When I was little back in South Dakota, Mom was gone from our house for a couple days. I was outside playing when she got back, and when I went into the house to see her, she was sitting in a chair holding a baby.
“Meet your little sister,” Mom said.
I looked at the little bundle wrapped in a pink blanket. She had a chubby little face that went from a stern expression of deep concentration, as if she was trying to solve the Middle East crisis, to one of simple wide-eyed surprise as she wondered why she was suddenly sitting in warm applesauce. Her hands were barely even as big as my thumbs. As I marveled that people could come in such a tiny size, I gave Mom a helpful piece of advice.
Take her back,” I said.
My mom looked at me with disappointment painting her face. “You don’t like your little sister?”
I shrugged. “I already got two sisters, and they’re pretty much worthless,” I said. “I can’t see how this one’s going to be any better.” My oldest sister was downright mean, but I didn’t want to bring that up. Mom might think I was being petty. “Why don’t you take her back to the baby store and exchange her for a little brother.” I could use a little brother. Someone I could mentor, do guy things with and be mean to.
“I can’t do that,” Mom said.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t keep the receipt!” I gasped. That was Mom’s number one rule: always keep the receipt in case it doesn’t fit, and you have to return it.
“It’s not that,” Mom said in her trying-to-be-patient voice. She cuddled the little thing closer. “I just can’t return her.”
I watched her for a moment as she clutched that tiny person to her as if it were the world’s rarest gem. There was a connection between them that even a young naïve boy such as me could clearly see. A thought suddenly came to me that was beyond my few years of life. I knew what the problem was and why she couldn’t return it. Mom had gotten her from the Bargain Baby Bin! The place where they put the reduced-price babies they had trouble selling and the discontinued models. There had probably been a big red sign that read: ALL SALES FINAL, NO RETURNS OR EXCHANGES. I suspected that was where she had also gotten my other sisters, too. It explained their low quality. Mom was always hunting for bargains, but there are some things where you shouldn’t scrimp, and I would think children would definitely be one of them.
“Okay, okay, if you got to keep this one, I understand,” I said, disappointed but trying to be reasonable. “But can’t you just go back to the baby store and get me a little brother, too?”
Mom laughed. I thought she was laughing at her foolishness of not having thought of that herself, then she said. “Your father and I are not wealthy people, and baby brothers cost a lot of money. I’m afraid we can’t afford a baby brother for you.”
The disappointment crushed me, but I nodded. It made sense that boys would cost more than girls, and they must have blown a bundle already to get me. A baby of my high caliber had to have set them back a pretty penny.
A few years later, Mom brought home another baby. It was a boy and looked a lot like a little brother, but I always knew he wasn’t, because Mom had said we were poor and couldn’t afford one. It was kind of like going to the store to buy Miracle Whip, and when you see how expensive it is, you pick up some off-brand salad dressing instead. It looks like Miracle Whip and tastes a little like Miracle Whip, but you always know you’re not getting the real thing, but sometimes you have to make do when you’re poor. So it was with me and the boy baby; I made do.
I still have other siblings to offend, but I’ll save that for another time.
FROM THE PEN OF JOEL JURRENS
In The Sticks – Murder comes to Cossack County when Deputy Lyle Hoffman finds the murdered and tortured body of a woman in a rural farmhouse. The investigation will lead him down a path filled with ruthless outlaw bikers, where friends become suspects and dark secrets are brought to light.
In The Lake – Playboy billionaire Dyslin Coakler and his porn star girlfriend are famous for their Friday night sex parties at their mansion on the north end of Burgess Lake. When a wealthy regular partygoer is found floating in the lake with a single stab wound, the suspects start popping up like cards from a gambler’s sleeve. Is the woman a victim of sex games that went too far? Or did a jealous girlfriend of one of the woman’s local boy toys seek revenge?
Almond People – What would you do for a miracle?
Miracles are happening all over Calvin, Iowa. A strange cult known as The Almond People hands out magical blue necklaces, and within weeks the wearers of the talismans are healed of all their afflictions. The