Two brothers. Ages ten and seven. They had no heat. No food. No nothing. 1973 was a cold year.
To call it child neglect would be too soft. The single-wide was falling apart. Snow blanketed the leaky roof. They could see their breath in the bathroom.
And that is where they slept that winter. The bathroom. They huddled close, covered with garbage bags and quilts.
Their uncle was supposed to be raising them, but he’d been gone for weeks. Nobody knew where he was. Probably, they thought, in some gutter, drinking away his money.
“I’m cold,” said the youngest, trying to fall asleep.
“I know,” said the oldest. “Just wait, something good will happen.”
“It always happens when you need it most.”
“What kinda magic?”
“The real kind.”
“Like in movies?”
It was only brother-to-brother talk. The oldest wasn’t even sure he believed it.
Before school, they split a candy bar found in a barren pantry for breakfast.
After lunch, they dug through the cafeteria garbage looking for leftover scraps.
A teacher saw them do it.
That same day, a teacher gave the oldest boy two heavy grocery bags full of canned goods.
A feast for supper. It was canned spaghetti, beans, and Campbell’s soup by flashlight. It was the first real meal they’d eaten in weeks.
Their smiles lit the inside of the dark trailer.
“Where’d you get all this food?” asked the youngest.
“Magic,” said the oldest.
“I like magic.”
They ate so much they were sick. They slept in the bathtub with the door shut—towels tucked under the door to trap escaping heat. They shivered.
“My toes are cold.” the youngest said.
“It’s gonna be okay.”
“What’s gonna happen to us?”
“I don’t know. But don’t worry, it’s going to be alright.”
They woke the next morning. For breakfast: canned soup, Saltines, Ovaltine.
The oldest found something on the steps of the home. An electric heater. A gift from the unknown.
But electric heaters will do no good when your uncle hasn’t paid the light bill.
Still, they plugged it in just the same. Both boys stared at the heater and wished out loud.
“Where’s the magic?” the youngest asked.
The oldest snuck into their next-door neighbor’s garage and found extension cords. Lots of them. He connected them together, then strung them through the backyard.
“IT’S ON!” his brother screamed. “THE MAGIC WORKS!”
They fell asleep, lying before a heater which was no bigger than a breadbox. Smiles on their faces.
Their story is a long one. I don’t have room to tell it all here. If I did, I would tell you that their lives improved considerably.
I’d tell you about the middle-aged couple who adopted them after their uncle was arrested.
Then, I’d tell you about their new mother, and how she cooked Sunday suppers. How their father taught them to throw footballs. About family vacations.
I’d tell you about their weddings. About their families. Their children.
And I’d tell you about how the oldest still gives grocery bags away to needy families.
That’s what I’d tell you.
Then, I’d tell you that today I hugged a man with gray in his hair. A man who was once a malnourished boy. A boy who once convinced his little brother not to worry.
After that, I saw the man take the pulpit like he does every Sunday.
And he talked about magic.