“Ha! Grandma and Papa are NOT spies!” I scoffed.
“Not THEM,” my older brother whispered, in his superior-to-the-witless-one tone. “It’s those – friends – of theirs! You know how mysterious they act whenever they get together for Saturday night cards, speaking in code, whooping it up and giving secret winks…”
Hmm… Well, I didn’t know about their speaking in “code.” Though, it was odd that all these American-speaking people never spoke English for longer than a greeting whenever we kids were in the room. More than that, the voices of the three couples always rose louder and louder, until my grandparents’ tiny living room sounded like a cafeteria full of roaring children. And the way they laughed so hard until they nearly fell over — what was so funny anyway?
“No, there’s a reason they always talk so we can’t figure them out,” my brother continued. “And I think that reason is – they are spies!”
A shiver ran over my shoulders like a mouse on tippy-toes. This Saturday, my grandparents were taking my little sister and I to the house of one of these friends instead of hosting cards as they usually did.
That’s when I decided. Harriet the Spy had nothing on me! If my brother was right, I was going to catch them!
“You’d better watch your back!” my brother hissed in my ear before my sister and I left for the weekend at Grandma’s house. He made a sort of slice across the throat, in Hansel to Gretel warning.
I flipped my braids over my shoulders nonchalantly. “Don’t worry. They won’t even know Pam the Spy is on to them!” I crowed.
I held onto that brave feeling all the way up to the front door of the house of spies. Until the door opened and there stood one of the tallest, thinnest women I’d ever seen, seemingly staring down at me from great mountain heights.
A grin cracked across her stony face. “I’m so glad you and your sister could come tonight,” she said. Then to all of us, she added, “Come in, come in!”
I smiled. “You don’t fool me,” I thought. “I bet you are the ringleader.” As soon as we made the hand-shaking rounds, my sister and I sat on the couch beside the television. Immediately, she was caught up in some program she liked. But I wasn’t going to let TV distract me from my detective mission. I pulled out my notebook and looked around for clues.
“Pamela’s going to be a writer,” I heard Grandma boasting as everyone turned and saw me jotting notes. “Someday, she’s going to write some of my stories, aren’t you my love?”
I nodded, mutely, red-faced.
Papa winked at me across the table. Not a spy wink… I was certain it wasn’t. Still, it was conspiratorial in a way just between us two.
The “ringleader” suddenly stood in front of me, holding out a silver platter with rounds of chocolate on it. Oh my gosh… it was Baby Ruths, cut up in pieces. “Care for some candy?” said the spider to the fly.
I could see my sister’s hand about to reach up, and quickly pushed it down. “We aren’t hungry right now, thank you,” I answered for us both, politely.
“I’ll just leave them here for you,” she said, putting them on a buffet table. I eyed them longingly…but…who knew what she might have injected into that delicious looking chocolate and caramel! She wasn’t going to poison us!
At the card table, they were drinking their usual mini cups of dark, rich coffee. Turkish coffee, Papa called it. Very bitter to little ones, he told me when I asked for a taste once. Hmm… bitter. All the more easy to hide a sleeping potion in, I laughed silently, knowingly, with a Snow-White, wicked-stepmother edge. But if the spies did that, they’d still have my sister and I awake to their deeds. The coffee must be okay.
My eyes combed the small room, up and over the bookshelves, glancing at the homey furniture, taking in the pretty vase of flowers across the room, the inviting landscape watercolors on the walls. Very cozy, charming even. But that didn’t mean anything. I was sure that even spies liked a pretty place to call home.
Nonchalantly, I got up and moseyed over to the bookshelf to check out the titles. Most of them made little sense to me. But then I saw them! Three detective crime novels! Interesting… I jotted a note – “Are they concocting spy plans from these books?”
I turned away and nearly slammed into the ringleader standing an inch behind me.
“Are you sure you won’t try some of these chocolates?” she asked sweetly. Oh my gosh – had she seen what I uncovered from her books?
“Um… um,” I stuttered, feeling as though she could read my mind and was trying to keep me from deciphering clues. “No, thanks…”
She gave me a strange look, started to say something, then simply placed the platter back on the table with a shrug.
The slapping of cards, the roar of their coded conversations, the laughter went on and on… I scribbled notes, but what did they really add up to?
Finally, the game was breaking up… coats gathered… and we stood by the door saying goodbyes.
She tried once more… lifting up the platter… “Are you sure?”
I gritted my teeth and shook my head one last time.
We drove for a short bit in silence till Grandma asked, “Why didn’t you take any of the candy, Pamela? She bought it especially for you because I told her it was your favorite.”
Before I could say a word, my sister suddenly blurted, “Because they were a house of pies!”
“Pies?” Grandma puzzled. “What do you mean?”
And then… Papa erupted into the deepest, rumbliest of his warm laughter. I could almost feel it rising up from his center, the way his rich singing voice did.
“Ha…ha…ha…ha…,” he laughed, his joy booming around the car.
“Spies, Mabel,” he spluttered to Grandma. “They think our friends are spies! Pamela, our little detective at work!”
“But Papa,” I started. “How do you know they aren’t out to poison you? No one ever speaks English… I don’t know what you are all talking about… and I saw the funny looks and winks different couples were giving each other!”
Pulling into his driveway, he stopped the car and turned to me. “Yahvrose, Yahvrose,” he said, laughter like music in his words. That was one Old Country word I knew… “Sweetheart.”
“We are all proud Americans of many decades,” he said. “We cherish our adopted country. But for old and dear friends such as we are, it is good to keep up the traditions and enjoy our old language together sometimes. Like tasting beloved dishes you shared in your childhood… It celebrates the old and the new of who we are.”
That night, Papa tucked us in with his warm words and hug. “And you, Yahvrose… this land, and you children are the best of who we are now…” Words to dream on… along with wishes for those banished Baby Ruths!
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© Pam Depoyan
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