SILVER LININGS – by Al Sturgeon



It was a hard night when my eight-year-old daughter heard the news of how our house fared in Katrina. She cried, of course, but we had some good talks. Between tears, I actually made her giggle a little bit, and I knew there was hope.

It was a hard day the next day when she saw her wrecked house for the first time. She was the only one of the four of us to cry that time. I wanted her to see the house, but I didn’t want her to get too close to the windows. I was afraid she would see certain toys and memories in her room that would break her precious heart, so I kept her in the yard at a distance. In a cruel twist of fate, it was there that she saw the lid to the shoebox that had held her prized “bouncy ball” collection. On the lid, in unmistakable kid handwriting, a magic marker had exclaimed, “DO NOT THROW AWAY.” In spite of her daddy’s wishes, this broke her heart anyway.

Then she was good.

At least that’s the way I read her for the longest time. By the weekend of that first week after the storm, she was whisked away to Arkansas to live with grandparents and attend the school I attended when I was her age. She was the star of the show up there. Poor, homeless Hillary. Al’s daughter. She ate this up.

Hillary went on an adventure picking cotton, compiling a video project for her Connections class when she returned to Ocean Springs. She made all sorts of new friends, including an entire class that signed a going-away picture for her at the end of her three weeks with them.

Then, she returned to Mississippi where it didn’t seem she had missed a beat.

School resumed at Magnolia Park Elementary, and life was good. We found it odd that Hillary’s kindergarten teacher, 1st grade teacher, and 2nd grade teacher all lost houses just like her. At least Mrs. Jones was spared the same fate. Nonetheless, Hillary jumped right back into school and hit the ground running.

At the same time, she seemed to be handling our new up-in-the-air lifestyle beautifully. Sure, it disturbed me when her letter to a pen pal in Chicago began by her saying that Hurricane Katrina had changed her life because her daddy worked a lot longer now than he used to work, but I chalked that up to things that shall pass. And when on occasion, we went to see our gutted-out house, she seemed amazing at how she handled the situation. She would see old toys or shoes or movies ground into the ditch, and it fascinated her. She’d practically squeal with delight when she found something she recognized, like a treasure hunter discovering gold.

I missed totally that she was lonely. It was an early November afternoon when she broke enough that I could see it.

“The Group” formed in second grade when Hillary, Christina, and Reagan declared they would be BFF (little girl code for Best Friends Forever). They formed an interesting group: Reagan, the outspoken-yet-undeclared leader, Christina, the quiet one, and Hillary, the glue. They were as tight as second-graders could possibly be, so much so that their separation into different third grade classes did not destroy their connection. They looked for each other at school, and called each other on the phone.

It was only about three weeks into the third grade year when Katrina declared a month-long school break. When the dust settled, or more when the waters receded, Reagan did not return to school. Her family is a military family, and they must have been reassigned. We don’t know where. More importantly, Hillary and Christina do not know where.

It was the afternoon I mentioned earlier when everything came apart at the seams. Hillary asked if she could tell me a secret. When she asked, I was busy as had become usual, but I noticed she asked with that sweet, strong look on her face that said, “I’m trying to be like you, but I really need to burst into tears.” I told her that she could tell me a secret. Before she got out that Christina was moving to Iowa, I had her in my lap, letting her know that she could fall apart and cry so much that it leaves a water line.

The heart-breaking statement I remember was (my heart breaking that is), “Daddy, it is so hard to lose your two best friends.”

Yes, I suppose that it is.

We lost a lot of stuff, but we’re replacing that stuff. In particular, we lost a house, but by the grace of God, we ended up with a better one. But a storm came and stole Hillary’s two best friends away from her. And that’s just not right. I don’t care what you say in return.

Christina has not moved yet, but tonight Hillary wears a homemade bracelet that reads “Forever” on it. She claims that she’s not taking it off except for baths and showers. When I peeked in on her sleeping this morning and saw that round, gaudy piece of paper tied to her little wrist, I just about lost it. Innocence should never have to be removed. I can tell that she’s trying to follow my advice, to enjoy every moment left with Christina instead of mourning in advance. But the day is coming soon. I dread it like cancer.

I know there are reasons behind everything. I have full faith in that. I have to, because left to what I see sometimes, everything else just sucks.


6 Responses to “SILVER LININGS – by Al Sturgeon”

  1. Bob Lollar Says:

    Al, I’ve never met you or your precious daughter. I’m a good friend of DeJon & Ann and Duane. I don’t usually respond to postings but this one “broke my heart”, too. I was trying to think of some profound quote that would give you and indirectly your daughter some comfort. Maybe it’s best to speak from the heart. You’re right: It’s NOT right that Hillary should lose her two best friends. As you were telling the story, my heart ached for her and I said a prayer for her to God that her pain would not be too great. Tell your daughter, that some one in Arizona, whom she has never met, thinks of her as a friend. I know it’s small comfort, by Hillary’s loneliness and pain have reached into my soul and made me realize how valuable friendship is; how wonderful and precious a tender heart can be and how the testimony of an eight-year-old’s story can be a powerful conviction to a 48 year-old who has had a hard heart for too long. Tell Hillary, I will always be her friend. Bob

  2. Capt MidKnight Says:

    As the father of two adopted daughters and now the grandfather of a 3 year old grandaughter, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that nothing can break the heart of a great big strong guy faster than seeing his little girl in pain – whether she’s 8 or 18 or 28. The absolute worst is the pain that you are helpless to be able to relieve. Some wounds only time will heal.

    At least now and for a little while longer, you can hold her in your lap and let her cry on your sholder and tell her that everythng will be all right. I envy you that. My youngest “little girl” is 26 and an E5 in the Navy.

    One of my favorite modern entertainers is Garrison Keillor of Lake Woebegone fame. My wife can’t stand him because he is a story teller, which means he sometimes takes ten minutes to get to the punch line. She looses interest way before that, but I love his characters because I grew up with folks just like them, only in Arkansas instead of Minnesota. In one of my favorite of his “News From Lake Woebegone” stories, he tell how he remembered going fishing with one of his uncles. His uncle didn’t think of taking his nephew out on the lake with his other fishing buddies as anything special, but to an eight or ten year old boy, to get to go fishing with the men and, just for a couple of hours, feel grown up was a gift beyond price, and he still treasured the memory 40 years later. Finally, at the end of his story, he came to the nine words which were the point of the whole exercise:

    “Nothing you do for a child is ever wasted.”

    Keep on doing that “Dad” stuff. None of it is wasted, but you may have to wait a few years to see the results.


  3. Brandon Says:

    I used to not like kids. I stayed away from them as much as possible. The little ones smelled funny, the medium ones had too much energy and got in the way, the older ones just weren’t that much fun… And then I had one! Talk about a “crash course” in love. I never thought I could love something so much. I’m constantly amazed by the innocence, the love, and the curiosity. A day doesn’t go by my wife and I don’t learn something, or rediscover something because of our son. I would gladly take on any pain, physical or emotional, 10 times over for my son. The story of your daughter breaks my heart as well. I’m sorry all this has happend. The best part about being a dad, at least now, is that no matter what difficulties my son faces he comes to me with the expectation that I can fix any problem. Well I’m certainly not Jesus, but what little I’m able to do for him always seems to be just enough. I know God must take care of the rest.

    What “silver lining” do I see? I’m reminded again of how lucky I am, and how precious a GIFT it is to be the father of a child who CHOOSES to come to me when things get rough. Tonight I will thank God for my Ethan, for your Hillary, and for her father, Al.

    Thank God for little kids!

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks Bob and Brandon and El Capitan. It helps a LOT – for me, at least – to just have someone grieve a bit with me. Come to think of it, I guess my doing that with Hillary can help a bit, too.

    Just not enough.

    “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Right?

  5. Annie Says:

    Al, I can’t even tell you how much I cried when I read your post. And not just the first time I read it, but the second and third times too! I could picture every moment as you described them, especially Hillary’s sad, sweet face. It really doesn’t seem right that little girls have to move away from their best friends.

    Being in the Air Force, I had pretty much accepted the fact that we will always move somewhere, make wonderful friends, have lots of fun with them for two or three years, and then move away. Of course, we never really “lose” our friends. I realize that they are friends for life. But even with the technology that has developed to allow us to stay in contact pretty easily, we sometimes go months at a time without talking to our friends from past places. It makes me sad now to think about that.

    Lately, we have been talking about how ready we are to leave Tucson. The conversation always starts with how much we don’t like this or that aspect of Tucson, but it always ends the same way too — about how amazing our church family is here and how wonderful our friends are. Until I read about Hillary’s loss, I was of the mentality that, yeah, I’ll miss my friends, but we’ll keep in touch, right? So farewell, friends…I gotta go.

    But now, when that day approaches sometime next August, I hope to think back to your post, and I hope to think about Hillary’s bracelet, and I pray that I will realize how extraordinary my loss will be when we move away from here. So tell Hillary thank you for me, because she has given us all a wonderful example of how we should cherish a valuable gift from God — our friends.

  6. JD Says:

    beautifully written, Al. the heartbreak of our children really is one of the most difficult things for us to experience. Children have an amazing capacity to love without holding back. They are also much more resiliant than we expect. Love you and your family much.

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