Friend to Friend

Whenever I am good and kind And help someone I see, I feel so very happy, For then I’m helping me (Children’s Songbook, page 197).

From the time I was eight years old until I was fifteen, my parents owned and operated a flower shop. It was a family business, and everyone in the family—my parents; my older sister, Pat; my younger brother, Steve; and I—helped in either the shop or the greenhouse. We all helped in delivering the orders.

During the spring, I transplanted flowers in the greenhouse after school and on Saturdays. Another of my responsibilities was to water all the flowers and green potted plants in the large showroom. My father also worked for the railroad, so while he was gone during the day, my mother operated the shop. Holidays were very busy times in the shop. We often worked long into the night, getting orders ready.

Every summer my parents closed the flower shop for two weeks so that we could go on a family vacation. We often went to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. One year we visited a redwood forest in northern California.

When I was about twelve, my parents planned the most exciting trip of all! My father ordered a new car from Detroit, then scheduled his vacation for the following summer, when it would be ready. Our plan was to take the train to Detroit, pick up the car, drive east to New York City and Washington, D.C., and then drive home. We were all very excited that whole year as we planned the trip. By the time school was out for summer vacation, we could not think or talk about anything else.

One day, about two weeks before we were to leave, Dad came home from work with a worried look on his face, and I knew that something was bothering him. He told us that some unexpected things had come up at his office. He would not be able to leave, and we could not take the vacation we had planned. It was hard to believe what we were hearing, and the disappointment was almost more than we could bear. Dad said that Mother, my older sister, and my aunt would take the train to Detroit and pick up the car. I would have to stay home to take care of Steve, who was eight.

At first I felt it was unfair that I should be the one to stay home, but my father explained that my sister, who was then sixteen, could help Mother with the driving, and I was needed to help with my brother. I felt an ache in my heart that I didn’t think would ever go away.

One day after my mother and sister had been gone about a week, Steve was playing with some of his friends in the field up the street. They had made a fire and put a can of water on it. One of the boys accidentally kicked the can, and the boiling water splashed all over Steve’s stomach, burning him badly.

For the next week, I sat with him as he lay on the couch, unable to move. I found things to do with him that helped to get his mind off his pain. We played lots of games. One of our favorites was Fish, a card game. I also read to him. My father told me how thankful he was to have me there. I found that I was no longer thinking about my disappointment; instead, I was thinking about how I could help my brother feel better. And the ache in my heart was gone.

Dad surprised us at the end of the week—the three of us got on the train for Denver, where we would meet my mother, aunt, and sister. I will never forget seeing my brother stretched out on the train seat, unable to sit up because the burn on his stomach had still not healed. For a few days, we stayed with my uncle who lived in Denver; then the six of us drove home in our new car. Even though the trip was shorter and less scenic than a trip to the East Coast, it was enjoyable because our family was all together.

Giving up the trip to Detroit, New York City, and Washington, D.C., was a very difficult experience for me, yet I knew how much it meant to my brother to have me there. I understood why my family needed me to stay home, and it gave me a good feeling to know that I was needed and that I had chosen the right. My brother and I became very close through this experience. We found that we enjoyed spending time together long after he recovered from the burn. As adults, we are still close.

[illustration] Illustrated by Jon Burton

[photo] Age three

[photo] At age sixteen

[photo] Sister Wirthlin with her husband, David

[photo] On stilts at age five, with her brother, Steve, and sister, Pat