I first heard about old lady Wicker when I was eight years old. Mr. Bremer, our next door neighbor told us about her. He’s a land surveyor for the county. He said an old woman named Francine Wicker lived alone on the “northwest corner of the northwest corner of what used to be a good square mile of woods and swamp called Wicker Woods”. He even showed us a map of who owned what piece of land where, and old lady Wicker’s was right up in the corner.
“She hung on that old house,” he told us, “She never sold outsaid she got it from her folks, and that she planned to die in it too. But the rest of the land was sold little by little. In fact, half the land in Woodland Hills belonged to old lady Wicker, even the land your house sits on. It was all Wicker Woods.”
Wow. That meant my backyard used to belong to old lady Wicker! And the big maple tree I love to sit in with the branches that stretch from east to west used to belong to old lady Wickerthe same tree Dad hooked a wooden ladder to so I could climb up and sit and read my Boxcar books, or pretend I was a squirrel. And the swamp where I like to chase bullfrogs, and catch fire flies at night – that used to belong to old lady Wicker too. It’s incredible. And that got me thinking; this is one lady I’ve got to meet.
I like to ride my bike around the neighborhood ’til I get to her house, where the grass is too long, and the cement steps are crumbling. It’s the old grey house that sits up on a hill with the slanted porch that looks sad and achy all at the same time, and windows that hang low between black shutters. It’s the house with the paint peeling off, and the rusty iron fence that makes you feel shut in or shut out depending on which side you happen to be standing on.
Before I met her, I would see her walking a little dog in the front yard of her place. I never stopped to say hello, until one Saturday afternoon, when the strangest thing that ever happened to me happened.
Mom and I had left in the car to go shopping. I already decided what to get – some new Super Mario games. I asked Mom if we could please drive past old lady Wicker’s. I figured Mom was curious about her too. She said O.K.
On the way there, Mom asked me not to refer to her as “old lady Wicker”.
“Old ladies don’t like to be called old ladies,” she said, “It’s not polite.”
“I know, but everybody calls her that – even grown-ups,” I said. “Why just this morning Dad climbed with me into the maple tree and said, ‘Hey, you can see old lady Wicker’s from up here.’ That’s just what everybody calls her.”
“Well, you won’t hear me calling her that the Widow Wicker maybe or just plain “Francine”, but not “old lady Wicker”.
“I’ll just call her Mrs. Wicker. What’s a widow anyway?” I asked.
“Someone who’s husband has died, and now she lives alone,” Mom said.
“Well not completely alone,” I informed her. “Some widows have pets, like old lady I mean Mrs. Wicker. Or maybe they still have grown-up kids at home.”
“You’re right,” said Mom.
Just then, I saw her! “There she is!” I hollered to Mom from the back seat. “It’s Mrs. Wicker! She’s walking her dog!”
There she was, walking along with a little peach colored poodle.
“Mom, stop!” I begged.
Mom slowed down and stopped the car, and I rolled down my window and called out, “Hello Mrs. Wicker! I like your dog!”
Actually, I don’t know what got into me. I just had the strangest feeling I had to say hello! I normally don’t yell at people out car windows. Mom was staring at me with a frozen smile on her face. And Mrs. Wicker looked surprised really surprised but then she smiled too.
“Well thank you, young man,” she said.
By this time I was opening my car door and climbing out. Mom got out too. Mrs. Wicker’s little dog pulled on her leash to get a good whiff of me. She was almost as tiny as the stuffed dog I sleep with at night.
“Her name is Trixey,” she told us.
I noticed Mrs. Wicker was so skinny and short, my dog Tyson could have pulled her flat onto the sidewalk. I never saw her up that close before.
She was neat and tidy, and wore a green cotton dress with pearly white buttons. Her hair was short and snow white, but her two front teeth were all crooked and brownish and well pretty awful. Later on I found out it was because she wanted to keep them. “I still have my own teeth,” she would always say, like they belonged in the Guinness book of world records.
“Your dog is adorable,” said Mom. “I’m Brenda, and this is my son Lucas. Our neighbor Mr. Bremer is a land surveyor. He mentioned you lived here. Lucas is very interested in what used to be called Wicker Woods. We are both very glad to meet you.”
“Well, I am happy to meet you too, and both of you can just call me Frannie. Lot’s of people are curious about this old place and what used to be here. Won’t you stay a spell? You might be surprised to hear this, but I’ve been expecting you,” she said with a kindly twinkle in her eye.
There was sure something mysterious about this lady named Frannie Wicker.
“Can we visit for awhile?” I asked Mom.
“Well, Okay if it’s not too much trouble,” Mom said.
“Not at all, sit on the porch I’ll tell you all about Wicker Woods,” said Mrs. Wicker.
Mom and I sat on the porch swing, while Frannie stepped into the house to get a book. She came back with a big green album full of old pictures. She sat next to us, plopped the book over our laps, and told me I could turn the pages because I was sitting in the middle.
“Wow there weren’t any houses around here except yours,” I said as we looked at the pictures.
“That’s because our closest neighbors, Harvey and Mabel Turnball lived two miles down the road!” she said.
Frannie Wicker went on and on about people and places I never heard of. I was trying real hard to listen and be polite, but I was starting to feel a little trapped. The smell of old lady teeth mixed with stale coffee was making me break out in a sweat. I was seriously ready to slide underneath the big book and escape with my life, when I came across a picture of three kids sitting on the steps of a front porch.
“Hey, that’s this porch,” I said.
“You’re right! And those are my kids, Lucy, Will, and Danny.”
Mom’s eyes grew wide. “Look Lucas! I can’t believe how much Danny looks like you!”
Danny really did look like me. Exactly like me. Actually, it was a little creepy. He could have passed for my twin brother except Danny would be around sixty-five years old by now!
“Danny is the reason I was expecting you,” said Frannie Wicker. Today is his birthday, and I am looking for a sign from heaven just to let me know he is still thinking about me. I might get a phone call from an old friend I lost track of, or an unexpected gift might come in the mail, or a rainbow might appear after a rain, or a butterfly might land on my shoulder. So today, just when I was expecting a sign from heaven, a car stopped in front of my house, and a blond blue eyed boy who looked just like Danny rolled down the window and called out, “Hello Mrs. Wicker, I like your dog!”
I was struck speechless. I figured when people were looking for signs, they pretty much were gonna to find one, but when I saw Frannie Wicker walking her dog, I knew I just had to stop and say helloI just HAD to.
I didn’t know what to say, so I blurted out, “What happened to Danny?”
“Oh,” said Frannie quietly, “Danny came down with a sickness they couldn’t help. Back in those days, they didn’t have much they could do for kids like Danny. That’s part of the reason for all the houses built around here. We had to sell off the land little by little to help pay for all the doctor bills. And then, my husband got sick too.”
Frannie Wicker stood up with the photo album, and her voice got brighter. “Well now, enough pictures and sad stories. Would you like to see Danny’s favorite toy?”
“Sure!” I said.
“Come with me, I’ll show you his room.” She set the green album on a table.
Me and Mom sort of looked at each other. His room?
Frannie led us up a narrow set of wooden stairs, and into a small sunny room. She said she kept it just the way it was when Danny was there. There was a bed and a dresser and a small table next to the bed. Pictures of Danny hung on one wall; Danny building a sand castle; Danny getting his hair cut; Danny sitting on Santa’s lap; Danny riding a bike.
Then I saw what I guessed was his favorite toy a set of soldiers on top of his dresser.
“Is that Danny’s favorite toy?” I asked.
“Yes it is,” said Frannie.
I stood and stared at them. They were World War II soldiers, the coolest soldiers I ever saw. They were metal, not green plastic. Each of them was almost four inches high. They wore cool helmets. Some knelt on one knee, and had their rifles aimed, and some had their guns slung over their shoulders.
“They belonged to his Uncle Charlie,” Frannie told us. “He gave them to Danny. Each one has a name.”
She pulled open a dresser drawer and brought out a piece of paper. “Danny wrote the names down, so he wouldn’t forget,” she said.
She handed me the list; “Bulldog”, “Bailey”, “Dano”, “Hatch”, “Morgan”, “Corky”, “Firedog”, “Ben”, “Wilson”, “Max,” “Dillon” and “Sergeant Skinner”.
“Wow! Cool names!” I said.
There were twelve names, but I only counted eleven soldiers. “Hey, there is a soldier missing,” I said.
“There is,” said Frannie, “and that’s the mystery. Danny took twelve soldiers into Wicker Woods one day to play with his friend Alex. The boys came home with only eleven soldiers. Danny told me he buried Firedog behind enemy lines and they planned on going back in the woods to recapture him the very next day. But the next day, Danny came down with a very high fever and had to go to the hospital, and when I asked Alex about the soldier a week or two later, he said he didn’t know where Danny buried him. Alex moved away soon after that, and Danny never did get well enough to come home.”
“So you never got Firedog back?” I asked.
“No. Firedog is still buried somewhere, and I don’t suppose I will ever get him back.”
Then she asked, “I was wondering if you and Mom would like to taste some of my homemade chocolate pudding? I can’t eat it all myself! Can you stay for pudding?”
“Sure,” said Mom. Mom knew I loved chocolate!
“Yummm, I love chocolate pudding!” I said.
“Well come on! Let’s head downstairs to the kitchen,” said Frannie.
She led us to her kitchen where we sat at a small table covered with a blue checkered cloth. We ate creamy chocolate pudding that was deee-licious!! But the rest of the afternoon I can’t remember much of what I did. All I could think of was ‘where did Danny bury Firedog?’
That spring and summer I visited Frannie a lot. She was like having my own great-grandma. Sometimes she would pay me money for doing little jobs, like pulling weeds, or picking up trash in the yard. Then we would sit in the kitchen and have homemade cookies or the best chocolate pudding in Woodland Hills. And best of all, sometimes Frannie would let me take Danny’s soldiers from off his dresser and play with them!
Yep, Frannie got to be like my very best friend. Sometimes I would tell her what was on my mind, and she would try to make me feel better. Like the time I told her about my old dog Tyson.
“Frannie, do you think pets will be in heaven too?” I asked her.
“Well, I’m not sure,” she said, “but there are lots of surprises in heaven maybe our pet friends will be one of them, especially since God knows how much they mean to us. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see when we get there.”
Then I asked her something else that was on my mind. “Frannie,” I asked, “was Alex a good friend to Danny?”
“He was his very best friend. They played together all the time,” she said.
“WellI was just wondering. Maybe Alex really DID know where Danny hid Firedog. Maybe Alex dug him up after Danny died and never brought him back. Maybe he wanted to keep Firedog to remember Danny. I mean, that’s what could have happened.”
“Hmmm.Well I suppose so,” said Frannie. “But since I can’t believe Alex would tell me a lie, I’m going to have to believe he was telling me the truth. And if he wasn’t telling the truth, ‘there is nothing hid, that shall not be known’ the Lord says. If Alex took Firedog, and lied about it, then that will be known too.”
Frannie had a good answer for almost everything I ever asked her.
In December, Frannie tripped on a rug and broke her hip. It’s a good thing me and Mom showed up the same day! We were going to surprise Frannie with a coffee cake. We knocked on the door and there was no answer. We could hear Trixie barking like crazy, so Mom opened the unlocked door and we walked in and found Frannie on the kitchen floor!
“Oh, thank God you came,” she said. “I was praying someone would come and help me!” she said.
Mom knew it wasn’t safe to try and get Frannie up from the floor, so she called for an ambulance, and they came and took her to the hospital. We took her Trixie home with us.
Two days later there was a knock on our door. It was a Frannie’s daughter Lucy. She was holding a shoe box in one hand, and a small dog kennel in the other.
“I’m here to pick up the dog,” she said to Mom, “It’s so nice to meet you I’m Lucyand you must be Lucas,” she said, looking over at me. “Thank you both for everything! I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t found my mom in time.”
“How’s she doing?” asked my Mom.
“Very well, considering what happened. I can’t thank you enough!”
“Well, we’d like to visit her when she’s feeling better,” said Mom.
Then Lucy handed me the box she was holding. “This is for you,” she said.
“You’re very special to my mother and she wanted you to have this.”
“Thank you,” I said. The box felt sort of heavy.
Mom invited Lucy inside to get Trixie, and I sat on the couch with the box. My sister Jade came over and sat next to me.
“Hey, what did ya get?” she asked.
I pulled off a big rubber band, and opened up the box. It was Danny’s soldiers! Bulldog, Bailey, Dano, Hatch, Morgan, Corky, Ben, Wilson, Max, Dillon, and Sergeant Skinner!!
“Whoa!!!! I can’t believe it! Danny’s soldiers! Thanks!!” I said. Mom was as surprised as I was!
“I can’t think of a finer boy to have and care for Danny’s soldiers,” said Lucy. “We want you to play with them and have fun!”
“Cool! I will!” I said – then I ran up to my room to find a special spot to put them. I decided to put them on top of my dresser. Where else?
Frannie Wicker never was able to come home and live by herself after she fell. Lucy told us they had to put her into a nursing home called Harmony. It wasn’t too far from our house, so me and Mom went to visit whenever we could.
On May 18th, Frannie called to ask if I could check her mailbox. She was still getting her mail at the old house because she would always say, “I just might be going home in a week or two”. Lucy didn’t have the heart to tell her she wasn’t going home.
“Check for me, won’t you Lucas, just in case I got a letter from an old friend.”
I knew what Frannie was thinking. It was Danny’s birthday, and she was “checking for a sign”. I hopped on my bike and zipped over to the old house. I stepped off the bike, leaned over, and reached into Frannie’s mailbox. I pulled out a letter. The name on the return address said “Alex Turnbald”. Alex? My mind started to race. I stuffed the letter in a plastic bag hanging from my handle bars, then rode all the way back to Harmony Nursing Home. I ran in with the letter, past the nurse’s station and into Frannie’s room. She was sitting in a wheelchair.
“Hello Lucas! Thank you for being my mailman today,” she said. “What do you have for me?”
“A letter from someone named Alex!” I handed her the envelope.
“Alex? Oh my word!” she said, ripping the envelope open.
She removed the letter and began to read out loud:
Dear Mrs. Wicker,
I bet you never expected to hear from me! I ran into your son Will at a conference in Iowa over the weekend! What a coincidence! He told me you still have your old house in Woodland Hills. What memories! I’ll never forget the fun I had playing with Danny in Wicker Woods. And I remembered his birthday is May 18th which is one reason I send you these greetings.
Remember the toy soldiers Danny and I always played with? The last time we played he buried one named Firedog but didn’t show me where. He was going to lead me to the secret bunker on a search and rescue operation the next day. I only know it was near a “bunch of maple trees”. I sure wish I could have found him for you. Those World War II soldiers are collectable now.
If I am ever up your way, I will be stop in for a visit. I still remember your awesome chocolate pudding!
Sincerely, Alex Turnbald
Frannie laid the letter down in her lap and sighed. “My, what a sweet man,” she said. “Imagine! He still remembers that toy soldier. Well I guess that answers our question about Alex he really didn’t know exactly where Firedog was buried,” she said.
There was only one thing on my mind right then: Fire dog was buried near a maple tree!
“Frannie? I have to go home and check something out,” I said.
“Oh dear child you go ahead, don’t spend such a beautiful day indoors!”
“Thanks Frannie – I’ll let you know if I get a sign!”
“It’s Danny’s birthday! I’ll let you know if I find anything” I told her as I raced out the door.
I made a quick exit. I wished my bike would sprout wings and fly! I had a huncha big one, and it was getting bigger and BIGGER! My muscles twitched at every intersection waiting for the light to turn green.
“Hurry up, would ya?” I said to an old red pickup truck crossing Wooddale Boulevard.
‘Everyone is moving as slow as a turtle!’ I complained to myself. ‘Two more blocks to go! Come on Lucas, Go, Go, Go!!’
Finally I got home and parked my bike in the garage. I ran into the house. Mom was making coffee.
“Mom! I need something to dig with, quick!”
“For what?” she asked.
“I need to look for something please, this is really important.”
“You are going to be digging in the yard? Where?” she asked.
“Back by the old maple tree I’ll leave everything the way it was, I promise please mom, I’ll explain later!”
Mom walked into the garage and found a forked garden tool. “Here, this should work,” she said. “I better supervise what you are doing. What are you looking for?” she asked.
“You’ll see,” I told her.
I ran outside to the woodsy section in the back of the yard. I started digging up the dirt near the base of the maple tree the tree you can climb up and see Frannie Wicker’s place from. I dug around, moving away from the base of the tree in a widening circle.
“Lucas, you’re tearing everything up! You are going to have to tell me what you are looking for,” said Mom.
“Firedog, Mom! I’m looking for Firedog! It’s Danny’s birthday, and I’ve got to find him, I just have to!”
My dogs Tyson and Ella ran over to see what I was up to. Mom joined in the search as I explained my hunch for finding Firedog. We picked around that old tree for half an hour. No toy soldier anywhere.
“Let’s go in and clean up,” said Mom. “It’s time for supper. I’m afraid it’s not looking too good for find a toy soldier around here.”
“I thought for sure I’d find him,” I moaned. I didn’t want to give up hope.
“This yard was totally dug up during construction,” Dad told me at suppertime,
“Some of the trees were removed. Firedog could be anyplace right under the surface, or somewhere ten feet under, or in somebody else’s backyard. There is only a slim chance you will ever find him around here, and Slim just left town,” he joked.
I went to bed that night feeling pretty low. I did have one small hope left. We live pretty close to Frannie Wicker’s place, and if Danny was playing in the woods that day, it could have been the woods in my back yard.
School has a way of making you forget about things. That year I started fourth grade, and I stayed really busy with homework and other stuff. Winter came, and I put my hopes for finding Firedog on hold till the ground thawed out again.
In the spring Dad decided to build a fire pit in the backyard. He took me to a landscaping store to pick out some big rocks to circle the pit with. I helped him roll the big stones out of the back of the truck and down into a wheel barrel. Having a fire pit was going to be cool! I love campfires!
Dad picked a spot to put the fire pit near the back part of our yard. He started digging with a big pointed spade after we wheeled the rocks over. It wasn’t too long before he noticed something metal sticking out of the side of the pit.
“What’s that?” he said.
“Let me see!” I said. I jumped into the fire pit and dug it out with a stick. It was a metal soldier! It was Firedog!!
“Firedog!!!” I hollered. “Dad!!! You found him!!!
“You’re kidding! Let me see!” Dad could hardly believe his eyes.
I ran to back to the house to show Mom. “Mom! We found Firedog!” I shouted when I ran in the door.
“What? You found him? I can’t believe it! Where was he?” Mom asked.
“We found him in the fire pit Dad’s digging!!”
“No wonder his name is Firedog!” Mom said, laughing.
“I’ve gotta call Frannie!!” I hollered.
I just couldn’t wait to tell her! I ran to the phone and called her right away.
“Frannie it’s Lucas!” I said.
“Frannie!! We found him! We found Firedog!”
“What? You found him?? Why that’s wonderful! Where?”
“Dad was digging a fire pit in the back yard. That’s where we found him not far from the old maple tree I like to sit in he one we can see your place from!”
“Oh my word! Isn’t that grand? And to think you found Firedog today! Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Today?” I asked.
“Yes, today don’t you remember? Today is Danny’s birthday!”
My jaw dropped. I was speechless.
“Lucas?… Lucas are you still there?”
I was still there alright with my jaw still hanging open.
“Yeah, I’m still here I just forgot what day it was!” I finally told her.
“It’s a sign from heaven Lucas! Danny’s still thinking about me,” said Frannie sounding like she was about to cry.
I had to agree, it was a sign from heaven alright!
After the phone call, I cleaned the dirt off of Firedog and placed him next to his buddies on top of my dresser. Then I pretended to make the soldiers talk to each other.
“Firedog! You’re back! What happened?” asked Dano.
“I was captured by enemy forces and chained to a post in an underground bunker!”
“How’d ya get out of there?” asked Bulldog.
“I’ll tell you how! A lieutenant named Lucas Laden figured out my location and rescued me single handed!”
Of course I knew better than that. It was God, and it was Frannie, and the love she had for a boy named Danny. Like Frannie told me, “there is nothing hid that shall not be known.”
Toni Babcock is a freelance Christian writer from South St. Paul. She enjoys writing short stories for children and young people, as well as memoirs, poetry and spiritual essays.
Article Source: http://www.faithwriters.com-CHRISTIAN WRITERS
Used with permission.
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