There's a lot to be said for retirement, as long as you don't stop working. When I finally retired from my job, I thought I'd have time to relax, but I soon found that all the other tasks, like fixing things around the house, landscaping, catching up with friends, quickly expanded to fill the gap. Then we moved to St. George, Utah, and I found a delightful new occupation waiting for me.
St. George is called "Utah's Dixie," and it's where all the "snowbirds" hang out in the winter. We put our house in northern Utah up for sale, packed up our things, and headed for the warm south. Rental houses aren't easy to find in St. George, and the one we finally rented had seen better days. We arrived late at night in the rain and decided to wait for morning to unload the truck.
As the sun came up over the red hills we found a group of people on our lawn - a volunteer moving crew of men, women, and children from the neighborhood. Some of them started picking up things from the truck and asking where we wanted them put. We pointed. When we went in the house, people were cleaning the cupboards and washing windows. By noon, everything was in place and we definitely felt at home.
We got to know the kids right away. Eight of them began hanging around our house. Dacey, a six-year- old with long blonde hair, was sort of the leader of the pint-size gang. She would direct the others in playing games or helping me pull weeds and put new plants in the yard. Her three-year-old brother followed her everywhere and never said a word. I soon learned why.
Every time I asked him a question, one of the other kids would pipe right up with the answer.
"What's your name?" I asked. He opened his mouth "His name's Danny," Dacey responded.
"What's that in your hand, Danny?"
"It's a race car," another boy answered.
Most of the time, he never even opened his mouth to try. I asked his mother if she would let him come over and help me work on my trailer. She said, "Sure. When you get tired of him, just send him home."
I located a small box of wrenches and asked Danny to hold them for me and give me one when I needed it. I went through each one, showing him where the size was stamped on it. I was taking off some boards. I held out my hand and asked him for a 9/16-inch box-end. He looked at the numbers and handed me a 5/8-inch open-end. I told him that was great. I kept asking him for a particular wrench, and he kept giving me something else. When I actually needed a wrench, I'd sneak one out of my toolbox in the trailer. (Most adults don't know wrench sizes either.) I started asking him questions.
"When do you have to go home, Danny?"
He opened his mouth, waited, and realized no one was around to answer for him. He paused, then responded, "Mommy will call me." It was the longest sentence I'd ever heard from him. I soon learned that his favorite food was French fries and his favorite friend was his dog, Freckles. After a while, he even started volunteering information.
"I like Dacey," he said. "She doesn't let the big kids tease me."
His mother soon called him to lunch.
The next day, we started fixing up the house. He started talking about his parents. He told me about his dad's work and his boss, whom he liked very much. He talked about his mother and all the things she did. I hadn't realized how many things a three-year-old knows about his family. When he started telling me about the night Mommy told Daddy to sleep on the couch, I realized I would have to guide the conversation a little. We changed subjects.
I kept asking Danny for wrenches and information. Soon the other kids began noticing that Danny could talk. And that he also had interesting things to say. They began listening, too. Danny became one of the crowd.
After a year, my wife and I had to return to Provo. The house hadn't sold, and it was time to work on that one for a change. I really wished I could take my new assistant with me, just for the conversation.
The neighbors turned up to help us load the truck. Dacey supervised the work of the other kids, but I didn't see Danny anywhere.
When I finally climbed into the cab of the truck, there he was. He gave me a big hug and I gave him the little box of wrenches. I told him we'd be back again sometime. He gripped his new tools and said, "Bring your trailer with you. I'll help you fix it."
I can't wait.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society