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Chicken Soup for the Soul - Short Stories

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On Teaching
By Salvador Gonz?lez Padilla

I am a primary schoolteacher. Growing up, teaching was never high on the list of things to do with my life. I had a world to conquer, I felt, and becoming a teacher would not even allow me to conquer my own backyard. Upon graduating from college, in order to pursue my passion for acting as much as I could, I worked as a substitute teacher. I enjoyed the experience, but still something was missing. Shortly after starting, however, I received an assignment as a "long-term" sub wherein I took over the last trimester (as this was a year-round school) of a kindergarten class. It was that trimester that a tiny light finally went on inside of me. I realized that as a substitute, I hadn't had the opportunity to cultivate relationships with the kids, to observe their growth and foster their development. To the kids, I was just another substitute, gone in a day or so; to me, they were just another day of work. As a long-term teacher, I was able to experience the true nature of teaching, and I began to fall in love with something that a few years earlier I would not have wanted to do.
The following year, I taught third grade full-time, and it was an incident from that year that affected how I viewed my job, my students, my community, my world and myself . . .
One evening I was visiting a friend in the area where my school is located. As I didn't live in that area, I never encountered any of my students outside of class. On this particular evening, my friend and I ventured to the local video store to pick up some movies. While inside, I glanced out at the parking lot and saw one of my students. I figured she was just accompanying her parent to the store and thought nothing more of it. Minutes later, as we left the store, I saw her again, a pretty, skinny, little thing, still standing just in front of the entrance. "Hey there, kiddo, what's going on? Renting some movies?" I asked. "No," she replied softly as she looked over to an old car parked a few meters away. I looked over and saw her mom standing outside the car. I waved. "So, what . . ." I didn't finish. I looked in her hands and realized that she was standing outside of that video store, at that time of night, selling crocheted toilet-paper covers, working to earn some extra money for her family. My heart sank. She grew embarrassed. I probed no further as I didn't want to humiliate her. I made a feeble attempt at pretending everything was fine. I uttered some informal good-bye, told her I'd see her in the morning and made my way to the car. On the short drive back to my friend's home, a thousand emotions came and went, a thousand thoughts followed suit. I was outraged that this little girl had to live in a world where fate, destiny, whatever, dictated such harsh life circumstances. I felt worthless.
The next morning, as I drove to school still ruminating about the events of the evening before, I remembered the lyrics to a song by Alejandra Guzm?n dedicated to her daughter. "El mundo es como es y no puedo cambi?rtelo, pero siempre te seguir? para darte una mano." "The world is what it is, and I cannot change it for you, but I'll always be with you to give you a hand."
I couldn't change the life circumstances for this little girl and her family, but I was in a very special position that allowed me to make an impact. As long as she was my student, I had the opportunity to make a difference, to affect her life positively, to stir in her an endless thirst for learning and, maybe, just maybe, contribute, if even mildly, to her reaching her m?s grandes anhelos. Her biggest dreams. That year, and for as long as I could, I would echarle una mano. Give her a hand.
Today, this is how I view every one of my days with every one of my students. I believe firmly in what I do. I believe in the seen and unforeseen consequences that a good teacher can have on a student. Education, mi gente, is paramount!
I believe in the power of knowledge to effect change and create better lives. I believe in education, not just as a means to an end, but as an instrument of lifelong learning and relationship. I strive to leave an indelible mark on the life of every child I teach, and I never miss an opportunity to notice the beauty and the love in every step we take together.

Reprinted by permission of Salvador Gonz?lez Padilla (c) 2004 from Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Susan Sanchez-Casal. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Finding My Passion
By Mary Lyn Miller

I know a lot about passion because in the process of living, I lost it, but in the process of dying, I found it again.
My life was about three things: pleasing, proving and achieving. I thought that if enough people liked me, I would feel better about being me. I wanted desperately to please everyone . . . family, bosses, neighbors, people I didn't like. It hardly mattered who they were; other people's approval and validation were the source of my self-esteem. "Looking good" was my daily regime, and I was incredibly good at it. I continually quested for greater and greater accomplishments because those proved my value to the outside world.
This thinking affected the entire fabric of my life. My work was a series of long hours, proving my dedication and making sure I never offended anyone. I made impossible promises that were hard to keep because I was afraid to say no, which added untold amounts of stress. By constantly reacting to outside circumstances rather than taking charge of my life, I felt victimized and I lived in fear that "they" - whoever "they" were - would suddenly discover I was incompetent. The fact that I was the youngest woman in my company to hold an executive position and became director of corporate communications while still in my mid-20s did not assuage my concern. Nothing soothed my self-doubt.
The only solution I knew was to try harder, work longer, achieve more. I just knew I'd be happy when I did the right thing. I left the corporate world knowing that being independent would change everything. Ironically, I became a career consultant and taught people how to look good and be aware of what others expected of them. I knew all about that.
Of course, I was still a people-pleaser and took lower fees because I feared no one would use my services. Instead of being driven by the demands of a boss, I was driven by the demands of my clients. I couldn't understand why I was financially struggling and assumed the answer was to simply make more money. So the cycle escalated as I decided to increase my marketing and promotion efforts even more. When I burned out and grew discontented with no improvement in my income, I decided there was something intrinsically wrong with me and embarked on a campaign to fix it. I went to classes, lost weight and joined personal-growth groups. I was still empty.
So it went . . . my life of pleasing, proving and achieving. What did it get me? Tired. Broke. Emotionally depleted. And terribly afraid.
Then in 1986, the awakening came. I discovered I had bladder cancer and the prognosis looked bleak because my symptoms could be traced back for three years. My doctor had the bedside manner of a blacksmith and was not gently encouraging. In my first surgery, he removed the largest tumor he had ever taken from a bladder and announced we would be doing another surgery in 10 to 12 weeks "to see what was left." This is a fun guy.
The cancer changed my life forever. I made a decision to live, and that had a number of implications. I gained immediate clarity about what was important and began focusing on becoming well. I changed my diet, discovered herbs, explored holistic healing and learned what it meant to take care of myself.
Most important, I began asking the question: Who am I and what am I doing here? Previously, my concern was: What does everyone else want and how can I make them like me? I shifted from being involved with the changing demands of the outside world to focusing on what was in my heart. This was not an easy process, since I had spent my whole life looking outside for answers. I was so accustomed to ferreting out what other people wanted from me, I had no idea who I was.
I realized that my life totally lacked passion . . that zest for living, that sense of joy, creativity and spontaneity that truly comprises life. Suddenly faced with possible death, I knew I had never really lived. In fact, there had been no "life" in my life. As a result of this awareness, passion became my reason for living. I committed myself to it wholly and completely!
No, I had no idea what it meant. I just knew that my daily purpose was to get up and do something passionate each day. I walked on the beach, discovered I love rollercoaster rides, took fun classes that wouldn't make me a "better" person and read books I had wanted to read for years. I made a list of things I wanted to do before I died (whenever that might be) and as I did them, the list just grew. Enthusiasm, excitement and fulfillment were ends in themselves. I wanted to fully experience and live every moment I had left. I could wait no longer.
I felt more positive and hopeful. It took less energy to produce better results. I allowed myself to be uncertain about how my future was going to unfold; I just continued exploring and expressing my passion on a daily basis. I now know the sheer force of this commitment produced miracles.
By now, my business was shut down, I had no money coming in and no one was interested in hiring a terminally ill patient. But some of my old clients began calling and asking if I would do career coaching in my home. Heaven knows, nothing else was happening, so I said yes, but my consulting took a new turn. I talked about the cancer and my commitment to living a passionate life; I thought they might want that, too. Indeed, many wanted to hear more, and I began conducting groups. By the end of the first year working in my living room, I discovered I had seen more people and made more money than I had any other year in my career. After all those years of working and trying so hard, it was that simple. What a revelation! I knew I had stumbled onto something that could work for anyone who embraced it.
The other major miracle is that I have been cancer-free since 1987. My doctor is stunned by my recovery. When I have my annual checkups, he always comments on how well I have healed. Apparently, there are not even any remaining indications of the surgery. Is this the result of a commitment to passion? While I cannot prove it to you, I don't doubt it. I believe passion is the strongest force in the universe and that it is a magnet for all one's good?happiness, power, joy, abundance and health. You know how exhilarating it can be to be around a group of passionate people. It produces a euphoric energy. Like running, it creates endorphins in the brain. Endorphins boost and protect the immune system. Cancer is a disease of the immune system, so why couldn't passion heal it?
For me, the process of dying brought great relevance to living. Today I bring as much life to living as possible. It has also become my livelihood. I built an organization called The Career Clinic, which has helped well over a thousand people heal their relationship with work through discovering their passions and purpose in life. Passion is not for the lucky or the talented; it is the fire waiting to be ignited in every soul.
Through cancer, I received the gift of life. Now I get to give it away by speaking and teaching, and do so with great gratitude and joy.

Reprinted by permission of Mary Lyn Miller (c) 1995 from Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery, Nancy Autio-Mitchell and Beverly Katherine Kirkhart. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Our Own Perfect Rainbow
By Liz Allison

Just when I thought there could be no way to comfort my two precious children, Robbie and Krista, only hours after burying their father, Davey, God delivered a special gift just for us.
The morning was cloudy and overcast with light drizzles, on and off. The funeral was behind us now. The only thought that raced through my mind was how to console my fragile children after all they had been through over the past few days.
My home was filled with close family and friends as we all tried to take care of each other at such an emotional time. Robbie and Krista were priority for everyone in the house.
My father had taken the children to play in the backyard to give them a break from the chaos inside the house.
As each group of friends would leave, I would walk them to the front door to see them off. This particular time, we all walked out the front door to find the most amazing sight: The end of a rainbow was clearly in our front yard. We were astonished, to say the least.
Before I could catch my breath, my father and the children were calling from the backyard to come look at the beautiful rainbow in the backyard.
It couldn't be. I ran to the backyard to see that, indeed, the other end of the rainbow was in our backyard. I looked over the house to see the most perfect rainbow shooting its colors directly over our house - a complete, perfect rainbow right in front of our eyes.
There were no words to describe the warmth in my heart for what we were witnessing: a true gift from God. It was a sign to me that he was with us and that he was giving us his promise of the covenant between God and Earth.
As I tucked Robbie and Krista into their beds that night, Krista asked if her daddy sent that rainbow to her and Robbie. I couldn't help but think he had a little something to do with it.
We then thanked God for our own perfect rainbow.

Reprinted by permission of Liz Allison (c) 2003 from Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Matthew E. Adams, Jeff Aubery and Kirk Autio. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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A Soldier Remembers
By David R. Kiernan

In 1987, while serving as the public affairs officer at Fort Bragg, I would frequently visit the local high schools to speak to the students about the Army. As a lieutenant colonel, I found it particularly rewarding to talk with the teenagers about the benefits of military service, if only for a few years of their lives.
During one of these visits, I reported to the secretary in the principal's office to let her know that I was here for the third-period civics class. I was a little surprised when she told me, "The principal would like to see you before you go to the class." Normally, in these small county schools, the principal was busy with a myriad of duties such as driver's education, administration, counseling and the like.
As I entered his office, I was greeted by a gentleman who appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties, and he welcomed me with a smile and a handshake. "You don't remember me, do you?" he queried.
I looked closely at the face again and could not recall where we may have met before. "No," I said. "I'm sorry, I don't."
"You were my company commander in basic training at Fort Jackson in 1970," the principal said.
I again looked at the middle-aged face and had no recollection. We usually had 220 soldiers in each unit, and they all looked alike in uniform with short haircuts - and it had been seventeen years ago.
"Let me help you out," he suggested. "You gave me a three-day pass to go home and see my newborn baby." I immediately remembered the incident, if not the soldier!
"Yes," I said. "I remember now." It was the only three-day pass I had issued because the soldiers were on their way to Vietnam immediately after they finished training. But I knew if I did not let him go home to see his son and something happened to him, I would regret denying the opportunity he had to be with his family.
He stood up from his chair, walked around the desk and put his hand on my shoulder as we went down the hall to the classroom. "Come on, Colonel. I'd like to introduce you to 'the baby.' He's in your third-period class. By letting me go see him, you gave me a reason to stay focused and to come home safe from that war. Thank you, sir."
It was the most rewarding class I had ever given, and I had no problem telling the students about the bonds of friendship and the values that Army life can provide . . . and that can last a lifetime.

Reprinted by permission of David R. Kiernan (c) 2000 from Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor and Sidney R. Slagter. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Rudy's Angel
By Wilma Hankins Hlawiczka

I walked into the grocery store not particularly interested in buying groceries. I wasn't hungry. The pain of losing my husband of thirty-seven years was still too raw. And this grocery store held so many sweet memories.
Rudy often came with me, and most every time he'd pretend to go off and look for something special. I knew what he was up to. I'd always spot him walking down the aisle with three yellow roses in his hands. Rudy knew I loved yellow roses.
With a heart filled with grief, I only wanted to buy my few items and leave, but even grocery shopping was different since Rudy had passed on. Shopping for one took time, a little more thought than it had for two.
Standing by the meat, I searched for the perfect small steak and remembered how Rudy had loved his steak. Suddenly a woman came beside me. She was blond, slim and lovely in a soft green pantsuit. I watched as she picked up a large pack of T-bones, dropped them in her shopping cart, hesitated, and then put them back. She turned to go and once again reached for the pack of steaks. She saw me watching her, and she smiled.
"My husband loves T-bones, but honestly, at these prices, I don't know."
I swallowed the emotion down my throat and met her pale blue eyes. "My husband passed away eight days ago," I told her. Glancing at the package in her hands, I fought to control the tremble in my voice. "Buy him the steaks. And cherish every moment you have together."
She shook her head, and I saw the emotion in her eyes as she placed the package in her basket and wheeled away.
I turned and pushed my cart across the store to the dairy products. There I stood, trying to decide which size milk I should buy. A quart I finally decided, and moved on to the ice cream section near the front of the store. If nothing else, I could always fix myself an ice cream cone.
I placed the ice cream in my cart and looked down the aisle toward the front. I saw first the green suit, then recognized the pretty lady coming toward me. In her arms she carried a package. On her face was the brightest smile I had ever seen. I would swear a soft halo encircled her blond hair as she kept walking toward me, her eyes holding mine.
As she came closer, I saw what she held and tears began misting in my eyes.
"These are for you," she said and placed three beautiful, long-stemmed yellow roses in my arms. "When you go through the line, they will know these are paid for." She leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on my cheek.
I wanted to tell her what she'd done, what the roses meant, but still unable to speak, I watched her walk away as tears clouded my vision. I looked down at the beautiful roses nestled in the green tissue wrapping and found it almost unreal. How did she know?
Suddenly the answer seemed so clear. I wasn't alone. "Oh, Rudy, you haven't forgotten me, have you?" I whispered, with tears in my eyes. He was still with me, and she was his angel.

Reprinted by permission of Wilma Hankins Hlawiczka (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Single's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Jennifer Read Hawthorne and Marci Shimoff. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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The Moses Connection
By Christina Coruth

When my children were in kindergarten and first grade, my husband and I owned and operated a family-type restaurant in a beach resort town.
Every weekend it was hectic as vacationers descended upon the town to enjoy their "fun in the sun," go out for an evening meal and enjoy the amusements and activities along the boardwalk.
During the busy times, my mother would come down from the city by train to baby-sit my children allowing me to work.
My mother's petite stature and pure white hair made her look quite a bit older than her chronological age.
But needless to say she was a wonder with the children.
Grandma Sissy, as my two sons called her, would arrive after work on Friday evening and leave Sunday evening.
Every Sunday morning, before our business opened, we'd all head to church.
More times then not, because of the summer crowds, we'd have to sit in two pews, usually one behind the other.
One morning in particular, when my husband, my five-year-old son and I sat in the row directly behind her and our other son, we noticed Andy seemed unusually fascinated with her hair.
He kept caressing it.
Finally, after a few minutes he turned to us and asked in a loud voice, "Is Grandma Sissy Moses?"
Before I could respond in any way, several nearby parishioners smiled; a few even giggled.
Totally unaware of the stir he caused, our son continued. "I bet she is," he declared. "She's got the same long, white hair." He gently patted it once again.
I smiled and whispered, "No, she's not Moses."
"Well," he continued. "Grandma looks just like the picture in Sunday School."
More smiles from those unsuspecting listeners. Andy grew silent.
I assumed my answer satisfied his curiosity.
Several minutes passed then we heard, "Grandma, are you Moses' mother?"
No one in close proximity, including Grandma Sissy, could hold in the laughter.
I quickly tried to explain the timeline, but Andy wouldn't have it.
He didn't give up.
He countered with, "Well, is she his grandmother?"
By now, laughter being highly contagious in the most unlikely of places, had spread to more folks than needed.
It could have been called a small commotion.
I noticed the priest stretching his head above the congregation trying to locate and identify the disruption and could see several people on the other side of the aisle looking in our direction.
Within a few seconds one of the ushers whisked past us and made his way to the pulpit.
Oh boy, I thought, we're going to be asked to leave. But to my surprise, the priest smiled and addressed his audience.
"I've just been informed that one of our very young parishioners believes his grandmother is related to Moses. Will our special guest please rise and satisfy our curiosity?"
Grandma Sissy stood.
The entire assemblage broke into laughter and applauded.
"See, I was right," said Andy. "Everyone else thinks so, too."

Reprinted by permission of Helen Colella (c) 2001 from Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Meladee McCarty and Hanoch McCarty. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Kids from Mars
By Joe Kirkup

Vietnam was two months and sixty nightmares behind me. I had frightened or angered all of my friends and family, so I got in my car and just drove away.
From Connecticut, I had zigzagged south till I found myself on some mid-Florida, two-lane byway with an empty gas tank and an empty wallet. It was time for my first experience with a pawnshop.
In Bartow, at about midstate, I found such a place. I had decided to sacrifice the almost new Akia reel-to-reel tape recorder I'd purchased while overseas. It had cost me $200 at a time when I was only making $215 per month. That amount included an extra $55 per month called "hostile fire pay," which works out to a little less than eight cents per hour to duck bullets. Not much, but I was grateful for the extra money all the same.
The pawnshop guy was willing to give me $15. He told me I'd be better off to drive to Florida Southern College in Lakeland and try to sell the Akia to some student. I took his advice and moved on.
The Mustang was breathing what gasoline vapor remained in the empty tank as I stopped alongside one of the large brick buildings on the FSC campus. I was expecting the worst. My experience with college kids since returning home had been entirely negative. I hated to put myself at the mercy of a collection of what I expected to be longhaired, sloppily dressed, self-important, spoiled brats.
Two young men approached me as I stood next to the car wondering what to do. They wore shirts with button-down collars, loafers, short hair and smiles. "We really like your car."
"Uh, thanks."
"Are you a student?" they asked politely.
To the casual observer, the three of us probably looked much the same: twenty-year-olds standing next to a high-powered convertible on a college campus. In fact, the differences were monumental. They were studying for exams and daydreaming of a bright future. I was wandering aimlessly and trying not to think about how hard it is to pry a weapon from a dead man's hand.
I explained that I wasn't a student and about my desire to sell the recorder. They asked to see it.
"Where did you get it?" The question was asked in an informational, not accusatory, tone.
"Vietnam." I waited for the clouds to form in their eyes.
The attitude of polite sincerity with which they had treated me never wavered. One of the students said he and his brother might want to buy the Akia and asked if I could wait while he located his sibling. I agreed.
The brothers and I agreed on a price of $100. They apologized profusely when they were only able to scrape together $90. Meanwhile, they and their friends had begun to ask me about my experiences in the war. To my surprise, their questions were not hostile. They were obviously founded in a genuine desire to obtain some firsthand impressions to compare with the torrent of government-filtered information provided by the newspapers and TV.
Our conversation went on for hours. I fielded questions from ten or so male students while we ate dinner together. Then they asked me if I would like to shower and spend the night in their dorm. Compared to bathing in a pond and sleeping in the Mustang, it sounded like a great idea.
Twenty minutes of hot water took away all the road dust and some of my anxiety. But more than the food and the shower, it was absolutely wonderful to talk to people who actually seemed to respect me for what I had done. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the return of a familiar reproach: "Killer. Fool. You should have known better." It never came.
The brothers' dorm room was crowded with shiny, inquisitive faces. The questions flew, several at a time, always polite and always well informed. I didn't realize America still had kids like this. I decided they were kids from Mars.
We talked till after midnight. I did my absolute best to be objective and impartial. They were amazed to learn that we were almost never allowed to shoot first. And that to do so could actually result in a court-martial. They were incredulous when I described going house to house trying to separate the good guys from the bad guys. I told them we did not - as had been reported - kill them all and let God sort them out. In America, in 1968, that was news.
They would have grilled me till the sun came up. I finally apologized and begged for some time to sleep. Everyone shook my hand and courteously retreated.
In the morning, they asked me to stay on. I was tempted. Perhaps here, surrounded by these kids from Mars, I would be able to leave my troubled memories behind. But, in the end, I decided to go. Richer - by a lot more than $90 - I packed up my ghosts and said good-bye.

Reprinted by permission of Joe Kirkup (c) 1992 from Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor and Sidney R. Slagter. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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The First Day of Middle School
By Patty Hansen

My stomach was tied in knots, and I could feel the sweat soaking through my T-shirt. My hands were clammy as I spun the face of my combination lock. I tried and tried to remember the numbers, and every time I thought I had it, the lock wouldn't open. Around and around went the numbers, left, right, right, left . . . which way was it supposed to go? I couldn't make it work. I gave up and started to run down the hallway. As I ran, the hall seemed to get longer and longer . . . the door I was trying to reach was farther away than when I had started. I began to sweat even worse, then I could feel the tears forming. I was late, late, late, late for my first class on my first day of middle school. As I ran, people were watching me and they were laughing . . . laughing . . laughing . . . then the bell rang! In my dream, it was the school bell. But as I sat up in bed, I realized that it was my alarm clock jarring me awake.
I was having the dream again. I started having the dream around the end of sixth grade, and as the start of seventh grade drew closer, the more I had the dream. This time the dream was even more real, because today was the morning of the first day of seventh grade.
In my heart, I knew I would never make it. Everything was too different. School, friends - even my own body.
I was used to walking to school, and now I had to walk six blocks to the bus stop so that I could take the bus to and from school. I hated buses. They made me carsick from the jiggling and the smell of the fuel.
I had to get up for school earlier than in the past, partly because of having to be bussed to school and partly because I had to take better care of myself now that I was in my preteen years. My mom told me that I would have to shower every morning since my hormones were kicking in - that's why I perspired so easily.
I was totally uncomfortable with my body. My feet didn't want to respond to my own directions, and I tripped a lot. I constantly had a sprained ankle, wet armpits and things stuck in my braces. I felt awkward, smelly, insecure and like I had bad breath on a full-time basis.
In middle school, I would have to learn the rules and personalities of six different teachers instead of just one. There would be different kids in all my classes, kids I didn't even know. I had never made friends very easily, and now I would have to start all over again.
I would have to run to my locker between classes, remember my combination, open it, put in the books from the last class and take out different books . . . and make it to the next class all within five minutes!
I was also scared because of some stories I had heard about the first day of middle school, like being canned by the eighth-graders. That's when a bunch of eighth-graders pick you up and put you in a trash can. I had also heard that when eighth-grade girls catch a new seventh-grader in the girls' bathroom alone, they smear her with lipstick. Neither one of these first-day activities sounded like something I wanted to take part in.
No one had ever told me that growing up was going to be so hard, so scary, so unwelcome, so . . . unexpected. I was the oldest kid in my family - in fact, in my entire neighborhood - and no one had been there before me, to help lead me through the challenges of middle school.
I was on my own.
The first day of school was almost everything I feared. I didn't remember my combination. I wrote the combination on my hand, but my hand was so sweaty it came off. I was late to every class. I didn't have enough time to finish my lunch; I had just sat down to eat when the bell rang to go back to class. I almost choked on my peanut butter and banana sandwich as I ran down the dreaded hallway. The classrooms and the teachers were a blur. I wasn't sure what teacher went with which subject and they had all assigned homework . . on the very first day of school! I couldn't believe it.
But the first day wasn't like my dream in another way. In my dream, all of the other kids had it together and I was the only one who was the nerd. In real life, I wasn't the only one who was late for classes. Everyone else was late, too. No one could remember their combination either, except Ted Milliken, the kid who carried a briefcase to school. After most of the kids realized that everyone else was going through the same thing they were going through, we all started cracking up. We were bumping into each other in our rush to get to the next class, and books were flying everywhere. No one got canned or smeared - at least no one I knew. I still didn't go into the girls' bathroom alone, just in case. Yeah, there was laughter in the hallway, but most of it was the laughter of kids sharing a common experience: complete hysteria!
As the weeks went by, it became easier and easier. Pretty soon I could twirl my combination without even looking at it. I hung posters in my locker, and finally felt like I was at home. I learned all of my teachers' names and decided who I liked the best. Friendships from elementary school were renewed and made stronger, and new friends were made. I learned how to change into a gym suit in front of other girls. It never felt comfortable, but I did it - just like everyone else did. I don't think any of us felt very comfortable.
I still didn't like the bus; it did make me carsick. I even threw up on the bus once. (At least it was on the way home, not on the way to school.) I went to dances and parties, and I started to wonder what it would feel like to be kissed by a boy. The school had track tryouts, and I made the team and learned how to jump the low hurdles. I got pretty good at it, too.
First semester turned into second, and then third. Before I knew it, eighth grade was just around the corner. I had made it through.
Next year, on the first day of school, I would be watching the new seventh graders sweating it out just like I did - just like everyone does. I decided that I would feel sorry for them . . . but only for the FIRST day of seventh grade. After that, it's a breeze.

Reprinted by permission of Patty Hansen (c) 1997 from Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Hansen and Irene Dunlap. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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The Anonymous Donor
By Deb Wilson

It has been my pleasure to help facilitate and coordinate donations and sponsorships on behalf of Speedway Children's Charities over the last six years as national marketing director. All of the funds are deeply appreciated and always come from the heart from both donors and sponsors alike, no matter the amount of the contribution.
One donation that sticks in my mind, however, is a donation that comes in to us every six to eight weeks. It has no return address, usually has a small drawing on the envelope (obviously a children's drawing) and a cashier's check for ten dollars mailed from Harrisburg, North Carolina. It definitely is not the largest donation we receive throughout the month, but it's one that touches all the employees here at the Speedway Children's Charities every time it's received.
The reason it means so much to us is twofold. One, somewhere out there is an adult(s) who has taken the time to drive the child to the convenience store that the cashier's check is drawn on, making the act of giving a special activity. Second, the child never leaves a name or return address; he or she just gives unconditionally to other children in need. Speedway Children's Charities is fortunate to have such supporters as this child and his or her parents; I only hope that I can raise my own children to know what the true meaning of giving is, as our anonymous donor does.

Reprinted by permission of Deb Wilson (c) 2002 from Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Matthew E. Adams, Jeff Aubery and Kirk Autio. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Bad Hop
By Steve Smith


The ball pinged off the aluminum bat and headed toward the hole between shortstop and third base, the sort of one-hop screamer that the high-school junior shortstop, my son Chris, had backhanded a thousand times. Only this time, the ball hit a pebble and caromed weirdly toward his head. With a sickening crunch, the ball caught him flush in his left eye, and he went down in a heap. Bad hop, and a bad break.
The ambulance came onto the field, and he was taken away, something that just doesn't seem to happen in the pastoral world of high-school baseball. At the hospital, Chris was diagnosed with a blowout fracture of the bones in the orbit of his eye socket - a classic sports injury easily resolved by a simple surgical procedure.
Except that things went wrong, and when the surgeon finally screwed up his courage enough to tell my wife and me what happened - an undetected blood clot had cut off oxygen to the optic nerve - the long and short of it was that Chris would be blind in his left eye, probably for the rest of his life. In one instant, the college scholarships Chris had contemplated and the dreams of a professional baseball career vanished.
Chris was still groggy from the surgery when we went into his hospital room, his bandaged eye holding a secret we now had to share with him. We chatted about small things until he was alert enough to ask the inevitable, "Did everything go okay?"
My wife, Sue, gripped my hand as I told him that, no, it had not. That there had been complications. That the doctors had done their best, that medicine was still more art than science.
Halfway through my semiprepared speech, Chris interrupted me:
"Dad, am I blind?"
"Yeah, son. I'm afraid so."
"Will I be able to see out of it at all?"
"We don't know - the doctors don't know. Maybe a little. Someday. Not now." It was the toughest thing I've ever had to do.
Chris sort of nodded and looked away toward the window. Outside it was spring, and we listened for a time to a robin's territorial song from a nearby tree.
"Can I have a Coke?"
The duty nurse brought Chris a soft drink in a can with a cup and some ice. His mother poured the drink and he sat up and drank some of it through a straw, and then peered at the can on his bedside table.
"Dad, could you see if they have a pencil and paper I can use?"
I walked outside to the nurses' station and borrowed a notepad and a pencil and returned to Chris's room, where his mother was talking with him in hushed tones. I handed him the pad and pencil, and we elevated his bed. He raised his knees and propped the pad against them, looked at the soda can, and began to draw. Sue and I said nothing as long minutes passed. Finally, he tore off the sheet of paper and handed it to me. We looked at it - a photo-likeness of a Coca-Cola soft-drink can. Chris had always had an uncanny artistic ability: if his eyes could see it, his hand could draw it. We had thought of art as his second love - right behind baseball. In those brief moments, Chris took a bad hop, made a decision and changed forever the course of his life.
"I'm okay, you guys. I can still draw."
With that, he lowered his bed, turned onto his side and fell asleep.
That was eleven years ago. Since then, about 40 percent of the sight has returned to Chris's left eye. Even with this handicap, which severely affects depth perception, he went on to hit .385 and shortstop a state-championship baseball team the very next season, earning all-state honors in the process.
But his focus had changed. Chris took his college degree - with the help of an academic and not an athletic scholarship - in fisheries and wildlife management as a background for his career as a wildlife and sporting artist. Today, his paintings and pencil renderings grace the pages and covers of magazines and more than a dozen books, and they hang in galleries and museums in New York and Tennessee. The list of his clients awaiting oil and watercolor commissions is always at least a year long.
Human courage manifests itself in countless ways, countless times every day in every city and town and hamlet on every continent around the world. One bad hop, one routine ground ball, one instant of pain, and what could have been months of despair. But instead, that bad hop - and the courage to accept what could not be changed - altered the course of a life for the better.
In sports we call such things great comebacks. I suppose in Chris's case, there is no reason to call it anything else. Proving, I guess, that some bad hops can be fielded cleanly after all.

Reprinted by permission of Steve Smith (c) 2000 from Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark & Chrissy Donnelly and Jim Tunney. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Just Another Day
By Charlotte "Charlie" Volnek


Is it morning already? I rub my eyes and get up to ready myself for just another day.
It's just another day. . . . I look out my window to see the sun beaming down, caressing the Earth with its golden rays. Above, white clouds float in the brilliant blue sky. I hear a cardinal singing to his mate as he perches upon my back fence. And a bed of crocus open their purple heads to the heavens in joyful thankfulness.
It's just another day. My small daughter bursts into the room, her giggle ringing through the house as she hugs my neck tightly. Her small hand fits into mine as she pulls me to the kitchen to show me the card she has made. A stick figure with curly brown hair waves from the paper and beneath it, written in purple crayon are the words, "I love you, Mommy."
It's just another day as I stand quietly and watch a handicapped child. He struggles to get his special walker over the curb, but it won't budge. A well-meaning teacher offers assistance, but he brushes her away. With determination, he conquers the curb and is off to laugh and play with his friends. I weep inside for his handicap, but I am inspired by his courage. And I smile as I watch the children play, totally accepting their friend for who he is, not judging him for what he lacks.
It's just another day. My son proudly presents the report he did for school. He shares with me the hopes and dreams he holds for his future. His curiosity and excitement are contagious as we unfold the limitless possibilities that lay before him. I am encouraged that no dream is beyond our reach if we want it bad enough.
It's just another day. My beloved wraps his arms around me and surrounds me in love. I turn to look in the eyes that share my innermost feelings. What a special friend I have. Someone who loves me for who I am. Someone to lean on when I feel down. Someone to share my happiness. Someone to love.
Yes, it is just another day. A day to enjoy God's gracious beauty upon this Earth. A day to kiss the cherub cheeks of my children, and share in their hopes and dreams. A day to learn the value of determination and hard work. A day to learn the value of judging mankind for the quality he has, not what he has not. A day to learn the value of love.
Yes, it's just another day, I sigh. The stars dance in the velvet sky as a full yellow moon smiles cheerfully down. The house is quiet and still. The only sound is the soft even breathing of my spouse. I recall the scripture: "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." (Psalm 118:24) And as I lay at the side of my soul mate I pray that God will let me see "just another day"!

Reprinted by permission of Charlotte Volnek (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Christian Family Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery and Nancy Mitchell Autio. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Long Distance Vitamins
By Emily Chase

We arrived at the hospital to find Dad exhausted and weak, but his smile was as sure as ever. It was another bout of pneumonia. My husband and I stayed with him for the weekend but had to return to our jobs by Monday morning. Local relatives would see that Dad got home from the hospital, and they would look in on him regularly and prepare his meals. They would make sure he got his daily medicine and take him to his doctor appointments. But I longed to be able to let him know that we cared, too, even when we weren't with him.
Then I remembered a family tradition I initiated when our children were small. When leaving their grandparents' home after a visit, each child would hide a love note in the house for their grandfather or grandmother to find after we were gone. They hid notes in the cereal box, to be poured into their bowls the next morning. They'd tuck a note under a hairbrush, in a deck of cards, next to the phone or even in the microwave. For days after our departure, their grandparents would smile as they discovered these reminders of our love.
So as I tidied Dad's kitchen and made up a bed for him downstairs in the living room, I began writing notes. Some were practical. "Dad, I froze the casserole that was in the fridge so it wouldn't spoil." Some expressed my love. "Dad, I hope you sleep well in your new bed." Most notes were downstairs where he would be confined for several weeks until he regained strength, but one note I hid upstairs under his pillow. "Dad, if you have found this note, you must be feeling better. We are so glad!"
While others cared for Dad's day-to-day needs, we, of course, would stay in touch by phone. But our notes were a tangible reminder of our love and concern for him during this recovery period. Just like his medicines boosted him physically, these "emotional vitamins" would boost his spiritual health.
Several weeks later, in one of our regular phone calls, I asked Dad how he was doing. He said, "I'll tell you how I'm doing. I just found your note under my upstairs pillow!"

Reprinted by permission of Emily Chase (c) 2004 from Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Nancy Autio, Patty Aubery and LeAnn Thieman. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Just What the Doctor Ordered
By Whisperin' Bill Anderson


I've been asked a million times why I've chosen to put up with all the hassles and inconveniences of working the road all these years when I could have easily stayed in Nashville, written songs for a living, and enjoyed a peaceful and comfortable existence. My reply is now and has always been: Nobody applauds when you write a song.
Applause surely must be the most powerful aphrodisiac known to mankind. The quest for it is a disease of the blood. Or, at best, a genetic disorder. What else would cause an apparently rational person of sound body and mind to pack his belongings and heedlessly ride away from his spouse and family in order to pursue such a nomadic and pointless existence? I mean, it's not like entertainers cure cancer or anything.
Or do we?
I once rode all night and half a day through a blinding snowstorm only to arrive in the little North Dakota town where we were booked to perform to find our concert had been canceled because of the weather. A handful of people hadn't heard the news, however, and had managed somehow to brave the elements and make their way to the auditorium.
Normally, under such circumstances, no one would expect the entertainers to perform. All performance contracts contain an "Act of God" clause stating that if something out of human control occurs, the contract becomes null and void.
The promoter was under no obligation to pay us for the date. Likewise, we had no obligation to go on stage. We were cold, tired and hungry. The endless miles on a narrow, snow-swept highway had taken their toll. But there was something in the eyes of those few fans who had shown up that told us how badly they wanted to hear the music they knew we could play if only we would.
A small kitchen was off to the side of the auditorium, and the promoter offered to cook us some food. We warmed our hands by the steaming heat rising off a small group of antiquated radiator coils in the corner of the hallway and talked the situation over. There was certainly no place else for us to go. The entire town was held prisoner by the storm. Why not drink some coffee, fill our bellies and pick a little country music?
Which is exactly what we did. I told the audience they'd better treat us real good, though, because we had 'em outnumbered. We gave them our time and our talents and, in return, they were more than generous to us with their applause.
When our show was over, we stood around for a while and signed a few autographs and visited with the people. An elderly lady, wearing a heavy coat that had obviously kept her warm for many long winters, her head wrapped in a faded blue scarf, approached the stage where I was standing.
"You don't know how much this evening has meant to me," she said, reaching up for my hand and looking deeply into my eyes.
"Well, we've enjoyed it, too," I replied, smiling and giving her hand a slight squeeze.
"My husband just passed away," she said sadly, lowering her head. "I haven't been out of the house since he died except to go to the grocery store and to church. I didn't really want to come here today, but my daughter insisted on bringing me. My husband and I had lots of your records, and we used to enjoy so much watching you on TV."
I smiled and thanked her.
"I'm so glad to get to meet you," she continued. "Thank you for playing and singing for such a small crowd. Today is the first time I've smiled since my husband died. Your music has helped me to forget my problems for a while."
Okay, so entertainers don't cure cancer. But maybe, every once in a while, we cure some other things that are almost as important.

Reprinted by permission of Whisperin' Bill Anderson (c) 1998 from Chicken Soup for the Country Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Ron Camacho. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Raisins and Almonds
By Elizabeth Sussman Nassau

When I was small, the neighborhood was big and Bubbe's lap was bigger. Bubbe was my grandmother. She had the kindest smile in the world. When I sat in her lap, she'd put her soft arms around me and kiss my neck.
Bubbe taught me to cook in her clean little kitchen. She made ruby-red soup ? borsht - from beets and all the other vegetables I could carry from her garden. I'd help her stuff chicken necks with breading, then watch in wonder as she sewed them together with a needle and thread!
As she cooked, my bubbe would sing songs of her childhood. My favorite was a lullaby about raisins and almonds - "Rozhinkes Mit Mandlen." "Shlof zhe," Bubbe would sing, "Sleep now, Yidele, sleep."
When she made chopped liver, Bubbe used an iron grinder from her grandmother, which clamped onto the table. As I turned the handle around and around, the meat would tumble into her big blue bowl. Then Bubbe would add chicken schmaltz, eggs, onions and secret spices.
I loved to watch my grandmother in the kitchen. She could make a steaming mountain out of mashed potatoes. She'd offer me a juicy slice of orange faster than I could crack the rind. And Bubbe could peel an apple in one long, shiny red ribbon.
Bubbe's yard was a beautiful garden of life. She loved to sing as we wandered among the fragrant flowers and fat vegetables. There were greedy squirrels, noisy birds, dragonflies with double-wings. Bees would settle on the peonies. The cherry tomatoes were as sweet as candy.
I'd watch the sunflowers grow until they towered over me. Then I'd stand under their giant petals and stretch. My grandmother would smile. "Klayneh kinderlach," she'd say, "sweet child, you are such a bright flower." And she'd kiss the tip of my sunburned nose.
The garden held other wonders. Once, when I poked my stick in a bed of brown leaves, I found a shimmery snakeskin. When I showed my bubbe, she said I had found a memory of the snake, and that memories were precious. Of all the trees, I loved the slender birches best. I would gather bits of their papery bark and write parchment letters to Bubbe. Whenever she read one, she'd blow me a kiss. I didn't know until much later that my grandmother couldn't read.
We played dolls in the dining room. Bubbe called them all dollinkeh and sang to them in Yiddish. "Rozhinkes mit mandlen; sleep now, babeleh, sleep." When I was frightened or sad, she would stroke my hair and hum. Her voice was my rainbow.
I grew, and Bubbe aged. Each year, she measured me against the door of her kitchen, making my mark with her pencil. I measured my grandmother, too. The day my mark was higher than hers, I called her The Incredible Shrinking Bubbe. We laughed and laughed.
When Bubbe got tired, she'd sit on her glider and watch me play. When we went to synagogue, I'd help her up the steps. But the day I became a bat mitzvah, a daughter of the covenant, Bubbe danced the special dance of celebration, the Hora, with me.
Now I am big. The neighborhood is small. My bubbe is gone; she's gone to the gardens of memory. But the gifts she left are more precious than any treasure.
Whenever I reach for the old blue bowl, I remember the smells of my bubbe's kitchen. When I run my palm against a paper-white birch, I recall the parchment of her skin. And on quiet nights, as I rock my drowsy daughter to sleep, I can hear my bubbe's lullabies.
Shlof zhe, bubbeleh, shlof. Sleep, my dear bubbe, sleep.

Reprinted by permission of Elizabeth Sussman Nassau (c) 1998 from Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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A Wish Seed
By Lizanne Southgate

Everything was going wrong.
The very day I got off crutches from a knee injury, my teenage son arrived home from camp, on crutches, with a knee injury. He was in agony and needed surgery. We had no insurance.
The previous week our desperately needed new car had proved a lemon, so I had returned it and reluctantly financed a larger model. On the drive home from the dealership, a rock thrown up by the wheels shattered the windshield.
That day's mail held a cheerful letter from the IRS telling me I owed almost twenty thousand dollars in capital gains taxes from a house my ex-husband and I sold two years back. At that time, I was home-schooling the four youngest children, barely surviving on my freelance writing income and wading through the district attorney's paperwork to collect child support.
My world was eroding from under me in a series of small avalanches. It didn't take long before I was envisioning the IRS seizing our current home, leaving five children and me homeless. That car would be pretty small for all of us to live in! Maybe we could buy a little trailer. What about the four cats and two dogs? Would I have to tell the children to find homes for their pets?
Immediately we put the house on the market. Maybe it would sell quickly. In desperation, I began running ads for everything we had of value. Our furniture, freezer, greenhouse and my wedding ring sold quickly. Then we began regular runs to the local Goodwill truck to drop off anything and everything we could live without and to hunt for boxes.
In between, we made trips to the offices of orthopedic surgeons and pharmacies, and watched Robin grimace with every movement.
Our lives became a grim sequence of sorting, boxing and cleaning. We spent time praying that the real estate agent would produce a miracle quickly.
As the proverbial straws piled up, I noted guiltily that I grew more snappy, stressed and curt toward my children. Unfortunately, the guilt only added to my frustrations, and I spent longer periods hiding in the shower, crying.
One day, during a brief break at the park, the littlest child, Larkin, bounced over to bring me a wish seed, the downy thistle seed that children wish upon and blow away. According to the myth, if the seed travels far enough (the exact distance being unknown), the wish will come true. Half-heartedly, I took the seed and prayed silently to God for serenity, patience and guidance and to be a better parent and handle things more calmly. Smiling at Larkin's eager face, I sent it on its way.
The next few days we spent labeling, boxing and discarding the remainder of our physical lives. Gloom hovered over the house, threatening to swallow what was left of us.
So far, there was no buyer in sight, and the IRS sent a more serious demand. My son needed surgery and was devastated at his inability to help with the physical demands of moving. He was on painkillers and slept most of the day. Meanwhile, the doctor's office fought with the camp's insurance company to authorize surgery.
One afternoon, I took the youngest four to the roller rink to let off steam and keep a semblance of normalcy in our lives. As I skated round and round, the usual routine failed to soothe me. Details of everything that needed handling circled mercilessly in my head. To my embarrassment, tears burned behind my eyes, threatening to spill. Fear, fatigue, being overwhelmed and the unrelenting summer heat chewed at me.
The rink's air conditioner was broken that day and the owner skated past me, throwing open the back doors to allow the breeze inside before we all melted. A wave of warm air rushed past me, and then I saw it. Floating straight toward me was a wish seed. It settled, trembling, into the hand I reached out.
The most amazing sense of absurdity washed over me. What was this? God was rejecting my wish, too? Had he finally grown sick of all my griping and complaining? I began to giggle. Waves of giggles pushed out past the tears and sent them spilling down my cheeks. I skated on, clutching the wish seed between two fingers, tears running down my face and laughing. From my children's expressions, it was quite clear how strange I looked. Mom had finally gone around the bend.
Eventually, the giggling stopped and was replaced by a sense of complete calm. That serene feeling remained when we left the rink, and lingered for days. For the first time since life had begun unraveling, I was able to handle things without a constant undercurrent of panic.
Of course, none of the problems magically disappeared. However, things began to fall smoothly into place.
My son's surgery was, after all, covered by the camp's insurance, and went off successfully.
The district attorney recovered the year's back support owed by the children's father, allowing me to pay the mortgage and send the IRS the first of many payments.
My sister paid back an old loan.
Two checks arrived for articles that I had sold months back. And so it went. The more I stopped obsessing, the more smoothly events transpired.
On my desk today, I have a framed piece of white paper, on which is affixed a single wish seed. For those who ask, I just say it was the first time that God sent me a return receipt for a prayer.

Reprinted by permission of Lizanne Southgate (c) 1998 from Chicken Soup for the Single's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Jennifer Read Hawthorne and Marci Shimoff. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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She'll Call Me "Ma"
By Jackie Davis

?Guess what - I?m pregnant!? My stepdaughter phoned. Her joy was obvious. ?That?s wonderful,? I said. ?I?m going to be a grandmother!? We had always been close?bonded together by our mutual love for her father. I was sure that my love for this child was big enough to share with her child. What I wasn?t sure of was my grandmothering ability.
I had often witnessed these women at church fellowships - huddled in a circle like football players planning their next play. They all had sweet names like ?Mimi,? ?Nana,? ?Grammy? and ?Grandma.? Their purses bulged with photos that could be wielded out at a moment?s notice. Their conversations revolved around sippy cups, Big Bird and onesies (which I had already mispronounced at a friend?s baby shower as ?o-nee-zees?). I, on the other hand, was young (only forty) and inexperienced and the stepgrandmother. I had lots of questions and all the fated answers. Would my stepdaughter pull away from me? It would only be natural that she grow closer to her real mother in the coming months. Would I suddenly feel like an outsider when my husband stepped into his role as grandfather? Blood is thicker than water. Would I ever get to be involved in this child?s life? Never mind quality time . . . I would take any time. What would I be called by this child? ?Stepgrandmother? would definitely not conjure up any warm, fuzzy feelings. And I knew that ?Mimi,? ?Nana,? ?Grammy? and ?Grandma? would quickly be claimed by the two grandmothers, two great-grandmothers and one great-great-grandmother who waited in the wings.
My relationship with my stepdaughter deepened as we talked our way through the months of waiting. ?I just found out I?m having a girl,? she cried. ?You are coming to the baby shower, aren?t you??
?Of course I?ll be there . . . if it?s okay with your mom,? I replied. Silence. Neither one of us needed to be reminded of our situation.
Two months later, it was finally time. ?We?re leaving for the hospital,? her voice quivered. ?We?re on our way,? I said. As my husband and I stepped off the elevator, we were greeted by our blended family. Time seemed to crawl as we all awaited the blessed arrival. Finally, she was here. ?I?m a grandma!? I blurted out. All heads snapped to attention in my direction.
Had I said that out loud? I hadn?t meant to. I suddenly imagined a sign over the hospital room door: ?Only blood relatives admitted.? I sheepishly smiled and stepped back as we all entered the room.
She was the most beautiful child (other than my own) that I had ever laid eyes on! I stood by as each one took his or her turn holding the tiny, red-faced stranger. Flashbulbs popped at every turn. She was so perfect. So tiny. And she possessed an unmistakable feature that drew me to her instantly . . my husband?s loving eyes. I knew I was falling in love with her and longed to cradle her in my arms like the others. Instead, I moved toward the door, trying to stay out of the way. All too soon it was time to go and let Mama and baby rest. My eyes filled with tears. I hadn?t gotten to hold her. With all the passing of the baby, I had gotten passed over. Just an oversight during all the confusion, I rationalized. Shouldn?t get too attached, anyway. That night, my prayers overflowed with pleas for a true relationship with this child. Opportunity for motherhood well behind me, all I had were memories buried under the difficulties of a bad first marriage. There had never been time for filling in baby books with first steps or first words. My daughter had basically raised herself, while my energy was spent just getting through it all. I desperately wanted a second chance.
The next day, I woke up anxious to get to the hospital and see my stepdaughter. I secretly hoped that no other relatives would be there so I could have her and the baby all to myself. When we arrived, all was well. Mama and baby rested as my husband and I exchanged labor and delivery stories with our son-in-law. When it came time to go, I felt a lump rise in my throat. I still hadn?t held the baby, and I felt silly being that emotional over what seemed like such a small incident. No one could have known how I longed to hold that child. I certainly didn?t feel like a stepgrandmother. As far as I was concerned, that was my child and my grandchild in that bed. As I turned to leave, my son-in-law caught my eyes. He saw my emotion and somehow he knew what I had missed the day before. He walked over to the bed, reached in and picked up the baby and handed her directly to me.
More than two years have passed since that day. I now fit in quite nicely with the other grandmothers at church. You see, we have so much in common. I, too, have earned one of these sweet names. Shortly after her first birthday, my granddaughter reached out to me as ?Ma.? It stuck. Sippy cups now crowd my tea glasses and ?o-nee-zees? abide in my lingerie drawer. Big Bird makes a daily appearance in my living room, and a larger-than-life version of Tinky Winky has taken up residence under my bed. And I am always armed and ready for any photo contest that might break out at one of those church fellowships.
I have cradled my granddaughter often and have stored up enough laughs for a lifetime as I have replied to questions like, ?Ma, can you come over every day and just paint my fingernails?? I receive more love in a day than I could give back in a lifetime. You see, we have always been close - bonded together by our mutual love for her mother.
As I write this, I am happily awaiting the birth of my second granddaughter and am sure that my love for my first grandchild is big enough to share with her sister. Gone are the doubts. Gone are the questions - she?ll call me ?Ma.?

Reprinted by permission of Jackie Davis (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Meladee McCarty and Hanoch McCarty. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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The Scar
By Joanna Slan

His thumb softly rubbed the twisted flesh on my cheek. The plastic surgeon, a good fifteen years my senior, was a very attractive man. His masculinity and the intensity of his gaze seemed almost overpowering.
"Hmmm," he said quietly. "Are you a model?"
Is this a joke? Is he kidding? I asked myself, and I searched his handsome face for signs of mockery. No way would anyone ever confuse me with a fashion model. I was ugly. My mother casually referred to my sister as her pretty child. Anyone could see I was homely. After all, I had the scar to prove it.
The accident happened in fourth grade, when a neighbor boy picked up a hunk of concrete and heaved the mass through the side of my face. An emergency room doctor stitched together the shreds of skin, pulling cat-gut through the tattered outside of my face and then suturing the shards of flesh inside my mouth. For the rest of the year, a huge bandage from cheekbone to jaw covered the raised angry welt.
A few weeks after the accident, an eye exam revealed I was nearsighted. Above the ungainly bandage sat a big, thick pair of glasses. Around my head, a short fuzzy glob of curls stood out like mold growing on old bread. To save money, Mom had taken me to a beauty school where a student cut my hair. The overzealous girl hacked away cheerfully. Globs of hair piled up on the floor. By the time her instructor wandered over, the damage was done. A quick conference followed, and we were given a coupon for a free styling on our next visit.
"Well," sighed my father that evening, "you'll always be pretty to me," and he hesitated, "even if you aren't to the rest of the world."
Right. Thanks. As if I couldn't hear the taunts of the other kids at school. As if I couldn't see how different I looked from the little girls whom the teachers fawned over. As if I didn't occasionally catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror. In a culture that values beauty, an ugly girl is an outcast. My looks caused me no end of pain. I sat in my room and sobbed every time my family watched a beauty pageant or a "talent" search show.
Eventually I decided that if I couldn't be pretty, I would at least be well-groomed. Over the course of years, I learned to style my hair, wear contact lenses and apply make-up. Watching what worked for other women, I learned to dress myself to best advantage. And now, I was engaged to be married. The scar, shrunken and faded with age, stood between me and a new life.
"Of course, I'm not a model," I replied with a small amount of indignation.
The plastic surgeon crossed his arms over his chest and looked at me appraisingly. "Then why are you concerned about this scar? If there is no professional reason to have it removed, what brought you here today?"
Suddenly he represented all the men I'd ever known. The eight boys who turned me down when I invited them to the girls-ask-boys dance. The sporadic dates I'd had in college. The parade of men who had ignored me since then. The man whose ring I wore on my left hand. My hand rose to my face. The scar confirmed it; I was ugly. The room swam before me as my eyes filled with tears.
The doctor pulled a rolling stool up next to me and sat down. His knees almost touched mine. His voice was low and soft.
"Let me tell you what I see. I see a beautiful woman. Not a perfect woman, but a beautiful woman. Lauren Hutton has a gap between her front teeth. Elizabeth Taylor has a tiny, tiny scar on her forehead," he almost whispered. Then he paused and handed me a mirror. "I think to myself how every remarkable woman has an imperfection, and I believe that imperfection makes her beauty more remarkable because it assures us she is human."
He pushed back the stool and stood up. "I won't touch it. Don't let anyone fool with your face. You are delightful just the way you are. Beauty really does come from within a woman. Believe me. It is my business to know."
Then he left.
I turned to the face in the mirror. He was right. Somehow over the years, that ugly child had become a beautiful woman. Since that day in his office, as a woman who makes her living speaking before hundreds of people, I have been told many times by people of both sexes that I am beautiful. And, I know I am.
When I changed how I saw myself, others were forced to change how they saw me. The doctor didn't remove the scar on my face; he removed the scar on my heart.

Reprinted by permission of Joanna Slan (c) 1998 from A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Jennifer Read Hawthorne and Marci Shimoff. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Our Hero Brian
By Norma Yamamoto

What is it like for an 18-year-old high school senior to find out that he has two inoperable pineal brain tumors? Am I going to die? Why me? Why now? These were just some of the questions that ran through our son Brian's mind.
For two months we didn't know what was happening to our son - he lost weight, wasn't eating and was not himself. He withered away right before our eyes from 140 pounds to 120 pounds in a month, for no apparent reason.
After complaining of double vision, an MRI of the brain was taken and the tumors discovered. We were all shocked, but it answered our question as to why he had the anorectic symptoms.
After the initial shock, Brian had a few days of ups and downs accepting and understanding what really happened as well as the treatment that lay ahead.
Radiation treatments began right after Christmas and with a positive attitude, he surprised us all and sailed through them. Despite being a little tired, he continued going to school every day. His classmates and teachers were amazed.
After the treatments ended he started practicing with the varsity basketball team. He was able to play a few minutes in a few games just before the season ended, and they were momentous occasions. Just seeing him on the court brought tears and cheers from everyone in the stands who knew what he had been through. Thanks to a very understanding coach (whose wife had breast cancer), he was able to stay on the team throughout the season. At the end-of-season banquet, he was presented the Coaches Award because of the inspiration he showed his teammates, whether at practice or supporting them at their games. Though times were tough, he never gave up. He gave 110 percent of his time and energy.
Then chemotherapy started for five consecutive days, then on days nine and 16 again, for four months. Hair loss, fatigue, poor appetite and constipation were some of the "minor" complications he suffered. These he took in stride and tried to work around them.
During this time an older family friend was diagnosed with lung cancer. Because of Brian's great outlook he was able to talk to our friend, sharing encouragement through rough times.
He attended school for three out of four weeks a month during this time. Amazingly, he kept up with his studies with the help of understanding teachers, friends and the school psychologist. Though he missed some important senior events because of chemotherapy, he graduated with his class with distinguished honors! He was surprised when he was selected the Most Inspirational Male Athlete of the year.
Summer vacation was a welcomed change for Brian as well as the whole family. It was a time for kicking back, having fun and feeling good. We spent a month in Hawaii relaxing and visiting friends and relatives. Now Brian is looking forward to a fresh start this fall at UCLA!
Our family has been through a lot together, but Brian showed us that with perseverance, no matter how devastating the situation is, it can be conquered. His positive attitude and constant smile, day after day despite enduring painful, frightening situations, made us all very proud of him. I know he has grown a lot through this experience and is ready to face the world.
Brian, we wish you happiness and success in everything you do. Remember: Mom, Dad and sister Amy will always be here for you. We love you!

Reprinted by permission of Norma Yamamoto (c) 1995 from Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Patty Aubery, Nancy Autio-Mitchell and Beverly Katherine Kirkhart. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Hot Wheels
By Laura Kelly

Is it normal for a spectator sport to totally captivate you? So quickly? Is there something wrong with me? I turn down baby showers and early dinners out. Is that normal? How did this happen? I mean, it's just cars going in circles, right?
Honestly, I've got this bad. I didn't know how badly until Saturday night. About forty-five minutes into the race there was a knock on the door. It was too late to switch off the lights and hit the mute button. So I opened the door to a trio of Jehovah's Witnesses. I tried to put them off. I told them about the two large dogs I owned and the skyrocketing price of dog food (they didn't get it). I offered them twenty-five dollars, no questions asked. I even told them about the serial killer who walks the block every Saturday night. They just don't scare easy. I admire that kind of faith. You just can't run 'em off!
So I sat down with them trying to be polite. That's when things went south. I was giving myself a headache with one eye on the TV and one on the "leader of the Jehovah's Witnesses." I tried, really I did, but, well . . . when the next crash happened, I shushed them and turned the volume back up to a level that made the dogs howl. I had to see who was in the crash and what caused it! After I assured myself that Kevin "Hot Wheels" Harvick wasn't involved by watching it over three times (I don't trust those new announcers yet) I repeatedly hugged the leader and told him to thank whatever deity or supreme being he worked for. He seemed quite interested in whatever it was that brought out that much emotion in me. I sat them all down and said, "Just watch."
Well, let me tell you right now, I have someone to watch the race with next Sunday! And these guys have got connections to "The Big Guy." So when "Hot Wheels" takes his next checkered flag . . . and he lets the smoke roll . . . it will give a whole new meaning to the phrase "Holy Smoke."

Reprinted by permission of Laura Kelly (c) 2001 from Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Matthew E. Adams, Jeff Aubery and Kirk Autio. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 

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Sunglasses
By Stephen C. Klink

In 1985, seventeen years after my tour in Vietnam, my wife and I made our first visit to Washington, D.C. I was finally ready to go to the Wall. I asked my wife if she would mind if I went by myself the first time. She readily agreed to give me whatever space I needed and said she would stay in the motel room, watching television until I returned. Our motel room was within walking distance of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, so off I went, by myself.
Overwhelmed by the somber significance of the occasion, I forgot to take my camera with me, but I did remember to take my sunglasses, even though it was an overcast day. I knew I didn't want anyone else to see me if I couldn't contain my emotions.
It turned out to be everything people had told me it was. A solemn hush permeated the air for two hundred feet on all sides of the monument. People instinctively stopped talking as they entered the unlined boundaries of the outdoor sanctuary. At the Wall itself, I observed men and women of all ages. Some were lovingly tracing a name with their fingertips, others placed memorials at its base, and many simply stood and stared with a look that told me their thoughts were thousands of miles and many years removed from this place. I wasn't long in joining them.
After a volunteer showed me how to locate a name, I searched for and found name after name of those who fought beside me. Seeing their names etched in granite, I was glad I'd thought to bring the sunglasses. Tears stung my eyes. I felt my jaw clench and my stomach sink. For years, I'd hoped that maybe a mistake had been made and that my comrades-in-arms weren't really dead. Now, I couldn't escape the truth any longer - they were dead. Standing that afternoon in front of a wall of black granite sealed it for me. I could play no more mind games. My search for closure and peace demanded that I now deal with the facts.
After some time, when my jangled emotions began to subside, I stepped back a few feet. I wanted to gain greater perspective of the monument as a whole. I took off my sunglasses and began to pay closer attention to the other people who had congregated that day to pay their respects. As I looked from side to side, I had to laugh. All around me were middle-aged men, without their wives, wearing sunglasses.

Reprinted by permission of Stephen C. Klink (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor and Sidney R. Slagter. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
 
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