From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul


When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Papa died last night. He was my mom’s dad, and I knew him for as long as I can remember.

He told me that if I studied hard and got good grades he’d buy me my first car. He promised. I’m twelve now and the oldest in my family.

I bet he was thinking that the thought of my own car would keep me focused on school. And, of course, if I really buckled down it would take the pressure off Mom.

Mom always said I was born with one foot out the door. Papa knew that. And my quest to grow up quickly and dash out that front door had always been hard on Mom. Papa knew that too, and that’s when his voice roared like a lion, “Education, Brian. That’s the key!”

Yet, as if he knew what I was feeling, he shook his head back and forth and pretended to whine, “I know, I know, I didn’t want to study either.” He put his arm around me and whispered, “But you have to do it,” as if he were telling me a secret. Our secret. I think he was just trying to help make growing up easier.

I’ll never forget the look on Grandma’s face. “Your grandfather,” she said, rolling her eyes, almost like she knew what he was going to say before he said it.

But once her eyes stopped rolling, she looked right at him, the way Mom looks at us when she wants us to hear her words. She told him to calm down. “Don’t get Brian’s hopes up,” she said.

But Papa wasn’t like a lot of people. He meant what he said.

I think his promises sometimes worried Grandma a little. So he just did what Papa always did. He purred like a kitten and snuggled up to Grandma and pinched her cheeks. Then he made a kissing sound with his lips over and over through the air, the way I’d seen him do it a thousand times before. And then he told her how much he loved me.

He used to kiss my brothers, sister, Mom and I that same way. Mom said Papa came from a long line of cheek pinchers. She said it was a family tradition. His father and grandfather did it too. I think it was the Italian in him.

Papa showed me that you can love people in front of others. He was always kissing us and pinching our cheeks. He didn’t care who was watching. I remember how all that squeezing used to hurt at first, but we got used to it. I could tell Grandma got used to his way a long time ago. I think Grandma knew that Papa needed to love his family up close.

When Papa came to visit he always wanted to be near us. And he brought us books and magazines because he said we should read every day.

He would sit with us and we would read together. I think he liked to hear our voices. He brought over lots of puzzles, too. He said they were important for exercising our mind. I think he liked to see us learn.

I always felt good about my family after Papa came to visit. His hugs were stronger than anybody’s and he liked to laugh out loud with us. He didn’t seem to mind our noise. He said we were just being kids. I think he remembered what it was like.

I won’t forget the last time Papa was here with us. He came over to hang a fan with a light on it, outside, in our patio. I remember how he worked all day, climbing up and down the ladder, exchanging one tool for another. I helped him for as long as I could, though after awhile I got tired. But he kept on working.

He wanted us to be able to eat outside during warm summer nights. He said the fan would help, but it needed to be put in right. And of course, it couldn’t squeak.

Last night, the last night I would see him, we all ate dinner together under the light and the quiet breeze from the fan. And not a thing squeaked. In fact, nothing ever squeaked when Papa was around.

Papa always said his tools were his treasures. He never went anywhere without them. I guess he just liked to fix things. I know Mom’s going to miss his help around here.

I’m sad that Papa’s gone. Today the phone keeps ringing. Lots of people are calling to say they’re sorry that Papa died. Mom has put me in charge for awhile. She wants me to watch my brothers and sister. She has arrangements to make because Papa died.

Now my littlest brother is looking to me. He says he didn’t want Papa to die. He wants to know if he keeps eating those healthy apples, does that mean he won’t get old and die?

I don’t have an answer for my brother. I’m sorry. He has so many questions. “You’re so smart, Brian,” Papa used to always tell me. I think I’m not so smart right now.

“Does everybody get old and die?” my brother asks.

“No,” I tell him, “that’s not the way it always goes. Sometimes people die sooner than that, from other things. That’s why Mom holds your hand when you cross the street and makes sure we’re buckled up when we drive in the car.”

“Then I don’t ever want to let go of her hand and I want to live in the car where I’ll be safe,” he cries.

“I’m not sure that’s the right way to live,” I tell him.

“Then I want to be a cowboy. Do cowboys die?’’ he asks.

“Yeah, cowboys die,” I say.

“Then I want to be the president. Do presidents die?” he asks, still crying.

“Yes,” I nod. “Even presidents die, I learned that in school. It’s better to think about living. It’s the right thing to do.”

Those words just fall out my mouth. Suddenly I realize what Mom means when she talks about doing the right thing. It’s kind of like you really only have one choice. I think Papa would say so too.

My brother asks me one more question. “Brian, is Papa going to come alive again and be a ghost?”

“No,” I answer sadly, wishing I could still see Papa. “But maybe we’ll see him again up in heaven.”

“Is that a long drive?” he wants to know. I start to laugh. I feel like jumping up and down, but instead I hug my brother tightly. He feels so small.

“It’s a very long drive,” I almost shout, “but when we get there and the gates to heaven swing open, I promise you, they won’t squeak.”

All of a sudden I feel a lot better. I let go of my brother and I can see he feels better too.

I think you can be both happy and sad at the same time.

Brian Normandin, fifteen

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