Guest of Honor


Debbie dashed out of the school as soon as the bell rang. She was dimly aware of her name being called, but she didn’t stop. She couldn’t face Jill and Kelly after her latest fiasco. Debbie hurried across the school yard without looking back, her blond curls bouncing crazily as she ran. And she didn’t stop running until she had reached home and slammed the front door behind her.

“Hi, Debbie,” her mother called from the kitchen. “Could you please come and help me, honey? I’m running late, and I have a million things to do.”

Debbie hesitated. She didn’t want to refuse, but first she had to calm down and get her thoughts in order. “I’ll just change and be right down,” she called back, racing up the stairs.

She flung herself facedown on her bed, burying her burning cheeks in the cool bedspread. Her ears still rang with the teacher’s gently teasing voice: “Honestly, Debbie, does my lesson go in one ear and straight out the other?”

“Math!” Debbie groaned. “I just can’t understand it.” Prickly tears stung her eyes again. She had felt humiliated, and she was certain that the entire class was laughing at her, and not at the teacher’s remark. I may as well give up. I’m never going to pass math, she though, and cried harder into her pillow.

Debbie heard her older brother, Mark, arrive home. It’s easy for him, she thought. He breezes through math. I’m the only dummy in this house.

Splashing, her face with cool water, Debbie examined her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “I don’t look stupid. In fact, I look pretty normal,” she murmured miserably, brushing her hair. “You wouldn’t know by looking at me that I can’t do anything right.”

In the kitchen no one noticed that there was anything wrong with Debbie as she peeled some vegetables and mixed a meat loaf while her mother sorted laundry into loads.

“How are you, short stuff?” Mark inquired good-naturedly, using his habitual nickname for her.

“In three years time, I’ll be taller than you, stringbean,” she replied, her gloom beginning to lift.

After the blessing on the food, Dad asked Mark and Debbie his usual question: “How was school today?”

Debbie was expecting the question, but she hadn’t planned on bursting into tears. She blurted out the whole story, adding, “I’m sorry, Dad. I really have done my best, but it just isn’t good enough!” Excusing herself from the table, she fled to her room again. Her head was whirling and buzzing in complete confusion.

They’ll be having a family council now to decide how they can help me, Debbie though when she’d calmed down a bit. I guess most families have one member who’s having problems. She heard movement below, but it was a half-hour’s anxious wait before she heard anyone climb the stairs. Her father softly rapped at her door and said, “Please come downstairs, Debbie. We need to talk with you.”

After Dad left, Debbie reluctantly descended the stairs, unsure of the reception she would get. She got what she’d never expected to get—a round of applause!

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Dad announced as she timidly walked into the dining room, “our guest of honor for this family home evening is Miss Debbie Hayden.”

Around the table sat her brother, her parents, their neighbor Mrs. Craske, and Debbie’s friends Jill and Kelly. At the head of the table was a seat reserved for Debbie, and her father guided her to it. “Our first speaker,” he continued, “will be our new neighbor, Mrs. Craske.”

In a daze, Debbie heard herself praised and thanked for her help while the Craske family was moving in—for looking after their little boys, for helping to unpack cartons, for running errands. “And,” Mrs. Craske concluded, “for being a truly thoughtful, unselfish young lady.”

Next Jill and Kelly stood up. They had come to tell Debbie how much they appreciated her for helping them with their English projects. They praised her for her pitching ability on their class softball team. And finally they thanked her for her loyal friendship. Debbie’s cheeks flushed scarlet with embarrassment, but she felt a rush of pleasure at the same time.

“My turn!” Mark declared. “I want to tell everybody what a good sport Debbie is. I tease her all the time, and yet she’s always ready to help me out by mending my ripped football shirts or by cleaning up after me before Mom sees the mess I’ve made. She’s a pretty good sister, and I’m glad she’s around.”

“Coming from Mark, praise like that is equal to getting a Nobel Prize,” Father teased.

Mother stood up. “Honey, I don’t think I could manage without your help,” she stated, squeezing Debbie’s hand. “Just tonight you cooked the supper—and you make better meat loaf than I do. I can always rely on you, and lots of times I don’t even have to ask because you’re already there to lend me a hand. I don’t always tell you how grateful I am for your help. From now on, I promise that will change.”

Debbie knew what her mother meant about taking people for granted. She couldn’t remember the last time she had shown her own appreciation to her family and friends. She resolved to tell them all tonight—and regularly in the future.

Her father took Debbie’s arm and gently urged her to stand beside him. “We didn’t realize you were feeling so upset about math,” he began. “But you’re bright and do well in your other subjects. You’ve let your worries about math get out of perspective, Debbie, and you’ve overlooked all the things that you do well. Each one of us here wants you to know that you’re a thoughtful, loyal person. We’re all proud of you. All anyone expects of you is for you to try to do your very best.”

Dad’s right, Debbie thought later as she lay in her bed, waiting for sleep to come. It’s a question of perspective. I can do some things well. And I’ll still work hard on my math—without letting it get me down.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Pat Hoggan