My best friend Lauren and I were hug collectors. Anytime somebody hugged one of us, we made a 'hug entry' in our special matching notebooks. So far Lauren had more hugs than me. Last night I stayed up late trying to think of ways to catch up to her. One of my ideas was going door to door asking for hugs. Another was standing on the street corner singing for hugs. The last one was putting an ad in the paper: Ten year old girl seeks hugs as a hobby. When I realized none of those were good ideas, I went to sleep. I hoped a good idea would come to me in a dream. But it didn't.
The next day after school I could feel the snow crunching underneath my boots as I walked the three blocks from school to my grandma's house. When I got there, Grams gave me a hug and said, "You look like you could use a cup of hot chocolate."
I nodded. I loved hot chocolate, especially the way Grams made it. She heated the milk in a small pot on the stove, then stirred in the special chocolate mixture she made-up herself. While Grams was making the hot chocolate, I made the 'hug entry' in my notebook.
Then, I rested my chin on the palm of my hand thinking of ways to collect more hugs.
“Are you all right, Ashley?” Grams asked me.
I sighed. "I have a big problem."
“Why don’t you tell me about it,” Grams suggested, setting down a cup of hot chocolate in front of me and plopped two big marshmallows on top.
I thought about it. Maybe Grams could help me. She was full of all sorts of knowledge and wisdom. Like last year, when I was having trouble memorizing my multiplication tables, she taught me a song to help me remember the numbers. Whenever I got sick, she made a batch of her homemade chicken soup with dumplings. After I ate some, I would be cured in no time! She even helped me get over my fear of the dark by teaching me a special prayer, asking God to light up my room with His love. Of course that was a long time ago, but sometimes I still say the prayer after waking up from a bad dream. Grams' was definitely the right person to ask when I needed advice. I decided to tell her about my problem.
"You know that Lauren and I are hug collectors?" I asked.
"Yes, I do." Grams smiled. "I think that's a wonderful hobby."
"Well, the problem is, Lauren has more hugs than I do," I explained.
"I see, so this is contest. The two of you made a bet to see who could collect the most hugs. The one who collects the least buys the winner an ice cream cone or maybe a hot chocolate?" Grams asked.
I shook my head. "Well, no, not exactly."
Grams nodded as she held her cup of hot chocolate with both hands. "I didn’t think so. You’re the one who’s turning this into a competition?"
"What’s wrong with that?" I asked. “What’s wrong with trying to be the best?”
“There’s nothing wrong with doing your best and being the best Ashley you can be,” Grams explained.
“What's the point of doing something if I don't win?” I asked.
“Tell me," said Grams. “What do you win if you collect more hugs than Lauren?”
I didn’t answer, so Grams continued.
“Do you get bragging rights? A feeling that you’ve crushed Lauren?” she asked.
I was silent for a minute. Grams knew me so well, maybe even better than I knew myself sometimes. “Maybe that is what I win, but what’s wrong with that? I want everybody to know that I’m a winner.”
“Ashley, you are a winner! You don’t have to turn everything into a competition to prove it.” Grams said. “I think you’re a winner when you come to visit a little old lady a couple times a week.”
“Grams!” I rolled my eyes.
“I’m serious, Ashley. You’re a winner when you choose to praise God. You’re a winner when you do something nice for someone else.”
“But that’s not the same thing,” I argued.
“Let’s go back to your original question,” said Grams. “You want some ideas about how to collect more hugs, right?
"Hmm," Grams took a sip of her hot chocolate. "Let me think about that."
I blew on my hot chocolate and took a careful sip making sure I didn’t burn my tongue. I waited patiently for Grams to answer me.
Grams set down her cup. "I've got it."
I knew Grams was the best person to ask for advice. She could solve a problem in no time!
"My suggestion is to start giving other people hugs," she said. "Hug someone whenever you get a chance."
I was taking another sip of my hot chocolate and I almost choked on it. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe Grams wasn't the best person to ask for advice. Maybe she didn't understand my problem. "I don't want to be mean, Grams, but that's a lousy idea."
“Why do you think so?” Grams asked me.
“Because, I need people to give me hugs,” I told her. ”Hugs I give to other people don’t count.”
Grams nodded. “I see, then why did you use the hug you gave me earlier as a hug you collected?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “You hugged me when I got here.”
“I don’t think so, dear. I think you gave me a hug.” Grams gave me a smile, then slowly took another sip of her hot chocolate.
I shook my head and popped a marshmallow into my mouth. I was starting to get confused. That’s what Grams did when she tried to teach me a lesson. Sometimes I wished she would just get to the point. “Grams, you hugged me and you know it.”
“We hugged each other, Ashley,” she said. “When you hugged me, I gave you a hug in return. It’s sort of a trade, a hug for a hug.”
“A hug for a hug?” I repeated.
"Do you know why I think hug collecting is such a wonderful hobby?" asked Grams.
I shook my head. I honestly didn't know.
"Because the number of hugs you collect reflects the number of hugs you’ve given to others,” she explained. "That's the most important thing, to give hugs to others, because that hug might just make someone's day. You always make my day when you give me a hug. You know what else?"
“When I make somebody’s day, I’m a winner?” I asked.
Grams nodded. “That’s right, and there’s no way you can lose. When you hug someone you always win.”
“I always win.” I repeated. “My prize is a hug. I never thought about it that way before."
I was wrong again. Grams did understand my problem and had the perfect solution!
“I want you to know that no matter what you do, you’ll always be a winner to me, Ashley,” she said.
"Thanks. I love you, Grams!” I said.
"I love you too, Ashley." Grams smiled.
I stood up and gave Grams a big hug. In return, I won the best prize in the whole world!
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