Category Archives: Family and Community

Ohana

Ohana

By Likhita Makam, age 15, Telangana, India

We fight and apologies we forget.
We get lost and we get upset.
We fall apart into a million pieces,
But being together smooths out all the creases.

Because in the end we’re a family
although we don’t get along dandily
Far from picture perfect Pinterest poses
We make it to the diner just before it closes
We spend weekends at home in quarrels
Perfect family? For that we’d have zero laurels
But we stick together, no matter what
for each other we’d take a jab in the gut, somewhat
What matters the most is we never part
We’re always close, we never depart

Because we’re a family
And family means nobody gets left behind
No matter our irregularities
No matter our similarities

—Likhita Makam, age 15, Indian American high school student, living in India. She has been published in youth newspapers and literary magazines. She is an avid reader and is up for a poetry discussion at all times.

Miya’s Summer Bubbles

Miya’s Summer Bubbles

By Carleen Cifton Bragg, African American Photographer, Illinois.

“I live in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood. There are three beautiful small lakes near where I live. Sometimes, I visit the park with a cup of my morning coffee. Sitting on the bench by the water, I gaze at the still water and the geese enjoying their group gatherings, and naturally, I smile. Watching the geese swimming makes me happy. It’s the most beautiful cornerstone in the neighborhood that I depend on as a quick getaway. It is my home away from home. In the autumn, it’s especially breathtaking! I call this ‘My Peace Spot’ for the tranquility it offers me. Last autumn, I took some of the most stunning photographs here!

“I developed an interest in photography at the age of five. I credit my parents for planting the seeds when they purchased me my first camera. They have continued to support my interest in photography over the years. I started as a self-taught photographer, but later trained with the New York Institute of Photography. I try to capture sports moments, glamour, landscapes, music, theater, and street life. I am enamored with the works of the ‘late greats’ like Gordon Parks and James Van Der Zee.

“My photos have been published by Tyler Perry’s Production: Why Did I Get Married?, Today’s Photographer Magazine, and the International Library of Photography. I am a three time-winner of the Museum of Science and Industry’s Black Creativity. I also had a solo exhibit—my first One-Woman show in 2011 at the ARC Gallery in Chicago, Illinois.”

Ramadan For All

Ramadan for All

By Zanjabila Khadija, age 8, Indonesia.

Asif was going to fast in Ramadan month for the first time tomorrow. He was still five years old. Eating was usually fun for him, so the first fast was a tough challenge for him. That night, he was restless. He wondered what would happen if he didn’t eat his favorite food. Too tired to think about it, he fell asleep at 8 p.m., even though he usually went to bed at 9 p.m. He was too flustered, so he fell asleep early.

In his dream, he found himself in the land of giants. On that land, a lot of giant-sized foods can be enjoyed, such as candy, ice cream, vegetables, fish, fruit, chocolate, and so on. He was full after eating many different food dishes. He laid down when someone’s voice startled him. It turned out that it was not a human voice, but a giant talking candy!

When Asif fell asleep, his mom and dad discussed Asif’s fasting. They tried to find a way so that Asif could fast comfortably without feeling too hungry or bored. His dad said, “What if we bring him a new toy that he can play with and thus get distracted?”

However, his mom said, “No! Asif was bored with toys. What about a pet? Chickens, cats, or fish. Let him choose it by himself!”

Asif’s dad agreed. The next day, Asif woke up very early to eat his pre-fast meal because he was so excited about his first Ramadan. After finishing his meal, his mom and dad asked Asif to pray at dawn. Later in the morning, Asif and his dad went to Nana’s house, a short walk from their house. Nana was his aunt. Nana had eight cats. Some of them were Persian cats, and the others were domestic short-haired cats. Asif was amazed to see those cats. He wanted three cats. He asked Nana, “Aunty, can I keep these three cats?”

“Oh, sure,” said Nana without hesitation.

Asif was allowed to bring one Persian cat and two domestic cats. He forgot his hunger during the month of fasting. He loved them when they jumped around and chased his toys. Also, they did not find any mice at home anymore. Asif named his first domestic cat “Mimi the Nimble” because he was the most agile at catching mice. The second domestic cat was called “Mike the Great Climber.” He loved to climb all the trees in their backyard and bask for hours on the rooftop. The Persian cat was named “Lulu the Groomer.” Almost all day long, she combed her fur with her tongue.

One evening, Asif went to the mosque. The mosque committee would hold an iftar. All people who wanted to break the fast were invited to come. Arriving at the mosque, he saw many people gathered there. He sat in the mosque next to an old man he had never met. The old man told Asif that he was a traveler and was going to the next town by bike. Asif felt very happy every time he broke the fast together with other people at the mosque. He felt warmth even though he didn’t know those people. He saw that rich people would sit on the same floor as the poor. He also saw that all people got the same food. No matter what their ethnicity. He then remembered what his dad had once told him: “All people are equal before God, except for the good deeds they have done.”

When he ate his Iftar meal, he remembered his cats. He thought they should feel the joy of breaking the fast as well. He set aside his empal, a traditional meat dish, for his three cats. After breaking the fast and doing maghrib prayer—an evening prayer, Asif ran home carrying that large piece of empal. As he opened the door, all his cats ran toward him. Lulu and Mimi rubbed their bodies against his legs, while Mike climbed onto Asif’s shoulders. The three cats then partied happily with that meat!

Zanjabila Khadija, age 8, Indonesia. She writes: “I love writing poetry and short stories.” She has won several literary competitions for young writers in Indonesia. In 2024, the Ramadan will begin on Sunday evening, March 10th and end on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. The festival lasts for three days.
Editor’s Note: Islam follows a lunar calendar and hence the Ramadan dates fall on different dates each year. Did you know that in 2030, there will be two Ramadans? The first Ramadan will be in January 2030, and the second one will be observed in the month of December. Also, on Dec. 25, as the Christians celebrate Christmas, the Muslims will be celebrating the festival of Eid!

Black History Month Poem: Resilience

Resilience

To observe the annual Black History Month, we are pleased to present “Resilience,” a poem by Arianna Shaprow Crain, age 12, a seventh grader in Nevada. Arianna was interviewed this morning and was asked to read her poem by KTNV News, on their ‘Good Morning Las Vegas’ show. The poem will also be published in our upcoming Spring 2024 issue (Mar. – Aug. 2024). You can also download the poem here.

“Resilience” explores the African Diaspora and chronicles the struggles of the vibrant, defiant members of my family. In the midst of our tragedies, my ancestors were able to find peace and navigate the rough terrain that lie ahead. They were slaves in Holly Springs, Mississipi. After the Emancipation Proclamation, they migrated to Chicago for more opportunities. In Chicago, they had to endure racism and segregation, which negatively impacted their employment. My great grandmother became a maid at a hotel and raised 13 children. She had to endure an endless cycle of poverty. Much of our history was lost, because we were stolen from our homeland. Even though our cultural identities were dismantled, my ancestors found comfort in music, stories, and our love for one another. We are resilient, and we are survivors. I know that I am a survivor, because I am here to tell you my story.

We were taken
from our homelands
our prosperity and sense of community
stolen from us
our families torn apart
cultural identities dismantled
forgotten…

forced to work all day
beneath the blistering hot sun
dehydrated and burned out
bruised knees, scraped elbows
wounded from whips
desperately yearning for a way out
but their cries were never heard

They locked us
in an endless loop of poverty
mental illness
disease
and depression

from Holly Springs, Mississippi
and the shackles of slavery
to Chicago
seeking independence
and “liberty”
this was the journey of my ancestors

We were never freed
after the Emancipation Proclamation
never freed
from generational trauma
and pain

rejected
from schools
unable to receive the education
that we deserved

Oppression
Segregation
Stereotypes
and racism
Poverty naturally followed
Haunting us…

A never-ending maze
with no exit
only dead ends.

My relatives suffered
rat bites and tuberculosis as babies
gunshot wounds and addiction as adults
no money for doctors
unstable living conditions
poor ventilation
never knowing
what’s next…

Surviving paycheck to paycheck
Food stamps, welfare
Evictions and discrimination
13 of my aunts and uncles
lived in a tiny apartment
5 slept on a single, soiled mattress
a drumline of tragedies

Many of them
broke the cycle
my grandmother became the first
African American female Assistant District Attorney
in El Paso, Texas
scholarships and hard work paved her way

My mother is a survivor
of PTSD and panic attacks
a single mother who cares for me
with unwavering love

We don’t know
much of our history
or where in Africa
we come from

The knowledge of our history
was stripped away from us
buried deep in our family’s past
it remains a mystery…
One thing that will never
be taken away from us
Is our culture
We have created
a rich culture
Through centuries of oppression
our coping mechanisms
soothed us
comforting melodies
gospel
jazz
blues
and soul

What do we have?
We have our imagination
We redefine and reframe
To make us sane

documents detail our ancestors’ stories
Defiant
And bold
full of vibrant characters
riveting music
and soulful dishes

When I am fearful
I remember to be courageous
I remember I have ancestors
who were beaten and lynched

My ancestors were
Slaves
Survivors
Refugees
Migrants

This is my lineage
This is my history
We are resilient
Resilient survivors

—Arianna Shaprow Crain, age 12, grade 7, Nevada.

It’s Time to Abandon War

It’s Time to Abandon War

By Kathy Beckwith, author and educator, Oregon

[These ideas were first shared by the author as a TED Talks program, at TEDxMcMinnville, Oregon, and we are now pleased to publish it for the benefit of Skipping Stones readers.  —Editors]

I grew up on a hog farm in western Oregon. I had my own pig. She was my 4-H project. But it was more fun to play in the woods with my brothers and sisters than train a pig, so she never got really tame. In spite of my lack of pig training skills, I still reaped the benefits of growing up on that hog farm—learning to swim in an irrigation pond, eating garbage that was collected for the pigs. Just kidding, well, sort of. What we ate were the “trimmings” from grocery stores, discarded produce that had begun to fade, that my dad had picked up on his route around town, gathering scraps to feed the hogs. So we ate artichokes, oranges, bananas, pomegranates—things too good to feed hogs that we wouldn’t get otherwise.

I never wondered if this was normal, but I don’t remember ever telling other kids at school about sharing the pigs’ trimmings. So maybe, it wasn’t totally normal, after all. I have not lost two minutes of sleep over the question of trimmings being normal

But there is something big, now, that we take as normal, that at times makes me cry from the cruelty of it, and other times makes me cry out against the injustice and the horrid destruction because of it. I’ve been learning more about how it comes to be considered normal.

Have you heard of the Green Frog in the lima bean pot? Green Frog hops into the pot where the lima beans are soaking overnight—in cold water—but in the morning, when the fire is lit in the cook stove under the pot, and the water starts to get hot, so does Green Frog—unaware. Because it’s his nature to adapt his body temperature to his surroundings. Sometime before boiling, Green Frog has to be startled into leaping from danger, or risk getting cooked.

It seems to me, that when considering war, many of us are quite like Green Frog. We’ve been adapting to our surroundings, to a culture that treats war as normal, and it’s getting hot.

I propose three things for your consideration:

  • War is not normal…
  • It is time to abandon war… and
  • It can be done.

Yet we do things ourselves that normalize war. We let assumptions take hold in our minds. Have you heard these?

  • War is inevitable. Things will never change.

Inevitable? Conflict is inevitable; but war is a choice, a decision that is made about how to respond to a conflict.

Things will never change? Dueling, to the death, was seen as an honorable way for gentlemen, including a man who became a U.S. President, to settle a rumor. Women, vote?! Ha! Things change!

There are other reasons we adapt to the “war is normal” lima bean pot.

  • Fear sells war, and we’re sold fear.
  • Carefully chosen words and PR (Public Relations) campaigns market wars such as
    “Rolling Thunder”, “Shock and Awe”, and “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
  • Kids watch the parades and ceremonies from toddler days on. They play with war toys bought for them, and—when older—with video games simulating war, normalizing war.
  • And then we put war in its own category and don’t challenge it like we would other things. If neighborhood problems were handled with the violence of war, we’d name it tragic, criminal—not heroic. If hometown parades included execution equipment from prisons past and present—electric chairs, firing squads, lethal injection kits—we’d say, “What in the world were they thinking, putting that stuff in a parade our kids watch?” But execution equipment of war—tanks…? “Wow!” If we heard teenagers down the street calling out the chants used in military training: “What makes the grass grow? Blood makes the grass grow. Who makes the blood flow? We do, we do. Blood, Blood, Blood!” … and “Kill, Kill!”—we’d call 9-1-1 for help. Never would we condone the “normals” of war in our communities!

But perhaps most normalizing of all, is the assumption that even though no one wants war, sometimes it’s necessary to protect human rights and our freedoms; that without war, we’d lose our freedom. The problem is, rarely do we finish that sentence. Our freedom to do what, exactly? What freedoms have our wars actually protected? Freedom to take land we wanted? To protect business investments in other countries?… To opt for war instead of using alternatives, over and over again. Our history is bleak, and sad. How many of us grow up believing that the horrendous killing and maiming of the American Civil War was necessary to get rid of slavery? We don’t learn to ask, “Why didn’t we join the rest of the world in eliminating slavery through moral and legal persuasion, instead of turning to war?” The more we learn about alternatives that were possible but not taken, the harder it is to accept war.

But wait. What about Hitler? I have been asked that question so many times, and heard Hitler used as justification for U.S. military acts so many times, that I’ve begun to wonder if maybe Hitler won the war, after all. Wasn’t he the one who believed that power and violence should be combined to reach one’s goals? That philosophy seems to have caught on.

When we discuss Hitler, let’s make sure we ask, and answer, because the answers are here, “What could have been done before and during Hitler’s rise to power that would have changed the course of that history? What could have been done to prevent Hitler’s brutality from being condoned?”

Never should we grant Hitler—or anyone—power over us to keep us from choosing alternatives that are wise, effective, humane, and that honor life and our precious Earth.

But are there alternatives that really work? That’s the good news! Alternatives abound. Education. Diplomacy. Negotiation, mediation, arbitration. Economic justice, crisis response teams, peace commissions—all are effective alternatives to war.

A more democratic United Nations could be used to advise wisely, instead of us bartering with its members to do our will.

Universities around the world have programs in international conflict resolution, and specialists ready to facilitate peace-making, as do religious and secular organizations, and the United States Institute of Peace.

People find ways! Women from Liberia barricaded men inside a hotel, preventing them from leaving until they got serious about negotiating the end to war.

Bulgaria was ordered by Hitler to ship the country’s Jews by rail to the death camps. The first group of 9,000 Jews were assembled at the railway station, in barbed wire fences, awaiting final orders for loading onto the trains. Members of parliament, students, and others from all walks of life, joined the clergy there, who said they would lie down on the tracks; these people must not be taken away. Those ready to give the orders, instead told the Jews to take their bags and go back home.

President Truman and the United States Air Force responded to the Soviet Union’s full blockade of West Berlin in 1948, not with a return to war or the threat of war, but with an airlift of supplies dropped into the city for months, until the Soviets recognized the futility of their actions.

The research of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth (TEDxBoulder) presents us with dramatic truths: nonviolent civil resistance works, it works better than violence, and it more often results in democratic systems in place after the resistance. There is no excuse for saying war is necessary.

So what can WE do, personally, to help bring about the end of war?

We can question. We can ask, “What alternatives are possible in this situation?” Question what role U.S. military bases around the world, our weapons sales, military spending, our rhetoric—what role do these things play in perpetuating war. Question why the U.S. government insists on spending a trillion dollars to modernize nuclear weapons of unimaginable destruction, designed for the mass murder of populations, when so many nations are calling for them to be dismantled.

Question. And assign ourselves a history lesson: Learn about wars, and what they do to real people, including survivors, and soldiers who actually fight on the ground. So much of war, for so many of us, happens someplace else.

We can learn about alternatives, including nonviolent civil resistance, and teach that history to children and teens. We can teach kids how to mediate conflicts for each other at school, and bring that training home and into their future lives. We can hold family meetings, so kids grow up knowing how to facilitate a meeting and brainstorm solutions. We can encourage youth to explore service in the Peace Corps, or take six months (or more) to volunteer somewhere around the world, because their work and experiences in different cultures will make a difference. Prevention costs a fraction of military action. And as they help others, they will surely grow in compassion and understanding.

We can stop feeling powerless and join others to share ideas and take action. We can stop honoring war and honor its opposite: “creative problem-solving.”

And if we wish, we can point out how mules cooperate—to swat flies.

I was walking on our road and glanced into the field where our mules…(video) were standing rump to head, swishing their tails, brushing the flies off each other’s faces. I ran home, grabbed my camera, and when my husband got home, I told him, “Your mules are amazing.” “Yep, they are,” he said, “but they do that all the time. It’s normal!”

Well, if mules can normalize cooperation, people can too.

In January 1929, the US Senate advised ratification and President Coolidge signed into law the Kellogg Briand Pact outlawing the use of war as a means of resolving conflict. Millions and millions of Americans said we are ready for the end of war. They raised such a voice that those in government had to listen, and join the effort, and make it the law of the land—it’s still the law of the land—a law that we can reclaim, if we will seek out and use alternatives to war.

We’re lucky to have three awesome and exceedingly fun grandkids. I love them dearly. I want the best for these precious kids. Down deep I think we know what’s normal, what we come home to—the longing we all have, to give the children the very best we can. They don’t need to inherit our messes. War is a monstrous mess. It has been normalized, but it’s not the way, and we don’t have to accept it.

We can abandon war. There are alternatives. I extend to each one of you a personal invitation, and permission, to help make that happen.

About the Author:
Kathy Beckwith is a school mediation trainer from Dayton, Oregon. She also volunteers as a mediation coach. She is author of PLAYING WAR: A Story About Changing the Game (winner, 2006 Skipping Stones Honor Award); A MIGHTY CASE AGAINST WAR: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now; and other books on problem-solving. Her latest work is a young adult novel, ENCOUNTER: When Religions Become Classmates—From Oregon to India and Back (winner, 2022 Skipping Stones Honor Award). She lives on a small farm with her husband (and his mules) and loves picking wild blackberries for summertime pies. She can be reached via her website at
www.kathybeckwith.com. Kathy’s TEDx Talk can be accessed online here.

The Secret

The Secret

By Hongwei Bao, United Kingdom.

Your secret is safe with me,” was Ming’s promise when I told him that I liked boys instead of girls.

Ming was my best friend at school. Wearing the same type of school uniform, Ming looked older and bigger, but we were the same age. We grew up together in the same neighbourhood and our parents knew each other well. Ming was always the first one to hear stories from me. I trusted him on everything and anything. One afternoon after school, we met at the balance bars on the school playground as usual. It was just the two of us. I mustered up courage and told him about my secret.

Ming seemed slightly surprised, but he soon smiled and agreed to keep it a secret for me, as he had done other times. We were best friends after all. After a few push-ups, we headed for our own homes.

The next morning, in the school corridor, just as I was about to wave at him and say hi, I noticed something was different. As soon as he saw me, he dropped his head and continued to walk on, avoiding eye contact with me. In the classroom, I couldn’t help casting frequent glimpses at his side—he wasn’t looking at me. In fact, he remained quiet all day. When the school bell rang, he picked up his schoolbag and left the classroom in a rush. Was it because of my secret? What did he do to my secret?

I ate very little that evening. Mum frowned when she saw the food I’d left in the bowl. Dad threw me a disapproving look and asked me how my day was. “It was OK,” I replied, “lots of homework to do.” I stood up, ready to leave the table.

“Wait!” Dad raised his hand and gestured me to sit down. His eyes looked serious.

After a few seconds of silence, he spoke: “We know it. Ming told his parents, and his dad told me about it.”

I could hear my own heartbeat.

”I’ve asked them to keep it a secret. They’ll make sure Ming doesn’t talk about it either,” Dad added.

A relief, followed by a profound sense of sadness.

“You should learn a lesson from this. Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.”

Horrified by these words, I nodded sheepishly.

“Ming will remain your friend, but he will need more time to understand this,” he consoled me.

I dropped my head, tears in my eyes.

The next morning, in the school corridor and in the classroom, I tried to avoid Ming. The day felt long, and the air was steaming hot. I couldn’t concentrate on the lessons. The words in the textbook jumped around and didn’t make much sense. I wished the Earth would crack open, and I could disappear into the hole. I felt ashamed for what I had done, and for who I was.

Near the end of a day, a small, folded paper ball landed on my desk. I picked it up and unwrapped slowly. Ming’s handwriting jumped into my eyes:

“Can we talk?”

There, on the playground, near the balance bars, Ming told me that he was confused the other day and didn’t know what to do. So he told his parents about it. They simply told him to shut up and keep quiet. But he couldn’t help thinking about it, and about me. He told me that he liked boys too.

—Hongwei Bao (he/him) grew up in China and now lives in Nottingham, UK. He uses short stories, poems, reviews and essays to explore queer desire, Asian identity, diasporic positionality, and transcultural intimacy. 

 

United States v. Wong Kim Ark

United States v. Wong Kim Ark

By Fanny Wong, New York

In October 1895, Wong Kim Ark was lucky he didn’t get sick and die on his ten-week journey on the steamship Coptic from China to San Francisco. The third-class hold was crowded and poorly ventilated. He was eager to return to his small apartment on Sacramento Street in the city he loved. He missed everything about his city—San Francisco, even its fog.

At age 22, Wong had already visited China several times. So when he arrived at the dock, he was shocked to find out that he would not be allowed to land. How could the Collector of Customs, Mr. John Wise, not allow him to land? True, this man was known to be against Chinese immigration. But Wong’s identification paper was in good order. He even had three white residents vouch he was born in the city and was a good resident.

Wise had detained Wong on the grounds that he was not an U.S. citizen. And, Wong became a prisoner on the ship.

Wong Kim Ark, courtesy of the National Archives

Wong was born in San Francisco in 1873 to parents of Chinese descent. Around 1881, the parents had returned to China after a 20-year stay in San Francisco. However, Wong had chosen to stay in the United States, and now he found himself in a dire situation after another trip to China.

Fortunately, an aid association, The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, was ready to help him. Its lawyers argued that his rights as a citizen were being violated. The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, stated, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside…”

The U.S. Solicitor General, Mr. Holmes Conrad, disagreed and appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court. He argued that Wong’s parents were subjects of the emperor of China and by extension Wong was also the subject of the emperor.

When the case was argued in 1897, the Supreme Court justices were, Stephen Field, John Harland, Horace Gray, Melville Fuller, David Brewer, Henry Brown and Rufus Peckham. The justices debated whether American citizenship should be based on the principle of “right of blood” (jus sanguinis) or “right of the soil” (jus soli). The Supreme Court did not agree with the Solicitor General and ruled in favor of Wong. Justice Horace Gray wrote the opinion on behalf of a 6-2 majority. The court established the concept of jus soli—the citizenship of children born in the United States to non-citizens.

The cloud over his citizenship had disappeared forever!

Wong’s landmark case set a very important precedent. It remains today the definitive interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s birthright provision. It affects all the children born to legal and illegal immigrant parents. It is reasonable to say that Wong never expected his case to have such long lasting and important consequence. Immigrants may not know his name, but they certainly know the rights of their children born in the United States.

—By Fanny Wong, Chinese American author and long-time contributor to Skipping Stones, New York.

Notes
1868: The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ratified.
1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act signed by President Arthur. It restricted entry and immigration of Chinese labor, both skilled and unskilled, into the United States.

The Goal

The Goal

By Annie Laura Smith, Alabama.

Greg sat on the driveway of his home and rolled his papers for delivery on Monday afternoon. He pulled a rubber band neatly around each rolled paper and tossed it.

The shouts of his friends playing soccer in the schoolyard across the street caught his attention. He watched his neighbor, John, kick the ball into the goal as excited shouts came from his teammates.

Greg sighed and looked wistfully at the group. How he would love to be able to play soccer, too. But he had to deliver newspapers every afternoon, as well as before church on Sunday mornings. There just wasn’t enough time for playing soccer and doing his homework.

After filling his canvas bag with the rolled papers, Greg hoisted the heavy load on to the handlebars of his bicycle. As he pedaled down Willow Lane toward his paper route on Brookdale, he glanced back at the soccer game. The boys continued to play at a furious pace.

He eyed the Lambert’s yard warily as he approached the gate to throw their paper. Their Golden Retriever, Max, seemed to have a strong dislike for him. Greg tossed the paper on the porch and pedaled rapidly toward the next house.

Max bounded out of the Lambert’s driveway, barking furiously. He ran along side of Greg’s bicycle for the next block and continued barking. The dog stopped following him and quit barking only when Greg crossed the street.

His parents’ friend, Mrs. Morrison, was watering her flowers and gave Greg a friendly wave as he passed her house. Greg slowed his bike to be sure the paper landed in the proper spot at Mr. Adams’ house. When it missed the doormat, Greg stopped, got off his bike, and threw the paper directly in the center of the mat.

Mr. Adams opened the front door. “Well, young man, I’m glad you’ve finally learned how to deliver a paper properly,” he said.

Greg swallowed hard and said, “Yes, sir.”

He finished his route and quickly pedaled home. John met him in the Anderson’s driveway, bouncing his soccer ball.

“Hi, Greg. We sure miss you on our team. Wish it was the good old days when you were our goalie.”

Greg shook his head. “I just can’t do that now.”

“Why don’t you give up your paper route,” his friend said. “Then you’ll have time.”

Greg just shook his head again as his mother called to him.

“Boys, I have some freshly baked oatmeal cookies. How about a snack?”

John quickly followed Greg into the kitchen.

“Boy, your Mom’s a great cook!” John said as he downed his third cookie. “Let’s kick the ball around for a while,” he suggested as he finished his glass of milk. “You can be the goalie.”

The boys played soccer in Greg’s backyard until almost dark when Mrs. Anderson called to them that Greg’s dinner was ready.

Greg said goodbye to John and went to his room. As he cleaned up for dinner, he thought about his paper route. It had been necessary after his father suddenly lost his job. Greg saw his parents struggling to meet their bills. His mother had to go to work while his father looked for another job. Greg knew there must be some small way he could help, too. His friend Mark had a paper route, and Greg decided that he could get a paper route to help his parents.

“But, Greg, that won’t leave you enough time for sports and your homework too,” his mother had said.

“That’s OK, Mom,” Greg had told her. “The paper route will be fun!”

The paper route had not always been fun though. Especially, on the days when Max chased him barking for blocks. Or when Mr. Adams fussed at him for not throwing the paper on his front doormat every day. And he had not fully understood what it would be like not to be able to play soccer regularly with his friends. But the money he earned really had helped his family.

***

On Tuesday Greg stopped at the soccer field before he began his paper deliveries. John and his other friends were just beginning a game. John called to him, “Hey, Greg. Come play a quick game with us.”

Just as Greg started to say no, the soccer ball went out of play and rolled to a stop by his feet. He picked it up and tossed it back to Tim who was playing goalie.

Tim caught it and stepped aside. “I have to go home, Greg,” he said. “Here—the goal’s all yours.”

Greg took the ball from Tim and stood in front of the goal. He kicked the soccer ball to the waiting players and the thrill of playing soccer was back.

His friend John took the ball down field and scored a goal. They continued with the game until their team was ahead 3-0.

Greg didn’t realize how much time had gone by until he looked at his watch at the end of the third goal. It was almost 6:00 O’clock! His papers were all supposed to be delivered by 5:30.

He threw the ball to John and said, “I’ve got to go now.”

John caught the ball and said, “OK. I’ll see you later.”

When Greg got home, he found the canvas bag on his bike was empty, and his mother’s car was gone. Surely, Mom didn’t deliver my papers, he thought.

His mother drove into their driveway as he put his bike into the garage. She got out of the car and said, “Greg, just as I got home from work today, several of your subscribers called about not getting their papers. What happened?” She sat down on the porch steps as she spoke.

“I stopped by to see the guys playing soccer, Mom. I only meant to play for a little while.”

“Greg, I’m sorry you had to get a paper route and miss playing soccer, but it’s really helping us right now.”

Greg lowered his eyes and nodded his head.

“Dad will find work soon,” his mother said. “You’ll be able to resume your sports activities before very long.” She reached over and patted him on the arm. “And you’ll be the best goalie on Willow Lane again soon, too,” she said with a smile.

He looked up at his Mother whose weariness showed in spite of her smile. He realized that he had let his parents, and his subscribers down. All of them were counting on him.

“Thanks, Mom for delivering my papers,” Greg said. “You won’t have to do it again.”

His goal now would be to let his parents and his subscribers know they could depend on him. The soccer goal could wait until his Dad got another job. Greg hoped especially for his parents’ sake that it would be soon.

—Annie Laura Smith, M. Ed., Alabama. Annie was a Learning Skills Specialist at the University of Texas at Dallas. She has published numerous novels and nonfiction books.

Mona Lisa Memories

Mona Lisa Memories

By Katacha Díaz, Oregon

During my childhood years of growing up in Peru, as the first-born grandchild in the family, I spent a great deal of time with my loving and nurturing paternal grandparents. Papapa and Mamama patiently indulged me with clever age-appropriate answers to my many questions. I was intrigued by my grandparents’ art collection—serene landscapes and stormy seascapes kept me entertained, but I was most fascinated by the formal portraits of our family members and predecessors. Little did I realize we had such illustrious relatives in our family tree, for the family to commission portraits from popular artists of the time.

My Mamama and Papapa on their Return Voyage from Europe, 1953

Recently I spent time organizing my own family memorabilia, collected over the years, and found myself transported back in time to childhood days at my grandparents’ sprawling house in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima, Peru (see below). The family had gathered at Sunday luncheon to celebrate my grandparents’ return home from Paris. Papapa had served four years as Peru’s ambassador to France.

The Author as a child at her Grandparents home in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. 1948.

This particular day is etched in my memory. Papapa stood beside me while I gazed wide-eyed at the painting of a smiling beautiful young woman. “Is she another of our famous relatives, I asked him?” Papapa shook his head and smiled. “This is a copy of the world famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa. Mamama and I saw the original painted on wood, at the Louvre Museum in France. We found our oil-on-canvas copy at an art gallery, during an evening stroll along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence (Italy).”

“Mona Lisa” Replica. Illustration by Daemion Lee. Oregon.

Papapa and Mamama showed me photo albums and art books collected during their European travels. These were filled with photographs of renowned paintings and illustrations with captions, along with artist biographies and exhibition notes. I learned the difference between an original piece of art and a reproduction, like the one in my grandparents’ house. Later, we stood by the floor globe in Papapa’s study and charted the voyage of the replica Mona Lisa. Our Mona Lisa had traveled inside a wooden crate from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean and through the Panama Canal to reach Peru!

Growing up in the exotic land of the Incas, I was impressed by my grandparents’ eclectic art and stamp collections, the leather-bound books, and encyclopedias lining the walls of the library where my grandfather spent hours reading and writing. Mamama and Papapa’s home opened a whole new world to explore and study during my sleep-over adventures. Five decades ago, following in my grandparents’ footsteps, I visited la bella Firenze, walking across the beloved 16th century Ponte Vecchio, peering into the windows of the art galleries, goldsmith shops, and souvenir sellers. And I imagined Papapa and Mamama enjoying a romantic afternoon stroll along the picturesque bridge, the only one in Florence that was spared from destruction during the Second World War. I was transported back in time and reconnecting with my dear Papapa and Mamama missing their presence in my life.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy. Illustration by Daemion Lee, Oregon.

All these years later, I am grateful for my childhood memories of Peru, and the way that a painting or a photograph can keep my grandparents in my life, even today. In my kitchen I keep a watercolor painting of sunflowers in a Tuscan (Italy) field, which I found along the Ponte Vecchio. It keeps the memories alive and is good for my soul. Who could ask for more?”

Katacha Díaz is a Peruvian American writer and author. Wanderlust and love of travel have taken her all over the world to gather material for her stories. She has been published in many outlets, including in several issues of Skipping Stones. Katacha lives in the Pacific Northwest, near the mouth of the Columbia River, USA. 

Perfect: A Seven Letter Word

Perfect: A Seven Letter Word

By Lila Ahitov, 15, California.

Perfect. Verb, “make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible.” Adjective, “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be” (Oxford Dictionary).

Perfect! Such a small, seemingly insignificant word! Worthless even, words can’t cause any real harm, right? Perfect is just a way that you can describe something. Wow, the weather really is perfect for swimming today! I’m just going to study a little bit longer; I want perfect grades. It’s a nice word, it describes things that are really good. Perfect is inspiration, it’s a standard you can hold yourself to. Honestly, what could be bad about trying to be perfect? It’s no different than trying to succeed at something, or than just trying to lessen the amount of flaws overall.

I want to be perfect. I want the perfect body. So, what if that means waking up at 5am every morning and going for a run? It really is no big deal to skip breakfast every day, and sometimes even lunch. To restrict sugar and carbs, and anything that will stop me from looking perfect. I want the perfect grades. Exchanging many emails with each of my teachers can only benefit my grades. Staying up late memorizing flashcards and completing countless practice worksheets will only further my understanding of the material. I hope that my report card will reflect that I am being perfect.

I want to be the perfect friend. Of course, I can help you with the homework! You’re feeling sad, I’m sorry, tell me about it, maybe I can help. You’re bored? Come over! Or we can just FaceTime. You don’t need to know when I’m feeling down, that wouldn’t be very cool from the funny, loyal, therapist friend that I am. I will not share the burden of my thoughts, as that would not be something a perfect friend would do. Concealer can hide the eye bags that deepen after every late night and early morning. A practiced smile can cover up the nervous facial twitch that I’ve developed. It’s all worth it, so I can be perfect.

A bad grade, a failed test, a blemish on my skin. All flaws that can be fixed. The judgment from everyone else, surely that would stop once I have become perfect, right? A teacher yelled at me last week because I was talking to my friend. Which do I prioritize? Be the perfect friend, or be the perfect student? What if when I stop laughing at their jokes or contributing to the conversation, they don’t want me as their friend anymore? What if I do think of the cleverest, the most perfect response to my friend’s comment, and after I say it the teacher catches me? Is it worth the bad reputation with my teacher for the good one with my friends? Is it worth the possibility of my friends liking me less or talking to me less so that the teacher thinks that I am perfect? Is it possible to do both? Candy, offered to the class, and I always take a piece. I don’t think of the repercussions of this, until the guilt that drowns me later. And yet, I never fail to take it when it is presented to me.

I cannot possibly choose which things I want to be perfect all the time. My friendships, my face, my body, my grades, my reputation, my mental health, my social life, my ability to handle being alone. My anxiety that will not settle for anything less than perfect. Which to prioritize when they contradict each other? Do I choose my mental health over my friendships and my schoolwork? I would allow myself to sleep in from time to time, and to submit mediocre work on a couple of the dozens of assignments that I get a week. I would choose to spend my Saturday night watching a movie and eating pizza. If I take that road, then my grades, my social life, and my friendships will suffer. On the other hand, if I don’t sleep, I could be irritable and rude, and then my friendships and my relationship with my parents will be hampered, but I will have enough time to do my homework. I play an instrument, I’m in clubs, I’m on the cheer team, I hang out with my friends, I spend time with my family, but choosing to do one thing stops the others from being perfect. And yet, while I agonize over what to do and the consequences of each, perfect people seem to be able to choose the perfect option, every single time. I don’t try to be selfish with my choices, but it isn’t possible to think through everything that ought to happen for me to be perfect. I say that it’s all worth it. And that a simple, seven letter word cannot possibly affect me, or my life. I ponder on that thought, and hope that my answer will be considered perfect.

—Lila Ahitov, age 15, California.
Lila writes: “Since a young age, I have loved writing and reading. Whether it was reading the French children’s books that my Parisian mother put me to bed with, or attempting the lyrics of my dad’s favorite Turkish song from his childhood, I always noticed words. “Lila,” my name, means purple, night, and beauty, and much more that I have yet to learn. Growing up in America with European parents allowed me to dabble in languages other than English, French being the one that mostly stuck. Staying close with my family and friends, and growing my cultural knowledge are continuously important to me. I am filled with gratitude for the freedom of choice in my future, which I hope to include writing, travel, and law. Heavy emotions and thoughts can sometimes be a burden, and writing things, like my submission, helps me release it.”