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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: PICNIC - deadline 7-12-12 @ 9:59 AM NY Time (07/05/12)

TITLE: Beneath the Willow Tree
By Jenna Fernandez
07/06/12


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“What a waste,” Irene Montgomery sighed as she watched the woman and her daughter spread the picnic blanket in the park outside her office window. “Such potential…” Shaking her head, she returned to the paperwork that flooded her desk.

It was almost midnight when she got home—her husband and kids already asleep, as usual. Relieved, she carried her briefcase to the den and pulled the files she’d been working on. Maybe she’d finish everything in time for the meeting, after all.

After just a few hours of sleep, Irene was back at the office. Just a few things to finish for the big presentation. Taking a sip of coffee, she rehearsed all she’d planned to say.

The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts. “Mrs. Montgomery, you have a call from your kids' school. It’s an emergency,” her assistant said with concern.

“It will have to wait,” she replied. “Meeting’s in five minutes. Call Gary…or… someone…to take care of it. Thank you.” Walking to the mirror, she adjusted her suit coat and made sure everything was in place.

The presentation was a success, and Irene’s new office was much bigger. She still had a view of the park, and she’d occasionally take a short break from work to admire the scenery. As usual, every day, the woman and her daughter came to the park. They would spend hours there—playing in the playground, taking long walks, or just sitting beneath the willow tree.

One of the days, Irene looked out her window and saw the woman on the swing, her daughter comfortably on her lap—their heads tilted back in laughter as they swung lazily back and forth. “I don’t understand…” she sighed, shaking her head.

“What was that, Mrs. Montgomery?”

Irene was startled by the unexpected voice, and turned to see her assistant standing in the doorway. “I’m sorry; I… didn’t hear you come in…”

“Oh, I was just bringing the files you requested. I didn’t mean to interrupt you during your break…ma’am.” The assistant shifted awkwardly.

“I was just… That woman out there...” Irene turned toward the window again. “I knew her from high school. Michelle Doyle. Not a close friend, but…I do remember this: voted ‘most likely to succeed.’ It’s just such a waste. Thought she’d be a doctor, a lawyer…have her own business by now. Something…more…”

After an uncomfortable silence, the assistant headed for the door. “The files are on your desk, ma’am…”

“Mandy…you have a lot of potential. Do something worthwhile with your life.”

“Yes, ma’am…” Mandy smiled nervously, closing the door behind her.

It was awhile before Irene saw Michelle Doyle again. She was too caught up in meetings and paperwork to notice, but when she saw her sitting alone in the park one day—she realized how long it had been. “Maybe she’s actually doing something worthwhile with her time…” she sighed and went back to work.

The following week, a new tree had been planted near the old willow tree. Michelle sat beneath the willow tree—alone, a bouquet of flowers in hand. Irene could not look away as Michelle stood solemnly and kneeled before the newly planted tree, gently laying the flowers beneath it—then walked slowly away.

Irene tried to focus on work, but finally she had to leave. Stepping into the sunlight, she absorbed the splendor that surrounded her. The park was more beautiful than it appeared from her office window. Walking slowly toward the newly planted tree, Irene saw a small memorial stone beneath it.

“In Loving Memory. Shelby Doyle….” Irene whispered, gazing at the dash that separated the years. “She was only seven…” She shook her head solemnly. “Same age as my Abby…” She spent the rest of the day beneath the willow tree, staring at the memorial stone.



A few weeks passed, and Mandy walked into the empty office. On the desk once piled with papers was a card with her name on it. Mandy read the beautiful cursive writing—pausing when she reached the last sentence: “…and Mandy…make sure you do something worthwhile with your life. Sincerely, Irene Montgomery.”

Mandy walked to the window and looked out at the park. There, on a colorful blanket beneath the willow tree sat her former boss with her two children—laughing and enjoying their picnic.


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This article has been read 361 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Janice Wappel07/12/12
This was a very well written story. It was short and to the point...no fluff here! I thought it was well thought out and flowed nicely. Made me think back to the days I was raising my two children and how I sometimes forgot to just enjoy them and not always be so busy. Thanks for sharing!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
lynn gipson 07/12/12
I was too busy trying to be a good mother and work at the same time. I tried too hard. It shouldnt be work. I guess that's why God Invented grand children...I really enjoy them the way I should have enjoyed my son. God Bless you and this is a wonderful piece!
Jody Day 07/12/12
Just beautiful! Very well written.
Lillian Rhoades 07/13/12
What an insightful take on the topic! It was not only well-crafted, but the message was powerful.
Great job!
CD Swanson 07/13/12
This was a thought provoking and heart wrenching read. It held a significant meaning in a subtle, yet powerful way. Nicely done.

God bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 07/13/12
Oh I love this story. i think you did an outstanding job with it. the beginning drew me in immediately as my mind whirred with the possibilities.

My heart felt sad as I read and realized most readers would have caught on to what was happening below the window, yet the MC was so absorbed in work that she was totally oblivious. I think this is a clever way to illustrate your message.

You've done a fantastic job with this story and I can think of only a couple of things that might make it even better. For example instead of saying her assistant said with concern, show the reader what that might look like. For example perhaps her eyebrows arched or her lips turned down with a slight frown or maybe she purses her lips a tad and then quickly casts her eyes downward. Showing not telling is something every writer struggles to find the perfect balance.

This is just a tiny thing and strictly a personal preference but I found the ellipses slightly distracting. Perhaps just one or two would be more powerful and be more effective than having several..

All in all you did a brilliant job with this story. The ending was fantastic and a message so many of us need to be reminded of. You handled the topic in a clever way while still delivering an important message. This is one of my favorites so far this week. Outstanding bit of writing.
Patsy Hallum07/14/12
How true!Why do we all have to wait until its to late to realize this? Great Job, If I were a judge, it would win a prize!
Adele Butler07/16/12
What a beautiful, heartwrenching and powerful story this is. It brought tears to my eyes. It is so true. A lot of us are so busy, sometimes too busy to spend quality time with our loved ones. It is fortunate that this mother made the effort to spend time with her daughter because she ended up losing her. That tree will always remind her of the wonderful times they spent together, just enjoying each other. This story drives home the message of how important it is that we put our families before our jobs and the other things that occupy so much of our time.
Jennifer Suchey07/16/12
Very well written. Definitely a fresh take on the topic with a great message.

I understand what Shann is suggesting about showing what the caller was doing, however, in this case it does not work. The point of view (POV) is coming from the narrator. She can't see what the caller is doing, so therefore, it cannot be described as Shann suggests. However, you CAN show, not tell, and make the sentence much stronger, by simply saying, "her assistant's voice revealed concern". The narrator can hear the concern in her voice, while she can't see her eyebrows raise.

Do be careful about using phrases like "she said", "she replied". Faith Writer judges prefer simply stating the action of the speaker, which again, gives us more showing, as well as draws the reader into the action going on.

You did a wonderful job. I'm sure this will place well.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 07/17/12
Jennifer is absolutely right about my comment if the assistant was on the phone talking to the MC. In my mind, I saw them in the same office and the assistant was informing the MC of an important call.(I thought the phone ringing was the school calling and the assistant answering it and then relaying the message)

While this is a trivial thing and really doesn't matter to the story, I did want to point out how Jennifer and I both had two very different images in our heads which makes showing details for the reader all the more important.

So in that case, I'd suggest changing the sentence to something like this - The assistant's voice squeaked as she stumbled through her words while relaying the message.

Another thing I thought of as I reread the story and comments was -- Is the assistant nervous because she is afraid to interrupt her boss' busy schedule or is the concern in her voice for the child? This demonstrates how different people can take different messages from the same story. In my opinion that shows the Holy Spirit is right in the midst of it all and is using your story in different ways depending on what the reader may need at that second. How wonderful to be such an incredible instrument to God's people!

However that part is just one little detail. What matters most is you wrote the story God laid on your heart and it is vital to be obedient. I have no doubt that this story will touch more lives than you can even begin to imagine. You have a fabulous talent.
Pam Ford Davis 07/18/12
I thank you for sharing such a meaningful message, through a captivating story...
Wing His Words!
CD Swanson 07/19/12
Congratulations! God bless~
Jenna Fernandez07/19/12
THANK YOU all for your helpful comments! I appreciate your encouragement and your constructive criticism, and I'm grateful for the honor and the privilege of writing for FaithWriters.
Jennifer Suchey07/19/12
Congratulations on your deserved 1st place win! Off to Intermediate you go. ;)

(By the way, in rereading the section about the assistant and the phone call, I can see how Shann saw it differently. In retrospect, I'm really not sure which of us saw it the way you intended. Something to think about for all of us as we "think" others are seeing what we are seeing. Hmmmm!)
Pam Ford Davis 07/19/12
Congratulations! You earned it.

Wing His Words!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 07/23/12
Congratulations for ranking 1st in your level and 18th overall!
Adele Butler09/03/12
Congratulations, Jenna. This was well deserved.