It started so innocently, after church.
“Um, Aunt Kathy?” stammered the teen. We’re not really related, but I love her like a niece.
“Yes, honey?” I whispered. “Ask me anything. Always.”
“OK,” she smiled, eyes sparkling up at me, which is tough to do, because I’m pretty much shorter than most humans over age 4.
Confident, without hesitation, she drew a big breath.
“I’m selling poinsettias for our team!” she beamed.
“Wow!” I smiled back.
OK, let me tell you about my smile. It was the kind that meant Boy-Is-That-What-I-Don’t-Want-Because-Number-One-I-Kill-Every-Plant-?I-Own-And-It-Tends-To-Be-A-Slow-Death-Not-Even-?Attractive-Or-Poignant-Like-Mimi-In-La-Boheme-?Plus-I’m-Pretty-Sure-?Poinsettias-Are-Poisonous-?To-Dogs-Meaning-I’ll-?Have-To-Put-It-Up-High-?And-Also-Nag-The-?Living-Hell-Out-Of-My-Husband-Who-Is-Never-?As-Careful-About-Anything-As-I-Am-Maybe-It’s-?A-Male-Thing-I-Don’t-Know-What-Do-You-Think-And-Besides-I-?Have-Totally-Overspent-?My-Christmas-Budget-?And-Still-Have-Two-Weeks-Before-Christmas-?And-Wouldn’t-You-Know-?It-This-Is-The-First-Year-Ever-My-Son-Actually-?Told-Me-What-He-Really-Wanted-For-Christmas-And-?Guess-What-It-Turned-Out-To-Be-An-Ipod-That-Will-?Run-Something-Like-250-I-Mean-I-Was-Thinking-?Maybe-A-Nice-Warm-?Jacket-125-Tops-But-?You-Know-I-Can-Never-Ever-Refuse-My-Son-?Anything.
“Awesome. Poinsettias? My favorite,” I said.
She had great sales technique. My mind shot back to my Girl Scout cookie-selling days. Sales is sales, and the spirit of the young entrepreneur is wholesome and devious all at once.
“We’re getting them next week. And – here’s the best part,” she grinned, “My dad will deliver it right to your doorstep. On the 17th. Or 18th. Possibly the 19th. Well…” she paused, thoughtfully, “He’ll pick it up at the airport and bring it immediately to you so it’s fresh.”
She clinched the deal with the biggest Miss America smile I’ve ever seen on a 14-year-old.
“So, I’ll pay your dad when it arrives?” I asked. I was thinking deep thoughts, like when would I have 7 or 8 bucks to spare and how to clear appointments for the arrival of The Great Poinsettia.
“No,” she whispered conspiratorially, “Pay me now. Twenty dollars.”
Now, I grew up in New York and traveled subways regularly, but I never got held up as badly as this. Yet, there we were in church and hey, good cause and all that nonsense. Plus, if you could see this kid’s eyes. I mean, she could be a poster child for Feed The Poor.
I cheerfully (ahem) wrote out a check, exclaiming how cool it was that she was fundraising this way compared to kids outside Shaw’s with outstretched hands and open “Help School Hockey” cups (although quite honestly, those little beggars are satisfied with a quarter).
Finally, I got the call. I hadn’t been on edge so much since I’d volunteered to labor-coach a pregnant colleague. My plant had arrived.
“We have clearance,” I shouted, preparing our dining room table for the new arrival. I was getting excited. I would tend this plant. I’d ordered it in white – how lovely would that be? Very, is the answer. I had a gold garland table wreath, and a yummy-smelling candle. Everything was arranged and ready, other than the fact that I would have to clear off the rest of the dining room table. Not a big deal. And by God, just once, pre-Christmas, I was going to enjoy the holiday de?cor.
Exactly six days hence, the phone rang.
“Hi,” said my dear friend who, it turns out (well, I knew this, but you didn’t) happens to be the mother of said team entrepreneur.
“How’s your poinsettia?” she asked.
It was one of those Holy-Crap moments.
I felt sick. I rushed downstairs.
There, under hills – nay, mountains – of wrapping paper scraps, colored tissue paper, scattered mail, crusty supper dishes, an open jar of pickles, unfinished cards, discount coupons, the oil bill, my old nail polish, my new nail polish, five shopping lists – there, cleverly hidden just behind the beautiful gold garland wreath and candle (I was wondering where that delicious smell was coming from) – there, looking as crunchy as my husband’s daily bowl of raisin bran – was the once-white poinsettia.
I was angry at myself. I toyed with the idea of being annoyed with my young friend’s oh-so-clever approach to me on behalf of a good cause. But it was fleeting. Especially after I opened the mail the next day. There, in growing-up girl handwriting, complete with circles for dots above each “i” was a note:
“Thank you SO much for your contribution to the team. It’s people like you giving generously that make the difference.”
Ugh. She got me again, as I opened my purse and started writing just one extra little check.
Kathy Eliscu is a nurse and freelance writer who lives in Westbrook. She credits her way of looking at the light side of life to her mother, the late Marge Eliscu, whose “Coffee Break” humor column ran for two decades in the Maine Sunday Telegram