In the silence of a snowy December morning, Sylvia sipped her tea and watched with trepidation the weather on the other side of the kitchen window. She had planned this shopping day for more than a month… one day to get the presents for her six little ones. Well, Debra was not so little anymore—nearly 12 now and so responsible. Steven, too, was really “a little man.” But Kathy and Cynthia were still just toddling around, barely in school. Larry and Cindy were her “middles,” always too small or too big to do as they pleased, according to them. She smiled and sipped her tea.
Of course they were her greatest joys, but today, just today, she was going to be on her own, shopping and having lunch with her friends. At least that’s what she hoped she’d be doing. If only the snow had held off. The schools were closed for the day, and her children were still nestled in their beds.
There was a knock at the door. “Bill! Thank God you could make it over. I can’t thank you enough for staying with the kids,” Sylvia said as she ushered her brother into the house.
“Oh, I don’t mind at all,” Bill said taking off his coat and shaking the snow back out on the porch. “You go on and go; get your shopping done and have a good time.”
“It’s so hard being single, you know? I just hadn’t planned it this way,” Sylvia admitted as she gathered up her pocketbook and keys. “But you know I always say, ‘Everything…’”
“…Happens for a reason, I know, I know,” Bill laughed and gave his younger sister a hug. “You’re doin’ just fine, if you ask me.”
“Some days,” Sylvia said, leading him into the kitchen. “There’s instant coffee and tea, of course. The kids are good about getting their own breakfast; they shouldn’t bother you too much. Debra can take charge. They can have peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese for lunch. I think there’s enough bread….” Sylvia checked the bread drawer. “Well, just enough. But I’m going to the grocery store right after lunch, and I’ll be home before dinnertime. So don’t worry.”
“I’m not worried,” Bill said. “I’m their favorite uncle, you know. And I’ve cooked a meal or two in my day.”
“Yes, you certainly are their favorite uncle,” said Sylvia as she put on her wool coat and hat and threw a paisley scarf around her neck. She pecked him on the cheek. “When they wake up, they’ll really think it’s a holiday with you here. She paused and smiled up at her brother. Thanks, really. I promise to be home by four o’clock.”
“You enjoy yourself and get your shopping done; we’ll have a great time.” Bill shuffled Sylvia out the door. “You be careful on those roads, is all.” Sylvia waved goodbye, got in the old Chevy, said a prayer over the steering wheel that the car would start, and (prayer answered) backed out of the driveway. In two seconds she was on her way.
“Hey, Uncle Bill is here! We got a snow day, Uncle Bill!” Bill shut the front door and turned to see Cynthia and Larry standing at the bottom of the steps.
“So I hear, Larry,” Bill replied. “How about some breakfast?”
“Yeah, and TV!” Larry yelled, as he headed for the living room.
“I wanna watch Captain Kangaroo,” Cynthia went running after him.
“No, The Today Show!” said, Debra, coming down the stairs. “Today Show,” echoed Cindy. Kathy trailed after the rest, beginning to whine a little over the thought of missing the Captain.
“Well, you all work out the TV,” said Bill. I’m going to scramble up some eggs.” He went into the kitchen and pulled the egg tray out of the refrigerator. Six eggs. Sylvia was right, he thought, shaking his head. Just enough.
After the breakfast dishes were put away, Sylvia’s band of merry children headed out into the snow. Only Debra was left in the kitchen with Uncle Bill.
“Don’t you want to get out there and build a snowman or something?” asked Bill, as he took the dishtowel from his oldest niece.
“No, that’s ok. I like hangin’ out with you, Uncle Bill.”
“Well, that sure seems a poor substitute for two feet of new snow, but it’s up to you.” Debra and her favorite uncle headed into the living room to talk about their common interests: books, cooking, camping and, of course, Sylvia.
“Your mom doin’ ok?” Bill asked.
“Sure, I guess so,” said Debra.
“Well, I know you,” he said poking his niece lovingly on the shoulder, “are a big help to her. She counts on you a lot, Debra.” Debra smiled. “And what about you… you doin’ ok?”
“Straight A’s,” she beamed. He smiled back in the appropriate mixture of pride and concern common to favorite uncles.
The afternoon came. Debra took charge of lunch and the grilled cheese sandwiches, just as Sylvia had predicted, so Bill took the opportunity to take a little rest. And as he slumbered, the winter sun settled into its soft golden glow, stretching icy fingers across the yard, and the house became quiet with the nonsound of coloring books, reading and watching the winter world outside change colors… white, powder blue, petal pink, copper and suddenly gray.
“Hey, Uncle Bill, Mom’s on the phone. She wants to talk to you.” Debra handed the phone to a groggy Uncle Bill.
“Sylvia? Are you ok,” Bill asked into the receiver.
“Yes, Bill, just fine. Only my friends and I are just now leaving the restaurant. We didn’t mean to stay so long, but we had so much to catch up on that we lost track of time, you know?”
“What time is it?” Bill asked, looking around and noticing that the street lights were on and it was near dark.
“It’s 4:30,” said Sylvia. “I know I said I’d be home at four with groceries, but I haven’t even….”
“Don’t worry about anything,” said Bill, beginning to wake up. “Take your time getting home, and I’ll make sure dinner’s on the table when you get here.”
“That’s awfully sweet of you, Bill, but really there’s nothing to eat in that house—nothing that will make a meal for you and the kids,” Sylvia explained. “I’ll need to run to the store, and I just…. I’m so sorry… I just lost track of time.”
“Now you come on home and skip the store for tonight. And stop feeling so sorry. Nothin’ to be sorry about. I will make dinner—I can make dinner, you know.”
“Well, of course you can, but…”
“Sylvia, you come on home, and I’ll have it on the table when you get here,” Bill was firm.
“OK,” Sylvia gave in. I’ll see you in about an hour or so.”
Bill hung up the phone and headed to the kitchen. In the refrigerator he found olives, 10 black and 10 green, the green ones stuffed with pimento. There was half a stick of butter. In the cupboard he found white rice, a can of chicken broth and some crackers. An onion and two green peppers were keeping company in the crisper. There was one can of cream of chicken soup in the pantry, alongside the salt and a few herbs. The freezer yielded, besides half a tray of ice cubes, a package of peas and carrots. As luck would have it, cheese remained from lunch, maybe four or five tablespoons, if he shredded it fine.
“Hey, Uncle Bill,” it was Steven in the kitchen doorway. “When’s Mom coming home? We’re all hungry.”
“Your mom will be home in about an hour, but I’m making dinner tonight.”
“YOU are?” questioned Cindy. “What are we having,” she asked, with a note of skepticism.
Bill looked at Debra, who simply stared back at him, eyes growing wide, and shoulders shrugged. “We are having…” Bill looked around the kitchen. “We are having….” he said, searching the ceiling.
“What?” asked Larry, middle-child impatience at the ready.
“We are having…” Bill looked into the eyes of his nieces and nephews. They all leaned in with anticipation. “We are having a… a…. a Pocket Full of Dreams!” Bill suddenly announced. “It’s my own recipe.” There was a hushed sigh as they all leaned back.
“Now, you all go on and get to your homework or whatever you are supposed to be doing now. I’ll call you when dinner is served.” Away they went.
Debra hung back. “Can I help you, Uncle Bill?”
“Well, maybe,” Bill said smiling. Can you chop onions and peppers?”
“Sure, I do that for Mom.”
“And hand me those jars of olives while you’re in the refrigerator.”
“Olives! We don’t eat olives. Mom fixes them in things… I think it’s a drink, a martin.”
“It’s a mar-ti-ni, and that’s not what you’re having tonight. Just hand them to me. You DO want to help,” he half glared, half smiled at Debra.
“Yes, I do. I’ll get the stuff in the frig,” Debra said with a military salute.
“Don’t forget that bit of cheese,” Bill said as he started opening cans and putting pots on the stove.
Sylvia pulled into the driveway right around 5:50. All the lights were on in her house but no one seemed to be running around. The kids were always running around. What was up?
I bet they’ve got Bill frantic, complaining about dinner and me being late, she thought. Still…gosh I had such a nice time today. I’ll make it up to them… cookies or something. If I ever get to the store, that is.
She opened the front door and put her coat and hat in the closet. Not a sound. God they’ve forced him to take them out for dinner or something, she worried. “Hey, anybody home?” she called.
“We’re in the kitchen, just about to eat without you,” yelled Bill.
“Eat without me? Bill?” Sylvia said as she made her way to the back of the house, where—amazingly—something smelled pretty darn good.
Her children were seated around the big kitchen table, mostly quiet and unusually attentive. Bill stood at one end about to dip into what looked like the most enormous casserole Sylvia had ever seen.
“What’s this?” she asked, a little unsure.
“It’s dinner!” Debra said. “Uncle Bill and I made it.”
Cynthia tugged her mother’s sleeve. “We’re having a pocket… uh, a pocket…full of dreams and it has olives in it,” she stated resolutely.
“Oh, I see,” said Sylvia. “What else is in a pocket full of dreams?” she asked, looking up at her brother.
“Oh all kinds of good things,” Bill said. “Pull up a chair, and I’ll serve you some.”
“Me first, I’m starving,” said Kathy with well-practiced dramatic flair.
“I think we’ll let your mother have the first helping, don’t you?” said Uncle Bill with a measured look at his youngest niece. “She’s had a busy day shopping. Then the next spoonful can belong to you.” Bill took Sylvia’s plate and measured out a healthy mound of something cheesy, colorful and rich.
“I think you had quite the busy day, too,” Sylvia said, taking the plate.
“Oh not so busy. I even took a short nap,” said Bill.
The house again filled with nonsound, hungry children contentedly eating.
That was THE best supper EVER!” exclaimed Larry. Everyone had started to clear the table, and Sylvia and Debra ran dishwater and grabbed towels.
“There’s certainly no leftovers tonight,” Sylvia observed. “I really MUST get to the store tomorrow.”
“Let’s have A Pocket Full of Dreams again next week,” suggested Cindy.
“Well, I’ll need to recipe, if Uncle Bill is willing to share it,” Sylvia said with a quiet giggle.
“Oh… well… the recipe is kind of an inspirational sort of thing. I’m not sure I’ve ever written it down,” said Bill. “It’s all up here,” he explained pointing to his head.
“Well, then, maybe you’ll come back next week to help me cook it?” Sylvia smiled and gave her brother a knowing glance. “Right now, you look a little tired.”
“Well, I should be gettin’ on home,” said Bill. He headed toward the door and was bombarded with hugs. “Thanks, Uncle Bill!” Larry said
“Yeah,” we had a great time,” Steven patted his uncle’s shoulder.
“Come back and make a Pocket Full of Dreams next week,” Cynthia pleaded. “Promise?”
“Sure, we’ll see,” said Uncle Bill, putting on his coat.
“Just come back next week,” said Debra as she hugged Bill and kissed his cheek. “It’s always a Pocket Full of Dreams when you come over.”
In the silence of a snowy December evening, Sylvia sipped her tea and stared into the darkness on the other side of the kitchen window. All the children were nestled in their beds, and the house was still.
No, she’d never expected to be a single mother, raising six children. But things seemed to be turning out all right. Not easy, but all right. Especially, when your brother brings over a pocket full of dreams. She smiled and laughed to herself. It was just amazing how Bill had pulled off that dinner, which, she had to admit, was pretty good.
Everything, she thought, happens for a reason.
This story is dedicated to my friend Deb, who is one of the most enchanting people I know; to her mom Sylvia, who really did raise six children mostly on her own; and to the memory of her favorite Uncle Bill, who made every moment magical and every meal a pocket full of dreams. Merry Christmas from Green Gal of the Midwest. Shop local. Eat Healthy. And always be as brave as Uncle Bill in the kitchen.