Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"Cheers and Chores"

A blizzard had swept through the city overnight, dumping mounds of snow on everything from streets and sidewalks to telephone poles. Every home looked like a gingerbread house drowning in icing; every store window was frosted over with a shimmering crystal layer of white. Ashton woke up to the sunrise, late as it was this time of year. He threw back his blankets and lept out of bed like a jack-in-the-box, fully wound up and bursting with energy. He flung his curtains aside and whooped for joy at the sight of the snow. He pulled on his clothes and rushed down the stairs so he could get a closer look.

Ashton insisted on eating his breakfast on the front porch, out in the cold, just like the starling birds. His grandmother bundled him up in all his winter things, and sent him out with a shovel to clear a path to the table and chairs that were buried up to their armrests in a snow drift. Ashton dutifully cleared a path, removing the frozen barricade by dumping it, scoop by scoop, over the railing, and into the garden. No sense in sparing the flowers now, he thought. With any luck, we won’t see them again until Spring! When the path was cleared, Ashton came inside just long enough to trade his shovel in for cereal. Happily and carefully, the boy carried his bowl over to the table, brushed off his seat, and sat down for the meal. “Thank you for this oatmeal, and thank you for the snow,” he whispered. Eating warm things in a cold place is one of the loveliest sensations that winter has to offer. When he got to the bottommost dregs, Ashton flung a few spoonfuls over the front lawn and laughed as the starlings dove down from the rooftops to feast. Ashton’s grandparents did not as easily interpret the snow as an answer to prayer. Like many adults, a blizzard is a hassle to be reckoned with in their eyes, not a joy to be celebrated. Traffic delays and aching muscles were top of mind for them, not snowmen and skating rinks and hot cocoa with marshmallows.
Ashton readied himself for school. On his way out the door, he stood beside his grandfather who was looking out at their front steps with a weary expression on his face. He was holding the shovel in his hand, like a Christmas shepherd with his crook. He sighed, reluctantly.
Ashton stared at the snow and then back to the older man. “I can do it, Opa,” said Ashton, holding his hand out to take the responsibility and the shovel from his grandfather. “I’ve got time before school, and tons of energy! I cleared the deck already, see? Let me do it today.”
His grandfather smiled gratefully. “Thank you,” he said. “That would be quite a blessing.”
So Ashton shoveled a path from their front door to the sidewalk, then cleared the snow from the sidewalk in front of their house as well. The earth still held a bit of autumnal heat, so the snow was slushy and heavy where it lay nearest the ground. When the task was complete, Ashton traded the shovel for his backpack and headed off to school.
The snow continued to fall throughout the day. Ashton asked if he could eat his lunch by the big classroom windows, instead of at his desk, and his teacher had kindly indulged him. Though his grandparents’ house was around the corner from the school, Ashton could see that people in the neighbourhood had needed to clear their sidewalks more than once since he’d made it to school, and he suspected that the job might be waiting for him again when he got home at the end of the day.
And he was right. The snow was already creeping up past his ankles by the time he dropped his backpack inside the front door. He didn’t even announce his arrival before picking up the shovel and setting to work once again, clearing the walkway from the road to the house.
When he was finished their portion of the public sidewalk, Ashton looked over his handiwork with a sense of accomplishment and pride. Then he glanced over at the driveway next door and saw that not only was it buried by this new fall of snow, but they hadn’t yet cleared it from the overnight dump! Ashton knew in a moment what he was going to do. He’d seen his grandfather do it enough, and now it was his turn to serve their neighbours. He picked up the shovel and started to dig.
Ashton cleared the snow from their neighbourhood sidewalks and paths, moving around their street house by house, one scoop at a time. It was hard work! Ashton took a few breaks to go to the bathroom or to have a hot drink with his grandmother, but he didn't go inside for long until every house was cleared of snow and every muscle in his body jiggled with fatigue.
When his grandfather came home and discovered what Ashton had done, he couldn’t stop praising the boy! “I am so proud of you,” he said, beaming. “What a blessing you are.” Ashton smiled, blushing a little, and stared out the frosty window at the snow. He knew that more would come falling down this year, and when it did, he would be ready to bless them all over again.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Sound Waves and Heart Strings"

Kimora’s family owned a pawn shop in the east end of town. It was a busy place, with people and their possessions coming and going all the time. Very few things lingered longer than a month or two in their store, but Kimora’s favourite piece, a large antique radio, had become such an important part of her life that her parents said she could keep it.
The radio stood on the ground and was roughly the size of a suitcase.  It was made of dark wood by an American company back in the 1920’s. Kimora liked that she could listen to modern music through the old machine, and loved to think about the many generations of fingertips that had twisted the metal knobs, trying to catch hold of a frequency that would bring far-away sounds right into their home.

Tuning into a radio show was a tricky business, in those old days. It required a delicate touch and a patient ear to pick out just the right spot to stop turning the dial. It had taken a few weeks for Kimora to get the knack of listening through the static until she could clearly understand what the noises were saying or singing or playing, but as time past she mastered the art of tuning in. Kimora had a talent for tuning in other ways, too.  Whenever a guitar was brought into the pawn shop, it was her job to adjust the strings until each one played its proper note in tune. When a bicycle came in, she applied oil to its gears and scrubbed away the rust and grime, giving it a total tune-up. But the most important skill that Kimora spent her time developing was the ability to pay careful attention to conversation, until she could clearly understand what the other person was really trying to say. As with antique radios, sometimes you have to listen to a lot of static before you finally find a signal. Lyrissa came into the shop every Saturday afternoon with her dad. The girls didn’t go to the same school, but they were the same age and had formed a sort of friendship over the past few months. Lyrissa always went over to the book section first thing after arriving, and Kimora usually gave her a few minutes to look by herself before browsing the shelves by her side. When Lyrissa and her dad came through the door this week, though, Lyrissa walked straight over to the corner with the antique radio and curled up in one of the cushy wingback chairs. Kimora looked up from her comic book and watched her friend. Lyrissa was breathing through her nose, very slowly and deliberately, and keeping very still. Kimora focused her attention on the girl in the chair. She tuned out the clicking of the cash machine; she ignored the bell above the door that chimed every time someone entered or left; she disregarded the traffic outside, even when a siren raced past. All of those noises were nothing more than static. They sat like this for some time, in silence. When she thought the moment was right, Kimora spoke in a voice so gentle and soft that it was almost a whisper. “What’s wrong?” she asked. Lyrissa’s sad eyes looked over at Kimora. When she answered, her voice sounded distant and frail, as though the source of her words was far, far away. Lyrissa’s world was full of many troubling things that Saturday. Most of her sorrows couldn’t be solved by talking them out with a friend, but all of them were soothed by doing so. Kimora did not allow her thoughts to wander while Lyrissa shared her heart. She stayed tuned in, she listened. She understood. You may wonder about what else they said, sitting back in the pawn shop, surrounded by old things, but their conversation was a difficult, private affair, and they have trusted me to keep their secrets. Though most of us do not want our troubles broadcast to the world, it is so incredibly valuable to know that at least one person is listening -- that we’re not pouring our souls into the empty air -- that our tears are seen, our lamenting heard, our stories known. On Saturday afternoon, while their fathers talked about toys, trinkets, and treasures of all types, two girls sat off in a corner with heavier things on their hearts. They didn’t browse the bookshelves together that time, searching for escape into another person’s life, but by the end of their conversation they knew each other better, and both felt a little less alone.