Matt scowled into the mirror. The freckles scattered across his nose and cheeks looked bigger than ever. In fact, his whole face seemed to be one big freckle. “Mom,” he asked, “why do I have so many freckles? You and Dad don’t have any.”
“I did when I was your age. So did my father. And his father before him.”
“How do you know?”
“I’ve seen pictures of them. Your great-grandfather had so many freckles that people called him ‘Red’ when he was your age. His name was Matthew too.”
“Oh, great,” Matt muttered.
“He was a great man,” Mother chided. “My father used to tell me wonderful stories about him.”
But Matt didn’t want to hear that. He just wanted to get rid of about fifty thousand freckles.
“Your great-great-aunt Emily is coming tomorrow. She could tell you a lot more about him. He was her brother.”
“Can she tell me how to get rid of freckles?”
Mom ruffled his hair. “Your freckles won’t last forever.”
Matt grumbled his way through breakfast. When he learned he’d have to give up ball practice to come home to meet his aunt, he grumbled even louder.
“Your aunt wants to see you,” his mother said in the tone she used when she wasn’t happy with him. “Besides, she has something special for you.”
Matt mumbled an apology and slid from his chair. He wanted to rub lemon juice over his face. He’d read in a magazine that lemon juice faded freckles.
Thirty minutes later, he looked in the mirror in disgust. His freckles were still there. If anything, they were more noticeable than ever.
His mood didn’t improve any when he got to school.
“Hey, Matt, you look like you were swallowed by a freckle,” his friend Josh teased.
“Yeah,” Sam added. “A big freckle!”
“Lay off,” Matt said.
By the time school was over, Matt was tired of being teased. He didn’t really feel like meeting Aunt Emily or anyone else, either. But she was there waiting when he walked into the kitchen.
“You look just like my brother Matthew did when he was eleven,” Aunt Emily said.
In spite of himself, Matt was curious. “I do?”
Aunt Emily’s lined face crinkled into a smile. “He had the same stubborn chin, the same blue eyes, and the same freckles.”
Matt scowled. “Did he hate them too?”
Her smile deepened. “He sure did—at first.”
Intrigued, Matt sat down at the kitchen table. He said “thanks” when his mother placed four peanut butter cookies in front of him, but he was more interested in what Aunt Emily had to say. “He didn’t always hate them?”
She shook her head. “No, he didn’t.”
“Because they helped him get the lead in the school play. He tried out for the part of Tom Sawyer and got it because of his freckles.”
“But I don’t want to be Tom Sawyer,” Matt said.
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to be a professional ball player or president of a company or something.”
Aunt Emily shoved a package toward him. “Here.”
Eagerly Matt unwrapped the brown paper, then stared in disappointment at an old leather-bound book. “What’s this?”
“It’s your great-grandfather’s journal. He started keeping it when he was just about your age.”
Matt opened it. Pasted inside the front cover was an old-fashioned photograph of a young boy. Even the faded tones of the picture couldn’t hide the freckles scattered across his face. “This is my great-grandfather?” Matt asked.
Aunt Emily nodded. “Does he look familiar?”
Matt didn’t answer. His own face stared back at him.
That evening, he excused himself after dinner and went upstairs to his room. He started flipping through the journal. He stopped at an entry dated June 15, 1911: “Worked in the fields today. It was hot! Earned $1.50.”
Matt kept reading. His eyes drooped, but he couldn’t put the book down.
“Aunt Emily, do you have any more of my great-grandfather’s journals?” he asked the next morning.
“I sure do. I had a feeling that you might be interested in them.” She motioned to him to follow her to the bedroom, where she opened her suitcase. Inside were eight journals—seven brown and one black. She picked up the black one and handed it to Matt. “This one is very special,” she said.
Matt looked inside. The pages were blank. “It’s empty.”
She smiled. “I know. You get to fill them.”
He wanted to look through the other journals right away, but he had to hurry off to school. After gulping his juice, he folded a piece of toast and jammed it into a napkin and ran to catch the bus.
His fifth grade teacher assigned a report due the next day. “Choose someone you admire and tell us about him.”
The other kids started talking about whom they would choose. Josh chose Abraham Lincoln. Sam picked Thomas Edison. Mary chose Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Matt frowned. All the good names seemed to be taken. But by that evening, Matt knew whom he was going to give his report on.
As he stood before the class the following day, he rubbed his wet palms against his jeans and took a deep breath. “My great-grandfather was never president. He never invented anything. He never even finished school. But he was a great man. When he was twelve, his father died. So he dropped out of school to help support his family. He hoed beets for only a dollar-fifty a day. When he was nineteen, he went on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
By the end of his report, Matt was flushed. “I’m proud that I look like my great-grandfather. I hope I can be the kind of man he was.”
The class applauded.
After school, Matt hurried to spend more time talking with Aunt Emily about his great-grandfather Matthew. He also wanted to write in his own journal about his class report. Before going to bed, he looked in the mirror. His customary scowl had been replaced by a smile as he studied his freckles. He decided he didn’t mind them so much, after all.