Blessings, After All


Charlie walked his dog, Paca, slowly along the uneven pavement that led home from Miguel’s house. Finding a new home for Paca was harder than he thought. “Even Miguel can’t keep you, Paca. His mother’s allergic to dogs!” The small, scruffy, brown-and-white dog panted in pace beside Charlie, her head tilted just enough so that he knew that she was listening. Paca always listened. “It’s not fair that my little sister can keep her dumb bird.” Charlie continued. “He makes more of a mess than you do. Mom even said so.”

Charlie picked a leaf from an old oak tree. “I don’t know why Dad had to accept a promotion. Who wants to leave California to live in Ohio, anyway? Especially in an apartment building that doesn’t take dogs!” He tore the leaf into little pieces, then tossed them away.

In less than a month Charlie’s family would be moving. Just thinking about it made him mad and sad at the same time.

“Ever since the missionaries came and started teaching Mom and Dad about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, things have been different!” he told Paca for the umpteenth time. “Dad says that the things that the missionaries have been teaching us can bring lots of blessings, but I sure don’t see any. Moving isn’t a blessing to me.”

Paca stopped to scratch, then they continued walking. Charlie slowed down when he came to Mrs. Sanchez’s yard near the middle of the block. She was sitting in her old rocking chair on the front porch. Her cats were out too.

The tabby was chasing a butterfly near the fence. Paca saw it and barked, startling Charlie so much that he jumped backward.

“You’d better watch that dog. I don’t want it chasing my cats!” Mrs. Sanchez declared.

“Don’t worry,” Charlie reassured her as he clutched the worn black leather leash more tightly. “She only barks at them.”

“What’s her name?” the elderly woman asked, her voice softening.

“Paca.” Charlie was surprised. In his whole life, Mrs. Sanchez had never talked to him. He’d always thought that she didn’t like kids.

Mrs. Sanchez pushed herself up, using the arm of the wicker rocker for support. “Would you like some cookies and milk?” She motioned to Charlie to come up onto the porch, adding, “Now, Paca, you be a good girl.”

Charlie couldn’t think of any reason to say no. As he pushed open the gate and walked up to the porch, for the first time he really looked at Mrs. Sanchez—at her lined and tired face, at the wrinkled hand that clutched at a worn shawl on the back of her chair. She steadied herself with her other hand.

A smile deepened the lines. “You’re Charlie Johnson from down the block, aren’t you?”

Charlie just nodded his head.

Mrs. Sanchez opened the front door, then called in her two cats before showing Charlie and Paca inside. The room looked like Mrs. Sanchez, comfortable and timeworn.

“Is she a good dog?” the elderly woman asked as she nodded toward an overstuffed chair for Charlie to sit in.

“Oh, she’s the best!” Charlie defended Paca. “But I have to find another home for her. We’re moving to Ohio, and I can’t take her with me.”

“What a shame,” Mrs. Sanchez said on her way into the kitchen. When she returned with a small plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Charlie, she asked, “Why can’t you take her with you when you move?”

Charlie bit into a cookie. It was chewy and good. “Because,” he said between bites, “the apartment we’re moving into doesn’t allow dogs, just birds.”

“Birds?”

“That’s what my little sister has, a bird.”

Mrs. Sanchez sat in a wooden rocker and pushed back a strand of white hair that had fallen across her face. She studied Paca, who was curled up by the boy’s feet. Then, looking up at Charlie, she said, “The missionaries stopped by to see me the other day, and they told me that you and your parents are going to be baptized. That will be a happy thing for your family. It will bring many blessings.”

Charlie gulped down some milk, then wiped the mustache from his upper lip with his napkin. “I suppose so.” He wiggled uncomfortably in the overstuffed chair, “but I don’t feel very blessed right now.”

Mrs. Sanchez reached for a tray on the small table beside her rocker. Three small, dirt-filled plant pots were resting on the tray. She picked up one of the pots, saying, “Would you please hold this for me, Charlie?”

Mrs. Sanchez tore open a brightly colored packet of seeds. “Now,” she said, “take your finger and poke two holes in the dirt.”

After Charlie had made the holes, she shook several long, thin seeds from the packet into his hand. “Put these zinnia seeds into the holes, and cover them with the dirt.”

Charlie dropped the seeds into the holes and covered them.

Mrs. Sanchez smiled at him as he did it. “Blessings are sometimes like seeds, Charlie. You can’t see them until they grow. Now, when the time is right, I’ll have to transplant these seeds. Soon they’ll be as big and as beautiful as the ones by my front fence.”

Charlie nodded his head, wondering why she was telling him all this.

Seeing his puzzled expression, she continued. “Your family is a little bit like these seeds. Your father grew in his job and is ready to be transplanted to a better one. Soon you will grow and need to move on to bigger things, just like your father.”

Understanding now, Charlie smiled too.

“I think that you’re going to be a good member of the Church,” Mrs. Sanchez told him. “When you get baptized, will you send me a picture? I’ll put it here next to my new planters.

“And I understand how anxious you are for Paca to have a good home, so I’d be happy to keep her for you,” Mrs. Sanchez offered, “unless you find her another home. Even my cats seem to think she belongs here.”

Charlie looked at the sleeping dog curled up on the rug, looking almost as though she did belong there. Charlie couldn’t think of anyone he’d rather have Paca live with.

“Come now,” Mrs. Sanchez said. “Give me a hug, then go tell your mother that Paca’s taken care of.”

Walking home that day, Charlie had a contented feeling. It wasn’t just because Paca had a new home—it was also because he now understood that the missionaries had brought blessings, after all.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Virginia Sargent