Mama was dying. Papa said so, and Papa never lied. She looked and acted much the same, except Clyde noticed her hugs weren’t as squishy. And, even though her lips smiled at him, her eyes did not.
The young boy sighed. Here was another thing he just could not understand. Papa said he would one day, though, and Papa never lied. Clyde could always count on Papa. If Papa made a promise, he kept it. If he said a thing, it was true. Even Bessie, their cow, could depend on Papa to relieve her bulging utters when Clyde overslept.
So, when the lad hatched a secret plan to help his failing mother, Papa was there to help.
They went to the woodshed together, steps small doing double time to match steps large. They pulled out pieces of lumber Mr. Gray had delivered fresh from the saw mill for Papa’s carpentry. Clyde was given the newest and best pieces for his project instead of the leftover ones. Hammer, nails, sandpaper, paint with brushes and a handsaw were added to his growing cache of supplies.
Day followed day as Clyde diligently worked in the old woodshed after his chores were done. He got blisters on his hands, paint under his fingernails and splinters on the soles of his bare feet. Whenever he couldn’t figure something out, Papa was there to guide him.
He was in a hurry now to finish, the County Fair a week away. Like an excited child on Christmas Eve, Clyde’s stomach did flip-flops as he crept downstairs to meet Papa while Mama slept. She was often abed the past few weeks and her body had grown frail and bony. He could only get an occasional smile out of her. Papa said she had to rest to get strong again, and Papa never lied.
They hoisted the booth up into the truck flatbed together, Papa pulling with hardened muscles while the boy pushed with all his might.
“You’ve done a fine job, Son. Mama will be proud of you!”
And Clyde believed him, because Papa never lied. He puffed out his chest a little and squared his little shoulders for the important task ahead.
“FRESH LEMONADE! Quench your thirst AND your sweet tooth! ONLY 10 cents a ladle!”
All day long, Clyde mixed up new batches of his confidential recipe. Well, not his exactly. Grannie Matty had developed it decades ago.
“The trick is to mix in a double dose of sugar to a twist of lime and one orange slice.” she had whispered in his ear.
With the barrel of cold well-water at his side, and the thirty pounds of sugar on a makeshift shelf at the back of his booth and the dozens of lemons, few limes and oranges from Ol’ Ollie’s fruit orchard in bushel baskets at his feet, Clyde felt like a regular shopkeeper. It was a hot, dry and dusty day, so his stand became an oasis in the desert for scores of people wandering through the Fair.
By the time dusk approached, the cloth purse tied around his waist was bulging like a protruding hernia. Papa helped him count the money. After covering expenses, he had just enough to purchase his mother’s birthday present . . .
“Here, Mama—Papa thought you’d like your gift early this year,” his father winking at his wife behind Clyde’s back as she sat blinking away unshed tears.
“Oh, Clyde-boy!! ‘Tis the very thing I’ve yearned for—you brought me Spring!” placing the fancy floral-wreathed bonnet over her thinning hair, “it is SO beautiful, how could you ever——?”
They helped her over to great-grandma’s cherished vanity mirror, then, father and son. Kathleen, now smiling broadly, leaned over and took Clyde’s face in her wasted hands, the thin skin stretched across harsh blue veins like an aged atlas map.
“It’s the finest present I’ve ever received, Cly. I’ll wear it to next week’s Easter Sunrise Service,” her smile reaching her eyes, “WHAT is that smell? I declare, it reminds me of Aunt Sophie’s lemon verbena scent,” drifting off to sleep for another rest.
Kathleen was just strong enough to attend the Easter service, glowing under the elaborate bonnet, an ethereal Spring angel in their midst. She died a mere six weeks later, the bonnet clasped in her hands and a gentle smile upon her lips.
Clyde knew she was in heaven where he would see her again someday. Papa said so, and Papa never lied.
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