Story by Lynelle Dawson
At about 6 o’clock in the morning, I firmly knocked on her window and loudly whispered, “Sarina! Wake up! Sarina!”
Finally I heard a sleep-interrupted voice growl, “Go around!” meaning for me to go around to the front door. When I got there, Fawn, Sarina’s 24-year-old sister, quickly unlocked the door.
“What are you doing here so early in the morning?” came the sleepy question from 13-year-old Sarina peeking her auburn head from around the corner.
“I’m taking you to breakfast and then to school. Get dressed,” I uttered in conjunction with my conspiratorial grin.
Shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, she mumbled something unintelligible and stumbled back to her room. She emerged later, school uniform in place, book bag bulging at the seams and we departed for the local Denny’s.
Upon our arrival Sarina immediately spotted a remote control claw machine and had already targeted her unsuspecting prey — a stuffed poodle holding a picture frame.
“Lynelle, can I please play the game? I’ll win something for Kallie again!” she begged.
Kallie is my 14-month-old daughter and is Sarina’s excuse for coercing umpteen dollars from me to play this game that she loves so dearly. Her reference to “again” is because the very first time she played it, in my presence, she won Kallie a stuffed animal, therefore the “excuse” holds a lot of merit — in her eyes anyway.
“After you eat, you can play a few times.”
Satisfied with that answer, she ordered breakfast. When it arrived she wasted no time. Eating as quickly as she could she asked, “Can I go play the game now?”
“No, finish your eggs first, Sarina.”
Moments later I was fishing quarters from my billfold and depositing them into her eager hands. In a flash she was in front of the game and moments later all quarters were gone. She returned empty-handed and somewhat disappointed, though far from subdued in her quest.
I handed her another dollar. Moments later, again she returned, crestfallen.
Before I could hand her more money, a man that had been watching her from the counter, offered to win the coveted poodle frame for her. Excitedly, Sarina whirled and ran back over to the money-gobbling machine. However, he too, was not able to grasp the elusive poodle frame with the flimsy remote control claw.
“Lynelle, please, can I have some more money? I know I can get it this time. We’ve moved it now!”
By this time, the entire corner of the restaurant was watching the scene before them with marked interest. Grinning, I gave her another dollar. Amidst “You can do it!” and benevolent laughter, she again lost the prize as it fell from within the claw’s metallic clutches. The man plugged another two dollars in, but to no avail.
Many dollars later the toy still remained inside the machine.
However, the onlookers all had grins tugging at their faces. Their expressions made me realize that it was the camaraderie in trying that was the most joyful regardless of the outcome.
Our waiter had even made several valiant, but unsuccessful attempts. As he turned away, defeated by the machine, I kindly told him, “It’s probably too heavy to lift with that claw.” He merely shook his head and then unobtrusively walked out the front door.
When he came back in, he quietly walked over to Sarina and placed an identical poodle frame, into her hands. Pleasantly surprised, she shyly said thank you and then flashed me an excited smile. No one had observed this act of kindness, though. The rest of the group in the restaurant was still competing to be this young girl’s hero. They did not know that her hero had already quietly revealed himself.
A few minutes later, the waiter called out to the first man that had originally offered his assistance. When he looked up, he saw Sarina holding the toy and his face became sheepish while he muttered some friendly smart aleck comment to our waiter. Still the line of people competed, refusing to be defeated by a mere machine.
We had so much fun, but more importantly, Sarina was cheered into forgetting why I was even there that morning.
You see, Sarina’s step-daddy — the only daddy she’s ever known – had gone into the hospital a few days earlier to remove fluid that was building up within his chest cavity. After several days of pumping unsuccessfully, they decided to perform a routine surgery. When they opened him up, they discovered multiple tumors. This was completely unexpected and came as a ghastly shock to the stunned medical staff. He was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. It is noted for a swift, yet painful death. Sarina had just been delivered the hurtful news the night before and I had come into town to help in the only way I knew how – with my heartfelt love and support.
None of the patrons in Denny’s that morning could have possibly known the turmoil in Sarina’s life. It uplifted my heart to see a group of kind stranger’s band together to help an innocent girl that early October morning.
Sarina didn’t win anything for Kallie that morning, but she won something for her own heart — a very special memory and at a time when she needed it the most.