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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Autumn/Fall (08/27/09)

TITLE: Could've Been a Contender
~1st Place


I’m sitting on the stump of what was once a glorious maple tree, thumping a pile of leaves with the back of my ergonomic rake. These reddish-orange and yellow leaves fell from the new maple we planted two years ago. Nothing is irreplaceable. Out with old, in with the new.

At the whirring of the garage door, I crane my neck around to see who’s going where. These days, someone’s always going somewhere. Then there are those who are left behind to rake and cook and keep up with the mundane tasks of living.

Oh, boy—wouldn’t I make a formidable contender for Martyr of the Year?

“Hey, Kendall,” I call to my daughter. She waves—not looking at me. I love her casual look of rolled-up jeans, sweatshirt, and a bandana wrapped around her head, ponytail swinging. Her vibrancy makes my stomach loop.

“What are you looking for?” I ask.

“Stuff for helping with the homecoming float.” She yanks open one steel cabinet after another.

Ah, homecoming. “Check the drawers—you’ll find duct tape and wire coat hangers—all anyone needs to make anything. Just ask your father.”

I drop the rake in the grass and pick up a maroon leaf—so smooth of surface. It’s freshly fallen, perfect for ironing between sheets of wax paper to hang at the windows for decoration. The kids used to love making crafts.

I hear the plunk of her tossing items into a cardboard box. Normally, I’d get up and help her, but today, I just don’t feel like it.

“Do we have any leftover paint?” she asks.

“On the shelf in the back.” From the questions she frequently asks, you’d think she grew up in a different household. Yet her tapered fingers and romanesque nose suggest she’s all mine—or at least half mine. I close the leaf into my hand, then immediately open it wide, palm flat. The leaf takes its time reshaping, just like my collagen-deprived face does after a scrunched sleep. “Who do you think will be homecoming queen?” I wonder aloud.

“Bethany Trueben—and she’s prancing around like she’s already won.” Kendall pops the trunk of my Camry. “Okay if I use the car?”

Like I could say no now. I pinch the stem off the leaf.

What nags at me is that she couldn’t care less about being queen herself, and though she has her faults, she also possesses more character than I ever did when I was seventeen. Why didn't I get serious about life earlier? I rip the leaf in two and immediately feel myself getting weepy.

At the slamming of the trunk, I jump. “I’m outta here,” Kendall calls, but then, instead of getting into the car, she runs over toward me, stoops down, and plants a kiss on the top of my head.

Why’d she have to go and do that?

“What’s wrong, Mom?” she asks, laying a hand on my quivering back.

“Tree mold—allergies,” I manage to say, pointing to the replacement maple.

I’m torn just like the leaf at my clogs. Half of me wants to indulge in an all-out blubberfest. But the other half won’t put that weight onto her shoulders, the shoulders with the graceful line. She didn’t get that from me.

“You wanna come help?” She kisses me again, this time softly. “I mean it.”

I wave my arm elaborately, keeping my back to her. “Go, get—I’ve got my own things to do.”

“I love you,” she says, standing up. There’s hollowness where her hand was.

“And I like you in my own way,” I joke.

My other children are oblivious, but with Kendall I feel relatively certain that she gets it: the depth to which I gave my family the parts that had been missing from my own childhood. Isn’t that what every parent does? And, God knows, I wouldn’t change anything, but now I’m asking: What if I’ve waited too long to pursue my other dreams? Do I even remember what they were?

When the Camry finally turns the corner, I wipe my eyes with the tail of my flannel shirt. The leaves gradually come back into focus, and I remember something one of the kids learned in science: During the spring and summer, the chlorophyll gives leaves their green hues, but those aren’t their true colors. We don’t see those till the autumn when the shorter days reveal what was hidden inside all along.

And that thought gives me enormous comfort.

Accept Jesus as Your Savior Right Now and be Certain of Eternal Life.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Loren T. Lowery09/03/09
Poignantly written, filled with what ifs yet buoyed with assuring realities. Kendall, half her mother in certain ways, but wholly her in matters of the soul. The allegory of the maple leaf goes beyond just the color within, but continues…out with the old, and in with the new… but in reality it is but a repetition of what is already there. Fragments can be torn off and even thrown to the ground, but somehow they manage to flutter up (in memory) to kiss the top of our head and lay a hand on our back, giving us indeed, enormous comfort.
Bryan Ridenour09/03/09
This was so refreshing. It spoke to me of new seasons in our own lives. And the verse, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart," popped into my head. God has so much more for this MC.
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/03/09
In your story I didn't just "see" your mc, I saw into her heart. More than that, I liked her. The conversation between mother and daughter is "real." You cleverly managed to describe the husband with one sentence. and when I got to the last sentence, I said, "Ahhhhhhhh perfect ending."
Charla Diehl 09/03/09
I can relate to the mood of the MC throughout this piece, as I'm sure many readers will. The daughter is a jewel and I learned what causes the leaves to color--I never knew that. This story touched me on many levels and I love the way you wrapped this up with a ray of sunshine for the MC. Two thumbs up on this one!
Lynda Schultz 09/04/09
Great piece of writing, and those last few lines are gems.
Sherrie Coronas09/05/09
This story blows me away. Enjoyed every word. My heart ached for the MC.
Diana Dart 09/09/09
Gulp. This was heartwrenching and so genuine. I could feel her sorrow and self-pity, but yet also her frustration. I could touch the leaves at her feet and in her palm. I could smell Kendall's fresh, alive scent. Man, this one gripped me - hard. Awesome writing.
Cherie B.09/09/09
I loved this story! Wonderfully written!
Ada Nett09/09/09
I was there sitting on that stump from start to finish...excellent writing and poignant points to ponder...Loved it!
Gregory Kane09/09/09
A richly engaging story. Beautifuly written
Laury Hubrich 09/09/09
I love this mother's insights.
Carol Slider 09/09/09
Gorgeous and stunningly realistic! I don't think I'll ever look at an autumn leaf in quite the same way. Very, very well done.
Mariane Holbrook 09/10/09
What a great piece of writing. You'll place high with this one! Kudos!
Betty Castleberry09/10/09
Such a lovely piece. You've managed to get into your MC's head and make us feel her emotions, too. Congrats on your EC. You earned it.
Lisa Johnson09/10/09
Congratulations on your first place win, and your EC win. I loved your story. both your MC and her daughter were very genuine, and I could relate to the mother's mixed emotions.
Patricia Turner09/10/09
Oh, boy! I just read this for the first time and will undoubtedly come back and read it again - and yes, probably again. What a wonderfully deserving, masterfully written winner! Congratulations on your EC!
Loren T. Lowery09/10/09
Doing the happy dance for you! Congratulations, well done, indeed!
Karlene Jacobsen09/10/09
I have so much to learn! Every sense was engaged in this story.

Congratulations on a well-deserved EC!
Janice Fitzpatrick09/10/09
Congrats on 1st place.:0)This is so touching and I loved your style of writing. This colorful piece had me reading it again to rake in all it had to offer. Well done.:0)
I had written something similiar but didn't get it done in time to enter it, sigh. :0) Very touching piece and what a promise at the ending. I'm sure the MC's color will be exploding with brightness before she knows it.
stanley Bednarz09/10/09
So real. I felt like a nosy neighbor.

Sheri Gordon09/10/09
Congratulations on your 1st place, Lisa! Never mind I'm having to write this through misty eyes and a lump in my throat. You are a very talented writer.
Chelsie May09/10/09
Very good! Congratulations!
Joy Faire Stewart09/10/09
Congratulations on your 1st place EC win. Very touching story and beautiful writing as always.
Sonya Leigh09/10/09
Wooo Hooo--congratulations! What a story--so warm--a tender moment caught "just so". Delightful.
Carol Slider 09/10/09
Congratulations, Lisa--SO well-deserved!! I love this story!
Amy Michelle Wiley 09/10/09
Lovely story. I love at how you hint at so much of a back and future story, but don't have the need to bog us down with specific details.
Eileen Knowles09/10/09
This is beautiful! Congratulations!
Joy Bach 09/10/09
So obviously a winner. This is great writing.
Catrina Bradley 09/10/09
Oh oh oh, Lisa! A perfect story to sit on top of the Autumn entries. I'm speechless.
Beth LaBuff 09/12/09
I LOVE this beginning with the title! Your message hit me right in the heart. :) SUPER CONGRATS on your 1st place EDITOR'S CHOICE. I'm so excited for you!
Connie Dixon09/12/09
Loved this Lisa. I love the daughter that "gets it", but mostly I love the Mom that "gets it." The emotion in this piece really touched me. Congratulations.