Joey Berger liked lollipops. He liked red ones, yellow ones, orange ones, green ones, and purple ones. He was only allowed one very small one each day after school. His older brothers, Nick and David, groaned when it was his turn to choose a treat for family home evening, because he always asked for lollipops. They called him the Lollipop Kid, but Joey didn’t mind.
Now he had a problem. Even sucking on his favorite cherry-flavored lollipop didn’t help. He bit off part and chewed it as he wondered what he could do to help Brother Sawyer feel better.
Joey had been four years old when the Sawyers moved next door to his family three years ago. His mother had asked him to visit the new neighbors with her when she took them a plate of cookies. They’d found Brother Sawyer sitting on the porch swing, sucking on a red lollipop.
Right then, Joey had known that he and Brother Sawyer were going to be friends. Brother Sawyer, who wore bib overalls like Joey’s Grandpa Berger did, invited Joey to visit him after school each day, They would settle down on the swing and read a story together. At first, Brother Sawyer had read the stories and Joey listened. Then, when Joey had learned to read and Brother Sawyer’s eyes had begun to fail, Joey read while his friend listened. They always sucked on lollipops as they read. Brother Sawyer joked that he was the only person he knew who ate more lollipops than Joey did.
Then, about a year ago, Sister Sawyer had died and things changed. For a long time Brother Sawyer didn’t invite Joey to join him on the porch. Gradually, though, he started to feel better, and he and Joey once again spent many happy hours together.
But yesterday Brother Sawyer’s eyes were sad, and he told Joey that it would soon be a year since his wife had died.
“Do you still miss her?” Joey had asked.
“I’ll always miss her,” Brother Sawyer replied softly. “We would’ve celebrated our sixtieth anniversary this year.”
Joey wanted to do something for his friend. “Mom, can I take some of the cookies you baked to Brother Sawyer?”
“That’s a good idea, Joey.” She placed some of the still-warm cookies on a plate. “Invite him to dinner tonight too. He’s probably lonely.”
Brother Sawyer wasn’t on the porch swing when Joey arrived. Carefully balancing the plate of cookies in one hand, he rang the doorbell. After several minutes, Brother Sawyer answered the door. His eyes were red, as though he’d been crying.
“These are for you,” Joey said, handing him the cookies.
“Thank you, Joey.” Brother Sawyer set the plate on a small table by the swing without taking a cookie.
“Would you like to have supper with us tonight?”
Brother Sawyer shook his head. “I wouldn’t be very good company right now.”
Joey took the wrinkled hand in his own. “I think you’re good company.”
A smile touched Brother Sawyer’s eyes briefly. “You’re a good friend, Joey. But sometimes a person needs to be alone.”
“You’re thinking about Sister Sawyer,” Joey said.
The old man nodded. “I wish it was the right season to plant flowers. Martha always loved flowers. She said they reminded her of a rainbow.”
“I’ll help you plant lots of flowers in the spring,”
Brother Sawyer patted Joey’s hand. “Thank you.” He pointed to a small tree in the front yard. “Do you remember when we planted that tree?”
Joey nodded. He’d helped Brother and Sister Sawyer plant it shortly before she’d died.
“I promised Martha that I’d take care of it. It looks forlorn now.”
Joey stared at the tree, its branches stripped of leaves. He didn’t know what forlorn meant, but he supposed it meant sad. Like Brother Sawyer, Joey thought.
Joey stayed a little longer, but nothing he did cheered up his friend. Finally he trudged home, more discouraged than ever. But what could he do?
Joey thought and thought. “That’s it!” He rushed to his room and grabbed his piggy bank, Turning it upside down, he shook it until all the coins tumbled onto his bed. Two dollars and thirty-seven cents. That wasn’t enough, but it was a start.
He took the stairs two at a time and ran into the kitchen, where his mother was paying bills, “Mom, do you have any chores I can do to earn some money?”
His mother looked thoughtful. “I might. What do you need the money for—or is it a secret?”
“It’s a secret, but I can tell you.” Quickly he explained his plan to his mother. “That’s a wonderful idea!”
He did jobs for his parents all the rest of the week. By Saturday he had seven dollars and thirty-seven cents. That should be enough, he decided, His father took him to the grocery store, where he bought five sacks of lollipops. At home he looked at them, thinking about how much he’d enjoy eating them. But he had a much better plan …
That evening his whole family helped him decorate the little tree outside Brother Sawyer’s house, tying lollipops to the branches with pieces of yarn. When they were finished, lollipops “blossomed” from every branch.
“Do you think Brother Sawyer will like it?” he asked his mother.
“I’m sure he will,” she answered. She kissed Joey’s cheek. “I’m very proud of you.”
The next morning, he woke early, eager to see the tree in daylight. Drawing back the curtains, he looked out the window. Lollipops splashed brightly against the pale blue sky.
Pulling on his clothes, he ran next door. He smiled when he found Brother Sawyer sitting on the porch.
“Look what happened to our tree,” Brother Sawyer said with a little catch in his voice. “It’s blooming lollipops! Martha would have loved it.”
Joey didn’t know what to say, so he threw his arms around his friend and hugged him tightly.
“You’re a fine friend, Joey,” Brother Sawyer said, tears in his eyes, “Come on, let’s go have a lollipop.”
Joey looked at the tree, but Brother Sawyer shook his head, “Lollipops from that tree are too special to eat. I have some red ones in the kitchen.”
Joey slipped his hand inside his friend’s and followed him inside.