Melinda Marx lived in an apartment building in a big city, and she often played in the hall near the front door. She liked to watch the people going in and out. Eight families used the door, and she knew all of them.
She knew where each of them lived too. “So how are you today, Miss Merry Sunshine?” David Sullivan would say as he rolled his wheelchair out to get his mail. He lived in A-2, and every day he had a different name for her.
“Let me through, kid—I’m late enough for work now!” Mr. Warrel would growl, his big bushy eyebrows wiggling. He lived in A-5, right across from Melinda and her mother and the baby. He frowned and complained a lot.
“Want to play jump rope with us?” the Johnson twins would ask as they swung on the hall door. They lived in A-7 with their mother, who worked at a bakery, and their father, who was looking for a job.
“It’s a disgrace! A disgrace!” Miss Bates would exclaim each time she went in and out, her brown curls bouncing up and down. “Children cluttering up the hallway—a disgrace!” She lived in A-4, and she thought everything was a disgrace.
“Watch out! I don’t want to step on you!” Mr. Spreely, from A-3 would shout when he passed through. He always shouted because he was almost deaf.
“You ought to get out in the sunshine more, Melinda,” admonished Mrs. Treski, from A-8, as she left each day to go jogging. She had glasses that bobbed on her long thin nose as she jogged, and she ran in place as she talked, her words going up and down as she did.
Yes, Melinda knew all of these people. She liked some of them a little, and she liked some of them a lot. But Mrs. Pasquali, in A-1, was absolutely, positively, without a doubt the very nicest of all. She had loved Mrs. Pasquali since the day the little lady moved in, and Mrs. Pasquali loved Melinda too.
“You remind me of my own Rosanna when she was your age,” Mrs. Pasquali would say, her brown eyes sparkling. She had a brown face, with gray hair twined around her head in a braid. Her face was lined and worn, and she walked with a limp. Mrs. Pasquali had the happiest laugh in the whole world. Even the metal mailboxes in the front hallway seemed to chuckle right along with her.
She had the most interesting apartment, too, Melinda thought. It was full of wonderful, marvelous inventions. The best one was a record player that didn’t need to be plugged in.
“You just wind it up like this, and you have beautiful music,” Mrs. Pasquali would say. She really did have beautiful music—exciting songs with strange words sung by people with deep, full voices. Mrs. Pasquali seemed to have absolutely everything.
Except money. She didn’t have much of that. “But who needs money if you have love?” she would ask, hugging Melinda. Somehow she always got along just fine. Often her cupboard would be almost bare, but she always managed to find a box of rice or a bit of macaroni when things were bad and her check was late.
But then one day it happened! Mrs. Pasquali had no money at all, and none would come until the next day. She had no food, either. Not one scrap. “Dearie me,” she said, peering into her empty cupboards, “I feel like Mother Hubbard today.”
Melinda felt tears come to her eyes. Then a happy thought came to her. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Pasquali,” she told her with a merry smile. “You can have some love stew!”
“Love stew?” Mrs. Pasquali stared at Melinda. “What’s that?”
“It’s wonderful,” Melinda said. “You invite people you love to come to dinner, and then you all just sit down and eat love stew. It’s delicious!”
“How can I invite people to dinner?” Mrs. Pasquali asked. “I have no food to feed anyone, and I hardly know anybody. I haven’t lived here very long.”
Melinda spied a huge pot and struggled to put it on Mrs. Pasquali’s stove. “That’s no problem,” she said. “I know everybody in this building, and they all love you. I’ll tell them to come here at six o’clock tonight for some love stew.”
Mrs. Pasquali wrung her hands. “But, Melinda, when they come and find I have nothing to feed them, they’ll laugh at me.”
Melinda patted the huge pot. “This will hold the love stew!” she said. “Now I’ll go invite the guests.”
Melinda knocked at the apartment of David Sullivan first. “There is only an empty pot on the stove,” she finished telling him, “but I told Mrs. Pasquali we’d all eat love stew.”
David Sullivan wiped his eyes. He’d been peeling onions, he said, and they made his eyes water. “Hey, Princess, I’d love to come! Count me in.”
Melinda had tears in her eyes, too, but they weren’t from onions. She turned to go upstairs. The front door banged open, and Mrs. Treski came bouncing in, carrying two jugs of milk.
“Love stew?” she cried, when Melinda invited her. “Sounds very healthy! I’ll be there. Six o’clock on the dot!” She bounded up the stairs.
Melinda looked after her and grinned. Now to invite Mr. Spreely.
The smell of meat cooking drifted out from his apartment. “What?” he kept shouting. “Love stew? Where? When? Who?”
“What’s all this racket?” Miss Bates cried, opening her door across the hall. “It’s a disgrace! A disgrace!” She waved the carrot peeler she had in her hand. “What’s going on out here?”
Melinda hadn’t been sure whether she wanted to invite Miss Bates and Mr. Warrel. But yes—even if they were cranky and complaining sometimes, Melinda was sure they liked all the people in the building. And so, twisting her braids, she told Miss Bates about Mrs. Pasquali’s love stew.
“Love stew? I declare! I accept your invitation. It would be a disgrace not to accept it!”
“Six o’clock?” boomed Mr. Spreely. “Yes, yes, I’ll come!” Both doors banged shut.
“Don’t block the stairs, little girl,” said Mr. Warrel, hurrying past Melinda. He was carrying a grocery bag with celery leaves sticking out of the top.
“I was just going up to ask you to come to dinner,” Melinda said. “It’s at Mrs. Pasquali’s. The lady in A-1.” She told him the whole story.
“Well,” he said. He stood a moment, thinking, and Melinda realized that he was rather handsome when he wasn’t complaining or wiggling his bushy eyebrows in a frown. “I usually watch the news then,” he mumbled, “but I’ll come.”
Melinda’s mother agreed to come, too, and to bring the baby. She had planned boiled potatoes for their dinner, she said, but she would rather eat love stew.
Melinda hurried off to the top floor.
“Glad to come,” Mr. Johnson answered. He promised to bring his wife and the twins as soon, as Mrs. Johnson returned from work at the bakery.
Just before six o’clock, Melinda went down to Mrs. Pasquali’s apartment to help her set the table. She put water in the huge pot and turned on the burner under it. Then Melinda found her favorite record and was cranking up the record player when there was a knock at the door. Mrs. Pasquali rushed to open it.
“I declare!” cried Miss Bates, hurrying inside and over to the stove as the music started. “I haven’t heard that song since I was a girl!”
“Let me have a look at our dinner!” cried David Sullivan, entering next and wheeling himself toward the stove.
The rest of the guests all arrived together. “I want to see the love stew too!” shouted Mr. Spreely, bobbing impatiently behind the Johnson family. “Excuse me,” said Melinda’s Mother, “I want the baby to see that magic pot.” Mrs. Treski opened the refrigerator door to put the milk in to keep cool.
Soon everyone was laughing and talking. Some of them started singing along with the music. Mrs. Pasquali’s merry laugh rang out above the other happy sounds.
Melinda scurried about between the kitchen and the guests and the dining room table. Finally she called out, “Dinner’s ready!”
Mrs. Pasquali’s laughter turned into a deep sigh as everyone crowded around the table.
“Make way for the love stew!” cried Mr. Warrel, carrying the huge pot from the stove. He placed it on a thick pad.
Melinda put a potholder on the lid and said, “Come dish it up, Mrs. Pasquali.”
Still looking anxious, Mrs. Pasquali lifted the lid.
The pot was full! It had meat and potatoes and carrots and onions and celery and gravy and a wonderful aroma! There was bread and milk, too, and even a freshly baked pie for dessert. Mr. Spreely offered thanks for it all.
Everyone ate and ate, then bustled around and cleaned up the dishes. A little stew was even left over for Mrs. Pasquali to eat the next day.
“How can I ever thank you?” Mrs. Pasquali asked timidly as her guests started to leave.
“Just bring something to our next love-stew dinner,” said Mrs. Johnson as she helped her husband guide the twins out into the hall.
“Yes, it’s a tradition we have here,” Melinda’s mother explained, hurrying away to put the baby to bed.
“We do it when one of us is lonely,” Mr. Spreely shouted.
“Or sick,” chimed in Miss Bates.
“Or bored,” added Mr. Warrel.
“Or celebrating something special,” David Sullivan put in.
“It keeps us on our toes,” Mrs. Treski joked as she started out for her nightly jog.
“Love stew is a wonderful tradition!” Mrs. Pasquali exclaimed, giving Melinda a big hug. Melinda just grinned and hugged her back.