Little Emily/Gabriele

Note:  This is a little boy named Gabriele Karafa–I took his picture about a month ago while covering a kite festival here in Fluvanna County for the paper I work for–The Fluvanna Review. I’ve been trying to find a way to share this adorable little face with my readers and I remembered I had a story I’d written over a year ago about another adorable little (fictional) person and thought I’d just combine them.  Thanks, Orion

Little Emily never really knew her grandfather—he died long before Emily was born. For Emily, Grandpa was mostly stories from her mother and a picture of him on the piano in the family room. He had been killed in the streets of Saigon in 1966 during the Tet Offensive. A member of the 115th MP battalion he went down while re-loading his .45 as the MPs were re-taking the American Embassy. When the fight was over the shattered streets were covered with blood and bodies, hundreds of Asian bodies, dozens of American bodies—Emily’s grandfather one of them.

She had heard the heroic story many times—every year as they drove down to see the black wall with all the names her mother re-told it. This year Emily was in the 2nd grade and now able to recognize the letters and words that made up her grandfather’s name chiseled in granite while her mother stood silently remembering—tears trickling down her cheeks as they always did when they came to this sad, strange place.

Emily always felt sad for her mother—she knew her mom was remembering Grandpa—and she wished she could make her mother feel better. But she never felt like she wanted to cry herself—after all, no one had pushed her or taken something from her or called her a bad name.

After reading her grandfather’s name—with a little girl’s curiosity—she soberly studied the collection of little American flags, folded notes and myriad trinkets that were always there at the base of the wall. She knew not to touch them. Seeing a quick movement out of the corner of her eye Emily turned her head to see a crow standing only a few feet away looking up at her, probably attracted by a shiny object among the offerings left at the wall.

As she watched the curious bird, because he seemed so friendly, she was reminded of two of her favorite movies—Snow White and Cinderella. In those movies the sweet little birds befriended the hapless heroines and helped them on their perilous journeys. Emily began wondering if there had been helping birds in the streets of Saigon that day her grandfather died doing battle with the Viet-Cong. She thought there must not have been or her grandpa wouldn’t have died.

It was cold that day—gray clouds had erased the blue sky that was overhead when they left home that morning. Emily huddled against her mother’s heavy wool coat and, as they walked up the ramp from the black wall, she could hear fluttering and screeching. Ahead and to the right Emily could see the trees at the edge of the National Mall cloaked and bristling with hundreds of black birds materializing out of the gray expanse overhead, settling restlessly into the bare branches.

Emily had been told her grandfather’s spirit was in heaven with God and that heaven was “up there,” somewhere beyond the cold sky–and she wondered if the black birds could fly to heaven and see her grandfather. In her mind’s eye the little girl saw her grandfather’s picture where it sat on the piano in the family room—where it had sat her entire life. She could see clearly her grandfather’s expression which always seemed to her a little sad as he looked resolutely into eternity—so strong and good and right in his green coat with all the pretty, colored thingies on it.

She studied the many tangled branches laden with black, agitated little helpers and the overwhelming realization struck her that they must be there to help someone. Emily suddenly realized her mother was sad because her grandpa was sad—and lonely up there in heaven—he needed some friends so he wouldn’t be lonely.

Emily focused her eyes, focused her thoughts on the on the impatient, chattering birds and abruptly pulling her hand from her mother’s, pointed skyward and blurted out, “Go help Grandpa!,” Immediately the black, shimmering mass rose as one, slowly swirled into the air and disappeared into the chilly, gray sky.

It was a long flight to heaven, Emily knew, but she was confident the birds would get to her grandpa before suppertime.

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