Title: When he was Teddy
Word Count 914
I must apologize for giving little Edward Pellew asthma. He probably never did have it. But it is possible to have childhood asthma and to go on to be a healthy vigorous man. Theodore Roosevelt did so.
Coffee was used as an asthma treatment. TR drank it as a small boy on nights when he could not breathe.
Of course, I know nothing of EP's family. ( but I think, if it is possible to know, I bet Nodbear knows it.)
When he was Teddy
To his mother's mother he was Teddy.
He was Teddy for her, and no one else. To his parents, and his wife, and his intimate friends, he was Edward, ever after her.
But with her he had always been Teddy. (She was Dramma, though he never admitted to that one either. She was Dramma, even when he could talk properly, because he had called her that when he was tiny, and she liked it, and made it stick.)
When he was small, still in skirts, and shortly after, there were nights he could not breathe. Well, he could half-breathe. He could get the air in, it was getting it out again that he failed at. It always seemed to strike at night. He could feel it coming, that was the worst. It was like a belt that tightened in his lungs, as he barked, and then wheezed, and then he dared not speak. And he never told how it scared him, and made him think of drowning. When he was small enough to be forgiven for it – just—it made him weep. Tears wet his face, and dripped down over his freckles.
He always thought the not breathing had something to do with his red hair. No one had ever really said so right out, but somehow having the red hair was not a good thing. Other boys, and girls too, seemed sure of that. No one in his family minded red hair, though. His mother said he looked like Dramma. She had had the red hair too, although his mother did not. But his grandmother said no. She said he looked just like her father. Her father, died unimaginably long ago, and wore strange long-ago clothing. (Edward had seen a painting,) But Dramma said that he had been a very bold and good man, so that was all right.
On those nights, when it got very bad, when he was sure he really was drowning, he went to her. His mother watched from the door, as he crossed the garden to Dramma's little house. Hers was what Edward thought of, in later years, as a 'real garden.' It was not a great house folly. It had flowers, along the edges, and herbs for a woman's unknowable uses, and he had to be careful, in the dark not to stumble on her praiseworthy cabbages.
On those nights, she was always awake. He wondered how she knew, and he asked, once, when he was well, and could speak.
“Oh, Teddy, old women don't sleep very much,” She said.
But that could not have been the whole truth of it, because she was waiting at her door, on the can't-breathe nights. She took him by the laboring shoulder – boy thin, and heaving with trying to make room for air. She steered him to sit at the table. She would have bitter coffee brewed ready for him. It had something else in it too, that he never tasted or smelled again, in later years.
The coffee eased it a little. Once he had finished it, to the bitter dregs, she took him out into the night. The damp night air would complete the work. But it took time. She was the one who waited up with him, on such nights.
They sat on the garden bench, those nights, high enough up, that any kindly breeze would reach them. He leaned against her wide hip, and she talked, because he could not. She pointed at the sky with her bent old finger, and from her, he first learned the stars. These were not the same stories he learned later.
These came with words in the old Cornish tongue, that she spoke, but only mostly to other old women. She taught him words in that speech, although he forgot many of them later. They were not useful words, to him, they were garden words, like her word for butterfly, which sounded just like the flap of wings. They were not useful, no, but he loved them. He learned from her, that words can have a satisfying rightness.
And her figures in the stars,stayed with always. He saw them, the rest of his long life. Greece and Rome, came later. Those were star-tales of smoke and fire, every boy knew them, every sailor had to knew them. But for him they were an overlayer to the homely star- stories out beyond her pointing finger.
Finally dawn come, pale, pale and cold, those nights. The stars faded, and he could breathe again. When he looked back, in memory, it always seemed that way. He could breathe by daylight.
She steered him back, through the cabbages. (Really, they were big enough to break an ankle on,) she gave him back to his mother.
. His mother steered him, in her turn, those to his cold bed. He tumbled into it, gloriously breathing, and slept until he woke.