From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

The Smile Behind the Tear

The doctor’s words echoed in my head: “There’s no need to bring her back; the chemotherapy is no longer working. She has three months at the most.” Tears burned my eyes. Three months . . . that would be Easter.

I helped Momma get settled on the plane and then fastened her seat belt. I dropped into my place by the window, adjusted my sun shades, and stared out into the blowing rain—typical Houston weather.

I glanced sideways at Momma. Her head rested against the seat. I studied her familiar features, so comforting, such a part of me. I couldn’t imagine life without Momma. I squeezed my soggy tissue and stared at the dark sky.

A light rustling caused me to look up as a tall young man brought a small girl, about seven years old, on board and sat her across from us.

“Have your mother call me as soon as you get home. You can come back in July and spend the summer with us.” Stroking her hair, he whispered, “I love you, honey, and will miss you.” Abruptly, he stood and almost ran from the plane.

I peeked through half-opened eyes at the child. A cute kid with long blonde hair pulled back in a braid, big blue eyes, a little pug nose and one tooth missing. Well, I hope she doesn’t bother Momma.

I clenched my fists and tried to push back the heavy, trapped feeling. Three months, I thought, three months, as we began our upward climb through the dreary sky.

The small girl, Lisa—that’s what her name tag read— sat still, her head tilted. A big tear rolled down her chubby cheek, and she silently tried to conceal it.

Momma leaned over with a tissue and caught the tear. “Now where’s the smile?” she asked.

Taken by surprise, Lisa’s blue eyes opened wide. Before she could speak, a smile covered her face.

“There, I knew it would come.” Momma settled back in the seat, her eyes still on the child. “Did you know that, Lisa? There is always a smile behind a tear.”

Lisa shook her head. “How did you know that?”

“Oh, I just learned it through the years.”

Yes, she had learned it through the years. My mind went back to those times long ago, from the early days when I skinned my knees to the teenage years when a boy broke my heart. As Momma wiped my tears, she softly spoke, “Let me tell you something, Cozy. There’s a smile behind all these tears. Look at that knee. It will heal, and I bet you slow down the next time you run through that loose gravel.”

Tears for a first love go even deeper, or I thought so at the time. “It’ll hurt for a while,” she whispered, as I sobbed into the darkness. She held my hand. “Life goes on, Cozy, and so will you.” She had been right; I survived.

Now I watched Momma’s face glow as she talked to Lisa. All of her life, she had been surrounded by children. She always had a story, a game and something to eat.

I turned back to the window and watched the dark clouds roll by. Yes, Momma knew about tears. How many nights during the last three years had she shed those tears so she would have that smile during the day?

Once again, I heard Lisa’s voice. “I wish my mother and daddy would live together again, but they won’t. Daddy is married, and Mother has a boyfriend.”

I felt Momma move and heard her voice. “Sometimes people can’t get along together and decide it’s best to part. You want them to be happy, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Lisa answered, her voice trembling.

“How old are you, Lisa?”

“Almost seven.”

“Let me tell you something, Lisa.” Momma’s weak voice seemed stronger. “These next years will fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be out of school, out of college, and then you’ll be married and have kids of your own.”

Startled, Lisa looked up. “You’re right, Miss . . . ”? Her blue eyes questioned Momma for a name.

“Just call me Bessie.”

“Okay, Miss Bessie,” Lisa answered.

Momma continued, “Being separated from your parents isn’t fun, so make the best of the time you share with each one. When you are with your father, love him, help him and try to get to know his wife.” Momma dug around in her purse. “My throat gets dry, and this peppermint candy always seems to help. Here, you want a piece?”

I heard the rattle of cellophane paper and the child giggle. Then Momma began, “Your mother can be your best friend. A mother is someone special; she loves you no matter what. Don’t be afraid to tell her your problems.” All was quiet except the clicking of the candy.

“When you’re grown, you’ll have the love of two of the most important people in your life. You’ll always have the happy memories of the time you spent with them.”

My throat ached as I swallowed the scalding tears. I would have memories, a lifetime of happy memories.

“You’ll have problems and lots of tears,” Momma continued. “They come in everyone’s life, but just remember: that smile will always follow.” She patted Lisa’s tiny foot propped on her seat. “Sometimes it might take longer because the problem is tougher, but take my word: the smile will come.”

I gazed out the window. Bright rays of sun filled the sky as I dropped my sun shades into my purse. Smiling, I turned to Momma and kissed her cheek. “This one took a little longer.”

The plane landed, and Lisa rose to leave. She turned back, exposing a snaggle-tooth smile. “Thank you, Miss Bessie, for sharing your candy and talking to me.”

A twinge of guilt tugged at my heart. How could I have thought that this small child would be a bother to Momma? On a trying flight for both, they shared tears, comforting words, candy and smiles.

I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my body. I whispered, “Thank you, Miss Bessie, for talking to Lisa, and thank you, Momma, for talking to me.”

Helen Luecke

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