Lens of Time

A/N: This would have never been written without the wonderful support of VR Trakowski, who knows a good plot bunny when she reads it!  If you liked this one, thank HER.

My mom and dad are different. Lots of people talk about their parents and say that they’re weird and stuff, but I know that MINE are the real thing. I mean, they don’t smoke or drink a lot, or even curse very much, although my mom knows a lot of bad words, but they’re just different.

For one thing, they work at night. Both of them. That’s just the way it is at our house. My mom and dad come back from work right before I get up for school, and we all have breakfast together while Mrs. Sanders goes home. Usually mom and dad take turns making it, and it’s not even breakfast food, but it’s good. Sometimes we have quesadillas or pizza or spinach puffs. I love the spaghetti best, especially if it’s sent over by Uncle Jim.  

Then mom takes me to Verde Mesa Elementary School and Squirt goes to First Lutheran Daycare before she goes home so she and Dad can sleep.

When I get home from school on the bus, I try to stay quiet so I don’t wake them up for an hour. I read, or play video games. Usually dad gets up first, and we go get Squirt from day care. Dad asks me about my day and helps me with my homework. He does the English and the Social Studies with me, and lets mom help me with the Math.  

I don’t like Math much, but I know I have to do it.  

The best time is after homework, when we all walk out to the park before sunset. Mom and I take turns pushing Squirt in his stroller while Dad has Dante on a leash. He doesn’t need one, but Dad says it’s the law. I think it’s silly because Dante never runs away, he just sticks with us unless he’s playing fetch with his tennis ball. Anyway, we go to the park and push Squirt on the swings. The jungle gym is kind of lame, but sometimes I chase him around to make him laugh. He’s okay for a three year old.

Dad usually throws Dante’s ball for him about a million times, but he’s more careful now because one time, he threw it near all the ducks by the pond and Dante nearly fell in the water trying to get it. Man, all those ducks took off, quacking and stuff and a lot of the people at the park were staring at my dad. Even Mom was sort of laughing, especially when Dante brought the ball back and it was covered with gooey duck feathers, yuck!

When we get back, we have dinner, and mom gives Squirt his bath. Sometimes I help her, but sometimes I just watch TV with Dad. He and I and Figaro like Doctor Who and Zorro and the Discovery Channel. Some nights, Mom comes back after putting my brother to bed, and Dad reads to us while she practices her guitar. The last book he read was all about the lifecycle of the western prairie locust.

Then Mrs. Sanders comes, and Dad and Mom kiss me goodnight before they go to work. Mrs. Sanders is cool---she never tells me when to go to bed, but when she’s here I take my bath and get under the covers and read a little. I fall asleep pretty fast.

Anyway, so that’s why my house is different. On the weekends we don’t have Mrs. Sanders, but Squirt and I get to play on mom and dad’s bed before everyone gets up, and we all get really silly. Dad plays blanket monster with Squirt, and mom tells me stories about her and Dad, and sometimes Squirt gets the giggles and we all start laughing.

It was on a Saturday, after dinner that we got a really big crate from the delivery guy. Dante barked to let us know someone was coming, and when Dad answered the door there was this huge box that was so big it was like a closet! He and mom put it in the living room while Dad signed a paper for it. I saw the label on it and it said CA, so I knew it was Grandma stuff.

My grandma Olivia was great. She had the softest hugs, and whenever we went to visit her, all her dogs would lick me and she’d sign at them and they’d stop. She and my Grandpa Alex took us to really cool museums with pirates and bones and we always had lunch at Waffle World when we went to visit her. I was really sad when she died. Dad was too, for a long time, and I remembered that he had to go help Grandpa Alec pack some stuff so that’s what the box was.

We all got to help open the box, and it was full of this straw stuff. Dante wanted to chew on it, and Squirt kept throwing big handfuls around. Mom told him to stop, or he’d have to go sit on the sofa for time out. Squirt knew she meant it too, because she had her serious face—the way it looks every time she says, “I’m serious.”

So I got a garbage bag from the kitchen and Mom and I put the stuffing fluff in it while Dad took things out from the box. There was a lot of stuff, and Dad said there were things here he hadn’t seen in years. Some of the boxes had notes on them, and I think Grandpa Alex did that, so we’d know who was getting some of the things.

There was a big box for Mom on top.

We took it out and opened it, and there was all this silverware in it, with fancy handles on all the stuff. Mom reached into the box and touched it, and Dad told her it was something called Sulgrave Sterling. She looked really stunned, like when we bought her the new peach tree for the back yard.  

Mom took the box into the kitchen and it was a little while when she came out again. I think she cried a little because her nose was red, but Dad hugged her and she was okay. Then we looked in the box again, and there was a box with my name on it. Dad took it out and gave it to me, and he was smiling.

“This one I know Grandma wanted you to have, Bingo.”

So I took it and sat on the carpet, opening it. Squirt wanted to help, but I made him sit down and hold the lid when I got it off. Inside was another box made of wood and it smelled super good. Mom said it was cedar. The corners of the box had metal on them, and on the top was this pretty carving of flowers.

Dad squatted down next to me. “This was your grandmother’s music box. She never got to hear it, but she would touch it with her fingertips and feel the vibrations. Her father brought it from Vienna for her when she was just a little girl, and the music is a tune called the Blue Danube Waltz.”

I undid the little hook on the front and opened the box and it played for me. Squirt got all excited and tried to grab it, but I held it up while it played and told him to sit still. When I brought it down again I saw that there was a necklace in the box, so I took it out. It was a little silver chain with a rose on it.

Grandma loved roses.

So I started to cry because I loved her and I missed her and the box and the necklace were so pretty. Mom scooted over and hugged me really tight, which made me feel lots better, especially when Dad came up on the other side too. Squirt got mad because HE wasn’t in the hug to he squeezed my leg and hung onto it. For a minute, we were all just hugging, and then it was okay.  

Dad took off his glasses and wiped them, then looked back at the box. “I’m pretty sure there are a few things for Squirt in there too—let’s go look, buddy.”

He and Dad dug around in the straw stuff and pulled out this really long funny looking box with old pictures of cabins on it. Squirt grabbed it and it fell on the carpet and spilled—there were all these sticks with notches cut into them. Mom said they were Lincoln Logs and Dad said they had been his when he was a kid.  

There was also a really really old stuffed monkey with a rubber banana in one of his paws. Dad went all red and Mom laughed.

“Isn’t that---?” Mom picked him up and handed him to Squirt. Dante came over and snuffling him a lot—well, both the monkey and my brother.

Dad just sighed. “It is. Mr. Bobo . . . I was sure he was long gone.”

“No way,” Mom told him softly. “Not your first love.”

I giggled, because it was funny to think of my dad as a little kid like Squirt. I mean, my dad has always had grey white hair and stuff. At school, some kids ask me if he’s my grandpa sometimes, and that always cracks me up. I know he’s older than mom, but it’s not a big deal.

He’s . . . . you know, my dad.

“He wasn’t my first love,” Dad sounded kind of ticked. “He was my comfort fetish.”

“Come on--he was your wubbie, and now it looks like he’s going to be Squirt’s as well. Is this a Grissom thing I should know about, this monkey love deal?” Mom asked. Squirt was already chewing on the rubber banana, and Dante was still sniffing the monkey’s butt, wagging his tail.

Dad just sighed. He does that when he doesn’t know what to say. Squirt picked up one of the Lincoln logs and started swinging it, so Mom took it away from him and I helped her put all the logs back in the box while Dad took more stuff out of the crate.

There was a suitcase full of letters and papers that Dad said he’d go through later, and a big glass lamp with swirly green and silver and gray all over it. Dad said it was a gift to Grandma from an artist named Chihuly.  

It was so pretty, and Mom put it up on the desk so it wouldn’t get knocked over. Then Dad pulled out a old trunk looking box and opened it up. It had a camera thing in it he called a projector; he was excited about it and picked up a thing like a wagon wheel.  

“Does it even work?” Mom asked, and Dad told her he didn’t know. They got busy pulling stuff out and looking at it—there were about four of the wheel things and Mom said they were movies. That was weird, because I thought movies were on tapes and DVDs.

They had post-it notes on them, with numbers.

Dad pulled out the projector and I saw it was like the old-fashioned ones Mr. Kumar has in the AV closet at school. The projector cord was funny too—it was like, cloth instead of plastic. Dad plugged it in and then flicked this little stick sort of switch on the side. A light bulb inside it went on, and it made the whole wall near the fireplace light up.  

“I guess it does—“ Dad told Mom, and she nodded.

Squirt was swinging Mr. Bobo around and singing London Bridge, so Mom told him to be her helper and take the Lincoln logs out to the playbox on the back porch. Dad said we could show the movie on the wall, so Mom and I took down some of the pictures on the wall next to the fireplace to make a big space. Mom was going to move the circle over the fireplace, but Dad shook his head, and she sort of waggled her eyebrow at him and blew him a kiss and he got red.

Sometimes parents are weird.

Anyway, when Squirt came back, Mom made him and me sit on the sofa next to her while Dad put the first wheel thing on the projector.  

“There isn’t anything . . . dangerous on these reels, is there?” she asked him, and Dad got his thinking look on.

“I’m pretty sure Alex would have previewed them and weeded out anything outré.”

I asked was ootray was. Mom said it meant anything really scary or not good to watch.

Squirt was wiggling again. “Looondah britches fallln’ down!”

He’s been singing that ever since Mom and Dad took us to see London Bridge in Arizona, the goof. Finally Dad got the projector going, and he stayed by it while we watched the wall. A bunch of scribbled letters went by, too fast to read, and then the picture was on the wall.

It was the ocean, blue, with lots of waves. Dad made a pleased noise and spoke up again to us. “That’s Marina Del Rey, just the other side of what used to be the bluffs. Color film, too—that wasn’t cheap back then.”

“Wow, how long ago—isn’t that all development now?” Mom asked him and he nodded, looking kinda sad.

“Mid-Fifties, easily,” Dad said. We kept looking and the camera swung around and suddenly we were looking at a lady on the beach. She wore a green and pink polka dotted bathing suit and her sunglasses looked like cat’s eyes. Mom whistled as the lady blew a kiss at us.

Dad laughed a little. “Can you tell me who that is, Bingo?

I looked at her and suddenly I knew her. “That’s Grandma!”

“Yep. So this is about . . . nineteen fifty four, roughly.”

I thought really hard. “That’s before you were born, huh Dad?”

He nodded, still looking at Grandma. She put her funny sunglasses on top of her head, the way mom does sometimes, and smiled at the camera, waving. She was so . . . not old. Her hair was dark, and she looked like a model in her suit when she waded into the water and made faces about how chilly it was; you could tell.  

And then she signed at us . . . sort of. Grandma made a wavy move and her fingers moved really fast, but Dad was able to spell it out.

“This . . . water . . . is . . . cold . . . damn it—uhhhh . . . “ he muttered, and I could tell he was laughing inside even though his face was red. Mom was laughing on the outside.

“Man, I bet it was, too,” she giggled.

I looked over at Squirt and suddenly I wanted to cry because he was signing to Grandma. It wasn’t real clear, but I knew what it was. Mom saw him too, and pulled him into her lap. “Hey Squirty Squirt—“ she whispered in his ear while she hugged him.

I looked at Dad, but he was still watching the movie, blinking a lot, so I scooted over and rubbed his shoulder. He didn’t look at me, but he smiled, so we both felt better.  

Up on the wall, Grandma was swimming, and sometimes a wave made her go up and down. Dad pointed at something. “This had to be the picnic around the Fourth of July . . . see the Fleet in the distance? I bet all those carriers were going down to San Diego.”

Then the picture changed, and we were looking at a picnic basket in the sand, with a big blanket and some books and a bottle of sun tan lotion. Grandma was drying off with a towel and she was making a ‘come here’ move with her hands.

Then we saw the sky for a few seconds and then a man was on the blanket. He looked at the camera with his eyes squinted up, smiling a little.  

Nobody said anything, but I knew that wasn’t Grandpa Alex.

We watched while he unpacked the basket and took out sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. They looked like tuna. Then, he opened a bottle of beer from inside the basket and pointed it at the camera and the wall went dark. The movie made this flap, flap, flap sound and I saw that the end of it was had come off the front wheel. Dad looked serious, his eyebrows going up.

“My father . . . it really HAS been a long time. Let’s see what the next one is.”

“Are you sure?” Mom asked him in a quiet voice, and he nodded. I helped him change the wheel and he told me it was called a reel.

“I thought Grampa Alex was your dad,” I said. Dad smiled.

“Grandpa Alex is my dad, but Grandma was married once before she married Grandpa Alex, and I was the baby she had with him.”

“Okay.” I understood that.

The next movie started out with the letters again, going up the screen and this time the first picture was of a back yard full of bushes and with a little brick wall. All of us laughed at the same time because it was OUR yard!  

Squirt wiggled off Mom’s lap and went over to the wall, hitting it with his hand. “Yard! Yard!”

“Yep, this is back when it was Aunt Doreen’s place—“ Dad told us as he went to pick up Squirt and set him back to the couch. When the camera swung around, there were two people sitting in lawn chairs. I could tell which one was Grandma, but she was really big, and had trouble getting up.

“Oh wow—Griss, that’s a pre-natal you, isn’t it?” Mom asked. Dad was grinning again.

“Apparently. That’s my Aunt Doreen next to her, with the green scarf.”

I stared at Grandma, and it was funny to see her all big and round, the way Mom used to be right before Squirt was born. She rubbed her tummy, and then Aunt Doreen did too. I liked how they looked alike, and a little like Dad too, with curly hair and that little smile that goes up just at the corners.

I could see the old lawn chairs with plastic ribbon seats, and a table with some books on it. My great aunt Doreen held one up and I could see the title clearly. “Is Doctor Spock from Star Trek?”

Mom laughed, and Dad smiled. “No, not at all. He was a renowned expert on raising children.”

“Oh.” Sounded weird to me. Up on the wall, Grandma and Aunt Doreen were holding up a little frilly dress, and mom sort of chuckled.

“This must be your mom’s baby shower . . . isn’t that your christening gown?”

“Dad doesn’t wear gowns,” I told mom, because it seemed way too silly. She shook her head while she watched.

“Babies do.”

“I’m afraid your mom’s right, Bingo,” Dad told me seriously. “Once, long, long ago, I did wear a gown.”

That made me get the giggles because the only gowns I could think of were Mom’s nightgowns, and those would look really bad on Dad.

Especially the pink one that says ‘Mommies need coffee to live.’

On the wall, we got to see a bunch of baby stuff and then the movie went black when it ended. Dad took the reel off and looked over at Squirt.


“Nooooononononononono.” My brother can be a pain about going to sleep. Sometimes I hear him talking and singing in the dark for a long time.

Mom just shrugged. “He’ll probably conk out in half an hour, so let’s see the rest of the movies.”

“Fair enough,” Dad said. He put on the next movie and we all looked at the wall. For a long time, there was only light, but after a while it started, and the picture was really dark. Finally I could see Grandma; she was skinny again, and this time she was holding a baby that I KNEW had to be Dad when he was a baby. The picture was hard to see. They were standing outside next to a car, and I figured out that it was raining because Grandma was keeping Dad close to her, and somebody was holding an umbrella over the two of them.  

“So . . . coming back from the hospital maybe, or going on a trip--?” Mom guessed. Dad shook his head.

“I think this is my baptism. You’re in luck, Bingo—you just might see me in a dress.”


“Dress a GIRL!” Squirt agreed with me, but then the picture changed and it was outside a church. There were tall steps leading up into it, and a lot of people outside. Dad made a pleased sort of noise in his throat.

“Looks like quite a turnout of Sullivans . . . that one down front is my Uncle Herb, the plumber, and his wife, my aunt Millie . . . And there’s Aunt Doreen again, and my Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary and my cousins, Mike and Ray . . . “

“Mike—“ Mom said quietly and Dad nodded.  

“—Vietnam, nineteen sixty-eight. Ray died from surgical complications in seventy-seven. I’m not sure what church this is—it’s not Saint Xavier . . .”

I kept looking at all the people crowding around Grandma, and trying to see the baby, but nobody would hold still. They all looked happy, and so many of them were doing little signs at Grandma.  

Then we got to see just a look at baby Dad who was sound asleep but it went too fast, and the movie ended. I wanted to see it again, but Dad pointed to the last reel, and this time he was sort of grinning.

“We’ll see it again another time, but I think I remember what’s on this last one, Bingo.”

“O-kaaaay.” I didn’t mean to sound sulky, but I really did want to see baby Dad again. He put on the last reel and shifted a little. I heard his knees crack and tried not to giggle, but he gave me his ‘settle down’ look.  

The movie went on, and we saw grass, and a playpen with wooden bars and OHMYGOSH the cutie-est little baby boy in the world besides Squirt! He was in these little leather white shoes and socks and he had on a really big diaper and some sort of plastic pants over them.

But it was his face that I loved—Dad had big blue eyes and curly blondie hair, then he laughed at the camera and I saw he had only four teeth. He bit on the top of the playpen and Mom laughed out loud. “Oh. My. God. Gil, you were amazingly adorable.”

Dad was really red now, but he looked sort of pleased too and cleared his throat. “I think this was when I was just a few months over a year—“

“Who?” Squirt asked, and he was getting upset. I guess he was mad that everyone thought Dad was cute. I pointed at Dad.

“That’s Dad, Squirt, when he was little.”

“NO,” Squirt shook his head. “Nononononono.”

“Yes it IS,” I don’t like it when Squirt gets stubborn. Mom broke it up though, like she does when she knows we’re going to fight. She picked up my brother and let him sit in her cross-legged lap.

“Okay then Squirt, you tell us who it is.”

“’Kay. Me,” he said and he started to suck his thumb. Mom looked over at Dad and they both sort of shrugged. I kept watching the movie.

Baby Dad was just walking I guess because Grandma was there holding his hands while she stood behind him. She was wearing this blue plaid dress with a big skirt, and she had pretty high heels on. They were standing in a park, I guess because there were flowers and grass and little wire fences.

The picture changed, and now Baby Dad was starting to walk, all by himself. Mom was smothering a giggle against her shoulder, and Dad shot her this look.

“Go ahead and say it, dear—yes, I still have the same bow-legged waddle,” he sighed. Mom lost it then, and she had to press her face in the back of Squirt’s shirt while she made these snorty noises. Squirt laughed too, because it tickled.

Up on the wall, I watched as Baby Dad squatted and picked up something from the ground. He ATE it, and Grandma came running over while I laughed. She brushed his hand clean and scolded him; you could tell.

Squirt giggled again. “Eat a dirt!”

“Dad, that was gross!” I told him, and he looked at me over the top of his glasses. I love the way his eyes twinkle.

“Oh I don’t know—sometimes a little dirt is good for you.”

“Yeah but—“ I looked over at the wall and noticed that Baby Dad was looking up, and all of a sudden a little butterfly was hovering around him. He looked so cute trying to catch it, his hands sort of waving around, and then he fell on his butt right on the ground with a ‘plunk’ just like Squirt does sometimes.  

Mom and I both with ‘awwwww,’ at the same time and Dad covered his glasses with one hand.

“Wait for it—“ I heard him say.

Then the butterfly landed right on Baby Dad’s stuck out lower lip . . . .

--and he ate it. Mom and I saw him chomp down, and one wing was hanging out of his mouth, sort of flapping a little, and I just fell over, I was laughing SO hard.

Oh man—it was just so gross and SO funny at the same time! My cute little Baby Dad, all adorable and stuff and then he just sort of crunches up the poor butterfly and EATS it like he was Dante or something!

Every time I tried to stop laughing, I couldn’t. I was lying on the carpet, my chest hurting so bad because I just kept laughing.

It’s a good thing Mom was rolling around with me too. She was on her back, with her arms over her chest, and tears were running down her face. I couldn’t even hardly LOOK at her because when we did we both started giggling AGAIN.

Dad just sat there very patiently, shaking his head. The movie had ended and the wall was all white now, but I was just too weak to do anything but lie there and start laughing every time I thought about Baby Dad and the ‘chomp’

“Th-th-that explains SO much!” Mom sort of wheezed, and Dad gave a long sigh. He stretched out on the carpet with us, and Squirt came over to flop on his chest, making Dad go ‘oooff’ sort of loud. Dante lay down next to Mom and we were all sprawled out, still sort of breathless and feeling just so happy and good.

“Oh yes, even early on I loved bugs; butterflies especially,” he said, and that just made Mom and me start laughing all over again. Finally, after a while I hugged my Mom and sat up, reaching for Squirt’s foot.


He and Mom were still on the rug on their backs, smiling at the ceiling.

“Yes, Bingo?”

“Can we . . . make movies?” I asked him. Dad turned his head to look at Mom, and she smiled back at him. One of the good ones, that shows her dimples.

“You know, I think we should, she told him in a soft little voice. “Especially now, while the kids are young—“

“—Yes,” he agreed, and I felt all warm because I think maybe that was part of Grandma inside all of us.  

So Dad says we ought to go back to London Bridge maybe, and take a video camera the next time we go on vacation with Uncle Jim, and Squirt’s all excited because Mom said he can do somersaults for the movies. I want to tape everybody I love and tape all the things I love and be able to see them later when I’m old.  

Because like Mom says, some of the best times that we never even realize are the right nows.


CSI menu