PENNIES FOR CANDLES by Jean Smidt, West Milford, New Jersey
When I was a child, during the Great Depression, my mother sent me to the store to buy candles because our electricity had been turned off. I gave the clerk in the store my pennies for the candles, and he sarcastically said, “Didn’t pay the electric bill?” I held my head up high and replied, “Of course we did, but we want to have dinner by candlelight tonight.” I still laugh when I recall our “candlelight” dinner and the look on the clerk’s face after my retort. We didn’t have much money, but we had pride.
FORGIVEN by Edna Peters, San José, California
“Mom, I’m having heart surgery tomorrow and know I’m not going to make it. I’m just calling to tell you goodbye and ask you to forgive me for all the heartache I’ve caused. I know I’ll have the smallest funeral ever because I don’t have any friends left. Please forgive me.” He died three days later in prison, loved and not forgotten by friends. A Facebook posting resulted in his funeral not being the smallest one ever, as he’d feared. His childhood friends, neighbors, and extended family members were there, and the chapel was full to the brim.
BABY IN THE BASKET by Katie O’Brien, Hoquiam, Washington
When I was about two, we visited Aunt Dorrie’s house. She had a large oval willow basket like the one my mama always used for laundry. Standing on tiptoe, I peeked into this basket, and there was a baby! I was breathless with astonishment. How could laundry turn into a baby? I never asked, but for years after that, I checked Mama’s basket frequently, in case hers had that same baby-producing capability. It didn’t seem to, but I always felt it might if I could catch it at just the right moment … And I still believe in magic.
FLOATING TO FREEDOM by Tuan Tran, Taunton, Massachusetts
The uncooked noodles were left on the porthole by someone who no longer wanted it. By the looks of it, no one else would want it, because it had become moldy. I didn’t care, I was hungry. Our riverboat had been on the South China Sea for days, battered by a typhoon, making its way to freedom, to the Malaysian shores. We were escaping Communism during a premature post–Vietnam War decade, seeking anything better—my parents told me we were “going to visit Grandma.” The noodles tasted bitter but gratifying. We made it to freedom two days later.
GRAND ADVENTURE by Jean Poeschl, Apple Valley, Minnesota
We met in 1966: two little girls. The adventures we’ve shared in our 48 years are exquisite. Buying the kitten, hiding her in Denise’s bedroom for a week. We weaved tall tales at the playground. Teen angst set in; we “ran away” from home, taking a Greyhound bus on a Friday night with a paper sack of clean underwear and Oreos. In 1978, a road trip to California, just two naive girls with a tin can of cash and my Plymouth Scamp. We’re moms now. Our children shake their heads as we laugh, giggle, and embarrass them. Grown-ups we’re not!
HOW TO HAVE YOUR BABY ON THE FLOOR by Heather Krizovski, La Vista, Nebraska
1) Have doctors who believe you’ve just got a bladder infection during your ninth month. 2) Scream at your husband to run to get doctor-prescribed bladder medication. 3) Start to panic when you realize a human is emerging from your body! 4) Have your mother-in-law scream that even though she has had five children of her own, she has never seen it from this angle! 5) Plead with your mother-in-law to catch the baby! 6) Close your eyes! 7) Welcome baby girl. 8) Have the best true story ever.
DAD’S SECRET SPOT by Lucia Paul, Plymouth, Minnesota
My dad was a gardener before it was cool. He would proudly tell people, “I can grow just about anything.” He could—except for my beloved lilacs. He tried everything, with no luck or lilacs to show for his efforts.
One night when I was a teen, it was raining in that way it does in Minnesota in April: violent and cleansing. I heard the creak of the side door, and he stood soaking wet, etched with scratches, holding an abundance of lilacs. “I found a secret lilac spot,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but I got them.”
That’s how he got everything.
THE DAY EVERYTHING CHANGED by George Rucker, Glenside, Pennsylvania
As an 11-year-old African-American boy growing up in Philadelphia, playing baseball outside was my passion. My neighborhood was mixed black and white, and no one cared how anyone looked. We just played together. One spring day—April 4, 1968, to be exact—my world changed. My mother ran outside and told me to get in the house. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed. As I sat on the floor and watched the fires, riots, and looting on the news, I knew I was different. My innocence was now forever lost.
CHECKMATE by Terry Wells, Surrey, British Columbia
My wife, Barb, and I love camping. We go many times a year, rain or shine, and we carry a huge, industrial tarp. On one such trip we were camping with our best friends, Rick and Jo-Ann. The weather that day was, to say the least, unstable. The tarp was up to cover the campground, but I pulled it back when the weather cleared. After a few hours, having pulled back the tarp twice, I finally sat in my camping chair.
“What are you doing?” Jo-Ann asked.
I replied, “I am playing chess with God, and it’s his move.”
BACK WHERE I BELONG by Lisa Mizzell, Cropwell, Alabama
It feels good to move back home after two years. It was the last place I saw him alive, the last place I kissed him goodbye, and the last place I would hear him say, “I love you, Baby—see ya tonight.” He died that day of a heart attack shortly after arriving at work.
Tonight the fireflies came out for the first time this summer. As I planted flowers, a grandpa and his granddaughter walked by on their way to fish at the lake. I guess life goes on with or without us. It’s good to be home.
EMBARRASSED BUT UNDAUNTED by Susan Cerbone, Newtown, Pennsylvania
At 21, I was proud to have moved by myself from Nebraska to New Jersey, but it took me several months to work up the courage to venture into New York City alone. The subway sign over a solitary doorway near my apartment building promised to deposit me in the Big Apple, and I finally got brave on a crisp Saturday morning. Heart pounding, I flung the subway door open, only to find a receptionist surrounded by shelves of beauty products. I had summoned all my courage to enter the strangely windowless Subway Hair Salon.
LOVE BOAT REUNION by Rick Bennette, Tequesta, Florida
The moment I met Denise aboard the Love Boat, I knew she was someone special. She became my first love, but we lived 90 miles apart. After the cruise, we maintained our love affair through handwritten letters. Eventually, geography took its toll. We went on to separate lives, yet I thought about her quite often. Thirty years later, we reunited in Grand Central Station. I hired a violinist to play our love song as we held each other for the first time in three decades. After wishing to be with her all those years apart, we finally married.
SWEETER WHEN SHARED by Lois Sims, Sun City, Arizona
On a beautiful summer day, I was volunteering at a Special Olympics event. I was assigned to help a 20-something-year-old man throughout the day. He held my hand as we walked around. When he wanted candy, we went up to the refreshment stand and bought a chocolate bar. He took the candy, broke it in two, handed me half, and said, “Lois, eat.” What a special moment to share with a stranger.