A Tale of Benjamin Franklin's Family
In the Days Leading up to The American Revolution
Franklin Court (from Market Street)
I cannot sleep. So many scenes swirling in my head at the end of this first day. Where am I to begin? Begin at the beginning, Temple.
The crush of people surrounding Grandfather. Hugs, smiles, tears, joy, huge rejoicing at seeing him again after ten years. I knew he had friends, of course, but this many, this wild! And he, over and over: "Meet my grandson Billy who grew up in London and has now come home with me." Hugs for me, handshakes, backslaps, "How are you, Billy? How was the crossing? Oh, you are going to love it here, Billy," as if they had known me all along. As if we were already the best of friends. We are surely a long way from London, where it takes years to become acquainted, and even longer to become friends.
Where is my father? I try to spot him in the crowd, tall, handsome, well dressed, looking like the governor of a colony. For the past two days I have been drilled for this moment by Grandfather. "When you meet your father, Billy, hold yourself straight, your shoulders back, head up. Don't look at your feet Billy, look him straight in the eye. Extend your hand, say 'Happy to meet you, Father'."
— "Should I not call him Sir?"
— "Sir? Maybe the first time ... No, Father is better. The main thing is to stand very straight so he sees how tall you are, he is sure to like that."
Here I am, erect as a statue, eyes straight ahead, but no father to impress. "Where is my father?"
— "I don't see him, Billy. He lives in New Jersey, not Philadelphia. He may not know we have arrived."
I slouch and contemplate my shoes.
Franklin Court, the family house, my future home. It is not set on High Street but way back in the middle of a spacious courtyard. It has so many windows, so many rooms, nothing like the narrow, high lodgings on Mrs. Stevenson's Craven Street. One would have to be awfully rich in London to own a house like this.
This is where Father will meet us, surely. He does not want to mix with the mob on the dock. But no, the people waiting on the doorstep are Aunt Sally, her pink, round face shiny with tears, Uncle Richard standing stiffly, and two little boys in their Sunday best.
We go in. Grandfather rushes upstairs, probably to that music room he is so keen about. Aunt Sally turns toward me and now starts ...
Scene Fourthe most unforgettable of the day ...
Aunt Sally's hug.
A momentous experience, surpassing any hug I've ever known. A hug well worth those six long weeks on the ocean. Crunched from head to toe inside her plump arms, against her ample bosom, I know bliss. She suddenly releases me and pushes me back, the better to examine my face. "Look at that jutting chin," she squeals ... "You are a Franklin, a real Franklin, my dear boy! Let me kiss you!" And we embrace again.
Benny Bache meanwhile, the former Kingbird, is doing his valiant best to climb up my leg while Willy, the two-year-old, has a firm grip on my ankle. That I should be called Billy while he is Willy is an unending source of babble to him: Billy, Willy, Willy, Billy.
Oh, family joys! Why was I so flustered? It is wonderful to belong, even more wonderful than the hot bath we were allowed once a month in boarding school.