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"The Strongest Man in the World"
by Maryjo Faith Morgan

When the final bell rang I was ready.  Waving my friends off, I rushed through the library, grabbing several volumes, and took off for home.  I picked up my younger sister and once at home settled her at the kitchen table with her homework and a snack.  Then I shook out some coins from the band-aid tin where we kept household money and jumped on my bike.  I pedaled like crazy, and was soon on my way back with fresh zucchini, tomatoes, and onions.  

As the fresh veggies I’d purchased bubbled away on the stovetop, my sister mentioned the aroma.  “It makes the house smell loved.”   I smiled my agreement, proud that I could make the house smell good.  As I basted the broiled chicken legs and mashed up some potatoes, I was relieved that everything would be ready on time. 

My scribbled outline lay on the far end of the table flanked by open books; I stopped to jot a few notes as I set the table.  Just as the six o’clock whistle blew I heard Dad’s car door slam.  I put my pen aside, poured a tall glass of iced tea, and set it at his place.  Then I poured one for my sister, and took a long gulp from the glass I’d poured for myself.  I’d been on a flat run from the time school let out, and the cool tang felt good in my mouth.  The kitchen was steamy from cooking and dinner's fragrance had set our stomachs to growling quite a while ago.  We were hungry and glad Dad was on time. 

The door swung open.  Dad was often tired from the nasty commute, but when he arrived home he always had a hug for “his girls”, and we rushed over to get them.  “Is dinner ready?  I have to be on my way by 6:30. ” Dad was in a hurry, so I scrambled. 

“Oh, it’s ready!  Great, let’s eat.”  

I felt warm with pride.  Wow, everything was hot at once!  I knew he’d like how crispy the chicken had turned out, and he’d be surprised that we had fresh vegetables even though it was the end of the week and shopping didn’t happen until Saturday.  

We all joined in saying grace, then dug in.  My sister ate quickly and was the first to speak.  “I’m all finished with my homework, Dad.  Can I watch Gilligan’s Island now?”  Dad had been deep in thought, and was distracted by my sister’s question.  “Sure.  Go ahead.” 

Then he turned to me.  “Where’s the salad?” 


“Your mother always made a fresh salad.”  His frown smote me where I sat. 

There it was.  Again.  Mother’s looming absence.  From our table, from our lives, from this earth.  Her swift illness and death had been a shock.  I felt inadequate as the newly appointed “chief cook and bottle-washer” and I wondered if I’d ever get the hang of it all.  Just trying to keep up with the laundry and cooking made me realize how little I’d appreciated all Mother had done for us.  

Now I’d forgotten something.  Just a little old salad, no big deal.  But it sure seemed to make Dad mad.  When I looked into his eyes, I was surprised to see that the gruff words were just a cover … he was sad.  He tried to hide it, but his sadness poured out into the room and over to me.  He stood abruptly and put on his jacket.  “I wasn’t really hungry, and anyway, my meeting starts soon.  I have to get going.  Clean up this kitchen and finish your homework, young lady.  Be sure your sister is in bed on time, and I don’t want to see your reading light on when I come home.”  He was out the door before I could say anything. 

Tires squealed, and with brimming eyes, my little sister started to clear the table.  I went over to the window and carefully lifted one slat of the blinds.  Dad’s car was idling at the end of the drive.  He didn’t back out onto the street; instead I saw him put the car in park and let his face fall forward into his cupped hands.  

I gulped as I saw his shoulders heave, and I fished in my pocket for a hankie.  When I lifted it to my nose, the light scent of Mother’s perfume drifted to me.  A tenderness for the beleaguered man sitting out in our driveway surged through me.  When he finally drove off, I took a deep breath and returned to the kitchen where my little sister stood by the sink with a towel in her hand. 

In an effort to cheer ourselves up, we started singing silly songs in rounds.  We could never stay with our parts, and ended up giggling and swatting each other with wet dishtowels.  Soon all was in order, and I could hear the wall clock tick as we climbed the stairs for bed. 

I quickly switched off my reading light when I heard Dad’s car in the drive, and pretended to be asleep when he ducked his head in to check on me.  It surprised me when I felt him sit down and touch my shoulder.   

“I know you’re still awake, Honey.  I saw your light.  Look … I’m sorry.  I …” 

“It’s ok, Dad.  There’s a plate of dinner waiting in the fridge for you.  We’ll be alright, Dad.  Really.  We will.”  

Dad’s head was haloed by the swath of light coming from the hall, and I couldn’t see his face.  Without a word I reached out and took his rough hand in mine.  I was rewarded with a gentle squeeze.  He nodded his head ever so slightly, and with a sigh, stood up.   

“Yes we will, Honey.  Yes we will.”

Maryjo Faith Morgan ( ) is a freelance writer living in Loveland, Colorado. Deeply bonded, she and her sister Lynda remain very close despite busy lives and the 1500 miles that separate them. They share telephone visits several times a week.