Today (1st June) is an International Children's Day. One of our favorite authors Stanley Laine send us a really special story for this occasion. Feel free to read, love and share it with your loved ones. Reading aloud to and with children creates a bond that can never be forgotten.
The Boy with the Golden Heart
by Stanley Laine
It is said around Bargersville that Morris Wanamaker was a boy born with a golden heart. Everyone in the small town already knew his father was a drunk, the local police paying regular Wednesday night visits to the rusted out trailer on the edge of town where they would often find Morris, a boy not more than ten years old sprawled out and covering his mother to protect her from the thrashings it was said his father tried to inflict upon her. When the police arrived they would question Morris about what happened and he would always explain it away that his father received some bad news at work, or perhaps lost money in a poker game and that when he came home he discovered Morris had again stolen the family’s money kept tucked away in a glass jar in the freezer and spent it on candy bars or comic books at the local drug store after school. When the police would ask Mrs. Wanamaker if the story was true she only nodded her head somewhere halfway between a yes and a no as Mr. Wanamaker would offer his typical response, “It’s exactly as the boy said. My boy might be a thief but he is no liar.”
When the police would ask Morris to show them a candy bar or comic book he supposedly purchased with the money, Morris would stand with his hands behind his back leaned up against the trailer’s paneled wall and look around the long room as though searching frantically for anything he could present to them, but there was nothing for children in the mobile home, a carton of cigarettes, an open can of beer, and a T.V. Guide on a table by the couch. Morris’ mom would step forward and explain it away that Morris had eaten the candy or lost the comic book on his way home. When the police would question where he bought them, there was always an unanswerable silence in the trailer, only the sound of a dog barking outside, before the authorities would warn Morris’ father, “The neighbors are watching you, and one of these times you are going to go too far.”
Morris was a terrible student. His teacher was certain it was not due to lack of intelligence or effort but rather that he could no longer see well enough to complete his work on time. He would often sit at his desk in school leaned so far over to analyze his book or paper that his nose very nearly touched the surface of the desk, but if the teacher asked Morris to speak the answer to a particular problem he could do so quickly, just not in written form. Things improved a little when the teacher bought him a pair of off-the-rack reading glasses from the drug store with metal frames that were painted gold to make them appear to be more than they were, a prize that Morris cherished with all of his heart, holding them in the palm of his hands as though cradling a baby, always careful to place them folded up in a Kleenex inside of his desk before recess. However, he never took his glasses home for he knew from previous denials of ‘charity’ from his father at the pleading of the school administrators to offer to pay for Morris to visit an eye doctor that he would not be allowed to keep them, and so homework that was not completed during school time was often left undone, not from an absence of effort, but merely from a lack of time.
In the afternoons, Morris was in the habit of stopping by the Meadowside Retirement Home two blocks from his school where he would visit and sing to the residents while they sat in the large sun-filled visitor’s room. Morris was blessed with a beautiful voice and he would arrive at the retirement home like clockwork every school day just after three where all of the elderly residents would be waiting anxiously for his recital, excited to see the charming boy with the golden voice, and as he entered he would greet each one of them with a hug and ask about their day. He was not afraid to hold veined and wrinkled hands, to press his cheek against age spots, or have them kissed by dry lips and moist chins. Many of the ladies wore flowery perfumes and he loved smelling their blue hair when they embraced him and listening to the stories of the old men who had fought during the war, some of them even having flown warbirds, as they would describe their adventures to him while he sat and listened with rapt attention. When he sang his songs, the joy he saw in their faces was reward enough, and although many of them tried to shower him with nickels or dimes and sugary treats, he always declined saying that instead he wanted them to keep their coins together in a jar so he could use it for something very special one day and that the treats might spoil his dinner.
When he would arrive home this dinner he mentioned would be waiting, three slices of lunchmeat on white bread placed on a paper plate atop a coffee table in front of a quiet, glowing television in the closed-curtain dark of the trailer while his mother dashed out of the door on her way to work whispering to him, “Don’t make noise and disturb your father, you know how he gets when he wakes early.” Morris would nod as he picked up the meat quietly and later tiptoed into the bathroom to get a drink of water from the faucet, because he could not reach a glass in the kitchen cabinet without sliding a chair across the floor which would be sure to stir the volatile man.
At school, Morris would often be teased by other children because his pants were two sizes too small and his shirts rarely ever reached all the way to his waist no matter how hard he tried to stretch them down. One of the soles of his shoes was peeling up in the back and some of the boys enjoyed stepping on it as he walked in line causing him to lose his footing and fall. There was a girl named Jeanne that would often come to his aid to help him stand up, shooing the boys away from him as they laughed. It was not pity that prompted Jeanne to step in but rather gratitude for it was Morris himself that had laid down his very own body to cover Jeanne several times before, shielding her from the abuse inflicted upon her by some of the other children on the playground. This was Morris’ mode of operation, never an aggressor and never prone to violence, his weapon was defense, protection through self-sacrifice for the weak and the downtrodden, just like he had protected his own mother, and wherever the weak were preyed upon by the strong, Morris would be there to intervene by simply placing his own body over them and taking any punishment that might be inflicted. This often diffused the situation for it was his selfless act alone that would cause many children to reflect upon what they were doing and make them reconsider their actions. Morris became known as the protector of the frail but unfortunately it was this very behavior that covered the crimes of his own father for it could always be claimed that any mark upon his body was received in one of these moments at school, and anyway, his very own mother had asked him to never tell anyone what his father had done for she said that without his income there would be no way for the two of them to manage it alone. She said that one day they would make their escape, but it had to be at the right time. Morris kept his promise of silence to his mother.
One day when he was at the Meadowside Retirement Home, he had just finished his last song and an elderly lady named Mrs. Walker, once a piano teacher who would play accompaniment for him on an old, out of tune instrument that was donated to the home, asked Morris, “What makes you such a sweet young man?” He just smiled at her soft, tender face encircled by a halo of curly silver hair and beamed his expression of love that could lighten up even the deepest cave when he said, “If you say I am sweet, it is only a reflection of the people I am with. This place is like my home now, you are all my grandfathers and grandmothers and I feel happiest and safest when I am here, so the better question is…” he hesitated, unsure if what he was going to say would be offensive, but Mrs. Walker encouraged him by wrapping her arm around his shoulders and saying, “Yes, go on Morris,” and he continued to ask, “What makes old people so sweet?”
Mrs. Walker smiled and hugging the boy where he sat next to her on the piano bench she said, “You see Morris no one has time for old people anymore. Everyone is busy making their own way in the world now and old people sort of get in the way. People come to visit here now and then, but usually the visits get fewer and farther between, until eventually they seem to stop altogether. In the old days, we would have still lived in our homes with our children and grandchildren providing our wisdom and experience as a valued member of the family, and an extra pair of hands to help watch the younger ones, but now we are tucked away in these quiet places with fountains and gardens to amuse us, so that although they know we are alone, there is somehow less guilt for them to bear for leaving us behind. That is why you mean so much to us Morris because children like you remind us of what living is really all about. When we are born we are brought into this world as perfection, and it is only with time and age that we move further and further away from it. You help us to remember what perfection feels like.”
Morris thought about what Mrs. Walker said and then he looked up at her loving but lonely, tear-filled eyes and said, “Children have the time for you, Mrs. Walker.”
She smiled and hugged him again, and as she did Morris looked to the corner of the room where he saw Mr. Tompkins sitting in his silver and grey wheelchair, alone and leaning his bored head on his hand. Mr. Tompkins always seemed immune to Morris’ charms and he often would sit aloof, seemingly ignoring the songs performed by Morris and was never receptive to his approaches. Morris asked her, “Why is Mr. Tompkins so lonely?”
Mrs. Walker looked over at the old man as his head began to nod when he drifted asleep in his wheelchair and she said, “He has a broken heart Morris and some people don’t like to be reminded of the fact. When he came here he was with his wife and his children would come to visit frequently but after his wife passed away the visitors stopped coming one by one, perhaps afraid of the place, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the reminders that we all grow old, or maybe it was simply a case where she was the one they truly loved, not him, but either way in a very short amount of time he lost everyone he knew from his life and now no one ever comes to see him, and so he is bitter, tired and bitter, and waiting alone for the end to come.”
Morris looked at him and felt sad, and he rose moving toward the old man where he slept slouched over in his chair and standing beside him he noticed that Mr. Tompkin’s glasses were sliding down his nose every time his head nodded forward in his sleep placing his chin upon his chest, and so Morris reached out and removed the glasses placing them in the old man’s shirt pocket. Mr. Tompkins had an ElectroLarynx, and when he woke to find Morris standing next to him, he placed the microphone under his chin and hummed in his digitized voice, “What are you doing?”
Morris was startled, not by the hole in the man’s throat or by the robotic resonance of his voice, but rather it was the first time he saw Mr. Tompkins speak directly to anyone and Morris replied, “Your glasses were falling off your face, so I put them in your pocket.” Mr. Tompkins lifted his hand and feeling his pocket he frowned but nodded in acknowledgement of what the boy said, and then Morris asked, “Mr. Tompkins, does my singing bother you?”
The old man sat, staring at the boy, a face that reminded him of his own sons, and the days they used to spend time together fishing in the river on the other side of the woods behind their home, and the Saturday mornings he spent working with his boys on the pick-up truck, letting them ride in the back one afternoon when they went out to Anderson’s Apple Orchard and picked nearly twenty baskets of Red-Delicious and Jonathan varieties, the favorite of their mother. He saw in Morris’ eyes that look of respect his sons once held for him, as though he was the greatest man to ever the walk the earth in their mind, now just a broken-down shriveled up old rind like a rotting fruit waiting to he tossed out into the garbage heap, buried beneath the soil and hidden well below the cover of winter.
“No,” he said, “It does not bother me. Why do you ask this?”
“Because,” Morris replied, “You never look at me when I sing.”
Mr. Tompkins paused before responding, thinking about Morris and how things must have appeared from his perspective, merely a child really not capable of understanding the old man’s frame of mind thinking his rejection of the boy might be a result of some flaw the boy demonstrated, “It is just that you remind me of my sons, that is all, and sometimes thinking about them is difficult for me.” But Morris understood better than Mr. Tompkins realized for he knew all too well about fearful thoughts and lonely things, living a life unrealized and the loss of being able to really live it. He understood about walking on eggshells around his own home, afraid to speak up in school forever controlled by the fear of ridicule, so on successive visits Morris made attempts to always spend one on one time with Mr. Tompkins, because together they shared this fear of living and despite his grumpy nature one day he surprised Morris with a gift, a small piece of tackle, a little gold colored wooden fish with a rusted hook, large painted eyes, and a white feather that ran off of its back.
“This was the favorite bait that my sons always wanted to use and although it never landed a single catch, I now think it was my giving of it that they cherished the most.” Soon enough, Morris noticed that Mr. Tompkins seemed as anxious as the others for his arrival and after his songs Mr. Tompkins began wheeling his chair toward the center of the room to get closer to Morris before he made his rounds visiting with all of his adopted grandmothers and grandfathers as Mr. Tompkins now wanted to be the first because he believed that together he and Morris were close to finding the joy of life.
But one day not long after, Mr. Tompkins was no longer sitting in his corner, nor wheeling toward the center of the room, having died in the previous night from heart failure. The mood of the room that day was somber as Mrs. Walker explained, “I guess it is a good reminder to us all that we must make the most of our moments together with those we love for the march of time is strong and is the one constant over which we will never have any control,” and with that she gave Morris an extra-long hug.
The next Wednesday after Mr. Tompkins had passed away, Morris was distracted at school because he knew that tomorrow was his father's day off work and it was always on that night before when his father would likely meet up for a game of poker and come home penniless and drunk, to lay down on the sofa for an hour or two only to wake realizing that he had squandered all of his money and to take out his contempt for himself on Morris and his mother. The boy used to try to get his mother to leave his father but she saw no way to do it on her own, so on this day while he sat at his desk cradling his aching stomach, anxious about the night to come, he did something he had never done before. Morris forgot to remove his glasses.
As he walked into the school cafeteria, the meanest and biggest of the bullies, Troy Meyer, called from behind him, “Hey golden-eyes, let me see your glasses.”
Morris reached up, realizing at that moment he still wore the frames until Troy ripped them from his face and began holding them up high in the air exclaiming, “Now I can have golden eyes.”
Morris tried to reach them as he begged, “Please give them back to me, they are the only pair I have,” but Troy took great delight in seeing the struggle of the smaller boy and the more Morris tried to jump to reach them, the higher Troy held them up until they were just out of reach from his fingertips. “Please Troy, let me have my glasses back,” the boy pleaded again, holding his hands together as though in prayer.
“Sure why not?” Troy said as he let them fall to the ground. Morris dropped to his knees and reached for his glasses, but just as soon as his hands were about to touch the frames, Troy placed his foot over them and began putting his full weight upon them, flattening them into a pancake of metal and glass.
Morris dropped his head, but Troy was not finished for he then removed his foot off the glasses and placed them on Morris’ shoulder before kicking out and rolling him over on the ground. Morris looked up at him and in Troy’s laughing face he saw all the mean people of the world like his own father and the people that left behind his friends at the retirement home. Then Morris he did something he had never done in his life, through his anger and rage he rose to his feet and began to charge at Troy, who while surprised at the smaller boy’s reaction, quickly ended it by throwing Morris to the ground and causing his shirt to lift up off his torso. There Troy saw something that caused him to stop dead in his tracks for upon the body of the boy were marks and bruises covering his back.
Troy looked at the boy on the ground who was now glaring back up at him with tears in his eyes as the bully asked, “Why Morris? Why do you have all these marks and bruises on your back? Where do these come from? No one here has ever beaten you so badly to cause this.”
Morris said nothing. He just started crying quietly as he looked down at the ground to his broken glasses ready to take his thrashing. The bully gazed down and recognized his reflection in the lenses and in that moment he saw himself for who he really was, just a boy hurting another boy whom he now realized had probably never seen anything but pain and suffering all of his young life. When he looked at this reflection of himself, he felt ashamed, haunted by what he had become and in that moment he realized how much he disliked the reflection that he saw.
So the bully did something completely unexpected, almost heroic, as he dropped his arms and kneeling to the ground he picked up the broken frames in his cupped hands as though lifting the precious body of a tiny dead bird and said, “I'm so sorry Morris, I really am, I did not know…”
He held out his hands offering the broken pieces back to Morris who looked at them and wiped away his tears before he began punching himself in his own stomach for being so stupid in forgetting to put his glasses away in his desk for safekeeping.
Seeing this Troy said, “No, stop it Morris, you should be mad at me.” He knelt beside the boy and said, “Hit me instead Morris.”
“No,” the boy declared.
“Why not?” Troy replied.
“Because,” the boy continued, now looking straight into his eyes, “Then I would be just like you, and I would rather be like me, even as pathetic as I am, than to be someone like you.”
Troy felt truly remorseful for what he had done and quickly replied, “Let me make it up to you. Let me buy you a new pair after school, okay? Please let me help you Morris.”
Morris looked cautiously at the bully and said, “If you really want to help, come with me after school today and I'll take you someplace where you can truly make a difference.”
That afternoon while Morris waited outside the school not really expecting Troy to appear he finally resigned to go on his own way but just then the door burst open and out marched the bully and a dozen or so other children, including Jeanne. She immediately exclaimed, “We're all coming with you Morris!”
Morris smiled with pride as he led them down the street, and they charged off to the retirement home where they cascaded into the visiting room like sunlight suddenly filling the space with fresh young faces to stand before the aged residents. Morris stepped forward and looking at all the eager faces ready to welcome him and the other children he said, “Grandmas and Grandpas,” he addressed them lovingly while they sat with rapt attention, “Meet your new grandchildren. We have come just to be here with you today.” Then he turned to the other boys and girls behind him and said, “My friends,” Jeanne smiled at him and nodded before he continued, “Meet your new grandparents.”
Starting first with Jeanne who took the lead, the children drifted slowly into the waiting crowd where they greeted and hugged the elderly faces who sat in their chairs and wheelchairs beginning to tell stories from their lives and asking the children all sorts of questions, listening intently, passing smiles between the young and the old. Morris approached Mrs. Walker who was now tearing up at the sight of the joy filling the room that day and he asked, “Can I have the jar with the nickels and dimes now?”
“Of course Morris,” she replied, “But what are you going to do with your money?” hoping to hear he would buy himself some candy or a comic book, but he vaguely replied, “You will know tomorrow what I have done with it.”
The next day at school on Thursday, Jeanne was surprised to see that Morris was not sitting at his desk so she and the other children went back to the retirement home in the afternoon to spend more time with their new grandparents and to ask if anyone had seen or heard from Morris at all that day. Troy stepped forward and confessed, “I have seen marks and bruises upon his back and I am worried for him…” Mrs. Walker lifted her hand to her mouth and called for one of the nurses to contact someone regarding Morris’ absence for it was completely unlike him to not show up in the retirement home as she knew full well it was his favorite place to be.
Soon the police arrived and Troy told them what he had seen but the officer explained that they had never been able to catch his father red-handed. The children followed the police to Morris’ home where they found him sitting in the trailer on the sofa with his mother's head resting in his lap while he stroked her hair gently.
“Morris, what are you doing? Why are you here?” everyone asked.
Morris was not wearing a shirt and he leaned forward and twisted to reveal handprints of black ink upon his back. Upon the side of his mother's face they also saw a solid black handprint covering red skin.
“He's in the bedroom,” Morris simply replied.
Upon entering they found his father asleep with a hangover and lying in the bed. His hands were coated in black, and beside his bed sat a grocery bag which contained the bottle of permanent ink and a receipt from the drug store. Morris explained that when his father came home like he always did on the previous night and was passed out for a few hours on the sofa, Morris coated his hands with the ink just before he awoke in his usual angry fashion.
Morris did not need to say anything further, still keeping his promise to his mother, but through the clever use of the ink, his own silent defense, he provided all the proof that was necessary as evidence of his father’s crimes. Waking the man was like poking a sleeping bear, but soon enough the police placed cuffs around his wrists hauling him out as he continued to proclaim his innocence.
“What will we do now?” his mother asked Morris.
“We will learn to live again,” Morris replied as he hugged her.
The children, the neighbors and eventually the whole town surrounded Morris with love and support helping him to get the simple gift of proper prescription glasses and as a result over time and with hard work his grades improved so that eventually he was able to get admitted with a partial scholarship to a school of medicine where he trained to become a surgeon so the boy with the golden heart could help repair ones that had broken, saving many lives along the way, becoming the treasured son and the pride of everyone in the community. Morris Wanamaker found the joy of life.