From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

A Gift for Robby

Little Robby, our neighbor’s nephew, carefully spooned some of his water ration into a saucer and started for the door. How I hated this water rationing. We were forced to bathe without soap in the deep little pond we shared with Jessie, our cow. She was all we had now. Wells were dry, crops transformed to dust and blew away with our dreams, during the worst drought our small farming community had ever seen.

I held the screen open for Robby and watched, smiling, as he slowly sat on the steps. Dozens of bees circled his tousled brown curls in an angel’s halo. He imitated their buzzing, which brought them to the saucer to sip the precious liquid.

His aunt’s words echoed in my ears:

“I don’t know what I was thinking when I took him in. Doctors say he wasn’t hurt in the crash that killed my sister, but he can’t talk. Oh, he makes noises all right, but they aren’t human. He’s in a world all his own, that boy, not like my children at all.”

Why couldn’t she see the wonderful gifts this four-year-old boy possessed? My heart ached for Robby. He had become the dearest part of our world, eagerly tending the garden with me and riding the tractor or pitching hay with my husband, Tom. He was blessed with a loving nature and a deep admiration for all living things, and I knew he could talk to animals.

We rejoiced in discoveries he joyfully shared with us. His inquisitive and often impish brown eyes mirrored an understanding of everything verbal. I longed to adopt him. His aunt had hinted often enough. We even called ourselves Mom and Dad to Robby, and before the drought had discussed adoption. But times were so bleak now that I couldn’t approach the subject with Tom. The job he was forced to take in town to buy feed for Jessie and bare necessities for us had exacted its toll on his spirit.

Robby’s aunt eagerly agreed to our request that he live with us for the summer. All his days were spent in our company anyway. I brushed away a tear, remembering how tiny and helpless he looked when she hastily put his hand in mine and gave me a rumpled brown paper bag. It contained two faded T-shirts we had bought him last year at the county fair and a hand-me-down pair of shorts. This and the clothes he wore were his only belongings, with the exception of one prized possession.

On a silken cord around his neck dangled a hand-carved whistle. Tom had made it for him in case he was ever lost or in danger. After all, he could not call out for help. He knew perfectly well that the whistle was not a toy. It was for emergencies only, and to blow on it would bring us both running. I had told him the story of the boy who cried wolf, and I knew he understood me.

I sighed as I dried and put away the last supper dish. Tom came into the kitchen and picked up the dishpan. Every ounce of recycled water was saved for a tiny vegetable garden Robby had planted beside the porch. He was so proud of it, we tried desperately to save it. But without rain soon, it too would be lost. Tom put the pan on the counter and turned to me.

“You know, honey,” he started, “I’ve been thinking a lot about Robby lately.”

My heart began to pound in anticipation, but before he could continue, a shrill blast from the yard made us jump. My God! It’s Robby’s whistle! By the time we reached the door, the whistle was blowing at a feverish pace. Visions of a rattlesnake filled my head as we raced into the yard. When we reached him, Robby was pointing frantically skyward, and we couldn’t pry the whistle from his grip.

Looking up, we saw the most magnificent sight. Rain clouds—gigantic rain clouds with black, ominous bottoms!

“Robby! Help me, quickly! We need all the pots and pans from the kitchen!”

The whistle dropped from his lips and he raced with me to the house. Tom ran for the barn to drag out an old washtub. When all the containers were placed in the yard, Robby ran back to the house. He emerged with three wooden spoons from my kitchen drawer and handed one to each of us. He picked up my big stock pot and sat down cross-legged. Turning it over, he began to beat a rhythm with his spoon. Tom and I each reached for a pot and joined in.

“Rain for Robby! Rain for Robby!” I chanted with each beat.

A drop of water splashed on my pot and then another. Soon the yard was enveloped in soaking, glorious rain.We all stood with faces held upward to feel the absolute luxury of it. Tom picked up Robby and danced about the pots, shouting and whooping. That’s when I heard it— softly at first—then louder and louder: the most marvelous, boisterous, giggling laughter. Tom swung about to show me Robby’s face. With head tilted back, he was laughing right out loud! I hugged them both, tears of joy mixing with the rain. Robby released his grip from Tom and clutched my neck.

“W-W-Wobby’s!” he stammered. Stretching out one tiny cupped hand to catch the downpour, he giggled again. “Wobby’s . . . wain . . . Mom,” he whispered.

Toni Fulco

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