Spooner's Story (as Told by Josh)

Tree People book cover

I had a question from a reader in the UK the other day, asking, “Is Spooner a normal name for a kid in those parts?”

Here’s my reply:

I agree that “Spooner” is an unusual name—one you don’t hear every day. Names in the US don’t really have to be normal. And parents here are all the time inventing new names or going back for old ones.

Although the Matthewses never discuss the origin of Spooner’s name, I like to think it’s from an old family name, and that perhaps Hal was distantly related to the American folk hero Lysander Spooner, an individualist, anarchist, abolitionist, and early Libertarian of the 19th century.

When Spooner got older and started school, it’s very possible the kids would tease him about his name, but our contact with Spooner is prior to his formal school years.

I was sifting through some old computer files this morning, and happened upon the beginning of a treatment for a novel of Tree People that I wrote in 1998. It must have been some time after I stopped writing screenplays that I first had the idea to make my scripts over into novels. Here is the beginning of Josh’s story.

— Rebecca

Tree People

Spooner was four years younger than me, but for as long as I can remember he had been the one in charge—not like the spoiled brats who get their way by tantrum, but because whatever Spooner suggested was so emminently reasonable. He had a certainty about things, a natural gift for knowing what to do, and the chutzpah to get his minions to perform.

I first realized Spooner had the gift during a dreamlike season of blizzards, pirate treasure, and tree people when we became acquainted with Eugenia Norris. I was old enough at the time, nine, to remember in detail the events of that incredible winter, but Spooner tells me now, over twenty years later, that he only remembers the cat “Charlie” who happened almost after.

At the time, I understood very little of the actuality behind those childhood days. Out of a consuming curiosity in days more recent, I have put together the whole story. Spooner was no help, of course. “Tell me when you get to the Charlie part,” was all he could offer by way of assistance.

Before I started my detective work, I would have sworn that Eugenia had been the one to affect and enrich our lives—mine and Spooner’s, and our parents, Melanie and Hal.

Hal was a young Veteran of the Vietnam War when he met our mother, Melanie Margaret Moran, at a high school sock hop. He was taking night classes on the G.I. Bill at the community college which campused with the Cisco high school and stuck his head in when he heard the music. Melanie was a shy and pretty thing who stood, back to the bleachers, pretending she didn’t mind not dancing. She was still 16 and he was almost 24. Without even asking, Hal took Melanie in his arms and danced her out to the middle of the floor. And, except for a brief period during the winter of ‘71, they never stopped dancing. Melanie eloped with Hal two weeks later and soon after got pregnant with me. That was it as far as our grandparents were concerned. They disowned Melanie, wrote her out of the will, and let her room out to a female graduate student. Every letter, every picture that had a return address was returned unopened. There were no Christmas gifts or birthday cards with money. Mama was a sinner who would not be forgiven on earth. The West Texas Baptists had seen to that.

Even though Hal had billetted at the base in Abilene and took up with Mama near there, his roots were on the East Coast. His parents were no longer living, but he was used to the scene—the factories, the hustle and bustle, and the snowy winters, and preferred living there—so Spooner and I grew up with no grandparents a’tall.

Something started to go wrong early in 1970, and by that summer Hal and a handful of other men got laid off from their jobs at the mill. Hal and Mama lost the house the first of November and, just before Thanksgiving, we hit the road in a late 50’s model Pontiac station wagon. The plan was to drive south and look for work. The actuality was that we became street people 20 years before it was the fashion.

We broke down in Ashton with a flat tire on Christmas Eve. Hal had spent the last several months creeping from rejection, to dejection, despondency, meloncholy, and finally to a depression so bad that he couldn’t even get out of the car that cold night to check the tire. I ran out to see it. I remember the snow falling, a gentle and picturesque sight in the glow of the headlamps. “It’s flat,” I told my Dad with the assurance of an expert mechanic, having seen several flat tires the last few weeks. “We can put the spare on it.” I didn’t know there was not an endless supply of spares. We had used the last patch on a badly damaged tire just the previous week. No more patches, no more spares.

“I give up,” Hal said. And those were the last words he spoke for months. Melanie was telling Spooner bedtime stories in the back of the station wagon and the importance of Hal’s announcement didn’t hit right away. “Tree People!” I heard Spooner call out with glee. And so began our story.

Eugenia Norris picked up her coffee cup and moved to the window. The snow was falling steadily on that January day and showed no sign of a let-up. Eugenia was 50-something; she would never tell. Never married, she had the no-nonsense look of the generic spinster. She wore a navy blue suit, her hair pulled back in a bun, and half-height focals perched low on her nose. Cheery pots of crocus bloomed on the window shelf. Eugenia liked fine things and the reminder of fine things. She felt at peace with life as the peaceful snow drifted down.

Eugenia’s quiet contemplation was interrupted when a plump, cheerful woman entered. “Miss Norris? I thought you’d like to see your schedule for next week.”

“Oh, thank you Dolores. Just put it down there.” Eugenia gestured to a vacant spot on her stacked desk. Cluttered organization, Stan called it.

“Will there be anything else?” Dolores would have made a fine Jeeves—Eugenia thought—to her “Aunt Agatha”.

“No. Oh wait,” Eugenia handed her cup to Dolores and returned to the hypnotic snowfall.

“Have a nice weekend.”

Almost a full minute after the door had quietly shut, Eugenia came to. “You, too, Dolores.”