Keep your friends close
because you never know when
they will get your tail out of a
While Mrs. Donnelee
cleared off the table she said, “Don’t forget that today is our church’s
kick-off-summer picnic. It starts at five so we should head out plenty before
then, so don’t go wandering off too far or anything.”
As Toni and Thomas were leaving the
house he said, “The church picnic is on a Friday? Isn’t that rather odd?
Wouldn’t tomorrow be better?”
“There’s something going on at the
church tomorrow and, besides, it’s summer, it stays light longer.”
From a short distance away they
heard a hearty “hello” and loud panting. Coming eagerly towards them was Mr. Keskes and his two Great Danes Moses and Larry. The dogs in
their enthusiasm to reach the two practically pulled Mr. Keskes
as though he were on a sled.
“Well, hello there, Thomas, it’s so
good to see you again.” Mr. Keskes tried to hold out
his hand to shake Thomas’ but with a leash in each hand the task was beyond
even a superhero. The dogs were all over the two. “And I see that I’m not the
only one glad to see you both.”
Moses was all brown whereas Larry
was a harlequin and both approached pony size.
Seeing that trying to hold a
conversation while a tongue the size of a small island is constantly lapping up
your face is near impossible Thomas and Toni excused themselves
and continued on. Mr. Keskes cheerfully bid them
goodbye and strained to wheel the two ponies around.
Toni spent a good hour showing
Thomas the flower and vegetable gardens that she planted in the backyard. While
they were sitting on the bench overlooking the tomato plants and swinging their
legs Toni said, “Your parents are gone a lot aren’t they.”
Thomas tightened a corner of his
lip, “Yea, rather than spending a lot of time with Mom and Dad I feel more like
I’ve been parented by small curiosities: collections of plants and insects that
I’ve observed on solitary walks, searching out the smallest and furthest room
of a large building, walking a darkened neighborhood and seeing a slice of a
living room through a lone lit window and imagining the family inside.
“My parents bring me lots games
that can be played by one person. But probably one of my favorite times is to
read in an old chair in the corner of the attic.”
“But I suspect that puzzle books
are your favorite.”
Thomas brightened up and looked
over at Toni. “You pegged that one.”
Toni continued, “Yet for all of the
time that you spend alone no one would call you an outcast or unfriendly. In
fact, I think that when you’re given that rare chance, you’re very loyal and
“Gee thanks. My books and puzzles
don’t compliment me very often. It’s just that being an only child whose
parents are often gone have forced me to often invent my own pleasures rather
than join those already in progress with others.”
They sat for a few more minutes in
silence staring at the vegetable plants and then they both got up.
They spent the rest of the day futzing
around the neighborhood. At 4:00 they headed back home to get Toni’s mom and
head out to the picnic.
As they approached the church
Thomas saw a crowd larger than he had ever remembered. “I guess that they are
growing quite a bit,” he thought. Off to the left were a large inflatable
and a fish (presumably with Jonah inside) for children to jump around in. There
was a softball game on the far right. In the middle to the right near the front
doors were three eight-foot tables covered with dishes of food. It reminded
Thomas of Mrs. Donnelee’s breakfast that morning. If
he did not know any better he would have thought that everyone in town eats
every meal from tables stacked with food. There was an impressive array of
folding tables and chairs between him and the food.
But what caught his attention were
three tables close together about twenty feet to the left of the food. Each table
had a red cloth completely covering what appeared to be a box underneath. He
expected to see a magician stroll up, dramatically announce his intentions, and
then whisk one of the covers off sending a flock of doves to fill the sky. With
a whisk of the second cover a herd (pack, team, group?) of rabbits would bound into the delighted crowd. But with the whisking of the
third cover he envisioned a very compressed elephant that would slowly pull its
head out from its chest, extend out its legs that it had bent underneath it and
rise up. Then it would shake itself until the rest of its body puffed out to
normal size and its ears flapped like the paddles on a riverboat. The crowd
would gasp, the table would break, the magician’s eyes would twinkle, and the
elephant—much glad to be back to a normal shape—would raise its trunk and let
out a gleeful trumpet. But instead the three boxes sat unaffected and unmoved. Thomas
looked around but did not see anyone with a tuxedo and a top hat. He felt
Speaking to Toni he asked, “What is
this all about?”
She pointed at the sign that
stretched across the front of all three tables, “Nearly Extinct.” She replied,
“It’s three things that are nearly extinct, just as
the sign says. At one point the pastor is going to unveil them and talk a
little about each.”
“What’s in there-cages with Marine
Turtles and Great Apes? That would be cool.”
“I don’t think it’s anything that
From behind them there was a distant
greeting getting rapidly closer. “Hello Thomas. It’s great to have you back
They both turned and saw Sarah and
her parents who, having just arrived, were advancing quickly across the grass.
Toni and Thomas met them half way. Sarah was grinning broadly, “Well, it’s
about time you came back to visit us. And here I thought that this summer was
going to be no fun at all.”
“Hey,” came Toni’s quick retort,
“what about the rest of us? Aren’t we any fun?”
“Oh yes, of course. I was just
referring to, umm, extra fun.”
Sarah’s father reached over and
energetically shook Thomas’ hand. “Always good to see you,
son. How long are you here for this summer?”
“I’m glad to see you also, Mr. Paterich. I’m actually going to be here all summer this
year. My parents have to go to several countries on business and it is going to
take them longer than usual.”
“Well, we’ll make sure that you are
well looked after. You have plenty of good friends here. We’ll have to have you
over for dinner sometime in the next couple of days,” affirmed Mrs. Paterich.
“That would be great,” Thomas
responded. Sarah smiled broadly.
said, “We’re scheduled to help cook. We’ll talk to you later and firm up some
plans.” Then she leaned over to Thomas and whispered, “Avoid the sausage; they
got a cheap brand this year. But everything else is good.” They both walked
away leaving Sarah with Toni and Thomas.
Sarah turned to Thomas. “So you’re
here for the whole summer. That’s great. It’ll be the whole gang again. So what
countries are your parents going to this year?”
“I actually can’t remember. They
told me and I have it written down somewhere in case I need to call them, but
every year blends into the next and I lose track.”
“I’ve never been to another
country,” mused Sarah. “My parents don’t go on many vacations so I’m pretty
much stuck here in bustling Jabesh.”
“You have great parents, Sarah. You
are really lucky.”
“Well, they’re not bad.”
“Not bad?” Thomas corrected. “Most
kids would kill to have parents like yours.”
“Well, it’s not like they’re
perfect. I mean, my Dad’s really cheap. For my birthday I asked them to get me
a desk. I gave them the exact color, make, and what store they could buy it at.
It fit perfectly in my room. It wasn’t even a lot of money. So for my birthday
what do I get? No, not the desk that I asked for, but some cheap thing. It was
the wrong color, it was too small, but it was on sale. I don’t know if I ever
got exactly what I wanted but I know that whatever I did get was cheaper.
“And my mother, if she ever agreed
to anything on the first go around I think I’d faint. Her first response to
everything is ‘no.’ ‘Mom, can I get a new pair of shoes?’ ‘No.’ ‘But, Mom, I
put a playing card in the bottom of my shoe to cover the hole so that my socks
don’t get wet.’ ‘No.’ ‘Mom, do you want to have lunch today?’ ‘No.’ ‘Mom, would
you like me to cook you dinner for your birthday?’ ‘No, just make me toast. You
don’t even have to put butter on it.’ It drives me crazy. She ought to tattoo
an ‘N’ on one palm and an ‘O’ on the other and every time that I ask her
something she can just hold out her palms in front of my face. At least then I
wouldn’t have to hear it.”
Thomas held his left hand in front
of him palm-up. Starting with the pinky he touched each finger while ticking off
the following. “Let’s see, they constantly praise and encourage you, they spend
a lot of time with you, they are always honest with you, they give you
reasonable boundaries, even when you are at your worst they are always patient
and calm with you…”
“Hey!” Sarah butted in.
“Looks like I ran out of fingers on
that hand.” The he looked up with a grin. “Like I said, most kids would kill to
have parents like yours.”
Sarah saw Thomas looking back over
at the three tables with the hidden boxes. “You want to know what is under
there?” she said quietly.
“You know?” asked Thomas.
“I helped build them so, yes, I
know,” she answered.
“Build them?” Thomas said with
emphasis. “If they are something that you can build then how could they be
nearly extinct? If we are running low on them then just build some more.” He
paused and then said with excitement, “Unless its cages. Did you build cages to
hold the animals?”
She looked momentarily confused. “What’s there is just symbolic of what is
nearly extinct. They aren’t the things themselves. In fact, they couldn’t be
the things themselves.” Sarah was being a bit cryptic. She knew how much Thomas
Thomas thought that he knew what
was going on. “I didn’t know that the pastor was getting into the environment.”
So many groups were becoming environmentally aware and this church was
following the trend he surmised. “That’s a good thing, mind you. I just
wouldn’t have thought that he would have gotten this dramatic with it this
quickly. I would guess then that they’re pictures or cutouts of animals who are on the endangered list. Hmm, you never struck me as
good with a jigsaw…”
“I am too pretty good with a
jigsaw, I’ll have you know.” Sarah broke in with her hands on her hips and her
jaw fixed firmly, “and several other power tools to boot.”
“OK, I believe you. But I’d still
guess that they’re pictures of animals.”
Sarah, however, dispelled that
confidence. “Though you’re right, nature is important, this is more of
a—umm—spiritual nature.” Thomas clenched one side of his mouth tightly. He was
caught off base.
Sarah dropped what she thought was
a good hint. “These are things that you don’t experience much anymore. They
used to be much more common but now it’s rare if you come across any of them.
You’ll never find them around someone who is arrogant and self-centered.” She
looked hopefully at Thomas. But he seemed more confused then ever.
Sarah tried to think of another
clue but then finally looked around and lowered her voice. “Why don’t I just
tell you what it is? Besides, it’s almost time to eat.”
Thomas appeared pleased. “OK” he
whispered. “What is it?”
“It is three phrases that you
rarely hear anymore.”
How can a phrase be nearly extinct?
“Let me tell you what they are and
then you tell me. Under the drape on the first table is the phrase ‘I’m sorry.’
The second table has ‘I was wrong’ and the third table is ‘It was my fault.’”
She crossed her arms and looked at him rather pleased. “Well, when was the last
time that you heard any of those phrases?”
It finally clicked. “Yea, I see
what you mean. It’s true although a bit anti-climatic. After all I had visions
of compressed elephants and…”
marine turtles and great apes.”
“Well, what did you expect from a
church in the middle of nowhere? Besides, the pastor has a way of making
everything seem interesting. I’m sure that he’ll do a great job when it comes
time to whisk off the clothes.”
“So what part of it did you make?”
“I made three boards, covered them
with felt and stood them up. Then I cut the letters out of wood and painted
them and nailed them to the board.”
“How did you cut out the letters?”
“I used a jigsaw. I already told
“Wow, I’m quite impressed. I didn’t
know that you had it in you.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“You mean you used two jigsaws at
She gave him a look of “come on
“Sarah!” They turned to see Sarah’s
mother coming towards them. “Sarah, it’s almost time
to eat. Why don’t you and Thomas come sit with us?
Toni and Mrs. Donnelee are also at our table.”
Sarah pushed gently on Thomas’
back. “Come on and join us.”
Her mother added, “And I invited Gary from your class and
his family to sit with us also.”
Sarah’s face twisted. “What, the
Prince of Darkness was unavailable?”
nice now,” her mother scolded.
After dinner they played games:
softball for the adults, an egg toss and water pistol tag for the teens,
various activities for the children including face painting and animal
When all of the activities were
over there was a loud sustained whistle. Everyone turned towards it to see the
pastor standing there with a smile on his face. “If I could get everyone’s
attention for the next 15 to 20 minutes I would like to share something very
exciting that we have planned for the church.
Motioning towards the three tables
with the boxes he said, “We’ll get to those at the end. But first I’d like to
present something very exciting.
“For the last six months a number
of us have been discussing what direction we’d like to go as a congregation and
we believe that God wants us to take a three-prong outreach. We are asking that
every one of you seriously consider becoming involved in some manner. If this
comes any where near to what we are hoping then not only will this church have
a great impact in this community and beyond but everyone who is involved will
have tremendous joy and satisfaction.
“As you know, each person consists
of three parts: body, soul, and spirit. The body is our physical part, what we
can touch and see. Our soul is our personality, creativity, and emotions. And
our spirit is that part of us that communicates with God. We want to set up
teams that will reach out and help people in each of these areas. It will be
challenging but, believe me, it will be worth it. Now here’s what we want to
The pastor then shared his plans.
When he finished everyone was charged up and talking about what part they would
like to play. It had the markings of a great success.
On the way home Toni and Thomas
talked excitedly about the church’s plans. Then she suddenly broke that
conversation and asked, “So what would you say is your strangest habit?”
“OK, oddest habit, if that makes
you feel better.”
Thomas slowed his walking. It was
hard to consider an answer to that question and still walk at a normal pace.
“Well,” he said slowly. “OK, here it is. Whenever I go to sleep, no matter
where it was, I always start out by lying on my right side.”
Toni raised an eyebrow.
“When I was younger, my parents did
not allow any lights on in my bedroom when it was time to sleep. OK, that’s not
so bad, but there was a problem. To the right of my bed was the door to the
hallway, which my parents insisted stay open at night. As any child would know,
within the terrible darkness of that hallway some evil could sinisterly be
lurking, standing unseen just feet away, watching me and waiting for that
moment when my eyes finally sank shut and I was ripe for attack. However, I
could maintain vigilance for a long while.
was not as easy as simply never falling asleep. On the opposite wall were
windows; my bedroom was on the first floor. Anyone—or anything—could easily
stare at me through those windows and in the summer there was only a nylon
screen that could be cut quietly and without effort.
could not watch both at once and though I could cross my eyes I could not push
them to the outer edges like a space alien. There were many nights of swiveling
my head slowly back and forth until I finally fell asleep just from the
was, until I noticed that the street light outside the windows created
perfectly lit rectangles on the wall next to the door. So by lying on my right
side I was able to watch both. If anyone tried to enter my room by either the
door or the windows, I would catch him. What exactly I would do in that case
was a situation not comfortably contemplated since it only aroused more
anxiety. The fact that I had all entrances covered was sufficient in itself.
Vigilance was still required but somehow knowing that the enemy was frustrated
in all directions gave me a quicker peace and a longer night’s sleep.
turned toward Toni’s with expectations of a reaction. He was not disappointed.