Here is a current work in progress
A short story about a cousin who died and the memories it brought for my father.
The Tin Cup
Keith dreaded the task at hand; sifting through the remnants of yet another relative’s past. After Sanford’s death, there were few who even remembered where he lived, and no one who wanted to help with the final details.
As Sandy grew up and his mind stayed childlike, the world ignored him. He had lived and died alone. Walking into the crowded house Keith hung his head with sorrow and regret. The cousins were close at one time, but that was long ago.
There were old comics and posters affixed to the walls of Sandy’s bedroom reminding Keith of a teenager’s room. In the small alcove where a desk and shelves sat, the only thing on the wall was a strange but beautiful pen and ink sketch. It was behind glass and in a custom frame, looking out of place in the messy surroundings. Keith gazed at the picture of the cowboy and smiled.
Keith preferred to remember Sandy as a child, for in his mind Sandy had always remained one. It was easier back then, playing together and laughing, as if the whole grownup world didn’t matter.
Their secret fort was under the back porch. Carving out roads in the dirt for their cars and trucks, here the cousins escaped the summer heat. While the older boys played ball, these two played care-free away from the hot sun. The boys in the neighborhood went shirt-less as they rode bikes and scooters in the smoldering August weather. Sandy didn’t.
He was big for his age; even at ten, Sandy looked as if he were a teen-ager. On the chunky side, he was self-conscious, shy and awkward. He heard other people call him ‘slow’ and wanting to be the same as the other kids he tried to run everywhere to prove them wrong. Sandy seemed to be always in a hurry.
When the kids in the neighborhood needed a break they all gathered around the well at Sandy’s house. Sandy ran to the well as if he was hosting them all.
“Come on, Sandy, let us help you,” Keith said. “That full bucket’s too heavy to lift by yourself!”
“I can do it!” Sandy shouted.
They all watched as the child toiled with the bent crank of the well handle. Sandy continued pushing and straining as the bucket slowly came to the top. The kids stared down the well as it rose into sight.
“You’re doing it Sandy, it’s almost here!” Keith encouraged. “Keep cranking!” Sandy put his heart into it now and Keith came around to grab the handle too. The bucket nearly tipped over as it approached the lip of the rock wall. The kids crowded around and steadied it. Sandy collapsed to the ground. “Let Sandy have the first drink!” Keith told the older boys. He reached over the arms of his brother, sneering at him, and snatched the cup from him.
The tin drinking cup hung in the center of a wooden support post of the well. It was attached to a nail by a long red string. Keith dipped the community cup into the cool well water, filling it to the rim, and gave it to Sandy. Sandy gulped it down. “Boy that sure tastes good! Can I have more?”
“You had your turn! Wait until the rest of us are done!” one of the neighbor kids yelled.
Tommy, the leader of the group, grabbed the cup from Sanford’s outstretched hand. The pushing and shoving began, as they took turns dipping and drinking till they were fully refreshed. They straggled off back to their ballgame. When the last of the kids dropped the cup on the ground and left, Sandy looked at the discarded cup and sighed.
Keith picked it up, refilled it and handed it to his cousin. “Some guys just think about themselves!” Keith mumbled. “Sandy are you still hot?”
“Yep, but thanks fer the drink.”
“Thanks for pullin’ up the water Sandy.” Sandy replied,
“Yer welcome.” His eyes widened in surprise by the younger boy’s appreciation. “You still hot, Keith?”
Keith answered,”Yep, shore am.”
Sandy then dipped the tin cup in one more time and started to hand it to Keith. As Keith reached for the cup, Sandy threw the cold water at his cousin and giggled. Keith was mad at first then he started laughing too.
“You know what? That ain’t a bad idea!” He splashed some water from the bucket onto Sandy. Sandy shook a bit and then lifted the bucket with a mischievous look in his eyes. He swung it back and then forward with a jerk to soak Keith. What remained in the bottom of the pail, Keith poured on top of Sandy’s head, who willingly awaited the cold shower.
The two wet boys laughed, as they turned and twisted their shirts to wring out the water over the empty container. After replacing the cup on its nail they raced back to their retreat under the porch. Sandy had made a little bed in one corner with some old cardboard. The two boys tried to make it like a house, though they would never admit this to any one, since ‘playing house’ was a girl’s thing. They had a ring of boulders in the center of their room for a fireplace. Another circle was drawn in the dirt beside it, for marbles.
“Hey, Keith you can make up stories about anything can’t you?” Sandy asked.
“I usually can, why?”
“Well, if’n you was to make up a story bout that tin cup what’d it be like ya ‘spect?”
Keith got a sparkle in his eye and rubbed his chin a bit, before he began. “I don’t have to make up no tale, Sandy… Heck, it’s already got a story.”
Keith took a big breath and sat down on the cardboard near the circle of rocks. “Ya see, way back in Daniel Boone’s time everyone had a cup. They didn’t have glasses and fancy plates like we do nowadays.”
“I even know that,” Sandy replied. “That don’t mean Daniel Boone had that cup though.”
“You’re right, Sandy,” Keith said. “How long do you reckon that old tin cups been hangin’ on that nail?”
“Always been as far back as I can member… even when I was too young to play outside,” Sandy answered.
“That’s because the well has been there probably since Daniel Boone was too young to go outside and play! Think about it, Sandy… Back in the covered wagon days, it’s just like you hear on the radio. You ever heard that Lone Ranger Show? Well, they both had a tin cup I guarantee ya. No one had to share and wait for a turn. Every Cowpoke and even some of them Injuns had their own cup. It was like your toothbrush, now, everyone’s got to have their own. I spect this one had to be someone’s!”
Sandy was wide eyed and entranced with Keith’s story. “Tell me more bout those days, Keith. My Daddy don’t let me listen to the radio.”
“Okay… Let’s see, they had to sleep outside under the stars. They had a real fire too. Not no pretend one like what we got. Oh, and they had horses, not cars. Every family had at least one horse for transportation don’tcha know.”
Sandy nodded his head. “Even I know that!”
Keith’s head bobbed up and down as he continued. “They cooked over open fires and drove cattle. There wasn’t paved roads or fences anywhere. It was dusty and hot, like today. But whenever they came to a creek or a river, they’d get out those tin cups and dip em in to drink and cool off.”
“Yep, cool water was like gold back in those days. They didn’t have soda pop or even ice, ‘cept of course in the winter time.”
“Of course,” Sandy repeated.
“Cowboys would use their saddles as a pillow. They’d make a small fire getting as close as they could to it without being burned to sleep. They didn’t have no comfy bed to share with their three brothers like us. They slept right on the ground!” Keith slapped the dirt for emphasis and a puff of dust rose.
“Those is what they call the good ole days ain’t it Keith?” Sandy asked.
“I think so. Let’s play cowboys. Ya want too?” “Yeah, let’s!” Sandy and Keith played cowboys the rest of the afternoon riding stick horses and hoopin’ and hollerin’ at imaginary Injuns till it was dusk.
It was too soon for Sandy when the time came for Keith to leave. Perched on his knees facing the rear window Keith waved to his cousin from the back of his dad’s grey Packard. Just like the cowboys of old, Sandy watched as it drove off into the sunset.
Today, Keith was looking around at the remains of Sandy’s life. There were shoeboxes stuffed with letters, garbage sacks full of clothing and old ragged books piled on every surface. It looked as if Sandy had never thrown away anything. It would take months to sort through the mess; there was barely a path to walk through each room.
In the kitchen, Keith saw his brother Joe come in and sit at the table. “You haven’t heard of anyone in the family wanting anything of this did you?”
Keith shook his head.
“You see anything you want in here?” Joe asked.
“Yes, that picture in the den, if you don’t mind.”
Joe nodded. “You mean the framed picture of the cowboys by the fireside? I think it’s the only thing of value in the entire place.” “You’re probably right, but I’d like it if you don’t mind.” Keith told him.
“Be my guest it wouldn’t fit anywhere at my house. What do you think we should do?”
“It would be fastest to call the garbage collectors and rent a big dumpster,” Keith suggested.
Joe flipped open his cell phone. “I can’t get any reception. I’ll walk up to the top of the hill so I can use my phone. It shouldn’t take long if we don’t go through it all. Yeah, let’s just haul it away.” He let the door slam as he went out.
In the empty home Keith’s memory was given snippets of the past. He could hear Aunt Sally yelling at Sandy, “Stay in or out, don’t let the door slam!”
In the present, Keith weaved his way to the sink and let the water run until it came out cool. As the pipes made a high pitched noise and the faucet rattled he opened a cupboard to find a glass. Plastic to go cups from all the fast food places in town lined the shelves. Keith moved some of the cups when he noticed a piece of yarn hanging down from the top row. Could it be? The old tin cup was at the other end of a red string. It was bent in quite a few places but other than that it looked just as he remembered.
In this moment, Keith felt like a kid again. Some things should never be trashed, he thought. Keith filled the cup and lifted it to his lips. For an instant he was back at that old spring well. He swallowed the water and splashed a bit on his face. Then tipping his imaginary cowboy hat, he made a toast to his cousin.
“Hi Ho Sandy away… I’ll never forget you and this cup’s coming home with me too, partner.”