Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sometimes you win

In the autumn of 1985, I was a freshman in high school and my younger brother, J, had just started kindergarten. To say it hadn't been a good year for our family would be an understatement; I've had other bad years since then, but that was my first glimpse at just how wrong things could go, and how quickly.

Now it was Halloween, and J and I both wanted to carve a jack o'lantern, the way we'd been used to doing in previous years, but our mother said, regretfully, that she didn't have any extra money to spend on a pumpkin. J was crushed as only a five-year-old can be, and I wasn't too happy myself. But I was also a stubborn kid who didn't like to be beaten at anything, and I wasn't planning to give up yet.

"Don't worry," I told J. "I'm going to fix this."

I dug through my pockets and my school bag and scraped together all the change I could find, and then I took J by his sticky little hand and marched him to the supermarket down the street. There, I read the price on every kind of squash in the produce department and weighed them until I found one I could afford--it was a yellow spaghetti squash about the size of a Nerf football, with a nice flat bottom so it could stand up--and I paid seventy-nine cents for it and walked J home again. Standing in our dingy kitchenette, I cut that spaghetti squash open, and I scraped out the seeds and pulp, and I used the point of a steak knife to carve a miniature face with triangle eyes and nose and a gap-toothed mouth, just like a jack o'lantern. Then I stuck a single skinny birthday candle inside and lit it with a match, and I said to my brother, who had been watching the whole process with ever-increasing delight, "Here you go. It's a squashkin."

In the quarter-century since then, I've carved many real jack o' lanterns, and I'm sure J has too. As adults, we don't talk much or see each other often--it's been more than five years since the last time--and I don't know if he even remembers the squashkin. But I do. I remember it, and sometimes when everything is rotten and I feel as if I can't do anything right, I think about it and smile. It may have been a tiny win, but that day I won at life.

7 comments:

jillian said...

I've really admired your perspective and writing for a long time. Today is not the first day you made me cry, nor is this my first comment. Maybe it's because I'm pregnant, but today I feel inspired to thank you for your words and insight and sentiment (without sentimentality).

Steve Finnell said...

you are invited to follow my blog

Capricorn Girl said...

I loved that story, and that you showed so much perseverance at such a young age. Thank you so much for sharing it...it made my day!

Mel R said...

That is the best blog post I've seen in a long time. I don't often get emotional while reading blogs.

jane smith said...
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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi there. I was wondering if you could take a moment of your time to take a look at this blog:

http://project-helpme.blogspot.com

Please share it, so it may find someone who can help this girl out (if not you). Maybe someone can help her accomplish her dream. Help by passing it on. Please make a mention of this either here or on FB. It would only take a moment of your time.

Bless and thank you.