For my brother, my sister, and me, Guitar Hero was a competition of who could score the most points on the hardest level. Mom, on the other hand, would play the ten-minute “Freebird” on the easiest level while we kids prepared for our next showdown. When Mom restarted the song after missing a note, we all shouted our disapproval. “Rock stars do what they want,” she said, and we laughed because we agreed: Mom was a rock star. That’s why, later, her funeral felt more like the last stop on a farewell tour, with “Freebird” as the perfect send-off.
THE LITTLE THINGS
by Anum Wasim, Karachi, Pakistan
When I was in first grade, my father lovingly brought home a colorful schoolbag for me. I shouldered the new empty bag like a prized possession for an hour; then I heard a barely audible clunk from within it. I sifted through every pocket until I found a little clown man and a red fish. Even though today my tiny red fish can’t swim in water anymore and the clown can’t move in funny circles anymore, I can still feel the ultimate joy of those unexpected little toys.
A CUT ABOVE THE REST
by Ken McBride, Chesterfield, Missouri
The Vietcong lobbed mortars into our base camp. My friend and I were asleep when a shell hit close by. He had a tattoo on his left arm, a bulldog with the letters U.S.M.C. underneath. We were both wounded and evacuated, and I did not see him again until months later when we encountered each other at Great Lakes Naval Hospital. I noticed his Marine Corps tattoo was completely gone. He said the mortar shell had sliced it off with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. There you have it: free tattoo removal courtesy of the Vietcong.
MIND THE WEB
by Jerrold Schwartz, Pompano Beach, Florida
One morning, I walked down the path to my car and right into a huge spiderweb that had appeared overnight. I felt foolish for not having seen it, rid myself of the web tendrils, and went on my way. The next morning, the very same scenario occurred, and I felt even more foolish. On the third day, I was careful to look for the web—the spider had rewoven it, but this time off the path in the bushes. How humbling to realize that the spider and I had learned the exact same lesson in the same amount of time.
by Belinda Nicoll, Westerville, Ohio
Geriatric intensive care unit—heart failure. I watch my mother’s labored breathing as she holds on, mouth grim, trapped in a lifetime of memories. I wait, knowing the cycle is near completion. “Go in peace,” I say. In another hospital ward, a new phase of my life awaits. Neonatal intensive care unit—meconium aspiration. I welcome the sight of the mechanical ventilator, knowing it’s easing the newborn’s distress. Soon, my granddaughter’s bad start will be a mere memory. “Welcome, little Olivia,” I whisper.
The little Cessna had just cleared the pattern in its climb to 1,500 feet when my father said, “OK, we can land now.” With my newly minted private pilot’s license in hand, I had wanted him to be my first non-instructor passenger. I’d planned to circle the Michigan State University campus and come back to the university‑owned airport. I reminded him of this, and I’ll never forget what Dad said, more than 40 years ago: “I’m not fond of small planes. I just wanted you to know that I have confidence in you.”
by Bill Coulson, Logan, Utah
My wife, Loretta, who had terminal pancreatic cancer, received a package containing a beautiful white ceramic swan. It had cost $100, and our bills were multiplying rapidly. “How could you do this?” I burst out. “I ordered it a long time ago. I really wanted it,” she replied tearfully. “It’s all right,” I said, ashamed. “I love you, Bill, and I don’t want to die,” she said. “I love you too,” I said. The darkness of my scolding turned into a bright moment of mutual love. Twenty-five years later, the swan remains. That moment is etched upon my heart.
by Judith Spargur, Cody, Wyoming
They were the best cookies I’d ever baked, the ingredients more expensive than a state dinner’s, a mix of my son’s favorite recipes. I wrapped each cookie in plastic, sealed the box, affixed the customs declaration form, and presented the parcel to the postal clerk. Destination: Afghanistan. She pointed to an uncompleted section of the form. “If non-deliverable: Abandon; Return; Redirect.” If non-deliverable—an incomprehensible phrase. I stood stone-faced. “My son’s in the military,” she said quietly. “You can check Redirect, then write Chaplain to redistribute at his discretion.” Our mother‑eyes met. I nodded. Thank you.
ROSES FOR CHARLOTTE
by Laurie Whitman, La Grange Park, Illinois
When I came home after the birth of my granddaughter, I found a tattered copy of Charlotte’s Web on my kitchen counter, along with a rosebush in a gallon jug, cookies, and a card—gifts from my neighbors. I was puzzled until I read the note: “Thought you might want this back.” I had given them the book years ago, when their kids were young. The inside cover had my daughter’s name written in her fourth-grade cursive. My granddaughter’s name is Charlotte. And the rosebush is thriving.