I loved spending the summer with my grandparents, Amomma and Granddaddy. They had a big old farmhouse and plenty of cows, pigs and chickens to chase. I found many places to play and explore and lots of things to do. Sometimes we would go swimming or fishing in the pond. But the best thing of all was Snowflake, one of their horses. Snowflake was an Appaloosa, almost all white and with a little gray star on her forehead.
My grandparents prepared a wonderful room upstairs for me. Granddaddy said it was made for a princess. He took an old sled and turned it into a bed. Amomma took some fabric and hung it from the ceiling to make a drape that covered the entire bed. It was the perfect place for a princess to play, hide and sleep.
After dinner we all played cards and had a great time together. Since Ammoma and Granddaddy's house didn't have air conditioning, they left the windows open so the cool night breezes could blow through the house. And when there were no breezes, the old box fan that Granddaddy had put in the window kept us cool.
Granddaddy always told me stories at bedtime before we said our prayers and went to sleep. One evening he told me a story about a frog and a goldfish that lived in a golden castle. It was kind of silly, but I liked it anyway.
Later that night while we were all asleep, a terrible storm arose. A loud crash woke me up. I looked out my window and watched as lightning streaked across the sky. The rain was coming down very hard, and the strong wind made the trees outside my window shake. I was really frightened!
Then I heard it. Something was moving very slowly back and forth in my closet, making a scratching noise. Something wanted to get out of my closet!
I was terrified! It seemed like the noise lasted all night, but I stayed in bed and tried to go to sleep.
The next morning at breakfast, Granddaddy asked, "How's my girl today?" When I didn't answer he asked, "What's wrong with you this morning?"
"I can't tell you, Granddaddy, its too scary," I said.
"Okay," he replied, "but if you want to talk about it later, just let me know."
After we finished breakfast we went outside to feed the animals and gather the eggs. I tried my best to put the scary thoughts of the night before out of my mind
About a week later I awoke early in the morning to the sound of something scratching in my closet. I quickly covered my head with the sheets.
The next day we went fishing with Uncle Jack. I loved boat rides, and I especially liked Uncle Jack's boat because it went very fast. We spent all day fishing in his large pond and caught lots of big fish. After a day of fishing and boat riding I was very tired.
I had forgotten all about the scratching noise in my closet until it was time to go to bed.
As Granddaddy and I said our prayers that night, I thought about asking God to help me sleep through the night.
Granddaddy could tell that something was bothering me. "What's bothering you tonight, dear?" he asked.
"It's no big deal," I responded. "I'll be all right."
So he kissed me goodnight and closed the door. Then I pulled the covers up around me, shut my eyes tight and fell asleep.
It seemed as though I had been sleeping for only a short time when Amomma woke me up. "Wake up, dear. Today's the big day!"
Even though it was five o'clock and still dark outside, I was suddenly wide awake. I'd been looking forward to this day for weeks. We were going to spend several days together at the beach!
Every day we played at the beach, swam in the ocean and ate at Toucan's, my favorite place to eat.
As we got ready to leave, I told my grandparents, "This trip has been the best part of my summer vacation, so far!"
We returned to the farmhouse and things went back to normal. Every day I helped with the morning chores of feeding the animals and exercising the horses. I spent the afternoons playing in the woods.
Something was different about the nights though. I no longer wanted to sleep in my room. After several sleepless nights I finally decided that the next day I would talk to Amomma and Granddaddy about the scratching noise in my closet.
That morning I woke up before everyone else and went to the kitchen. The whole house was quiet. When Granddaddy came in to make his morning coffee he was surprised to see me already up.
"Well, little girl, what gets you up so early?" he asked.
"I have to talk to you," I said.
"So what's on your mind, little one?" asked Granddaddy.
"A couple of weeks ago that big storm woke me up, and I couldn't go back to sleep." I began to cry softly, and Granddaddy came over and put his arm around me.
Through the tears I continued, "After the storm had passed I heard scary sounds in my closet."
"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Granddaddy asked.
"I thought you might think I was just being silly or something," I said.
"Bailey, let me tell you a story." Granddaddy cleared his throat and continued, "When I was eight years old my daddy was a pilot in the Air Force. One day he got a phone call from the base commander. My dad was being sent to war. I didn't understand what that meant, but I would soon.
"The next few weeks were very busy as our family prepared for my dad to leave. He knew that he would be gone for a long time--a whole year--and he felt very bad about that. I couldn't really understand everything because I was just a kid. But I remember the day he left. We drove to the base and said goodbye. We were all crying. A lot of other kids were there with their dads, who were also going away, and many of those kids were crying too.
"A couple of months after my dad left, I began to have terrible dreams. Sometimes I dreamed that my dad was flying over the desert and people were shooting at him. Other times I dreamed of buildings being blown up or people shooting guns.
"Before my dad left, he had told me to be strong for Mom, and I had said that I would. So you see, I couldn't tell anyone about my bad dreams because I wouldn't be strong if Mom thought I was afraid. But I felt like I needed to tell somebody or I would explode.
"One day my grandfather O'Pa took me to get a haircut, and we spent a wonderful day together. We stopped at the malt shop and I enjoyed a root beer float. Then we went fishing, but the fish weren't biting. After a while I started thinking about the dreams, and I finally got up the courage to tell O'Pa.
"When I finished telling him about my dreams he said, ‘You know, we can always talk to God, just like we're talking now.'
"‘But I don't know how to talk to God,' I replied.
"‘I have an idea,' O'Pa said. ‘Let's go back to my workshop.'
"O'Pa's workshop was a very special place; he called it the ‘barn.' He liked to make things out of wood and stone, and he worked on old tractors too. He had lots of tools and other great stuff. I know his workshop was his special place because he told me one time that it was the only place where he could hide from my grandmother! I wasn't sure if he was serious or just kidding me.
"When we got to the workshop O'Pa began looking for something. But he wouldn't tell me what it was.
"Suddenly he grinned and said in a loud voice, ‘Aha! Here it is!' He held a small box in his hands.
"‘My grandfather visited many countries during his life,' O'Pa said. ‘His favorite place was China. One time while he was in China he bought this pretty box. It has strange writing on the top and sides, and the inside is lined with gold silk.'
"‘What's the box for?' I asked.
"‘This, my son, is a Secret Thought Box. The writing on it is Chinese. It says, "Ask of the Lord what you will, for He is faithful to those who trust in Him." When your dad was called away to war Grandmother and I prayed for him. We believe that God's protection is with your dad,' O'Pa explained. ‘And God will give us the strength and courage to carry on with our lives while your dad is away.'
"‘So what do you do with the box?' I asked
"'Whenever you have a bad dream or you're feeling sad for some reason, you just raise the lid and whisper your thoughts into the box,' O'Pa told me. ‘Then close the lid quickly because you don't want them to escape before their time. You can collect all your thoughts for a day, a week or even a month. All you have to do is whisper your thoughts into the box.'
"‘When the time is right, you take the Secret Thought Box and say, "God, I have collected all of my secret thoughts and now I'm going to send them up to You. Would You please listen to them and help me?"' O'Pa grinned. ‘It was a great day when I released all my thoughts to God.'"
I was glad to hear Granddaddy's story and to learn that he had been frightened too. While I thought about what he had told me, Granddaddy left the room for a moment.
When he returned he smiled and handed me the Secret Thought Box.
"Bailey, my grandfather O'Pa gave me this box and I want you to have it. Take care of it because it's very special and very old. It has kept my secret thoughts for many years. Put it in a safe place. Every time you have a bad dream or a rough day, or you just need to talk to God, whisper your secret thoughts into the box. When the time is right open the lid and let your thoughts go up to Him."
"Granddaddy, can we do it right now?" I asked with great excitement. "I don't want to be afraid anymore."
"Sure!" he replied.
I took the box and opened it up. Then I whispered into it all my secret thoughts about my fears, my dreams and my friends whose dads who were away in today's war. When I finished I shut the lid very quickly.
"I'm finished! Can we let them go now?" I asked.
"Of course, God always wants to hear from us!" he responded.
I remembered what Granddaddy had told me, so I said, "God, I have collected all my secret thoughts and now I'm going to send them up to You. Would You please listen to them and help me?"
I opened the lid and something amazing happened.
Colorful little lights floated up to the sky. Mixed in with the lights were little puffs of white that looked like snowflakes and little zingy things that flew very fast and made swoops and swirls. It was awesome! Almost instantly, I wasn't afraid anymore. I felt as if all the things I had been afraid of had left and I no longer had to worry about them.
I have never forgotten that day, and I have never stopped using the Secret Thought Box my granddaddy gave me. When I feel like no one likes me, or things frighten me, or I need to talk to someone I get out my Secret Thought Box and begin to whisper into it. Then I send all of my secret thoughts up to God, and He always listens to each one.
Perhaps when I get older I will give each of my grandkids their very own Secret Thought Box, too.
© Mick Grady