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Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

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Blackwell men and babies       These innocent youngsters soon join the story-telling troupe …

Lock up your wives and kids, cautions Screen Three. Family night at the Blackwell home!

“Really, guys,” I explain, every night is family night. This just happens to be ‘story’ night as well. Treasured friends also are welcome as we gather in the living room.”

Music accompanies the tale being “told” by Thor (my co-adventurer and next-youngest brother). Our crowd of two dozen joins the catchy “Calendar Girl” tune by Neil Sedaka. Within moments, Thor and my young daughter dance their way onto the main stage.

Formerly called the living room, clarifies One.

Through mime, my brother does his best to woo Leah, but she coyly rebuffs him as she wiggles to each verse touting 12 months of the year. The crowd claps and laughs in nonstop approval.

I, the lone dissenter, seek a pillow to smack Thor for teaching such moves to my six-year-old!

Pop’s skit is next. Dad calmly walks over to the “receptionist” and asks if he might see the doctor about an itch. “Have a seat on the bench,” he is told, and he does, scratching madly at his chest. Family friend Joe Cacciato enters and begs the receptionist to fit him into the schedule for an exam of his restless legs. “The bench, please,” he hears, and sits beside Dad. Joe’s legs kick while Dad scratches his chest. Another Blackwell checks in, states he has a severe muscle spasm in his neck and, head snapping side to side, obediently sits alongside Joe and Dad.

AfflictionsFor a brief moment, the symptoms remain with the original patients, all three wildly manifesting their ailments. Laughs Screen Two, Look at them kick, scratch and snap!

Then Six shouts in disbelief, Wait, wait! Now the problems have leaped onto the other people!

Dad scratches, kicks his legs straight out, pops his head madly. Slowly but surely, his motions are rivaled by the two newcomers.

A fourth character, this Blackwell holding her apparently aching back, demands the receptionist “get the doctor – now!” The receptionist asks, “Why? Does your back hurt?”

“No,” moans the newest arrival, throwing hands to stomach, “I’m pregnant.”

Three men shout in horror and bolt the bench.

Order is barely restored, comments Four. Not that order is necessary. Or even a common element at a Blackwell gathering.

Barry, our strong-bodied and shirtless Florida State collegian, appears on stage with a small stool and a classy hat. He cues his assistant, a Blackwell too young to perform but too eager not to participate, and the half-pint henchman proudly pushes a button. Rhythms of a well-known Charlie Daniels tune fill the air, and Barron lip-synchs “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” as he simultaneously moves his big frame in such a lithe, supple manner that our hearts tell us not to trust what our eyes see.

Screen Three applauds without ceasing. Right down to the fake fiddlin’ and the flawless flip of hat on head, Barry performs effortlessly. Woo hoooo, Black, that is GREAT stuff!

I whisper to my screens, “How will we ever top these guys?”

Great ideaSix, not normally a story-teller sort of screen, whispers right back. Within moments, five more screens fill in details so well I confidently leap to my feet. “Got one!” I boast, even as I start calling out the names of the smallest Blackwells who have not yet had roles.

Into the kitchen, Boss! prompts Two, and there I swiftly reveal essential details to my tiny buddies. Now you can bring in Barry! reminds Six, entirely too pleased to have my unsuspecting youngest brother so willingly join our theatrical troupe.

Family members chanting and cheering in expectation, I appear before them not as Blackie but as God, hard at work shaping the universe. “I have created three seasons,” I say with joy, “but this fourth shall be my final and my finest.”

A tiny figure appears in front of me. “You are a majestic oak,” I proclaim, and an acorn-sized Alex straightens his shoulders mightily. “You,” I say to another tot, “will grace us as a fir tree,” and cuddly Cassandra mimics ornament-decorating movements. “This one” – I hold little shoulders anxious to act – “can be none other than a marvelous maple,” which causes excited Eric’s hands to become “leaves” gently fluttering in wind.

Barry literally dances in from the kitchen, feet outpacing Snoopy’s, hands reaching for the stars. Moving fast, he dances past me. Dances in the midst of giggling trees. Dances ’round the smiling circle we form. Dances with joy and abandonment, legs high-stepping, head bobbing, body shaking.

Dance as if no one is looking, muses One.

“I have done it!” I roar with pride. “My best work yet! From here on, this season shall be known as Spring – ”

Barry is still dancing! admires Screen Six. What a champ!

“ – and its arrival each year shall be heralded by – ”

Marvels Four, He has NO idea, does he?

“ – the sap running in the trees!”

Wordlessly, cheers Five, Barry dances right out the front door and into the night.


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Postscript: Barry does return. To the “stage,” even, sent there by eldest-brother Mike to help set the scene for the night’s last laugh.

Lounging and enjoying those passing by, Barry spots nephew Alex walking and says, “Nice shirt, my man. Where’d you get it?”

“From J.C. Penney,” Alex replies and strolls on.

Barry next sees another well-dressed Blackwell. “Those pants are stylin’,” he commends.

“Got ’em from J.C. Penney,” comes the reply. That’s the same answer given when Barry asks yet another nephew the source of his snappy socks and shoes.

“Everything from J.C. Penney,” murmurs Barry to us in wonderment. Suddenly he sits upright and shouts at someone unseen, “Good grief, man! Whatwhat in the world happened to you?”

Into audience view dashes Mike, buck naked but for a well-placed hand towel he holds against himself. “I’m J.C. Penney!”

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