By the time the Ice’s fifth birthday party drew near, he had been thinking and planning out his options like a grad student plans a thesis. There were three primary components.
The first was that he had determined by a thorough research of the subject that he was going — by the age of five — to be old enough to have his hair permanently dyed bright blue. His big brother, an infinitely more mature eight, had had his hair dyed outrageous colors several times, and the Ice had decided it was now his turn to sport a similarly grown-up fashion. I agreed, and a celebratory outing to the Sally Beauty Supply store was undertaken with much excitement and hopping up and down.
The Ice and his big brother followed me eagerly into the Sally. They knew precisely where the Manic Panic hair dye was laid out in neat rows like jewels in a case. I lingered at the front of the store with the baby while the two of them whispered and deliberated. There are only so many shades of blue, and when they didn’t reappear pretty quickly, I went back to find out what had happened.
“This one!” the Ice called, seeing me coming down the aisle. He waved a container of lime green goo. The First wore a satisfied smile.
I scowled. “What happened to blue? You’ve been telling me for weeks that you wanted blue.” I cast an irritated glance at the First.
“I changed my mind,” he stated perfunctorily. “We,” he cast an adoring glance up at his brother, “we both want our hair done for my birthday. And we,” — again that emphasis, that secret collusion — “like green.”
I looked at the label: Electric Lizard (“Glows Under Black Light!”) was the name of the color, a most brilliant and obnoxious chartreuse. Sighing, I asked, “You sure?” He nodded happily and I shifted the Maker to my other hip, gathered up bleach, developer, and gloves and took the Electric Lizard to the counter with me. Green it would be.
While I bleached and dyed the boys’ hair, the Husband got busy with the second part of the Ice’s Fifth Birthday Plan. We didn’t have the faintest idea where the Ice had gotten the notion, but he wanted a blue (blue, not green) duck cake. On the details he was most emphatic. It was to be a cake in the actual shape of a duck, entirely iced with blue frosting.
For this task we brought out our big guns: a diminutive booklet called “Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-Up Cakes,” copyright 1959, one of the great treasures of our household. This little gem of a pamphlet listed careful instructions for cutting a sheet cake into the right number of shapes to form Spot the Fox Terrier, Tortie the Turtle, Ella Elephant, and Deer-ie the… well, you get the idea. A friend had found the cookbook in a used book store, thought of us, and delivered it forthwith, knowing the many uses we would put it to.
On the page descriptively but unimaginatively titled “Quack-Quack the Duck” we repeatedly read aloud and giggled over the poem:
Quack Quack the duck waddles down the street
With coconut feathers and yellow feet.
Her voice may not be very sweet,
But Boy! will she be good to eat!
The poem’s mention of yellow feet threw off the plan for blue; I suggested we make the feet and bill dark blue (I was still irritated about the hair dye change of plans) but in the end the Ice ruled in favor of yellow.
It was most fabulously fowl.
While our family had, and still has, a clear policy against birthday gifts (“The party and the people are the gifts,” our deeply annoyed children have heard us say many a time) we bent the rules for Gram, who had made the trip from Memphis in order to celebrate with us. She had promised the Ice a trip, all by himself, to Alley Cat, a nearby toy store, where he was to be permitted to choose ANY TOY HE WANTED. One toy, but anything in the store. I was rather worried about this, but as I was banned from participating, I waved them nervously out the door and returned to cake clean-up detail.
The Ice returned in clouds of ecstacy, clutching a rumpled brown lunch sack twisted at the neck. I laughed delightedly, but had to contain my curiosity as the Ice told us all to remain inside while he huddled on the front stoop alone with his prize for a few minutes. The five of us watched through the plate glass picture windows, Gram with a knowing grin. He hugged his sack a time or two, then carefully, slowly untwisted the top. He drew out a strangely familiar square cardboard box, which he opened to reveal an old school metal Slinky. A wave of laughter rolled through our family and the Ice glanced over his shoulder at us, waved, and displayed his new acquisition in the last of the sunlight.