December 6th, 1965
Mother realized it pretty soon. I’ve only been back nine days now and already she suspects. It’s not that women have that apparent six sense, it’s just that their normal senses are more…well sensitive to certain aspects of human nature. This is especially and obviously true when it comes to the ‘Fruit of their own loins,’ if you will.
Fathers, the male of the specie will also come to realize that something is amiss, but it takes them a while longer. It stands to reason, by nature and in general, men are mostly practical creatures, whereas women are your more emotional entities.
That said, I want to document, before I forget, the exact words of a conversation that took place between my mother and pastor Red Reilly.
They, of course, did not know that I was eavesdropping, but I had somehow suspected the reason for our good pastor’s visit was me!
“So, Beth, what’s this serious matter you need to see me about so urgently?”
“Connie? Your son? Little Cornelius?”
“Yes, there’s something terribly wrong with him.”
“Oh my! What is it? Have you taken him to a doctor?”
“I don’t think it’s the type of thing a doctor can help with. That is why I called you! Maybe the church will know what to do?”
“He’s changed; it’s as if he’s a completely different child. Don’t laugh, but it’s as if someone came and took my real son away and left this…this imposter in his place. He looks exactly like my Cornelius, but he’s so…different; so very, very different now.”
“Good Lord, Beth. In heavens name whatever makes you say that?”
“I first started to notice the changes about a week ago. Normally he’s up before me in the mornings. Now, if I don’t chase him out of bed, he’ll sleep to eight or even eight thirty.”
“There’s more. Lots more. He picks up all his clothes, he eats all his vegetables without me having to make threats, keeps his room tidy and even makes his own bed. I’ve always made up his bed. Two days ago he climbed up onto a chair in front of the wash basin and did the breakfast dishes for me. He’s never washed a dish in his whole life.”
“You find that a problem? My goodness, most parents would, if you’ll excuse the expression, kill to have a son like that.”
“He always used to call me ‘mommy’, but now it has become ‘ma’. And then there’s sputnik.”
“Connie’s dog. Our pet Labrador.”
“You called your dog Sputnik?”
“Actually Sputnik 5. It was Connie’s idea when we got him about a year ago. Claude said he didn’t want no commie-named dog running around his yard, but Connie insisted because Sputnik 5 was the first time that a dog had been launched into space.”
“So, what about Sputnik?”
“He used to say it’s his bestest friend ever. Just like Dennis and Ruff.”
“Dennis and Ruff?”
“Dennis the Menace and his dog Ruff?”
“Oh, of course, the comic book character?”
“That’s right. But now he hardly ever plays with him anymore. He even seems to find the dog an irritation.”
“I see. Anything else?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed almost too loudly. “This is the worst part. It actually gave me chills along my spine.”
“The other morning at the breakfast table, Claude was reading the early edition. Connie was sitting opposite and I could almost swear that…” she paused.
“That he was reading the back of the paper. You know how a person’s eyes move back and forth across a page when reading? Well I’m almost sure I saw that happening with him.”
“Connie can’t read yet! He’ll only be starting at Jefferson Elementary next year.”
“He was probably just looking at the pictures on the back.”
“Perhaps, but for a moment I could have sworn he was actually reading; even mouthing some of the words. “Also, he lately seems to have more interest in the news on the TV than his favorites, The Alvin Show and The Flintstones. And the same goes for his favorite toys, and also for the next door neighbor’s child, Mikey. They’re the same age, but Connie doesn’t want him over anymore.
“Last week Mikey’s mother told me that Mikey had said that Connie had used some…very strong language down at Pop’s soda store. She claims Mikey said that Connie had used both the S and F words; that he had told an old lady to…‘F-off.’”
“My word! Did you confront him about it?”
“Of course! He denies it all. He says Mikey is a big fat liar and that he doesn’t ever want to see him again.”
“Well, surely that would explain his recent aversion towards the other child?”
“Perhaps, but he certainly has been using other unfamiliar language; not the sort a child of six would use.”
“Words like ‘Detrimental and…and ‘Stimulant’ and… ‘Moderation.’”
“Could you be more specific?”
“Well, today was the final straw. I caught him red-handed making himself a cup of coffee. And when I picked him out he asked if I’d buy decaf next time.”
“Decaffeinated coffee. He also said that he didn’t know what the big deal was because all the soft drink companies added caffeine to their products. Then he said, and I’m about to quote his exact words: ‘It will never be proven that coffee has any detrimental affects if taken in moderation. Apart from being a mild stimulant, poses absolutely no threat to a human’s physical or mental well-being.’ Where did he learn that? And where did he learn to talk like that? Anyhow, as I said, ‘That was the final straw.’ Right after that I got on the phone and called you.”
After a short deliberation, father Reilly had figured it all out. “I believe you’ve just given me all the answers to your dilemma.”
“Certainly. Firstly, from what you’ve told me, it is apparent that your little Connie has an above average intelligence. Other children would call their pets Spot, Rex, Fluffy or…Ruff. It takes a unique mind to come up with Sputnik 5.
“He’s obviously been picking up a lot of new words, improving his vocabulary, by his sudden new interest in the news and other similar programs being broadcast. Nothing wrong with that at all. Secondly, and most importantly, I strongly believe that your son has recently gotten a fancy towards the taste of coffee. He most likely heard about its affects on the radio or TV and became curious. He’s probably been drinking it on the sly for longer than you realize. And, being a stimulant, has made him somewhat…overactive. This would explain the tidying up of his room and all the other activities that he normally wouldn’t do. It would also explain his lying in later than normal in the mornings; the poor little tyke must be over exerting himself during the day.”
“You really think so? You think it’s coffee?”
“Of course. What else could it be? I hope you weren’t suggesting something more serious. Your boy’s fine. Now stop fussing and worrying. He’s not possessed by some evil spirit. Trust me. In future, just put the coffee where he can’t find it. And if the problem, as you refer to it, still persists, try to curb his sugar intake as well.”
“Oh, my. Thank you, Father Reilly and thank God. You’ve really put things into perspective. I was very concerned for awhile there.”
“Glad to have helped. Anytime you need, just call.”
“It all makes such perfect sense now.”
“Of course. You should actually rejoice in your boy’s intellect and curiosity. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it made little human Johnny a much cleverer and wiser person.”
That was the last I heard because Father Reilly stood up to leave and I had to make a hasty departure from the passageway outside the living room where I had been eavesdropping.
It is evident that I will have to be more careful in future. I will have to watch my speech patterns carefully. I will have to change my actions to more of what is expected of me - a six-year-old kid.
And although I abhor Sputnik 5 licking me in the face, I’ll just pretend to enjoy it.