I do not know how long we were in my Spokane Grandma's big house. It was a lot bigger than our house back home in Montana and it had a lot more rooms. In fact, it even had a room just for the coal in the basement; something I had never seen before this trip. There were so many things I was seeing for the first time and people I was meeting for the first time, too.
One day I heard the sound of a large truck near the house. Like many little kids who lived in Eastern Montana near farm equipment, the sounds of roaring motors always thrilled me. (My grandfather had a working farm and I just loved going to visit Grandpa and Grandma. Sometimes I even got to "help" with the chores.) While I was trying to figure out from where the sound was coming, I made my way to the basement door.
"Stop," my older sister called as she saw me reach for the doorknob. "We are not supposed to go in there."
"But I can hear a motor and I want to see," I protested.
"It's just the coal truck," some newly-introduced relative passing by us on his way down the steps of the basement called over his shoulder. Shortly after his passing us, there was an enormous crashing sound of the truckload of coal pouring down the chute in the basement coal room. Since the door was still partly open, I could see the mountain of moving coal as it began to fill the room not far from the bottom of the steps. I was instantly terrified, picturing in my young mind one side of the house collapsed from the truck hitting it. I began to cry.
My five-year-old sister was really a little mother rushing over to envelop me in her arms, "Sh, sh, sh; it's okay. It's okay." But I was so sure that it was not "Okay" that I just would not be consoled. I wanted to leave this place, right now! It was just too scary. All these new people and now this awful crash.
My mother came to take over for my sister but, at last, my father swept me up in his arms and took me outside.
"You see, Punkin, the house is all right. Look over there. See, the house is just fine. No one has broken the house." The truck had gone and there was only the remnant of a few bits of coal on the ground near the house. Sure enough, the wall was intact. My father showed me the trap door that closed the shoot off near the foundation of the house and tried to describe to me that the coal was just put in the room through that door. I quieted but was not totally convinced that all was well.
While I did not mention the incident to my parents again for the rest of the day, my subconscious had not forgotten the fear that had been triggered. I woke up, screaming, with a nightmare about the monster coal moving around the house, ready to completely engulf and suffocate any little children in its path. Well, it was a long, sleepless night for my parents. The next day my father tried to explain, again, about the coal truck and coal room. Inanimate objects just cannot move around, looking for small children to crush. Then, my father stood up from his usual squatting position on the ground next to me, lifted me up and gave me a big hug. How I loved to smell my father's neck. He used Old Spice aftershave and that was mingled with the sweet odor of the cherry tobacco he often had in his favorite pipe.
"Come on," he whispered to me, "We are going to the coal room where you can touch the coal."
"No, Daddy. No, no, I can't," I pleaded. "It will cover me and trap me." I wondered if my father had one of those "Ah-ha" moments and wished he had not used the word "trap" when referring to the door of the coal! In any case, holding me tightly in his arms, we made our way to the coal room inside the house. My sister watched as my father took me to the door. I just could not believe that she was so calm and not afraid. I figured it was being five that made the difference and I so hoped that I would not be afraid of such things when I was finally five. The whole ordeal was so confusing to me because I knew that my father would never take me to a place where I would be hurt but my nightmare's images were still so vivid in my mind… how could this be okay?
When we had reached the doorway of the coal room my father put me down next to him but held tightly to my hand. Stretching his free hand out to take a piece of coal, he held it in front of me.
"Here, take it," he encouraged me. "Go on, now. It is like a rock. You like rocks, don't you?" to which I nodded my head slowly, cautiously. "Here, take it. It cannot hurt you."
Clenching my teeth, squeezing more tightly to my father's hand, I lifted the arm on the opposite side, palm up and fingers extended. My father put the piece of coal in my palm and told me to close my fingers over it. Then he told me to throw the coal back on the pile, which I did. I looked at the black dust left in my hand and heard Daddy begin to laugh.
"You see, how can something like that move unless you make it move? It did not move when it was in your hand and it did not move when you threw it on the pile. Nothing came to help get it out of your hand and nothing moved when you threw it on the pile, did it?" Of course, I had to admit that this was, indeed, true. Sweeping me up in his arms once again, he laughed and said,
"Well, we had better get you out of here before your mother finds us down here! She will wonder why on earth we are down here in this dirty place." I laughed, too, then and pictured my father getting in trouble from my mother for putting the dirty coal in my hand. Nevermind that both of us now had scattered puffs of coal dust clinging to our clothing, a fact I just never did notice; I was too happy to have had my fears squelched by this demonstration of the difference between animate and inanimate objects and just what they can and cannot do! I never had another dream about the monster coal.
****Scene 3: When You Are Three, You Are Not Brave… Coming Tomorrow