The Godsent house around the corner
Nicholas, the second smallest boy in a class of 500, digested “Lord of the Flies” better than any high school freshman should have. This red flag went unnoticed by all the usual suspects: his lit teacher, the counselor, the principal. In fact, the only consequence of his mastery of “the classic,” was being told that he had “potential” and earning an “A” – a distinction he would have gladly traded for 6 more inches and 20 more pounds.
But truth be told, Nicholas needed lit class. Analyzing plots under the backdrop of fictional shipwrecks and desert islands provided a welcome diversion from the rest of his day. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, he focused mostly on survival … which, as a 9th grader, he did by agreeing to sing to Coke machines on “Freshman Fridays” (when threatened), by ducking sophomores’ fists whenever possible and by attempting to appear larger than his 5-foot-nothing frame.
But most days, the bullies sniffed him out ” terrorizing him in the hallways, in the locker room, sometimes even in class when teachers turned their backs. Long before he ever picked up the novel, Nicholas understood “Lord of the Flies” all too well ” the herd mentality, the perils of weighing 85 pounds and the cruelty of the adolescent caste system.
The lone bright spot in his day, he found in the eyes of a girl ” whose name he lacked the courage to ask. She sat in a window seat on the school bus and, more than once, caught him staring, cocked her head and melted him with a smile. He quickly turned away, hiding flushed cheeks, but her smile remained with him ” often interrupting the nightly rotation of horrific domestic images that haunted him as he lay in bed, wide awake, while his parents argued.
But prayers never go unanswered forever: One day, the new kid on the block, Paul, invited him over after school and began a new chapter in Nicholas’ life.
“How was your day?” Paul’s mom asked, as the boys entered the front door. “Would you like a snack? How about some cherries? Oh! Who’s your friend? Aren’t you going to introduce me?”
Nicholas gobbled up her friendly reception, her voice, her motherly affection, and began sizing up the scene before him ” particularly noting (within minutes) the absence of raised voices, slammed doors and children questioning whether or not they were wanted. Meeting the rest of the family did nothing to alter this impression and that, itself, was enough for Nicholas to like all the Schweglers … and more than enough to keep him coming back.
With each subsequent visit, the Schweglers, overflowing with quirks and banter, endeared themselves to Nicholas. They ate chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, bewitched his ears with New York accents, argued football, squabbled over Michael Jackson and Barry Manilow tunes, said “pardon me” instead of “excuse me,” complained that Grape Nuts made their teeth ache and knew the pizza delivery boy by name. Above all, no detail, regardless of size, failed to entertain them or escape their notice.
“What happened to your leg?” Paul’s dad asked one day, pointing below Nick’s shorts, above his knee.
“Uh, THAT is a muscle, dear,” his wife answered, unable to suppress a laugh … a laugh that would never be forgotten.
It’s the laughter that Nicholas cherished most. The laughter that meant everything was OK. The laughter that, every visit, without exception, silenced his demons for a few precious hours. The effect it had on his life ” in his sense of worth, in mending his heart, in seeing firsthand the way a family ought to be ” surpassed his adolescent ability to articulate with appropriate gratitude.
“Thank you isn’t enough,” Nicholas says 20 years later, remembering when, trying to find the words to thank Don and Kathy, Paul and Kim Schwegler for opening their door, their lives, their hearts. Unselfishly, and perhaps without knowing it, they began healing a damaged boy … with nothing much, just a Godly portion of kindness, laughter and love.
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