Different Kind of Happiness

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    When we’re helping, we’re happy (Children’s Songbook, page 198).

    Sam tiptoed on stocking feet to the front door. Setting her ice skates gently on the floor so as not to make a sound, she reached for her heavy winter boots. She hadn’t bothered to clean them when she came in yesterday, and they were caked with grime.

    No matter. Sam had something more important to think about—getting to the rink the moment it opened. That’s when the skating was best—before the crowds arrived and the ice was still like glass. Tugging on her boots over thick wool socks, she pretended to not notice the mess they’d left on the floor.

    “Samantha, is that you?” Mom must have heard her, after all.

    Sam stood with her hand on the doorknob, debating whether to answer or slip out quietly. She was tempted to pretend she hadn’t heard her mother’s voice. On the other hand, maybe she could persuade her mother to let her help with the housework later in the day. The dirty floor wasn’t going anywhere, was it?

    “Coming, Mom,” she called before yanking off her boots and trudging to the kitchen.

    Mom was sitting at the kitchen table, her head cradled in her hands. When she glanced up, Sam noticed how pale her mother looked. “Mom,” she blurted before her mother could say a word, “would you mind if I clean the floor later? I promised Judy I’d meet her at the rink first thing this morning.”

    Sam thought she detected a flicker of disappointment in her mother’s eyes, but she just smiled. “No, that’s fine, Sam. But would you mind picking up some orange juice and cold medicine at the market? I think I’ve come down with the flu, and I just don’t feel up to going out today.”

    “Sure, Mom.” Sam tried to ignore the dark circles etched under her mother’s eyes. “Will it be OK, though, if I pick them up after I’m through skating? Otherwise, I’ll be late getting to the rink.”

    “That’ll be fine,” her mother said agreeably.

    Sam pocketed the money her mother gave her, then raced to put her boots back on. She’d have to run all the way to the rink if she didn’t want to be late.

    Sam arrived at the rink just as it was opening. Judy stood at the door, waiting for her. “Guess what—we’re the only ones here!” she exclaimed gleefully. “We’ll have the whole place to ourselves for a while.”

    As they laced up their skates in silence, Sam found herself reliving the moments with her mother in the kitchen. Suddenly it struck her—Mom always worked on Saturdays! Obviously, she wasn’t going in today. Sam knew how hard her mother tried to never miss work. She was paid by the hour, so every day missed, she said, meant a smaller paycheck that week.

    “Hey, slowpoke,” Judy teased as she stood up on her skates and clomped over to the ice, “if you don’t hurry up, they’ll be closing this place for the night!”

    Sam had grown so absorbed in her own thoughts that she hadn’t finished lacing up her first skate yet. Giving Judy a sheepish grin, she bent over her skates and tried to concentrate.

    At last she made it onto the ice. Judy chattered gaily as they glided along. It was a perfect day for skating. The ice was smooth, with barely a nick in it, and there were still only a few other skaters. The subzero temperatures outdoors must have kept the usual crowd at home.

    Still, Sam found herself straining to be cheerful. Her enthusiasm for skating seemed to have deserted her this morning. Images of her mother’s pale face kept floating before her eyes.

    “Are you OK, Sam?” Judy was tugging at her sleeve.

    “Mom’s sick, and I’m worried about her,” Sam confessed.

    Judy looked at her in surprise. Sam wasn’t one to worry, and she seldom allowed anything to interfere with having fun. “Do you want to go home?”

    “Maybe I’d better. Do you mind?”

    “It’s OK with me,” her friend said, smiling at her. “I’m getting cold, anyhow.”

    Sam suddenly felt closer to Judy than she’d ever felt before.

    When she got home, Sam put the medicine on the table and the juice in the refrigerator. Then she peeked in at her mother, who lay sleeping in her bed, her tired-looking bedspread pulled up under her chin. Sam quietly got the puffy new comforter from her own bed and gently put it over her mother.

    She tiptoed from the room, careful not to awaken her mother. If she hurried and worked quietly, maybe she could get the housework done before Mom woke up. Her mother had asked only that Sam tidy up her own room and sweep the floors, but why couldn’t she do all the cleaning today? Glancing at the kitchen clock, she set herself the task of getting as much accomplished as she could in an hour.

    The minutes flew by as she dusted, swept, and scrubbed. The pungent scent of lemon oil polish announced the last task being done. Already the kitchen floor glistened and the countertop shone.

    Mom walked in just as Sam was putting away the furniture polish. “I thought I heard feet padding down the hall.”

    “Look, Mom,” Sam said, taking her mother by the hand and leading her through the apartment. As she showed off her handiwork, she stole a look at her mother’s face. She wasn’t sure which of them was happier.

    [photos] Photos by Matt Reier