"Is that Santa?" The black and white photo was of a bearded elderly man wearing a smile that seemed mischievous but in a good way. Almost certainly in a good way.
The child carried the photo album over to where her mother was scrambling eggs in a big red bowl. "Is that Santa?" she asked again, pointing.
"No, that's Uncle Irwin, the Communist. Now take that dusty old book away from the food."
"Someone who believes in Communism. A Russian."
"Was Uncle Irwin a Russian?
"He ran away to live in Russia is what I heard. Now stop with the questions, Carolyn Jean."
"Call me CeeJay. What's com...comulism?"
"Some anti-American thing they have in places like Russia and China. Now put that album back and go sit at the table. Breakfast's almost ready."
"Some anti-American thing, Mom? Seriously?" CeeJay's fifteen-year-old brother, Prescott, entered the room scowling fiercely. He was incredibly tall and skinny and had eyes almost the color of violet. Just recently he'd dyed his straw-colored shaggy hair jet black. "Communism is a philosophy originated by Karl Marx in which the means of production is owned by the workers. 'From each according to his ability; to each according to his need'. It's never been practiced in its pure form though -- definitely not in the Soviet Union. Not in China either."
"Okay, Mr. Smarty Know-it-all. Think you're good enough to eat breakfast with us?" CeeJay noted a faint smile of pride playing on the edges of her mother's lips. Would her mother ever smile about her that way, she wondered. It seemed unlikely. Mainly her mother wanted her to be pretty. Which, so far, at age seven, she definitely wasn't. She was pigeon-toed, for one thing and had bad posture. Worst of all, though, was her hair that refused to be tamed by braids, barrettes or gobs of styling gel. Her mother wasn't exactly pretty either but she had been once -- in the years before Daddy left and she got all thin and tired and frowny.
CeeJay pulled an extra chair next to her own at the table and sat the album down on that. It was still turned to the page with the picture of Uncle Irwin. Where's Russia?" she asked, addressing Prescott.
"It's actually the biggest country in the world. Part in Asia part in Europe."
"Is it near the North Pole?"
"Some of it is, I guess."
"I said enough questions, Carolyn Jean. Just eat before your eggs get cold."
"How's CeeJay going to learn if she doesn't ask questions?" Prescott challenged.
Their mother sighed heavily. "She goes to school, doesn't she? Let her ask her questions there."
"I doubt her teachers receive them any better than you. It's not like they actually know anything."
"Now, Prescott, you know that isn't true. Some of your teachers..."
"Is Santa a Communist?" CeeJay interrupted.
"Is...? Good lord, no wonder your hair's so flyaway crazy; it's got its roots in that flyaway crazy head of yours." Her mother laughed sharply in appreciation of her own wit.
"Well, he looks like a communist," CeeJay insisted. Her cheeks were beginning to burn.
"Don't you get the logic, Mom," Prescott said. "It's a false syllogism: Uncle Irwin is a communist; Uncle Irwin has a beard; therefore all bearded people are communists."
Their mother was no longer amused. "If the both of you don't start acting normal right this minute, I'm going to bring the TV in here and turn it on to the food channel." "And," she added, addressing her daughter, "I'll write to Santa and tell him to put a dirty old lump of coal in your stocking this Christmas."