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  • Dad hired Frank, the town drunk, to help on the farm.

    Even among the kids on the school bus, Frank was despised. He looked ancient. He staggered. He smelled. Some of his teeth were missing.

    He was less than human.

    But he showed up, and he seemed to like being outside working with the trees.

    Mom worried a little bit -- what if he murdered us all in our beds? (she was a great one for groundless worrying) -- but after she got to know Frank better, she forgot about that.

    Mom and Dad talked to Frank. They listened to Frank. They respected Frank, so my brother and I did, too.

    Only now that I'm older do I realize how frank must have hungered for that. Only now that I'm older do I realize how unusual it was that my parents never spoke about this "good deed." They never considered there was anything laudable about it.

    One day, Frank came to work with a gift for Mom -- a water lily that he'd gotten from the old canal bed. He knew she loved flowers, and she'd told him she'd never seen a water lily close up. So one evening after work he brought her a white one.

    We all went into the living room to examine it as Frank stood by. We oohed and aahed, felt its waxy petals, examined its vibrant center. It was beauty, up close and personal.

    Frank told us about rowing out into the canal and about how he almost fell out of the boat while he was cutting the sturdy stem. We laughed and thanked him, and then he and Dad went out onto the firefly-lit porch.

    Mom stood next to the water lily, trailing her fingers over the petals.

    "He almost fell out of the boat," she said softly. "He would have drowned."

    And then she wept.
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