Sunday, March 1, 2009

Of Hamsters and Little Girls

When I was a little girl, we had numerous pets. There were dogs and cats galore – way too many for me to sit here and remember each and every one of them. I just know there had to have been sign up somewhere down on Main Street pointing the way to our house for all of the stray pets without a home. My mother could not turn an animal away – and we kids all knew it. I also brought my share of fish into the household. They would stay all nice and pretty and clean for a while, and then I would tire of cleaning the tank and begin to find homes for them. We gave away a number of fish, complete with fish tanks, to all of my unsuspecting friends who were clamoring for a pet – any pet. Their parents, poor souls, had no clue what they were in for when they adopted one of my little “families.” And once, I had a hamster.

Notice I said “once.” My cute little friend did not reside with us for very long. I begged Mom and Dad for him (or was it a her?), and being the animal lovers that they were, they relented. I, of course, would keep the cage clean and take good care of my little buddy. We had to take great precautions with this new houseguest, because he would be sharing our home with at least two indoor cats. I was being very careful, keeping the door to his cage closed at all times, making sure the door to my room was kept shut, and always being mindful of the whereabouts of the kitties. I was very proud that this little arrangement was working out. That is, until…Zeke.

Zeke came to live with us when my cousin Joe and his family stayed at our house while they were looking for a place of their own. They also brought with them Junior – a snippy little poodle that yipped and yapped and thought he owned the place from the minute he arrived. He kept the cats in hiding and caused our dog to be relegated to the outside. What nerve! Zeke, however, was one of those dogs you just couldn’t help but like. He was energetic and excited and he seemed genuinely happy to be there. Not like Junior, the pampered prince. No, Zeke had character, and I liked him. That is, until…the “incident.”

I don’t remember exactly how it happened. Obviously the door to the cage was not very Zeke-proof, because that peppy little dog made his way into my room, managed to knock the cage on the floor and proceeded to have himself a little hamster-snack. It wasn’t pretty. And that is why my encounter with hamsters happened only once – I didn’t need that experience again. That is, until…my daughter.

About eight years ago, when my oldest daughter was eight years old, it started. “Please, please, Mommy! Please can I have a hamster? I’ll take care of it I promise. Pullleeeeaasee!!!” She was relentless. But apparently the Zeke incident had left deeper scars on me than I realized, because I held firm. “No honey, I’m sorry,” I would begin, “I don’t want a rodent in the house.” Truthfully, the thing with Zeke didn’t really hold water in this case because we had no indoor pets to contend with. Truthfully I just knew that it would stink and that I would eventually be the one cleaning the cage. Too nasty! And so the story went for a few years until she got a little older and realized that Mom was really serious about this one and she just simply gave up. And that was the end of the hamster discussion. That is, until…Daughter #2.

Her hamster-obsession began at around age 7, three years ago. The conversations went much the same as the previous ones I had had with my oldest daughter. The only difference is that my youngest is much more aggressive and much less likely to turn loose of an idea she is partial to. She will “ding, ding, ding” at you until you wearily give in. But not even the constant whining and begging and pleading caused me to lose my resolve. I stood firm. There would be no rodent in my house! That is, until…Nibbles.

How lovely that her classroom has a hamster for a pet, I thought. Now she will get to be with him five days a week and that will satisfy her hamster craving. She would come home talking about Nibbles did this, and Nibbles did that, and I would smile and say, “that’s nice,” all the while secretly thinking, “I’m glad it’s there and not here!” Everything was going just great until about three weeks before spring break. That’s when it started again. The begging, the pleading, the whining. “Mommy, since we’re not going anywhere for spring break, can we keep Nibbles while school is out?” Of course, years of conditioning had prepared me for just such a moment. After yet another round of “no, no, no,” some sort of alien being overtook my body and I (incredulously) heard myself saying, “yes, but just for spring break.” I guess the reality of what I’d just agreed to suddenly sank in, because I quickly added “but you will take care of him and clean his cage and I won’t mess with him at all.” And with every ounce of glee a 10-year old girl can exhibit without physically exploding, my daughter leaped around the room shrieking, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You’re the best Mommy ever!!!” Naturally, that made me feel exceptionally pleased with myself that I had decided to allow Nibbles to visit our home while school was closed. And I felt sure that this “hands on” with Mr. Hamster and all of the responsibility it entailed would surely squelch the desire for our house to become “rodent central.” I was fully in charge of this situation! That is, until…Pebbles.

Nibbles’ stay at our house was surprisingly pleasant and without incident. My daughter did a terrific job of taking care of him – so much so that I decided she deserved to have a hamster of her own when Nibbles went back to school. Was I crazy? Maybe. But she was overjoyed when she learned that we would be making a trip to Pet Smart to pick out our own little darling (I no longer allowed the word “rodent” to be used in describing the hamster.) We all made the 35 minute trip to the pet store and finally chose a cute little black and white m hamster (“panda bear” in hamster-ease) and bought all the necessary (and some unnecessary) accessories. He made the trip home in the pet store cardboard box (a whole story in itself - if you ever bring home a hamster from the pet store – be sure you are making a very short trip or be prepared to search for it in your vehicle after it chews its way out), and Pebbles quickly has become a member of the family. Amazing how much the little bugger has grown on me – even though I’m the only one he doesn’t trust. I guess he senses my previous lack of hamster-love and isn’t quite sure his position in the family is secured.

There has been some fallout from the latest addition to our family. My oldest daughter has not let me forget the number of times she asked (begged) for a hamster and has steadfastly refused to show any interest or affection for Pebbles. Imagine that! How could anyone not love the little guy?

I’ve learned a few lessons throughout this lengthy hamster saga. First, cats aren’t always the biggest danger to an unsuspecting hamster – never underestimate the power of a crafty little dog. Secondly, little girls never give up where rodents hamsters are concerned. Moms (and Dads) will eventually give in if you just beg long enough. And when that doesn’t work, just borrow a hamster to clinch the deal. I also learned that hamsters love to run on their wheel at night at precisely the moment the family decides to go to bed, and that they love carrots. I’ve learned that they will bite your finger if you stick it into the cage – and it hurts. Actually, this lesson was learned as I observed my husband’s reaction to Nibbles and Pebbles as they both took a chunk out of his finger (you’d think he might have learned after the first bite.) I’ve also learned that male hamsters become distinctively “male” at around two months of age – and that’s a whole ‘nother story as well.

And finally I’ve learned that no matter how much you think you know about anything, chances are your children have a few lessons to teach you when you least suspect it.

Praise the Lord for hamsters everywhere. And for the little girls who love them.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Little Bit of Love

Donna fought back hot tears as she sat quietly in the back pew, trying to appear invisible. Big, fat droplets of moisture rolled down her cheeks, the drizzle threatening to become a downpour. “Stop it,” Donna admonished herself silently as she discreetly wiped each cheek with the back of her hand. “This is not going to happen here. Or now.”

Pastor Johnson had been speaking for a short time, but to Donna it seemed like hours. She knew this was where she needed be at a time like this, but still she didn’t want to answer the questions she knew the others wanted to ask. She didn’t feel like putting on a happy face. She hoped to slip out quietly just as soon as the choir began to sing the final hymn.

Donna’s eyes drifted toward the familiar spot just a few rows ahead to her left. Their spot. The place where she and Teddy had sat almost every Sunday for the past 22 years, surrounded by the people who had been like their second family. With both of them living so far away from their own natural families, this congregation had filled the gap and lovingly drawn them into the community. They truly had become family.

“Oh, God,” Donna closed her eyes and silently prayed, “Please help me understand why this happened. Help me to climb this overwhelming mountain of grief and uncertainty. God, help me understand how I could have been so blind to Teddy’s struggles. Help me forgive myself for not seeing the depth of his pain, and help me forgive Teddy for choosing to leave this world instead of reaching out for help. Oh Lord, I need to feel Your love and know that I will survive the destruction that is my life right now.”

As she prayed, Donna hadn’t noticed that someone had slipped into the pew beside her. She became aware of Pastor Johnson’s familiar “winding down” at the end of his sermon and slowly opened her eyes. It was then that she saw little Becky Thompson sitting beside her, looking up at Donna with innocent blue eyes. Donna tried to muster up a smile, but found her eyes brimming with tears again.

Becky leaned in toward Donna, whispering in her quietest five year old voice, “What’s wrong, Miss Donna?”

“I’m just a little sad, Becky.” Donna whispered back, fighting the tears, “You know my husband Mr. Teddy passed away last week.”

Becky nodded, “My momma told me, Miss Donna. She said Mr. Teddy was sick and went home to be with Jesus.”

“That’s right, Becky,” Donna told her, “and I’m just missing him a little bit right now.”

“Miss Donna, can I tell you a secret?” Becky whispered.

“Sure, Becky, I’d love to hear your secret.”

“When my daddy died last year, I was really sad. I missed him a lot and I felt like my tummy had a big hole in it. My momma told me that it was okay to miss my daddy, but that he wouldn’t want me to go around with that big hole in my tummy.”

Donna smiled at Becky, “What else did your momma say?”

“She told me that there was only one thing that would fill that hole, but it was up to me if I wanted to let it get filled.”

“What was that one thing, Becky?”

“It was love, Miss Donna. Momma said there were angels right here on earth that could help me fill that hole that was left when my daddy died. I just had to let them in.”

Donna felt her eyes filling with fresh tears as she put her arm around Becky.

“There’s one of the angels, Miss Donna,” Becky said, pointing to Mrs. Davis, a sweet little gray-haired lady who had been one of the first to welcome Donna and Teddy over 20 years ago. “There’s another,” she went on, nodding toward Bert Jones, the choir director.

Donna couldn’t speak. She just sat in the pew with Becky, in awe of the magnificent way in which God had had answered her prayer.

Becky began again, “You know, Miss Donna, you can get that hole in your tummy filled too. All you have to do is know where to look for the angels.”

Donna smiled through her tears and pulled Becky tightly to her side, “I know just where to look, Becky. I know just where to look.”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hope Fulfilled

Hope stood motionless at the door, her hand frozen on the knob. Her biggest enemy was waiting for her on the other side and she really didn’t want to face it right now.

“If only I could postpone it for a little bit,” she thought. “If only I could just pretend the last two days hadn’t happened. If only I could have stuck to the plan I wouldn’t be such a failure.”

Failure. Such a familiar word in Hope’s mind. In her thirty-five years she had rarely visualized herself as anything but a failure. As a child it had seemed she could do nothing to please her father, yet she continued to strive to make him proud. It didn’t matter how many awards she won for her academics, her father had only seemed to notice the things in which his only child couldn’t excel.

Growing up, Hope quickly learned that Daddy expected her to have the same love of sports that he did. He began to take her to ball games when she was just a preschooler. Hope remembered that he got upset with her when she had gotten bored and wanted to leave before the game was over. She realized that it pleased Daddy when she enjoyed the game, so she became very good at pretending.

Hope tried really hard to become a good athlete, but she simply wasn’t good at sports. By the time she had entered junior high, Hope had given up trying to please her father through athletics and began to focus on her studies. “If I can’t be a good athlete,” she had reasoned, “then I’ll be a straight-A student. Then I know he’ll be proud of me.”

True to her word, Hope excelled in academics. By the time she was a freshman in high school, she was at the top of her class. As a senior, Hope was awarded a four-year scholarship to several prestigious universities. But Hope’s passion was art, so she turned down the lucrative offers to accept a lesser scholarship and pursue her dream of becoming an artist.

Hope’s father was quick to remind her that she was making the biggest mistake of her life and that she would live to regret chasing a dream that would lead to a dead end job. So Hope entered art school with Daddy’s failure label already in place. Although she eventually graduated, she never fulfilled her dream of becoming an artist. Instead Hope found a job at a local bank and spent her days wishing her life had turned out differently.

Hope had learned that she wouldn’t ever meet her father’s expectations, and long after his death she was still labeling herself a failure. In love, in money, in looks, and most of all in her weight.

She had struggled with an addiction to food for as long as she could remember. The bobbing scale had never been her friend and Hope had been bingeing and purging for as long as she could remember. Oh, there had been periods of stability through the years, but for the most part she had been in bondage for over twenty years.

And now. Here she stood on the other side of the bathroom door delaying the inevitable - facing the aftermath of the storm of food Hope had gorged herself on over the past two days. She knew when she stepped on that scale the waves of guilt, shame and failure would wash over her like a tidal wave. She knew that when that happened she would be compelled to find a release for that pain. Hope began to turn the knob, but stopped when she “heard” something in her head.

“Hope,” the voice said, “don’t go in there.”

Hope thought she must be losing her mind.

“Hope,” she heard the voice say, “Measuring your worth by that bathroom scale won’t change who you are. And it won’t change how I feel about you. I love you Hope.”

Something deep within her stirred and she had a vague sense of connection with this voice. It had to be God. But why was He talking to her? And why now? Hope couldn’t explain the overwhelming sense of longing she felt at that moment, but she knew only one thing. She wasn’t sure how to find Him, but she knew He loved her and she knew somehow He had found her.

As Hope turned away from the door, she knew her Father’s dream had been fulfilled.

Rory's Purpose

Rory rolled over onto his back and stared up into the sky. It was a beautiful summer day and the fluffy white clouds tumbling across the brilliant blue sky were simply mesmerizing to him. The sun was warm on Rory’s tummy and all was good within his world.

Rory’s peaceful respite was interrupted as his brothers and sisters came tearing down the hill. Mama was right behind them, trying to keep up. Rory scrambled to his feet to avoid being plummeted by the thirty-two feet that belonged to his 3 brothers and 5 sisters, his belly narrowly escaping Toby’s fat front paw.

“Slow down children!” Mama yelled from behind. “Y’all just about ran over your brother. What’s the hurry?”

“It’s time for lunch, Mama,” Sadie answered her mother, “and Mr. Sam will be putting the food out soon.”

“All right,” Mama said, “you young ‘uns run on down to the shed and wait for Mr. Sam. I need to talk to Rory alone. We’ll be along in a bit.”

As his brothers and sisters hurried off to the shed, Rory looked up at Mama, puzzled. “I’m hungry,” Rory said. “Why can’t I go – am I in trouble?”

Mama laughed gently, “No, Rory. I just need to talk to you about something very important. Tomorrow is going to be a big day for you.” Mama’s face was suddenly very serious. She looked sad.

“What’s wrong, Mama?”

“Rory, tomorrow you will be starting a brand new life. It will be exciting and fun, but it will be a lot of hard work,” Mama said tenderly.

“What about Sadie and Toby and the others? Do they have to start a new life that’s a lot of hard work too?” Rory jumped in, indignant that he might be the only one doing any work.

“Let me explain, Rory,” Mama went on. “Tomorrow, a lady named Miss Ellen is going to be coming to take you to your new home.”

“No, Mama!” Rory interrupted. “I don’t want to go to a new home. I want to stay here with you!”

“Just listen, Rory,” Mama said softly. “You have an important job to do and I need for you to be a brave pup and try to understand what I’m going to tell you. Look around you, Rory. What do you see?”

Rory glanced around the yard. “I see trees, grass and the lake. I see you, Mama.” Rory’s eyes suddenly filled with tears. “I don’t want to leave you Mama.”

“I know, Rory. But you were born with a very important purpose. One that only a smart, brave pup such as yourself can fulfill. I asked you to look around you for a reason, Rory, because what you see is going to be very important in your new job.”

“What will I be doing?” Rory asked.

“Miss Ellen will be taking you to a special school where you will learn how to do your important job,” Mama told him.

Rory was puzzled. “Why do they need me?”

“Remember when you were laying here on your back before your brothers and sisters nearly pounded you?” Mama asked, laughing gently. “What were you doing before the commotion started?”

“I was looking up at the blue sky and watching the clouds float by. It’s pretty, Mama.”

“Yes it is, Rory. But did you know that there are people who can’t see the sky, the clouds, or even their own Mama?”

“Oh, no!” Rory exclaimed, “That would be just awful!”

“And not only can they not see the beautiful things that God created, it's dangerous for them when they go out because they could be hurt. They need help crossing the street, going to the park and going to school or work.”

“That’s scary! But I still don’t understand what this has to do with me. I still want to stay with you Mama. You need me!”

“That’s true, son. But there’s a little girl named Kellie who needs you more than I do. She needs my brave son Rory to be her eyes so that she can be safe and grow up to be a fine young woman. I need you to trust me Rory – it will be a wonderful life for you, and Kellie will love you just as much as I do.”

“I trust you Mama,” Rory said bravely. “And I will be the best eyes for Kellie. I will keep her safe, and I will make you proud.”

Not The End

Mary slowly made her way down the long hallway, stopping once to catch her breath. It seemed to her as if each time she walked this familiar path it became longer and longer with every trip. Today Mary almost felt like one of those slow-motion cartoon characters her grandson Sam watched on television. She sighed and took a step forward, willing her legs to finish the length of the hallway. Stopping in front of Room 114, Mary reached for the handle when a voice behind her caused her to pause.

“Mrs. Wedding?”

Before she turned around, Mary recognized the voice of Lori, her husband’s nurse. She turned to see the young lady briskly walking toward her with a concerned look on her face.

“Mrs. Wedding, I wonder if we could talk before you visit with your husband today,” Lori said as she reached for Mary’s hand, “there’s something you need to know.”

Fearing the worst but resolving not to jump to any conclusions, Mary simply nodded as Lori led her into the cheerful, sunny room at the end of the hall.

“You know,” Mary said softly as she glanced around the familiar room, “this was always Ed’s favorite place to be when he first came to live here. His mind was still so sharp back then and oh my goodness, what a quick wit he had!”

“That’s what I’ve heard,” said Lori, “I wasn’t here four years ago when your husband moved in, but the other nurses have told me what a brilliant man he was and how loveable and funny he was. I only wish…”

“I know,” Mary said, “I wish you had known him then too. Before that thief came to steal the wonderful man I married. Sometimes I find myself wondering when the pain will ever end and Ed will have the peace he deserves.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Mrs. Wedding,” Lori said softly, “the end.” She went on, “The nurses tell me that it’s been over a year since Mr. Wedding has had any moments of lucidity. Is that true?”

“Yes, that’s about right.” Mary answered.

“That’s what I thought,” Lori continued,” that’s why what I have to tell you is so amazing. Yesterday after you left, I went in to Mr. Wedding’s room to check on him. He was staring out the window as usual. Suddenly he turned toward me, looked me straight in the eyes and spoke to me.”

“He spoke?” Mary asked, incredulously.

“Oh yes, he said to me, ‘young lady, this life is not the end.’” Lori went on, “I was so amazed that he had spoken that I simply stood there staring at him with my mouth gaping open.”

“Please, tell me everything he said,” Mary said excitedly.

“There’s not much more. Mr. Wedding went on to say that God had spoken to him in a dream and that a woman was coming to see him who needed to hear that message. I’ll tell you, Mrs. Wedding, I have no doubt in my mind that your husband was given that message for me at a time I desperately needed to hear it. Recently I had been getting involved with some things that I knew I really shouldn’t, but I just got caught up before I could stop myself. I had even begun to question God’s existence.”

Mary sat speechless, tears welling up in her eyes. “Go on, dear.”

“I told Mr. Wedding that God had used him to deliver that message of hope to a girl who was quickly becoming hopeless. Then he said one last thing to me.”

“What was that?”

“He said, “Lori, Jesus has not forgotten your commitment to Him and He wants to renew your relationship. He loves you so very much.”

“What happened next?” asked Mary.

“That’s when Mr. Wedding turned back toward the window with that same look in his eyes. I tried to get him to respond, and several of the other nurses have tried since then, but it’s almost as if it never really happened. But I know it happened. I know your Ed was sent to bring me back to my one true love, Jesus. I just thought you should know.”

By then the tears were flowing down Mary’s cheeks. Although she had much more she wanted to talk about with Lori, she couldn’t wait to visit with the man she loved with all her heart.

Swinging High

“Wheeeee! Higher, Mommy, higher!” Missy had squealed with glee as she sailed through the brilliant blue sky, pigtails flying behind her like two golden streamers. Her face had been filled with the exquisite joy that can only be found illuminating the appearance of a 3-year old enjoying her two favorite activities – swinging in the park and spending time with Mommy.

It had been a picture-perfect day – the kind of day that a person wants to capture in a bottle and save forever. It was the kind of day that retains all of the sights and sounds and smells of each moment even after 14 years have come and quickly gone. That day had been the kind of day that finds itself as the backdrop of a beautiful page in a mother’s scrapbook dedicated to the life of her firstborn daughter – her little girl.

As Shannon peered down onto the page of that precious day in Missy’s third year of life, she suddenly found herself longing for that instant in time when she was still the very center of her daughter’s universe. That little girl’s sparkling green eyes gazed back intently through the snapshot that had forever captured in time the bond that these days weren’t visible in a teenager’s all-knowing glance – better known as “the eye roll.”

“Where are you going, Missy?”

“Out,” came Missy’s usual reply.

Patiently, Shannon continued, “Out, where?”

“Good grief, Mom,” Missy exclaimed as she shot her mother a look that was intended to wound her, “I’m going to grab a bite with Jenna and then we’re going to hang out with some friends. Do you have to know everything about every single moment of my life? And while we’re at it, why can’t you call me Melissa the way I’ve asked you to? Is that too much to ask?”

The hurtful words and cutting look had their intended effect. Shannon sighed deeply and addressed the stranger in front of her, simply stating, “ No, Melissa, I guess that isn’t too much to ask. Please be careful and be home by curfew.”

And with that Missy was gone. Gone into the world of teenage girls and boys who know everything there is to know about everything. This was a world where parents ceased to exist and, for teens, that made life all the more desirable.

Shannon picked up the scrapbook on her lap and moved into the kitchen, blinking back the fresh tears that threatened to erupt. Sitting down at the table where so many of their special conversations had taken place, she began to reflect on the time that had passed between that splendid day in June and this lonely day in February some 14 years later.

“When did I lose her?” Shannon wondered, “When did my little girl go from happily being Mommy’s shadow to this unfamiliar individual simply tolerating the woman who gave birth to her? At what point did I lose control?”

At that moment, Shannon felt a deep stirring within her to open her devotional Bible which was lying on the table. She tried to dismiss the sensation but the more she resisted, the stronger the need became and she realized that it was the Holy Spirit nudging her to seek the answers to her questions from the only One who could answer them.

“Okay, Lord, I’m listening,” Shannon said out loud as she reached for her Bible, “help me understand what I did wrong with my little girl. How can I get her back? What can I do to bring her back to me…and to You?”

The house was remarkably quiet. Shannon closed her eyes and listened for the answers, trusting that God had heard her plea and would show her the way. Time seemed to stand still as she waited upon His voice, waited upon Divine guidance. As an unexplainable feeling of peace enveloped her, Shannon slowly opened her eyes and turned in her Bible to the promise that God has for each one of His children:

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV)

Smiling, Shannon looked down into the green-eyed girl’s eyes once more and claimed that truth for her daughter. She relinquished her control to the One who had Missy’s future in His hands.

Letting go felt good. It felt like swinging high on a perfect summer day.

Pick A Lock

Cathie gingerly stroked the samples laid out in front of her at the specialty shop. “So many different shades to choose from.” she thought. “Who could have imagined that it would be such a difficult decision?”

She picked up the sample marked “Tawny Sunset” and laid it in the palm of her hand. It was a beautiful shade of golden-brown and was aptly named. Cathie closed her eyes and imagined herself standing at the edge of the ocean with the surf gently tickling her bare feet. Just dipping below the horizon was a beautiful sphere of golden delight, with tendrils of honey-colored shafts reaching out in every direction. Her heart swelled within as she imagined the beauty of God saying goodnight to His creations through the wonder of the sunset.

Sighing, Cathie chose another sample. This piece bore the name “Midnight Majesty.” This color brought to mind the camping trip she and Jeff had taken with the children long ago. It had been an impromptu getaway, but it had been one of the most enjoyable vacations they had ever taken together as a family. One night after the kids were asleep, Cathie and Jeff had lain on their backs gazing up into the jet-black sky dotted with twinkling stars. The view had reminded Cathie of a jeweler’s swatch of black velvet stretched across the sky, scattered with precious diamonds. Cathie and Jeff had talked for hours, and it was one of those golden moments in a marriage that is truly unforgettable.

She picked up the next silky piece, a deep red sample called “Crimson Splash.” This color reminded Cathie of the dress her youngest daughter Beth had worn six years ago to her senior prom. Cathie closed her eyes, caressing the sample between her fingers, remembering the bittersweet emotions that had come with that special day. Beth had looked so beautiful. Even now, six years later, the memory brought tears to Cathie’s eyes.

“Have you decided on the color, dear?” a soft voice came from behind her, bringing Cathie back into the present.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Cathie turned to face Irene, the owner of the shop. “Not really. There are so many choices. I didn’t realize it would be such big decision. It seems silly, really….” Cathie’s voice trailed off as she felt fresh tears beginning to form.

“It’s not silly at all,” Irene said, patting Cathie’s hand. “I remember when my own daughter came in to pick one out. She sat here for the longest time, picking up a sample and holding it in her hands, just the way you have today. I was thinking that you remind me so much of her.”

“Did she, um, is she…” Cathie stammered, trying not to ask the obvious question.

“No, dear, Julia isn’t with us anymore. She passed away five years ago.”

“I’m so sorry,” Cathie said. “I didn’t mean to bring up something so personal. It’s just that…”

“It’s okay.” Irene went on, “I like to talk about Julia. She was the light of my life and I still miss her every day. But talking about her doesn’t make me feel sad, it makes me feel close to her.”

“Do you mind if I ask another personal question?” Cathie asked.

“I don’t mind a bit.”

“Which color did Julia finally choose?”

Irene began to sort through the samples on the table. She had a puzzled look on her face at first, as if she couldn’t remember the exact color. Suddenly she selected a beautiful sample in the most melodic shade of brown and put it into Cathie’s hand.

“This is it,” Irene said gently, “this one called “Vibrant Chestnut.” Julia told me she finally decided on that color because it reminded her of the pony she used to have when she was ten. Julia said, ‘Momma, if God saw fit to give Dolly this color, then it’s good enough for me.’ And I must say that it really was the perfect color for Julia.”

Cathie looked down at the small, silky lock of hair lying in the palm of her hand. She ran her other hand through her own hair and felt the tears welling up as she considered the loss of her own locks. But the chemotherapy would be beginning soon and she knew she needed to make a decision.

"I think I'd like mine to be "Vibrant Chestnut" as well," Cathie said softly, "in honor of Julia."