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Chicken Soup for the Soul - Short Stories

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Looking Toward the Light
By David Haldane

I hadn't planned on finding myself alone in an underwater cavern beneath the jungle floor near Akumal, Mexico. Truth is, I'd expected to be with my wife. But two weeks before this long-anticipated vacation, she ended our fifteen-year marriage and turned my life upside down.
The trip had been planned for months. Tickets had been purchased. Friends had been told. And, after making careful arrangements for the care of our children, my wife and I eagerly awaited departure.
Then our lives fell apart.
Of course, it had been a long time coming and both of us had seen the signs. Yet when the final breakup occurred, it took me by surprise - the hand of life had seized me by the throat and given me a good shake.
The final scene of our marriage remains etched in my memory as if it happened this morning: me standing in the front yard, already feeling the heavy weight of fear and loss and panic closing in as her car screeched off.
That awful feeling stayed with me in the weeks and months that followed - a certainty in the pit of my stomach that the bottom of my world had dropped out and that nothing would ever be the same.
But in the midst of my depression, I decided to make the Mexico diving trip anyway, believing, I suppose, that the diversion would do me some good. I had been diving since I was sixteen and, over the years, felt as if I'd seen it all. I had glided through the dancing kelp forests off Southern California, spotted the dim vision of a shipwreck in Florida waters, plunged ecstatically into an underwater canyon in the Cayman Islands and encountered a shark in Hawaii.
Something I hadn't experienced, though, was a cenote - one of those dark, mystical ponds in the jungle, the mirage-of-a-swimming-hole that shouldn't be there. I'd heard that some cenotes open into awesomely beautiful underwater caverns, and I intended to see one with my own eyes.
The sense of foreboding was still with me as I stepped off the plane and shuffled, alone, into the airport in Mexico. As divers, we are taught to stay out of the water when in emotional turmoil, that panic is the number-one enemy of survival underwater. Nonetheless, I told myself, the experience would help me leave the past behind and move on to the future.
I turned out to be right, but in ways I never imagined.
It was cold the day I arrived at the cenote in the Yucatan jungle. Our group of divers - none of whom I had met before - was accompanied by a local guide. I remember struggling to pull on my wet suit, shivering with excitement tinged with the subtle anticipation of doom to which I had grown accustomed. Slowly, tentatively, we swam out to the middle of the pool and descended.
At the bottom, thirty feet down, we paused for a moment, gazing at the otherworldly mineral formations on the walls. The first thing that struck me was the quality of the light. It was weird, eerie - somehow ethereal.
In front of us lay a wide cavern. Entering the mouth, we swam toward the back wall, where the cavern narrowed into a small, dark tunnel, snaking deep into the earth. The tunnel entrance was marked by rusty metal signs in Spanish. Peligro, they warned ? Danger - and No Pase Adelante - Do Not Proceed.
Legend has it that the ancient Mayans used cenotes to make human sacrifices. Staring at those ominous signs illuminated in the beam of my light, I thought about what might lie in the tunnel beyond. Not that I would find out: None of us in the group were certified cave divers, nor had we brought any lines. Right then and there, sucking hard on my regulator, I decided to keep the cavern exit in sight.
We swam up to the ceiling of the cavern. There, cut into the rock as if honed by some ancient hand, a small indentation thrusted upward. One of the other divers, a young man who'd been here before, stuck his head into the hole and motioned me to follow. I did, and was shocked to find my face above water - a dank air pocket with room for just two heads. Grinning, the man spit out his regulator and looked me in the eye: "Is this cool, or what?"
His voice, bouncing off the pressing walls, was disembodied and muffled, like it was coming from inside a coffin. I pulled out my regulator and responded, "Very cool!"
But the voice was not mine. It was the small, distant sound of a man in a bottle. A man caught in a place he shouldn't be, struggling to control the rising wave of dread that, until now, had been willfully kept at bay.
I stuffed the regulator back in my mouth and slid out of the hole to the bottom of the cavern. Then it happened. My fins must have stirred up the silt on the cenote floor because suddenly I was enveloped in a blinding cloud.
Frantically I tried to keep my bearings, tried to keep the light of the cavern opening in view. But as silt billowed all around me, it became increasingly difficult. For what seemed like an eternity, I peered into nothingness, determined not to move my eyes from the spot where the exit had been. Then, with a sinking feeling, I realized I no longer knew the way out.
Panic. It growled at me, bared its gnarly teeth. Every pore of me wanted to bolt, to escape, to swim frantically in the direction I had last seen the light. The only thing that stopped me was the knowledge that I could just as easily be rushing toward my death in the dark.
They tell you about panic in dive class. Don't give in to it, they say. The solution is simple, really. Stop. Breathe. Think. Act. And so began the voice of reason, more a whimper than a shout.
"Don't move," the voice told me, and I froze. "Think," it said, and I tried to figure my way out. Silt rises and so it also must fall. For what seemed like forever, I hung there, totally alone, with my guts churning. Then, as quickly as the cloud enveloped me, it disappeared, and once again I could see my way clear.
After that, the lesson of that dive - indeed, of all dives - became a mantra for me, a metaphor for what was happening in my life: Stay calm, don't bolt. Keep your eye in the direction of the light, even if you can't see it. Have faith that one day you will see it again.
It's been six years since my wife left me and I encountered darkness in a cenote. During that time I often felt like bolting. I frequently thought I would lose my sanity altogether. But I didn't. As in the cenote, I hung there in silence, staring toward the invisible light. My patience was rewarded with the eventual settling of the silt that was obscuring my vision. It returned slowly to the bottom of the cavern that was my life until, at last, I saw my way clear.
Boy, what a view.

Reprinted by permission of David Haldane (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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Crossing the Threshold
By Lillian Carson, D.S.W.

As my daughter grew larger, the happy thoughts of grandparenting grew on me. I began to get used to the idea, relishing my fantasies about the baby and thoroughly enjoying my daughter's interest in talking to me about pregnancy and parenthood. Although my trepidation was not completely assuaged, I was excited. With the reality of a new baby on the way, I began knitting a sweater and lingering in baby shops. The clincher was meeting the baby, a healthy little girl who arrived three weeks early while I was out of town. I couldn't return to Los Angeles fast enough. Driving to Santa Barbara, I could hardly contain my excitement as we rushed to the hospital.
There she was, Caitlin Lilly. The Lilly is after me. Carrie, my little girl, was holding her little girl. At that moment I crossed the threshold of grandparenthood, a crossing I'll never forget.
I feel a bit uncertain holding this tiny baby. She looks so fragile. I look for familiar features . . her mouth, ears, eyes, the shape of her face. Who does she resemble? Could that be my father's chin? Are those my mother's eyes or, maybe, even mine? It seems easier to think about her looks in terms of others than of myself. Are her long fingers like her father's? Yes.
Reluctantly I recognize that I must share her with the "other side." They, too, have a claim on her. I feel possessive. She's mine - my grandchild. I'm her grandma. Although she has no idea who I am, she will. I will see to that. In her, I see my history carried forward. The experiences of my ancestors are now stored in her, and she doesn't even know it . . . or me. She is the future. She will carry the genetic thread forward, beyond me, beyond my time. This is breath-stopping. It is life, past, present and future all rolled into one six-pound, twelve-ounce person. It is difficult to give words to my feelings. A wave of time and emotion is washing over me. It is heady. I ask myself, What I can do here? What is my place in her life? I want to do so much. I want her to have everything . . . everything good and beautiful, only kindness and warmth and a pony. Yes, she must have a pony as her mother did. May she be blessed with a strong body and mind in order to savor life, a fine education, a peaceful world. We will not have to escape the pogroms of Eastern Europe as her great-grandfather, my father, did.
While I think of all I want for her, how I will guard the history she holds, how I will nurture all of the possibilities for the future she possesses, how I will protect her and keep her safe, her father approaches. It is time for her to be fed. An abrupt reminder that she is not mine, that it is not my will or vision that prevails. I must entrust her to them, my daughter and son-in-law, lovely children with no experience. How will they know what to do? They are going to raise this baby? This precious bundle who holds the key to continuity in my life, the link to my past and future? How can that be? Is that safe? Smiling, he takes her from me. I smile, too, to cover up my sense of loss. She is my link. But she is not mine. I must learn to share. But I will find a way to make my mark. I will put my two cents in. She will know she has a Grandma Lilly. She will have a wonderful life. I am resolved. But how do I do it?

Reprinted by permission of Lillian Carson, D.S.W. (c) 1996 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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Missing the Boat
By Tanya Bank

In 1910, Abraham Bank, my great-grandfather, was impressed into the Russian army. At the time, he was twenty-one years old and had lived near Vilna in Latvia for his entire life. He was a qualified rabbi, shochet, and mohel.
The prospect of twenty-five years of mandatory military service was unthinkable to Abraham. So he decided to pack a few clothes and personal belongings and leave his hometown during the night. He promised his girlfriend, Rebecca, that he would write.
Abraham traveled via Finland to Stockholm, Sweden, where he worked for a while as a stevedore. He earned his passage to London where he continued to work. His goal was to earn enough money to follow in the footsteps of his brother, who had already emigrated to America.
Two years after leaving his home in Latvia, Abraham was finally able to buy a ticket on a ship leaving from Southampton that would take him from England to America.
Abraham ran into two difficulties. The first was the knowledge that he would not be able to get kosher food in the steerage class of the ship. The second was the trouble he would have in getting from London to Southampton over Passover, as the holiday ended on the night before the ship would be boarding.
Finally, Abraham decided not to use his ticket. He remained in London for a few months and then emigrated to South Africa, where eight years later Rebecca joined him. It was not until 1987 that Abraham's descendants - his grandson (my father) and his family - made the move to America that Abraham had come so close to making seventy-five years earlier.
I have good cause to be grateful to Zeida for deciding not to use that ticket all those years ago. In fact, it might well have been the best decision he ever made. The name of the ship that steamed into the Atlantic that day was the Titanic.

Reprinted by permission of Tanya Bank (c) 1999 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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Love Is Stronger . . .
By John Wayne Schlatter

Having a goal based on love is the greatest life insurance in the world.
If you had asked my dad why he got up in the morning, you would have found his answer disarmingly simple: "To make my wife happy."
Mom and Dad met when they were nine. Every day before school, they met on a park bench with their homework. Mom corrected Dad's English and he did the same with her math. Upon graduation, their teachers said that the two of them were the best "student" in the school. Note the singular!
They took their time building their relationship, even though Dad always knew she was the girl for him. Their first kiss occurred when they were 17, and their romance continued to grow into their 80s.
Just how much power their relationship created was brought to light in 1964. The doctor told Dad he had cancer and estimated that he had six months to one year left at the most.
"Sorry to disagree with you, Doc," my father said. "But I'll tell you how long I have. One day longer than my wife. I love her too much to leave the planet without her."
And so it was, to the amazement of everyone who didn't really know this love-matched pair, that Mom passed away at the age of 85 and Dad followed one year later when he was 86. Near the end, he told my brothers and me that those 17 years were the best six months he ever spent.
To the wonderful doctors and nurses at the Department of Veterans' Affairs Medical Center at Long Beach, he was a walking miracle. They kept a loving watch on him and just couldn't understand how a body so riddled with cancer could continue to function so well.
My dad's explanation was simple. He informed them that he had been a medic in World War I and saw amputated arms and legs, and he had noticed that none of them could think. So he decided he would tell his body how to behave. Once, as he stood up and it was evident he felt a stabbing pain, he looked down at his chest and shouted, "Shut up! We're having a party here."
Two days before he left us he said, "Boys, I'll be with your mother very soon and someday, some place we'll all be together again. But take your time about joining us; your mother and I have a lot of catching up to do."
It is said that love is stronger than prison walls. Dad proved it was a heck of a lot stronger than tiny cancer cells.
Bob, George and I are still here, armed with Dad's final gift.
A goal, a love and a dream give you total control
over your body and your life.

Reprinted by permission of John Wayne Schlatter (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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An Unexpected Alliance
By Max Helton

The atmosphere was electric in Atlanta. Three NASCAR drivers (Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon) had the chance to win the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in the last race of the season. The "hype" was extraordinary all weekend, as seldom in the history of racing have three people been in the position to win a championship with only one race left in the season. The championship is the highest achievement for any driver for the entire year. It certainly was a momentous occasion for these three men. It was a special weekend for thousands of NASCAR fans.
During the day on Saturday, as these drivers were hounded by the media for stories, the most remarkable story was forming quietly between those three drivers and me. A special meeting was being planned that would occur following the usual Saturday Bible study that met in Mark's motor coach in the infield area reserved for the drivers and owners.
Shortly after 7:30 p.m., everyone left the study except Mark, Dale, Jeff and me. What was about to happen probably had never happened in the history of racing. In fact, it probably had not happened in any major sport on the eve of a championship game. Seldom would any professional athlete commune with their opponents in any kind of setting. But here in the quietness of Mark Martin's motor coach, this unique experience was unfolding.
After we chatted a moment, Mark Martin, unquestionably one of the toughest race-car drivers ever; Dale Jarrett, who came from a racing pedigree; and Jeff Gordon, loved and hated for the absolute dominance he brought to racing, joined me in holding hands for a special time of prayer. Dale started the prayer, asking God for safety and to give Mark and Jeff a good day of racing that would be fun and exciting. Mark prayed, expressing thanks for allowing him to be in the position for the championship with these drivers, and for God's graciousness for giving him the privilege to race. Jeff began to communicate his gratitude to God and how much God meant to him, and asked that God would allow each of the drivers to be at their best and not have any difficulties during the race. They were united in their prayers - "We give this race to you, God."

Reprinted by permission of Max Helton (c) 2000 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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Sharing
By Drue Duke

Just home from work, Daddy stopped in the kitchen where Mother was cooking supper and I was setting the table. From the look on his face, we knew something was bothering him.
"Charles Roth's father is worse," he said. "The doctor says it's only a matter of time now. The old man doesn't complain much about his pain, only about the long hours he has to spend alone. His eyes are so bad he can't read, and he doesn't get much company. He keeps begging for a big dog to be his companion, one he can reach out and touch as he sits in his wheelchair in the sun."
"Why don't they buy him a dog?" I asked.
"Honey, with Mr. Roth in the hospital so much of the time, there are a lot of expenses. There isn't enough money."
"They could go to the animal shelter and get one," I suggested.
"Yes," Daddy said. "I suppose they could. But it has to be a special dog, one they can trust to be gentle. Not all big dogs are."
After supper, I went out back where my big German shepherd, Dan, was dozing under a tree. He sprang up and ran to meet me as he always did when I came into sight. There were no other twelve-year-old girls in our neighborhood, so I depended on Dan for companionship. When I rode my bicycle, he ran behind me; when I roller-skated on the sidewalk, he trotted behind. It had been that way since Daddy brought him home, a fat brown puppy, four years before.
Now, I couldn't forget Daddy's words in the kitchen. I threw my arms around Dan's neck and buried my face in his stiff hair. He sensed my unhappiness and started whining.
"I love you," I whispered to him. "I'd be lost without you, but . . . oh, Dan, I know what I should do, but I don't want to do it."
I thought about Mr. Roth. He was old, sick and almost blind. It seemed to me that he was just about out of blessings. I got up quickly. I knew what I had to do, and if I didn't do it right now, I'd talk myself out of it.
I found Daddy sitting in his big chair, looking at his newspaper. Although we weren't supposed to interrupt him when he was reading, I blurted out, "Dan can go."
He looked over the top of the paper at me. "What did you say?" he asked.
"Mr. Roth can borrow Dan." Tears started down my face.
Daddy pitched his newspaper over the arm of the chair to the floor. "Come here," he said, reaching out for me. I crawled, long legs and all, into his lap and his arms encircled me.
"I don't really want him to go," I whimpered. "I'll miss him terribly. But Daddy, it's what I ought to do, isn't it?"
"It's what I'd be very proud to see you do," he said.
"They'll be good to him, won't they?" I asked.
"They will take good care of Dan," he assured me softly.
"The yard has a high fence, and Charles's father will be out there in his wheelchair with him most of the time. I'll ask Charles to chain Dan when he's in the yard alone so he can't jump the fence and get lost."
I didn't like to think of Dan fenced in or chained. He and I ran free together. He'd hate being restricted. And he'd hate being away from me. How were we going to manage without each other?
As though he read my thoughts, Daddy said, "It won't be for too long, honey. Remember what the doctor said about Mr. Roth?"
I got up quickly. I couldn't talk about it anymore.
"Please call him," I said tightly. "Tell him to come and get Dan tonight." My voice wavered and I added, "Before I change my mind."
I was drying supper dishes when Charles Roth and his wife arrived. They promised me they would take good care of Dan and told me I was making a sick old man very happy.
When I tried to go to sleep that night, all I could think of was my Dan, on the other side of the city, across the river, at least ten or twelve miles away.
The next afternoon, I floundered about unhappily. My older sister, Leila, had a girlfriend over, and they didn't want a kid sister hanging around. Riding my bike or skating alone was no fun. Feeling sorry for myself, I got a book and sat under the tree to read. That's all there was to do!
The rest of the week dragged by somehow, and the next one followed. On Saturday, when I finished my chore of dusting the dining room chairs - even the bottom rungs that Mother always inspected - I volunteered to dust the living room for Leila, just to have something to do.
After lunch, it was my turn to take the scraps out to the garbage can. As I swung the screen door open and stepped out on the back porch, a big brown dog ran up the steps, his long tongue hanging out. He jumped against me, his paws on my shoulders, his eyes on my face.
"Dad, Mother!" I cried. "Leila, come here quick. Look! Dan's home!"
From inside the kitchen, Mother called, "The front door-bell is ringing. I'll answer it." And then Mother called for Daddy. I heard her say, "Charles Roth is here."
I bent down to gather my dog in my arms. He licked my arms and rubbed his head hard against my chin. I filled his bowl with water from the yard faucet and knelt beside him, stroking his back while he lapped hungrily at the water. Once or twice, he paused long enough to lick my arm, but he returned quickly to his drinking. He must have been very thirsty.
Daddy and Charles Roth came out onto the back porch.
"Well, I see him," Mr. Roth exclaimed, "but I still can't believe it!"
Early that morning, Charles Roth had rolled his father's wheelchair into the backyard and unfastened the chain from Dan's collar so that the old man could pet him and play fetch with him. Later, old Mr. Roth was wheeled back into the house while Charles and his wife went grocery shopping.
"I was in a rush and didn't remember to chain the dog. And I suppose he was smart enough to realize he was alone and free to jump the fence and come home."
While he talked, I looked at my dog. It was amazing that he found his way back. He had been taken by car at night to the Roths' home, a place he'd never seen before. There was no way he could have seen the streets and figured out a return route. How had he done it?
Mr. Roth answered my question with his next words. "It was pure love that directed that dog's path back to you," he told me. "And as hard as it will be for me to tell my father he won't be back, I can't ask you to let me take him from you again."
I looked at Daddy and his face told me he wouldn't ask it either. I looked at Dan, stretched full length on the backyard grass. He was completely relaxed, totally happy to be home. And I was so happy to have him back!
But then I remembered the old man in his wheelchair. He was going to be sad, his happy days with a dog over. He would be lonely again, the way I was lonely when Dan was gone.
The way I was lonely. . . . Only it wouldn't be like that because I was not sick or old, and I didn't have to sit in a wheelchair all the time. I could do lots of things. I could ride my bike and skate, even without Dan there. And I could read; old Mr. Roth couldn't do that.
"Mr. Roth," I said on impulse, "I want you to take Dan back with you."
Both he and Daddy looked at me in surprise, but I grinned at them, saying, "On one condition. You have to promise to let me come and visit him. Maybe Dan won't try to come home if he knows he'll see me soon."
I looked at Daddy. "Maybe once a week you or Mother would take me over in the car and let me spend the afternoon. I could see Dan. And I could read to Mr. Roth if he wanted me to."
That's how I began spending every Thursday afternoon with old Mr. Roth. He remembered some wonderful books from his childhood - books I might never have discovered on my own - and we enjoyed them together. Between our visits, he thought up riddles to ask me, and I baked cookies to take for our backyard picnics. We grew to love each other dearly, and Charles Roth said Dan and I made the old man's last days happy.
Dan was always glad to see me, and he whined a little some days when I left. But he never tried to come home again, until three months later . . . after old Mr. Roth died, when we brought him in our car to be with me for the rest of his life.
I loved Dan more than any dog I've ever had. He was smart and loyal and he loved me so completely. But more than that, he helped me learn that the love you share is the love you keep.

Reprinted by permission of Drue Duke (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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Sidelined
By Judith Black

I was a postmodern, feminist brand of single mother, so certain I could be both father and mother to my son. Plunging into my dual role, I became the kind of mom who knew the name of every truck, who played catch in the backyard, who wasn't afraid of a vigorous sock war.
But faced with the permission slip my fifth-grader now thrust in my face, I was baffled. This was something I hadn't counted on, somewhere I didn't want to go.
"Football! Honey, you don't want to play football."
Silence. I proceeded with my case.
"Sweetie, football is an excuse for men to celebrate testosterone, legally hit each other and yell inappropriate things at the television set."
My son was unimpressed with my arguments.
"Football was created so that the socially challenged among the male sex could have a topic of conversation. People get hurt playing football," I concluded my summation sounding a little shrill.
My son was stolidly unmoved. "Mom, I want to play football."
Then it occurred to me. Look at this kid, this adorable, round-cheeked, ample-bottomed youth who wanted us to live in an apartment with an elevator so he wouldn't have to walk stairs twice a day . . . whose best subjects are still snack and recess . . who yells from three rooms away, "Mom, would you hand me that glass of milk!" This child wouldn't survive the rigors of a single football practice.
I signed the Pop Warner football permission slip.
He dragged home from his first practice, heaving, sweating, dirty. I attempted neutrality. "So?"
"Mom," he could barely articulate. "We were . . . gasp . . . running laps, and I couldn't do it, and the coach . . . gasp . . . screamed at me, 'Kid, I don't care if you walk, I don't care if you crawl, but you finish that lap.'"
"Honey, did that hurt your feelings?"
My son indignantly pulled himself together. "Feelings? Mom, this is football!"
Dutifully, I went to the games. My son played eleven seconds in the first game. One learns quickly to stand well back from the action. Even on "Wild Kingdom" they don't let you hear the cougar cracking the antelope bones.
Coach Reggie performed a kind of choreography during games. When a play went badly, he'd throw his cap to the ground and, Rumpelstiltskin-like, jump up and down as if to crack open the earth. I f he didn't like the ref's call, he'd charge the field like a fierce bull terrier. The kids of the Pop Warner fifth- and sixth-grade B Team would beam, feeling protected, fought for, coveted.
The season marched to its end. The team was 3?4. I had learned how to wash uniforms, call out appropriate cheers and appreciate the joys of a "solid hit." My son had completed the season as starting offensive lineman.
At the Pop Warner Football Awards Banquet, the kids hawked down pizza that tasted like the boxes they were delivered in. The three teams in the VFW Hall sounded like the Indianapolis 500 in an echo chamber. Suddenly, all was hushed. Three lads, not a single one with a discernible neck, stood to face the crowd. They were the high school football captains.
Finally, I would be privy to this secret brotherhood, the dreams and promises that pass from almost-man to boy. A captain cleared his throat, looked out over the assemblage and said, "Keep working out in the weight room." He sat down.
Now it was time for the awards. Coach Reggie took the floor.
"It's been quite a year, and there's plenty to talk about. But I want to tell you about this one kid," he began. "He's not getting an award, but I want to talk about him anyway.
"At the first practice, this kid couldn't make it around the field. I told him he could walk or crawl, but he had to finish that lap. He did. And he kept finishing laps and coming to practice and trying, really trying. He started the season with eleven seconds of play, and now he's a starting offensive lineman for me.
"The other day, we had a race. I had the two slowest kids race the lap. This kid is neck-and-neck with the other, and he sees me at the end. He pushes, pushes hard. And knocks me over - right over - the little so-and-so."
Coach Reggie laughed deeply. "He might not be the best player on that field, but I'd trade any other kid for a Solomon Black, who just keeps trying."
My son shot me a don't-you-dare-cry-in-public look.
We never talked about that awards banquet. We didn't have to.
Next year, my son was the first to join the team roster. When no sportscaster-type could be found to call the home games, I took over the mike:
"Well, it looks like Reading is trying a double-reverse in the back infield, but their runner is brought down by Number 73, Sol Black."
I could swear my kid glanced up at the press box and winked through that insect mask. And I silently thanked him for at least letting me stand on the sideline and watch as he went places a mom just can't take you.

Reprinted by permission of Judith Black (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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Why Not?
By Christina Coruth

A CD player headset drowned out the background noise as I worked in the living room at my computer. My fingers rushed over the keys as fast as my mediocre typing skills would allow, and my unblinking eyes stared at the monitor. Working in the living room of a small house that is home to three adults and two young children has forced me to develop a new level in my ability to concentrate. I was busy, very busy with my work. I had achieved that state of concentration that allowed me to block out just about anything, a tornado vacuuming up the room around me, if need be.
Then it happened. A tiny rift opened in my concentration as my eye caught a glimpse of an object flying upward through the air. I pulled my mind back to my work. I didn't even look to see what the object was, or what became of it as I sealed the rift. No sooner had I resumed my work, than laughter opened another rift in my concentration. Now I was getting annoyed. My seven-year-old grandson, Zach, was sitting across the room on the couch. His smile faded as I gave him my most stern, "Hush, I'm working" look.
Although I couldn't hear him, I could see that he said, "Sorry, Nana."
Success - another rift sealed and concentration restored. Sometimes children don't understand that there is a time for play and a time for work. This time is work time and I must get back to it. Clickedy, clickedy over the keys my fingers raced.
Another object whizzed past my peripheral vision, and the music wafting through my headset was no match for Zach's hearty laughter. Now I was really annoyed. Zach was too busy to see my sternest "Hush, I'm working" look. I followed his gaze to the ceiling as he launched another object, a hair scrunchy. With a quick slingshot motion, the hair scrunchy was airborne - whiz, bump, stuck to the popcorn ceiling. Some people like popcorn ceilings. To me, they look as if someone forgot to smooth out the Spackle. I never had any use for a bump-filled ceiling. Zach, on the other hand, had found a use for the ceiling, which now was adorned with a half a dozen hair scrunchies.
Red, purple and green circles clung to the ceiling, some flat up against it and some hanging down.
I lightened up my stern look a bit. "That's very funny but you have to stop now. Scrunchies don't belong on the ceiling."
"But why not? It's fun! I won't break anything."
I was about to tell him to go get the broom so that I could remove the scrunchies, when his words sunk into my head and reminded me of a time when I would have said, "why not?"also. When had I gotten so serious and so busy that I couldn't revel in the joy of a moment? What happened to the woman who would send her young children's friends into fits of giggles upon meeting them for the first time by asking them what they did for work and if they were married and had any children? What happened to the woman who laughed herself silly when her children and husband got into a snowball fight in the kitchen with cookie dough? When did I become so rigid? When did I forget, "Why not?"
Why not indeed! I looked at Zach and couldn't help but smile.
"Can you show me how to do that?"
His face lit up as he showed me how to launch a scrunchy. His laughter filled the air and his eyes sparkled. The ceiling never looked so colorful and happy with all those red, green, purple and yellow circles, some laying flat and some hanging down. I have to admit, Zach was better at it than I. Most of his attempts hit their mark. Most of mine ended up on the floor.
The following morning, I sat at the computer, ready to begin my work. I looked at the scrunchies still clinging to the ceiling and smiled. I certainly had enjoyed our time putting them up there. I decided I would take them down later. That is, until the ceiling lost its grip on one, and it fell, bounced off my shoulder, and onto the floor. Zach's smiling face flashed in my mind's eye. I smiled again. I felt like that woman of years ago who laughed at the cookie dough fight. I picked up the scrunchy and plopped it into my pocket.
When Zach came home from school that day, I was ready. He had given me a precious gift, now it was time to show him that I appreciated it.
"Zach, I've been waiting all day for you. Look what I found on the floor. It's no wonder I can't find these scrunchies when I need them. Please put this away." I handed him the scrunchy and he headed toward the door.
"Zach," I called out to him, "where are you going?"
He turned to me, "I'm going to put the scrunchy away, Nana."
"Please put it where I can find it." I shifted my gaze from his sweet little face to the ceiling. A broad smile spread across his face as he realized what I was asking him to do. Whizzzzzz, bump - up it went. It was perfect!
If you come to my house, beware of falling scrunchies. You may wonder why I keep my scrunchies on the ceiling. Zach knows the answer to that question, and now, so do I - "Why not?"

Reprinted by permission of Christina Coruth (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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Sweet-Pea Summers
By Susan Arnett-Hutson

Each summer in the late 1960s, my two sisters and I would ride the Greyhound bus from Arizona to Arkansas to stay with our father.
A World War II veteran, Dad had many medical problems, any one of which could cause many people to lose more than their sense of humor, but not him.
I have vivid memories of Dad waking us up in the morning. Before he'd put on his legs for the day (he had lost his legs after his discharge), his wheelchair was his mobility. Holding his cane, which was his extended arm, he would roll through the house yelling, "Up, up, up!" Get up and face the day! It's a beautiful day! Rise and shine!" If we didn't get up right away, he would repeat his song in rhythm with his cane hitting the end of our beds. This was no performance put on for our benefit; every day was truly a beautiful day to him.
Back in the sixties, there was no handicapped parking or wheelchair-accessible ramps like there are now, so even a trip to the grocery store was a difficult task. Dad wanted no assistance from anyone. He would climb stairs slowly but surely, whistling all the way. As a teenager, I found this embarrassing, but if Dad noticed, he didn't let on.
Once during a trip to the store, he found the three of us in the makeup department and began to look at makeup with us. He picked up a container of powder and started reading the label out loud. "'Leaves your skin soft and silky from head to toe.' Well, that leaves half of me out," he said, laughing. We had to laugh, too. He had a talent for finding humor in everything he did.
Those summers always ended too soon. He would drive us back to Arizona every year, stopping at the checkpoint for fruit and vegetables at the New Mexico-Arizona border. When asked if he had any fruits or vegetables, he would reply, "Just three sweet peas."
Our father has been gone for a long time now, but not the lesson that he taught us: You are only as handicapped as you let yourself be.
I know now, too late, that any one of his "sweet peas" would be proud to walk beside him ? whistling - up a set of stairs. And be glad to wake to the sound of his voice, to rise and shine and see one of his beautiful days.

In memory of Marian Segal Arnett Jr., World War II veteran, 1928 - 1970.

Reprinted by permission of Susan Arnett-Hutson (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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Standing by His Word
By Rabbi Roy D. Tanenbaum

In a used furniture business, unlike new, you cannot order stock from a catalogue. People call in, and you have to go out and make an offer. "You can't sell what you don't have," my father would say. So making his calls was crucial for him.
When I was age thirteen, my father lost his store manager, a one-armed guy who could do more with his one arm than many will do with two. With his one arm, he used to hook a chair on a long pole, then arc it upwards in the air where he would slide it onto ceiling hooks until someone wanted to purchase it. With his manager gone, my father came to me. Until he found the right person, would I come in while he went out to answer the day's calls?
The store has tens of thousands of items. "People like to bargain," he told me, "so I don't mark prices. You just have to know a range."
He took me around. "A quarter-horse motor you can sell for four dollars. For a refrigerator, depending on the condition, you can sell for thirty-five dollars to sixty dollars. However, if it has a freezer all the way across, sell it for eighty dollars, in excellent condition, maybe one hundred dollars. If a gasket's loose, it's garbage. Otherwise, I don't charge for scratches. Dishes come in with a houseful of furniture, and I don't even figure them in when I give a price. You can sell them for a nickel to a quarter. Something really nice."
Every day after school, I would pedal down to the store. Soon after, I was writing up a sales slip for an attractive plate when my father walked in. I had asked a dollar and the guy did not hesitate. I was very pleased. My father glanced down at what I was doing, turned to the customer and said, "You sure got a bargain today. My employee gave you the price and that's the price."
Afterward, I asked my father, "What was that all about?"
It turned out it was an antique plate, worth a few hundred dollars. I was devastated. Here I was trying to help my father in the business and instead I was losing money for him.
He said, "I could've stopped the sale if I'd wanted to. You were just writing up the slip and hadn't yet taken the money. Besides, by civil law, you're under age. But, a Jew stands by his word and the word of his agent."
Cost my father a small amount of money to teach me a lifelong lesson in integrity.
The event has a sequel. Years later, my wife and I needed to wire a large sum of money to our daughter in Israel. A bank teller advised my wife Loretta that a VISA check carried no service charge or interest unless late. When the bank statement showed considerable charges, I went in and tried to explain to the branch manager that we acted on their advice to avoid charges. To everything I said, all she could reply was, "We're sorry, but the teller made a mistake."
I then told her the story of my father standing behind the word of his employees. I finished by saying, "This was even when it didn't cause a loss to the customer, and when my father caught the error before the transaction. How much the more so afterward! I expect my bank to behave with at least as much integrity as my father."
The branch manager had not said a word during all of this, and her silence continued as I sat back in my chair. I had no idea of how she was going to react.
When she began to speak, her voice had softened, and she said in a dignified manner: "The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will not be less than your father."
Then she promised that all the charges made to my account for that VISA check would be reversed.
As I thanked her and stood to leave, I was grateful that even in today's impersonal business world, a tale of integrity still had power to touch the heart and sway the conscience.

Reprinted by permission of Rabbi Roy D. Tanenbaum (c) 1999 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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Lessons Cancer Taught Me
By Bernadette C. Randle

I am a habitually busy single woman, which is why I customarily deferred health-related matters until they reached the "crisis" stage. So it was after several months that I consulted an internist to examine a swollen gland under my ear that persisted rather than dissolved with time. After his examination, the doctor suggested that I not "bother it" if it didn't bother me. I took his advice explicitly, and he treated me for other minor complaints over a three-year period. One day I called him for a referral to a dermatologist. My hands and feet had been itching for several weeks. My doctor then suggested that I come into his office, and he conceded that he would refer me to a dermatologist if he indeed could not treat me for the itching. On that visit, I reminded him of my persistently swollen gland. He seemed shocked that he had not heard about it before. I then suggested that he check his notes from my first visit three years prior. There it was! And several weeks later, I was in surgery to have a malignant parotid gland removed. Other tumors were discovered in my chest and in back of my nose. My diagnosis was lymphoma. My prognosis was a 40 percent chance of surviving five years.
My first reaction was confusion. I wondered, "What am I to do now?" I pondered the choices. I could brood, as I've seen so many people do. I could be resentful with people around me, be angry at God, be alienated and isolated in my dilemma - I've seen that too. I've heard about some fatalistic reactions where patients decided they had to "die with something," and went along passively to their demise. There were many other ways I considered responding; but I made what I call the "interactive" choice. I chose to participate in the decisions affecting the remainder of my life - however long that may be. It was a good decision!
I began reading and learning about my illness. I read about the survival rate of cancer patients who fit my demographic profile. I read about clinical trials in experimental treatment for my disease. I read about the variety of chemical therapies that had been used to treat my disease, and the side effects associated with them. I consulted a nurse who treated cancer patients and who worked with oncologists. I read everything the American Cancer Society had in print about my disease. In the two weeks that elapsed between surgery and my first radiation treatment, I was ready to make informed choices about my treatment. The first lesson I learned is: Make informed choices. Difficult times are much easier to endure when they result from one's own choice.
Before every decision was final, I asked, "What are the options?" and then, "What are the consequences of those options?" The doctors were exasperated - at first, but eventually they expected me to have the last word. Each choice I made was a difficult one. For example, I could have waited another year with no treatment and hoped that the surgery removed it all. I could have completed a program of radiation therapy and hoped that the radiation would dissolve all the tumors. Or I could have radiation and several courses of chemotherapy, and added to that a bone marrow harvest (if and when the cancer was arrested). I chose the comprehensive treatment (radiation, chemotherapy and bone marrow harvest - in addition to the surgery). I have not regretted it. The second lesson cancer taught me is: Don't avoid hard choices. We're tougher than we think.
In my readings, I discovered the books and video-tapes of Dr. Bernie Siegel. He founded the nationally renowned Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECaP) group. He discovered that his patients who survive months and years past their prognosis are the ones who participated in the treatment decision-making! In his book Love, Medicine & Miracles, Dr. Siegel poses a very powerful question: What will this disease permit you to do that you did not have the courage to do before? Before my illness, I did not have the courage to say no. I was tired, but I pushed myself. I didn't believe in the things I was doing, but I did them anyway for other people's approval. The things I wanted to do for myself, I deferred because I preferred the approval of people I considered more significant than myself. Cancer changed all that. It allowed me to say no. Cancer excused me to do things I had wanted to do for a long time: rest . . . lay up and read . . . let people come to me . . . put myself first! The third lesson cancer taught me is: Love myself more. It was the love I'd been longing for.
I must be forthright with the next lesson. Look for good anywhere and you'll find good everywhere. At the beginning of my treatment, I enrolled in a Dale Carnegie Public Speaking and Human Relations course. Each person in the course was required to choose one principle to practice for the entire course. The principle I chose was: Don't criticize, condemn or complain. Immediately, I began seeing good wherever I looked for good. On the nights when pain orbited my body like an invisible satellite and I hadn't slept for what seemed like days, I was enveloped in an aura of unsurpassed peace and confidence. I learned to experience more deeply the meaning of grace.
In mid-October, my hair came out. Since the weather was too cold to go bald, I had to find a head covering that suited my wardrobe and my personality. I chose baseball caps. Actually, I now have a wide variety of them; but my favorite was fuchsia! I wore it everywhere. And now that my hair is back, I still wear it. People would look at me then and laugh, but that - at least to me - was preferable to having them look at me in pity. What was the principle of this lesson? Enjoy the humor in my circumstances! It helped other people find courage in my attitude.
Next, I decided to live more vigorously. One of the dreams I had completely abandoned was finishing college. I acquired a student loan, re-enrolled in school full-time while working full-time, and missed only one class in 14 months. On February 11, 1993, I completed a B.A. in Management and Communications at Concordia University in Wisconsin, graduating summa cum laude, and delivering the valedictory address for my class. After an eight-month rest, I enrolled in graduate school and in another year, completed an M.A. in Gerontology (with a 4.4 GPA). We can do all things through the power of Christ (which I believe to be God residing in us)! Surviving cancer actually empowered me to believe I could do anything else!
Over the last four years, I have volunteered as a CanSurmount counselor - mainly to stay in touch with the power of what cancer taught me. Although my cancer experience seems to benefit and inspire many people, I am enriched and empowered talking with people who are just beginning cancer treatment. On February 11, 1994 - the third anniversary of my remission - I received a call at work from the CanSurmount director. She wanted to know if I would counsel another patient with my diagnosis - Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I consented and listened in shock as she instructed me in how to make contact with Mrs. Onassis. My next lesson was crystal clear: We are all one. In the grand scheme of things, our least common denominator is the will to thrive.
This year during National Cancer Survivor's Day, I celebrated four-and-a-half years of remission by sharing the lessons I learned from cancer with other celebrants. I think one of my most important points was this: Between those of us who view cancer as a challenge and those of us who view cancer as a curse, the primary distinction is whether we perceive ourselves as victors or victims. As a cancer survivor, I proclaim the most important lessons of my life have been taught by cancer - a severe teacher. It has taught me the best way to live: Make informed choices. Do not avoid the hard choices. Love myself more. Look for good anywhere and find good everywhere. Enjoy the humor in my circumstances. Live vigorously and remember that we are all one!
Were I to reduce all my lessons to one concise moral, I would use the letters: G-O-D-I-S-N-O-W-H-E-R-E. It can be read, "God is nowhere!" or "God is now here!" Like everything in my life of any significance, the way I see it always depends on how I look at it.

Reprinted by permission of Bernadette C. Randle (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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Teamwork Works
By Jenni Thompson

Webster defines a team as marked by devotion to teamwork. It was made clear on a Saturday night during the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup season that teamwork is crucial to the entertainment we watch every week. In short, pit crews are important. It is nothing short of amazing that we can name a driver, his wife, his number, his paint scheme, his sponsor, his crew chief, his hometown and possibly even his birthday. Yet we can't name his catch can man.
On the first lap of The Winston, heavy rain fell on Lowe's Motor Speedway, and Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Michael Waltrip all ended up with wrecked race cars. It appeared that their night was over. However, because The Winston is a non-points event, special rules apply to this race that do not apply to regular races. Because of one clause in the NASCAR rule book, all four drivers were allowed to bring out their back-up cars. To be competitive, Jeff Burton knew a different engine would have to be installed in his #99 Citgo Ford. That began the thrashing in the garage area.
It might be said that if Jeff Burton's crew had not worked so hard on installing that new engine that they would never draw a check from Roush Racing again. But that wasn't said. No, anyone could see that these men believed in their driver and that their driver believed in them. They worked feverishly as sweat and stress became evident on their faces. One might expect that only Jeff Burton's crewmembers would be around his car. Instead it was a collage of color with people from all cars of Roush Racing and even Ed Wood of the Wood Brothers. They were all working tirelessly on a car that might turn out to be the one to defeat them when the night was over. It didn't matter, what mattered was getting the #99 back on the track to represent the hopes and dreams of all who built her.
Fox flashed an engine change clock on the bottom of the screen while their cameras zoomed in on the efforts taking place in the garage. The minutes began ticking by and the men kept working. While Jeff Burton's crew was changing the engine, the crews of Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Michael Waltrip were trying to zero in on the setup that would win the race. They were shooting blindly in the dark to guess what would work. Their best guess on the setup evaporated when their primary cars hit the wall on lap 1. Yes, Jeff Gordon was correct when he said it would make a good story.
However, sometimes the story is not in the winner. Sometimes the story is not in the fireworks, the money or the flashbulbs. Instead, the story is in Jeff Burton's crew. The story is in every crew who works every week to make it possible for our favorite cars to crank it up. They have the power to bring in a simple chassis and make it the winning car. It's a combination of determination, heart, intelligence, patience and, most of all, teamwork.
Yes, it might be a good thing to pay attention to that catch can man next time you see him. But then again, there are always those who stand in the shadows to give another some time in the sunshine.

Reprinted by permission of Jenni Thompson (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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The Right One
By Diane Goldberg

My grandma and grandpa celebrated their fifty-fifth anniversary surrounded by their children, grandchildren and a lifetime collection of friends. I thought that Grandma had forgotten anything she may have known about being single. I was wrong.
As she was getting ready for the party, arranging her long white hair in a French twist, my grandma commented, "I'm always surprised when I look in the mirror and see all these wrinkles." Holding her hand over her heart, she added, "In here, I'm still a young woman." She applied bright red lipstick.
I sat on the bed watching her primp. "So, what is the secret of a long, happy marriage?"
She sprayed floral cologne on her wrists. "Don't settle."
I must have looked puzzled.
"Don't settle. That is all you need to know." She tucked a stray wisp of hair in place.
I twisted my own hair around my fingers hoping to coax it into a curl. Turning the page of Grandma's photo album, I saw an out-of-focus photo of nondescript steps. "Where's this?"
"That is where your grandpa proposed to me; we had known each other six weeks. When he first saw me, he told his cousin that he had seen the girl he was going to marry. That was before we had even spoken one word to each other."
"Six weeks?" My images of Edwardian modesty shattered. My grandma was born in 1890. Opposite the picture of the steps was a sepia studio portrait of a ringleted young woman with limpid eyes. That was Grandma, in the high-collared lace blouse, her mouth primly shut, her huge eyes staring off into the unknown future. "I thought people used to have long courtships."
"I had a long courtship, it just wasn't with your grandfather." She giggled. Grandma's eyes had not changed since that young girl held her rigid pose for the photographer.
My grandma was one of thirteen children. Her parents had a large house that Grandma described as a mansion. They were an unusual family for the turn of the century. One of Grandma's sisters was a bookkeeper. Her sister Ceil was an attorney; a plaque on a building in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, marks the site of her office.
Grandma always wanted to be a wife and mother. She was twenty-five when she married my grandfather.
"Grandma, I always thought things were different back then. I thought maybe Grandpa came over and sat around the den or parlor or whatever for years before he proposed."
Grandma smiled and moved closer, just like one of my friends settling in for a good gossip. "I kept company with another man for six years. He kept pushing me to marry him. I kept saying, 'I don't want to leave my mother,' or 'I'm not ready.' I said this, I said that. The truth was, there was no spark. He was nice but . . . he just wasn't the one."
I leaned forward. The years had fallen off Grandma's voice. Her speech sounded young, expectant.
"Everyone kept saying, 'Annie, so when are we dancing at your wedding?' People talked - people have always liked to talk. There was talk I'd end up an old maid. We took that kind of thing seriously. I didn't say anything. I kept going out with him, but something stopped me from getting engaged. He wasn't the one. My mother was worried about me. I wasn't worried. I knew that there was someone, somewhere. I wasn't ready to settle."
She squeezed my hand.
"So, then I met your grandfather. He saw me out walking with my friends and found - who knows how - that he knew my cousin. In a few days, he managed to come calling with my cousin. I never saw the other man again.
"Six weeks later your grandpa proposed." She started laughing until tears gathered in her eyes. "He said he needed a wife to manage his money. He didn't have two dimes to rub together."
"Did you know that before you married him?" I asked, thinking of the tales I had heard about her well-off parents.
"Of course I knew that. I also knew he was the one I had waited for," she said. She looked at our faces in the ornately framed mirror. In my face she saw the young woman she had been; in her face I saw my future. I kissed Grandma's cheek, knowing I would never settle. I would wait for the right one, and now I was certain I would know him when I saw him.

Reprinted by permission of Diane Goldberg (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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The Antique
By Harriet May Savitz

My six-year-old granddaughter stares at me as if she is seeing me for the first time. "Grandma, you are an antique," she says. "You are old. Antiques are old. You are my antique."
I am not satisfied to let the matter rest there. I take out Webster's Dictionary and read the definition to Jenny. I explain, "An antique is not only just old; it's an object existing since or belonging to earlier times . . . a work of art . . . a piece of furniture. Antiques are treasured," I tell Jenny as I put away the dictionary. "They have to be handled carefully because they sometimes are very valuable."
According to various customs laws, in order to be qualified as an antique, the object has to be at least one hundred years old.
"I'm only sixty-seven," I remind Jenny.
We look around the house for other antiques besides me. There is a bureau that was handed down from one aunt to another and finally to our family. "It's very old," I tell Jenny. "I try to keep it polished, and I show it off whenever I can. You do that with antiques." When Jenny gets older and understands such things, I might also tell her that whenever I look at the bureau or touch it, I am reminded of the aunt so dear to me who gave me the bureau as a gift. I see her face again, though she is no longer with us. I even hear her voice and recall her smile. I remember myself as a little girl leaning against this antique, listening to one of her stories. The bureau does that for me.
There is a picture on the wall purchased at a garage sale. It is dated 1867. "Now that's an antique," I boast. "Over one hundred years old." Of course it is marked up and scratched and not in very good condition. "Sometimes age does that," I tell Jenny. "But the marks are good marks. They show living, being around. That's something to display with pride. In fact, sometimes, the more an object shows age, the more valuable it can become." It is important that I believe this for my own self-esteem.
Our tour of antiques continues. There is a vase on the floor. It has been in my household for a long time. I'm not certain where it came from, but I didn't buy it new. And then there is the four-poster bed, sent to me forty years ago from an uncle who slept in it for fifty years.
The one thing about antiques, I explain to Jenny, is that they usually have a story. They've been in one home and then another, handed down from one family to another, traveling all over the place. They've lasted through years and years. They could have been tossed away, or ignored, or destroyed or lost. But instead, they survived.
For a moment Jenny looks thoughtful. "I don't have any antiques but you," she says. Then her face brightens. "Could I take you to school for show-and-tell?"
"Only if I fit into your backpack," I answer.
And then her antique lifted her up and embraced her in a hug that would last through the years.

Reprinted by permission of Harriet May Savitz (c) 2002 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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Mother's Hands
By Louisa Godissart McQuillen

Night after night, she came to tuck me in, even long after my childhood years. Following her longstanding custom, she'd lean down and push my long hair out of the way, then kiss my forehead.
I don't remember when it first started annoying me - her hands pushing my hair that way. But it did annoy me, for they felt work-worn and rough against my young skin. Finally, one night, I lashed out at her: "Don't do that anymore - your hands are too rough!" She didn't say anything in reply. But never again did my mother close out my day with that familiar expression of her love. Lying awake long afterward, my words haunted me. But pride stifled my conscience, and I didn't tell her I was sorry.
Time after time, with the passing years, my thoughts returned to that night. By then I missed my mother's hands, missed her goodnight kiss upon my forehead. Sometimes the incident seemed very close, sometimes far away. But always it lurked, hauntingly, in the back of my mind.
Well, the years have passed, and I'm not a little girl anymore. Mom is in her mid-seventies, and those hands I once thought to be so rough are still doing things for me and my family. She's been our doctor, reaching into a medicine cabinet for the remedy to calm a young girl's stomach or soothe a boy's scraped knee. She cooks the best fried chicken in the world . . . gets stains out of blue jeans like I never could . . . and still insists on dishing out ice cream at any hour of the day or night.
Through the years, my mother's hands have put in countless hours of toil, and most of hers were before perma-pressed fabrics and automatic washers!
Now, my own children are grown and gone. Mom no longer has Dad, and on special occasions, I find myself drawn next door to spend the night with her. So it was that late one Thanksgiving Eve, as I drifted into sleep in the bedroom of my youth, a familiar hand hesitantly stole across my face to brush the hair from my forehead. Then a kiss, ever so gently, touched my brow.
In my memory, for the thousandth time, I recalled the night my surly young voice complained: "Don't do that anymore - your hands are too rough!" I reacted involuntarily. Catching Mom's hand in mine, I blurted out how sorry I was for that night. I thought she'd remember, as I did. But Mom didn't know what I was talking about. She had forgotten - and forgiven - long ago.
That night, I fell asleep with a new appreciation for my gentle mother and her caring hands. And the guilt I had carried around for so long was nowhere to be found.

Reprinted by permission of Louisa Godissart McQuillen (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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I Never Write Right
By Linda Stafford

When I was 15, I announced to my English class that I was going to write and illustrate my own books. Half the students sneered; the rest nearly fell out of their chairs laughing.
"Don't be silly. Only geniuses can become writers," the English teacher said smugly. "And you are getting a D this semester."
I was so humiliated I burst into tears. That night I wrote a short, sad poem about broken dreams and mailed it to the Capper's Weekly newspaper. To my astonishment they published it, and sent me two dollars. I was a published and paid writer! I showed my teacher and fellow students. They laughed.
"Just plain dumb luck," the teacher said.
I'd tasted success. I'd sold the first thing I'd ever written. That was more than any of them had done, and if it was "just dumb luck," that was fine with me.
During the next two years I sold dozens of poems, letters, jokes and recipes. By the time I graduated from high school (with a C-minus average), I had scrapbooks filled with my published work. I never mentioned my writing to my teachers, friends or my family again. They were dream killers, and if people must choose between their friends and their dreams, they must always choose their dreams.
But sometimes you do find a friend who supports your dreams. "It's easy to write a book," that new friend told me. "You can do it."
"I don't know if I'm smart enough," I said, suddenly feeling 15 again and hearing echoes of laughter.
"Nonsense!" she said. "Anyone can write a book if they want to."
I had four children at the time, and the oldest was only four. We lived on a goat farm in Oklahoma, miles from anyone. All I had to do each day was take care of four kids, milk goats, and do the cooking, laundry and gardening. No problem.
While the children napped, I typed on my ancient typewriter. I wrote what I felt. It took nine months, just like a baby.
I chose a publisher at random and put the manuscript in an empty Pampers diapers package, the only box I could find (I'd never heard of manuscript boxes). The letter I enclosed read: "I wrote this book myself, I hope you like it. I also drew the illustrations. Chapters 6 and 12 are my favorites. Thank you."
I tied a string around the diaper box and mailed it without a self-addressed stamped envelope, and without making a copy of the manuscript. A month later I received a contract, an advance on royalties and a request to start working on another book.
Crying Wind became a bestseller, was translated into 15 languages and Braille, and sold worldwide. I appeared on TV talk shows during the day and changed diapers at night. I traveled from New York to California and Canada on promotional tours. My first book also became required reading in Native American schools in Canada.
It took six months to write my next book. I mailed it in an empty Uncle Wiggley game box (I still hadn't heard of manuscript boxes). My Searching Heart also became a bestseller. I wrote my next novel, When I Give My Heart, in only three weeks.
The worst year I ever had as a writer, I earned two dollars (I was 15, remember?). In my best year, I earned $36,000. Most years I earn between $5,000 and $10,000. No, it isn't enough to live on, but it's still more than I'd make working part-time, and it's $5,000 to $10,000 more than I'd make if I didn't write at all.
People ask what college I attended, what degrees I have, and what qualifications I have to be a writer. The answer is none. I just write. I'm not a genius, I'm not gifted and I don't write right. I'm lazy, undisciplined, and spend more time with my children and friends than I do writing.
I didn't own a thesaurus until four years ago and I use a small Webster's dictionary that I bought at Kmart for 89 cents. I use an electric typewriter that I paid $129 for six years ago. I've never used a word processor. I do all the cooking, cleaning and laundry for a family of six and fit my writing in a few minutes here and there. I write everything in longhand on yellow tablets while sitting on the sofa with my four kids, eating pizza and watching TV. When the book is finished, I type it and mail it to the publisher.
I've written eight books. Four have been published, and three are still out with the publishers. One stinks.
To all those who dream of writing, I'm shouting at you, "Yes, you can! Yes, you can! Don't listen to them!" I don't write right, but I've beaten the odds. Writing is easy, it's fun, and anyone can do it. Of course, a little dumb luck doesn't hurt.

Reprinted by permission of Linda Stafford (c) 1996 from Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Maida Rogerson, Martin Rutte and Tim Clauss. 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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My Canoeing Exam
By Brenda Timpson

One year at summer camp, I had been working hard preparing for a canoeing exam. I put in hours and hours trying to build up my strength and learn new soloing skills.
Rising each day at six, I persevered, practicing bow-cut landings and paddling miles back and forth across the lake on windy white-capped waves until the sun set. Weeks slipped by, and I knew I had given everything I could to reach my goal and pass the exam. I had completed the strokes, landings and a three-mile solo trip. All that lay ahead was a solo portage on hilly terrain, and I would get my badge. Deep down I knew how proud my parents would be to see me succeed at something I had tried so hard to achieve. This badge was for them. I would make them proud.
On the last day for testing, the weather suddenly turned bad. All swimmers and boaters were grounded because of the oncoming storm. As the wind picked up, I felt a knot growing in my stomach. Although my arms had strengthened considerably over the weeks at camp, my legs were still weak by comparison. While I could lift the canoe by myself and even run on flat ground, my knees buckled under the strain of going uphill. Now with the wind whipping in circles, I began to wonder if all my hard work had been in vain.
My best friend Ali was thinking the same thing. Each day at dawn, she and I would run down to the lake, paddles in hand, to practice our landings. Together, we'd shout out words of encouragement as we soloed in our separate canoes across the lake. Together, we'd flop down in our bunks after a day of straining our muscles, with smiles and giggles, reminiscing about our adventures.
Now the final test lay before us.
In order to pass, we were required to lift a canoe up onto our shoulders, run down a hill, turn around and head back up, without the canoe touching the ground. It was a one-shot deal - if the canoe touched the ground, we'd fail.
My name came first, and I took off down the rocky hill. As I ran, the wind tore at the bow, and I had to fight to keep from plunging forward. My ankles burned and my arms throbbed, but my knees held out.
Finally, I reached the turnaround point and took a moment to peer at the hill ahead. As I started up, I felt my knees buckle. I stumbled in the mud and fell on some rocks. My knees were bruised and bleeding badly, but the canoe was still perched on my shoulders. Then I realized I didn't have the strength to stand up again. A stab of fear gripped my heart. I couldn't fail now - not after all this work!
All of a sudden I saw Ali peering under the bow of the canoe, smiling. She told me that the examiner said there had been nothing in the books saying that we had to go both ways - up and down the hill. If we did two trips with the same canoe, as long as the canoe didn't touch the ground, she would be willing to go uphill both trips, and I could go down.
I hesitated. If I fell on the second trip down and dropped the canoe, both of us would fail the exam. We both knew Ali was the stronger and better canoeist and could easily pass the exam without me.
But before I could answer, Ali had hoisted the canoe onto her shoulders.
"The canoeing badge means nothing to me compared to our friendship," she screamed over the wind. "With all our hours of practice and hard work, we are closer than sisters - and that's reward enough for me."
As the rain splashed down on my face, tears began to trickle down as well. It may have been cool and blustery outside, but my heart has never felt warmer than it did at that moment, standing face to face with Ali.
"See ya later, Ali-gator!" I sputtered.
With that she scooted up the hill, and I followed quickly behind.
Two days later Ali and I sat at the awards banquet, all dressed up and beaming with joy. We both clutched the master's badges we had worked so hard for. And this time, as I turned toward Ali, I noticed I wasn't the only one with tears of gratitude.

Reprinted by permission of Brenda Timpson (c) 2000 from Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Steve Zikman. 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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Generations
By Sherrie Page Najarian

Cradling my pregnant stomach, I plop down on the cushioned porch swing like a sack of potatoes, and elevate my swollen feet on the armrest. I relax and feel the summer heat mix with the cooler air of upcoming twilight. It is peaceful in the country. It has been a fun but tiring day at our annual family reunion, filled with tons of food and multiple verses of "You Are My Sunshine." Eating and singing are the two things my family does best, or at least with the most zeal.
Only my grandmother and I are left back at the house. The rest of the family opted to go to the movies. Hearing the sound of clinking glass, I gaze up from my comfortable nest into the kitchen window. I study the aging profile of my grandmother. Seventy-five years old, full of arthritis, yet proud, she still will not let anyone else do her dishes. She is the hardest worker I know, always tending to everyone's needs before her own.
I used to try to change her selflessness. I remember a conversation when I attempted to open her eyes to equal rights. "Really, Grandma, you never do anything for yourself. Now that Grandpap is retired, it would only be fair that he help out with the household chores."
"But I enjoy my routine," she had responded, confused by my frustration. "Besides, I like to keep busy; it keeps me young."
"You could at least get a dishwasher," I had encouraged.
"If I had a dishwasher, what in the world would I do after dinner?" After that conversation I stopped trying to enlighten her to the nineties.
Taking in a deep breath, I continue to drift back in time to my childhood memories of the summers I spent at my grandparents' house. After dinner, my grandmother and I would sit on the porch swing and needlepoint. The rainbow colors of thread mesmerized me. I would line them up like a big rainbow and try to fit every color into my stitching. That was over fifteen years ago, before arthritis attacked her fingers, making her hobby too painful to pursue after a long day.
I hear the water turn off in the kitchen, and then the voice of my grandmother calling through the screen. "I think I'll let these dishes air dry. That'll give us more time together before the others get back. Give me a minute to change into my housecoat. Okay, Mom?"
Mom? I am confused for a moment until I realize she is referring to me. "Sounds good," I answer proudly, my heart skipping a beat as I feel my first step toward membership in the motherhood club.
My grandmother returns in her worn flowered housecoat. "Here," she smiles, handing me a present. "This is for the baby."
I open the package and look inside. Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls stare back at me from perfectly embroidered faces, just like the ones she handmade for me twenty-five years ago. Speechless, I look at Grandmother with tears in my eyes, comprehending the pain she endured in her hands to make the dolls.
"I've made every grandchild a set of Raggedy dolls. I'm not about to stop now," she explains directly to my belly.
I never felt closer to my grandmother. The little human being growing inside me bridged our generation gap. I have a new respect for her. Before now, I never gave her much credit as a role model for today's woman. As it turns out, I was looking in the wrong places.

Reprinted by permission of Sherrie Page Najarian (c) 2000 from Chicken Soup for the Expectant 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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Just Between Us
By Janet Lynn Mitchell

I wish that I could have seen his face when he answered the phone. Even though I was married to Marty, I still called home when I needed him.
"Dad, my garage door broke . . . "
"Well, do you need me to pick up a new spring?"
"No. I think I kind of need you to come over. You see, I had places to go and people to see, so while I couldn't pull out like usual, I, um, tried to turn my van around."
"You did what?"
"I tried to turn my van around, you know, like a U-turn. I tried to turn the van and head out the other garage door!" I confessed while stifling my giggles.
For a moment there was silence. I could imagine my father sitting in his favorite chair trying to picture what his youngest daughter had attempted. While he thought, I assessed my situation and concluded there was no way I wanted my husband to come home from work and see my creative attempt to get to the mall.
Within moments my father's thoughts broke into words. "Honey, did you make it out the other door? What exactly do you need for me to do?"
I took a deep breath and tried to find an appropriate way to break the news, yet nothing came to mind. As I had done my entire life, I swallowed hard and then presented my problem to my father.
"Dad, it's like this. My van is stuck in my garage."
"Stuck?"
"Yeah, stuck, sideways."
"Sideways?"
"Dad, I thought that I could turn it around. I simply began backing up and going forward, trying to maneuver my van around so that I could exit out of the second garage door. I had a full tank of gas and I was doing a good job of getting it out myself until now, and well, can you come over and get me out of this mess before Marty gets home from work?"
Within minutes my dad had left his chair and was standing in my garage surveying my dilemma. He scratched his head, placed his hands on his hips and assured me that he had "never seen such a thing." Then without saying a word, yet wearing a grin that hinted, "now I've seen it all," he crawled into the driver's seat and began inching his way, slowly turning the van.
I crawled up on the workbench and watched. My dad caught my eye and gave me a wink. Holding my hand over my mouth, I tried to control my laughter as my father repeatedly drove my van three feet forward then three feet in reverse, while maneuvering the steering wheel. I thought of Marty surprising me, coming home early, finding his father-in-law "driving" in his garage and me cheering him on with passion!
Instantly, I flashed back to the many times my dad had come to my rescue, not questioning me as to the "how or why" of my predicament, but concentrating on the "what now" and the solution. It was no secret - my dad knew that I thought "outside the box." In fact, he'd been one to believe in my dreams, support my attempts and praise my accomplishments. I pondered his patience, wisdom and endless love for me. Today was no different. I knew for certain that, no matter what, I could always call on my dad.
An hour before Marty arrived home, my father beamed as he drove the van out the second garage door and parked it in the driveway. I walked out to meet him, and he rolled down his window.
"Problem solved," he said.
"Just between us?" I asked, securing our secret.
"Between us," he nodded. "Yep, this one is 'just between us,' because no one would ever believe it!"

Reprinted by permission of Janet Lynn Mitchell (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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Promises to Keep
By Kris Hamm Rose

I'm a teacher. But there are days, like today, when I wonder why. It's been a tough day. The results of an English quiz taken by my fifth-graders were dismal. Despite my best efforts, the world of pronouns remains a mystery to them. How I wish there is a way to make the study of our language as exciting as a computer game, so the glazed looks would not appear in their eyes at the mention of the word "grammar."
I wanted to spend my lunch period thinking of a way to enrich the next day's lesson, but a child became sick and needed me to gather her assignments while she waited for her mother. It took longer than I thought so there wasn't time for lunch. Then an argument broke out at recess. Angry boys needed to be calmed and hurt feelings soothed before we could return to the classroom. We were all emotionally spent and found it hard to return to history books and Revolutionary War battles.
Hunger had given me a nagging headache, lingering long after the last child filed out for car pool. Now, hours later as I drive home, rubbing aching temples, I remember my husband's words, delivered like a lecture, after other days like this. "Why don't you quit? You'd probably make more money doing something else, and you wouldn't have papers to grade every night."
This late afternoon, I'm considering the wisdom of his words. I have a stack of papers to grade, which I promised my fifth-graders I would return tomorrow. But tonight a friend, whom I haven't seen in a year, is visiting from Belgium, and I told her I would keep this evening free.
Frustration builds as traffic slows, and I realize it's rush hour. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to get out of my classroom ahead of the traffic. The world of my profession, a world filled with children, requires so much time. After school today, we had a faculty meeting. Events had to be planned, problems solved, new ideas discussed. So many details to remember. Just when I thought my day was over, a student peeked her head into the classroom to remind me I had promised to help her with a difficult assignment. The building was empty when I returned her to her waiting mother and wearily walked to my car.
Sitting in traffic threaded behind a distant stoplight, it's hard not to replay the day and revisit the tension. I turn up the air conditioner, hoping the coolness will ease my frustration and aching head. The last notes of a familiar melody are interrupted by news from the real world. Stock prices are down. Crime is up. The sound of gunfire fills the car as a broadcaster reveals the horror of life in a distant country. A strained voice reports the body of a local youngster, missing for weeks, has been identified. Click. Too much real world has invaded my space.
This missing child has had a profound effect on my fifth-graders. Every morning since she was first reported missing, my children have discussed news reports about her and prayed for her safe return.
Their concern was not only for her and her family but also for themselves. After all, she was one of them. A child believing herself to be safe and secure in her own neighborhood. My students, only one scant year younger than the tragic victim, wondered, "If it happened to her, could it happen to me?" Their thoughts and fears mirrored my own as I tried to find the right words to calm anxieties hoisted upon them by a world seemingly gone mad. There were no easy answers to quiet their apprehensions. How could I help them make sense out of senseless things and restore security to the small world of our classroom?
My children, ever wise with the innocence of youth, had found the answer themselves. They got out their pencils, markers and Crayolas and made cards. Cards written with words of compassion and love for a mother and father they didn't know. Cards that spoke of faith and the promise of peace. Cards adorned with ruby red hearts, golden crosses, spring flowers and rosy-cheeked angels. No grammar book, no lesson, could ever teach the beauty of the thoughts drawn and expressed by these children. Their cards, intended to comfort others, comforted the children themselves by leading them past the anxiety, back into the world of security that should be theirs.
As I sit in my car inching through the fumes of evening rush hour, I reflect on the strength of my students as they sought to right their world in the one way that made sense to them. I find myself smiling in spite of the heat, the traffic and the pile of ungraded tests. The rules of grammar might not have been learned today, but something bigger and better happened in my classroom. I just didn't recognize it at the time.
And then I remember. I remember why I'm still teaching. It's the children. They're more important than a lifetime filled with quiet evenings and more valuable than a pocket filled with money. The world of noise, pronouns, recess and homework is my world. My classroom, a child-filled world of discovery, of kindness and of caring is the real world. And I'm so lucky to be in it.
The traffic clears and I move past the stoplight, into the shady streets of my neighborhood. I'm glad to be home. It's time to call my friend and tell her I can't meet her tonight. I have promises to keep. She'll understand. After all, she's a teacher.

Reprinted by permission of Kris Hamm Rose (c) 1997 from Chicken Soup for the Teacher's Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. 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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