“No, Tennessee,” Tamika answered. “Little town called Jackson about an hour and a half north east of Memphis. How about you? You heading back to Iowa after the New Year?”
“Chicago,” John replied quickly. “I haven’t lived in Iowa for a long time. I didn’t know there was a Jackson, Tennessee.”
“You’re not alone. Most folks know Mississippi because it’s the state capital but Jackson, Tennessee’s kind of medium sized, only 65,000 people. Almost half the states have a Jackson, at least that’s what they taught my boys in school. The one who dropped everything all over the bus is Arsu, his twin’s Aziz and this little buttercup next to me is Vashti.” Vashti looked up at the sound of her name and gave John a shy smile.
John smiled back at Vashti and wiggled his fingers at her. “Well hi, little buttercup. A pleasure to meet you all. Hawkeyes had a great season, twelve and two and that Michigan State game was tight. So, what, your husband is LeShun Daniels’ uncle or something?”
“Actually we’re related on my mother’s side but were not first cousins. I didn’t even know the man until Hawkeyes started their winning streak, then the whole family started bragging on him; not that there’s any harm in that. We’re heading home after meeting up with my sisters down in Gulf Port just after Christmas. What with the Rose Bowl on Friday it seemed like the twins and all their cousins didn’t talk nothing but LeShun the whole time we were there. LeShun’s good people.”
“Seems like. Too bad about the Rose Bowl. That was so embarrassing I turned the game off at half time. I thought the Hawks were going to get skunked.”
“Christian McCaffrey was sick!” Arsu exclaimed. “We’d of won, I mean, Hawks would of won if he hadn’t been in the game.”
“You can say we, Arsu. I was just giving you grief,” John gave him a reassuring smile. “Yeah, his 75-yard touchdown on the first play made me want to cry and it was downhill from there.”
“Second half wasn’t so bad,” Aziz countered.
“Oh, I know, but still, Hawks got stomped. Hey, I didn’t mean to interrupt your reading; don’t want you to get in trouble with your mama here.”
“Oh, they won’t get in trouble,” Tamika said with a big smile. “The clock’s stopped is all.”
“Mama! That ain’t fair!” Aziz protested.
“Pardon me? Do you want to make it an hour of reading?”
“No, ma’am,” he said, hanging his head. “I’m sorry.”
“R, E, S, P, E, C, T. Right?” Tamika asked.
“All right,” she answered with a smile. “Why don’t you let Mr. John get back to his book and we can get back to ours?”
“Yes, Mama,” the twins chorused.
“I’ll let you get to it then,” John replied. “Just one more thing. You guys are both reading Andrew Clements books, right?”
“Yeah,” Aziz answered. “He writes real good.”
“Yes, he does write well, Aziz,” Tamika said, shaking her head.
“Have you ever read Double Trouble in Wala Wala?”
“No, I don’t think so,” Aziz answered. “Is that one of his? Mama, we don’t have that book, do we?”
“Lord, child. You have so many books by that man I have lost count,” Tamika answered. “What’s it about?”
“Well, it’s my favorite read aloud book. It’s about a little girl named Lulu and her teacher Mrs. Bell and what happens when Lulu starts talking funny. I didn’t really read Andrew Clements when I was the boys’ age. He was just getting started in the late eighties and wasn’t as popular as he is now. But every October there’s this thing called America Reads Day. You ever heard of that?”
“I don’t think Thelma Barker Elementary does that,” Tamika answered. “What is it?”
“It’s a day in October where volunteers all over the country go to elementary schools and read. Big national thing now. It had just got started up in Iowa when I was a senior. I participated because you need to do volunteer work and this seemed easy because Pierce Elementary was just down the street from where I went to high school. I showed up to read to the fifth graders and the librarian asked me if I had a book I wanted to read and I admitted that I didn’t. I said I’d like to read something funny and she handed me a couple of books and Double Trouble was one of them. Hilarious! Lot’s of word play and the kids loved it. I went back and read the same book in ninety-nine and 2000 even though I’d graduated: It was just that much fun.”
“Double Trouble in Wala Wala you say? We’ll have to tell your daddy about that,” Tamika said, nodding her head and smiling. “Maybe Vashti would like it.”
“Well, she might,” John replied, “but it’s really for older kids. As I said, I read it to fifth graders. She probably wouldn’t get the humor.”
“We’re in fifth grade,” Arsu chimed.
“I thought you might be, that’s one of the reasons that I mentioned it. Anyway, I don’t want to get you in trouble so I’ll let you read your own Clements books.”
“We’re always looking for good books for these two. What do you say to Mr. John, boys?”
“Thank you, Mr. John,” the twins again chorused.
John smiled and shook his head. “You’re welcome, guys.”
“Mama?” Vashti’s tiny voice sounded through. “I have to go potty.”
“Oh, child, tell me you are kidding. I begged you to go before we left the bus station.”