The putting on of Mr. Peters
Mr. Peters, our neighbor, passing our house on what he believed to be uneventful July and August days, often found us surrounded by crepe paper streamers or daisy chains or platters of taffy squares which we were wrapping in waxed paper.Skip to next paragraph
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Peering through the porch railing, he would ask, ''Somebody having a birthday?''
The first time he asked the question, I answered promptly, ''Yes.''
''Yours?'' He looked jovially at me.
''No. Cousin Carrie's.''
''Well, now, that's mighty nice. I didn't know your Cousin Carrie was visiting you.''
''She isn't. She's in California. But it's her birthday.''
Mr. Peters whistled softly and called over his shoulder, ''Well, let me know if your papa needs a hand with the ice cream freezer.''
''He won't need a hand.''
''He means he'd like some ice cream,'' Cissy whispered. ''Tell him to come have some later on.''
Mr. Peters had started down the sidewalk. ''Mr. Peters,'' I called, ''come have some of Cousin Carrie's ice cream later on.''
''Thank you. Thank you,'' Mr. Peters called back. ''I'll do that.''
Once, seeing flags planted to the right and left of our lawn swing, Mr. Peters paused to inquire, ''Still celebrating the Fourth?''
''No, sir. Another historical event.''
''Well now, I didn't know July ninth was anything.''
We remained silent and superior.
''July ninth,'' he repeated. ''What was July ninth?''
We had him where we wanted him.
''Braddock's Defeat,'' we replied haughtily, not offering at first to pass the cookies, though in a minute we were ashamed and passed them.
Mr. Peters, we suspected, always hoped to catch us in the act of not celebrating something. Wishing to teach him a lesson, we freqeuently hung a swish of red, white, and blue bunting conspicuously over the porch rail, or placed a stack of ice cream plates on the tea table under the apple trees.
Mr. Peters, on one of these occasions, stopped to stare at the table. ''Another birthday?''
''Yes, sir.'' Cissy rolled the lemon vigorously.
''Yours?'' He looked at Cissy.
Cissy and I exchanged glances. As usual, we would have to help Mr. Peters.
''Davy Crockett's.'' Cissy sliced neatly into the lemon.
The bunting served us even better.
''My goodness, it must be a holiday,'' Mr. Peters offered on another morning.
We were ready for him.
''August second . . . August second,'' he murmured, hoping for the clue we did not give him. ''A national holiday, I suppose? Or do you just like red, white, and blue?''
''A very important event.''
''Really now? August second . . . Well, girls, I give up.''
That was all we wanted.
''The First Street Letter Boxes in the United States,'' we chanted. ''Boston, 1858. We found it in a book in the library.''
Mr. Peters, however, was not one readily to accept defeat. He called as he passed the following morning. ''You forgot to take in your bunting last night. That's illegal. You must always take down bunting at sunset.''
Cissy and I looked triumphantly at each other. ''We did,'' we called back politely. ''This morning we put it out again. In honor of Columbus.''
Mr. Peters's eyes glittered. He had caught us at last. ''That's October,'' he announced kindly. ''Well, girls, we all make mistakes once in a while. Don't be embarrassed.'' He smiled indulgently.
''Oh, we don't mean October twelfth. We mean August third.''
He looked puzzled.
''We thought everybody knew that,'' said Cissy. ''October twelfth is just his old birthday. August third is the big day.'' She paused dramatically. ''That's the day he started sailing for the United States.''
We were able, on other occasions, to add to Mr. Peters's education. In time we grew so to love him that we invited him in advance to share the fudge we had made in honor of the Banishment of Anne Hutchinson, or the anniversary of the Charleston Earthquake, or the birthday of Baron Steuben.
He came unfailingly. He said we were the smartest children in the entire town. He said he hadn't run across even one other child who had the faintest idea that the Louisiana Purchase was such a big bargain. He said he was proud to be the neighbor of such children and proud to share the peach ice cream their father made.