Bubber, 2 1/2 years older and wiser, taught me to catch sunbeams, scare boogabears and almost kiss by elbow. All three involved lessons in patience, perseverance and pluckiness.
Our old home faced south. On bright days, from sunrise to sunset, the seven wide steps leading to the long front porch were soaked in sunlight. There Bubber, maker of sumbeams, could be found sprawled up the three top steps, elbows resting on the porch floor, brown hair (tousled, blue eyed dancing like the sunbeams he reflected from our mother's embossed, sterling silver hand-mirror clutched in his fist.
There I, chaser of sunbeams, could be found, hair ribbon bouncing, eyes wide with eagerness, skinny legs scampering as waving arms stretched to touch the sunbeam before it darted someplace else.
Above the upstairs, through the trapdoor to the attic, was where the boogabears lived, but they only came out on dismal, rainy days or after dark, and never if there was a boy around.
"Boogabears are afraid boys," Bubber said, "and mice. They like to scare girls. But if you kiss your elbow you can turn into a boy."
Oh, how hard I tried. I patiently persevered, but without success. Bubber helped me. Bubber did not give up easily. We tried the other arm with the same result.
"Then I must teach you how to scare boogabears," he said. "That means, after dark, every night, you must go ahead of me wherever I go, and see if you can see the old boogabears before they see you."
And so I did, shivering in every muscle with fear and excitement. Bubber followed close behind.
I never really saw a boogabear, but he did, lots of them. He'd grab my arm in the dark and I'd know he'd seen one. In a loud, quavering whisper I'd chant the words he'd taught me to say: Boogabear, boogabear, go back up the stair, I may be a girl, but I'm too brave to scare. Boogabears, boogabears, I'm saying goodnight, You'd better run home 'fore I turn on the light
By this time we would be in the center of the room, where a single light bulb dangled on a long cord from the high ceiling. although I never saw a boogabear, I could always hear them then, scurrying back to the attic, as Bubber lifted me up to reach the bulb and turn on the light.
One sunny day, when I was playing house with my dolls in the back hall upstairs, I heard a strange noise overhead. I looked up to discover that someone, a boogabear, no doubt hurrying home before daylight, had left the trapdoor partly open. As I hastily collected my doll babies to flee to a safer place to play, a darling little mouse poked its head out of the opening. It started at me with bright eyes before hurrying away.
Later, when Bubber returned from that mystical, undiscovered place called Second Grade, I announced:
"There are no boogabears in the attic now, "cause mice live there. I saw one poke its head out."
"Just the same," Bubber said, "you'd better look out for boogabears in the dark." That was the day I began to suspect that boogabears scared boys too, sometimes.
Thus, for 11 years, we played together in the big, old house. Then it had to be sold, and for him at 14, there was boarding school, university life, a career in the Navy, marriage, World War II, naval retirement, a business career and a second retirement. For me there was high school, boys, college, professional school, a short career as a public reader, teaching in a large university and retirement.
Throughout these years the sunbeams in Bubber's eyes, unaltered by time or distance, flashing even across oceans, have brightened my way.
Long ago, boogabears went the way of all childhood fantasies. Yet, today, to scare any boogabear, make any dark day bright, I think of Bubber and catch my sunbeam gleaming in his smili ng, blue eyes.