| Winnie Warren watched for the mailman. The battered metal box was one of many at the end of the road. All of them had been hit by cars several times but there was no money to replace them. She had to pull hard to open the box. There was usually just bills in it but even that was exciting. It was something different to get her out of the house.
This time there was an advertisement that looked different. Winnie was staring at a huge ship sitting on the bluest water she had ever seen. A handsome man in a black shiny suit with a bow tie was dancing with a lovely lady in a shimmering evening gown that showed a lot of skin. No one in their town had ever had ever dressed like that. There was jewelry on her neck, arms and fingers sparkled with diamonds and gold. They danced under sparkling stars. In another photo, they stared into each other's eyes with a look of love. It was magical.
Another photo had a couple drinking champagne and food that looked like a giant crawfish. Underneath it said, Maine lobster. There were huge platters with fancy food. If rich folks ate it, it must be good.There was also a photo of people swimming underwater with brightly colored fish. There was information about food, musical shows, shops, swimming pools and photos of magnificent rooms that overlooked the ocean.
How her Mom, Esther, would love to go on a trip like that. She worked two full time jobs and a couple of hours on Saturday to clean a church just to buy food and pay bills. She didn’t complain but Winnie saw the worry lines and heard her cry at night. She was still young but her ankles swelled and she had ugly veins in her legs.
"Mom, you should see a doctor about your legs. I can't see your ankle bones and the veins are bumpy."
"Baby, you worry too much. It's just cause I stand up too long. They go down fast when I sit."
Her eyes always have dark circles from lack of sleep and she was way too skinny.
Winnie glanced around the trailer she shared with Mom and three brothers. It was cluttered and old. The furniture was falling apart. In their only bathroom the floor had an opening right by the toilet.
Winnie was sure one day a snake would crawl through while she was in the tub or on the toilet.
What would she do? If she screamed the snake would bite her and she would die, right there with her panties down and her butt exposed to who ever found her. That frightened her more than the actual dying.
Winnie heard the back door open. It was Tommy, her twin brother and his friends, laughing loudly. Most likely they were drinking beer. He was only twelve but managed to find someone to buy it for them. She would tell on him but was afraid of his friends. They had tried to grab her boobs. There wasn’t much there but it hurt. She hated their possessive hands. She couldn't tell her mother and give her one more thing to worry about. Now if one of them tried to rape her, she would scream and gouge their eyes out.
She didn't think Tommy would let that happen. They used to be the best of friends. But Winnie wasn't sure any more.
To protect herself, Winnie ran into the bedroom she shared with Mom, locking the door. Of course, the doors were hollow wood that anyone could put a fist through. There were already a dozen holes in the trailer from fights the boys had gotten into.
Winnie would look at herself in the bathroom mirror. At twelve, she was still a kid but was beginning to like boys.
The problem was her brothers made it hard for her to trust guys.
There was one dude in her Physical Science class that was cute. Denny Addison was his name. Denny and Winnie Addison sounded nice. She wrote it all different ways in her journal.
Denny had shoulder length curly black hair. Winnie wanted to touch it. It looked so soft. He had chocolate eyes that looked like pools you could fall into and lips that would be nice to touch with her own. She blushed thinking about it and felt a churning in her lower tummy. She had watched movies on Lifetime and wondered if this was what love felt like. He always talked to her in the hall; just stuff, like what bands she liked. Of course she liked the Jonas Brothers.
Johnny Hartley accidently pushed Winnie into Denny one time. Denny instinctively put his arms around her, holding her for minute. He smelled a little like pine, fresh and clean. It wasn't like her brothers.
He smiled softly.
"That was nice"
Another time Winnie and Denny worked together on a project. Their hands touched several times and little shocks seemed to go through Winnie. It was a new sensation.
She had tried putting her dark blonde hair up with combs and he noticed.
"Your hair looks awesome."
"Yea, makes you look like Hillary Duff in that one movie. She is so hot!"
Winnie floated on a cloud for a week after he said that. With her ordinary green eyes and nose with a bump, she never felt pretty much less "hot". She felt her breasts; they were filling out. She had potential. After Denny said what he did, she and Lisa went to the Goodwill Store and she found a couple of outfits that fit a little tighter.
That was as far as it went but that was cool, she had plenty of time.
Winnie's other brother, Steve, wasn’t ever around. He was sixteen and played sports. Then there was Matt. He was eighteen and came home now only to eat. Winnie knew he was in a gang. She had seen his tattoo and colors. It was good that he stayed away.
That night, Winnie had a dream. She was in a boat on turquoise water. The sandy ocean floor was alive with stunning colors of starfish, crawling crabs and living shells. Fish were all different shapes, sizes and rainbow colors. Her Mom was laughing and waving from the shore surrounded by coral sand and palm trees.
It was a sign, she knew it!
When Winnie had been home sick, she was watching a special on a morning news show. People and corporations with money granted wishes to people that had worked hard under “extreme circumstances” and deserved something special.
Winnie wrote a heartfelt letter about her Mom who worked so hard with four kids. She had always worked. Esther had been made to drop out of high school to help her own Mom.
She had promised Winnie, if she kept her grades up, she would find a way to send her to college.
"I want you to have a better life than I have had, baby," she cupped Winnie's chin gently with her calloused hand.
Winnie wrote all her Mom had to do and that she never complained. She took the letter to school and had her teacher look it over. Ms. Hastings said she would mail it herself. Terry Hastings had all of Winnie’s teachers add personal notes along with the Principal. The letter was mailed with best wishes from all.
As it winged its way towards the address, perhaps some fairy dust from the Universe was added.
The following week, Tommy was picked up for underage drinking. He went to Juvenile Boot Camp.
The school counselor, Pat Logan, helped by speaking with their Mom.
"I should have been home," she was holding back tears, "but I can't do both."
Ms. Logan reassured her Mother. The boys were just more than she could handle.
Ms. Logan got out some information on Federal and State programs that could help with groceries and get our utility bills cheaper. We could even get an apartment that the government paid a portion of the rent. Her Mom could also get a lawyer through Legal Aid to help take their father to court to try to get some money.
"But it is my job to care for my family."
Winnie's Mom could be so stubborn and full of pride.
"Esther, it is not your fault this man treated you this way. He is supposed to be paying you child support. Your boys could help you by getting jobs. It will keep them out of trouble," Pat made sense.
Now it had been three months since the letter had winged it’s way to the TV show. Winnie was sure someone had tossed it in the trash.
It was a rainy Tuesday when Winnie was called to the office. She thought she had done something wrong. There were two men in suits talking to the Principal. She was asked to come in. They had her letter and asked some questions.
That night there was a knock on the door. Winnie's Mom opened it to blinding flashes of light from cameras. The men that had come to her school came in their home and presented Esther with two tickets for a seven day cruise to Bermuda. The Principal read the letter.
My name is Winnie and I am twelve years old. I enjoy watching your show when we can pick it up. We have a TV but have to use what Ma calls rabbit ears with foil to see it. You have done some wonderful things for people that can use something special in their life.
I want to tell you about my Mother. She has been down on her luck for a long time. Ma was so pretty when I was younger. Her hair was golden and her skin was pink and smooth. My Daddy was around then and he was nice to me and my brothers until he started drinking lots of beer.
When his boss told him don’t come back to work because he was messing things up, he got mad at my Ma and made both her eyes black. Ma couldn’t make my Dad happy. He threw plates at her until we didn’t have dishes. One time he threw her down the steps and her arm hung loose like my broken doll. One day Ma took Daddy’s deer rifle and pointed it at him. She said she was going kill him if he didn’t leave.
Since he left, it is quieter but now my brothers are getting in trouble. Ma has to work three jobs. She is a waitress when I am in school. Then she works at a bar and then she cleans offices and lots of bathrooms. I help cook at home and clean. My three brothers don’t do nothing.
Ma looks so tired. Her pretty hair is gray and her hands are full of sores and rough. She has wrinkles that look like little roads. I know she hurts because she moans a lot but never complains just talks to God. She thinks God will give her streets of gold and a big soft bed someday.
I think she needs something right now because she never smiles. People smile and shout with joy on your show. Do you know the story of Cinderella? That is my Ma. Under all that work has done to her, my Ma is a Princess. What do you think?
Mom hugged Winnie and the tears held back for so long came forth. The difference is these were tears of joy.
Esther told everyone, “I am taking Winnie with me”.
Reporters were at the airport when we left. This was our first time on a plane.
It was like floating through Heaven. The clouds were amazing, like pastel colored marshmallows.
Winnie kept a journal, writing down every detail so she would never forget. She drank a “Virgin Passion Papaya Punch”, a mixture of fresh fruit juices without alcohol garnished with yummy slices of pineapple, oranges and cherries.
Everyone was taking their picture.
As part of the special, Esther shopped with a designer for clothes. Then she was treated to a spa for “The Works”; massage, manicure, pedicure, hair cut, style and coloring. She was told a chest of makeup was hers to take home. They treated Winnie also.
After this transformation, Esther walked elegantly, holding her head up and shoulders back.
She sparkled, like the angel at the top of a magnificent Christmas tree. She was more beautiful than any movie star, her eyes dancing with happiness.
It is a memory Winnie will always carry in her heart.
By Kathie Stehr