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Cover Story

Hand in Hand

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Summer took its time coming to Bell Harbor. Like the waves along the shore, it advanced and receded again, until the sun at last made a wholehearted commitment to warm the Maine coast. It was summer now, and the scent of lilacs hung heavily in the air.

Ordinarily Sarah enjoyed this walk along the shore road, but tonight she was looking for Petey, and while she wasn’t exactly worried about her brother, she was concerned.

Petey had been missing at supper. Petey, who now spent all of his spare time in the yard at the front or back of the house, was in neither place when Sarah called him in to eat. And so supper was left on the table, and everyone went to look for him. Because Petey never wandered.

He used to wander. He used to go out to play with the neighborhood children like any normal child. Then one winter day he took his Christmas  toboggan out to Moore’s Hill to sled with the other children. He had enjoyed the fun more than any of them, shrieking and giggling, and sometimes falling helpless into the snow.

Then some big boys had made fun of him. Sandy, their younger sister, had taken him by the hand and brought him home. Sarah could still remember the picture they made—Sandy, only 7 then and small for her age, resolutely leading home her much bigger and older brother, his toboggan skittering this way and that way across the frozen surface of the snow.

After the experience he never went out to play with the other children again, and the toboggan, his prized possession, stood at the foot of his bed, virtually new and unused.

Sarah was secretly glad. If anything, she wished Petey’s profile could be lower. “Why does he have to go everywhere with us?” she asked her mother.

“It’s not Petey’s fault he’s the way he is,” her mother replied.

“Well, it’s not my fault either, so why am I being punished?” Sarah asked angrily.

“Maturity and a Christlike attitude go hand in hand,” her mother told her. “Pray that someday you’ll have both.”

Sarah never prayed about it, and most of the time she was nicer to the cat than she was to Petey. 

Nowhere in sight

Sarah enjoyed the breeze in her hair and the sun on her face as she walked.  This season was going to be her golden summer, she was sure. The baby fat that had plagued her early teenage years was finally gone. Her hair had at last grown to the length she wanted.

She knew she was as pretty as she was ever going to be. Only last night at vespers Vincent, the new minister’s son, had asked her cousin Paul who she was. She would be passing his house in a few minutes. Perhaps he would be in the front yard and would smile and wave. If only she weren’t having to look for Petey.

Mr. Phillips was out in his front yard clipping dead roses from his bushes. “Have you seen Petey, Mr. Phillips?” she asked.

“Yup,” he replied.

“Was he going toward town?” 

“Yup. Strangest thing. I had just gotten up to turn on the TV for the news, and there went Petey walking down the road in an oldfashioned bathing suit and waders. Had your father’s fishing hat on too, he did. The one with all the flies on it.”

Sarah cringed. What if Vincent saw him? What if he was in front of Vincent’s house right now? All this time she had been picturing Petey in his red plaid shirt and blue overalls and those stupid cowboy boots that exaggerated his ducklike walk.

Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined this outfit. That bathing suit was a man’s black knit suit she had bought at a garage sale last summer. A relic of the 1920s, it had shoulder straps and holes cut out of the back. She had worn it to a Halloween party with a face mask and fins. Did Petey envy the fun and laughter it had created?

The fishing hat and waders were more understandable. How many times had he taken her to the corner of the back porch where Dad’s fishing gear was stored to point with a questioning look?

“Dad’s gone, Petey,” she would tell him. “He died. He isn’t coming back.”

But a few minutes later he would be back with another member of the family to point at the fishing gear again. Dad used to take Petey fishing with him on evenings like this. Perhaps he thought that if he went to the same pond where he and Dad used to fish, Dad would be there, and they would do the special handshake he and Dad used to do, and everything at home would be good again. It was hard to know for sure what Petey thought.

Sarah didn’t feel maturity or a Christlike attitude developing. She felt like finding a phone, calling Mom, and asking her to go get Petey because he was probably in the center of town by now in the most ridiculous outfit possible, walking roughshod in long rubber boots over her promising future social life. The trouble was that Mom and Sandy had taken the car and had gone in the other direction to the municipal park, where the family sometimes went on picnics and where Petey loved to ride the swings.

Sarah was almost running when she reached the minister’s house. Fortunately, Vincent was nowhere in sight. In fact, the car was gone. Perhaps they had gone for a picnic on the beach or to play miniature golf or any of the sort of things normal families did on golden summer nights. In any case, she was glad he wasn’t there. 

Surprise meeting

At the fire station she broke into a run. Her feet, winter white in her new summer sandals, had developed blisters under the straps, and she had been unable to shake loose a stone stuck under her heel.

At last she saw Petey in front of the post office. The street was mercifully empty. She grabbed him by the arm, ignoring his delighted giggle, and began pulling him faster than he wanted to go toward the peace and serenity of home.

She was tired and nearly out of breath, but for three blocks she lectured him. She told him that Dad had died six months ago, and that he was not to go looking for him again.

Petey, in the long rubber boots, had trouble keeping up with her. As they passed a small park near the minister’s house, Sarah thought briefly of hiding in the shrubbery until sundown, but her good sense told her to walk by as quickly and quietly as possible. Maybe Vincent would still be away.

However, she wasn’t so fortunate this time. Vincent and his mother were shelling peas on the front porch. She tried to wave casually and walk on, but when he saw her, Vincent was down the steps in a second. “Sarah,” he called, “where are you going?”

“Home,” she said. “This is Petey, my brother, and I’m taking him home just as fast as I can get him there. My dad died just before Christmas, and Petey misses him a lot. He went looking for him in this ridiculous getup, and I’m so embarrassed I could just die.”

“Oh, don’t be. Wait a minute, and I’ll walk home with you.”

It was the attitude her mother had been talking about! She recognized it. Only this morning she had been wondering whether Vincent would want to be seen with her, and here he was, willing to be seen not only with her but with her strangely dressed, mentally challenged brother.

Together the three of them walked toward the setting sun on the first golden evening of that wonderful golden summer.


This story originally appeared in the May 3, 1983, issue of Insight. Ruth Garren is the former corporate communication and public relations manager at McKee Foods and lives in McDonald, Tennessee.

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