Last year, when the children went trick-or-treating, their mother couldn’t believe it

on

No one was really trick-or-treating. Everyone was trying to survive the storms
and the cold. The children didn’t even know the meaning of the word
trick-or-treat.

And the one thing they didn’t know was that the weather was no longer
trick-or-treating.

She looked up at the black sky and imagined it had once been blue, before
the yellow leaves.

When they had first moved home, a few months before they’d met, a pair of
yellow school buses had shown up at their neighborhood school. The neighborhood
had been so completely taken over, and by both parents and teachers, that the
school had been closed down for several weeks. The principal had been gone for
three weeks. The bus drivers had been gone for three weeks. The teachers had
been gone longer than they realized.

By then, the children had begun calling the school by its old name on the
school bus—Chambersburg Elementary.

The school year hadn’t started yet. The children didn’t have anywhere else to
go. School was just as bad when it closed as it had been when it opened. School
was a mystery; the children couldn’t guess what was going on either.

The parents had tried to keep the kids as busy as possible. In the morning, if
they weren’t running late, they were trying to get them to take a physical
education class, or to get them outside walking. The kids didn’t have many
options. If they wanted to walk, they had to follow the parents leading the
children by hand. And if they didn’t want to walk, they had to take the
children out of school, which meant finding their own way home—but most of
the time, the children had already been home for at least half an hour on a
school day. When the buses brought over the day’s students, they arrived at
the school with the doors open, and the children were just as confused as they
had been last year—but they were also excited to see the kids who hadn’t been
at home before.

The children had gone through a period of terror, but then they had found
their way through the fear and anger to more acceptance. The parents had had a
huge list of responsibilities by then. By the time the children had grown
up, they would have been given homework that had to be completed to have any
chance of graduating. They had worked in the factories, the mills, the
hospitals, and even in many of the schools. The children had done jobs that
their parents had never had a chance to do—working first in the fields where
their fathers earned their living, then on the farms. It was the hardest work a
single parent could do. But the children had learned about their parents’ jobs
not through the books and TV shows that their parents had ordered, but by
sitting and talking to them as they sat and worked. They had learned about
their parents’ families; about the people that had given them the sacrifices of
their own children. They knew the value of each family.

And the children learned that to survive, that families had to survive, too.

By then, the bus lines extended out their routes. Children would wait in
town, then follow her neighbors to their homes, where they would climb up onto
the family’s porch, or just step up onto her lawn, and say hi. The children
were no longer afraid of the bus lines. They were more afraid of her.

On the day that the children had first shown up on her front door, she had no
idea that what she was doing was actually helping to save the children. The
strangers had come to her house as one family. She had found them through
a search engine, and had invited the children in for lunch. They had come to her
house.

And then they had stayed. She had shown them around the house, and had
watched the children’s excitement grow as each new discovery was made. She had
listened to the children’s stories, and held the hands of the shy ones, and
tried to find a time when she would understand, and she had thought about the
strangers, and tried not to show any sign of fear, and then, after a year, she
had known. Each child, in a different way, had become a part of the family.

It had been an incredible amount of work, and it had been a lot of work on
behalf of the children.

She had been amazed, every day, by the children’s courage, their strength,
and their wisdom. She could see that each of them was a person, as much as
she was a person. He was as strong and as wise as she was. And she was even
more amazed by their strength.

It amazed her that the teachers didn’t notice. The children had gone straight
to the third grade. They had been happy, and they had been excited. She had
watched the children develop into confident young adults, able to accomplish a
ton of tasks and still take care of their families. She had watched them learn
to be responsible, and to deal with disappointment. She had watched them learn
the value of integrity.

When the children had left on the day that the last bus stopped by her
door, she had noticed that the children had no shoes on. Every pair of shoes
had been worn down or broken. She had sat down at the table and had laughed,
and had watched the children pack up their toys, and go down the driveway and
ride away on the school bus. She had tried to find the one child who had had a
crash, and she had been unable to find him. All of her neighbors had had
crashes. Many of them, like these children, had been so excited they had
just jumped from the curb to the school bus. She had sat down at the table and
had thought about the children’s shoes.

How many parents had children at this age? How many children had a parent
that was gone for work a few days each week? How many children had a parent
who had died of a heart attack? How many children had a mother and father who
was in jail? How many children had their only parent die? How many children
were alone?

How long would their shoes be broken? How long would their socks be rips?
How long would their school days be spent alone? How many children would be
so alone and sad when they left for school? How many of them would just have
to walk? How many of them would not stop to say good-bye?

She had watched them walk away and she had wondered if any of them had ever
wanted to come back and say good-bye.

She had thought about it, and she had decided that the children didn’t have
any of the things she had: kids, shoes, socks, homework, friends… She
had been lucky in so many ways. No one else was as lucky as she.

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