Alex watched closely.
I held the ends of the party cracker and pulled. The green paper with gold trim ripped and in that instant there was a sharp snap and a whiff of gunpowder.
My five-year old granddaughter knew what to expect. All the others around the table had pulled their crackers, recovering a paper crown from the cardboard tube inside, except for my father and me.
He was at the head of the table. He had no need for a paper crown. (He was already wearing a red velvet one, with gold brocade and plastic jewels befitting of Henry VIII. In fact, he could have stepped out of the 16th Century, except that he was wearing glasses and his features are far from the round faces and rotund bodies that royalty of the era enjoyed, a sure sign of their wealth and stature.)
But, no question, he was presiding. This was, after all, his 95th birthday party.
But neither Alex nor her twin sister Sydney was interested in the “grownups’” table. They had their own setup; a coffee table, in the living room. Besides, people were making toasts, and they knew from experience it would be some time before they got to cake and ice cream.
The crackers, however, were another story.
The girls had crackers too and they knew, in addition to the paper crowns, each contained a prize and a strip of paper like fortune cookies with phrases of advice and tired jokes like, “What is black and white and ‘red’ all over.”
The twins wouldn’t get the jokes and they really didn’t care about them anyway. The prizes were a different matter.
They weren’t anything of significant value; a miniature set of cards, a plastic ring and, as I was to discover, a small bag containing five pieces of different colored shapes of plastic. It was a sort of puzzle. The shapes could be arranged to create a square, a rectangle and several different animals.
As soon as I pulled the puzzle from the tube, I felt this small hand within mine. Alex had a hold of it.
“I want that, Peppy,” she said.
I was startled by the demand and her brazen attempt to snatch the prize.
There was a lesson here, I thought, and it wasn’t just to use the “magic word, please.”
I opened her hand and retrieved the puzzle.
“That’s mine, you just can’t take it.”
She gave me a sweet “Please.”
She wormed her hand into mine, trying the pry the puzzle free. I shifted it to my free hand then quickly crossed hands and, in the process, slid it into my shirt pocket.
I opened both hands to show Alex I wasn’t holding the puzzle.
“It’s not yours,” I reminded her. She looked under the table and when she didn’t find it, concluded I was sitting on it. I assured her I wasn’t.
I thought that had settled things, but it didn’t.
Alex was standing beside her mother across from me. I told Erica I was planning to keep my puzzle. Alex didn’t look very happy and I was beginning to wonder if I should relent. We proceeded with lunch and after clearing plates my sister and I lit the candles and brought in the cake. We all gathered around “the king” to sing happy birthday and cheer when he blew them out in a sustained puff. Cake was passed around with ice cream and I was about to take the final bite when I felt a tug on my arm.
“Can I please have the puzzle, Peppy,” Sydney asked shyly.
“How polite,” I observed, “seeing that you asked that way and not like Alex…”
Sydney was grinning and I sensed I was missing something.
“Where is it?” Sydney wanted to know.
“I’ll give you a clue. It’s where I keep my glasses.”
She was dumfounded She didn’t have as much as a single guess. I watched as she ran around the table to Erica. Erica caught my eyes. She knew the answer and, now, so did Sydney.
“It’s in your pocket,” she said gleefully running back around the table to jump in my lap and pull it out.
Strangely Alex wasn’t upset. She watched and smiled.
Erica leaned across the table.
“You know,” she said, “Alex put her up to it.”
I was stunned.
Alex really took the prize.