the lunchbox on the seat of the truck.

Jamie said, “Did you know we only wear our new bibs to school on the first day?”

“Yeah, Doc told me, but all of mine are new. I never had any before I moved here.”

“Really?”

Sam hooked his thumbs behind the straps of his overalls. “Yeah, in New York City, workmen wore them, but no one I knew did.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that.”

“I’ll try to wear the new out as fast as I can.”

Jamie saw Homer coming down the road. “Gotta go. See you later.” As he walked up to the schoolhouse to meet Homer, he heard the truck drive away.

Homer frowned and said, “What’re you talkin’ to Sam about?”

“New York City. We might as well get to know him since he’s going to school with us.”

“You can. I ain’t gonna.” And stomped into the schoolhouse, passing Miss Kuelmann as she came out to ring her bell.

Miss Kuelmann gave the first and second graders seatwork to do after the Pledge, then said, “Sam, please help the first two grades while I get the other grades started.”

Sam nodded and moved to sit with the little kids at the front of the room.

Homer leaned over to Jamie and whispered. “Oh, sure. Now he’s gonna be teacher’s pet.”

“Homer, Miss Kuelmann asks almost everyone to help the little kids. Especially at the beginning of the year. You know that.”

He scribbled on his tablet so hard his pencil point broke. “She don’t ask me.”

“That’s because you always make them laugh and they don’t get any work done. Sam’s just doing what everybody else does.”

Homer scowled at Jamie, and then went to use the pencil sharpener.

Jamie had never seen Homer so ornery and couldn’t figure out why. From listening to him, it didn’t sound like Homer knew either.

The rest of the morning, Miss Kuelmann asked Sam to help the little kids off and on. When he wasn’t doing that, he sat silently in his desk and worked. Every time Miss Kuelmann said his name or Sam asked for another assignment, Homer grumbled.

When Miss Kuelmann announced recess, Homer ran out the door first and waited on the porch, his hands on his hips. “Okay, who wants to play baseball? First game of the year.”

Ken and Keith shook their heads and Doc said, “We’re going to teach Sam more about horses. He doesn’t know anything about them.”

Homer turned toward Sam, leaned into his face and said, “Everybody in New York’s so rich they all got cars. That right, Sam?”

Sam didn’t move and stared up at Homer. “Not everyone has a car, but no one has horses. The only time I rode was at a stable in the park where I rented a horse to ride.”

“Rent a horse? That’s the craziest thing I ever heard.” Homer doubled over laughing.

Sam shrugged. “That could be, but that’s how it is.”

“If you’re so rich, why don’t you get a car?”

“I’m not rich. Since everybody here has horses, I thought I should learn about them. See you later.” They all turned toward the shed.

Homer yelled, “What happened, Sam? Your pa lose all his money and hadda ship you out here to get rid of you?”

Sam whipped around and caught Homer under the eye with a fist. He sailed backward off the porch, landing on his back with an astonished look on his face.

Homer had never lost a playground fight in his life, but from the expression on his face, Jamie could tell he was thinking over the wisdom of starting this one up again. Before he made up his mind, Miss Kuelmann came running over.

She could always tell when a playground fight was about to break out and arrived before it started. But this one came and went so fast, she missed it.

Grabbing Homer by the collar, she jerked him to his feet. “What is going on here? You know you’re not supposed to fight at school.”

“It ain’t my fault! Sam hauled off and slugged me for no reason.”

“Homer, after five years as your teacher I know better than that.”

Homer wiped the blood dripping from his nose with his shirtsleeve, smearing it across his face. “Did too! Ask anybody.”

“It doesn’t matter. There’s no fighting at school for any reason. Both of you come with me. Homer, I’ll clean you up when we get inside.” Miss Kuelmann marched Homer into the schoolhouse by the collar while Sam followed.

Jamie thought Miss Kuelmann wasn’t being fair because she didn’t say anything to Sam. But considering the number of times she’d broken up one of Homer’s fights, Jamie figured that would be expected.

The rest of the day, Sam and Homer had to stay in at recess, writing ‘I will not fight at school’ on the blackboard. Sam wrote in neat lines while Homer’s crawled all over the board and he kept misspelling ‘school’. Miss Kuelmann called Homer’s parents and Mrs. Lily after school to tell them what had happened.

The next morning, Homer and Sam had to stand in front of everybody and apologize for fighting. Miss Kuelmann flipped a coin and Sam went first, but Jamie didn’t think he sounded too sorry. He won, after all.

Homer shuffled up front and faced the class where everyone could see his black eye and swollen nose. It wasn’t easy, but Miss Kuelmann coaxed an apology out of him. Then he slouched back to his desk, hands in his pockets and heels dragging on the floor.

After Homer had flopped into his seat, Jamie waited until he’d cooled down a little then leaned over and whispered, “What did your dad say? Was he awful mad?”

Homer stared straight ahead, clenching and unclenching his fists on top of his desk. “You can’t imagine. At first, I thought I was a goner, but I ended up getting off easy. Pa said my nose and eye was enough punishment this time. But if I did it again, he was gonna talk to me for a spell out in the woodshed.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“It ain’t. But lemme tell you somethin’, Miss Kuelmann can make me ’pologize, but I ain’t sorry and I’m gonna get back at Sam, one way or the other.”

“Let it go, Homer.”

Homer crossed his arms and stuck out his lower lip. “No! And you can quit tellin’ me that anytime you want.” Then he pulled out an assignment and ignored Jamie. The rest of the day, he watched Sam, even though he pretended he wasn’t.

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