“Starlight Flyer,” Friend, Aug. 1996, 16
“Oh, Grandpa, isn’t it the neatest thing you’ve ever seen?” Jeff peered through the noseprint-smudged store window at a shiny red wagon. Sleek white letters on the side spelled Starlight Flyer.
“It’s a dandy, right enough.” Grandpa leaned closer to the glass. “It should be, for $49.95.”
“That much—plus tax.”
The corners of Jeff’s mouth drooped as he turned away from the window and headed home, followed by Grandpa. When they reached their driveway, Grandpa put a hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “I think your mother’s old wagon is still in the garage. Shall we take a look?”
Jeff followed Grandpa into the dark garage. Grandpa reached for the light switch, and piles of dusty toys appeared on shelves along the back wall. Grandpa rummaged through them. “I know it’s here somewhere. Let’s see—doll house, baseball mitts, pogo stick … wagon!” Grandpa pulled a shabby-looking wagon off the middle shelf and set it on the floor.
Jeff eyed it doubtfully. “It’s pretty beat-up, Grandpa.”
“Well-used, I’d say. Your mother loved this wagon. Your Uncle Matt would pull her in it around the yard for hours.”
“It doesn’t look nearly as nice as the one in the window. I sure would like to have that one.”
“It was a beauty, but $49.95 is a heap of money.”
“I could earn it, Grandpa. I know I could.”
Jeff pondered silently a moment, then snapped his fingers. “I could use Mom’s wagon to run errands for people!”
Grandpa nodded slowly. “I reckon you could.”
Jeff scurried around the garage until he found a can of red paint. “I’ll give it a new coat of paint to impress my customers. Will you help me?”
Grandpa slapped Jeff on the back. “What are we waiting for?” They oiled the wheels until they rolled without a squeak, then carefully cleaned and painted the whole wagon. They were sitting on the back porch steps, admiring their handiwork, when Jeff’s mother came out of the house.
“My red wagon!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, ma’am! Jeffy’s going to use it to earn money for a brand new one.”
She walked around the wagon admiring the paint job. “Very nice! Tomorrow when the red paint’s dry I’ll repaint the white letters on the side, and it will look like new.” Jeff had noticed that there were raised letters on the side of the wagon, but he couldn’t read them under the red paint.
The next morning when Jeff went out to the garage, his mother was making one last stroke with her paintbrush. Jeff stared at the white letters. They leaned forward as if with speed and spelled Starlight Flyer. “Mom!” he said. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that you had a Starlight Flyer?”
She laughed. “I guess I’d just about forgotten. It’s fun seeing it again, though. A lot of wonderful memories are riding in that red wagon.” She sat down on the porch and started telling stories about her childhood and the old Starlight Flyer. Jeff tried to imagine her little enough to ride in the wagon while her brother pulled her around the yard. She smiled as she remembered, and Jeff smiled with her.
“You love this old wagon, don’t you, Mom?”
“Yes, Jeffy, I truly do. I didn’t realize how much until I saw it in the driveway yesterday.”
“I promise I’ll take real good care of it, Mom.”
“I know you will, Jeffy. And now I’d better go get some breakfast for my businessman son.”
Jeff hardly tasted his pancakes. He was too busy planning how he would earn $49.95. I’ll ask Mrs. Gallagher if I can help her bring her groceries home on Thursday. She always walks to the market.And maybe Mr. Corbett could use some help hauling his trash out to the street. Jeff’s thoughts raced faster than Dad’s computer. He would earn that brand-new, shiny, red Starlight Flyer.
Day after day Jeff pulled his mother’s old wagon through the neighborhood helping neighbor after neighbor, saving every cent he earned until one day he finally had enough.
“Grandpa! Grandpa!” he shouted. “I’ve earned $59.95—enough to pay tithing and still buy the Starlight Flyer. Can we go to the store and get it right now?”
Grandpa looked at the money in Jeff’s outstretched hands. “Well, if that don’t beat all.”
“I told you I could do it.”
“You did at that. Let’s head down to the toy store and see about getting you that wagon.”
At the store, Jeff pressed his nose against the window again, staring at the bright red wagon. Grandpa’s head was right next to his. “Sure is a dandy, right enough,” Grandpa said. “And it’s only $39.99. You’re in luck, Jeffy—it’s on sale!”
Jeff let out a whoop and ran inside the store. He stood by the wagon display, running his hand over the smooth red paint and the white, slightly raised letters. He examined the wheels and the axles, the tongue, and the bed of the wagon. His hand moved more and more slowly.
Grandpa came in and stood beside Jeff. He watched as his grandson took a step back and frowned at the wagon. “What’s wrong, Jeffy? Don’t you like it anymore?”
“Yeah, Grandpa, I like it. But … it just doesn’t look as good as I remembered.”
“It looks pretty good to me. Clean and shiny, no dents anywhere.”
“I know, but Mom’s wagon just feels better to me. And besides, I took really good care of it, and I think it’s built better than this one. Look at these wheels—they don’t look nearly as strong as the ones on Mom’s wagon. And see how the tongue is hooked to the front axle—that isn’t as good either.”
Grandpa examined each part of the wagon, rubbed his chin, and smiled. “I think you’re right, Jeffy. Your mother’s wagon is better than this one, and not only because it’s built better. It’s better because you fixed it up with your own hands and because you took such good care of it, and because your mother’s childhood memories are still being pulled around every time you take it out of the garage. Your mother loves that old wagon, Jeffy, and I think you do too.”
“Yeah, I guess I do.” Jeff looked down at the new wagon one last time and turned toward the door. “Let’s go home, Grandpa. I want to take my sister for a ride in my Starlight Flyer.”