Smivey Stepward in Love and Other Misery: Chapter 1


The house is haunted, there’s no doubt about that.  At least not for Smivey.  He sleeps on the second floor of the old funeral home all by himself.  He never goes to the third floor because of the tall shadow he saw standing on the narrow steps when he was much younger.   The voices he hears outside his bedroom door late at night wake him up.  They don’t come every night but he’s still afraid to go to sleep. 

Smivey has a double bed with a nightstand, an old dresser and a desk. There are several shelves on the wall holding some books, a picture of a dog he cut from a calendar, two bobble-head football players and a small plastic trophy he won for memorizing Bible verses in Sunday school. Several model airplanes hang from the ceiling. In the back of the large closet is a small door to the attic above the porch. Smivey keeps a small metal box there full of small pieces of paper and a few other secret possessions.

The darkness in the house is not relieved by the many large windows.  The floors, doors,  stairs and walls are all very dark wood.  The huge living room inside the front door is separated from an equally large dining room by double doors of wood and glass.  The small side room in the front is where Grandma Hippelmeyer’s pump organ remains after nearly a hundred years.  No one plays the old organ and Smivey’s mother won’t let him touch it. 

The long hallway beside the stairs leads to his parents’ bedroom and the kitchen.  When Smivey was small he used to run down the hall, through the kitchen and dining room and back down the hall.  The wide creaky stairway to the second floor has a thick banister. Smivey slid backwards from the top and hit his butt on the post at the bottom.  He did it one time. 

The kitchen is big enough for a table, even with many tall cupboards and countertops but the family eats at the long dining room table with heavy chairs that also belonged to Grandma Hippelmeyer. The big cabinet with glass doors is filled with dishes that are only used on Sundays and holidays when the house is filled with people.

Smivey’s great grandparents owned Hippelmeyer Funeral Parlor.  The house where Smivey lives.  Dead people in coffins were in the living room.  Undertaker Ira Hippelmeyer had a room in the basement where he prepared the bodies to be buried.  There is a rope elevator he used to lift the people to the main floor.  It opens through a small door into the kitchen.  Smivey believes the voices he hears at night are ghosts from all the bodies that were in the house. 

Smivey wishes he could live in a different house but he knows it will never happen.  He wishes a lot of things.  He wants his mother to learn how to whistle instead of screaming “weeeooooweeooo” when she needs him.  He wants his dad to buy a clothes dryer so his mother will stop hanging his underpants on a clothesline in the backyard two blocks away from school.  He wishes his father knew Smivey has no interest in Stepward & Sons Hardware.   His father talks about the store all the time.  “Smiver,” that’s what his father calls him, “Smiver, someday I’m going to own the store and one day I will pass it on to you.  You just wait.  It will be the best day of your life!”   

The store was first opened by Feniman Stepward, Smivey’s great great grandfather, just after the town was established in 1887.  The store has been passed down to the Stepward sons ever since.  It is one of a long line of stores along Main Street in Amshover, Missouri, a small town with not much happening.  On the big front window is painted, “Stepward & Son’s Hardware Established 1887, Feniman J. Stepward.  Just about anything you’ll ever need.”  Some of the letters are scratched and the paint has faded, but you can still tell what it says. 

The only time Smivey likes going to the store is when it’s very hot outside. His grandfather, known as “Archie” to his customers, has a soda machine just inside the front door. Though the store is old and messy, it’s funny how his grandpa knows exactly where everything is. When his father can’t find an item someone needs, Grandpa Archie knows without searching exactly where it is, buried under dusty things no one has touched for years.

Out on the sidewalk are four old wooden chairs.  Archie likes to sit out there during the warm months and visit with people who come by and have time to sit and talk.  They mostly talk about the weather, or fishing, and sometimes about baseball.  The big blue canvas awning hanging over the sidewalk keeps everyone in the shade. 

Some people like to go in the store just to look at all the old stuff on the shelves and walls. There are tools, oil cans, posters, fishing poles, bait boxes, a big barrel of old faded yard sticks (what Grandpa Archie calls “whippin’ sticks”), mouse traps, and many old books and newspapers. There are lots of things no one uses anymore but Archie keeps them on the shelf because they have always been there.

Smivey’s life is a mixture of old and older. His father drives an ugly green station wagon. No one drives station wagons. Larry Murfin is Smivey’s best friend. His family has a truck, which Smivey thinks would be great for his dad. He tried to talk his dad into looking for a truck but he said, “The old wagon just keeps going, no sense in thinking about a different vehicle when there is nothing wrong with this one. It’s important for us to save our money and take care of the things we have and use them as long as possible.”

Two wishes control Smivey. The very worst thing that keeps him from being everything he wants to be is his name. He hates it more than anyone can possibly understand. When he was born, his mom and dad combined their names, Smitty and Vivian. So they came up with Smivey. He thinks it’s stupid.

Smivey would love the name, Mack.  Mack is a football player’s name.  It’s tough, proud, bold and confident.  All the things Smivey isn’t.  Mack would be the sports star of the school.  Everyone would talk about him and all the girls would love him.  Everything would be perfect if his name was Mack. 

Smivey tried out for the football team at the beginning of the school year.  He is about average size compared to the other guys, so he thought he could make the team.  He didn’t really think it was important that he didn’t know anything about football.  He just knew that if he were going to be a star he would have to be on the team. 

On the first day of practice, he tried to catch a pass the coach threw to him and instead of hitting his hands, the ball hit him in the eye.  He had to leave practice and go home.  He arrived at school the next morning with his eye black and swollen.  It did make him feel a little important because everyone wanted to know what happened.  That was the end of his football career.   

Smivey’s best wish, the dream that will never come true, is to talk to Elizabeth Musker, the girl he has loved since first grade. 

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