Excerpt from the novel NEW BEGINNINGS
Four-year-old Teddy was such a dream compared to Wendy, who was twice his age. Sarah didn’t know if Zoey, his playmate next door, was such a good influence, or if he just came by it naturally. But the kids had weathered their ‘terrible two’s’ and ‘trying three’s’ together and had been as easy to care for as any mother would want. Wendy? She hadn’t changed a bit.
Sarah took Teddy’s hand and walked to the truck while calling Wendy. “Wendy, come along. I have to be at the hair salon in ten minutes.”
“Aw, Mom. Do I hafta’ go?”
“You know you do. Hurry now.”
When they parked at the salon, Wendy looked down the street longingly. “Mom, Norm’s on the dock fishing. He promised he’d show me how. Can I go see him while you’re getting your hair done?”
“Okay, but stay there. I’ll pick you up when I’m done, you hear? And don’t you dare go out on the river with Norm.”
“Okay, I promise.”
Wendy walked to the dock, and sat beside Norm. “Hi Norm. How’s fishin’?”
“Pretty good, Wendy. How are you?”
“Well, want to learn how to fish then?”
“Sure. What do I do?” She said with renewed energy.
Norm got up and fetched a pole for her. He showed her how to put the bait on, and demonstrated how to cast. Then Wendy practiced casting until Norm said it was good enough to start fishing. They talked about fish, the river, and stuff until Wendy had a bite. Her line ran away from her. She reeled it back, then it ran away again, and she reeled it back just like Norm coached her, keeping a bend in her pole all the time. When her fish got near the dock Norm scooped it up with his net.
“Wow, Norm! That was fun. Can I do it again?”
“Sure, but not today.” Pointing down the road, Norm showed Wendy, “See there, your mom’s coming for you. Here, take your fish on this stringer.”
Wendy went to the road holding up her big Walleye as her mom drove up.
Sarah looked out the window, “Wendy, where’d you get the fish?”
“I just caught it, Mom. I wanta’ take it home.”
“We can’t do that, Honey. Take it back to Norm, dear.”
“No! It’s mine. Not Norm’s. I caught it.”
“Wendy, you can’t take that slimy dirty fish home in my van. Give it back to Norm.”
“Wendy, you have a choice. Give that fish to Norm and ride home with us. Or, if you insist on keeping that fish, you’ll have to walk home with it.”
“I’m keeping my fish! I caught it!”
“Last chance. Ride or walk?”
“I don’t want to ride with you if you don’t like my fish.”
“Okay, see you at home then,” Sarah said as she made a U-turn and left Wendy standing.
Wendy started walking through town. In time, her fish got heavy, so she slung the stringer over her shoulder. She really didn’t want to walk home, and was tired and pouting when folks on the streets started shouting “Nice fish, Wendy!” and “Great catch, kid!” Cars driving by would honk their horns and yell out “Nice catch, Wendy!” They made her stand up straighter and feel proud that she caught a fish. When she got to the highway she knew she had to be careful, because she wasn’t supposed to walk by the highway. But, if she got lucky the sheriff would stop her. So, walking very slowly and watching traffic she kept her eye out for the deputy sheriff. Sure enough, J.R. pulled up behind her and yelled out the window of his patrol car, “Wendy, come back here and get in my car.”
Deputy Sheriff, J.R. Norvis, did everything he could to look official, but he had little to work with. Born James Roosevelt Norvis he became “Ima Little” Norvis throughout school. When he graduated and started as a clerk in the sheriff’s office, he changed his name to J. R. More manly sounding he thought. He wasn’t a manly figure – small and thin, and his official hat rested on his large ears, with the bill touching his beaked nose. Hardly an image of authority, but he’d worked his way up from a clerk to an officer. Full of pride, J.R. hid his insecurity behind the letter of the law, where he never could be questioned.
“Hi, J.R. Did I do something wrong?”
“No, of course not. But I can’t have you walking out on the side of the highway. Where are you going?”
“Oh, I was just fishing with Norm. Caught this, see?” She held up her Walleye.
“Nice fish. So, you’re headed home?”
“Yeah. Can you give me a ride?”
“Sure thing, kid.”
When they left the highway and were on the gravel road Wendy asked, “J.R., can I turn this siren on?”
J.R. looked around at the open farmland. “Sure, nobody to disturb here.”
Wendy hit the switch. “Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”
“ That’s cool, J.R. Can I do it again?”
“Sure, just once more.”
“Hey, that’s my house. Turn the flashing lights on for me. We’ll make a grand entrance. Please J.R.?”
Sarah looked out the living room window and saw the sheriff’s car drive into the farmyard with the lights flashing. She ran outside thinking something had happened to Wendy. She felt so guilty for leaving her alone.
Wendy got out of the patrol car all smiles, holding up her fish.
Aghast, Sarah ran right past her to the driver’s window of the patrol car. Almost nose to nose, Sarah blasted J.R. “I thought there was an emergency or something. Why did you come driving in here with your emergency lights on?”
J.R. was still laughing, saying “Wendy wanted to turn them on before she got home. She turned the siren on, too.”
Glaring at J.R. through his open window, with hands on her hips, Sarah growled. “And you do just anything a child asks you to do?”
J.R. didn’t like it when women were angry at him, and tried to deflect the blame. “No, not really. But, it was Wendy, you know.”
“It was Wendy, you know.” A phrase that simply irked Sarah to no end, having heard it far too often. Now the Deputy sheriff was doing it. Her furry refueled, Sarah refused to accept any of J.R.’s responses.
“No, I don’t know! Why did you bring her home? I made her walk home for a reason.”
“Sorry, Sarah, Iowa law Title III…
Sarah interrupted wagging her finger at JR, “Don’t you dare start quoting the law to me.”
Sarah knew his M.O., and cut him off again. “J.R., just forget the law and focus on using some common sense.”
“Paragraph 2 says it’s illegal to walk on a highway,” J.R. sighed as he finally finished his sentence.
“Is common sense too much to ask?” Sarah fired back at J.R.
“Sarah, we just can’t have kids walking on country roads alone. I just wanted to make sure she got home safe.”
“Wendy smiled and waved to J.R. Thanks for the ride. It was fun being in a police car. Really cool!”
“Wendy Jo,” Sarah said sternly over the roof of the car, “don’t you dare take that fish in the house. You stop right there!”
Turning to J.R., Sarah said “I appreciate your concern for children J.R., but this one needs to learn the hard way, and you just made it fun for her.”
J.R. wanted to get away from Sarah in the worst way, in case she blew up again. “I didn’t know, Sarah. Next time maybe I’ll just watch her and make sure she’s safe, instead of buttin’ in. I’d better go. Looks like you’ve got a fish to fry.”
As J.R. backed up, Sarah walked toward Wendy.
“Wow, Mom, I got to ride in the sheriff’s car. You should see all the cool stuff he has in there?”
“Wendy Jo, I’ve heard enough. Put that fish out back and get in the house.”
* * *
Sunday afternoon Wendy was riding her bike from Norm’s Bait and Boat shop south into town when she saw Aunt Adel on her porch. She stopped in front of her house.
“Hi, Aunt Adel,” she said.
“Well, hello, Wendy. Want to come join me?”
“Sure.” Wendy leaned her bike on the fence and went up the porch to sit on the swing..
“Where’s your mom?” Aunt Adel ask
ed as she slowly rocked the swing back and forth.
“She’s at home with Dad and Teddy.” Looking up at Aunt Adel with a big smile, Wendy asked, “Did you hear I caught my first walleye?”
Aunt Adel nodded. “Heard all about it dear. Quite a story.”
Wendy kicked her feet and said enthusiastically. “Yeah, it was fun, but then not so fun.” With a little pout on her face, she turned to Aunt Adel.
“You know what I mean?”
Looking at her little energetic guest, Aunt Adel said to her, “I hear your mother wasn’t very happy with you.”
Wendy spoke angrily, “She wouldn’t let my fish in the car. That was mean. After all, it was my fish.”
Aunt Adel looked out on the river. “Got pretty stubborn I hear.”
Wendy stared at her feet. “Well, Mom made me mad.”
Turning her gaze to Wendy, Aunt Adel asked, “How did the fish feel about it?”
That surprised Wendy. “What?” She said looking quickly at Aunt Adel.
Aunt Adel smiled at her, “The fish dear.”
Shrugging, Wendy looked back at her feet. “I don’t know, it was already dead.”
“What did you do with your fish?” Aunt Adel asked.
“Threw it behind the house. Mo
m wouldn’t let it in the house either, so I had to.”
“Do you think that was fair to the fish?”
“Fair?” Wendy looked confused when she turned toward Aunt Adel.
“Yeah, the way I see it, you and the fish had a good time. He had fun fighting your line, and you had fun catching it. Right?”
“Sure, it was great fun. Really exciting.” Wendy said with enthusiasm.
“Then it turned bad, didn’t it?” Aunt Adel asked.
Wendy sat still, thought for a minute, and then answered Aunt Adel.
“Well, Mom got mad, made me walk home, got mad at the sheriff and stuff. Kinda bad.”
Aunt Adel laid her hand on Wendy’s knee. “So then, you turned your fun time into something punishing for other people, right.”
Staring at the ground, Wendy asked. “What do you mean?”
“What I mean dear, is that fun is fun and you should leave it at that.
If you’d have tossed your fish back into the river, you could have tried to catch him again, and have fun together like the first time. Instead you kept the fish, made people upset and mad, and then threw your fish away to rot. Which do you think you should have done?
Turning to meet Aunt Adel’s gaze, she said, “You’re saying that it’s okay to have fun, but I should leave it there so I can come back and have a good time again. Right?”
Aunt Adel patted her knee. “Right. Plus, you don’t have to deal with all the negative consequences you created by being possessive, stubborn, and ornery.”
Wendy was surprised. “Was I all that?”
“Oh. Well, what did people think about Mom?”
“That she had a possessive, stubborn, and ornery little girl.”
Wendy didn’t like that answer. “They didn’t think she was bad?”
Aunt Adel shook her head and said, “Nope.”
“So I did the wrong thing.”
Hanging her head, Wendy said, “I’m sorry.” She looked at Aunt Adel with a smile and asked. “Will you forgive me?”
“I already have, I think it’s your mother you need to be asking, dear.”
Sliding off the swing, Wendy stood and turned to Aunt Adel. “Well, I guess I’d better go do it, huh?”
“Yes, you should.”
Wendy walked off the porch and picked up her bike. “Okay. Bye,
“Bye, Wendy. Be careful, dear.”
* * *
When Wendy got home she entered the kitchen, sat down and watched her mom quietly. Looking over her shoulder, and noticing Wendy was just hanging out, Sarah asked, “Do you want something, Wendy?”
“Oh, just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
Returning to preparing supper, Sarah asked. “Sorry about what?”
“The fish thing, Mom. Aunt Adel and I were talking about it today, and I’m sorry I went too far with it. I should have released the fish and tried to catch it again another day.”
Sarah stopped and turned around to look at Wendy. “Well, that’s a pretty profound statement. Did you come up with that on your own?”
Wendy shook her head, “Not really. Aunt Adel helped.”
That brought a smile to Sarah’s face. “Good ole’ Aunt Adel. She’s like a compass for people, isn’t she?”
“Uh-huh. Anyway, I’ll try not to do it again.”
Sarah set down her knife and went to hug Wendy. “Thank you for your apology, Honey.”
“Sure Mom. I had to. I promised Aunt Adel I would.”