When Corncob, our bad-tempered rooster, announced it was morning again with his much-too-loud crowing, I pried open one eye, then the other. And, like every other morning, I moved nothing else while I thought about the dream I’d just finished. This one really seemed different. I closed my eyes and tried to figure out why.
Maybe because it was my birthday? No, that wasn’t why, although it was my birthday. I reached to pull the covers off, and I found the reason. Wow! Yep, definitely different.
In Iowa, where I live, it’s still cold in late April, so I quickly put on my red robe over my red flannel nightgown. I pulled on my heavy socks, also red. Yes, you can say I definitely like the color red.
I was too excited to try to tame my hair—not red—so I hurried for the back stairs. I reached the last step down to the kitchen,muttered “fourteen,” and greeted my family.
As usual, Grandmother was sitting at the table. I thought she must be a hundred years old because her hair was white as a blizzard and she needed a cane to help her walk. She had promised to bake my birthday cake today. It would be ready when Buster, my sluggard of a brother, and I got home from school. Strawberry cake with thick white icing and real strawberries all over the top. Daddy was going to make strawberry ice cream, too. Theday before, Buster announced he likes vanilla ice cream better, but he always eats a big bowl of strawberry just the same.
Mama was at the stove stirring the oatmeal, and Daddy was out in the barn tending to the animals. Sometimes he ate breakfast with us, but most mornings he got an early start on his chores.
“Good morning, Miss Jeannie O’Connell,” Mama said. “Happy sixth birthday!”
“Thanks, Mama,” I said cheerfully, but my birthday was not what I wanted to talk about. I started right in, speaking to Grandmother because she always listened best: “Last night’s dream was really fun.”
Buster groaned, just as he did every morning. He chomped on his grape-jelly toast like a pig eating his slop, waiting none-too-patiently for his oatmeal. He is so gross.
Oh, I live and dream in a small house on a small farm in Iowa, right outside the town of Gunther, next to the Wapsi River. With Mama, Daddy,Grandmother and my sluggard of a brother.
Some people in Iowa are morning people and some people are night people. I am definitely of the morning variety. When Corncob crows each morning, I wake up happy because of my dreams.
Then every morning over oatmeal, I would talk about the adventures of the night before with my family, including Buster, although I’m pretty sure Buster is a night person because he never smiles in the mornings.
Every time I asked himwhy he was grumpy at breakfast, Buster would drool, “’Cause every morning I have to listen to your stupid dreams and see your stupid smiling face.”
I asked him every morning… until the day after my sixth birthday. That’s what I’m telling you about, my sixth birthday.
“First was this boy,” I said to Grandmother that morning. “His hair was like straw. Chester.”
Without even looking, I could tell Buster rolled his eyes. But I didn’t care.
“We flew up into the sky on a magic carpet, way high up over the river, and all the way to this secret cave. Grandfather was there and said I was to tell you it was time to come see him, Grandmother.”
Grandmother dropped her spoon.
I continued, “Then he showed Chester and me a beautiful gold treasure box.”
Buster perked up at the mention of treasure. He was eight and he and Johnny Crumbley were alwaysplaying pirates and looking for treasure.
“What was in the treasure box?” Buster asked, eyes wide, as Mama dished out the oatmeal.
“Lots of pretty things, all sparkly and shiny,” I told him.
“You were rich!” Buster said with delight. He shoved a huge spoonful of oatmeal in his mouth, half of it falling back into his bowl. Such a total slob.
I wrinkled my nose at his drooling mouth. “No. It wasn’t my treasure. But Grandfathersaid I would find it someday. That’s when I dreamed you, Grandmother.”
“Me? I was in your dream?” Grandmother looked over at Mama. “Have you ever dreamed about me before, Jeannie?”
“No. I don’t dream about people I know… until last night,” I said.
Tears filled the old woman’s eyes. “Was I sad?” Grandmother asked quietly. Mama had stopped serving the oatmeal. She reached down for the corner of her apron and wiped her own eyes.
I climbed into Grandmother’s lap and laid my head against her soft chest. She smelled like lilacs, just like always. “It’s okay, Grandmother. You were happy. You smiled when you took this from the treasure box and gave it to me.”
I opened my hand.
I held a large shiny ring. Sparkling red, blue and green jewels set in gold like a little flower glistened in the bright morning sunbeams coming through thekitchen window. Grandmother really had given it to me in my dream. That’s why my dream last night was different. When I woke up that morning, the jeweled ring had been in my fist.
She hugged me tight, tears falling into my curly dark brown hair. When the school bus came, she hugged me super hard again—so hard it hurt, but I didn’t say anything as I gave her a quick goodbye kiss.
After school, there was no strawberry birthday cake. Daddy had come infrom the fields and Mama was crying. Grandmother had gone to Heaven to be with Grandfather. Her heart had stopped beating right after Buster and I left for school.
I was sad for a long time after Grandmother died, even though Daddy said Heaven was a better place for her. He said in Heaven Grandmother wouldn’t need her cane, her bones wouldn’t hurt, and she could dance with Grandfather every day.
For a while, I waited for her to come back from her visit to Heaven, but eventually I understood she wouldn’t.
And the dreams continue to come. Mama says I must have dreamed even before I was born because I would wiggle something fierce inside her tummy before the first day I breathed air. Daddy says before I breathed air that fine April day, I breathed love, whatever that means.
And after I was born and really little, I never slept still, Mama said, but moved my arms and legs as if always on some greatadventure. And every morning I wake up with a smile on my face. I kept the pictures of my dreams in my head until I was old enough to let them out with words. Then I didn’t stop talking about my nightly dreams until the day after I turned six.
You see, I missed Grandmother so much I stopped telling my dreams at the breakfast table. Instead, as soon as I woke up, I stood at the old desk in my room and put down everything I remembered in a notebook. I have dozens of notebooks now filledwith my dream adventures. I haven’t told my dreams at breakfast since the day I showed Grandmother the golden jeweled ring from my dream. The day Grandmother died.