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By Peter Paul Licata
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Peter Paul Licata
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGod kissed Fallbrook, California.
That's what the residents will tell you. So it only makes sense that angels like to frequent the area. The heavenly visitors come to Fallbrook with a great affinity for its friendly, kind, angelic like inhabitants. The folks in this rural community lovingly tend to the lush groves and peaceful orchids among the gently rolling hills of their emerald paradise. And the land returns the love.
The angels come to watch, observe, learn and on occasion help these most deserving people.
Lance Rutter and his two children Maura-Jean and Billy live on an avocado farm in Fallbrook located in Northern San Diego County off Highway 15 just west of Duke Snyder Road.
It is evening with a clear sky in late September. Lance is standing in a lighted area on a mound of dirt exactly sixty feet and six inches from a scarecrow with a baseball bat who is standing on the right side of a handmade wooden home plate in front of a few bales of hay. He is staring down the scarecrow the family calls Russell and shaking off signs. His two children are watching.
"Why are you throwing avocado pits instead of baseballs, Dad?" Maura, Lances's twelve year old daughter asked.
"The only baseball I found was half eaten by mice. The only thing I could throw is a sinker. They must have eaten the top half of the baseball."
"Star bright make a wish tonight," Billy, Lances six year old boy said. The darkened sky was full of activity as the Delta Aurigids meteor shower was performing this evening.
"Why don't you just buy some new baseballs?" Maura asked.
"Not so fast there," Lance said. "Baseballs cost money and we got to be careful with our money. The good Lord has blessed us over time with this bountiful land, but for the last couple of years we haven't made any money. The land is going through a cleansing I think. The drought and fires hurt us bad."
"Wouldn't too much rain be more like a cleansing?" Maura asked.
"Ugh ... This is more like a dry cleaning," Lance said. "Although I got to admit I made some mistakes ... with the banks, the fertilizer, tryin' to manage this farm. Your mother did all that, it was easy for her. I don't have your mother's brain. May she rest in peace. That woman was a saint. And smart."
"You're doing all right, Daddy," Maura said. "I know it's not easy."
Lance wound up, displaying the form he had when he started as a promising pitcher for the Albuquerque Isotopes, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was on injured reserve now. He nodded his head approving the pitch selection from the imaginary catcher and delivered a breaking avocado pit that caught the corner of the plate.
"Strike one," Billy proclaimed acting like a four foot umpire.
"Dad, that was pretty good," Maura said. "What's goin' on, why are you out here tonight?"
"Well," Lance took a deep breath, "Joe Torre called the other day. Joe's' currently the Dodgers manager, he was the pitching coach when I first signed with the Isotopes."
"I thought Joe Torre was the New York Yankees manager, Dad," Maura said. "Didn't he win a lot of World Series for them."
"Yes he did. Fine man. Great manager."
Lance cupped the pit with both hands, turning it like a real baseball as his fingers gripped the imaginary threads and threw another one.
"Strike two," Billy said.
"Then why did the Yankees fire Joe Torre?" Maura asked.
Lance scratched his head. "I guess because he won so much George Steinbrenner wanted to give someone else a chance."
His daughter didn't seem satisfied with the answer. "That doesn't make much sense," she said.
With a grin, Lance continued his story. "Anyway, Joe Torre tells me the other day the Dodgers may need a right handed pitcher with a good breaking ball. They have a lot of injuries and they started to look for someone."
"That's fantastic, Dad," Maura said.
Lance shook off several signs that weren't there to start with and delivered an avocado pit that looked liked it would hit Russell but caught the corner of the plate.
"Very nice pitch, Dad!" Maura said.
"You otta dar, battah!" Billy screeched.
"It's still a long shot," Lance said. "But if it comes I gotta be ready. Nothing to do in the field except bury dead avocado trees. That's depressing. Oh the money would be God sent if I get the call. I gotta tell you kids our finances are not in good shape. No, no, I'm sorry to say we're not in good shape."
"I could quit school and get a job," Billy said. "What do I need second grade for?"
"You just wanna quit school," Maura said.
"Well," the boy replied with a shrug, "now I got a good reason to quit."
"You're not quitting school, Billy, forget that thought," Maura said. "But it's ok to marry a rich girl from your first grade class if you find one. In the meantime we will find a way. We'll be all right. Won't we, Dad."
"Sure we will, honey. We'll be fine. It would be nice to have a little magic to help us through these tough times. I certainly wouldn't refuse some magic."
The kids had heard their father talk about financial problems before. They had heard him ask for a bit of magic over and over again. Maura was actually starting to help her father manage the farm. She was proficient with numbers, excellent with the employees, and skilled with all aspects of the operation - pretty good for a twelve year old. She was very smart and her Dad ... well, he wasn't, but he worked his tail off and was a loving and devoted father. Maura, it seemed, had inherited her mother's vast intelligence.
"Star bright make a wish tonight," Billy said.
"Nice pitch, Dad," Maura said. "That one broke strong and dove for the plate."
"Yeah, I'm startin' to loosen up. I'm startin' to feel better."
"Is your shoulder all right, Dad?" Maura asked.
Lance winked at her. "Yeah, it feels good."
Billy followed a frog down the path toward a small clearing where he played and had a tent set up. "Star bright make a wish tonight," he said as he watched another meteor fall through the sky. He closed his eyes and made a wish. Then he opened them. Nothing. "What the hell does a guy have to do to get a little magic around here?" Billy asked.
"Just ask," the voice behind Billy said. "What do you want the magic for, Billy?"
Startled, the boy jumped backwards. "Who are you?" he asked. "I hope you are a magician!"
"Sorry. I'm not a magician. I'm an angel."
"You are an angel," Billy said, his jaw hanging open. "You look like a kid the same age as me."
It was Billy's first angel encounter and they could be tricky at any age.
"I am, I'm six just like you."
"Can you do magic?"
"Yes, I can do magic."
Billy looked skeptical. "Prove it."
Suddenly the young angel wasn't Billy's size anymore but a figure over fifteen feet tall! He now loomed large over the boy.
"Wow, I can't do magic like that, the best I could do is pull a quarter out of my ear." Billy strained his neck to see all of the vision before him. "You probably know the quarter trick, huh?"
"Yeah, I do. My name is Brent." The angel returned to former size.
"How did you know my name?" Billy asked, the question just now coming to him. "You're a smart angel aren't you?"
Brent smiled. "Yes, I am a smart angel."
"Can I be an angel some day? My sister says I'm almost as smart as my dad."
"Smart helps, but it takes more than being smart, Billy."
"What does it take?"
"It takes heart. A good heart. A kind heart. A generous heart. A noble heart. Your father has heart, Billy."
Billy cocked his head. "Is he gonna be an angel?"
"Oh, I don't know. It's possible."
"I didn't know angels could be so young, plus most of the angels I see in books have wings."
"My mom and dad were a big help with me being an angel," Brent explained, "and the only time we wear our wings is for formal pictures. Why are you asking for magic, Billy?"
"My dad may have a good heart and a good arm but he's got a sick wallet. I know he works real hard but we might have to sell the farm and move to Alaska and become ice farmers. My dad is tryin to join the Dodgers so he can strike out the Big Opple and beat the Yankees and make money."
"I see," the angel said, nodding his head. "How's your sister doing?"
"She needs help. I think she needs a new brain. She wants me to get married." Billy made a face that looked like he might get sick.
"Oh, I think your sister is kidding with you."
Now Billy seemed very serious. "Can you help us, Brent?" he asked.
"Yes, I'm sure we can. Let me talk to my mom and dad."
Billy ran to his GI Joe tent and returned with a large plastic jug. "Should I use this?" he asked.
"What's that, Billy?"
"It's my magic potion," the boy replied. "Only the magic part isn't workin'."
"What's in there?"
"Mentos, olive oil, cherries and coffee."
"Mentos! Is that the stuff they play with on You Tube?" Brent asked.
"Yeah, that's the same stuff."
"Yes, Billy, you can use your magic potion. Hold it up over your head."
Billy raised the jug over his head with two hands. The angel pointed his finger toward the jug and a silver ray of light danced on the concoction.
"What did you do it?" Billy asked, his eyes wide.
"It's a secret."
"What should I do with it?"
"Let it cook overnight. And then ... you'll know what do to with it. I promise."
"OK," Billy said.
"Billy. Billy!" Lance yelled from the top of the path. "Come on, we're going inside."
"Want to come in and have some ice cream and meet my dad and sister?" Billy asked the angel.
"Thank you, I'd love to," Brent said with a smile only an angel could make. "But I really have to get going. We will meet again. I promise."
"Goodbye Billy. I wish you and your family much happiness."
The angel vanished quickly. Billy walked up the path and met his father.
"What's going on down there, Billy?" Lance asked. "Are you playin' with the big flashlight down there?"
"No," Billy replied. "I was talking to an angel."
"You were! Was Spiderman or the Green Hornet with him?"
"No. Just the angel. He's gonna help us with some magic."
"That's just great, Billy," his father said with a laugh.
The next morning, Maura was in the kitchen making pancakes for Billy, and toast for her father. Lance had put handrails with shelves in the kitchen and made some alterations to the stove to make it easier for her when she was in the kitchen. Maura loved to cook. Maura loved to live.
"Where's my red shirt?" asked Billy.
"It's dirty," Maura said. "I'm gonna wash clothes after school. Wear the blue one."
Their father called from upstairs, "Maura, did you see my work pants?"
"They're in the dryer, Dad."
"Where's my book bag?" Billy asked from another room.
"In the hallway near the door," Maura replied.
"Maura, I won't be able to pick you up today I have a dentist appointment," Lance said.
"That's next week, Dad."
Then Maura noticed a leak in the faucet. "Oh shoot ... What a time for plumbing problems." She grabbed a wrench and a screwdriver, took the pancakes off the heated stove surface and attacked the disorderly sink.
The phone rang. And rang. And rang.
"Could someone get that please?" Maura asked. No answer.
Maura picked up the phone. "Hello."
"Would you like to take a short survey and be eligible to win tickets to the circus?" the woman asked.
Maura had no time for this right now. "Could you please call back, I'm a little busy now," she said.
Maura hung up the phone just as Dad came into the kitchen.
"How's your morning goin', sunshine?" he asked Maura as he took his seat at the table.
"All right, Dad."
"The weather report is callin' for rain. Yesterday they said no chance for rain for at least a week. Rain, Maura, ain't that great."
"Sure is, what are you gonna do today, Dad?" "Make sure all the farm equipment is workin' proper."
"Billy, your pancakes are ready," Maura yelled. "Here ya go, Dad, avocado toast, avocado tea and some avocado slices."
"I'm gonna take this in the barn to eat," Lance said, "I want to start checking the equipment."
"See you after school, Dad."
"Sure thing, Maura, love ya."
A letter came for Lance that morning. But it never reached him. Maura, with her father's approval, handled all the mail. She also paid the bills, cleaned the house-usually a room or two a day-and kept everyone on schedule. She was the Rutter family's glue. Maura read the letter sent to her father:
Dear Lance Rutter,
I am compelled by law to send this notice. The California Department of Children's Wellness has been informed of a "possible" infraction of the Children's Wellness Code and therefore must initiate investigative procedures in this matter.
Maura Rutter, our records state, is afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy. Maura, like many children and adults who have MD, has special needs. We have information that has Maura working in the avocado groves on your farm. While I am sure there is a valid explanation this situation raises questions which must be addressed.
Mr. Rutter, I assure you the action taken by myself and this department are for the benefit of your daughter Maura. I hope to visit you and your family as soon as my mobility returns. I was just in an accident and suffered a broken leg.
Thank you for your understanding in this matter.
California Department of Children's Wellness
Working in the fields, Maura thought. What are they talking about? Maura decided she would answer the letter for her father.
Miss Joan Miller,
Yes, I am sure someone saw my daughter Maura along with my son Billy in the orchards with me. They like to help as much as possible. I was not so keen on the idea at first but Maura persisted and I gave in. Maura insists it is not work for her. She calls her time in the sun-drenched orchards her special time. She likes helping and I limit her duties. Maura knows that her time in the orchards may be limited. She likes being with me and her brother in the peaceful countryside. She say's Muscular Dystrophy is a thief so she must guard her special time.
You are welcome to come to our house, to go with us in the orchards, if you would like. Come. Come with an open heart.
I am sorry to hear of your unfortunate accident and I wish you a speedy recovery.
"I can't believe how big they are," Lance said holding and admiring an avocado while sitting at the dinner table. "They grew so quick, not even a week. Even the dead trees undied and came back to life. And they're simply delicious. I don't understand it."
"It's magic," Billy said. "I asked the angel for a little magic and he delivered."
"What are you talking about, Billy?" Maura asked while putting a cheeseburger on Billy's plate. "Were you praying when you did this."
"No. Could I have some more soda please."
"Here you go, Dad, just the way you like your burgers," Maura said, putting a gigantic hamburger, which was actually the new crop of avocado mixed together with bread and spices then grilled, on his plate. Maura added a sprinkle of ground beef on top. Lance was eating these since he could remember.
"Billy, will you please tell us what you are talkin' about?" Lance asked. "When did this happen?"
"The night you were throwing avocado pits to Russell I saw an angel down near my tent. I didn't believe him at first. I asked him to prove he was an angel. He was the same size as me and then all of a sudden he was as tall as the oak tree. Do we have any potato chips?"
"Why didn't you say something about this, Billy?" Maura asked.
"I did. I told Dad."
Lance raised an eyebrow. "You did?"
"Yeah. You asked me if Spiderman and the Green Hornet were with the angel."
"Were they?" Lance asked.
Maura gave Lance an incredulous look. "Billy, are you making up stories again?"
"Honest to God, Billy?" Maura asked.
"Honest to God," Billy swore.
"What do you think, Dad?" asked Maura.
"This is the tastiest burger I ever had," Lance said, then taking a big drink of his avocado ice tea.
"That's great," Maura said, "but I meant what do you think about Billy's story?"
"Quite a story that's for sure. I do believe you saw something, Billy, but what it was I'm not sure."
"Is there anything else that happened, Billy?" Maura asked.
Excerpted from AVOCADO MAGIC by Peter Paul Licata Copyright © 2010 by Peter Paul Licata. Excerpted by permission.
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