"Aunt Susan, you have seat belts on the kitchen chairs!"
"You bet I do Henry. I wouldn't want anything to happen to my favorite nephew while we're having tea and cookies."
"But Aunt Susan, what could happen in your kitchen? We're just having a--a tea party."
"Oh Henry, we don't have time for questions. Run and fetch my umbrella before we sit down dear."
Mom told me Aunt Susan was a little eccentric. But having seat belts on the kitchen chairs, and asking for an umbrella before having tea and cookies goes beyond eccentric--it's weird. This was not my idea of a fun afternoon.
I wanted to stay with my friend Bruce while Mom and Dad were out of town. We were going to add the finishing touches to our club house. Or I could have stayed with Aaron. He said the bull-heads were nearly jumping into the boat over at Pickett's pond. If I stayed with Eric, we'd be hooping it up in a one-on-one basketball game. But NO--I was digging around in Aunt Susan's closet looking for an umbrella so we could have a tea party while strapped to the kitchen chairs. This is so ridiculous!
"Henry, Henry! Hurry it up dear boy, we're just about ready to start."
I could see the headlines now: Elderly Aunt and Eight Year Old Nephew Taken Away to Funny Farm While Strapped to Kitchen Chairs. Gosh--I hope my friends won't hear about this tea party.
Aunt Susan was talking to the teapot and tap dancing in front of the oven when I came back into the kitchen. Her soft pudgy frame bounced like a balloon in a gentle breeze, while her short springy white hair looked as if it could leap off the top of her head at any moment. Aunt Susan was really odd. But--she always had a smile on her face.
"Oh, there you are Henry dear. Set the umbrella on the table and buckle up son. One never knows what will be just around the corner when you're having a spot of tea together."
After I buckled myself into the kitchen chair, Aunt Susan set the strangest looking teapot I'd ever seen in the middle of the table.
"Just thirty more seconds before the cookies are done Henry."
While Aunt Susan was taking the cookies out of the oven I took a second look at the teapot on the table.
The white porcelain pot was shaped like an elephant. The elephant's trunk served as the teapot's spout and its tail became the handle. The teapot's lid was in the shape of a smaller elephant's head. There were splashes of green, orange, blue and gold representing a colorful scarf draped across the elephant's back.
"Oh my, these look to be the best cookies I've ever baked Henry, I do believe we'll have a splendid afternoon."
I was just about to tell Aunt Susan I could hardly wait to try one when I noticed rainbow-colored steam rising from the teapot's spout. I leaned closer to the teapot in order to get a better look, and the elephant winked at me!
"Whoa--Aunt Susan, your teapot."
"Yes, Henry, what about my teapot?"
"It--winked at me."
"Oh how delightful, I was hoping the two of you would get along well."
"Aunt Susan," I questioned, "What's happening?"
Smiling sweetly, she answered, "We're having a tea party, Henry, I thought you knew that already."
Aunt Susan placed the cookies on the table, sat down and buckled her own seat belt. The cookies were sending off blue and orange sugar-coated sparks, while spinning and popping on the plate.
"There are just a few rules we need to follow before we officially start our tea party, Henry, so listen carefully."
"Rules, Aunt Susan? You mean you want me to mind my manners?"
"Well--that would be nice dear, but I have a few other important rules to follow. We must remember, Henry, safety first. Let me read them to you."
Aunt Susan pushed her glasses firmly in place and pulled a tattered piece of paper from her apron pocket.
"Number one, always remain seated in an upright position in your chair with your seat belt firmly fastened at all times." Aunt Susan giggled and said, "I always feel like a stewardess when I say that."
"Number two, chew with your mouth closed and finish everything that is on your plate or in your cup." She leaned forward without smiling and said, "I can't tell you how important it is that we finish every drop of tea and eat every last cookie crumb."
She reached across the table and patted my hand, "I know we're going to do just fine, Henry. Now would you care for a cookie and a cup of tea?"
"Sure, Aunt Susan." I wanted to finish this stupid tea party as fast as I could. Everyone knows tea parties are just for girls. I sure hope my friends won't hear about this.
I watched as the colorful liquid filled my cup. She offered me one of the cookies which had stopped popping and spinning on the plate, although they still glowed with an iridescent pink color.
I didn't eat my cookie until Aunt Susan took her first bite. Nothing strange seemed to happen to her, so I began to eat my cookie as well. She talked to me about school and asked me what my favorite subjects were. I answered by telling her I loved Science and Gym class. Her soft lulling voice and gentle smile encouraged me to answer every question until the piercing squawk of a parrot interrupted our conversation.
Looking up from the table, I no longer saw Aunt Susan's comfortable kitchen, but rather--the large leaves of plants, vines and trees where her kitchen cupboards and refrigerator had been. Brightly colored flowers grew where the walls had been and the sun was streaming through the ceiling. The kitchen table and chairs were no longer sitting solidly on the floor. They were stuffed into a rubber raft floating down a river.
"Aunt Susan, where are we?"
Answering as if I asked what day it was, she replied, "If I'm not mistaken, I think we're floating down the Amazon River."
"The Amazon, THE AMAZON! Aunt Susan, what's happening?"
"Henry, we're having a tea party--don't you remember? Why look over there dear boy, the monkeys are waving at us."
As we passed a tree that was nearly one hundred feet tall, I could see a family of excited monkeys looking directly at us and waving their hairy little arms over their heads.
In the tree directly across the river a family of sloths slowly settled down for an afternoon nap. I took another sip of tea and finished my first cookie, and Aunt Susan held out the plate so I could have another one.
The water level become shallow and we were floating in and around huge logs.
"Aunt Susan, I don't know how you're doing this but it is so cool."
At that very moment our raft bumped into the largest log. It spun around with a huge gaping mouth, snapping at us with razor sharp teeth. We were in the middle of a dozen hungry alligators.
"Henry," shouted Aunt Susan, keep your hands on the kitchen table and eat another cookie--it's the only way to get the raft moving again!"
Not wanting to become lunch for the Amazon gators, I grabbed another cookie and stuffed it into my mouth. Aunt Susan filled my cup again with rainbow tea and our raft drifted through unharmed.
A few sprinkles began to fall and Aunt Susan opened her umbrella. "I thought we might have an afternoon shower. I do hate eating soggy cookies. Don't you agree Henry?"
Nodding yes, I leaned closer to the middle of the table where Aunt Susan held the umbrella over the cookie plate. During the shower our kitchen raft floated silently under several large trees with thick branches that hung low enough to touch the water.
"Hey, Aunt Susan, the branches of the trees are moving and the wind isn't even blowing."
"Those aren't branches Henry dear, they're anacondas."
"What's an anaconda?"
"Boas, Henry. How are you doing on your tea? Do you need some more?"
"Snakes, Aunt Susan?"
"No, Henry, I asked if you want more tea."
"Not at the moment, Aunt Susan. I want to get past this tree."
"Oh--well, chew a little faster then, Henry."
We floated under the snake filled tree in time to be serenaded by hundreds of brightly colored parrots and toucans. When I set my tea cup down, I saw a gigantic green and red beetle crawling across the table top toward Aunt Susan's hand. Not knowing what to call the thing I yelled, "Big bug, look out!"
Aunt Susan reacted in record time and swatted the creepy thing with the side of her tea cup, "Get out of here you nasty old beastie."
Then, as quickly as the shower started, it was over, and Aunt Susan put the umbrella away. I noticed the river's current was moving much faster than it had been moments before. In the distance I could hear the roar of what seemed to be thunder.
"Aunt Susan, we may be in for another storm, listen to the thunder."
"Henry, quick, finish your tea!"
"Finish my tea! Aunt Susan, what's happening?"
The raft began dipping and tipping in the now swirling water. "Henry, we're heading toward the waterfall, quickly--finish your cookie and tea!"
I reached for the last bite of my cookie when a huge wave nearly tipped us over. The crumb fell off of my plate and onto the edge of the rubber raft.
"Henry!" Aunt Susan shouted over the roar of the waterfall, "You must finish eating your cookie!"
"I can't reach it Aunt Susan, I need to unbuckle my seat belt."
"No, Henry, you must not do that. Try to reach it Henry, stretch as far as you can." I leaned as far as I could with out tipping the chair over. "You can do it, Henry, I know you can. You almost have it."
My fingers curled around the last glowing morsel and I quickly popped it into my mouth while Aunt Susan finished off the last drop of tea. I watched the foaming edge of the waterfall coming into view. Closing my eyes I waited for our raft to go crashing over the falls.
But, nothing happened.
I opened one eye at a time and only saw Aunt Susan's smiling face as she stood to clear way the tea dishes.
There were kitchen cabinets where rain forest trees and bushes had stood moments before. A slightly yellowed ceiling blocked the tropical sun and the kitchen sink replaced the waterfall.
Everything was exactly as it was before.
"Yes dear, what is it?"
"Did we just--have a tea party while floating down the Amazon River?"
"Oh my, that sounds like it would be fun." Humming softly to herself, Aunt Susan turned and placed the teapot back on the shelf.
Then, just before she closed the cupboard door, I heard the squawk of a parrot, and watched a brightly colored feather land on Aunt Susan's kitchen table.
Acknowledgments: It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. If that is true then I owe many thanks to people who have written fairy tales that have inspired my imagination. Among a few are authors such as C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald.
I am also grateful to those who have believed in my dream to write. I want to thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to reach for my educational dreams. There is no way I could have attended Coe College without their prayers and financial support.
I am also grateful for a community of professors and students at Coe who have supported my efforts through their encouragement. I want to thank Dr. Robert Marrs for encouraging me to write stories down without thought to spelling or grammar. Your advice has freed me to create.
I want to thank Terry Heller for helping me to understand style. It took after the fifth explanation, Terry. The support and courage of the Fantasy Writing class was a life line out of my own grammatical muck. Thank you Joe White, Brian Collier, and Terry Heller for editing my creative punctuation.
The idea for the picture book of which this is the text came to me on a Christmas trip to Chicago with Susan Spang. I am deeply grateful and eternally touched by all the stories that we share and will continue to share into the future. You are my touchstone, dear friend.
I owe my sons, Aaron and Eric, my deepest and most heartfelt love and thanks. Aaron, thank you for calling me a writer even when I had never published a word. Your belief in my dream has touched me. To Eric, I want to thank you for the many times you have given up your own plans so I could sit up in my room and work. Thank you, son, for missing the time we would normally spend together. Thank you also for telling me this is something I need to keep doing. You boys are truly my greatest treasures and biggest backers.
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