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“A Bucketful of Wishes”
By Caroline Giammanco
The warm rays of a glorious June sun played on her ringlets. Annalee was captivated by the butterflies flitting from flower to flower in her grandfather’s pasture. The farm was her favorite place to be and, in all of her four years, boredom had ignored her. Whether it was the cows and horses, Grandpa’s faithful dog Shep, or the whimsy of the breeze, Annalee’s imagination was always at work.
As the butterflies circled her, she filled her pail with the daisies that covered the field, careful to smell each one she plucked. Each time, she closed her eyes and smiled before placing the flower in the bucket. The wind blew wisps of her hair in her eyes, and she wiped her forehead with her arm. A monarch caught her attention, and she playfully chased it, hoping to have it land on her outstretched hand.
Close by her side was good old Shep. He was nearly blind at the age of twelve, but he was devoted to his girl. On the day we brought Annie home from the hospital, Shep had lain beneath her crib, making it clear that she was under his watchful eye. From then on, the two were inseparable whenever we drove to see my mother and father at their eighty-acre farm in the country.
When Annalee made it back to the yard, I had to ask. “Annie, why did you close your eyes every time you put a flower in your bucket?”
“Oh, Mama, I was putting wishes, not flowers, in my bucket. Here, I picked you a bouquet.”
I tousled her hair and swung her up on my hip.
“Let’s put these in a vase. Grandma said lunch is almost ready.”
We made our way up the wooden steps leading to the front door whose threshold I’d crossed thousands of times. I stopped to glance into Annalee’s pink bucket and gave her a little squeeze as I thought about her bucketful of wishes.
I’d grown up on the same piece of land that mesmerized my daughter but, until Annalee showed me its beauty, I’d never recognized the magic it held. Too busy grousing about the endless chores of my childhood, I’d only seen the drudgery of weeding and smelled the stench of the barnyard. My self-centered ways blinded me to the little miracles that surrounded me every day. I grew up, went to college, and secured an office job in the city. Until our Annalee opened my eyes, I missed a lot. I learned, through her, to never miss the chance to see the magic. Even if I came to it a little late, the old homestead tugged increasingly at my heartstrings.
Annalee saw all the miracles. When tadpoles in the pond morphed into frogs, she bounced up and down.
“Mama, just look at them! How does God know that they need to lose their tails and learn to hop?”
“I don’t know, Annie.”
When one of Grandma’s hens hatched a clutch of chicks, Annalee squealed with joy.
“Look at how perfect they are! They’re so good, too. See how they follow their mama everywhere so they don’t get lost?”
She reached her little hand out to me, grasping mine, as she stood wide-eyed in admiration of her new friends.
Just as she saw the magic in the world around her, there was something magical about our strawberry-blonde girl. We weren’t the only ones to notice either. Complete strangers stopped us on the street or in the grocery store.
“What a beautiful child you have!”
“Those eyes are the most amazing shade of blue I’ve ever seen.”
Her zest for life was what impressed everyone the most. She laughed, played, and made friends with everyone she met. Her boundless energy wore us out, but she was a sight to behold. She carried her bucket on most of her adventures, and we were never sure what treasures she’d bring home with her. Rocks, lizards, and fish from the creek all made their way back in her little pink pail. Fearless and determined, she kept us on our toes, and since she was determined to climb trees and to run after her older brother, she always had some sort of bump or scrape.
That’s why we didn’t pay much attention to the bruises she had on her arms and legs. We started to worry, however, when the fevers, joint pain, and fatigue hit her. Instead of our vibrant Annalee, she now fell asleep out of exhaustion an hour after she woke up in the morning.
“Mindy, I think it’s time you and Brian took Annalee into Doc Stevens to see what’s going on.” My mother seldom thought doctors were worth their while, so when she was the one who made the suggestion, we realized we weren’t the only ones who noticed the changes in Annalee.
Doc Stevens took blood samples, and I could tell by the wrinkles on his forehead as he examined our little girl that he was more worried than he let on.
“I’ll send these off to the lab, and we should have the results in a day or two. I’ll let you know when I hear anything, and bring her back in if she seems worse.”
That was the beginning of our nightmare. Leukemia did its best to kill our little girl—and the heart and soul of our family. I stopped eating and refused to leave my bed. Brian worried that he’d have to hospitalize me.
“Mindy, I’m as torn up as you are, but we have to be there for Annalee.”
He was right. I strapped on my emotional armor and made every trip to St. Jude’s in Memphis with her. Our lives revolved around the fight for our daughter’s life.
There are few things I can imagine are more painful than watching a four-year-old undergo cancer treatments. The only thing that was worse was when the doctors said the unthinkable, “We’ve done all we can do for her. We’ll keep her comfortable.”
It was a rainy June day. Annalee had turned five three weeks before, and her celebration had been from inside a hospital room. We’d turned it into a makeshift hotel room, with at least two of us in the room with her at all times. Now that the end was at hand, the entire family, even my brother Evan who lived in Sacramento, had gathered to be with our Annalee. Since animals weren’t allowed, Shep’s favorite toy, a tattered old bear that was no more than rags, was in the bed next to Annalee. She clung to it.
As the beeping of the heart monitor slowed, and the gauges on the machine registered her weakening vitals, Annalee turned to me in almost a whisper.
“Mama, where’s my bucket?”
“It’s in the corner, next to Grandpa.”
“Can you bring it to me?”
I wiped the tears from my eyes as my father handed me the tiny pink pail. He gently squeezed my hand as he gave it to me. Turning back to her bedside, I carefully handed it to Annalee.
She peered inside it and smiled.
“It’s full, Mama. I want you to have it.”
We all glanced curiously at each other, knowing the bucket was empty.
“Why do you want me to have it, Annie?
“I’ve been saving these for you for a long time. I knew you’d need them.”
“Baby girl, I don’t understand.”
“They’re my wishes, Mama. I knew I couldn’t go until I had a bucketful to leave you. You’ll be okay without me now. I put these wishes in here so you’d always have plenty of good luck.”
A tear trickled down the side of my face. Annalee looked out the window as a butterfly landed on the pane. And then my little girl closed her eyes, content that she’d left me with her bucketful of wishes.