Excerpt from Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Childhood Lost and Found

by Jennifer Lauck

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  • First Published:
    Sep 2000, 410 pages
    Sep 2001, 432 pages

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Chapter One

The only house I'll ever call home is the one on Mary Street.

Mary Street is in Carson City, Nevada, and Carson City is flat valley to soft hills. Past the hills are the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When you look up, the sky is deep blue, forever blue, and there are almost never any clouds up there. The clouds that do come gather on top of the Sierras and they look like wadded-up tissue paper. Every now and then, a piece of cloud will tear away and float across the forever-blue sky.

There's one main street right down the middle of the city and it's called Carson Street. The state capital building is on Carson Street and the dome of the capital is painted silver since Nevada is the silver state. Over the silver dome, two flags kick the wind, one blue for Nevada, one red, white, and blue for America.

The Golden Nugget is on Carson Street too, but everyone just calls it the Nugget.

From the Nugget, you go a couple blocks and you can see the house where Auntie Carol and Uncle Bob live with the pack of my wild cousins. There's Steven, Bobbie Lou, Andy, Mark, Tracy, and Faith Ann. Auntie Carol is Daddy's oldest sister, and the only time I go to that house is for holidays or if Momma has to see a special doctor.

West of Auntie Carol's house, you go Iris Street, Angus Street, and then it's Mary Street and our house is the one with the white fence and the big willow tree.

When you come in the front door, there's three ways you can go. Straight ahead is the living room, right is the kitchen, and left is a long hallway to bedrooms and bathrooms. The first bedroom is B.J.'s, then it's the bathroom, and then it's my room. Momma and Daddy's room is at the end of the hall, and out their window you can see the big willow tree. If the sun is just right, the shadow of the tree comes into their room and lies right over the middle of the California King. Momma says the bed is called that because it's not as wide as a regular king, and just a little longer, like the state.

Next to the California King is a pair of silver crutches, the kind you adjust tall or short by pushing in a little silver bead. Momma can stand up without the crutches and can even take a couple of steps. She still has to use the crutches when she walks to the bathroom or when she goes to any other part of our house.

There was a time when Momma walked just like everyone else, when she was only in bed at night, when she drove her car and talked on the telephone and had lots of ladies over for card games and coffee and thick slices of banana nut bread. I remember when Momma was strong enough to lift me off my feet, toss me in the air, and catch me again.

There's never been a time when I haven't been home with Momma. Daddy works, B.J. goes to school, and it's just Momma and me all day, everyday.

In the morning, I sit outside her door and listen.

That's the rule.

Moshe and Diana wait too. Moshe is one of those fast-moving crazy cats. Diana is all liquid and wait. I pet Diana's soft, sand-colored tummy and lay my head against the wall. Moshe sits apart from us, his brown head held high, blue eyes half closed.

The rule is, no cats, no kids, not until the toilet flushes.

When the toilet finally flushes, Moshe runs to the door, Diana rolls away from my hand, and I get off the floor and walk to the kitchen.

The kitchen is eighteen steps from Momma's bedroom door.

I drag a chair from the kitchen table to the counter, climb up, and lift the coffeepot with both hands so I don't spill. Daddy makes the coffee before he leaves for work and he sets out Momma's special cup so I can fill it. The cup is white and the lightest color of yellow, garlands of tiny purple and red flowers painted around the outside, a line of gold around the inside. The cup and saucer are part of our china kept in the hutch for special occasions. Momma says she likes coffee in special china, says it makes her feel pampered.

Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Lauck.

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