That was the first time that I was aware of my talent for making things. But as my life has gone on, that talent has grown and grown. It’s grown so large, in fact, that … well, you’ll see soon enough.
Let me just tell you a few things I did before I was even ten years old:
- I designed and built a model railroad that covered our entire huge basement. (I took it down shortly afterwards. It bored me, watching it repeat the same circuit, over and over and over again.)
- I put together a substance that we rubbed on the front of our car so that dead bugs would not stick when they splattered there. They just hit, then slid easily to the ground.
- I invented a telephone cord that never tangles, a toilet that never needs cleaning.
- I set up some of our house for electrical remote control from the kitchen. The refrigerator, stove and oven, radio, furnace, lights—all from a little control panel I created and wired. But Father made me unhook everything because he could never figure out how to use it.
All this and so much more. And the funny thing was… it was easy, all of it. Aunt Claire would tell my father about my latest achievement. And he would just smile—and look at me with that new look he’d started wearing when I’d made the bed-desk for him. It was a look of admiration, sure, but it also was a look of worry.
Maybe even a little fear.
Late that fall, on 11 November 1987, my twin sister moved to Franconia. Her name was Harriet Eastbrook, and she lived right next door.[i]
She did not look exactly like me. And she was not related to me, not by blood. But she was my twin. Let me explain …
Early that morning—it was a Wednesday—I awoke to the groaning sounds of a heavy truck. I looked out my bedroom window and watched a moving van backing into the neighboring driveway, only about a hundred feet away.
The house over there, which had sat empty for months, was last occupied by a childless older couple who—in their fenced backyard—kept a pet rooster on their front porch, along with ducks, geese, and other barnyard fowl. The couple had no human friends—but lots of feathered ones. No one in the neighborhood was sorry to see them move out. Their rooster crowed every morning and evening—and at other times, too, pretty much whenever it felt like it. That would sometimes get the other birds squawking away at all times of the day. Neighborhood dogs would chime in, howling and barking. It could get very annoying.
For months I had been waiting excitedly for new neighbors. I’d really been hoping—whoever they were— that they would have a daughter my age—instead of a rooster. Wouldn’t that be perfect!
I dressed quickly and ran downstairs where Father was having his breakfast and looking at the morning paper—reading the stories he’d written yesterday.
“Did you hear it? Did you see it?” I yelped.
“Huh?” He looked up.
“A moving van! It’s in the driveway next door.”
“Oh,” he said without much enthusiasm. “I guess I did hear something that sounded like a truck awhile ago.”
“Can we go over and meet them? Do they have children? Do they have pets? Do you know who they are?”
I was firing questions at Father so rapidly that he didn’t have a chance to answer even one before I was asking the next one. But he wasn’t trying to answer: His mouth was full of whole-grain toast and peanut butter.
“I think you’re excited about the new neighbors, Vickie,” he said after he swallowed a mouthful.
He looked at his watch. “Oh, okay,” he sighed. “But we’ve got to be back here in a few minutes—Aunt Claire will be here soon and wonder where we went. She might think we ran away without paying her salary this month.”
I started to run across the grass, but Father stopped me. “Vickie!” he called. “It’s muddy! And let’s not start cutting across their lawn before we meet them. They might not want other people on it.”
And so we took the long way—down our driveway, along the street, up the new neighbors’ driveway. To me, it seemed like a hundred miles!
As we neared the house, I could see a man and a woman on the front porch. Both were wearing blue jeans and sweatshirts and were talking to one of the movers.
“Hi, neighbors!” my father called out. I thought that sounded stupid, but I didn’t say anything.
“Hello,” the man and woman said at the same time. She smiled a little; he didn’t. The mover just looked at us.
“I need someone right at the door,” the mover said, “to tell us what room to put the stuff in. It’ll go quicker that way.”
“Certainly,” said the woman. And the mover returned to the truck, grunting sort of a greeting to us as he walked by.
“I’m Henry Stone,” my father said. “And this is my daughter, Vickie. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“I’m John Eastbrook,” said the man.
“And I’m Elizabeth,” said the woman.
As the adults shook hands, the screen door opened, and out came my twin.
“And I’m Harriet,” she said, taking a bite of a jelly doughnut. Then she looked at me, turned ghostly white, dropped the donut, and slumped to the floor of the porch, unconscious.