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Traditions
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Disclaimer: Nothing's changed. They're still not mine. Darn it. I'm just borrowing them for a brief time. The story however, is all mine.

Archive: yes please. GL and CT. Ronnee'll send an official announcement when she gets it posted.

Warnings: Blair's not in this one. If that bugs you, go find something else to read.

Summary: A grandpa Ellison story, sort of. Maybe more of a William story. Let's just go with some reflections on Jim and Steven's childhood.

A big thanks to my betas Claire, Ronnee, TAE, and Wnnepooh. Thanks ladies, your input made this a better story. Any mistakes that remain are mine and mine alone. What can I say, I can be rather stubborn about some things.... Okay, just about everything.... <g

A second big thank you goes to Becky for inspiring this one. Thanks Becky for sharing your thoughts, ideas, and stories with us. That and you wanted a few more William as a sort of good guy stories....

This one was inspired by an impromptu family reunion, in the form of a wedding, in mid-June. (Congratulations Timmy!) Listening to some of my relatives talk about their childhoods, and that of their parents, I began to wonder if Jim might have some of the same memories. This is

the result. Enjoy.

Feedback welcome at <parker1933@home.com>.

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Traditions

by

Toni Rae

June 2000

Ignoring the paper held forbiddingly in front of his father's face as the man relaxed in the recliner, the small boy crawled into his fathers lap. Settling himself comfortably behind the paper, he broached the important question on his three year-old mind. "Daddy, tell me about grandpa."

"Not much to tell." The man tried to forestall the boy's insatiable curiosity. He was still baffled at his son's voracious need for touch. My father never held me in the armchair in the evenings. I never needed a daily hug. The boy could survive without these things, after all, I did. Though he did have to begrudgingly admit his admiration for his son and the creative ways he found to address his childish desire.

"Tell me about the time he drove the train and blew the whistle to scare the cows away." The words were surprisingly clear for such a small child.

"Oh all right, but then it's time for bed." He gently folded the paper, realizing his son wasn't going to be dissuaded.

"Okay, daddy." The little boy settled himself more comfortably against his father's chest, the reassuring cadence of the man's heartbeat providing a soothing background to the voice.

"Joseph. That's your grandfather's name, even though no one calls him that."

"Why?"

"That's just the way things were in his family. There were seven kids and they each had a nickname."

"What's a nickname?"

"Something someone calls you when they don't call you by your name."

"Like mommy sometimes calls me JJ?"

"Like mommy sometimes calls you JJ. Or I sometimes call you Jimmy."

"Okay."

"Now, one day Ellis that's what everyone called your grandfather on account of his last name being Ellison..."

"Just like mine."

"Just like your's, son. Now do you want to hear about the train or not?" He couldn't quite keep the note of annoyance from entering his voice. He knew Jimmy heard it when the boy stopped bouncing in his lap and all excitement left his voice.

"I'll be good daddy."

"See that you are."

"Yes, sir."

"So one day Ellis is walking along the railroad tracks and this train pulls up alongside him. The engineer leans out of the window in the locomotive and asks if Ellis can tell him where they are. It seems that during the night one of the linemen along the tracks changed one of the switches and they ended up taking a wrong turn...."

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"Daddy, tell me about the time grandpa wrecked the train." The small boy stood next to the large wooden desk, fidgeting slightly.

"Not now Steven, I've got work to do. Go play with your brother." The man dismissed his three year-old son, with hardly a glance, his entire attention focused on the stack of papers in front of him.

"Okay." The small voice cracked as the boy turned around to leave, his young form now void of its usual animation.

As the door closed softy, the man looked up wistfully, almost regretting his chosen path.

"Jimmy?" The small boy stood at the edge of the carpet leading into his brother's room.

"What is it, Stevie?" The five-year old looked up from his elaborately arrayed collection of cars and trucks.

"Daddy said I had to come play with you. He didn't want to tell me the story about grandpa and the train." The lower lip trembled, as he attempted to rein in his emotions.

"Come here." The older boy made room on the floor for his brother. "I'll tell you."

"Really?" The excitement returned to the younger boy's voice. "You'll tell me about the time grandpa wrecked the train?" He could hardly restrain his excited bouncing, as he took the spot on the floor his brother indicated.

The older boy closed his eyes for a moment and took a couple deep breaths.

"Jimmy, what're you doing?" The impatient voice asked.

"Shh... I'm remembering."

"Oh. Okay."

A couple moments and a few deep breaths later, the older boy began...

"So one day Ellis, that's grandpa you know, is walking along the railroad tracks and this train pulls up alongside him. The engineer leans out of the window in the locomotive and asks if Ellis can tell him where they are. It seems that during the night one of the linemen along the tracks changed one of the switches and they ended up taking a wrong turn...."

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"Now, no speaking unless spoken to. No getting dirty playing in the backyard. No loud noises. And no asking about the train." William admonished the two boys standing in the foyer in front of him, dressed in their best Sunday suits. At the same time, he checked to make sure their ties were straight and their hair combed back.

"Grandpa doesn't like us very much does he?" The older of the two boys asked in his best stoic adult voice.

"Whatever gave you that idea?"

"I heard you say once that he didn't like kids and he didn't like old people and wasn't much fond of anyone in-between." The stoic adult lost to the hurt seven year old. "We're kids, aren't we?"

"Of course he likes you, Jimmy." He doesn't like kids. And he doesn't like old people. To be perfectly honest, there wasn't much of anyone he did like. He was never very affectionate. But I didn't need all that attention. I turned out okay. And so will my boys. Right?

"Okay."

"No running in the house."

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, sir."

Two much-subdued voices responded in unison.

'I turned out okay. Didn't I?' William silently asked himself, before following the boys in to see their grandfather.

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"Daddy, how come we never go visit grandpa anymore?"

"Yeah, how come?" The younger boy chimed in, making sure he couldn't ignore the question by hiding behind his paper.

Why did watching My Three Sons always bring out these questions? "He's been really busy lately."

"But why?" The younger boy was seven, an age when any answer prompted another question.

"He's been traveling."

"Oh." Surprisingly, Steven did not follow up that answer with another question.

"Is he coming for Christmas this year?" The bigger of the two boys couldn't keep the note of hope from entering his voice.

"Probably not."

"Oh." Hope died like waves crashing against a rocky beach.

"Stevie, Jimmy."

"It's okay dad." The older boy turned his attention back to the television program, ending the conversation in an effective nine year-old fashion.

'Is it?'

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Two small boys stood at the back of the room watching the group of unidentifiable but vaguely familiar adults milling about. The older of the two had his arm wrapped protectively around the younger, careful not to wrinkle either of their suits. They were old enough to understand

what was going on, what had just happened, but young enough to not understand the adults reactions to it. The chatter the older people made would have given the older boy a headache, but all of his attention was focused on the younger, the reassuring sound of the other's

heartbeat anchoring him to their surroundings. The sound comforted him, gave him the strength to be strong for his brother.

"Jimmy, why aren't they touching?" The smaller of the two boys whispered softly to his big brother; softly because it didn't matter how quiet he was, his brother always heard him, always came to rescue him.

"Cause that's the way grandpa used to do things, Stevie." If one listened closely they could hear an eleven year-old's attempt to rationalize the world in his voice.

"But why?" The nine-year-old was not quite as steeped in family tradition at this point.

"I don't know." This time the answer was more honest.

"Well I don't like it." Had they not been standing in the anteroom of a church he would have stomped his foot in defiance.

"Neither do I, Stevie, neither do I."

"Promise me we'll never be like that."

"I promise."

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Epilogue

"You know, they're still not touching." Steven stood in front of his brother and a few of the chosen members of his brother's family. The official part of the family reunion, the first Ellison family reunion not centered around a wedding or a funeral, in progress on the other side of the room.

One arm resting protectively around the waist of his very pregnant wife and one hand on his Guide's shoulder, his brother of choice, Jim laughed. "No, they're not." He reached over and gave his brother a hug. "But at least we are again."

"Yeah." Steven gratefully returned the hug. "What happened to us, Jim?"

"I don't know Steven. I think we lost sight of our promises and what's important." He included his brother, his chosen family and his father standing across the room, in his words.

"Let's not ever do that again." He also included everyone in his words. Now that the bonds of friendship and family had been forged between he, his older brother, and his brother's chosen family, they were too important to be broken.

"Okay."

"So, Jimmy, when do I get to be an uncle?" The younger man grinned at his older brother, the question cementing their now restored bonds of blood.

"And when do I get to be a grandpa?" The addition of the fifth member of the group surprised everyone but the oldest, who'd unconsciously tracked his father's heartbeat as he moved across the room. And this time I promise to do better.

"Whenever you're ready, dad. As long as you promise to tell her the train story."

Finis