“Oatmeal, Shovels, and Pyramids,” Friend, Jan. 1989, 10
Toby opened the apartment door and stepped inside quietly. Carefully he folded his collapsible snow shovel and propped it against the wall so that it could drip on the throw rug. Then he knelt to remove his boots. As he unzipped them, his grandpa lifted his head from the pillow on the sofa bed and smiled sleepily.
“Done with your papers already, Son? It’s not even light out yet.”
Toby hung his things on the coatrack. “It’s almost seven o’clock, Gramps. Mom left for the restaurant an hour ago.”
“It must be going to snow some, then,” Grandpa mumbled. “It still seems dark.”
“You’re right, the snow is already flurrying again,” Toby replied as he went into the kitchen. “I’ll make us some oatmeal.”
It wasn’t long until Toby set a steaming bowl of oatmeal on the bedside table; then he propped another pillow behind Grandpa’s head.
“I thought that your mother was supposed to be off today.”
“She was,” Toby replied, “but she’s filling in for Martha.” He moved a footstool closer to the sofa. “Mom’ll be home by eleven, Gramps. Will you be OK till then?”
“Just leave me a book and the remote control for the TV,” Grandpa replied, “and I’ll be fine.”
Toby scooped up a spoonful of warm oatmeal, then aimed it at Grandpa’s mouth.
“Going down to the Center this morning?”
Toby nodded. “Miss Wiggins said that they’re sending someone out from the Village Observer to take pictures and do a story on our gymnastics group.”
Grandpa’s eyes sparkled. “So you’ll have your picture in the paper! Well, that’s something—a celebrity!”
Toby grinned. “I’m no celebrity, Gramps. Just part of the gang.”
Grandpa was dozing when Toby left. As he reached the second floor landing of their apartment building, Mrs. Brindle opened her door. “Would you mind, Toby?” she asked hopefully.
Toby shrugged and took the bag of garbage that she held out to him. “Nope. Do you need anything from the store while I’m out?” he asked.
“Not today, Toby,” she said. “But thanks for asking … and for taking down my garbage.”
“No trouble,” Toby said as he hurried down the stairs.
When Toby reached the Center, he knew that he was the first one there, because the snow hadn’t been broken by anyone’s footprints. He unfolded his snow shovel and began clearing a path. Shovelful by shovelful he worked alone, until a little gray station wagon chugged up and parked in the empty parking lot behind the old building.
Miss Wiggins jumped out and came toward Toby with a cheerful grin, a bright red scarf wrapped around her neck. “You’re always doing something, aren’t you, Toby?” she said as she put an arm around his shoulders and swept him along with her to the door. “You must be getting wet and tired! How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” Toby replied.
Miss Wiggins jangled her keys, searching for the right one. “Well, I can see that you’ve been here long enough to shovel a lot of snow. Where did you get that handy little folding shovel?”
Toby grinned proudly. “Gramps gave it to me for Christmas.”
She unlocked the door and swung it open. “That’s a really neat gift. Brrr,” she added as they stepped inside the huge empty room. “It’s colder in here than outside!”
“I’ll turn up the thermostat,” Toby offered.
She grinned and pointed at a blob of oatmeal on his sweatshirt. “I see you fed your grandfather oatmeal this morning.”
Toby looked down, then tried to wipe it off. “Sorry,” he mumbled self-consciously.
“Don’t be,” she said happily. “Helping others is always visible in one way or another, and helping others seems to be a habit with you.” She blew into her cupped hands and shivered.
“Wait a minute, and I’ll help you get the mats down,” Toby called as he hurried to the thermostat on the wall.
The other gymnasts began to arrive, and soon everyone was busy working out on the balance beams, the mats, the horses, or the overhead rings. When Miss Wiggins called for a break, they all sat around a long wooden table, eating cookies and drinking juice. They talked excitedly about what they’d do for the newspaper reporter.
“I thought that we could make a pyramid,” Miss Wiggins suggested. “That would be an impressive shot, don’t you think? And that way everyone could be in the same picture.”
“I should be on top,” Nancy Matthews said. “That’s an important position, don’t you think so, Miss Wiggins?”
“Well, you are one of the lightest,” she agreed.
“Well!” Brian Cramer snapped. “That’s not the most important position! If Calvin, Marty, Toby, and I didn’t hold everyone up, there wouldn’t be a top. We’re the most important because we’re the strongest and we hold everyone else up!”
“Hey, wait a minute!” Carol and Jan chorused. “If it weren’t for us—”
Miss Wiggins laughed and waved her arms. “Wait a minute, all of you! What’s the sudden interest in who’s the most important? In a pyramid, everyone’s important! It takes a team effort to make a pyramid. You can’t have a top without a base and a middle, so quit arguing.” Miss Wiggins shook her head and added, “The city started this program as a learning experience in cooperation. But now I’m not sure that you know what the word means!”
Carol frowned, then screwed her mouth up at one end. “It means working together,” she said.
“That’s right,” Miss Wiggins replied. “It doesn’t mean fighting over who comes first. In Heavenly Father’s eyes, the one who puts everyone else ahead of himself is first! So if you’re done with your snacks, let’s get back to work!”
The kids tossed their empty cartons toward the trash can. A lot of them missed the target, and the cartons landed on the floor. Toby dropped his juice container into the can, then deposited those that had missed the can as well. The others were already busy at the mats, so they didn’t even notice, but Miss Wiggins did. As Toby hurried to join the others, Miss Wiggins watched him coming and met him with a smile.
As he neared her, she reached out and rumpled his hair gently. “You’re a good kid, Toby,” she said quietly.
“Thanks, Miss Wiggins,” Toby said.