A ten-year-old boy helps his elderly neighbor carry her shopping and in return, she tells him her wonderful stories.
Oliver Carlisle first noticed Mrs. Barlow when he and his parents moved into Wisteria Crescent. She lived in the house across the way and she had a huge black cat. She was also the oldest person Oliver had ever seen.
In the late afternoon, when Oliver came home from sports practice, Mrs. Barlow was always in the garden watering her roses and she would wave at him. That was before Oliver came to her rescue one hot Saturday morning...
Oliver met Mrs. Barlow when he moved to Wisteria Crescent. | Source: Unsplash
The ten-year-old went down to the shops to look at the baseball cards at the vintage sports store, then he saw Mrs. Barlow carrying two heavy shopping bags.
Life rewards the generous of heart.
"Wait!" he cried. "Please, wait!" He quickly caught up with the old lady. "Hey! Can I help you with your shopping?"
Mrs. Barlow stopped and looked down at Oliver. He smiled. "Hello!" she said. "You're the little boy across the street!"
"I'm not so little," Oliver said stoutly. "I can help you!"
"Thank you," Mrs. Barlow said. "That would be a wonderful help!" So Oliver took Mrs. Barlow's shopping bags and walked with her back to Wisteria Crescent.
Oliver helped Mrs. Barlow carry her shopping home. | Source: Unsplash
"Do you like chocolate cake?" Mrs. Barlow asked Oliver and his big smile and enthusiastic nod were answer enough. The old woman led the young boy into her home.
Oliver couldn't believe how cool Mrs. Barlow's house was! There were strange masks and weapons hanging on the walls, and statues of all shapes and sizes everywhere.
"Wow!" Oliver cried. "This is WAY cool!"
Mrs. Barlow laughed. "Do you like my oddities?" she asked. "My husband was an archeologist and I traveled all over the world with him. He collected artifacts and I collected stories."
"Stories?" asked Oliver, surprised. "I never heard of anyone collecting stories."
Mrs. Barlow gave Oliver chocolate cake. | Source: Unsplash
"Yes, indeed!" Mrs. Barlow smiled. "Wonderful, strange stories that were told from mother to child and never written down anywhere. Would you like to hear one?"
Oliver did, and so Mrs. Barlow got him a big slice of chocolate cake and a glass of milk and settled him into a big, comfortable armchair. "This story," she said. "I found in Vietnam..."
Mrs. Barlow told Oliver an incredible story about a strange hairy creature that lived in the treetops and only comes down at night to devour nightmares as they escape through children's windows.
"Like a dream-catcher with teeth!" cried Oliver.
"Exactly!" Mrs. Barlow said.
And just like that, Oliver was hooked. He started visiting Mrs. Barlow on Saturday afternoons and doing little chores for her. His reward was always a slice of cake, a glass of milk, and of course, a story.
Mrs. Barlow told Oliver wonderful stories. | Source: Unsplash
Mrs. Barlow kept thinking that maybe when he turned twelve, Oliver would stop visiting, but he didn't. Oliver turned fifteen and he was still visiting, but by then, Mrs. Barlow was getting very frail, and though she still told her stories, there was no cake. She just couldn't bake anymore.
When Oliver was seventeen and in his final year in high school, Mrs. Barlow fell down and broke her hip. Fortunately, Oliver had promised he'd stop off to show the tuxedo he was wearing to the prom that night.
He was the one who found Mrs. Barlow in the corridor and he called the ambulance. His second call was to his prom date telling her he couldn't make it. Oliver went to the hospital with Mrs. Barlow and he didn't leave her side until they wheeled her into surgery.
Oliver went to the hospital with Mrs. Barlow. | Source: Unsplash
Three days later, Mrs. Barlow's daughter who lived in France arrived. She decided that her mother was too frail to live alone and moved her into an assisted living facility. Unfortunately, it was several hundred miles away, but Oliver still visited Mrs. Barlow twice before leaving for college.
Four years later, Oliver received a phone call from Mrs. Barlow's daughter telling him her mother had passed away. The young man was deeply saddened.
Mrs. Barlow had opened up the world for him, and he cherished the memories of his time with her. But her daughter had a surprise for Oliver. "My mother wanted you to have an old chest of hers," she said.
A few weeks later, the chest arrived. It was a big cedar chest carved with writhing dragons and it had a big bronze lock. When Oliver opened it, he was astounded!
There were dozens and dozens of notebooks, all carefully dated and filled with stories from all over Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Pacific. A treasure trove of stories, the story of the world in stories!
Mrs. Barlow left Oliver a chest full of stories. | Source: Unsplash
Oliver contacted a college friend whose dad was a publisher and talked to him about Mrs. Barlow's stories, and a year later, he was at the launch of the first book of stories written by Mrs. Barlow, with him as editor. The book was called "Songs of the Earth" and it was a huge success.
Oliver donated the proceeds of the book to children's organizations all over the world that promoted literacy and had hundreds of copies of the book delivered to schools all over the USA.
The preface of the book read: "I want every kid to experience the magic I felt as a child, to hear the stories that prove that no matter what our cultural differences may be, our hearts and our love for our children are the same."
I think Mrs. Barlow would have liked that, don't you?
Children from all over the world heard Mrs. Barlow's stories. | Source: Unsplash
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