Mary never wanted anything more. It was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. Yellow through and through, and covered with prints of summer flowers. Nothing could have been more beautiful.
"It sure is a nice dress, ain't it darlin." Pa said with a Sunday smile upon his face. "A girl would look mighty fine in a pretty thing like that."
"Yeah, I guess its ok." Mary replied.
"Ok? I see you starin in that store window every week."
"I know...It's just that all the other girls have fancy new dresses every Sunday, and I all I have is this old raggedy one." Mary said
"That dress maybe a bit old, but its far from raggedy. Why, you're always the prettiest girl in church. Pastor Sandlin tells me after every service how you're the cutest darn thing he has ever seen."
"No he doesn't."
"Why yes he does. In fact that's all he talks about. Mary this and Mary that, I barely can take it."
"You're a big fat liar." Mary replied as sternly as possible, trying to stop herself from giggling.
"Darlin, I know myself almost as well as the good lord himself knows me, and I'll tell ya what, I may from time to time stretch the truth a little, but I ain't no big fat liar, especially when it comes to talking to pretty little girls like yourself." Pa said with the huge grin returning to his face.
Mary could no longer stand it. Her father was the funniest man she had ever seen. Pa could talk about absolutely anything, and within seconds Mary would be giggling uncontrollably.
Before either of them could get another word out, the church bells began to ring. Running as fast as they could, the two of them entered the church just in time to sing the first hymnal.
Throughout the service Mary did her best to avoid looking at her father fearing another uncontrollable outburst of laughter. Pa always seemed to be funniest in serious situations, and it took all of her strength to concentrate on the service rather than her father.
Pastor Sandlin was giving a rather drawn-out sermon. Mary always did her best to pay attention to the services, but they were always so complicated. Do this, don't do this...it was all so much for a little girl to remember. She wondered if even the pastor himself could keep track of everything.
After a few minutes Mary became completely absorbed with all the other families at the service. Pastor Sandlin's voice faded away leaving only the sounds of feet shuffling and pages turning. All the families seemed perfect to the girl of 8. Smooth dark suits and perfect dresses filled her mind. Envy and desire of a better life flowed through her like the warm currents of the ocean. Everybody seemed so happy and content. Not a care in the world. No worries about dresses or anything else, just eyes straight-ahead concentrating on the service. She knew it wasn't good to stew over such matters, but it was too late. Once the mind got going on something she knew that it couldn't be stopped.
Mary thought of the most horrible thing she could. She hated thinking of bad things, but she knew it was the only medicine for Pa's affect on her. A few weeks earlier on the way to the grocery store Mary saw a newborn puppy with a wounded leg. She never knew how that puppy hurt its leg, but she had no doubt in her mind that it was the saddest thing she had ever seen. Forced by bad luck, the puppy was doomed to hobble through life without ever knowing how to run or jump or do anything else that puppies with four good legs get to do. It took most of two hours and almost an entire glass of milk before Pa could get her to stop crying.
With the puppy in her mind, she ventured a quick look at her father. Throughout her life, so far as she could remember, Mary had never looked at her father during the service. He sat perfectly still. Eyes forward and attentive...the occasional glance at the book in his lap was the only indication that he was still alive. That day she saw something in Pa that she had never seen before. Something that made dresses and money seem simple and meaningless. Something that made the other families drift away. Something that little girls like herself and puppies with wounded legs could only possibly know. She was alive, Pa was real, and that's all that mattered.
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