The Day the Cousins Came

“Three days!” Willis exclaimed. “They’ll be here for three whole days? But Alan wants me to go to the lake with him.”

“Willis,” Mom said sternly, “you knew last month that your cousins were coming. I expect you to be here and to show them a good time.”

“All right,” he said unhappily. At first he’d been pretty excited to learn that his cousins were coming. He hadn’t really cared that he would have to give up his room for the older girls to sleep in. But since then he had made other plans, and now he was going to have to give up a weekend at the lake too.

When his Uncle George stopped the car in front of the house, Willis couldn’t believe what he saw—a battered blue trailer hitched to an ancient station wagon. An unbelievable number of bags and boxes were haphazardly tied to the top of the rusted station wagon, and from every window appeared arms, legs, and smiling faces. The sagging vehicle seemed to sigh with relief as his aunt, uncle, and seven cousins tumbled from the car. Instantly the house and yard overflowed with people.

“How tall you’ve grown!” Uncle George cried, slapping Willis on the back.

Everybody’s grown, thought Willis as he looked up at fourteen-year-old Greg.

“Why don’t you show Joe and Greg your new game,” Mom suggested.

“Sure,” Willis said. “Come with me.”

The boys started to play, but Joe, who was the same age as Willis, lost interest after his older brother blew his star destroyer off the game board.

“How about a game of softball?” suggested Greg.

“Then everyone can play.”

“Even the girls?” Willis asked.

“Sure, Willie, it’ll be lots of fun,” said Greg.

“My name is Willis,” he said, thinking that Willie was a dumb name to call a person.

“You’d be surprised at how good Mary is at baseball,” Joe said as they collected a bat and ball and went outside.

There Willis was horrified to see one of his little cousins sitting on the tetherball and swinging around the pole. “Hey, get off there!” yelled Willis. “You’ll break the rope.”

“Oh, she’s not very heavy,” Mary said and swung her little sister off the tetherball and onto the ground. “C’mon Susan, you can be on my team. We’ll knock their socks off.”

The cousins divided into two fairly even teams of older and younger players. In spite of himself, Willis almost enjoyed the softball game. Almost.

“Let’s go, Willie,” yelled Joe. “Hit a homer!”

“Don’t call me Willie!” Willis shouted as the ball was pitched to him. SMACK! He hit a long, towering fly ball that sailed straight toward Greg.

“Run, Jennie,” Greg called to his little sister, who stood on first base. Willis watched in disgust as Greg fumbled his catch on purpose.

“Some baseball game,” he muttered as he jogged behind Jennie around their makeshift diamond.

“Safe,” Mary called as she dropped the ball Greg threw to her just as Jennie touched home plate. “Out!” she yelled, snatching the ball and tagging Willis about two feet from home plate.

“Lunch is ready, children,” Aunt Helen called from the patio.

That’s a relief, Willis thought.

“Great game, Willie.” Joe clapped him on the back.

“Don’t call me Willie,” he said again, shrugging the friendly hand off his shoulder.

After lunch Willis went upstairs to get away from all the people for a while. As he walked down the hall, he heard giggles coming from his room. He was about to stomp away, but he peeked inside, instead. Mary was sitting on his bed, surrounded by his little sisters and several young cousins.

“This poor fairy godmother was having some troubles.” Mary’s voice was woeful. “What would you do if you found Cinderella talking politics with the king instead of dancing with the prince?” Her question was greeted by more giggles. Willis smiled to himself and tiptoed away. When he walked downstairs, Joe saw him.

“Hey, Willie—sorry, Willis—I’ve been looking all over for you. Greg and our dads are unpacking the car. You and I have to sleep in the trailer tonight, but Greg has this terrific army hammock that you just have to see. It has a roof and everything!”

Willis followed the tug on his arm, curious about the hammock.

In the backyard they found Greg unrolling a dark, olive green roll. Uncle George and Dad showed the boys where to attach screw eyes on the corner of the garage and the trunk of the elm tree.

“This is neat!” Willis said with excitement as the double rope supports were tied securely in place. It looked like a small houseboat suspended between the garage and the tree. The sides were made out of green netting, and a sturdy canvas cover served as the roof.

“Try it.” Greg unzipped the netting and showed Willis where to climb in.

“It’s snug and warm, and the canvas roof keeps off the rain,” Joe explained enthusiastically.

“This is great!” Willis said, slipping into the hammock and zipping himself in. He looked out through the netting. “It must be fun sleeping in here.”

“Why don’t you find out,” Greg suggested. “Sleep in it tonight.”

“Really?” Willis couldn’t believe it. “Thanks!”

“It’s time to make ice cream,” Mom called, then came over and peeked through the netting. “Willis, come and help Joe and Greg crank the ice-cream freezer.”

“Crank?” asked Willis as he climbed out of the hammock. “Our ice-cream freezer’s electric.”

Ours is,” Mom said, leading the way over to the patio. “Aunt Helen and I already have that one going. But we need more than two quarts of ice cream for this crew.”

“We take our hand-crank freezer when we go camping,” Joe said, “because you can’t plug a cord into a tree for electricity.”

Uncle George and Dad each took a turn cranking, but soon the three boys were competing to see who could crank the longest.

“Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine …” All the cousins gathered around the patio to watch the boys.

“Sixty!” yelled Greg, collapsing onto the grass.

“My turn,” said Joe. And he began counting. This time, though, the ice cream was thicker and the crank was harder to turn.

“Fif—teen, six—teen, …” Mary led the count.

“I can’t turn it much more,” Joe said, turning the crank with both hands.

“We need more muscle than that,” chided Aunt Helen with a smile. “It’s not ready yet.”

“Willis,” Joe said, “come and help me turn. We’ll show ‘em!”

Together the two boys turned the crank. “Fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one … eighty-nine, ninety …”

“Nobody will beat our record,” Willis puffed, out of breath.

“We’re almost there,” Joe gasped triumphantly.

“One hundred!” The cousins yelled together.

That night as Willis snuggled down into Greg’s army hammock, he grinned and thought, That was the best ice cream that I’ve ever eaten. And today has to be the best day of my summer vacation—the day the cousins came!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robyn S. Officer