When Alice fell ill, she was pleasantly surprised by how diligently her son completed household chores. She was starting to believe he might not be as unreliable as she’d always thought until the day he didn’t come home.
“What have you done, Roy?” Alice cried when she saw the goat standing in her kitchen.
“Macey was cold, so I brought her inside,” the boy replied.
Alice stared at Macey, the goat. She honestly didn’t know what to do with her ten-year-old son anymore. Sometimes, she felt he was purposefully naughty, like when he scattered his toys on the floor instead of tidying them. At times like this, she knew he’d acted out of kindness, even if it did mean a goat was eating her oven mitts.
“Don’t let her eat that!” Alice rushed across the kitchen. “And put her back in the barn, Roy. She has a warm bed there.”
“I said, out!” Alice snapped.
Roy immediately turned tearful.
“Fine, but then I’m sleeping in the barn too.”
Alice sagged against the sink, her oven mitt clutched in one hand, as boy and goat left. Parenting Roy was exhausting. She wished so hard that her husband, Mitch, was still here and that the war that took him from her had never happened.
At least they’d always have the cabin Mitch built to call home. Alice ran her fingers over the walls as she walked to the back door. She followed the path she’d cleared earlier through the light snow to the small barn.
“Roy, you can’t sleep in the barn,” Alice said as she entered. She frowned then because Roy wasn’t there. Nor was Macey.
Alice glanced back outside. Tracks led away from the barn through the snow. They skirted the edge of the woods. Alice followed them with growing trepidation. As the tracks led her closer to the river, Alice heard Roy screaming.
Alice shouted for her son as she charged through the snow. Macey stood near the riverbank, bleating pitifully, but all Alice cared about was the shattered ice bobbing on the water.
“Mom!” Roy’s head and arm broke the surface.
“I’m coming, baby!” Alice tugged her jacket and boots off. Without a second thought, she dived into the icy river.
Alice’s limbs immediately went numb, and her skin was on fire. She felt so slow as she swam toward Roy. Her son sank beneath the surface again. Alice tried to swim faster, but she couldn’t.
She dove down into the spot where she’d seen Roy. The river wasn’t deep, but it was murky. Alice searched the water until her lungs burned but saw no sign of Roy. She returned to the surface and gulped in a lungful of air.
Alice’s heart raced in her chest. She couldn’t feel her arms and legs anymore. In the back of her mind, she realized that she and Roy might not survive this.
Then Roy broke the surface a little way to Alice’s left. She surged toward the boy and grabbed him. Her fingers slipped over his soaked jacket at first. He started sinking again, but Alice got a hold of his arm. She pulled him into the safety of her arms.
“Mom?” he whispered.
“I’ve got you, Roy. Hang in there now and everything will be okay.”
Alice carried her son home and raced him to the hospital in town, a few miles away. While the doctors treated Roy for exposure, she impatiently let them check her out.
Luckily, both mother and son were okay. They returned home, and life returned to normal. Roy was a little subdued for a few days and seemed to have developed a fear of water. Alice reasoned that might be for the best since it would keep him away from the river.
However, it soon became apparent that there were further consequences to Alice and Roy’s ordeal in the river. It started with a slight cough, but soon Alice was experiencing chest pains and developed a fever.
“Pneumonia,” the doctor said when Alice went to see her. “I’m going to prescribe medications, but you must rest and take care of yourself. If it gets any worse, you’ll need to be hospitalized.”
“I’ll do my best,” Alice replied.
Alice’s coughs echoed through the trees as she ventured deeper into the woods. She crossed straight through without any sign of her son.
Secretly, she wasn’t certain Roy would let her rest. He wasn’t a bad child, but he was easily distracted and often forgot about his chores and other responsibilities.
At home, Alice sat down with Roy to have an earnest discussion. She explained that she needed to rest because she was sick.
“I need you to ensure you do all your chores every day, and I’ll have to ask you to do some extra work too. It will only be until I’m feeling better, but I will be counting on you, Roy.”
“I won’t let you down, Mom,” Roy promised.
Roy was determined to keep his promise to Mom. He woke in the morning, made breakfast for himself and Alice, and then went to feed the goats. Once, he was distracted when he heard a cardinal singing. He wandered off to catch a glimpse of it but turned back when he approached the river.
Another day, he got mad when he forgot the potatoes boiling on the stove and burned them. He grabbed the pot off the stove and threw it out into the snow in a rage. A few moments later, he fetched them because he was hungry and didn’t have anything else to cook for dinner.
Yes, Roy was impulsive and easily distracted, but he was also kind and intelligent. He’d realized Mom got sick because she saved him and that he never would’ve fallen into the river if he’d been more careful.
So, Roy was determined to do whatever it took to ensure Mom got better. Sometimes he found it very difficult to focus on his chores, but he completed all of them eventually.
One day, Roy was returning home after fetching eggs from one of their neighbors when he passed a familiar path through the woods. It was overgrown now, but Roy knew there was something special at the end that would cheer Mom up.
A few hours later, Alice called for her son and got no answer. She frowned and sat upright in bed. Roy had gone out hours ago. Even if he made a detour to the shop down the road, he should’ve returned by now.
Alice went downstairs, but there was no sign of Roy. She tried calling him then, but his phone was dead. Anxiety crawled along Alice’s skin. She called her neighbor, but the woman told her Roy had left with fresh eggs hours ago.
What if something happened to him? It was starting to get dark now. Alice wrapped herself up in warm clothes and set off searching for Roy. She followed the route he must’ve taken to fetch the eggs until she saw her neighbor’s house.
A prolonged cough forced Alice to double over as she headed for the woods. She remembered the doctor’s caution about looking after herself, but she had to find Roy.
Alice’s coughs echoed through the trees as she ventured deeper into the woods. She crossed straight through without any sign of her son. When Alice reached the path that circled the woods on that side, she paused. Alice finally spotted a clue as she studied the snowy landscape before her.
Another cough wracked Alice’s body as she plucked the blue and gray hat she knitted for Roy from a bush. A shudder traveled through her, not from the cold. Something bad had definitely happened to Roy.
“At least he wore a hat,” she muttered. She scanned her surroundings again, and her gaze settled on the farmhouse where Mr. Crawford used to live. The place was abandoned since the older man died, and his son didn’t have time to maintain the property.
Roy wouldn’t have entered that old building, but the greenhouse stood close to the main house. Her son loved seeing the flowers and vegetables Mr. Crawford grew in his greenhouse. Maybe, he’d decided to visit it again.
Alice hurried toward the greenhouse. There, she found a trail of small footsteps in the snow. As she approached the building, a squeaky voice carried to her on the wind.
“Help me, please!”
Alice ran to the open greenhouse door. Just inside, she found Roy trapped in a hole in the floor.
“Mom, you shouldn’t be outside,” he said.
Alice shook her head and grabbed her son’s arms. “I was worried when you didn’t come home, so I came to look for you. What are you doing in Mr. Crawford’s greenhouse? You know nobody looks after it anymore.”
“I do.” Roy hung his head as he dusted himself off. “But I wanted to get you snowdrops. Dad and I always bought you snowdrops when you were sick. Mr. Crawford once told me they grow back every year so I came to see if I could get some for you.”
“I’m so sorry mom!” Roy continued. “I’ve been trying so hard to be good and responsible. I want to help you get better, so I promise I’ll do better from now on!”
Alice drew her son into a tight hug. She’d seen how much her son changed when she was sick and realized how much it helped him to have essential responsibilities to fulfill.
“I’m not mad at you, Roy. In fact, I’m very proud of how hard you’ve worked to keep up with all the chores. I know you found it difficult some days, but you’ve proved to me that you can be reliable.”
“I did it all for you, Mom,” Roy replied with a sniff.
“I know, baby.” Alice smiled at her son. Her eyes were filling with tears now as she remembered all the times Mitch had brought her snowdrops when she was ill. It warmed her heart to know Roy had wanted to continue the tradition his father had started.
Alice took Roy’s hand, and they walked home together. Roy immediately ordered Alice to bed and started his evening chores. As Alice drifted off to sleep, she dreamed of snowdrops and Mitch. He would’ve been so proud of the man Roy was growing up to be.
When Roy returned to school in January, Alice was in perfect health. Although she was feeling better, the events in the river and Mr. Crawford’s greenhouse still haunted her. She hated to see how rundown the property was getting and decided to do something about it.
The next day, Alice went to Roy’s school and asked to see the Natural Science teacher, Mr. Peters.
“I have an idea that might interest your students,” Alice told him. “There’s an abandoned greenhouse on my neighbor’s property. It was once used to grow flowers and vegetables through the winter. If you and your students restored it, it could add an interesting practical element to the curriculum.”
Mr. Peters liked Alice’s suggestion but told her he’d need approval from the principal and the owner of the property before proceeding. Alice immediately gave him the phone number for Mr. Crawford’s son.
For the next week, Alice waited for news. She took a detour whenever she drove to pass by the old greenhouse. It had come to have a special meaning for her, and she didn’t know what to do if her plan to restore it failed.
Then, Alice got a call from Mr. Peters.
“I’ve got all the approval I need to go ahead with the greenhouse restoration,” he said.
“The owner told me I can stop by anytime to take a look and I thought you might want to join me, since it was your idea.”
Alice agreed. During the next few weeks, Mr. Peters and his students, Roy among them, worked on the greenhouse daily. They replaced the rotting floor and several broken glass panes.
Roy was the most eager of all the students who worked on the project. He often visited over weekends to tend to the seeds and seedlings the students planted and developed a keen interest in the water system.
“I think I want to be a horticulturist when I grow up,” Roy told Alice one day. “It would be great to spend all day working with plants and making them grow.”
What can we learn from this story?
Sometimes people try hard even when it doesn’t look like it. Roy struggled to complete his task not because he was lazy but because he needed help maintaining his focus.
People need responsibilities to thrive. Chores might be tedious, but everyone deserves the satisfaction of doing work that benefits them, their family, and their home.