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Chicken Soup for the Soul - Short Stories

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Oh, to Be Rich!
By Sande Smith

I lay on my bed, legs propped up against the white cinder-block wall, desperately wishing my mother would call. But I remembered the last time I'd seen her, right before the train for Providence pulled out of the station, "You know how expensive it is to call," she said, then squeezed me tight and said good-bye.
This was my first birthday away from home, and I missed my mom, missed my sister, and most certainly missed the special pound cake my mother always made for my birthday. Since getting to college that year, I would watch jealously as the other freshmen received care packages from their parents on their birthdays - and even on ordinary days. Big boxes containing summer slacks and blouses, brownies and packages of M&M's and Snickers, things they needed and things they didn't. Instead of feeling thrilled about my upcoming eighteenth birthday, I felt empty. I wished my mom would send me something, too, but I knew that she couldn't afford presents or the postage. She had done her best with my sister and me - raising us by herself. The simple truth was, there just was never enough money.
But that didn't stop her from filling us with dreams. "You can be anything you want to be," she would tell us. "Politicians, dancers, writers - you just have to work for it, you have to get an education."
For a long time, because of my mother's resourcefulness, I didn't realize that we were poor. She did so much with so little. She owned and took care of our house, practically nursing the forty-year-old pipes and oil furnace to keep us warm throughout the cold winters. She clothed and fed us. She found ways to get us scholarships so that we could take violin, piano and viola lessons from some of the best teachers in Philadelphia. She never missed an opportunity to have a t?te-?-t?te with our schoolteachers, and she attended all our plays and musical performances. My mother had high hopes for my sister and me. She saw the way out of poverty for us was education. We didn't play with the other children on the street, didn't jump double-dutch or stay out late on the porch laughing and talking with our neighbors. We were inside doing our homework and reading books. She sat with us while we did our work and taught us how to learn what she didn't know by plowing through the World Book Encyclopedia or visiting the library. And she did it all on eight hundred dollars a month.
I have vivid memories of Mom sitting with us on the concrete steps out back, under the far-reaching branches of the sycamore tree. Her voice would float up as she recited, "I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree," or "We are climbing Jacob's ladder." Then she would hug us. I can still feel the sense of safety that washed over me like warm water. I felt my chest expand with joy as I listened to her voice close to my ear saying how she yearned us into being: "I told your dad, 'Rosie, I've already got sons, now I need girls.' And within five years, he gave me not one, but both of you."
But what a struggle it was for her.
"Please, Mom, can we go to the movies?" we'd beg.
"No, we can watch a movie at home," she'd say, turning to channel 10.
"Can't we get nicer pants than these ugly green things?" we'd say as we went through the black plastic bag filled with hand-me-downs from our cousins.
"These will do you fine for now," Mom would say.
"Why can't I have money to buy french fries after school?" I would plead, my nostrils full with the remembered smell of sizzling grease and freshly salted potatoes.
"No, you don't need that mess. Besides, I've made split-pea soup with carrots and potatoes."
She never bought anything that she could make herself, and only for emergencies did she tap the spotless credit she maintained at Sears and at Strawbridge & Clothier, a Philadelphia, family-run business based in Center City.
I felt our lack most deeply after Christmas, when the other kids talked about the new games and expensive outfits they had found tucked under their live Christmas trees. I didn't mention our silver tree that we unpacked and repacked every year, or that there were only a couple of items for me under the tree: some books, socks, maybe a pair of shoes that I needed. And because my dad wasn't around, Mom pressed me into service - I would wrap my younger sister's gifts so that she could wake up excited, believing that Santa had left goodies for her on the floor beneath the tree.
Thanks to my mom's sacrifices and big dreams, I'd made it to the Ivy League: Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Yet I was afraid that I wouldn't measure up to the other students. They seemed to exude confidence and the smell of money. I felt so lost, so far away, as if my mom had said, "Well, if you're old enough to go six hours away, you're old enough to take care of yourself."
My roommate joined me on the bed. "Hey. After we study, we'll go to Campus Center and get ice cream and cake." I nodded, closed my eyes and imagined the cake my mom would have made. She would take out her stand-up mixer and the chrome bowl, then add the butter that she'd let sit out until it was soft. She would pour in the sharp sugar grains in a narrow stream. Mmm. I could see the golden yellow of each of the twelve eggs, swallowed under the rapid blur of the spinning beaters, and I could almost smell the vanilla and nutmeg filling the house while the cake baked.
As I daydreamed, there was a knock on the door. My roommate opened it to find a deliveryman asking for me. He handed her a large rectangular box, which she carefully placed on the desk near my bed. "Open it." I did, and inside was a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. In icing were the words: Happy Birthday, Sande! Love, Mom and Rosalind. My skin tingled with excitement, as if my mom were right there hugging me close. How had she managed to afford it? I felt as if I were back on the steps with her, safe and secure while she sang and told me how much she loved having me in her life. I ran out to the hall and knocked on my dorm mates' doors. "Birthday cake," I called. As I cut cake for the ten students gathered in my room, then watched their faces as they ate, I didn't need to eat to feel both full and rich inside.

Reprinted by permission of Sande Smith (c) 2003 from Chicken Soup for the Single Parent's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Laurie Hartman and Nancy Vogl. 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 Unseen Veteran
By Amanda Legg

To understand military life, or what it feels like to be the proud wife of a soldier, you need to experience it.
One day he was here and now he is gone. . . He isn't beside me in bed. . . . His scent slowly fades, as does the memory of his face. . . . I can barely remember the familiar sounds of him at home. I long for comfort when I have a nightmare. I want him to hold me. I wait for those comforting letters or the phone calls that come after three months of silence.
Now, I look upon single parents in awe . . . and I learn to do what they do, until my husband comes home. I don't need a man to put a crib together, to take care of the car or to take out the trash. I have learned to be empathetic. I have become self-sufficient.
And even though these are wonderful things, I would give up everything that I have learned to bring him home right now.
When I think that I cannot go on, I rely on my routine so that I can support my husband while he defends our freedom. And I know that I am not the only one.
I am an unseen veteran. So are all the other military spouses out there. We have different battlefields. Our maps have pins in the countries of worry, heartache and loneliness. Our battles will end when our husbands are in our arms again. Until that day, I say thank you to all the invisible soldiers who are there for each other, who are there for me. We lend a strong shoulder when needed, and we keep up the brave front at home. The war could not be won without us.

Reprinted by permission of Amanda Legg (c) 2004 from Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Charles Preston and Cindy Pedersen. 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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Beautiful, She Said
By Jessica Gardner

I never thought that I understood her. She always seemed so far away from me. I loved her, of course. We shared mutual love from the day I was born.
I came into this world with a bashed head and deformed features because of the hard labor my mother had gone through. Family members and friends wrinkled their noses at the disfigured baby I was. They all commented on how much I looked like a beat-up football player. But no, not her. Nana thought I was beautiful. Her eyes twinkled with splendor and happiness at the ugly baby in her arms. Her first granddaughter. Beautiful, she said.
Before final exams in my junior year of high school, she died.
Seven years earlier, her doctors had diagnosed Nana with Alzheimer's disease. Our family became experts on this disease as, slowly, we lost her.
She always spoke in fragmented sentences. As the years passed, the words she spoke became fewer and fewer, until finally she said nothing at all. We were lucky to get one occasional word out of her. It was then that our family knew she was near the end.
About a week or so before she died, her body lost the ability to function at all, and the doctors decided to move her to a hospice. A hospice: where those who enter never come out.
I told my parents I wanted to see her. I had to see her. My uncontrollable curiosity had taken a step above my gut-wrenching fear.
My mother brought me to the hospice two days later. My grandfather and two of my aunts were there as well, but they hung back in the hallway as I entered Nana's room. She was sitting in a big, fluffy chair next to her bed, slouched over, eyes shut, mouth numbly hanging open. The morphine was keeping her asleep. My eyes darted around the room at the windows, the flowers and the way Nana looked. I was struggling very hard to take it all in, knowing that this would be the last time I ever saw her alive.
I slowly sat down across from her. I took her left hand and held it in mine, brushing a stray lock of golden hair away from her face. I just sat and stared, motionless, in front of her, unable to feel anything. I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out. I could not get over how awful she looked, sitting there helpless.
Then it happened. Her little hand wrapped around mine tighter and tighter. Her voice began what sounded like a soft howl. She seemed to be crying in pain. And then she spoke.
"Jessica." Plain as day. My name. Mine. Out of four children, two sons-in-law, one daughter-in-law and six grandchildren, she knew it was me.
At that moment, it was as though someone were showing a family filmstrip in my head. I saw Nana at my baptizing. I saw her at my fourteen dance recitals. I saw her bringing me roses and beaming with pride. I saw her tap-dancing on our kitchen floor. I saw her pointing at her own wrinkled cheeks and telling me that it was from her that I inherited my big dimples. I saw her playing games with us grandkids while the other adults ate Thanksgiving dinner. I saw her sitting with me in my living room at Christmas time, admiring our brightly decorated tree.
I then looked at her as she was . . . and I cried.
I knew she would never see my final senior dance recital or watch me cheer for another football game. She would never sit with me and admire our Christmas tree again. I knew she would never see me go off to my senior prom, graduate from high school and college, or get married. And I knew she would never be there the day my first child was born. Tear after tear rolled down my face.
But above all, I cried because I finally knew how she had felt the day I had been born. She had looked through what she saw on the outside and looked instead to the inside, and she had seen a life.
I slowly released her hand from mine and brushed away the tears staining her cheeks, and mine. I stood, leaned over, and kissed her and said, "You look beautiful."
And with one long last look, I turned and left the hospice.

Reprinted by permission of Jessica Gardner (c) 1998 from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul II by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Kimberly Kirberger. 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 Duck's Miracle
By Carolyn Griffin

"Just a couple hours now," said Dad, "and we'll soon be at our campsite!"
The year was 1950, and we were on our family vacation, doing our family thing - camping. I settled down in my corner of the back seat to take a nap. The rhythm of the moving car soothed me into a deep sleep.
Wham! I woke with a start, my face on the floorboard of the back seat. Dad had braked sharply.
"What happened?" I asked. "Where are we?"
"Half an hour from our campsite," he answered, "and I don't know what the holdup is, but all the cars have stopped. I'll see what's going on."
Dad stepped out of the car. Mom, my little brother David and I waited.
"Bet there's been an accident!" David was excited.
Mom shook her head. "Probably a bear crossing the road," she said. David bounced up and down in his seat. That was even better than an accident!
Dad came running back to the car. "Come on!" he said very excitedly. "Come on, kids! You've all got to see this!"
I jumped out of the car and ran to catch up with him. "What is it, Daddy?" I asked. He grinned and reached for my hand. "Come see, Carolyn," he said.
I knew that, whatever it was, it was nice because my father was happy about it. I grabbed his hand and skipped excitedly along beside him. We walked past a dozen parked cars. Ahead, a group of people stood "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing."
Looking in the same direction as everyone else, we saw a mother duck, sleek and proud, promenading up the middle of the road, nine little ducklings waddling after her. The babies were marching single file behind their mother, totally ignoring the people and automobiles.
No one from any of the stalled cars appeared to mind waiting on a fearless mother duck and her nine ducklings parading up the highway as if it were exclusively theirs.
We all followed Mrs. Duck and family a quarter of a mile up the hill. There Mrs. Duck led her children off the road, over a small embankment and into a little creek winding its way down the mountainside.
I walked back to the car with the adults and listened to their conversation with strangers.
"Oh, you're from Milwaukee? We lived there for four years!" They were discovering people and places they had in common.
I was quiet as we continued our journey, wondering about what we had just witnessed. Later in camp, I sat on a large rock next to my father, our feet dangling in the creek.
"Daddy?" I asked. "How did Mrs. Duck know that all those busy people would stop to let her walk along the road with her babies?"
Dad picked up a smooth stone, thoughtfully rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger, then skimmed it over the water.
"Well, honey," he said, watching the little stone skim the water, "that's one of God's miracles. God used that mother duck and her babies to slow everyone down so they could enjoy life a little bit more. He arranges opportunities like this, sort of as a reminder to make people think about what's important in life."
I sat there for a moment, smiling over Dad's words. Soon, Mom joined us, stuck her tired feet into the cool water and sighed, "Oh-h, that feels good!"
David wandered up and sat beside Mom, cuddling close. We all relaxed there by the creek as the mountain breeze played a soothing symphony in the trees above, just for us.
Yes, it truly was a miracle!

Reprinted by permission of Carolyn Griffin (c) 2001 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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How to Get Their Attention
By Dr. Ann E. Weeks

Several years ago, I was dean of the Lansing School of Nursing, Education and Health Sciences at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Kentucky. The school was located on the top of a hill. All the other administrative and academic buildings were on another hill.
One day in late January, we had a severe ice storm followed by snow. The grounds maintenance crew did a masterful job cleaning the main part of the campus, but they "forgot" our hill and the Lansing School. When I arrived at the office, I found myself confronted with 200 irate students, 12 hysterical faculty and 4 staff members. Neither the hill nor the parking lot had been cleared.
I had two immediate challenges facing me: get the hill cleaned and lower the stress level of all involved. I had faced this situation two months before; when I had called the physical plant office, I had been told they'd get to us when they could.
This time I asked my secretary for a purchase order form and check request form. I then typed up a purchase order for a ski lift from Switzerland. Since I had no idea how much a small ski lift cost, I put down $600,000. I figured I could get something for that amount. Then I requested $60,000 as the required deposit. To this day, I have no idea of the procedure for such a purchase, but it didn't matter - I was making it all up.
I photocopied the forms and posted copies throughout the school. Then I hand-delivered the bogus requests directly to the executive vice-president's office, since he was the authority over physical plant operations. I informed his secretary that this was very important and I needed an answer ASAP.
Within minutes of returning to my office, I received an irate phone call.
"Have you lost your mind?" thundered the executive vice-president. "We can't afford this! Who authorized you to order a ski lift?"
"The president," I answered meekly.
I'm told he slammed down his phone, went charging down the hall, requisition in hand, burst into the president's office and demanded, "Did you authorize this?"
The president, who knew me well, took his time reading the purchase order. Then he slowly looked up and said, "You didn't clean her hill, did you?"
"Why didn't she just say so?" the vice president spluttered.
The president laughed. "She certainly got your attention, didn't she?"
Within 10 minutes we had snowplows and salt trucks up on our hill. Everyone was at the windows, laughing and cheering.

Reprinted by permission of Dr. Ann E. Weeks (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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Great Expectations
By Liane Kupferberg Carter

The first thing we decided when we found out I was pregnant was to wait until the third month before we told anyone.
Ten minutes later, I was combing through my address book, calling everyone from our Realtor to my sixth-grade teacher.
?What do you mean you?re worried about the change in your lifestyle?? several friends with kids said smugly. ?What makes you think you?ll have a life??
I knew they were wrong. I?d be different; I am organized. I read all the books.
?Being pregnant is the easiest part,? my mother-in-law said cheerfully during my bouts of morning sickness.
When I could pick my head up out of the sink, I reveled in the attention of my husband. He fussed if I so much as sneezed. ?Stop it,? he?d say. ?You?re cutting off the baby?s oxygen.? He developed a new habit of looking down my throat and saying clever things like, ?Hello in there.?
Life and work continued, except that I now had an excuse not to eat sushi. One night we went to a dinner reception. No one asked what I did for a living, though several people did ask what it was my husband did. I fled to the ladies? room, where a strange woman accosted me in order to share the intimate and horrifying details of her fifty-seven hour labor, concluding with relish, ?so finally I told the doctor ?Give me the knife, I?ll do it myself?.?
At least these people had noticed. Not like the rest of the commuting world. No one on the train wanted to make eye contact; after all, you can?t offer a seat to a pregnant woman if she?s invisible. One day a blind man got on the crosstown bus, and the person next to me tapped me to get up and give him my seat. Which I did. From this I concluded that men were genetically unable to give up seats. This theory was confirmed one rainy rush hour, when I hailed a cab, and a man in a pinstripe suit shoved me aside. ?You wanted women?s lib, now you got it,? he snarled.
Urging me to relax, my considerate husband rented a movie he thought I?d like. Or he?d like. I squirmed through the entire screening of Alien. But I didn?t say anything. After all, this was the same man who every night put aside Barron?s to read Goodnight Moon out loud to my belly.
Around this time, my husband also developed the insatiable urge to buy high-priced electronic gadgets. One night he brought home a camcorder and spent forty-six minutes photographing my abdomen. Getting into the spirit of things, I brought home an ultrasound picture of the baby. ?But it looks like a herring,? he said. I asked the doctor for another. This time my unborn child looked like Jimmy Durante.
I read more books. The toilet-training travails of my friends became fascinating. I debated the merits of Super Pampers with the same friend with whom I used to discuss Proust. She took me out shopping to a mall, where total strangers touched my belly like some religious totem. We bought shoes; although I wore an eight, the nine was so comfortable that my friend urged me to take the ten.
I waddled into my eighth month. My doctor chose this time to inform me that she would be taking a two-week vacation that started a week before my due date. My usually calm husband began preparing labor contingency plans that involved beepers, cellular phones and highway detours that would challenge a SWAT team.
We took Lamaze. I read more books. The coach quizzed us. I quizzed the class. ?What is Bellini?? I asked. ?A champagne and peach cocktail?? someone said. ?No, a Russian dish served with caviar and sour cream,? said another. ?I have it!? said another woman. ?An upscale line of baby furniture that won?t deliver on time.?
In my ninth month, my father decided it was the height of hilarity to ask repeatedly, ?You?re sure it?s not twins?? On Tuesdays everyone told me I was carrying a girl. On Thursdays everyone told me I was carrying a boy. I put away the books; my attention span had been reduced to the length of the average television commercial. I learned in my Lamaze class that effleurage is not a type of floral perfume. The same night, my husband gleefully announced to the class that the first thing I planned to do after I went into labor was to shave my legs.
Ah, labor. ?It?s like gas,? my aunt said. ?Menstrual cramps,? said my mother. ?Nothing to it.?
They lied.
I forgot how to breathe. My husband with the high-priced dual-action stopwatch fell asleep timing contractions. My doctor never came back from Paris. The backup doctor I?d never met before was three years younger than I, just starting private practice that very night. He offered Demerol. Being offered Demerol for labor is like being offered aspirin after you?ve just been run over by a freight train. About the time I started pushing, a medical student wandered in. ?I know this isn?t the best time,? she said vaguely. ?I have to take a medical history.?
I pushed and panted. ?Your pelvis is too small,? said the doctor.
?With these hips?? I asked, incredulous.
The anesthesiologist prepped me for a cesarean. ?As long as we?re all here, how about a liposuction, too?? I asked.
Finally they handed me a swaddled lump who looked uncannily like E.T. The nurses were still counting clamps and sponges. A metal ring was missing. Pandemonium in the operating room.
?Get an x-ray plate up here. I don?t want to have to open her up again,? the doctor said crossly.
?Me neither,? I said. ?Couldn?t you just roll me through the airport metal detector??
Five days later, we brought home our son. Waiting for us were assorted grandparents, flower baskets and the hospital bill. They charged us for the x ray. (No ring was found.)
Reading prepared me for much of this . . . except how passionately I would fall in love with my child. Nor did it tell me this crucial fact: sex is like riding a bicycle. It doesn?t matter how long it?s been, it comes back to you.

Reprinted by permission of Liane Kupferberg Carter (c) 1999 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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I Will Always Love You
By Suzanne Perry, Ph.D.

Like most elementary schools, it was typical to have a parade of students in and out of the health clinic throughout the day. We dispensed ice for bumps and bruises, Band-Aids for cuts, and liberal doses of sympathy and hugs. As principal, my office was right next door to the clinic, so I often dropped in to lend a hand and help out with the hugs. I knew that for some kids, mine might be the only one they got all day.
One morning I was putting a Band-Aid on a little girl's scraped knee. Her blonde hair was matted, and I noticed that she was shivering in her thin little sleeveless blouse. I found her a warm sweatshirt and helped her pull it on. "Thanks for taking care of me," she whispered as she climbed into my lap and snuggled up against me.
It wasn't long after that when I ran across an unfamiliar lump under my arm. Cancer, an aggressively spreading kind, had already invaded thirteen of my lymph nodes. I pondered whether or not to tell the students about my diagnosis. The word breast seemed so hard to say out loud to them, and the word cancer seemed so frightening. When it became evident that the children were going to find out one way or another, either the straight scoop from me or possibly a garbled version from someone else, I decided to tell them myself. It wasn't easy to get the words out, but the empathy and concern I saw in their faces as I explained it to them told me I had made the right decision. When I gave them a chance to ask questions, they mostly wanted to know how they could help. I told them that what I would like best would be their letters, pictures and prayers. I stood by the gym door as the children solemnly filed out. My little blonde friend darted out of line and threw herself into my arms. Then she stepped back to look up into my face. "Don't be afraid, Dr. Perry," she said earnestly, "I know you'll be back because now it's our turn to take care of you."
No one could have ever done a better job. The kids sent me off to my first chemotherapy session with a hilarious book of nausea remedies that they had written. A video of every class in the school singing get-well songs accompanied me to the next chemotherapy appointment. By the third visit, the nurses were waiting at the door to find out what I would bring next. It was a delicate music box that played "I Will Always Love You."
Even when I went into isolation at the hospital for a bone marrow transplant, the letters and pictures kept coming until they covered every wall of my room. Then the kids traced their hands onto colored paper, cut them out and glued them together to make a freestanding rainbow of helping hands. "I feel like I've stepped into Disneyland every time I walk into this room," my doctor laughed. That was even before the six-foot apple blossom tree arrived adorned with messages written on paper apples from the students and teachers. What healing comfort I found in being surrounded by these tokens of their caring.
At long last I was well enough to return to work. As I headed up the road to the school, I was suddenly overcome by doubts. What if the kids have forgotten all about me? I wondered, What if they don't want a skinny bald principal? What if . . . I caught sight of the school marquee as I rounded the bend. "Welcome Back, Dr. Perry," it read. As I drew closer, everywhere I looked were pink ribbons - ribbons in the windows, tied on the doorknobs, even up in the trees. The children and staff wore pink ribbons, too.
My blonde buddy was first in line to greet me. "You're back, Dr. Perry, you're back!" she called. "See, I told you we'd take care of you!" As I hugged her tight, in the back of my mind I faintly heard my music box playing . . . "I will always love you."

Reprinted by permission of Suzanne M. Perry, Ph.D. (c) 1999 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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The Phone Call
By Jodie Smith

"Is this Mrs. Smith?" An unidentified male voice was on the phone. I cautiously responded. Was this the phone call I had been dreading since March? For a moment, I thought I was going to be sick. Then the loveliest words I have ever heard came through the receiver: "Smith, your wife's on the phone."
At 5:20 a.m., on April 18, my heart leapt to my throat. I had not heard my husband's voice since February 16. For a moment, I wondered if he would sound the same. I wondered if I remembered his voice at all.
The news channel I am now addicted to had not reported anything from his brigade in a week. Immediately, what seemed to be a thousand questions flew through my head. Where are you? How are you? Have you been able to shower? Are you eating? Do you miss me? Why has it taken you so long to call?
Intellectually speaking, I knew why he had not called. Jay was in a war zone. However, this fact had not prevented me from embarking upon the longest one-sided argument I have ever had. For weeks, I had been silently begging my husband to befriend a reporter in order to use his or her satellite phone. I realize this may sound ridiculous. But really! How dare he be concentrating on his job instead of his wife!
With that first hello, however, my irritation turned to uncertainty. I wondered if he was still the same man I fell in love with. Had this experience changed him? Had the past month hardened him? Would details from the home front seem anything but trivial to him now that he had been through a war?
I kept my questions to myself. All I wanted him to know was that I was doing well. The army operates on a need-to-know basis, so I quickly decided that we would, too. As long as he was in the desert, Jay did not need to know that termites have been discovered at our house, or that I had two flat tires in the last month or that the refrigerator broke. He did not need to know that his pay had been incorrect for four months or that I have been scared out of my mind.
For twenty glorious minutes I listened to his stories of Baghdad. He tried to protect my feelings, too, and his tales were not horrific war stories but amazing adventures that he had or sights he has seen. He told me of Saddam's bombed-out palace. We laughed at stories of Udday's palace with lions and wealth galore. He even told me about a single lieutenant he would like to introduce to my sister.
Any awkwardness that I had feared, dissolved. I was overwhelmed with pride; I was so lucky, and my husband was so brave. Military spouses share their lives with fascinating, dedicated individuals. So listening to Jay's firsthand account of the war was truly precious.
The phone line cut out before we were able to say how much we missed each other. I held the phone in my hand for several moments, hoping to hear his voice again. The familiar pain of missing him returned. I waited two months for that wonderful phone call. Now, the waiting starts again.

Reprinted by permission of Jodie Smith (c) 2003 from Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Charles Preston and Cindy Pedersen. 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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Gone Fishin'
By David Clinton Matz

It was my third year of trying to create the perfect lawn.
I was doing quite well this summer. I'd reseeded the bare spots from winter's ravages. I'd found just the right grass seed for our soil conditions. I'd created a sprinkler system that worked well for both the lawn and for entertaining my four children.
All was going well, until one day I noticed several sprouting dandelions. No problem, I thought. I hurried to the store and bought an herbicide. I figured that by the next weekend, I'd have those yellow devils whipped.
But when I got home, I took a closer look at the instructions. Reading the cautionary statements made me shudder; we live in a rural area with a nearby pond and have cats and dogs and children. I didn't want to inflict toxic chemicals on any of them. So I made the mixture weaker than the directions called for. Weak and ineffective: By the next weekend, those tough little dandelions didn't have so much as a withered leaf.
I had promised my four-year-old daughter Kayla we'd go fishing on Saturday. Kayla loves to fish and is very good at it. But when Saturday arrived, I found the little yellow splotches in my lawn had multiplied.
I'll have to deal with the dandelions before we go fishing, I told myself. The lawn is less than half an acre; how long can it take?
With screwdriver and garbage sack in hand, I attacked the pesky weeds.
"Pickin' flowers, Daddy?" Kayla asked.
"Yes, dear," I said, digging furiously at a tough root.
"I'll help," she offered. "I'll give some to Mommy."
"Go ahead, sweetie," I answered. "There's plenty."
An hour passed, and yellow splotches still remained.
"You said we's going fishin' today," Kayla complained.
"Yes, I know, dear," I said. "Just a little more flower picking, okay?"
"I'll get the fish poles," Kayla announced.
I labored on, prying up one stubborn root after another.
"I found some worms under a rock, Daddy," Kayla piped up. "I put them in a cup. Are you ready?"
"Almost, honey."
More minutes dragged by.
"You picked 'nough flowers, Daddy," Kayla insisted impatiently.
"Okay, honey, just a few more," I promised. But I couldn't stop. The compulsion to finish the job was overwhelming.
A few minutes later, a tap came on my shoulder.
"Make a wish, Daddy!" Kayla chirped.
As I turned, Kayla took a big breath, puffed, and sent a thousand baby dandelion seeds into the air.
I picked her up and kissed her, and we headed for the fish pond.

Reprinted by permission of David Clinton Matz (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Cynthia Brian, Cindy Buck, Marion Owen, Pat Stone and Carol Sturgulewski. 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 Place Called Summer
By Doug Rennie

While re-reading Ray Bradbury's classic coming-of-age novel Dandelion Wine, I get to the part where the book's main character, twelve-year-old Douglas Spalding, wakes up to "a sound which was far more important than birds or the rustle of new leaves . . . the sound which meant that summer had officially begun . . ." It was the sound of the lawnmowers starting up.
I put the book down and let my mind meander through my own preteen summers long, long ago . . .
Summer days, when I was a boy, meant baseball. I'd get up early, work a few drops of Neat's Foot Oil into the smooth, black pocket of my Rawlings Duke Snider glove, load my bat into a hollow metal cylinder that I had jury-rigged to my bike frame, then pedal off to some sun-washed, freshly mowed grass field to punch out singles, steal bases and run down fly balls until the sky turned indigo.
The warmest mornings found me on the downtown pier, my wormed hook tempting jacksmelt and walleye as I sat, feet dangling over the side, reading Tarzan and the complete Hardy Boys series.
But the best part of my boyhood summers was the two weeks each August that I spent in the mountains with my sister, mother and new stepfather in a cabin he had built himself. In this summer world, the sun rose out of a ravine, passed languidly over the shaded cottage and slid down behind a forested ridge, leaving stars in full command of the ink-dark mountain sky.
Behind the cabin was a creek that I never found the end of. Wearing my P. F. Flyers, I walked on water by jumping along on partly submerged rocks. My favorite spot was a half-mile upstream where the water branched off into three deep, black, boulder-enclosed pools.
That's where the frogs lived - some green like leaves, others almost black, and all of them slippery and slick. I would catch them and giggle when they'd squirm and croak and pop their eyes out like they were plugged into something. Sometimes, I made faces back at them and moved them through the water while making speedboat sounds. Eventually, I'd toss them back in and set off again on my streamside odyssey, brushing aside images of looming September.
Summer was special then, as much a place as it was a season.
It was a place where you could do endless cannonballs and can-openers off the high board and slosh about aimlessly in the big "plunge" without obsessing about SPF factors. A place where your eyes could track that girl who sat next to you in class all year - and who now looked so different in a swimsuit - knifing through the big pool's opals and turquoises, her long hair streaming behind her. A place where you could grin at your mom through a watermelon mustache, sleep out in the backyard (in the days before air-conditioning made every season the same), and set off sparklers and night crawlers on the Fourth.
In summers past, almost everything of delight occurred outdoors.
One evening, as I lay outside in the cool mountain air looking up at the shooting stars that passed every night like fiery line drives, my mom would say, "Make a wish, honey."
I would try, of course, but it was tough to come up with one.
Everything I could think of to wish for was already there - all around me.

Reprinted by permission of Doug Rennie (c) 1998 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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The Great Candy Bar Debate
By Naida Grunden

Evening meals were sacrosanct at our little house in Burbank, California. Only genuine illness or events of compelling academic or spiritual importance excused us. Mother provided the food, Dad the entertainment. I was almost of age before I realized that not everyone's evening meal involved vigorous, fun, intellectual debate.
At Friday dinners, Dad took a little tablet out of his left breast pocket. Every time he encountered a word he did not know, he wrote it down there. By Friday, he'd looked it up and the games began.
"What is a fillip?" he asked.
When neither my brother nor sister knew, I was relieved. As the youngest child, if I occasionally knew an answer, I felt really smart. That evening we all fell short, not knowing that a fillip was the quick, striking motion made by flipping a long finger away from the thumb. In our vernacular, it was a "thump on the head," Mother's discipline technique of last resort.
When spelling, vocabulary and current events played themselves out, Dad delighted in moving us on to his next favorite arena: ethics.
"What would you do if you were walking into a store and noticed that someone had left his car lights on?"
Of course we asked some clarifying questions like, "Was the car locked?" "Was it a nice car?" and so on.
My brother Jim came up with a plausible answer. "If the car's unlocked, you reach in and turn the lights off."
This response pleased Dad. "Yes. Would you tell anyone about it?"
"Right again. Just do the good deed and let it go at that."
The morals of these ethics discussions were consistent: do well, don't brag, be honest and throw yourself across the tracks to stop an oncoming injustice. We usually aced Dad's ethics quizzes.
The mock situation that stopped us in our tracks came to be known as the Great Candy Bar Debate. Dad brought it up periodically, and it became a chronic family controversy.
Here's the situation: You approach a candy machine, coins in hand. You can't wait for that Snickers bar to drop into the tray. But before your coin drops, you notice that there's already a candy bar in the tray. What do you do?
The only clarifying question three kids needed was, "What kind of candy bar?" Unless it was something vile like marshmallow, that candy bar was history.
"I'd take that candy bar and put my money back in my pocket," Jim said. Surely he knew this was not the right answer, although it made such sense.
"That's tempting, but that candy bar does not belong to you. You haven't paid for it," Dad instructed.
"I'd still take it," said my sister, Andrea. "The candy bar company knows they'll lose a few that way."
"That's a rationalization. Their business is not your concern. You shouldn't take something you haven't paid for."
"Well if I don't take it, the next person will," Jim said.
"Another rationalization. That next person will have to answer for stealing that candy bar on Judgment Day. You'll have done right, leaving the candy bar in the tray."
About now, Mother tried to arbitrate, asking Dad if the question about candy wasn't too tempting for three kids.
Dad became spirited. "I cannot imagine a justification for taking a candy bar you hadn't paid for! How would you explain that to God?"
I could see Dad's point, but I wondered if I couldn't find justification somewhere. I knew that in the real world, every one of us except Dad would take that candy bar and eat it.
Dad's honesty plagued him to the end of his life. As a retiree, he and Mother occasionally worked as movie extras in Hollywood. The pay was minimal, twenty bucks apiece. Sometimes it was given in cash, "under the table." Most of the folks probably had a quiet dinner out on the earnings. Dad kept books, noted every dime of income, claimed it on his IRS Form 1040, and paid the tax he owed.
When Dad's memory began to fail, things got complicated. Mother took him to the attorney to see how to get him the medical care he needed without bankrupting the family. Dad didn't comprehend much, but he wanted no legal shenanigans that might ensure his medical care but jeopardize his soul.
Fortunately, as a combat veteran of World War II, he was eligible for treatment through the VA. To qualify for the Dementia Program, Dad took a battery of memory tests, which included vocabulary.
The psychiatrist told Mother, "I can't find a word he doesn't know. When we got to 'frangible,' he gave me synonyms and antonyms."
Dad was their favorite patient after that, a kind of "dementia savant." He told the best stories and remained his charming self. He just didn't know what day it was.
The time came when the doctors could do no more. They called Mother one morning. Dad was fading fast.
By the time we got there, Dad lay still and gray against the white sheets, his pulse faint. We wept. Then we dried our tears and started telling him stories. With the family reunited there, things felt strangely festive. When we started to get hungry, I went downstairs for snacks.
The lounge was filled with patient-veterans in various states of illness and decrepitude. I bought sodas from the machine, and then decided to get a Snickers bar. Approaching the candy machine, quarters in hand, I noticed a Three Musketeers lying in the tray. I looked up toward Dad's room, toward heaven. Was this a test? Was this a joke?
Across the room, a Vietnam-aged veteran, an amputee on crutches, said, "Aw, geez! I forgot my money, and I'm starving! Can I borrow change from somebody?"
"How about a Three Musketeers instead?" I asked.
"That'd be great."
I handed him the misbegotten bar.
With drinks and candy I'd paid for, and the solution to the Great Candy Bar Debate, I returned to Dad's room. Everyone agreed that giving it to a hungry veteran was the brilliant justification that had eluded us all those years.
Later that evening Dad slipped away. I know he heard everything we said. I'm pretty sure I can explain every nuance of the Great Candy Bar Debate to the Almighty when the time comes. I just hope my explanation will satisfy Dad.

Reprinted by permission of Naida Grunden (c) 1997 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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The Great Dill Deal
By The Reverend Aaron Zerah

My parents, God bless them, lived through the Holocaust as children. After coming to America in 1947, my father labored in a sweat shop so that they could start a fruit and vegetable stand.
Their childhood experience did not include cooking lessons, so my parents only learned to cook as adults in America. My father's single culinary accomplishment was making hard-boiled eggs, and even those he usually mistimed. My mother easily outdistanced my father. She could, when pressed, cook seven different meals - but in reality, there were only two she made well: spaghetti and meatballs, thanks to the patient Italian grandmothers in our neighborhood, and a great pot of chicken soup. As she had access to all the vegetables in what was now our store, she would toss unusual ones, such as parsnips and parsley root, into the mix. But what distinguished Mom's chicken soup from any other I've tasted was one special ingredient: fresh dill.
Mom always made her chicken soup at the right time. Rarely did she make it for someone already sick; yet she knew instinctively when you needed some as preventive medicine. Somehow she also knew when hard times were coming. When a slew of salesmen would arrive, all demanding payment, there was a soul-soothing pot of chicken soup. Let the refrigerator break down, the tax man call, the employees leave without notice! We had chicken soup with fresh dill and we would be okay!
Many years later, my parents' store on Long Island burnt to the ground. They had no choice but to give up the retail trade and concentrate on building their fledgling wholesale produce business in New York City. They did so with their customary passion, and in a few years were doing pretty well. They specialized in carrying unusual and gourmet items - including fresh dill.
One winter, primarily for their health, they took a vacation. My brother and I flew to New York to help run the business while they were gone. It just so happened that in the second week, a freeze struck the South and virtually the entire fresh dill crop was wiped out. Demand for dill was enormous. You could practically hear the screams of distraught mothers from a hundred miles away.
Serendipitously, my brother and I had connections. We had lived in California and we knew the few dill growers there. In a matter of hours, we had arranged a stream of air shipments of dill to New York. We had the only dill in town, and although the supplies were still small, we made thousands upon thousands in profits - from dill!
When my parents returned from vacation, tanned and delighted to have missed some of the nastiest weather New York had seen in decades, they were especially happy to hear the story of the Great Dill Deal.
A few winters later, my brother and I had a business that was getting into real trouble. We became very worried, forgetting that business has its vicissitudes (the one big fancy word my dad knew and consequently used often), and that business isn't the only thing in life.
One afternoon when we were feeling especially downtrodden, a package from our folks arrived, sent from their new home in the Dominican Republic.
There was no letter, only a beautiful, custom-made wood plaque with a hand-carved message: NO BIG DILL. And you know what? After that, it really wasn't.

Reprinted by permission of The Reverend Aaron Zerah (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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By Gerard T. Brooker, Ed.D.

Chuck was in my high-school English honors class. He was a writer of great promise. So, when he told me he had been accepted into the journalism program at the University of Missouri, I wasn't surprised.
During his freshman year at college, Chuck stopped by school a few times to keep me posted on his progress. We reminisced about our work together several years before. We had developed public service radio commercials to raise money for twenty-three sick and abandoned Cambodian babies who were being cared for by a nurse friend of mine in Thailand, a place far away yet close to our hearts. Chuck was instrumental by helping to raise several thousand dollars. It was an activity that in some ways transformed our formal relationship into a friendship. Whenever we got together on his visits, my spirits were always buoyed as he was filled with the joy of life.
In his sophomore year, it was discovered Chuck had lung cancer and had only a short while to live. So he left school to come home to be near his loved ones.
I went to see him one day, and in that mysterious way that some seriously ill people have, he reached into a deep place of his rich humanity and made us laugh for most of the afternoon. As I left him and hugged him good-bye, I felt confused and angry. There seemed to be no sense in what was happening.
About six weeks later, Chuck died. It was a great loss for everyone, especially for his family. The youngest of nine children, Chuck was talented and full of promise. More importantly, he was a good and decent person, a just man.
When I went to his funeral, his father asked to speak with me. He took me aside and told me that several weeks before, Chuck had asked him to go over his possessions and memorabilia with him so that he might select a few things to be buried in the coffin with him. He told me how bittersweet the assignment was. How his heart, the heart of a father, nearly burst with love and sadness. In the end, Chuck chose six items, including an essay he had written in my class some years before.
He told me that Chuck had always kept the piece because he liked the message I had written to him at the bottom of the last page. In that little note, I affirmed his talent as a writer and I urged him to be responsible for the gift, to be committed to it as something special. That encouraging postscript would now go with Chuck across the great divide.
I was touched and grateful for the extraordinary gift Chuck gave me that day. His wonderful gesture gave the teacher in me a vital insight, one that would change my life. His taking my reassuring note with him into eternity offered me a tremendous opportunity for impacting students' lives. I felt reenergized with a sense of purpose that was greater than ever.
Whenever I forget my purpose, I think of Chuck, and I am reminded of it once again: Teachers have the power to affect hearts and minds for a long time. Some would even say for eternity.

Reprinted by permission of Gerard T. Brooker (c) 1999 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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Chicken Pox Diary
By Janet Konttinen

Day 1: I'm starting a diary about the kids' upcoming experience with chicken pox. It all started this morning when Vicki called to tell me her kids have chicken pox. She knows I am undecided about whether to have my kids inoculated with the new vaccine, and she said if I wanted to just get it over with, we were welcome to come over and get exposed. She said the incubation period was a week or two, and when I looked at the calendar and counted the days, it turns out we'll have chicken pox right in the middle of our school's break.
Since the kids are going to be home anyway, I figured she was right - why not just get it over with? Plus, my husband is already planning to stay home that week to catch up on paperwork, so he'll be available to back me up when needed.
On the way to her house, I explained to the kids that we were having a playdate with sick friends because we want to get their germs. They asked if this meant there'd also been a policy change about chewing bubble gum that's been picked off the sidewalk.
Vicki made sure all the children shared juice cups, and we talked about how the timing of this was so perfect, it was almost like a miracle. Perhaps I will submit diary for publication in parenting magazine.
Day 2: Went to grocery store to stock up on calamine lotion and oatmeal bath called Aveeno. Told checker plan for having all four children get chicken pox during school break when husband is home to help. She said, "That's good planning."
Day 12: Keeping bottle of calamine in pocket since chicken pox expected to appear any minute.
Day 18: School break is over; daughters back in school. Husband back at work. Son home with chicken pox. New spots keep appearing; older ones shedding off. After dinner, I dashed to store for more calamine. Mentioned to checker that miracle plan is a bucket of hog slop. Then remembered Vicki's wise words: "It's a rite of passage" and vowed to remain positive.
Day 21: Daughter erupting with chicken pox, so she's staying home with brother. Children's only relief from boredom is connecting red dots on body with permanent marker and demanding exotic snacks.
Day 26: Husband left for out-of-town business trip. Son finished with chicken pox, now has flu. Daughter feeling fine but must remain in quarantine several more days. Second daughter also home with stomachache. Am feeling kinship with pioneer women who gave birth in cornfield and shot rattlesnake off porch while husband away on cattle drive.
Day 30: All kids home from school - one with chicken pox, two with flu, one faking to get in on the snacks. Time together at home giving us a chance to get intimate understanding of each person's special idiosyncrasies, such as those observed by nurse on the job at lunatic asylum.
Day 32: Husband called early from nice hotel while waiting for morning room service. Very understanding when I was unable to remember his name. Described to him last night's dream about oatmeal in which pantry doors in kitchen swung open by themselves revealing huge container of Quaker Oats cereal. Portrait of friendly Quaker pictured on cereal box transformed into scary-looking image of Vicki, that contaminator of children.
Day . . . So tired . . . don't know what day it is and don't care anyway. Very concerned about last night's pizza order. Found pimply faced delivery boy's cap in bathtub and suspect he's the strong one I had trouble wrestling into Aveeno bath. Made note to give extra tip with next order.

Reprinted by permission of Janet Konttinen (c) 1999 from Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2 by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Marci Shimoff and Carol Kline. 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 Father's Hands
By Floanne Kersh

As my father's devoted and only daughter, I noticed things about him my two brothers never mentioned or may have taken for granted. Two things in particular made Daddy more wonderful, interesting and capable than all the other fathers I'd ever seen or heard of - Daddy's large, sensitive hands. How wonderfully warm they were when I placed mine in his to be rubbed warm on cold winter days. Daddy's hands had endless capabilities, from braiding my pigtails or successfully retrieving a kite from the topmost branches of a tree, to washing my little brother's diapers by hand when we couldn't afford a washing machine. Whatever the job or situation, his tireless hands actively carried it out.
When he was a child, the eldest of seven children, Daddy went to work in order to help support his family. His own father's failing health made it necessary for Daddy to drop out of school. He never complained about being a provider at such a young age. Perhaps that is where his hands found their direction.
Daddy had long, nimble fingers that could thread the smallest needle in order to mend the hem in my dress or sew on a missing button. They could carefully trim the nails of tiny fingers and toes, remove splinters, bandage skinned knees, and, unlike Mama, Daddy could tie straight sashes on my party dresses. Those same agile fingers had a magical way of strumming guitar strings, making my nursery tunes the most beautiful music I ever heard.
Daddy's inventive hands were also strong and useful, wonderfully tanned from working in the sun, and a bit callused. There was no unfamiliar territory to Daddy's hands. They could whip up a delicious and colorful meal in minutes (pancakes were his specialty and favorite). I loved to watch in wonder as his skillful hands worked.
Daddy's hands conveyed a message as they tenderly stroked a fevered brow or mended a broken doll. They seemed to speak, to understand unspoken pain and emotional hurt when I found no way to vocalize this. Daddy's hands soothed and sympathized through their touch as no words could.
Yes, these were the hands of my father. Hands with the knowledge of household repairs and heavy equipment that tenderly, untiringly cared for his children and my mother through her many long illnesses right up until her death with the soothing expertise of nurse and husband. Somehow, during those times when I was sick, it wasn't so bad. Daddy would take a small blanket, warm it in front of the fireplace and wrap it around my small, cold feet with hands of love. Comfortably settled in his lap, it was apparent even then that no mother's hands could have done better. How comfortable to be "all snuggled in," sensing that everything would be all right!
Memories of the old, familiar railroad songs Daddy sang, as his reassuring hands patted me in time to the tune, linger still. Peacefully I sucked my thumb, nestled contented, loved and secure against the rhythm of Daddy's heartbeat while the old rocking chair creaked back and forth. At these times, Daddy did not mention my thumb sucking. With my other hand, I would hold one of Daddy's large hands studying the contours, tracing the lines, caressing the rough spots, now and then encircling my entire hand around one of his warm fingers with pride. Daddy's nails were always trimmed, although he had a permanent split that made a funny design in his left thumbnail. This, too, was special and endeared him to me more because he was building my dollhouse when he acquired the injury.
My father's hands were perfect in my little-girl eyes. They had the strength and power to move mountains. They made the impossible possible!
Years later, in a small hospital room as Daddy lay near death, too weak to speak out loud, I sat tearfully at his bedside. But, holding his hands, those delightful, formative, important years of shared experiences paraded before me in fond and vivid reminiscence. I smiled, recalling special moments as I proudly held those same wonderful hands in mine, seeking out and feeling once again every crevice and line, every callus and scar. I marveled at the many years these magnificent, dedicated, untiring hands had devoted to his family. What an experience of love they had brought. I lifted them, placing the tired, now pale hands against my face, reveling in how warm they were even now just as in my cherished yesterdays. I kissed each brown spot, reminders of his eighty-three years, but I did not see these brown places as "age spots." To me they were beauty marks instead, representing a job well done. I could no longer hold back the tears filling my eyes.
For a brief moment, Daddy roused and opened his eyes as if he wanted to speak. I leaned over close to hear his whisper. With a faint, concerned smile of love, his trembling fingers reached up to gently trace my brow, stopping momentarily to wipe away the tears now glistening on the cheeks of his "little girl." And time stood still. Then Daddy closed his eyes and, sighing one final breath, slipped quietly away.
As I looked down fondly at the precious, motionless hands of my dear father, I knew one thing for sure then, and I am even more sure of it now: No mother's hands, in all the world, were ever more endearing or more beautiful than the hands of my father.

Reprinted by permission of Floanne Kersh (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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Taken for Granted
By Donna Pennington

It's strange looking back on my relationship with my dad, because for the first thirty years of my life we didn't have much of one.
No, we weren't separated by divorce, long hours at work or even a grudge lingering from my not-so-pleasant adolescence. Over the years I'd developed a vague composite of my father - a tall, shy man who worked very hard.
I just never really paid him any mind. He was a fixture that I took for granted.
Then nine years ago, when I was pregnant in my second trimester and bleeding, my dad showed up to offer his help. I was surprised. Sure, in the past he'd given me financial aid, fatherly advice and fixed broken appliances, but money, words and tools weren't going to prevent a possible miscarriage.
Still, every day he came. He took me grocery shopping, did the heavy chores of cleaning and undeniably maintained my household.
At first I felt awkward having my retired dad around on a daily basis. I even felt guilty at times. I didn't know how to relate to this calm, quiet gentleman because at the time that's all he was to me, a nice, helpful man.
But, somewhere between folding laundry together and watching The Oprah Winfrey Show, we started talking. It seemed silly that it took a talk show's calamity to break the ice between us. Yet soon we were voicing our opinions on everything from politics to child-rearing. Then things got more personal, and we started swapping life stories.
My dad became a remarkable man who had a fascinating history - and a new granddaughter.
After the baby, Dad continued coming over and helping out. Our projects began extending beyond household chores, and he taught me how to hold a hammer "like a man." We built furniture, then a shed. To this day he arrives religiously at my door every other week to help me get ready for Girl Scout meetings in my garage.
My friends find it amusing that my dad is still helping out even though my two girls have started school full- time, but they don't understand. It's not just about the work anymore. Working together broadens our understanding of one another. I doubt the issues of race, religion and morality would have come up during a brief lunch at the mall. So you're more likely to find my dad and me complaining about the inflated prices of nails in a hardware store than having a polite conversation over a hamburger. He is my best friend, after all, and that involves more than talk of the weather.
Knowing him is to understand what makes a man noble.
When he reads this, he'll probably laugh and wonder what the heck I'm talking about, but I know him now and that's an honor I almost lost.
So, to anyone searching for a true friend, I recommend starting with the person you may have taken most for granted.

Reprinted by permission of Donna Pennington (c) 2002 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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Lemon Love
By Darcie Hossack

My grandfather gave me the world when he gave me his love.
I never had to guess if the wonderfully weathered old man, whose eyes smiled brighter than his mouth, loved me. Unlike many of his generation, he believed in saying so. It was high praise since I was the twenty-fourth of twenty-seven to be delivered into his happy embrace.
Grandpa would have done anything for me, but since love is all about the little things, he was always willing to busy himself with some project meant for my happiness. There was the double-benched swing, crafted in his farm workshop, upon which I spent endless afternoons inhaling the scent of spring wildflowers, while prairie clouds morphed from tempestuous oceans, to families of waddling ducks, to snow-crested mountain peaks only as far away as my imagination made them.
In the house, where my grandmother tended an oven that never went cold, I carried baskets full of romping kittens each spring, played tuneless melodies on an antique pump organ and felt safer than I ever have since.
Summer months meant that I could spend more time away from the confinements of city life. Only a twenty-minute drive from our home, my mother often made the trip with me, past fields of golden wheat, and into the company of my grandfather.
On one visit that was meant to be short, I soon forgot myself in the midst of childish bliss. On a tireless red wagon, I pulled all the ingredients of a lemonade stand to the edge of my grandparents' property, where a county road intersected a sprinkling of homes, and where other children walked the dusty path to visit friends and family.
Excitedly, I peddled my refreshments to the few people who passed by, counting the meager change that was far from the point of my endeavor.
My enthusiasm withered, however, when the approaching form of my mother reminded me of an appointment I knew I would not be permitted to miss. "But who will sit at my lemonade stand?" I wanted to know, imparting it all the importance unlost innocence always does.
"I guess you will have to pack it away until another day," she replied with regret. Mournfully, I began to obey, slowly replacing my handmade sign, cups and pitchers into the wagon before loading on the table and chair.
From the house, where I had been visible through the window, Grandpa came stepping across the expanse of grass with a stiffness reminding me my best friend was not my own age.
Without a word, he gently touched my cheek with a rough finger and bent to undo the work I had reluctantly done. He seated himself in the chair and unfolded a newspaper. "It is a nice day for lemonade," he said. "Hurry back, and we'll share some."
When we returned later, Grandpa was still at my post, the newspaper abandoned in favor of a needle and thread and some clothes in need of mending. In the small box where I had begun to deposit my earnings was more change than could be accounted for had the entire village showed up for a drink.
Together we sat by the road for a little while longer. As the sun began to go down and Grandma called us in for supper, we dismantled our stand and walked back to the house.

Reprinted by permission of Darcie Hossack (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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