By John Thomas Tuft

Mr. Nobles gaveled the meeting to order at precisely 7pm with an old mallet he’d made in shop class a million years ago, announcing, “This meeting of the Nobles family is called to order. All present and accounted for.” “Fred, do you have to be so dramatic?” asked Ellen, his wife and mother of the four children arrayed around the dining room table bearing expressions that ranged from the excitement on the face of the 4-year-old, Jonathan, to total, abject boredom on the face of the 13-year-old, Sydney. Their other two children were the twins, age 11. “Are we getting a puppy?” asked Max, of the Max and Mary twins. “We have a list of reasons why we should get a puppy,” added his attorney, aka sister, Mary, shoving a piece of paper with writing in black marker across the table toward the parents. “If they get a puppy, then I want a turtle!” Jonathan piped up, before asking, “Are there snacks for our meeting?” Sydney let out a dramatic sigh. “Do I reeeaallly have to be here?” Mr. and Mrs. exchange their own look of exasperation before saying in unison, an emphatic, “Yes!”

“This is an all hands on deck situation,” began Fred Nobles. Sydney promptly slapped both her hands down hard on the top of the table. The twins giggled and Jonathan followed suit with a vigorous table slap, which led to more giggles. “Children, listen to your father,” said Ellen, suppressing a smile. “No puppy, no turtle, and if you don’t start paying attention, no phones, no computers, no television for the rest of the evening!” Mr. Nobles could feel the meeting slipping from his grasp. “This is important. This is a family meeting. Not a circus!” “Are we getting a swimming pool?” asked Max. His attorney immediately chimed in with, “We take swimming lessons, and we wouldn’t let the little pipsqueak drown. Hopefully.” “Hey, I’m not a pipsqueak. I’m Jonathan!” said the aforementioned youngest. “Stop it,” yelled Mr. Nobles, now thoroughly flummoxed. “Fred,” murmured Ellen, patting him on the arm. “Why don’t you just get to the point?”

Fred took a few deep breaths and cleared his throat. “I’ve been offered a new job. Grandma cannot live alone any longer.” The kids looked at each other in bewilderment. “Kids,” added Ellen, “there are going to be some changes, and everybody needs to do their part.” “We’d rather get a puppy,” said Max. “Can I listen to my music now?” groused Sydney. “The job is in another city,” Fred plowed full speed ahead. “In another state.” “What about Mom’s job?” asked the ever-vigilant attorney, Mary. “Wait a damn minute, another state?” Her suspicions were aroused. “Well, I am NOT moving,” announced Sydney. “I’ll stay here with Mom.” Jonathan started crying. “I want to be with Mommy, too.” Fred grew more exasperated. “No one is staying behind with Mommy.” “Fred!” cried Ellen. Jonathan cried harder. “Let’s see you mansplain your way outta this one,” smirked Sydney. Fred pounded the table with the old mallet, trying to restore order that was never really there in the first place.

Max and Mary sat in stony silence. Jonathan squirmed for a moment then looked thoughtful. “Was grandma bad?” he asked, “Is that why she can’t live anymore?” “No, pipsqueak, grandma’s just needs more help these days,” declared Sydney, “She can’t live by herself anymore.” Ellen stroked her youngest son’s hair. “Grandma needs us, and we need her,” she explained. “What’s the new job?” Max asked, “and where is it?” “I’m going to be the Superintendent of Schools in a small town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” “No!” Max cried, “You can’t. It’s bad enough to have you as our principal at school, Dad.” Mary chimed in with her legal point of view, “Now you’ll be everybody’s boss. C’mon, how are we supposed to even breathe without somebody squealing on us?” Ellen’s eyebrows shot up. “And just what would they be squealing about, young lady?” Mary pled the fifth on the advice of her own legal skills.

“Nothing good ever happens in Pittsburgh,” Sydney said with great solemnity. “Is this meeting almost done?” she added as she started to push away from the table. “NO, it’s not finished,” exclaimed Fred. Deep breath, “Now, the new house has four bedrooms. So…” he left that news hanging in the air while the kids looked around the table doing quick calculations. Mary was the first to figure it out. “Wait. Grandma’s going to be with us. Four bedrooms. You and Mom in one. Me and Max. Grandma.” She smiled. “No, no, no!” Sydney was on her feet. “I’m not sharing a room with the pipsqueak. I need my privacy.” Pandemonium reigned for the next five minutes. “What about Christmas?” wailed Jonathan. “Will Santa know we moved?” “Don’t talk to our teachers, Dad,” the twins insisted. “Why can’t grandma get her own place?” grumped Sydney. “We could divide up boys in one room and girls in the other,” offered Ellen in her wisdom. “No,” yelled Sydney. “She has too many books.” Mary responded, “And you smell bad.”

By 11:30 that evening, an uneasy silence descended on the household as the combatants had retired to their beds. Fred and Ellen sat in the living room with adult beverages swirling in ice. “Well, I guess that went okay,” muttered Fred. “You realize that in two years we’ll have three teenagers.” They both sighed.  “I suppose we could leave the kids here,” offered Ellen in the rarely spoken aloud fantasy of all frustrated parents. They looked at each other and laughed. “Did our parents ever have to go through stuff like this?” wondered Fred. “No, we were perfect. Don’t you remember?” teased Ellen. Fred took her hand. “I suppose someday this will be one  of those good memories. The family meeting.” Ellen studied his face then burst into giggles. “Nah. But hold that thought!” And they kissed…

Words are magic and writers are wizards.