The Carrying Year
For Maggie, the days of early summer were golden and plentiful. Birdsongs and insect hums filled the air and mingled with flowered scents that tickled her nose. She loved how the warm sun coaxed new smells and colors from the earth, and laughed as she wiggle her toes in the grass that was barefoot green and cut tangy-sweet.
Summer was also the time of the year when Mama and Papa would take her on a long drive to Canada where they would spend a month with her beloved Nanny and Grandpa on the lake. But they did not make the trip last summer for it was the falling year, the year that Mama left them to journey with the angels a few days before Maggie’s seventh birthday.
Just when she had given up hope of going to Canada for the second summer in a row, Papa surprised her. “So, Mags, would you like to drive up to Nanny and Grandpa’s this weekend?" She squealed in delight as she rushed into her father’s open arms for a warm hug.
Maggie spent the next few days gathering up everything she wanted to take to her grandparents’ house. She squirreled through her drawers and closets to retrieve her favorite shorts, jeans, t-shirts and sweaters...all of the things she wore that spoke of happy times with the people she loved. She made sure she had her silver-tone medallion with the words 'love, hope, faith and charity' inscribed. Although heavy, it was one of the many gifts Mama had given her. Maggie always found some comfort by carrying it in one of her pockets whenever she could.
On the morning of their departure, she helped her father pack up the green station wagon that would carry them over hundreds of miles. She was surprised at how much they had to take. Suitcases and smaller bags were filled with things snuggled in soft pockets that were snapped closed and zippered shut. There were spare pillows and blankets, and warm-up jackets for cooler weather. Papa brought out fishing poles, nets perched on long handles, and boxes with little cubbies holding hooks and shiny, metal lures of baby fish. The last item was a cooler filled with fresh apple juice and Maggie’s favorite sandwiches of chicken salad her father had made the night before.
By 7:00 am, they were packed up and on their way. It was a ten-hour drive, but Maggie knew better than to ask Papa, “How much longer?” He would always say, “Not too far Mags, just a few hours more.” She thought it was foolish to mark the day with hours. It took forever and ever for long hours to end, and there were always more waiting to take their place.
After driving for what she thought was a long time, Papa pulled into a gas station. He filled the tank, then drove around the side of the building to park between two restroom doors. When she finished using the ladies' room and returned to the car, her father said, “Now Margaret Anne, I want you to keep the car doors locked and the windows up. Beep the horn if anyone comes close and stay in the car. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
She nodded, and knew by Papa's gentle but firm ‘stay put’ voice that she was to follow his instructions. She was still nodding as she watched him disappear through the men's room door.
Moments later, a man wearing frayed and grimy clothes walked around the corner of the building toward the restrooms. He was dragging a shopping cart full of tattered bags, cans and blankets. Maggie wondered how long it took him to pack the cart each day before he began his journey. The man stopped, and with his back pressed against the wall, slid down into a sitting position as he drank from a bottle hidden beneath crinkled, brown paper. He was old, and she could see the lines cut deep in his sad, worn-out face of mottled whiskers and vacant eyes.
She quietly unlocked the car, ran over to the old man and scrunched down in front of him with her elbows perched on her knees. The man looked into her eyes and she looked into his. They talked for a couple of minutes before she scampered back to the car and snapped the door locks shut only seconds before Papa emerged through the restroom door.
When he started the car engine, Papa saw the man sitting against the wall. “Did he come near the car, Maggie?” he asked, his brows in a furrow.
“No,” she replied. “He didn’t move from that spot, Papa.”
Her father shook his head in sadness at the homeless wanderer as he backed the car out of the parking space.
The old man’s eyes followed the green station wagon as it traveled from the station lot and onto the road. He continued to stare after the driver and his little girl when they had long disappeared from view.
Sometime later, he stood up and threw the bag with the half-empty whiskey bottle into a trash bin. Fumbling through his pockets, he found what little change he had left. He spotted a nearby phone booth, and called his son who wept with love as he asked his father why he had decided to call after so many years. The old man turned the medallion he held in his fingers and read the words etched into the shiny surface. He cried as he told his son what the little girl had said to him when she slipped the silvery treasure into his hands…
“We carry it around with us until the day we learn to carry it in our hearts.”
Summer - The Final Season ('Only Time' -- Enya)
The Maggie & Papa Series
This is the fourth and final story from the Maggie and Papa series. There is one story for each season in this year of Maggie's life, which is the year she lost her mother. Each season seems like a year for little Maggie, as seasons are much longer in the passage of time for young children. Autumn is the first in this series; The Falling Year.
© Copyright 2010 by Genna East. All rights reserved.
More by this Author
It’s no secret that much of the US has struggled against the winter of 2015. This true short story reminds us that even in winter, flowers bloom.
An alternate ending to Frank Atanacio’s compelling Jenny Camacho thriller; Frank's writing challenge.