A year ago today, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotional Stories for Tough Times was released. Included in this anthology was my first published-in-print story “Truth at the Benefit Sale.” I pulled this story from the manuscript of A Smile for Anna, and edited it down to 500 words for publication. Here’s the longer version that appears in the first half of Chapter 4:
BENEFIT SALE FOR CARDIAC BABY Sat 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. Small appliances, housewares, collectibles, baby items, infant and children’s clothes, toys & games, Christmas decorations, Sporting goods and more! 2750 Dayspring Way.
I looked up from the printed sheet. Julia eyes were red from crying, as they had been all day, but for the first time her face bore a hint of a smile as well.
“So, are you up for some ‘garage sailing’ tomorrow?” she asked.
I was. We had grieved over the results of the 3D ultrasound for the last 24 hours and we both needed a break.
“Garage sailing”—defined by UrbanDictionary.com as “the pastime of attending garage sales in pursuit of other people’s junk”—was never my thing. When I was a kid my mom dragged me to garage sales, flea markets, and swap meets every weekend. She was always looking for a bargain and she always found one, whether we needed it or not. The inevitable clutter drove my dad crazy, but for me it wasn’t too bad. I would complain and say I was bored until my mom would bribe me with a toy. By the time I was a teenager, I was too old to be bribed with anything but money. I hadn’t been to a garage sale since.
Unlike me, Julia is a veteran “garage sailor.” Unlike my mom, she only buys what she wants or needs. The whole time we were dating, engaged, and even though the first year of marriage she garage-sailed on her own: I preferred sleeping in on Saturdays. Then along came Peanut, and I changed my mind about garage sailing. We must have hit a hundred sales that summer but as the days grew shorter and the clouds returned, the sales started to dwindle. We hadn’t been to one in a few weeks. I was surprised she found any to go to at all, let alone a benefit for a six-month old boy born with a hole in his heart. As helpless as we felt, we still wanted to help someone else.
2750 Dayspring Way was a modest house, typical of those found in the Santa Clara neighborhood of Eugene. We arrived about a half-hour after the sale started. A large group of shoppers strolled along tables lined up across the driveway and into the garage. As we walked over, Julia turned to me.
“I have a twenty in my wallet. I’m leaving it as a donation no matter what we find.”
“Works for me.”
We started at opposite ends of the driveway, sorting through all the baby clothes and toys. The selection was great, but we had bought so much that summer that it was a task to find something we wanted or needed but didn’t own. As we met in the middle, Julia picked up a Clifford the Big Red Dog puppet.
“Isn’t this cute?”
“Do we need another animal?” We’d bought a lot of stuffed animals.
“It’s a puppet. We only have a few puppets.”
“Well we’re gonna buy something, and he is adorable.”
We handed Clifford to the woman at the cash table.
“Thank you so much for coming.” Then looking at the puppet she added, “oh that’s adorable.” She checked the price. “Two dollars.”
Julia handed her the twenty. “Consider the rest a donation.”
The woman eyes filled with tears. I’d figured she was the baby’s mother: now I knew she was.
“Oh God bless you both. Are you sure you don’t want something else?”
We glanced at each other.
“I’ll take one more look,” Julia said. “We may have missed something.”
As she browsed, a man walked up to the table holding a baby clad in a stripped blue shirt and denim overalls.
“Somebody wants to say “hi.”
The woman took her baby boy into her arms. At that moment I saw that he had Down’s Syndrome: as if dealing with open-heart surgeries wasn’t enough.
Julia returned to the cash table with a Baby Pooh blanket in time for introductions.
“This is Noah.”
“Hi, Noah,” we said.
“He responded with a glimmering, cherubic smile.”
“He’s got such an incredible spirit given everything he’s been through.” His mother lifted up his shirt, revealing a jagged scar that ran like a fault line from his neck to his navel. He giggled as she tickled him, which made us all laugh.
She pulled his shirt down and cradled him on her shoulder. “It’s been harder on us; watching him go through two surgeries already and knowing he’s got at least one more ahead of him.”
I couldn’t imagine what she and her husband were going through. I thought about my best friend Michael, who had four open-heart surgeries before he started first grade. I also thought about Peanut going through surgery in another six months and how hard it would be on both Julia and I, even when we knew there was no real chance of losing our child during the procedure.
“Our church has been so supportive both spiritually and financially. The congregation donated a lot of this stuff. Plus there are people like you. We’ve had a couple of other generous donations already and we’ve only been open about an hour.”
“That’s a pleasant surprise,” Julia said. “I see a lot of haggling, even at benefit sales”
She laughed. “We’ve had some of those too, but I’m grateful for what I get.” She paused and whispered, “As long as I don’t get ripped off.”
We all laughed. Noah giggled again too. I think he liked the sound of his mom’s laughter.
As we drove away I could tell Julia felt as hopeful as I did. I held her right hand and watched the houses on Dayspring Way blend into a stucco blur. We turned right onto River Road, passing convenience stores and fast food joints. Then a left turn onto Beltline—the strip malls giving way to blue sky and billboards.
Neither of us spoke for several minutes. We each knew what the other was thinking, but Julia put it into words:
“With God’s help, we can handle this too.”
She was right. We had our faith, our friends and family, and our church for support. What we were facing was still scary, still bewildering, still overwhelming, but we had hope, and we had a baby on the way that would be happy and giggling and beautiful. Just like Noah.
Whenever I read this part of the book I wonder about that little boy. He’s seven now, in the second grade, and hopefully mainstreamed like the girl with Downs Syndrome in Anna’s class (who is now Anna’s “third-best-friend”). He’s probably in Sunday School too; his parents had both a strong faith and a supportive church community. I wonder: What’s his favorite color? His favorite games? What silly jokes make him laugh? Maybe someday his parents will read the book and recognize him through my words. If they do, I hope they drop me a note.