Ted would come bursting through the back door, sprint up the three steps to the kitchen, and exclaim “PenDot”! If no one answered, he would wander through the house, looking for one of us.
PenDot. Penny. Dottie. Shortened. PenDot. It didn’t matter. If he could find one of us, he would have someone to play with. Ted is our cousin. He and his brother, Louie, lived next door. My sister and I were closer in age to Teddy than Louie was. In fact, he and I were the same age, give or take 26 days. We spent our toddling years in the same house, playing with puzzles, reading books, washing the back porch with the dog’s water and drinking out of the toilet bowl. Family lore has it that someone heard us giggling and there we were with our special cups having a super bowl party of our own. Ted liked to tease that I was the older one. He still does. By the time we were in grade school, we lived next door to each other. Life was good.
If my dad was sitting in the kitchen when Teddy came over, usually just under the birdcage teaching Christo, the parakeet, phrases in Greek, he would chuckle at Ted, whom he loved like a son, and say something to the effect of “Teddy, you come in all the time and say PenDot. Who do you want?” and off Ted would go, laughing, in search of whoever was home.
A long, cement sidewalk separated our houses from back door to back door. Didn’t everyone have such conveniences? Our back doors were rarely locked during the day. We never used a doorbell or knocked. A cursory hello would announce our arrival. Our neighborhood friends always came to the back door and knew to check the house next door if we weren’t home. A long, loud yodeling “Yo Penny” was all that was needed to announce one’s arrival. A polite “hello” through the screen from an adult was accepted in our neighborhood. PenDot, however, meant Teddy had entered the premises.
My childhood was filled love and the security of knowing that there was someone always nearby to play with, to laugh with, to learn from and to be in the protective arms of family. When I returned home from school and opened the door, more often than not there was a visitor at our kitchen table. The aroma of pastries would be emanating, coffee brewing, and activity filling the house. Some days, I would walk past Teddy’s house, down the long sidewalk of their corner house, past their back door and on to our own. Other days, I would walk past their house then down our long driveway to my back door.
One crisp autumn day, I came home by way of the back of Ted’s house. It wasn’t until I passed his back door that I could see a car in
our driveway, parked, almost touching the connecting sidewalk. I didn’t recognize the vehicle. My dad was the only one who ever pulled up that far. Anxious to find who was visiting, I hurried inside, said hello to Daddy, sitting in his spot, underneath Christo’s chattering, and to Yia Yia, who was at the stove. “Who’s here?” I said, quietly, so as not to be rude if someone was in another room.
Daddy liked to play games, to make us think, and to tease. He was such a tease. “Don’t you know? Didn’t you look at the car?” Out I went, looked at the bluish car, new, pretty nice, even from my girlish perspective. “Come on. Who is it?”. “Go look again, Penny. Look at the license plate.”
PenDot. There, on a ’63 Chevy Impala, a bright and shiny new license plate that said PenDot.
After supper, Daddy took us for a spin around the block in our sparkling new car, PenDot. Teddy came with.