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It was just an ordinary house, though now falling apart from lack of love. It was located on a back street in a village called Shadybrook. The house was old, that is, to a child's way of thinking. Actually, it was hardly fifty years old, which to an older person was rather new since older people are so used to one–hundred or two–hundred–year–old houses. To the people who had just moved in, it must have seemed like a dream house, even though it was run–down and shabby looking, with paint peeling off the outside and weeds running wild all around the grounds. Some might just say it was dilapidated.
Rumor had it that the family was allowed to live there free if they agreed to fix it up and paint the whole house inside and out, and take care of the front and back yards. The day they moved in, the whole village was curious, and all during the day neighbors casually walked down the street to catch a glimpse of what the newcomers were like. One of the most curious was only a young girl, not quite ten years old.
It turned out the new family were poor people, though there was a certain dignity about them. The father and mother seemed gentle; their young boy appeared to be ten or eleven, though he could have been a little older. They were dressed in simple clothes that looked well worn. The father looked older than his wife; he might be in his thirties. He had a kind face, but one could tell he had a lot of cares, as if his life was not too easy. The mother, looking younger, was maybe in her late twenties. She was very pretty; in fact, quite beautiful, with sallow skin, warm penetrating brown eyes, and long, naturally wavy brown hair gathered in the back and held together by a leather knot.
Across the street from the house, a curious little girl was watching as they moved the few pieces of furniture they had into their new home. The mother looked up and her eyes smiled at the girl. The girl smiled back and gave a shy wave of hello with her hand. The girl would never forget the beautiful smile on the woman's face. She fell in love with her immediately. No one had ever smiled at her with such love. It was as if the woman had known all about her and was telling her she liked her.
That meant so much to a girl who had little love in her life. Her father and mother were very busy doing their own things, and the girl always felt alone and, sometimes, as if she were unwanted and in the way. The look on the face of this pretty lady told her something very different. This was someone who understood and cared. The girl had a happy feeling that she and the lady would become friends.
The boy paid no attention to the girl at all. He was busy helping his father. He was a good-looking boy, with curly dark brown hair, and he was strong. He had no trouble lifting things that were quite heavy. Even though his father tried to help him, he insisted on doing it by himself. The girl heard him telling his father, “Don't you know I am a big boy now, Abba?” She did not know what “Abba” meant. Was that his father’s name? Hearing his mother calling her son, the girl now knew the boy’s name was Joshua.
When Joshua went into the house, the girl left and walked down the street with a happy smile as she thought about how the lady had smiled at her. She felt all warm and happy inside. As soon as she walked into the house, her mother noticed the change in her. The ordinarily sad look was gone.
“Marguerite, I saw you skipping up the front walk. When you went out you seemed sad. Now you seem so happy. What changed you, child?”
“Mommy, that new family moving into that old house down the street, the lady, the mother, smiled at me. I could tell she likes me.”
“Now listen! We don’t know those people, who they are, or what they are like. They may not be nice people for all we know.”
“But, Mother, they seem so nice. They are all nice to each other and help each other. The boy doesn’t even have to be told what to do. He just goes ahead and does things to help his father. He calls his father ‘Abba.’ That’s a funny name. And, Mother, the boy is so strong. I heard his mother calling him Joshua. That’s his name.”
“I don’t want you getting close to those people, Marguerite. There are already rumors flying around about them. They’re poor, and we don’t know anything about them. They may be nice people, but they may be lazy. It’s hard to be poor today if you have any kind of ambition. So I don’t want you hanging around there.”
Marguerite always listened to her mother, and that is what she did then, but she knew she had to see those nice people again. She felt so happy just being near them. And she knew they were nice in spite of what people were rumoring about them already when they didn’t even know them.
As much as she tried to obey her mother, she could not avoid meeting them at the most unexpected times, as if the encounters had been planned: like the time her mother sent her to the Shadybrook grocery store to buy some baking powder so she could bake a cake. The baking powder was right on the shelf where the pretty lady was putting a bag of flour into her basket. Marguerite tried not to talk to her, but she could not help just looking at her. She was so beautiful. The woman turned and looked at Marguerite and smiled, just the way she had when the girl saw her the first time.
“My name is Miriam,” she said as she held out her upturned hand. She had never seen anyone offer to shake hands like that.
“My name is Marguerite,” the girl stammered as she put her hand in the lady’s hand. The girl felt so proud that she was actually holding hands for that brief moment.
“Welcome to our village!” she said to Miriam.
“Thank you. You are so kind. You are really the first person I have met since we came here. I saw you one day when we were moving into our new home. You might like to see it when we finish putting everything together. It doesn’t look very nice now. Perhaps you could invite your mother to come, too, so I could meet her.”
“That would be so nice. I would like my mother to meet you. I know she would like you, and your family, too.”
“I hope she does. I look forward to meeting her. Please tell her she would be most welcome at any time.”
The girl ran home as fast as she could to tell her mother, who was at first displeased, thinking that her daughter had disobeyed her instructions. But when Marguerite told her mother that the lady had been standing right next to the shelf with the baking powder, she grinned. Marguerite also told her that the lady would like to meet her and that she was welcome to visit anytime, and that made her mother feel special.
Marguerite did follow her mother's instructions and did not go near those people again, though she could not help but see Joshua when he was playing with his new friends or going on errands for his parents. She just said hello to him and went about her business, though when he smiled at her when he said hello, she wanted so much to talk with him. However, she was obedient and did as her mother instructed.
One day, however, on her way to the playground, she saw him walking down the street. He must have just come from the lumberyard. He was carrying some big boards over his shoulder. One started to slip and then fell to the ground. He dropped the others and put his hands on his hips as if he was upset. Marguerite could not help herself. She ran over to help him. She could tell he was annoyed with himself for dropping the boards.
“It’s not that it’s too heavy,” he said, “it’s just that when one slips, they all slide off.”
“Let me help you,” Marguerite said. “I can carry one. I’d be glad to help you.”
He looked at her, smiled, and then said, “Okay, thank you.”
They both walked down the street and around the corner to his house. He seemed a little embarrassed that a girl was helping him, especially when a couple of her friends passed and giggled at them. Marguerite didn’t mind, but she guessed a boy would be embarrassed that a girl had to help him, though it didn’t really seem to bother him.
When they reached his house, Joshua’s father was working on the front of it. He was building a porch. The old one had fallen apart. When he heard the two children talking, he turned and called to his son, “Joshua, you’re back already. Good. You’re just in time. I can use those pieces right here. Who’s your new friend who’s helping you?”
“Her name is Marguerite. The wood wasn’t that heavy, Abba, but it kept slipping, so Marguerite offered to help me. It was very kind of her. I’d like to get her a glass of water and a piece of homemade bread that mother just baked. Is that all right, Abba?”
“Of course, Son. We should always be grateful when someone does us a kindness, but ask your mother first.”
Standing near the porch waiting, the girl was wondering how Joshua knew her name since she had never talked to him, and was sure no one could have told him.
While she was lost in her thoughts, Joshua’s father turned toward her and introduced himself. “My name is Joseph, Marguerite. Thank you for helping my son. He is such a good boy, and a big help to me. I get tired easily and he seems to sense it, so he always insists on helping me.”
“He seems so different from the other boys in the village. He is very kind and gentle.”
“He is that, all right. But, he can be full of mischief sometimes. He likes to play tricks, but nothing mean; just to make good fun.”
“You said your name is Joseph. But Joshua calls you ‘Abba.’ ”
Joseph laughed out loud. “‘Abba’ means ‘Daddy’ in our language.”
“Oh,” the girl remarked.
At that point Joshua came out with a glass of water and a big slice of hot homemade bread. His mother came out with him.
“Marguerite, what a nice surprise to see you again! Thank you for helping my son carry that big load of wood.”
“I was glad to help him, Miriam. The wood was awkward and kept slipping, so I knew he needed help. This homemade bread is delicious. Thank you both very much. I wish we had homemade bread at home. We buy ours at the store, but it’s not as good as homemade.”
Miriam smiled. “Thank you, Marguerite. I am glad you like it.”
“I have to go home now. Good–bye. You are all such nice people,” Marguerite said as she gave the empty glass back to Joshua, then half–walked and half–skipped down the street. Marguerite lived with her parents, Bill and Vivian McCabe, on Turtle Street.
“Joshua, would you bring the boards over here, so we can finish patching up this section. All we will have to do then is replace boards on the porch and paint everything, and the porch will look just like new.”
“I like the way you work, Father. You make it look so easy.”
“Son, when you know what you are doing, it is easy. That is why it is so important to learn everything you can when you are young, so you will have all the knowledge and experience you need to work efficiently later on. It is also important to plan everything thoroughly before you do something, so you don't make a lot of costly mistakes.”
“I learn just from watching you, Father. I like working with you. You're also my best friend, so it’s fun.”
“Thank you, Son. That means a lot to me,” Joseph replied as he put his hand on his son’s head and smiled at him with a tear in his eye.
As Joshua looked up at his father, Joseph could see that his son’s thoughts were in another time and another place. He had seen that look in his son's eyes many times before, and though he said nothing, he wondered what was behind those thoughtful brown eyes, eyes that could see far beyond what was present.
The two worked hard on the house. As the family had little money, Joseph visited the Shadybrook lumber company one day and asked if they needed any help.
“You don’t have to pay me a lot, just enough to buy some lumber and materials I need to work on my house.”
It was a lucky day. Two men did not show up for work and the manager needed help. However, he insisted on paying Joseph well for his work, and said he could buy what he needed at an employee’s discount. Joseph was thrilled and worked hard all day. At the end of the day, one of the workers drove him home in his truck, with all of Joseph’s wood and materials. Joseph’s pride shone through his happy smile, which made Miriam so proud. The man helped unload the truck. When they finished, Joseph invited him inside, but he had to get home for his own supper, which he knew his wife had all ready for him.
From the Hardcover edition.