Published by St. Ellen Press
© 2004 Sandra Conner
“Uncle Lee! Uncle Lee!” Delly came running into the living room, squealing his name, and leaped into his arms to be twirled around in their usual mode of greeting.
“How’s my favorite girl?” he asked, planting a big kiss on her cheek before putting her down.
“I’m great! It feels so good to finally be six!”
“I’m sure it does. I put your present on the coffee table.”
Delly looked behind her to the table, and her eyes grew enormous. Dwarfing the table itself was a huge gift, covered in what looked like a whole roll of wrapping paper. She looked at it for a moment and then back at her uncle, her eyes registering her excitement. “Can I open it now?’
“Now, Delly,” her father spoke up, “you know your mom wants you to wait and open all of your gifts after we eat.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” she said, disappointment very obvious in her face. She sighed, and then looked up at Lee again. “But I’m going to open yours first of all,” she said, reaching out and taking his hand. “Come and see my cake,” she added, starting to pull him toward the kitchen just as the doorbell rang.
“That will be Grandma Nora if I’m not mistaken,” Darrin said as he headed for the door.
“Oh, boy!” Delly said jumping up and down and following Darrin. She looked back at her uncle. “Just a minute, Uncle Lee, and we’ll take Gram Nora with us to see the cake.”
Lionel nodded and leaned against the back of a chair to wait.
“Come in, come in,” Darrin said. “Oh, you must be Kana,” he added reaching out to shake hands as soon as Kana stepped through the door. “I’m so glad you could come. We were anxious to meet you.”
“Thank you for the invitation. I love parties,” Kana replied. As they moved into the living room, Delly ran to meet her. “And I bet this is the birthday girl,” Kana said.
“Delly,” Grandma Nora said, “I’d like you to meet my granddaughter, Kana. She teaches second grade in Nashville.”
Delly’s eyes lit up, and she grinned at Kana. “I’m going to be in the first grade next year. That’s ‘cause I’m six today.” She stepped toward Kana and held out her hand. “Thank you for coming to my party.”
Kana shook her hand and grinned back. “Thank you for having me. I love birthday parties.” She handed Delly the gift she had been holding in her other hand. “I hope you’ll like this.”
“Oh, I will! I like all presents!”
Everyone laughed at that, and Grandma Nora leaned over to hug Delly and give her the gift she had brought. “Well, you deserve lots of presents, dear.”
“Mommy says I have to wait and open them after we eat, so I’ll put them over here close to Uncle Lee’s. Isn’t his present the biggest you’ve ever seen?”
Grandma Nora walked over to the coffee table and looked the present over carefully. “I’ll say it is! I wonder what it can be, Delly. Do you have any ideas?”
“We-e-l-l-l-l . . .” she looked over at her uncle, her eyes alight, and then back to Grandma Nora. “Well …I don’t know …but I know something I’ve been wanting that might be that big … something I’ve been wishing and wishing for.”
“Well, we’re just going to have to wait and see,” Darrin interrupted. “We need to make some more introductions,” he added turning to Lionel, who moved away from the chair and walked over to the two ladies.
“Well I already know this handsome young man,” Grandma Nora said, as she reached out and grabbed Lionel’s hand in a warm clasp.”
“How are you Grandma Nora?” he said, his broad, contagious smile spreading easily across his face. He then glanced at Kana and reached his hand out to her in turn. “I heard you introduced as Kana. That’s an unusual name. Very pretty.” He held her hand in a strong, gentle grip for a little longer than necessary, but neither of them seemed to notice.
At just that moment, Eve came into the room to greet their new guests.
She hugged Lee first. “Lee, you haven’t been coming often enough,” she said and shook her finger at him. “Let’s remedy that, Okay?”
“I promise, Evie,” he said, smiling at this perky, blond woman who had made his brother so happy.
She moved to Grandma Nora next and they hugged each other fervently. “I’m so glad you were able to make it Grandma,” she said.
“I wouldn’t have missed it, and I didn’t have to talk much to talk Kana into coming along too.”
They all laughed as Eve turned to take Kana’s hand in hers, smiling into her eyes. “I’m Eve, and I want you to know I appreciate your being willing to share your grandmother like this on the first day of your visit.”
“It’s very important to her to be sharing this with your family, and I’m going to enjoy it as much as she will. Thank you for inviting me.”
“Darrin and I have been wanting to meet you, and I hope we’ll have some time to really get acquainted this coming week.”
“I hope so too. It’s going to be great having two whole months here.”
Lionel was looking at her a little curiously. He was aware that she interested him more than the average young woman he’d met, but he didn’t know why. She was nice looking, but she wasn’t beautiful. Her eyes certainly held his attention though; they were large and gentle, but so very alive that they sparkled almost continuously. And her voice gave him a comfortable feeling.
Suddenly, he jerked his wondering thoughts to attention. He knew better than to let himself get interested in any woman!
“Delly, honey,” he addressed his niece now, “weren’t you going to show me your cake?”
“Oh, yeah, and Gram Nora too.” She looked up at Kana a little questioningly. “Would you like to see my cake too?”
“Indeed I would!”
Delly took her uncle’s hand in one of hers and reached the other one out to Kana. This wasn’t what Lionel had intended. His plan had been to get a few minutes away from this cute woman and get a handle on his thoughts. Now here he was in closer proximity to her than before.
“Come on Gram Nora,” Delly called as she led her two captives out of the room. “You’ll really like my cake. It’s chocolate, and you said chocolate was your favorite too.”
Eve spoke up then: “Why don’t we all go into the dining room? Everything’s ready to go onto the table.”
“Oh, goody!” Delly shouted, jumping up and down between her two escorts. “Then …as soon as everybody’s done …I can open my presents.”
As soon as the adults were finished with the main course, Eve asked Delly if she wanted to have her cake before or after she opened gifts.
“After!” she answered without hesitation.
“All right, we can all go on into the living room for the unwrapping; then I’ll bring the cake and coffee in when we’re done.”
Delly led the way, running immediately to the coffee table and her uncle’s gift. She was squirming with anticipation while she waited for all of the adults to find a seat. Finally, her mother said, “All right, honey. You may start with which ever one you want.”
Without a word, Delly looked at her uncle, grinning from ear to ear, and then turned back to his gift and began to tear away the paper. As she did so the roof of an extravagant doll’s house slowly appeared, followed immediately by the second story, with a balcony that ran along one whole side. “Oh it is one! It is one!” she squealed, as she hurriedly ripped off the remaining paper. “Thank you, Uncle Lee! Thank you! Thank you!”
When the paper was all off, she stood there staring at it with wide eyes and an open mouth.
“Wow!” Darrin said, and Eve leaned over and laid her hand on Lee’s arm.
“It’s the most beautiful doll’s house I’ve ever seen, Lee. Where did you find it?”
“When I was in Chattanooga last week, I stopped in at a specialty toy store just to see what all they had. As soon as I spotted it, I knew she’d love it.”
Delly was throwing herself into his arms now, showering him with kisses. “Thank you, Uncle Lee. I love you,” she added, looking right into his eyes.
“I love you too, sweetheart …very much.”
“And you’ll come and play with me and my new house, won’t you?”
Everyone laughed, but Lionel took it all in stride. “You bet,” he said.
“Good.” Delly slipped from his arms and returned to her presents. “Now Mommy and Daddy’s.” She carefully unwrapped the square box, and when she lifted the lid, she pulled out a brightly colored swimsuit.
“Oh boy!” she said, holding it up for everyone to see.
“Now that’s just part of your gift, dear,” Eve said. “Daddy had to put the other part of it in the back yard, and you can see it after you’ve opened your other gifts.”
Delly stood still with her mouth open and her eyes alight with anticipation.
“It’s a portable swimming pool,” her mother added. Delly’s eyes opened even wider.
“It’s big enough for you and three or four friends to play in at the same time.”
Delly ran to hug her mom and dad. “Thank you sooooo much!” she said, giving them kisses.
“Whose gift next?” Darrin asked.
“Gram Nora’s,” said Delly, picking up the beautiful large package. It was a dress and matching hat to wear to church, and Kana had given her a necklace with a cross made of blue stones to match the dress.
“Can I try my dress on now, Mommy?” she asked hopefully.
“Sure. It won’t take long. I’ll go into the bedroom with you and help you.”
Lionel rose at the same time. “And I’ll go take care of the coffee and cake while you’re doing that.”
“Oh thanks, Lee. I think you’ll be able to find everything you need,” Eve said, while being dragged along at a fast pace by her daughter.
The dress was a great success, as was the cake and ice cream, and Delly announced that it was the best birthday party she could ever have. She insisted that everyone go outside to inspect the swimming pool, and afterwards, while she began to get acquainted with her doll house family, the grown ups had more coffee and began to visit between themselves.
Kana had ended up sitting beside Lionel when they came back inside, and she began to talk to him about his work. “Gram tells me that you and Darrin have a very successful auto repair business. She knows several people who come to you for their work.”
“I guess you’d say it’s successful. I think any time you can work at something you enjoy and have it make you a living at the same time, you’re a success,” he answered, his easy smile spreading across his face and lighting up his eyes.
That smile was what most people liked best and remembered most about Lionel Butler. It always gave them the feeling that he was really sharing a part of himself with them every time they talked. It was so genuine that most people who knew him only slightly were convinced that he must be happy all the time. And he did make it a point to find and concentrate on the good in people and situations, so that his outlook was optimistic in most things. It was only once in a while, in the lonely hours when he remembered the past, or felt the burden of that empty place deep inside, that he let himself give place to sadness.
But today, he was enjoying himself. He loved his brother and sister-in-law, and Delly was the light of his life. Adding to that the fact that he was sitting beside a vibrant young woman who seemed genuinely interested in what he had to say, he was finding the party very much to his liking.
“Did you always enjoy working on cars?” she asked him now.
“Oh yeah …and not just cars. Just about anything that had working parts that could be taken apart and put back together.” He shook his head a little at his thoughts, laughing. “When I was a kid, I tore apart almost every toy I had just so I could practice putting it back together again.”
Kana laughed and leaned a little closer so they could talk without disrupting other conversations in the room. “Were you always able to put them back together right?”
“Believe it or not, yes. I’m not sure why. I just always seemed to be able to figure out what to do.”
“It sounds like it must be a gift from God,” Kana said, smiling at him. “Something you were born with …that God put in you for the specific purpose of doing that kind of work, because there’s no doubt it’s important work. Everyone who drives a vehicle of any kind needs a talented and reliable auto mechanic.”
Lionel felt as if a door had closed on this new friendship when she mentioned God as if she were well acquainted with Him. He had no place in his life for those beliefs now, and he wasn’t sure how to respond to her statement without offending her, which he didn’t want to do since she was Grandma Nora’s relative. But he realized suddenly that he wouldn’t have to respond, because she was asking him something else already.
“Has Darrin always enjoyed that kind of work as much as you?”
“Oh, Darrin always wanted to do the body work. And that’s mostly what he does now.” He paused, remembering for a minute. “Yeah, by the time I was in high school, I was repairing all the bikes in the neighborhood, and Darrin was cleaning off rust spots and giving them a new coat of paint.”
“Did I hear my name in that conversation?” Darrin asked from across the room.’
“You sure did,” Lionel said, laughing, “and it’s already too late to tell your side of things.”
Darrin got up and moved across the room, seating himself on a footstool close to Kana and his brother. “Don’t you believe everything he tells you, Kana,” he said now. “My big brother here used to keep all of us younger kids in the neighborhood spellbound with his stories. He told some real whoppers, so bear in mind that his imagination just might come into the picture when he’s talking about me.”
“He was sharing about how much you both enjoy your work and seemed almost to be born to it, and I was saying that I believe it must be a gift from the Lord for it to have just started working so naturally when you were that young.”
“I think you’re right. Lee has always had more talent for it than I do, but even I just seemed to pick it up naturally. Of course, we went on to get more schooling and hands-on training before we opened our own business, but it seems like the ability to figure out the problems and fix them has always been with us.”
“Well speaking for myself, and for my best friend at home, who’s also a single girl, there are so many problems that can come up with cars, or any other vehicle, that having a mechanic you can really trust is a necessity. Gram was telling me that she knows a lot of the people who bring their work to you.”
“Yes, several of them go to church with us,” Darrin said. “We get a lot of people from the neighborhood where the shop is also, and I think word of mouth advertising has actually brought us the biggest amount of business over the years. Wouldn’t you say so, Lee?’
“Yeah, I agree. But I think it’s like that in almost any business. A satisfied customer is still the best advertising there is.”
Grandma Nora walked over to the little group now. “I hate to interrupt your conversation, but I think it’s about time we got on our way, don’t you, Kana?”
Kana glanced at her watch. “Goodness, it’s after 9:00. I had no idea.”
Delly sidled up to Grandma Nora. “Will Kana be coming to church with you tomorrow, Gram Nora?” she asked.
“She sure will. Would you like to sit with us?”
Delly turned around to look at Eve. “Can I Mommy?”
“Do you mean may I?”
Delly put her hand over her mouth a second and then spoke again. “I mean, may I, Mommy?”
“Yes, you may,” Eve answered, laughing at her daughter’s reaction.
“Goody,” she said, taking Grandma Nora’s hand and squeezing it. Kana rose, and so did Lionel and Darrin.
“It’s been a great party, Delly,” Kana said, softly touching the little girl’s curls.
Eve joined them now and said, “Let’s make some plans for later this week to have a long visit. As soon as you two have some of your plans figured out, give us a call, Okay?”
“Sounds good, Eve,” Gram said. “We’ll give you a call in a day or two.” She turned and started toward the door, followed by everyone else. At the door she hugged Delly once more. “See you all in the morning.”
“Not Uncle Lee, though,” Delly said, turning and looking at him. She got a hopeful gleam in her eyes. “Unless you come with us, Uncle Lee. Will you?”
“Not tomorrow, honey, but I’ll be there the next Sunday to hear you sing in the children’s choir, remember?”
“Oh yeah. Okay,” she said and turned back to Grandma Nora. “I’ll look for you, Gram Nora. If you get there first, save me a seat.”
“I’ll do that honey. Goodnight all. It’s been a lot of fun.”
“Goodnight,” they all chorused, and stood on the porch until Gram and Kana were in the car and backing out of the drive.
“Well, I’m off too,” Lionel said, putting his arm around Eve and giving her a gentle hug. “Thanks, Evie, for another great meal.”
“You know we’re always glad when you can come, Lee. You need to do it more often.”
Lee stooped down and picked up Delly, hugging her tight. “You know, I believe you’ve grown bigger since you turned six,” he said, grinning at her.
“Oh, Uncle Lee, I have not. …But I am more ma …ma …what’s the word, Daddy?”
“I think you’re trying to say mature.”
“Yeah, that’s it. I’m more mature!” she said looking at Lee with just a little pride showing.
“Before long, you’re going to be a teenager, going out with boys, and then you won’t have time for me.”
“Oh, yes I will! I’ll always have time for you. Besides, you don’t have any little girls or boys of your own, and you need me,” she said, grinning at him.
Lionel grinned back, but inside he felt a sharp pain and that terrible sense of emptiness that was starting to plague him more and more all the time now. He put Delly down, and reached out and patted Darrin on the shoulder. “See you Monday morning, Dare. You guys have a good day tomorrow.”
“You too, Lee,” his brother said, walking part way to his car with him. “Goodnight.”
Delly ran back into the house, but Darrin stood and watched his brother drive away. Then, with a sigh, he looked up at the stars and began to pray. “Please, Lord, help him find the love he needs … in You … and in a wonderful, Godly woman who’ll give him a family of his own. You know how good he’s always been to me … and to all of us. In fact, You know he’s always generous and good to everybody he knows … and even people he doesn’t know. Please … don’t let him have to spend the rest of his life alone. Help him open his heart to You, Lord. His heart’s already so tender, it surely won’t take much. Just help him understand Your love, Father.”
He sighed again. “Thank You, Lord. I trust You with my brother.” He turned then, and walked back into the house, confident in his heart that God had a good plan for Lee and that He was well able to carry it out.