It Takes Time
In this Encouraging Story, learning to love despite life’s setbacks and hurt, means seeing whatever good there is and making the best of it.
Marge wondered how it would feel to break her leg. Or arm. Or maybe just a finger. A toe? Would a hangnail suffice? Perhaps a bad headache. Some quality reason for staying in bed way past her usual wake-up call.
She opened her eyes.
Oh yeah. Real-life. The world. Trial. Tribulation. Mistakes and Mayhem.
She dragged herself to the bathroom—washed her face and wondered if a bang on the head would induce amnesia. There was so much to forget.
“The coffee is ready, and there are rumors of breakfast.”
Saturday? Good glory. She sniffed. Sausage and eggs. Coffee. After wrestling out of her pajamas and into her day clothes, she snatched a look out the window. Blossoms filled the hedgerow. The apple trees were on a roll. Even the maples joined the fun, sending seedpods whirling through the air.
She sauntered into the warm kitchen while Jon and Kelly perched on stools at the counter, plates set. Food ready. Their fingers wrapped around coffee mugs from which swirls of hot steam unfolded like vaporous petals.
A glance at the crucifix. A breath of prayer. Lord, forgive us. We don’t know what we’re doing.
Kelly sloshed orange juice into her tall glass and took a sip. She smiled. “I wondered if you were ever going to get up.”
Jon shot his sister a warning glance.
Marge gratefully poured rich black coffee into her special mug. A birthday gift. Last year. An eon ago, it seemed. She leaned against the counter. “I just decided to take my time. Luxuriate in the reality of having nothing important to do.”
Jon shook his head.
Meg’s face imitated one of those Salvador Dali paintings, drooping like melting waxworks.
“You still have us.” Jon’s words barely broke the tension in the room.
She wanted to say—And you still have me. But for how long would that be true?
Her stomach clenched in tight knots, there was little hope of actually enjoying breakfast. But it would be cruel to refuse their offerings. Their kindness in making a good breakfast. She pulled her plate forward and sized up the fried egg, sausage, and toast as if they were enemies to conquer, rather than food to digest. Like a warrior, she nodded and set to battle.
With a great deal less drama, her children did much the same.
Once out in the garden, Marge found herself relaxing in the warm sun. The weeds had been kept in check, so there wasn’t much to do. But the border needed to be pulled back, especially around the potato hills. The cucumber vines had to be directed away from the tomatoes, or they’d break their fragile stems.
The padding of feet and huffing of breath made her sit on her haunches. She reached over to give Old Sheba a quick pat. She brushed against a pant leg and almost fell back in surprise.
A tall, lean, brown-haired boy stood aside, staring down at her. Sheba was indeed there, sitting next to him as if this stranger were a guest she planned to introduce. The boy didn’t say anything. Apparently, she was supposed to go first.
Marge stood and wiped her hands on her dusty jeans. “Hi, there.”
“Hi.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Mom said I could stop and see your garden. Ask you a question.”
Marge wasn’t surprised. She had learned long ago that everyone in these parts knew everyone else. She was an outsider. The ignorant one who’d be forever baffled by second cousins’ great-grandma, brother-in-law’s nephew, and various blended families with stepchildren.
“A question?” She wiped imaginary sweat from her forehead. “You can ask. Don’t know if I’ll have the answer, though.”
He adjusted his glasses with the back of his hand and waved at the garden spread. “How’d you learn to do all this?” He shrugged. “Mom said that gardening skill is something you’re born with. She wasn’t lucky that way.”
After the fact, Marge realized just how rude her snort must’ve sounded. People loved to say, “It just comes naturally.” Ha! No siree-bob. Nothing natural about it. The boy was tall but too skinny. Poor thing. What was Unlucky Mom feeding this kid? White bread and canned beans?
“Look.” She held out her hands. Thick fingers, broken nails, a few calluses, and enough wrinkles to send any lotion company into fits, advertised her imperfections. “These are the hands I was born with—but they never touched the dirt till I was a grown woman. I couldn’t keep a house plant alive.”
The boy—Slender, she’d call him—patted the dog at his side, not so much to comfort the animal, probably hoping to find a little support.
“But—” He glanced around at the glorious green bean vines, perfect little corn shoots, blossoming potato hills, budding zucchini plants, the whole luxurious garden breaking through the earth and soaking in the sun.
Marge shrugged. “In truth, my kids do most of the work.”
“How’d they learn?”
“I taught ‘em what mistakes I made so they wouldn’t make the same ones. They studied books. Tried a new crop each year. Failed some. Succeeded some. Got better over time.”
The slender child blinked, tilting his head as he stared at her. “But we need a garden this year.”
Marge knew that. It weighed on her mind. Like so many things. “Who’s your mom, honey?”
“Grandma Gale’s youngest, Rosie. Holloway. My dad lives the next state over. Mom’s staying with Grandma now. They’ve got the land, just not much energy. She thought maybe you could teach me. And I could…” He looked away. Dispirited.
The image of her daughter’s melting smile squeezed her heart till it broke into uncountable pieces.
Shame flooded Marge’s whole body. How could she be so selfish? It pounded over her like a torrent. Her sluggish attitude. Dragging herself to the fine breakfast her kids set before her. And her gifts. The ones she could offer. If she tried.
She pressed her hands to her chest. No hope of putting the pieces back together, she’d just have to let them melt in one fiery furnace and forge something new. Perhaps something stronger than a human heart.
She couldn’t promise to live tomorrow. She couldn’t fix all the problems that faced her…or the world…or her neighbors. But she had to admit; she did have one or two answers.
“Well, I’m not the gardening expert of the family. Jon is. Kelly raises the meat birds—if you care to see.” She pointed to the chicken coop fenced in with wobbly green netting rescued from an abandoned farm up the road. “They’re mighty tasty on a warm summer evening or during a fierce winter storm.”
He grinned up at her. “Can’t you do anything?”
Now her best snort bellowed. “Well, of course, I can! Why I make the best bread this side of the moon, child.”
He squinted. Testing her. Could she prove that?
In answer to the unspoken challenge, she dropped a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You just come inside, and I’ll give you a piece. With butter. Maybe I have a loaf I can let your mom try. If she’d be interested, I can send her the recipe.”
“She’s not very handy in the kitchen.”
“None of us are when we’re born. It takes time. To learn. Anything.”
“You think your son Jon might teach me about gardening?”
“Can’t imagine why not. He’s a reasonable fellow.”
“And I could learn about the meat birds, too?”
“If you’d like.” She nudged him along toward the house. “Come on in a moment. I’ll get you that piece of bread and scrounge up a son or daughter—and we’ll see what we can do.”
The boy trotted at her side, one hand patting the dog in joyful abandon. Old Sheba jumped about like a pup ready for the first romp she’d had in years. He stopped a moment, his face sobering. “Mom said I shouldn’t wear you out.”
“Son, I only wished you’d been there to roust me out of bed this morning.”
“You slept in late?”
“Almost slept my life away.” She pointed her face toward the kitchen. “Now, where’d I put that recipe book?”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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