The Jump Rope Girl From The End Of The Street never cried until she turned the corner to walk home after school. None of the other children in her class lived on our dead end block.
Her cousins would visit and they would jump rope together. Our yard had the only streetlight, so where our driveway met the street was one of their favorite spots, especially when they could stay outside late and play.
Her mother and father rented one of the small houses near the turnaround at the end of our street. Her mother was The Cleaning Lady and her father was The Oil Change Man. They walked her to school in the morning and then went on to their jobs. She walked home by herself because they were still at work when her school day ended.
That afternoon she was crying because she had worn the same outfit to school for the third time in a week again and someone had noticed again. She was glad it was Friday. There would be no more giggling or finger-pointing for two whole days.
Bessie watched The Jump Rope Girl while I planted tulip bulbs.
“I wish I could help her,” she told me. “But it’s not good for chickens to talk to people they don’t know.”
Bessie had learned quite a bit about The Jump Rope Girl from the songbirds. There was actually a wren who kept watch over The Jump Rope Girl. They do that sometimes when they sense something is not quite right in a child’s life. Wrens know what it is like to be small and in need of help.
The Jump Rope Girl was still growing. Her mother had explained it all to her, but the explaining did not help at school.
“We can’t keep you in brand new clothes. You’ve got to slow down growing some. We don’t have that much to begin with.”
Every morning, her mother filled her bowl with oatmeal then milk and butter and a sprinkle of sugar. The milk made a moat around the mountain of oatmeal in the middle. The pat of butter made a castle on top of the mountain.
“You’re my sweet little princess, Baby Girl,” she would say and then sprinkle a little extra sugar on top. “Sweet. Sweet. Sweet.”
It was plain in-the-pot-on-the-stove oatmeal, not fancy instant-add-hot-water oatmeal like her classmates had.
“Sticks to your ribs better,” her mother told her.
The Jump Rope Girl would break her slice of toast into pieces and placed them evenly over the top of her oatmeal. Then she would watch as the bread soaked up the buttery-sweet liquid while her mother talked to her and filled her heart with love.
Then The Jump Rope Girl would stir the toast pieces into her oatmeal while her mother would pray she had done enough to get the little girl through the day and back home safely.
Bessie had learned these many details from the wren who was watching The Jump Rope Girl. She told Bessie all she could see from the windowsill perch. Bessie could not imagine what oatmeal or milk or butter or sugar tasted like, but she could see the love they put into the girl’s heart when she passed by in the morning.
In the afternoons, Bessie also watched for her when she headed back home alone. Some afternoons, The Jump Rope Girl’s heart would still have some love left in it from breakfast. Other afternoons, it didn’t. Those were the afternoons when she cried.
The Jump Rope Girl would stop where our driveway met the street to wipe away her tears. She did not want her mother or father to know she had been crying just in case they were home early from work. That happened sometimes when there was not so much to clean or there were not so many cars needing new oil.
That afternoon, Bessie watched her wipe the tears from her eyes as she had done so many times before, and she wished there was some way to pour a little more love into The Jump Rope Girl’s heart. Maybe she only needed just a little more to make it back home to her front door without any tears.
But Bessie was not sure she had any love left in her own heart. Somehow The Tuxedo Cat had shut her heart up tightly. No love could get in. No love could get out. Whatever love was there, her heart held onto it as if it was the last love she would ever know.
Bessie did not want to feel as she did, but she did not know how to change those feelings. It did not matter how many times I told her, “You are Our Brave Bessie.”
“I do not feel very brave,” she said as she watched me dig into the garden soil.
She helped clear the next spot with a few foot scratchings and added, “The Jump Rope Girl there, she is the brave one every day. Did you see how she just now stopped to wipe away her tears and then kept walking? She is the bravest little girl ever, but nobody realizes it.”
I nodded, not knowing what to say. Neither did Bessie.
“Those are really big seeds,” she finally said. “I suppose they will grow some really big flowers.”
“They aren’t seeds. They are called bulbs, and they are going to have flowers called tulips growing out of them this spring and for many more springs.”
“Two lips,” said Bessie. “That is a funny name for flowers. I suppose since they have two lips they will talk to us then.”
“It’s ‘tulips,’ not ‘two lips,’ but they do sound the same when you say them fast. These flowers won’t do any talking that you can hear. Not talking like lips can talk. But they do send a message anyway without talking.”
“What message is that?”
“When you give someone tulips it says that you have a perfect kind of love for them.”
“But the flowers don’t say it out loud?”
“I guess you could say it’s like a secret message.”
“I wish I had a way to tell The Jump Rope Girl a secret message. But I don’t want to wait until these flowers bloom in the spring.”
So Bessie thought and thought about it. Then she taught the songbirds a new call, and she convinced them to perch in the magnolia by the driveway and wait for The Jump Rope Girl to pass by in the afternoons.
The new call sounded like “Beau-ti-ful. Pret-ty Girl. Pret-ty Girl. Smile. Smile. Smile.”
Soon The Jump Rope Girl realized this happened every day at the same time and only for her. From then on, she only stopped where our driveway meets the street to wave at Bessie and the other chickens.
Bessie was still able to give her best to someone even though that person could not give her anything in return except a wave. Even though it might have seemed like a small thing, it was a start. Bessie’s heart was not as closed to love as she imagined, but she would not realize it until many weeks later when Gracie would face The Biggest Scary Thing.