31: A Shorts Story

31: A Shorts Story

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

A Shorts Story

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

~Epictetus

Like many elementary school students, I didn’t have much of a work ethic. I never studied anything, and I don’t recall ever using a textbook. I coasted through Odem Elementary School on the “Gifted and Talented” track through sheer osmosis and a healthy dose of Full House reruns.

In third grade, Mrs. Stovall assigned our class a big project — we had to make a sock puppet of our favorite author. I remember choosing between Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume and blithely tucking the assignment instructions into the front of my folder and the back of my mind.

Days passed until Mrs. Stovall mentioned that our sock puppets were due the next day. Where did the time go? I knew my puppet could never be as beautiful as that of my classmate, Betsy. At eight, the girl was more together than I probably am now. Also, her mom stayed at home and had a hot glue gun and fuzzy pompoms.

Though my sock puppet couldn’t compete with Betsy’s, I didn’t think it could be that hard to make. We had yarn and permanent markers at home. I’d be fine.

My mom worked, so my stay-at-home dad always oversaw homework completion. Sock puppetry turned out to be harder than I’d anticipated. I don’t remember if I had a tantrum or asked my dad for help, but he started wracking his brain to come up with some way to make a more presentable puppet. At the very least, we needed to find some red fabric to make the inside of a mouth for Beverly or Judy.

No such luck. My mom never sewed; she only mended on occasion. My dad was better at repairing the innards of a car than sewing on a button.

Things were getting desperate. My dad scolded me for using one of my dress socks and gave me a large, white one of his own. He rummaged through his dresser drawers and found a source of red material — his favorite pair of shorts.

They were Ocean Pacific board shorts that he wore around the house. Very retro cool, I guess. If you knew my dad, you’d know how little time or energy he puts into his clothing, and how rare it is when he does get attached to an item. One time he thought he’d lost a beloved, tattered gray jacket in a movie theater and looked for the same design on eBay. It had long gone out of style.

The red shorts were like that, too. But somehow, my dad didn’t wince when he cut into them to make a mouth, or when he sewed the red scrap onto the sock and saw how bad it looked. He eventually called my step-grandmother, Betty, as a last resort. She agreed to help, so we went to Walmart for a new sock and then to her house. Betty made eyes and a perfect red mouth for Beverly or Judy. She even added eyelashes.

I thought Betty was the hero when I went home with a puppet that didn’t look anything like my favorite author, but would easily earn an A. When my mom got home from work, she shook her head at my dad’s favorite shorts lying in the trash in pieces. She asked why he’d sacrificed the only piece of clothing he cared about.

“Because that puppet needed a mouth,” my dad answered.

Surely, Betsy’s mom didn’t do that.

~Amanda Green

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