A Family Revealed
The little boy began yowling. His brother ran to the open door and began yelling for his mother. The mother arrived on the porch to see the Alva on her back with the little boy struggling to get free from her purse which had become wrapped around his leg. He was crying, but didn’t seem to be really hurt.
The mother extricated him from Alva and put out her hand to help Alva to her feet, which was no simple undertaking, since the woman was quite small while Alva was quite large.
“Oh, Lord,” Alva huffed as she struggled to regain her footing, holding onto the smaller woman’s forearm. “I surely am sorry about this. Is your boy all right?” Alva searched the porch for the two boys. They were over by the railing waiting to see what would happen next. The bigger one was fake punching the little one on the arm. The little one was still snuffling.
“You boys get in the house,” the woman said, “right now.”
“Look atchoo,” said Alva, straightening her coat and brushing herself down the front with her gloved hands. “You got no coat on out in this cold.”
“I don’t know how this all happened, but why don’t you come in out of the cold,” the woman said, although she looked a little hesitant about inviting a stranger into her home.
“Thank you,” said Alva. “I didn’t want to trouble you. I came looking for …” but she stopped as they walked in the door.
The house had a small entryway crowded with kids’ paraphernalia. Skateboards, jackets, a soccer ball, a pair of girls’ roller skates, hats, gloves, all hanging on a coat rack or strewn around the bottom of it. The boys had tossed their coats on the floor, obviously aiming at the rack but not actually hanging them on it. One jacket dangled half off and half on.
“You boys come back here and clean up this mess,” their mother called, but the boys were nowhere around. “Bobby, did you hurt yourself when you fell? I just want to check on him,” the woman said to Alva. “If you’ll excuse me for a second.”
Alva nodded. She was busy taking in the house, peeking around to the living room and the dining room on the other side of the entry hall. Then she spotted it. On the living room mantle above the fireplace. A large group of family photos, framed, standing in a line. She was drawn to it almost unconsciously, for if she had thought about it she would have stayed where the woman had left her. But she walked across the living room to study the pictures. There was her boy in his fireman’s suit, holding his hat, smiling. There was the entire family, taken when the littlest boy was a baby. And a wedding photo, graduation photos, photos of other people – family members of her son’s wife, Alva supposed, or perhaps of the adoptive parents – photos on trips, at schools, at sporting events. The children as they grew, the wife as a young woman in her wedding dress. Alva’s heart began to pound. All she had missed. All she longed to have had. All too late now. She wondered, standing there, looking at her son’s life, whether she should have come at all, whether it wouldn’t have been better to write him a letter and give him the choice of responding or not. That was too late also, unless she simply slipped out the door before the woman came back.