A Ragged Bunch and A Motley Crew, Chapter Fourteen
by Echo Lewis, illustrated by Elaine Blier
A serialized story for the summer of 2003
"Well, that's a fine way to treat your elders!" Davey shouted up at Laura.
Oh no! Laura jolted at the sound of his voice and looked down. There stood Uncle Don's oldest son, his feet firmly planted on the ground and his hands on his hips.
He grinned up at Laura and she laughed.
"Sorry," she apologized.
It was a hot, lazy August afternoon. Laura had thrown a pair of jeans and a tee shirt on over her swim suit, grabbed a book and a bag of cherries from the big bowl on the kitchen table and climbed up into her favorite apple tree in the back yard.
Completely engrossed in her story, she absent-mindedly nibbled the cherries and spit out the seeds. One of them landed on Davey's head.
"Come on down," he said to her. "Dad came home early from work and he's eager for a picnic. Mom and Jennifer are starting to get some food together; I'm off to find Christine and the twins; and Dad wants you to help him find the mitts and everything and load up the wagon."
Laura hurried down out of the tree and ran back toward the garage.
"Here I am!" she called to Uncle Don when she spotted him. He was bent over a pile of sports equipment outside the garage door. Straightening up, he smiled at this newest member of his ragged bunch.
"There's light in your eyes, Munchkin," he said, "That didn't used to be there. You're happy now, aren't you?"
Laura caught off guard, nodded, realizing that he was right. She was happy. How had that happened? A strange fear gripped her heart.
"Uncle Don," she blurted out, before she froze with fear, "I can't!"
"Can't what, Munchkin?" he asked, surprised by the fear in her voice.
"I can't," she repeated miserably. "I can't be happy. It's not right. It isn't!"
Laura began to cry.
Uncle Don shook his head, trying to clear out the confusion. "Why can't you be happy?" he asked. "Why wouldn't it be right?"
As he questioned Laura, he motioned her to sit down on the grass. He sat down facing her.
Laura furiously wiped away the tears from her face and struggled to calm down.
"I can't be happy," she said again, this time with both anger and determination, as though she had caught herself breaking a very important promise.
"Can you explain it to me, Laura?" Uncle Don asked. "I don't understand."
Laura tried to tell him what she had never put into words, had never thought about. It was something that was just always there.
"My father," she said intently. "My mother. "
Uncle Don waited for her to go on.
"It wouldn't be right, because they were never happy. Never!" With a jolt, Laura stopped herself.
"Once," she said hesitantly, "I remember my mother laughed." Laura's eyes shone as she explored the nearly forgotten memory. "My father used to sing sometimes, when he felt good. And this one time - I wasn't very old, maybe in first grade - he came home from work. He worked at a gas station then, I think. I was watching my mother make supper. He came into the kitchen and sang her a song and she laughed and laughed. It was the most wonderful thing - it was so wonderful!"
Laura's voice, so happy while telling this the special memory, faded again.
"It was the only time I ever saw them like that. It wouldn't be right for me to be happy."
Her eyes pleaded with Uncle Don to understand. He did understand. And he tried to help Laura see more clearly.
"When you grow up," he said, "if you get married and have a little girl, do you want her to be unhappy?"
"No! Not ever!" Laura was shocked at his question. Thrusting out her chin, she proclaimed, "If I have a little girl, I want her to be happy always!"
Uncle Don let Laura's own statement sink into her mind for a second. Then he went on, "Your parents didn't want you to be unhappy, either. They just didn't know how to make things better for you. And if they thought their own unhappiness, which started long before you were ever born, would make you miserable all your life too, think how bad that would make them feel. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
The young girl thought it over and shook her head.
"Laura," Uncle Don said, "in that one moment of happiness that you saw, your parents left you a treasure. The best, the most important thing you can do is to accept that tiny treasure of love and happiness they left you. Place it carefully in your own heart and let it grow there."
Laura listened very intently. Then she closed her eyes and sat very still on the grass. It seemed to Uncle Don that she sat like that for a very long time.
When he was almost ready to say something, she opened her eyes and smiled at him.
"It's all golden and light and shiny," she told him.
"What is?" asked her bewildered uncle.
"The treasure. They handed it to me and I took it and put it in my heart. It's all gold; light and shiny and it's starting to grow. You were right. They want me to have it."
Uncle Don's jaw dropped and his mouth fell open. He managed to close it quickly and act like everything made perfect sense.
The two of them got up to finish their task of sorting out the sports equipment, Laura going about it peacefully and happily.
Uncle Don, still stunned, had a silent little chat with God. "Well, Lord, I don't know what You did, or how You did it, but thank You!"
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