“Hey Fannie, when did Caleb get into town?” Clarissa asked walking up to Bunny and me standing at the end of my driveway.
“We picked him up at the airport last night.” I said laughing and shaking my head.
“How can you tell Caleb’s in town?” Bunny asked with her refined Texas accent her still red pony tail waving behind her head.
“I saw the L.L.E.U in the window when I walked up,” Clarissa said laughing, her red ringlets framing her round face.
“The loo?” Bunny asked searching the windows.
Laughing I said, “that would be L-L-E-U for Leg Lamp Equivalent Unit.”
“The what?” she asked looking from me to Clarissa.
“When Richard and Fannie got engaged, Richard’s brothers presented him with a wood carving of a topless Polynesian woman like it was an academy award,” Clarissa said laughing, “no matter how many times Fannie’s hid it, whenever Caleb’s visited, he always found it and put it in the dining room window with a spotlight. I nicknamed it the Leg Lamp Equivalent Unit inspired by A Christmas Story.”
“Personally, I think Lenora Jane, my older sister, has been coaching him where to search all these years. Although she won’t fess up directly,” I said running my fingers over my inch long brown hair, “she doesn’t deny it either.”
“So where did you hide it this time?” Clarissa asked.
“I hid it in an empty kitty litter bucket in the laundry room under two full buckets,” I said laughing, “After two hours of searching and filing the air with several colorful euphemisms he sent his informant a text. My sister must be psychic because it was the first place she suggested.”
“Now that’s funny, I can just see Lenora Jane’s eyes lighting up as she figured it out,” Clarissa said, “she should’ve been a detective.”
“Okay, honey, you got me, what’s the story behind the L.L.E.U. that Caleb feels he has to put it on display every time he visits?” Bunny asked looking at the statue in the dining room window.
Sunlight filtered through the broad leafed trees that lined Tillstrom Road in Damascus, Oregon. Richard Cranium turned onto a dirt road lined with cars and pickups of every description, leading up to a gray farm house.
As we drove closer we could see the white paint peeling from the window sashes. A yellow Lab with a gray muzzle lifted his head as Richard parked the car in front of the sign reading ‘Reserved for Richard and Fannie’. The Lab barked once as Richard climbed out of the driver seat. He lumbered down to Richard, his tail wagged. I walked around the car to join them.
“Fannie, meet Boz,” Richard said scratching the dog behind his ears. “He’s been running my grandparents’ farm for almost 14 years.”
“Wow, that a good long life for a dog,” I said patting him on his side.
The front door of the farm house opened and Richard’s mother, Sabina, stepped onto the porch.
“You’re right on time,” she said smiling.
After a round of hugs, we followed Sabina into the house. Richard ducked when he entered the front door.
The smell of herbs, baked bread, coffee and bacon commingled with the faint smell of dust. In the small front parlor an old fashioned oval mirror hung over the fireplace. Framed family pictures lined the mantle. Two faded dark green wing back chairs adorned with doilies sat on a faded braided rag rug and faced the hearth. A low brown polished table, topped with a Tiffany’s style stained glass lamp and a small crystal bowl filled with hard candies, sandwiched in between the chairs. A small upright piano nestled in the corner of the room crowned by a single silver candlestick on a lace doily, the chairs and lamp reflecting in the piano’s polish.
We walked down a narrow hallway. The walls adorned with family portraits and a well traveled oak floor. We passed a narrow staircase with white railing and entered a brightly lit kitchen with 1960’s mint green linoleum counter tops and matching Westinghouse stove and refrigerator tucked up against ivory painted walls. White lace curtains adorned the window over the sink framing a collection of small ceramic birds on the sill. An aged oaken sideboard, filled with dishes, covered one wall. Next to it a nook housed a maple table surrounded on three sides by sturdy matching benches.
Sabina opened the half door in the back of the kitchen next to the nook and led us through the mud room to the back porch.
Looking from the yard to his mom Richard said, “Wow Mom this is over the top.”
Seven white gazebo tents dotted the lawn. Two of the gazebos butted against each other and housed giant buffets with a bar in the middle. The other four were filled with tables and chairs and the last one housed a dance floor next to a stage where a band set up. A banner over the stage read, ‘Congratulations Richard and Fannie’.
Boz lumbered around the side of the house as we stood looking at the yard. He barked twice. Two hundred of Richard’s closest relatives looked at us in unison.
“Hi everyone, we here,” Richard said from the porch waving, the color rising in his cheeks. Taking my hand he said, “I didn’t expect this. I thought we were having a family barbecue.”
“You can thank your brothers for arranging this,” Sabina said smiling, her gray hair swept back into a loose bun.
Calvin and Caleb, Richard’s brothers pushed their way to the front of the crowd and onto the porch.
Caleb, sporting the same short brown hair as Richard, held a tall box wrapped in blue foil paper.
Calvin, built like a bear, hugged Richard. “I’ll bet you’re wondering what this is all about.”
“Yeah,” Richard said looking from Calvin to Caleb.
Calvin turned to the crowd, “What do you think, are we ready to tell them?”
The crowd cheered.
“Fannie, what Richard doesn’t know is he has broken a long standing tradition,” Calvin said. “Richard, you really threw us when you proposed to Fannie. Two months before you proposed, you bought her a TV and a VCR. Fannie, you should know that for most women that is the kiss of death. When Richard bought a woman a TV and VCR it was his parting gift and he would end the relationship in about two weeks.”
Caleb stepped forward. “So in grand Cranium tradition, we formed the parting gift pool. For $10 each we would bet on the exact date and time Richard would break up with said woman. The person closest to the date and time took home the pot.”
Calvin interrupted, “When you passed the two week mark, we re-opened the betting pool on a weekly basis and the pot grew to over five grand.”
My jaw dropped. Richard turned bright red. The rest of the family laughed.
“So when you announced you and Fannie were engaged, we had to figure out what to do with all the money,” Caleb said.
“The family put it to a vote and we thought we’d throw you two one heck of a survivors party, I mean engagement party,” Calvin said elbowing his brother.
“But we set aside a little bit for a present to commemorate such a monumental moment,” Caleb said holding out the box.
Richard took the box.
“Think of this as the Academy award for happily ever after,” Calvin said grinning from ear to ear. “Go ahead, open it.”
Richard ripped the blue foil wrapping from the box. He popped the tape on the lid. Removing the white tissue he tipped the box and out slid a brown wooden carving of a well formed topless Polynesian woman. He stared at the statue with his mouth open.
Caleb grabbed his arm forcing him to hold up the statue for everyone to see. Calvin signaled the band. They sang, “roll out the barrel and we’ll have a barrel of fun.”
“So you see, Bunny, Caleb feels it’s his sworn duty to display the L.L.E.U. for everyone to admire every time he visits to show everyone what happily ever after really looks like but mostly because he thinks it irritates me,” I said smiling.
“Why don’t you get rid of it?” Bunny asked.
“Richard offered to get rid of it, but I’ve grown rather attached to it,” I said. “And I really enjoy making Caleb search for it.”