Sammy woke up quite often in the night. It was as if something was shaking him deep inside. His room was always ice-cold because of the drafty windows, however he would wake up in a hot sweat with a fire burning in his gut. A doctor might think it was hunger or nutrition related, but he sensed it was something else. He thought maybe it was his father coming to haunt him because he had refused to go to the calling hours and funeral. He just didn’t want to see his dad lifeless in a coffin. It was bad enough that he had been taken away so young and strong. Sammy never got out of bed during these nights no matter how scared or lonely he felt. His father had insisted he become a man at a very young age. “No Nichols living in my house is ever going to be a sissy!” he would say whenever Sammy complained about something being too hard or scary. It wasn’t the Nichols way to be afraid.
People loved and admired his dad for that reason. He was strong and handsome, and one of the few fathers in the neighborhood who didn’t spend his afternoons in the local taverns. In fact, some people said Mr. Nichols never drank a drop of alcohol in his life. He was a simple, hard working, family man who had a lot of integrity and pride. The lines at the funeral home were so long that the family decided to move the funeral from the neighborhood church to Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna for fear that there wasn’t enough room for all of the people. Sammy stayed home that whole week while mother was running about taking care of arrangements and affairs. He must have answered the door a hundred times a day for neighborhood people dropping off food, flowers and gifts for the family. His father was one of the most loved men in the community. How he regretted the way he had acted that week on nights like these. He pictured his father standing over him with that look in his eyes, letting him know that he was messing up. The icy air bit at his nose.
He thought about the summer that his best friend Eddie had drowned in the lake. It was all over the news and the event had shocked Sammy and the neighborhood very badly. He and Eddie had spent almost every day together that summer. He spent that afternoon in a corner of his room staring at the wall hoping none of it was real. His father had let him grieve for one day, but took him the very next day to the exact spot of the tragedy and made him swim. Sammy recalled how badly he shook and cried on the ride to the lake and how his father had firmly insisted he get in the water. He swore he would drown that same day and begged his dad not to make him do it. The tears were flowing hysterically. Before he could say much more, his father picked him up and tossed him into the lake. “Relax Samuel! Relax! Now swim. Swim boy. You see, you are alive and well! Eddie wouldn’t want you to be afraid, would he?” His father was right, and the swim cured his fear of drowning instantly.
Mr. Nichols was a great ice hockey player in high school and continued to play in leagues as an adult. Had he gone to college, some say he would have been destined for the pros. He hadn’t gone to college. Instead he had married his high school sweetheart Maryanne Baker the summer after their senior year at South Park High and started his apprenticeship as a mason. Sam was born a year later. Sam’s mom was one of the most beautiful girls in Buffalo at the time and his father used to say, “There was no way I was letting that one get away… right babe!” He loved her with all his heart and she loved him just as much. Sammy remembered how they would greet each other at the door in the evening. Mom would drop whatever she was doing and run to the door to open it for dad so he wouldn’t have to put his tool box down on the porch. Then she would wipe the grime and sweat from his face and kiss him all over, like a puppy that was left home alone all day. Mom had aged ten years in these past two since he was gone, but she was still one of the most beautiful women in town. She swore she would never love again, even though every single man in the city over the age of 30 had proposed to her at least once since dad passed. Her left hand carried the wedding bands to this day, and Sammy was pretty sure she wouldn’t love again, though he often hoped that she would.
His thoughts drifted here and there and eventually he fell back into deep sleep, but the alarm came quickly in the morning and he popped out of bed to head off to school.