Losing them, fixing them, forgetting to put them in
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There was a scarecrow named Sam. He lived in a field of corn, with no shelter from the sun and snow. He wore an old felt hat — gray — and a faded black suit jacket. On special holidays, he wore certain accessories: on Easter, flowers; on Halloween, a mask; at Christmas, a cross. Sam was four years old, but he felt older, possibly from living outdoors. Once a year he came inside. The family near him, the Andersons, invited him for dinner on July 13. (They pitied him more in the heat than in the cold.)
He would sit at the table and eat a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes — he didn’t need to eat, but he wanted to share with the family. They were a fairly large family: six, including a grandmother. Every so often someone would address a question to him: “How are you doing in the heat, Sam?” “Do you need a new hat?” “How do you like the mashed potatoes?” Sam would answer softly and the conversation would go on.
Sam would try not to stare at everything in front of him. He had a sense of being poorly dressed. There were so many people and glowing objects in one room. Sam found it difficult to imagine living indoors. Where he lived, the sky was always present.
At the end of the meal, the Andersons would bring him a cake on fire and sing “Happy Birthday” — they told him this was his birthday. He would pretend to make a wish, and the children would help him blow it out. Then he would eat the first piece. He would thank them, and they would give him a present. One time it was a book of Psalms. He couldn’t read it, but he was very grateful. He kept it inside his black coat.
After the meal, the cake, and the present, Sam would excuse himself, and the youngest girl, Zelda, would escort him back to the field.
“Bye, Sam,” “Take care of yourself,” “Come back anytime,” called the people at the table.
Zelda and he would walk in silence into the dark fields, until the house was gone, and then Zelda would turn to Sam and ask him questions.
“How many stars are there, Sam?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t you ever count them?”
“I don’t know how to count.”
“It’s easy, Sam. See? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.” She showed him on her fingers.
“You’re very smart, Zelda,” said Sam.
“I learned it in school,” Zelda said happily. “What do you want to be when you grow up, Sam?”
“I am grown up.”
“But you’re only four.”
“Yes, but for a scarecrow that’s grown up.”
They walked through the tall, powerful stalks of corn.
“What do you want to be when you grow up, Zelda?”
“I want to help people who are hurt.”
“That’s nice, Zelda.”
“Do the crows ever get hurt?”
“Once in a while. Sometimes they fight, or one gets sick.”
“Maybe I could help them.”
“Sure, I’ll bring them to you.”
“You see, that’s the Big Dipper.” Sam looked up, and Zelda pointed it out to him. Sam had seen it before, but never in this way. To him, stars made the shapes of crows and farmhouses.
“Thank you, Zelda,” he said.
“Do you sleep at night?” asked Zelda.
“A little bit. Not many crows come at night.”
“Do crows sleep?”
“Yes, but sometimes they wake up. Sometimes they get hungry.”
“Are they scared of you, Sam?”
“Yes. I scare them.”
“Why are they scared of you?”
“I call them bad names.” Sam said this quietly.
“Do you like me, Sam?”
“Yes, I do, Zelda.”
“Because you talk to me, and you’re nice.” They looked at the big, quiet sky.
“Do you like me, Zelda?”
“Yes, Sam. I want to be like you when I grow up.”
“But I’m not a doctor.”
“Yes, but you’re just as good.” Sam smiled, and knelt down beside Zelda.
“Come and visit me, Zelda.”
“I will, Sam.”
“Good night, Zelda.”
“Good night, Sam.”
He watched as she walked back to the house, her body getting smaller. Then he looked up at the stars and began to count them.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. . . .”