If you want to get to Pieville you’ll need a good GPS. That, or a bloodhound. I recommend the latter because if you arrive with your trusty bloodhound, you’ll find you’re in good company. Pieville is not just America, it’s real America. It’s where little black tins of chewing tobacco line store shelves, where NASCAR racing is front page news and where the calendar is divided, not by holidays but by hunting seasons.
And then there are the trailer homes. Plonked here and there on the landscape like they were dropped randomly from a plane flying high overhead without a care in the world. Often surrounded by a universe of broken toys, rusted cars and frayed lawn furniture.
They used to say, “There’s gold in them there hills.” Today, there’s only meth labs mixed with grinding desperation.
“Now, I wanna welcome our new teachah,” the pastor said on Rose’s first week in Pieville. “She comes all the way from the land of boom-ahhh-rangs and kang-gah-roooos!” As Rose listened, she thought to herself, and the land of all my family, all my friends and everything I love. Why on earth did God bring me to this place?
A few months into the school year as Rose arrived at the tiny single room schoolhouse, Holly came running up to her.
“Miss, Miss?” Holly’s earnest young face looked at Rose.
“Yes, Holly . . .”
“Miss, I gotta be off school on Monday.”
“Monday? But you have your spelling test on Monday, Holly.”
“Yeah, but my daaadee needs me Miss.”
“Needs you for what?”
“Needs me for huntin’—you know, Monday’s the start of the raccoon huntin’ season.”
“You cannot be serious Holly! God made the little raccoons; you can’t go out and hunt them.”
“Oh, yes, Miss, but daadee always thanks the Lord for the raccoons. Every single one that he bags. I bet he’s even more thankful for ‘em than you are, Miss!” Holly said with an impish smile.
Rose turned her attention back to the class. “For worship this morning, we’re going to read about heaven. In heaven, there’ll be no death. Which means no hunting.”
Rose looked meaningfully over at Holly who was grinning widely. “And the streets will be paved with gold. The mansions will be beautiful. We’ll be able to have pet lions. At least if we agree to treat them kindly.” Rose looked pointedly again at Holly, who beamed back and raised her hand.
“Miss, is there somewhere else people like my pop and me can go, to do the things we like?” An answer flashed into Rose’s mind but, for once, she left it unsaid.
Holly was a beautiful kid. Big blue eyes. Dirty blond hair that always seemed to stick out at all angles. A cute little nose that turned up ever so slightly. And then there was her big goofy smile, which was, in its own way, endearing. No-one had told Holly to stop sucking her thumb. And maybe growing up in chaos gave her more reason than most to seek the little comfort found there. But with every passing year, her obsessive thumb-sucking had pushed her front teeth forward—to the point that, by fourth grade, they stuck almost horizontally out of her mouth like a cartoon character.
Things had been rough for Holly, even by Pieville standards. When her mum walked out on the family, Holly and her four siblings were left to raise themselves in their dilapidated trailer. Her clothes were often stained. More often than not she arrived at school without having breakfast and with nothing for lunch. And yet, she had an irrepressibility. Like life had given her an extra shot of gumption to take on anything in any way.
Teachers aren’t supposed to have favourites. But Holly? It was pretty hard for Rose not to just love that kid in a special way.
“In heaven,” Rose continued, “there’ll be no killing. And no sickness. No death. And we will be recreated perfect in every way . . .”
As Rose spoke, Holly stopped smiling. Her big blue eyes looked plaintively towards Rose as she slowly reached up and touched her front bucked teeth.
Rose’s eyes met Holly’s, and at that moment, Rose understood. Holly, for all her irrepressible veneer, was as embarrassed as any kid would be with teeth jutting out at such an odd angle.
It was cold that Friday. Christmas wasn’t far away. As the kids ran out to play in their big jackets, Rose had a thought: What if Holly didn’t have to wait for heaven to have her teeth restored? After all, Jesus didn’t just promise us heaven, He brought a little taste of it to Earth with Him. What if, Rose thought, I follow Jesus’ example?
She called the first Christian orthodontist who came to mind and described the situation.
“OK, what kind of insurance does she have?” he asked.
“Well, she doesn’t have insurance. I mean, she’s from a very disadvantaged background . . .”
“OK, that’s no problem.”
For a second, Rose felt elated. What a lovely Christian gentleman! He’d help Holly even without insurance.
But then he continued in his crisp voice, “If she doesn’t have insurance, we’ll just need cash up front. Sounds like a pretty big job so you’ll need $10,000 or so.”
“But . . .”
“Bring the cash, we’ll do the work, it’s that simple,” the orthodontist said with an edge to his voice. Then he hung up.
Merry Christmas to you, you old Scrooge, Rose thought. And then she called her mum in tears. “How on earth am I going to get 10 grand before Christmas?”
After weeks of searching for a more compassionate orthodontist, Rose returned home one day to find a solitary letter in her mailbox. It read simply:
“Thank you for your note. I’m a Christian and I would be honoured to help. But I always feel it’s important for everyone to do their part. So I will meet you half-way. I’ll charge you half the cost. And you will need to raise the other half.”
Raise five grand before Christmas? Well that’s twice as easy as raising 10, thought Rose.
Rose called her mum and they talked through the options. Of course, she’d ask for contributions from Pieville. And come up with fundraising projects. She’d ask friends and family too. Then her mum said, “Tell you what, we’ll start raising money for your little Holly here in Australia.”
“You’d do that Mum?”
“Of course I will!” her mother replied laughing. “It’s almost Christmas, and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?”
A few weeks later, Rose asked Holly to stay a few minutes after school.
“Holly, I’ve got some good news for you.”
“For me, Miss?”
“Yes. Good people from all over Pieville and all the way over in Australia have raised some money, a very good dentist has agreed and together we’re going to get those teeth of yours fixed!”
Holly leapt in the air, screamed and then lunged forward and hugged Rose so tightly she could hardly breathe. As Rose stood there looking down at the mop of dirty blond hair, she heard a noise. Softly at first. Like a squeak. And then louder. And louder. And louder as the squeak turned into big sobs. “Thank you, Miss, thank you,” was all that Holly could muster between her sobs of happiness.
"More often than not she arrived at school without having breakfast and with nothing for lunch."
The school’s Christmas program at the Pieville church was a bit of a mess that year. The trumpet playing boy got nervous and inflicted three minutes of atonal blaring that sounded more like a dying bullfrog than Joy to the World. Kids stumbled over their lines and somehow the shepherds arrived with gold, frankincense and myrrh. And at the apex of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Holly’s cardboard angel wings fell off. Rose winced in silent desperation as the school’s slow train-wreck unfolded.
And then, at the very end, Holly stood up to the microphone, her wings conspicuously reattached with silver duct tape. She smiled, and in the spotlight her braces glittered like all the stars in the night sky. And in a soft but clear voice she read the final reading of the day:
“Jesus said, ‘I am come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.’ This Christmas, may Christ bring abundance into your life, just like He has into mine.”
That’s it, thought Rose, that’s why I’m here… that’s why we’re all here.
James Standish has just finished his first book, Disneyland’s Back Door, a collection of humorous, poignant, faith-affirming stories for kids aged 7-12 and their parents. It’s available at <www.amazon.com>.