He stretches out in a living room easy chair, next to a fireplace strung with five sets of little mittens. "People ask me, 'Are you ready?' 'Are you on track?' " He smiles softly. "I have no idea. I have no clue how things will work out. I may come in 75th. If I do, I'll be disappointed, but if I were to take inventory of the year, it has all been wonderful. I'd be happy just for what our family has shared."
Perhaps. Later that evening the family gathers in the living room for a bedtime story. Anthony sits in an armchair, Miguel and Marisa prop themselves up in his lap. Outside it is cold and dark. Inside it is warm. Analisa celebrates the temperature differential by lifting her nightshirt over her head.
Sandoval begins reading. The story, Where the Red Fern Grows, is about a boy, named Billy, growing up. The boy and his two dogs have treed a raccoon in an enormous sycamore. The dogs can't scurry up and the coon won't come down, so the boy decides to chop down the tree. He chops through the night and into the next day. His arms and hands turn numb. His back aches. He won't quit. His mother worries. His sister thinks he's crazy. But Grandpa—Grandpa knows differently.
The fire crackles, logs settling into ash. Sandoval reads Grandpa's words slowly. Blue eyes take it all in.
" 'You know, Billy,' " intones Sandoval in his most grandfatherly voice, " 'about this tree-chopping of yours, I think it's all right. In fact, I think it would be a good thing if all young boys had to cut down a big tree like that once in their life.' "