Martha’s Crayons

Martha’s Crayons

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Martha’s Crayons

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson

The phone call was expected, but it still left me feeling helpless and deeply sad. Martha’s long battle against cancer was almost over—cancer was winning.

Friends for many years, Martha and I were sorority sisters in college, and then fellow teachers at a local junior high. As a novice teacher, I envied her boundless energy and amazing ability to successfully teach art to teenagers. I struggled to motivate them with music; she inspired winners. Later, she displayed her impressive watercolors in many shows where my husband exhibited.

Martha’s family requested no visitors at the hospital. She simply didn’t have the energy. I suspect they also knew that the ICU would be overwhelmed with the countless former students and friends coming to offer encouragement.

In lieu of visiting, I sent cards. Not fancy ones, just daily handwritten notes about anything but get well soon. I told her funny stories, described the weather, and gossiped about her fellow artists. Martha loved to enter juried shows, so I told her about art competitions, hoping against hope that she might get well enough to compete.

Late one afternoon, suffering writer’s block about the next card, I sipped a cup of coffee and stared at the discarded wads of paper littering the kitchen table—my frustrated start and stop attempts at writing. Without warning, the kitchen door opened, and in waltzed Kate, a five-year-old neighbor girl who frequently dropped in to visit, because, as she put it, “I didn’t have no fwiends.”

“Whatcha’ doing?” she asked, standing next to my chair, one foot propped on top of the other.

“I’m writing a card to a sick friend.”

Her gaze roamed about the kitchen but stopped when she spied a large painting of Martha’s leaning against the wall. She moved to it and bent down closer. Awarded first place in a recent show, the blue ribbon hung from the frame.

“I can draw,” she said casually. Hands on her knees, she peered outside at “The Sentinel,” a massive oak standing guard over my home. As if on alert, its huge leafless limb cast a protective shadow across the house.

Stooped, she looked at the painting a long time. Finally, she looked back at me over her shoulder. Her head cocked, her innocent blue eyes intense. “Who did this?” She emphasized each word.

“A friend. The same one I’m writing the card to.”

“Oh, my. What kind of crayons does she use? I need to get some of them.”

Eyes wide in sheer surprise, I laughed out loud. Kate had given me the thought for the next card. I grabbed her for a big hug. She looked bewildered when I plopped a kiss on top of her curly hair. “I don’t know, Kate. I’ll have to ask her.”

Martha died a few days later. Her husband, Tim, pulled me aside at the funeral to thank me for the notes. “She loved the one about the crayons,” he said. “It was the last time I heard her laugh.”

Tears welled up as I squeezed his hand. “I hoped she would. I did,” was my quiet reply. Turning to leave, I offered a silent prayer for the amazing innocence of a child. For Tim, time would remove the footprints of the day with all its care and sorrow. I was thankful that he would have the memory of the last laugh.

Barbara Ragsdale

More stories from our partners