My sweet Sven has been accused of resembling Clint.
The movie star.
My heart throb.
The last time it happened he was crossing the street to mail a letter.
“I told you so,” I said.
“Well Millie,” he says, “isn’t he about eighty now?”
To be honest, Sven and Clint are not blood relatives.
And Sven’s last name is not Eastwood.
But I call him Sven Eastwood anyway.
Because in the big picture we are all related.
And the only difference between my sweet Sven and Cool hand Luke is that Sven has no interest in riding a horse. He is a terrible aim. And some of his outfits just don’t fit the gun fighter bill.
“Are your babies at home?” a woman screamed into the mouth piece of her phone on January 30th, 1987.
I was twenty-nine at the time and on the other end of the line.
I was sitting on a chair with wheels because the unfamiliar voice had told me to sit down and that is what was available. The chair with wheels was located in the office.
The office was located in the vertical blind department.
And the vertical blind department was located on the south side of the factory.
I’d been called in from stringing head rails, a job that I had difficulty in making rate and this phone call was not going to help my cause.
“My babies?” I said.
“Your babies. Are they at home?” she stammered.
It’s entirely possible that I might not have been the best mom in the world, because I didn’t know who she meant by my babies.
And then it dawned on me.
She was talking about my children.
“No,” I said. “They’re not at home. Who is this?”
Had my babies been kidnapped?
It turned out that the woman on the line was a neighbor. She lived in that two-toned ranch style house right on the bend of our sleepy road that curved around the lake. And she was at that very moment, watching our house go up in flames.
“Oh thank God,” she says.
I punched out at the time clock.
I put on my coat.
I put on my hat.
And then my mittens.
My friend drove my car and I rode shotgun to the scene of smoke, ice and steam.
Red trucks and firemen.
Hoses and snow.
Hugs and kisses.
On that cloudy, single digit degree afternoon, Sven and I watched our house go down.
At that moment we owned nothing more than the clothes on our backs.
The steel toed boots on our feet.
And Sven’s guitar.
Which he hasn’t played since.
We were lucky.
Our babies were not at home.
And after all the smoke cleared, we as family were able to make a fresh start with the help of our good friends,
Clementine and Robert and their two children.
They took us in.
All five of us.
Bags and bags filled with clothes, toys and household supplies were delivered to their doorstep for weeks to come.
This is when I discovered what I always knew was true.
People are kind.
A small town is a big family.
And this world is wonderful.
But that’s enough sap.
Because this story is really about Sven and his turquoise shorts.
Now, I’m not sure if those shorts came from a well meaning neighbor in one of those garbage bags.
Or if he spotted them at Shopko.
What I do know is that they first made an appearance the spring after that fire.
And that Sven wore those shorts for years.
Because my sweet Sven is frugal.
They were very comfortable.
And he liked them very much.
Even when all the other shorts began to grow in length on all the mannequins, Sven hung onto his turquoise shorts.
“What is the point of wearing shorts if they come all the way down to your knees?” he would say.
He was a handsome carpenter.
He looked like Clint Eastwood, with shorts that disappeared before his tool belt did.
And one Saturday he walked out onto the basketball court in the high school gymnasium in front of a large crowd gathered to watch the Lodi Alumni Basketball Tournament.
He was wearing his new gym shoes and his favorite turquoise shorts.
The crowd gasped above the bouncing balls and squeaking rubber soles, due to Sven’s hot off the press, class of 67 t-shirt, that came almost to his knees.
And when Clementine shrieked, “Oh my God, where did Robert find those socks?”
It seemed rather minor.
To this day Sven argues with the Untuck it commercials.
The ones with the metrosexual guy who claims that he has finally solved that problem that has been plaguing mankind since the beginning of time.
When you just can’t find a shirt that is the right length.
Thank God that man with his manicured beard came up with a brand new design.
He shortened them.
So you can leave your shirt untucked.
“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” says Sven. “All you have to do is cut it off if you want it shorter. And you know they’re going to charge you more for less.”
“Maybe I’ll order one for you,” I like say.
“You’d better not, Millie.”
That is my sweet Sven.
I think he could have used one on the basketball court.
But he wouldn’t have worn it anyway.
And our society was not that evolved.
Sven finally stopped looking for his turquoise shorts about a decade ago.
He has completely forgotten them.
Matter of fact he asked me what I was writing about and I said, “Your turquoise shorts.”
And he said, “My what?”
Sven has moved on.
His favorite shorts today are a little bit longer.
They are yellow.
And they’re okay.
Sven’s favorite shirt is reflector lime green.
And it’s okay.
He’s easy to find in a crowd.
But when he wears the two together, even though I always ask him not to, his yellow shorts are paled by his blinding crossing guard shirt.
And it looks like he is wearing nothing below it.
He’s still cute.
Always has been.
Always will be.