On that long ago morning after breakfast, my father began tapping on the wall in back of the kitchen. Before long, he had found a hollow spot. I was convinced there was a pirate’s treasure hidden there. He just smiled. His tools were in the car, and the car was at the garage being fixed. It spent most of its time being fixed, so we would have to walk to the hardware store to get what he needed to open the wall. It had snowed all night and it was still snowing when we left the house. I remember trying to walk in his footsteps, but my legs were too short. The only person we saw was Mr. Danas shoveling the snow in front of his grocery store. He was wearing the straw hat he always wore. People said he never took it off. He was a Greek but he was also a Catholic, so he was one of us. The store was closed, but he invited us to come inside to warm up a bit even though we had only come two blocks from home. It seemed longer than that because I was looking for Indians my friends claimed still lived in caves on Fort Hill where Professor Burt was always finding arrowheads. Fort Hill was just up the street. They came into town looking for children who would never be seen again. Not even their bones were ever found. I loved it inside Mr. Danas’ store. Half the floor was covered with wet sawdust and there was a large bloody saw by the butcher’s block behind the case where he kept exotic things like liver. He talked to my father about something, probably about our bill, and then he gave me a piece of penny candy before we left. We had to cross the Concord River before we got to the hardware store; and, since I’ve
had acrophobia as long as I can remember, I shut my eyes and held my father’s hand while we crossed so I couldn’t see the rushing water through the metal grates. Every few steps he told me how close we were to the other side. The Indians never crossed the river.
That morning on the way home, we didn’t pop into Duggan’s bar while my father had a quick beer or two with the men who seemed to be glued to their stools. We had a wall to open. On one Saturday visit my father pointed out a man sitting by the back door with a cap pulled low so no one could see his eyes. He was the parish whiskey priest who would be reported to the rectory by his mother if he didn’t show up in her kitchen for supper at five as he always did, a mother who was worried about her place in heaven and if not in heaven, in the parish. His binges were brief. My father looked at him with what seemed to me to be a mixture of envy and pity. Years later another priest would be our landlord. We passed by Duggan’s bar without looking in and headed straight up Oak Street hill like mountain climbers approaching a summit in a white out, a summit no one had ever reached before. We could have been Bigfoot and his son when we reached our door. I think that day is the reason I always go for a walk when it snows no matter where I happen to be. It was late afternoon when my father, covered with plaster dust so that he looked like a ghost, removed the last of the wall and, instead of the treasure I had hoped for, found a beehive oven holding a small bean pot with a coin inside, a coin that proved to be from colonial times. I was disappointed, but I had seldom seen him so happy. He thought there was something behind that wall and there was. How many others had lived in the house without realizing there was something behind the wall, and the oven’s chimney was working. It was an omen that we would be in that house for a very long time. It was home, and I had my own small bedroom on the second floor. Even my mother seemed pleased and baked Spam covered with mustard and brown sugar for supper in our new oven. We ate together by the kitchen window where we could see the snow that was still falling, and above the snow I knew there were stars and above the stars, the angels. On Christmas Eve of our first winter on Oak Street while I was waiting for Santa Claus to land on the roof, I saw a neighbor, Mr. Nason, who had just come home from
Face in the Window
A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim