“Tell me about this picture, Mom,” Jeff asked. He had pulled a picture out of the large red velvet photo album that had been his great-grandma’s. “Who is the little boy? I’ve never seen him before. The little girl looks like you.”
Mother sighed. “It’s a picture of my cousin Kenny and me. Kenny was my best friend too. We both loved the early spring, when buds began to form on brown branches, green grass peeked out from patches of melting snow, and the river roared through the farm with spring runoff. Kenny was deaf and couldn’t hear it, but he could feel the spring sun warm his back as he played with Bridget, his huge pet sheep who was about to have baby lambs.
“We were both five. We talked to each other with our own made-up sign language. I loved playing with his large collection of farm toys, and he was always willing to share them.
“On that beautiful spring afternoon, the snow had been totally replaced by a carpet of green grass, and the creek had calmed from a roar to a strong, pleasant chuckle. Our mothers decided to let us go fishing.
“I was eager to try out my new bamboo fishing pole. A real fishing pole. Always before I had used a thick stick, like the one Kenny was still using.
“We sat side by side on our little perch, not moving so that we wouldn’t scare the fish. I threw my line into the creek, just the way my mother had shown me, being careful not to get it tangled. Kenny just sat there with his stick-pole, a sad expression on his face. Oh no! I thought. He wants a new pole too.
“Soon he motioned to me in our own private language that he wanted to use my new fishing pole. I shrugged him away, pretending not to understand. He tried again, more insistent this time. I looked away, pointedly ignoring him. Frustrated, he tried to pull the pole out of my hands.
“I pried his fingers off my pole and pushed him away. I wanted to tell him, ‘Just let me use it first for a little while. I’ll let you try it if you’ll only wait until I’m ready.’ But I didn’t know how.
“He was hurt and turned away. I reached over to pinch him, angry because he wouldn’t let me enjoy my new pole even for a moment.
“I looked up to see my mother taking our picture. My face burned with shame. I felt small and little and mean. I didn’t feel like fishing anymore.
“Handing my precious new pole to Kenny, I left to go play with Bridget. I loved to put my fingers deep into her soft wool. I looked back to see that Kenny was offering me his thick stick and motioning for me to come back and sit by him, but I ignored him.
“We had a picnic that day on the vast green lawn, with fancy little sandwiches cut in the shape of hearts, pink lemonade, and Aunt Dorothy’s angel food cake. We laughed when Bridget tried to steal a nibble.
“That was the last time I ever got to play with Kenny. Our mothers had planned this special day for us because Kenny was going into the hospital to have surgery, which the doctors hoped would help his ears.
“But something went wrong. Kenny died. My mother said that Kenny went to live with Jesus. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t stay right here with us.
“I missed him terribly. His mother put away all his farm toys and never got them out again. I wanted to play with them because then I could pretend that he was playing with me.
“Mom’s pictures came back from being developed, and the pinch was in that picture! Mom had the picture made big and ordered several copies so that Grandma and all my aunts and uncles could have a picture of Kenny.
“I have always felt sad about that mean pinch. Every time I see that picture of Kenny and me fishing, it makes me feel bad.”
Jeff looked up at his mother’s sad face. “Don’t you remember what you told me when I said I hated Jared because he teased me? You told me that learning to get along was just like taking piano lessons. It takes practice, and sometimes you stumble.
“And when I was learning to ride my bike, Daddy held on to me as long as he could, then ran beside me to try to keep me from falling. Sometimes I fell anyway. You said learning to be like Jesus Christ was something like that, only His hand is always there for us when we reach for it.
“Mama, I think from now on when you look at this picture of the pinch, it should remind you of Jesus Christ instead of making you feel sad.”
Mother gave Jeff a big hug and kiss. “Thank you, Jeff. From now on, when I look at this picture, it will make me happy. I will think of the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.”