Do you find it hard to hope? Does it require risk to believe a promise? Today, my friend Lori Jones shares a tender story from when she was a little girl. Perhaps it is a story that will resonate in your heart, as well.
I curled my toes vice-like into his tan, wet shoulders. My knees shook. “Hold my thumbs”, he instructed, and I did, as if about to ride in the rodeo.
“Now, stand up.”
I stood, high above the water, the breeze sending shivers through the late afternoon sun.
“When I count to three, let go and dive forward.”
He made it sound natural to send his seven-year old daughter head first into our backyard pool.
“One.. two.. three.. DIVE!”
He sprung and boosted me air born. If I hadn’t let go, my arms would have been yanked from their sockets and I’d have had a nose full of water, so I released my grip and plunged into the deep. It was sort of a dive belly flop hybrid, and I felt the sting as I heard the splash.
When I surfaced, Dad smiled, “OK try it again.”
I clamored back up. I’d been swimming since I was four, a little fish according to Dad, who would know. Growing up in our town, he was famous at the city pool for back flips, double somersaults and all sorts of stunts. In Dad’s stories, there were dives named after him, and crowds gathered the day he attempted a two-and-a-half gainer.
Since my older sister still plugged her nose, Dad decided he would advance my swimming abilities. He often bypassed her and granted the athletic, boyish events to me, his second girl who was supposed to be his son, and I drank in the sporadic affection.
Dad had a twinkle in his eye.
“If you dive by the end of the day, your piggy bank might be full of bubble gum tomorrow.”
Bubble gum! It sounded too good to be true, like the kitten he had brought home, and then took back two days later.
But a small flame of trust, a pilot light of hope buried inside of me flickered with his words, and this time my hands prayed above my head, and I met the water with little to no splash. He was applauding when I bobbed up for air.
“That’s my girl.” He said, “We’re done for today.”
Dad was in a good mood the rest of the night. He sang songs and even made dinner, Spaghettio’s with RC Cola to drink. My sister was quiet, but I downplayed it so she wouldn’t feel bad or worse, ignore me.
“Don’t forget to check your bank tomorrow ‘Little Fish’.”
Embarrassed, I climbed into bed, wishing he wouldn’t talk about it anymore. I didn’t dare get excited. It hurt too badly when dreams got broken.
I peeked over at my bank, a fuzzy rabbit with glass eyes gazing silently back. Unable to sleep, I practiced what I would say in the morning when the gum wasn’t there. I drifted off planning to pretend I had forgotten too.
But in the morning there it was. I rubbed my eyes and threw off the covers. The rabbit looked as surprised as me, crammed full of penny gum, pieces running out and onto the dresser. The kind in waxy paper with powder leaking out, so soft and sweet your teeth hurt if you held it between your molars too long. The kind with cartoon wrappers, never very funny, but you always read them anyway.
I stood in my pajamas and stared. Dad came in and laughed, but his amusement made me nervous. Was the gum real? Was he going to take it away?
“Go on!” he urged, although we hadn’t had breakfast yet.
I took one, and it was delicious. I offered some to my sister who said, “No thanks”, but accepted after Dad left, still chuckling.
I sat on my bed chewing and thinking. This bank full of gum messed with my entire system of how things worked around here. This was the first promise Dad had ever kept. If he started to come through, would our lives change completely? Would he get a job? Would he sleep at night and not get so angry anymore? How was I ever to stop myself from hoping again?