Mark Sanford stood among the boxes in the living room of his father’s former home, a small three bedroom cape, with his cup of coffee in his right hand. The weak morning sunlight broke through the early winter cloud cover and came in the windows around the hanging drapes. It had been nearly sixteen years since he lived on South Cherry Street with his parents. He remembered the day he moved out of the house to his own apartment at eighteen years of age, shortly after his mother had passed away. He now smiled at the irony of wanting to come back to a place he was so ready to leave in order to start his adult life so many years ago, in an effort now to simply start over.
The oil furnace kicked on and the forced air system pushed heated air while he made his way quietly up the stairs to where his old bedroom was when he was a child. His own son Matthew now lay in his old bed. The door creaked slightly as he went to peer in and that was enough to wake him.
“Dad?” Matthew called out.
“Hi son, I’m right here,” Mark responded as he opened the door all the way and walked in. “Did you sleep okay?”
“Not really,” Matthew answered as he sat up. “I guess I’m not used to sleeping here. “I suppose I have to get used to it.”
“Look sport,” Mark said sitting down next to his son and ruffling his short brown hair, “I know this change is a big adjustment for you. It is for all of us; you, me, Grandpa too. I expect it’s hardest on you. Talk to me about it then. You were pretty quiet in the car on ride here and when the movers were dropping everything off yesterday.”
Matthew looked over at where the movers had placed his desk and then he looked about his dimly lit room. It was the room they focused on yesterday and it was the only one fully set up.
“What are we going to do with all the stuff that was in here?” Matthew asked pulling the covers up slightly towards his chin.
“Well,” Mark said taking another sip of coffee and scratching the four day old gray and brown stubble on his face, “we moved most of it down in Aunt Teresa’s old room at the other end of the hallway and we can just leave it all in there like storage. We are in no hurry to get rid of it honestly and Grandpa and I are still discussing things.”
“Things like what, Dad?” Matthew asked rubbing the sleep out of his brown eyes.
“Well some of the adult things that parents and grandparents have to discuss,” Mark said trying to remain somewhat vague on his details to his only son. Matthew looked at his father waiting on him to continue. “Did you want to know more?”
“We talked about this Dad,” Matthew said as he sat forward. “I’m going to turn twelve in May and in the fall and I’m going to sixth grade. I don’t want to have to pull everything out of you. I want us to talk about things. It’s like you said, some things I won’t understand but they are things I need to start learning. So teach me.”
Mark smiled at his son. “Fair enough, but I am not just going to volunteer everything. It’s true we did discuss how the move was going to change things and that I would treat you like you were a little older, but there are still some things that I am not going to discuss with you and most things are not going to be up for debate or negotiation. You’re still the child and I am still the parent.”
“Yes sir,” Matthew replied meekly.
“Having said that, I don’t want to discourage you. What did you want to know?” Mark asked taking another sip from his coffee.
“Well,” Matthew started as he sat up a little more, “I know at first you and Grandpa talked about staying here “in the meantime” but then the conversations became a little more permanent sounding. I guess I’d like to know which way it’s likely going to be. I have to start up in a new school for the remainder of fifth grade and then for middle school. I am on this side of the tracks; I am going to have to go across town to Moran while basically everyone at Pond Hill goes to Dag. Are we going to stay a short while or a long one? Are we going to stay here in Wallingford or are we going elsewhere?”
Mark smiled at the comment as the conditions of the school changes reminded him of his own childhood going from school to school. “Let me start with that. It does look like we will be staying longer term and I’ll get back to that, but I don’t want you to worry about the changes in schools. I missed having similar things happen to me when I was eleven and in fifth grade because of the way the schools were set up at the time. At one point here in town, a little after I went through, there were three middle schools even; Robert Early Junior High School was downtown and kids were divided between the three schools. When the change from elementary to Junior High happened to me, it was somewhat difficult and I guess a little stressful having to make some new friends and concerned about losing some of the old ones but it will be different for you. What can end up happening is that you will meet a whole new set of kids that will become new friends. Then, once you get to high school, there will likely be some interaction from things like cross town sports events. It may give you the chance to see people casually again. You’ll have an overall advantage of knowing people from both sides of town.” Mark leaned back a little and looked at his son. “You’re a lot like me. You’ll make friends fast here in the neighborhood and at Pond Hill. I am sure that when the time comes, you’ll make new friends over at Moran too I suspect.”
“So what happened? After high school and all?” Matthew asked as he moved around a little under the covers to get more comfortable.
“Well like with all things, time and tide cause things to drift. You have new interests and interactions with other people, at work and socially. Sometimes high school friends make the transition and you carry together. Most of the times you don’t and you go your own ways. Sometimes, decades later, things can renew but it’s very rare. I don’t expect now that I’ve come back to Wallingford to find many old friends that I am going to suddenly begin to hang around with. The connections with some will still be there I am sure at some base level.”
“What about the house and Grandpa’s store?” Matthew asked as he sat back up.
Mark got up off the bed and paced over to the desk. He took another sip of his coffee and set the cup down. “The house,” he said with a bit of a sigh and a pregnant pause. “Grandpa is going to give us the house. You and I. He wants both our names on it. Mine for now and you for the future. He’s going to stay in Florida year around now and when the time comes he’ll leave that to Aunt Teresa. He’ll come up for short visits to see us and to gather some of his things as some of these changes were unexpected and he has things here still he’d like to take with him and keep. But instead of spending six or so months here in Connecticut and then the rest down in Florida he’s just going to stay there.” Mark walked over to the window that overlooked the back yard and he pulled back the blind slightly to see the light snow that had started falling. “As far as the store goes, Mr. Hemsworth didn’t want to renew the lease with Grandpa so as of January first next week it’ll be empty again. I thought it made sense to make the lease payments and work the store myself. I can work the hours in the store and then decide what I want to do with the garage bays.”
“What do you mean dad?” Matthew asked with an increased level of interest.
“Well,” Mark said as he turned away from the window and walked back over to his coffee, “I’m not a mechanic. Certainly not on the level Grandpa was and I cannot work a garage for much more than fluid changes, tires, belts, hoses and a few other minor things. I was thinking of maybe expanding the convenience store through all the space and just sell fuel. That’s down the road right now. I have to get us settled here and things up and running there first before I start making wholesale changes like that.”
Matthew looked at his father and leaned forward slightly as if to say something and then leaned back.
“You were thinking something,” Mark said quietly looking over. “Go ahead. We can’t have a conversation and discuss things if it’s going to be one sided.”
“Well, I remember you told me that when you were a kid you used to work in the store with Grandpa once in a while. And you had a paper route. I was thinking maybe I could do that.”
Mark smiled slightly and stepped over to the desk chair and sat in it. “A newspaper route is a big responsibility.”
“I know, we talked in the car ride here,” Matthew said enthusiastically.
“Yes,” Mark replied. “Well, this is the time of year that routes open up. It’s the worst part of the winter and the Christmas tips are all over. Carriers that were thinking about giving routes up do it around this time of the year.”
“Is that how you got your routes?” Matthew asked as he turned down his sheets and swung his feet off the bed.
“Well the one in the morning I got because my friend Larry was giving it up. It was an easy sell to the paper company because I already knew the route. Then when Jacob up the street on the adjacent route broke his leg I did his for a while and then he didn’t want his anymore. I think I was the only kid with eighty customers. They were large routes to start with. Also what made it easier is The Record doesn’t have a Sunday paper,” Mark said as he enjoyed the little stroll down memory lane from his childhood with his own son. “I have to call the papers about getting product to the store. I can chat with the circulation manager about any open routes and if they still allow twelve year olds take them.”
“And the store?” Matthew asked as he hopped down and put his slippers on. “Can I help in there after school for a few dollars? I keep my grades up and I won’t let them slip. When you give me chores around here I’ll get them done too.”
“Baby steps,” Mark said taking the last sip of coffee. “Let’s see what turns out how and we’ll go from there. I might not have much free cash flow from the store to afford you. I will need afternoon coverage and I need to pay someone as it is.”
Matthew started to walk out the door and Mark got up to follow him. “Are you going to work the store the hours that Grandpa did or the way they were run with the last person renting the store?”
“Well when Grandpa ran the store there were blue laws where you couldn’t be open on Sundays, so you were granted a day off in that manner. Grandpa used to be open by six in the morning and closed about the same time. On Saturdays he’d open about seven and close a little after one. Mr. Hemsworth was open by five in the morning and between him and his wife and his older son they kept the place open to ten at night, seven days a week.” Mark answered as they both went down the stairs and made their way into the kitchen. It was an older style kitchen that hadn’t been updated in quite some time. Mark went over to the coffee pot, a new automatic drip coffee maker, which he brought with him with the move, and refilled his cup. Matthew picked through the boxes looking for something to eat and settled on Boo Berry cereal. “I think we’ll have to see what works for us. We need some money to pay for bills and utilities here at the house and to cover the expenses at the store. The store will need to be open enough and offer service and items to customers to meet their needs to support that but I don’t need to go crazy. I am not looking to get rich or anything like that and that would never happen in a corner store anyway. I am thinking maybe we can mimic to a large degree Grandpa’s old schedule in the store. I’ll certainly need someone to work there part time with me to cover hours at the end of the day and for afternoons when I need to be out of the store for things.”
“Would you try to keep the same weekend hours too?” Matthew asked as he dug out a bowl for his cereal.
“Well I’ll probably need to make Saturday a full day like any weekday. Maybe I can close a little earlier. It depends on how those last couple of hours do on late Saturdays. That’s where more of that need and demand is for having someone in there part time. If there’s enough sales to merit the part timer, I’ll leave the store open. Otherwise I can close it earlier.” Mark set the coffee cup down and took the coffee pot over to the sink to rinse it out. “As far as Sunday goes I’ll likely have to open at least until noon for people to come in and get fuel, coffee, their newspapers and whatever else. Again, we’ll have to see how it goes.” Matthew took his cereal over to the table and listened to his father continue. “You have to remember too,” Mark continued as he put the rinsed pot away and cleared out a couple of items from the dish drying rack, “depending on the status of having someone there part time, or not, you might need to come over to the store after school and stay with me in there to do homework and what not until I close on a given day.”
“Oh,” Matthew sighed, “couldn’t I just let myself in and sit and do homework here? Eleven is old enough to watch myself.”
Mark raised his hand slightly and then went over to one of the boxes and began to unpack a few small items and put them away. “I know you are and the town is plenty safe. That’s not the issue. For a little while it might simply be more practical to have dinner at the store right around closing time. A little “kill two birds with one store” thing. You could get off the bus at the corner of John Street and then just walk the six blocks to the store. If the weather is really bad you can ride it up to Ward Street and get out and come up the one block. I’ll make sure to talk to the bus company about the other stop option. This way you can be at the store at four thirty and do your homework to about five thirty and I can make us a little something to eat as I close up the store. Then we can head home together.” Matthew didn’t respond but Mark could see a little disappointment. “Look,” he continued. “Everything is fluid. This is how I see things starting out but we can discuss some changes depending on how things work and how responsible you keep yourself. One of the issues is going to be in the mornings. I can get you out of bed but you’re going to have to get yourself on the bus. It’s either that or you’ll have to come to the store and get picked up from there.”
“I think I can do that on my own here; especially if it works out and I can get that paper route. I’ll just come home from the route, get cleaned up, eat and hop on the bus.”
Mark smiled at his son as he moved into the next box of items. “I know we’ll figure all of this out together. It’s a restart for both of us. We’ll make the best of it.”
Matthew finished his breakfast quietly while his father continued to put everything in the kitchen away.