Tony, Tie Li, and Kim walked in silence along the snow-covered path leading to Grandmother’s cabin. Each was lost in thought, playing the scene by Galilee over and over in their minds.
They felt something important had happened. Jesus of Nazareth had traded the warm security of his father’s carpenter shop for the cold reality of life as the Son of God. Now he’d chosen simple fishermen to help him save a hurting world.
“I don’t think it’s going to work,” Kim spoke, his words muffled by the scarf covering his chin and lips. “Who’s going to believe them? I mean, they’re just ordinary people like us. Nothing special.”
Tony studied the smooth outline of Bentley’s pond etched in the pasture beside the path. Each time he walked by here, a numbing fear gripped his heart. The boy glanced down at his little sister stumbling through the drifts, trying her best to keep up. Tony shivered, not so much from the cold as from the memory. “Those fishermen are going to be shocked when they find out who he really is. They think Jesus is just a kind man, a teacher, someone who wants to help people. They don’t know he’s the Son of God.”
Tie Li sat down heavily on a log. “Wait,” she called to her brothers. “I’m too tired. We rest for a minute, 0K?”
Tony and Kim stopped and looked back at the little girl sprawled across the log. Puffs of steam rose with each breath as Tie Li tried to force oxygen into her aching lungs.
“We’re sorry, Tie Li,” Kim grinned, a little embarrassed. “We forgot you don’t have long legs like ours. We’ll rest with you for a while.”
The boys joined their sister on the log. Tony looked around uneasily. “This place gives me the creeps. I keep thinking about when Tie Li took her little dip through the ice earlier this winter.”
The girl smiled up at her brother. “But you save me, Tony,” she encouraged. “You ran very fast and got Mr. Bentley and the rope. You are a hero.”
“Some hero,” Tony sighed. “Who do you think got you out there in the first place?”
“You just wanted me to have a fun time.”
Tony gazed out at the frozen surface for a long moment. He remembered another pond, this one surrounded by green grass and brightly colored flowers. Two beautiful beings had stopped to drink the cool, clear waters that splashed along the sparkling shore. Their world had broken up under their feet too. For generations, the people of earth had needed someone on the shore, ready with a rope, ready to save them.
“I think we all walk on thin ice from time to time.” Tony kicked at a mound of snow beside his foot. “I think we all need a hero.”
Kim nodded. “That’s what the fishermen were looking for. They must think Jesus of Nazareth can be their hero. I hope He can.”
The three sat in silence, A cold breeze whispered through the pine needles overhead.
Suddenly Tony jumped to his feet. He stood very still, gazing toward the forest on the other side of the pond. “Hey, you guys, listen!”
Kim and Tie Li looked at each other, then at their brother.
Tony pointed in the direction of a clump of trees. “There, did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Tie Li asked, leaning forward expectantly, trying to catch the sound her brother was talking about.
“There it is again!” Tony called out, his voice rising with excitement.
Kim walked over and stood beside his brother. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Come on!” Tony raced down the path. Kim and Tie Li hurried close behind. The children ran toward the woods, leaving clouds of swirling snow in their wake.
At the base of the evergreens, Tony stopped and lifted his hand for silence. Kim and Tie Li froze in their tracks, their vaporized breath drifting in the stillness.
From deep in the forest came a soft, warbling sound, its little sweet melody filtering through the barren branches above.
“It’s a robin!” Tony’s face radiated with the excitement that comes with finding an old, long-lost friend. “Do you hear him?”
The children nodded. “Is robin good?” Tie Li ventured.
Tony almost shouted. “Is he ever! This means spring is coming. This means the snow will melt soon, the air will warm up, all the little forest animals will run around again. Winter’s almost over! It’ll soon be spring!”
Tie Li jumped up and down, her gloved hands slapping together. “Spring is coming, spring is coming!” she called out, her voice as happy as the robin’s. “Soon my nose stop freezing off.”
Kim watched his sister race into the woods, searching for the treetop songster. He felt her excitement, her enthusiasm for life. Standing at the edge of the forest, he began to realize something very important about himself, something he’d forgotten. Tie Li depended on him, Tony,
and the others in her life for the joy she felt inside. Without love, her world would be dark, cold, frightening. But he could change all that. He could make her happy, contented. He was important to her. No, not just important; he was necessary.
Kim thought of the man from Nazareth. This carpenter wanted to bring love to a whole world. He wanted to change people’s lives. Yes, Jesus wanted to be necessary too.
“Kim, come look!” Tie Li’s happy voice carried in the cold air. “I found the robin. He’s very beautiful. Hurry, come look!”
Kim smiled to himself as he walked into the forest. How happy he was to be able, after years of separation, to answer his sister’s call.
“A robin? Really?” Grandmother Parks set her cup of steaming herb tea on its saucer and looked up in surprise. “I thought I heard one this morning, but I wasn’t sure.”
Tony nodded. “Yup, in the woods by Bentley’s Pond. Tie Li saw it too.”
The little girl pulled her gloves off with her teeth. “It pretty,” she said with enthusiasm. “A robin sings a nice song.”
“Did you see it too, Kim?” Grandmother asked.
“Almost,” came the reply from in front of the fireplace. “Some little wild animal scared it away before I could get there.”
Tie Li snickered. “I tried to climb tree for better look, but robin flew away.”
Grandmother laughed. “Don’t worry, Kim, you’ll get another chance. We have lots of robins around here in the spring and summer.”
Tony opened the refrigerator door and stood eyeing its contents. “Last year we had a nest in the birch beside the barn. Grandmother, don’t you have any cookies?”
The woman pointed toward a large jar resting on the counter. “Over there,” she said. “Help yourself.”
Tony closed the refrigerator door and hurried to the other side of the kitchen. He reached into the jar and pulled out a big red apple.
“Enjoy,” Grandmother grinned, a familiar twinkle in her eye.
Tony smiled and polished the fruit against his sweater. “The old apples in the cookie jar trick,” he laughed. “You never change, Grandmother.”
“Of course not,” the woman replied, taking a sip of tea. “I love you too much to do that.”
Tony positioned himself into the large beanbag beside the fire and sank his teeth into the juicy fruit. The sweet liquid tickled his tongue and filled his nostrils with the fresh scent of cider. “Delicious,” he acknowledged. “Great cookie.”
The crackling fire flickered happily as the afternoon wore on. Grandmother told stories from years gone by, adventure stories that moved on buckboards and paddle wheelers, stories about love and courage, about strong men and faithful women, about a little girl who traveled west with her family, toward the mountains and the unknown.
Tony, Tie Li, and Kim sat spellbound at Grandmother’s knee, drinking in every word. In their mind’s eye, they could see the prairies stretching out to the horizon, feel the hot wind pressing against their straining muscles, hear the faltering steps of animals gone lame on the rugged trails.
“And that’s how my mother, Tony’s great-grandmother, arrived at her new home beside the river. New adventures loomed just around the corner. Life in Red Rose Valley would not be easy, but they’d come too far to ever go back again.” Grandmother let out a long sigh. “I’ll save those stories for another time. You children must get back to the farm before it gets dark.”
Tony slowly stood to his feet, stretching muscles that hadn’t moved for hours. “You tell the best stories in the world, Grandmother,” he said. “You’re better than television.”
“Well, thank you,” the woman smiled. “At least I don’t have any commercials.”
Tie Li pulled her coat down from the hook by the door. “I have story too,” she hinted.
“You do?” Grandmother encouraged.
“Yes. It about a man who walked along a sea and asked some fishermen to help him make people happy.”
The woman glanced at Tony, then back at Tie Li. “And then what happened?”
“I don’t know,” the little girl giggled. “But I’ll tell you when I find out.”
“OK,” Grandmother agreed. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Kim wrapped his scarf tightly around his neck. “Me too,” he said, tucking the loose ends under his collar. “There’s someone else who needs to know. It’s important to both of us.”