New Day Rising

New Day Rising

Today is starting like any other day, eight-year-old Gage thought as he slipped into his cotton shirt and pulled his suspenders into place. Why does it feel different? Gabriel, the rooster, crowed like always to wake up the sun. The sun peeked through the curtains and lit up the face of Roosevelt, Gage’s old, worn panda that sat on a chair by his bed, as it always did.

Yet things seemed different. Gabriel’s crowing was easier to tolerate, somehow. The light seeping through his worn curtains looked … brighter. And this morning Roosevelt’s stitched-on smile appeared happier than ever. He looked the stuffed bear straight in his black button eyes. “What’s going on, Roosevelt?”

Gage pulled on his boots. Papa would be out in the barn by now, hitching the field horse to the plow. It was Gage’s job to walk behind him and plant the seeds, a chore that somehow never ranked as high on his list of things to do as fishing or playing marbles with Ansel Clanton. But now the thought of spending the whole day in the field, seeding the dry earth, didn’t rouse even one sigh. In fact, he discovered himself looking forward to it!

“What is going on, Roosevelt?” he asked again as he started for the door, stuffing his shirt into his trousers. He paused in the sunlight that inched its way through the shadows of his room. “At least the morning is cold, like it’s supposed to be,” he told the old bear. “Except,” he added, his face puzzling up again, “today it doesn’t make me wish I was still in bed under Mama’s comforter, like it usually does.” He faced himself in the little dresser mirror. “Yep, it’s me all right. It’s just everything else that’s changed.” He scratched his head. “Maybe I’m dreaming or something, Roosevelt.” He pinched himself. “No, it’s real enough all right.”

Gage quickly ate the two eggs, biscuit, and glass of goat’s milk that Mama had waiting for him. He hated goat’s milk, but today it seemed easier to swallow.

Mama turned from her work at the butter churn and looked at her son. “Is anything the matter, Gage?”

“Mama, do you feel any different this morning than you did yesterday?”

“Feel any different about what?”

“About … everything?”

“No, I can’t say that I do. Why?”

“It’s hard to explain. I don’t really understand it myself.” He set his empty glass on the table and ran out the door.

Mama watched him as he crossed the yard toward the big field. Then she smiled, shrugged, and turned her attention back to the churn.

As Gage walked behind his father, depositing seeds into the newly plowed furrows, he glanced at the old scarecrow that stood a short way off. He had seen it a thousand times before. It looked just like it always had—a straw man dressed in ragged clothes. So why did it seem that Gage was looking at it for the first time? “Do you notice anything different about the straw man, Papa?”

Papa glanced at the ragged figure with the lifeless stare. “Yes,” he responded lightly, squinting from beneath his wide-brimmed hat, “now that you mention it, Son.”

“Really, Papa?” Gage exclaimed. “I was starting to think that I was the only one who—

“No, no,” the tall farmer with the dark, laughing eyes interrupted teasingly “I’d say that scarecrow looks at least a day older!” he chuckled.

Gage sighed. “That isn’t it, Papa. Can we talk a minute?”

Papa looked over his shoulder at the boy and stopped plowing at the end of the row. “I suppose I could give Thaddeus here a little rest.” He patted the big field horse on the rump and sat down. “What is it, Son?”

“I wish I knew what words to use to explain it, Papa.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No, Papa—I just don’t understand it.”

Papa looked relieved. He pulled off his hat and scratched his head. “You asked me a moment ago if I noticed anything different about that scarecrow over there—”

“It isn’t just the straw man, Papa,” Gage interrupted. “It’s everything.”

“What about everything, Gage?”

“It’s like I’m feeling and seeing and tasting and smelling and hearing everything for the very first time. It’s like I was a different person or something. The sky looks bluer. The scarecrow looks more … interesting.” He lifted a handful of dirt and let it sift between his fingers. “The dirt even feels good. What’s the matter with me?”

Papa’s eyes misted over. “I remember when I first felt the same way.”

“You did? When, Papa?”

Papa gazed off across the field into the morning light that covered the hills. “The same day I was baptized.” His eyes returned to his son’s. “I felt alive all over, just like you.”

“I was baptized last night,” Gage uttered softly, his eyes rounding even more, like the sun above the hills.

“Yes,” his father said softly, “and you said you woke up this morning feeling different—about everything.”

“Will it be like this every morning, now that I’ve been baptized?”

“No,” Papa answered. “Not every morning.”

A tear slid down the boy’s dusty cheek. “I don’t ever want to stop feeling like I do. Never.”

“You made some very important promises to Heavenly Father at your baptism, and he made some to you. Be true to those commitments, Son, and your life will stay full, bright, and alive. It’s like this field—the harder we work to do everything right, the bigger and better and more beautiful the harvest. We can’t just sit here with our hands in our pockets and expect the corn to reach the clouds, now can we?”

“Nope—we can’t!”

The two continued their slow journey down the lengths of the field, the tall man guiding the plow, the small boy seeding the furrows.

At the end of the day, Papa and Gage made their way back to the farmhouse. Even though Gage was tired, he wore a dusty smile. He had worked hard, and it had been a good day. Tomorrow would bring another beautiful morning.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown