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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "It's No Use Crying over Spilt Milk" (without using the actual phrase or literal exampl (02/07/08)

TITLE: Important Papers
By James Clem
02/13/08
~10th Place


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Erin’s face told the whole story. She rapidly blinked backed tears as the realization hit fully upon her. Her lower lip tried hard to smile but couldn’t quite complete the effort.

I didn’t know what to say to her. My own stomach felt like a rock falling into a deep, dark well. I had let her down. She wasn’t going and it wasn’t her fault, it was mine. She had worked so hard to be a part of this, and now it had all crumbled. I breathed a silent prayer for a miraculous intervention; some way around this legal requirement; some obscure technicality that would save the day.

I guided Erin away from the airline ticket counter to a vacant spot away from the crowd so we could talk it through. For a long moment we brooded in our own thoughts. All around us, her friends gathered in small groups, talking excitedly about the upcoming trip. Some had never flown before; others were energized about their first trip out of the country. The Symphonettes were about to embark on a year-end tour with highlighted stops in Toronto and Victoria, Canada.

Erin was the youngest member in this youth orchestra. While most of these young musicians were upper level high school students, she was one of only two sixth graders to make it through the audition process. She was an amazing horn player especially since she had just begun learning the instrument a year earlier.

For weeks she had been talking about the upcoming tour. Her dad and I were excited for her, but were naturally concerned about her going. She was younger than the others… What if she gets homesick? She’s never been gone a whole ten days before. It wasn’t like we could just fly up and bring her back home.

Mrs. Murray had given us all the paperwork weeks ago with a detailed list of what she would need and what not to bring. First on the list, Erin needed a passport—or if she didn’t have one, her original birth certificate. We had double-checked everything. We had her birth certificate in hand when we showed up. The agent at the ticket counter handed it back saying, “Sorry, this isn’t a birth certificate.”

With total bewilderment, I countered, “Of course it is, it has an embossed seal from the state of Pennsylvania, it has her fingerprints, it even has her feet on the back side.”

The woman shook her head again. “No, Ma’am. It’s not a birth certificate, it’s a hospital record.”

“Well yes,” I attempted to patiently explain, “It’s from the hospital where she was born.” What was the problem here?

“Yes, Ma’am, a lot of people get confused by these – especially with the embossed seal. But this is not an official record from the state of Pennsylvania. I’m sorry.”

I had let her down. Somehow I had messed this up. I thought I had everything covered. All these years, I had kept Erin’s “birth certificate” in the Important Papers file.

I looked at her standing there. She stared straight ahead, not willing to look directly at me because that dam of tears would break through. She worked so hard to be in the Symphonettes--she wasn’t going to start crying right here in the airport; she didn’t want them to think she was just a little girl. Her voice broke as she said, “I guess we should tell Mrs. Murray that I can’t go and then go on home.”

I hugged her close, “I’m so sorry, Baby. This is all my fault.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” she pushed me gently away. “Just don’t make me cry.” We collected Erin’s bags and trundled off with disheartened steps. “You know, Mom,” she confessed, “In a way, I’m kind of glad. I really did want to go, but I was a little scared about being gone so long. A lot of the older girls treat me like their little sister and all… and I really like that, but I’m not sure I was really ready for this whole trip. Maybe I can go next year.”

My heart was bursting with pride—not only was my little girl blessed with extraordinary musical ability, but she was also unusually mature for a twelve-year-old. I’m pretty sure I would not have accepted the situation so calmly.

I nudged Erin playfully, “Hey we’ve got nothing better to do now… let’s go to the mall.”

A grateful smile bloomed rapidly in her glistening eyes.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Sally Hanan02/15/08
A very good telling of a story. It's so hard to find a good ending that will give a badaboom punch to something like this.
Patty Wysong02/16/08
Oh, very good. I had tears in my eyes--you did great conveying the disappointment. The 'just don't make me cry' --sooooo realistic.
Peter Stone02/17/08
What a beautiful story, and very realistic. So easy to get a hospital birth record confused with a birth certificate. And the daughter's reaction was very moving.
LauraLee Shaw02/21/08
Congratulations on your EC! What an incredible piece!!!! :)
Beth LaBuff 02/21/08
Congrats on your EC with this heart-warming story! Excellent writing!
Sheri Gordon02/21/08
Congratulations on your EC. This is a beautiful story. Very nice writing.
Dee Yoder 02/21/08
Congratulations, James! Your story is simply beautiful. I love the MC and the daughter-what a sweet young woman. (I enjoyed reading your interview, too!)