I had been riding back home to the Mississippi Coast next to my father in the station wagon all Sunday afternoon and into the night when I remembered that I had a book report due Monday morning, a book report that I had not written.
I was in the third grade. I had spent the whole weekend with my father in Tennessee. He had performed a wedding ceremony there. I don’t remember if I still needed to read the book or if I only needed to write the report, but I remember the dread I felt when I realized I had not done it.
I dreaded the looks and the words that would come to me when I told my teacher and my parents that I had not completed my work. I was afraid of losing my good reputation. I was afraid of being rejected.
Being the eight-year-old good little Christian girl that I was, I knew just what I needed. And I knew just who could help me. God. I knew just how to ask him, too. I looked down as the station wagon winded its way along the curvy highway and through the tall pines. I closed my eyes. I folded my hands. I whispered, “Dear Lord, please, please help me to get sick so I won’t have to go to school tomorrow. Please, please. Please make me get sick.”
By the time we arrived at home, I felt sick. I had chills.
My mother was a nurse and she had a rule that we children went to school unless our temperature was above 99 degrees Fahrenheit. Mama checked my temperature. I did not have to go to school.
All day Monday, I lay in my parents’ bed. I didn’t read. I didn’t study. I didn’t work on the book report. Daddy brought me peppermint candy to suck on and 7Up to drink. Peppermint and 7Up were the magical healing potions of the 1970s. We did not know of elderberry syrup or essential oils or probiotic gummies. And I’m not sure we were any worse off for it. When love comes walking into a sick room in the form of your daddy holding a grocery sack, and he sets it down on the bed, and you hear the crumpling sound of the sack as his hands are reaching for the things he bought just for you, does it really matter what’s in the sack? I always felt better just hearing the crumpling sound.
“When love comes walking into a sick room in the form of your daddy holding a grocery sack, and he sets it down on the bed, and you hear the crumpling sound of the sack as his hands are reaching for the things he bought just for you, does it really matter what’s in the sack?”
Later that Monday afternoon, I got a phone call from a friend who was in my class. She called to check on me. We chatted a bit and then I asked her how she did on the book report. “Book report?” she said. “The book report isn’t due until NEXT Monday.”
I’ve thought about this story so many times since it happened. Usually, when I tell it to someone, I end the story with, “Be careful what you pray for!” and we share a good laugh.
But in writing this story today, I didn’t laugh. I teared up. Because what stands out to me now isn’t my silly pride or my foolish prayer. What stands out to me now is the friend who called to check on me. What stands out to me now is the sound of a grocery sack being opened by my dad.
April Pickle lives under a green roof with her husband, four children, and two dogs. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and teaches journalism and literature at a university-model high school. One cold day, when April was in the fourth grade, she closed the car door on her winter coat and, unbeknownst to her or her father, prevented the door from latching all the way. Half a mile down the road, her daddy turned a corner, the door flew open, and she fell out. Thanks to the thickness of the coat, she was unharmed.