Zoe The Only Child: The Thanksgiving Box


As Zoe lay groggy in bed, she thought about yesterday. It was vacation time from school because it was almost Thanksgiving, so Ma had taken her into the big town to get prepared. This year it was their turn to have the family dinner and everyone would be there–all of Zoe’s very favorite relatives!

Auntie Frieda was Ma’s oldest sister and was Zoe’s secret most wonderful Aunt. She brought special treats for Zoe because she knew that sometimes Zoe was sad that she had no brothers and sisters.  There were others too and everyone would laugh, sing, and eat lots of food! Zoe thought there was almost too much food and she never liked that it was sometimes wasted. She had heard in school that there were many people in the world and in our own country that were hungry.

But this year, as Zoe looked out her bedroom window and saw the pretty leaves that were still left on the trees, she wasn’t as happy as last year. Zoe was thinking about what she saw in town yesterday with Ma and she couldn’t stop seeing it in her head.

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It wasn’t often they went into town! It was kind of far away, and Ma said it was crowded and everything was so expensive. “But this time of year is special sweetheart,” she said with a smile, “and maybe we can start our Christmas shopping too.” It was extra special for Zoe to be shopping and spending time with her Mom, so she grabbed her little purse and they had hopped in their old car.

The countryside was so beautiful as they had driven along and Ma played the radio loudly. Sometimes her Mom would sing–Zoe thought her Ma had a really nice voice, but Ma only laughed and said, “You silly doodle, I sing like a goat!”

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Even though Zoe’s tummy was beginning to grumble for breakfast, she still wanted to lie in bed thinking about yesterday’s trip. She liked to daydream and many grownups told Zoe that she seemed older than her real age.

When Ma and Zoe finally had gotten to town it was buzzing with people. It was a much busier place than her small village! There were so many shops, restaurants and lots and lots of PEOPLE! It was almost a little scary to Zoe. But Ma was right with her and held her hand, so off they went.

After they had walked a while down a big street with lots of cars, Zoe had begun to notice something strange. There were very large boxes on the street and in those boxes were blankets. And on those blankets were people.  Zoe had become confused and could not understand why people would be in boxes on the street.

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“Ma,” Zoe turned and pulled on her coat, “why are there people in boxes? It’s cold outside–won’t they get cold? Why aren’t they inside?” “Oh Zoe dear,” her Mother had said sadly, “those people don’t have a place to go inside. They are homeless. They live in those boxes on the street.”

Zoe stopped walking right there when Ma had told her about these people! They lived in boxes? How could that be? This didn’t see fair, wouldn’t they get sick? “But how do they stay warm at night,” cried Zoe getting very upset. “Sometimes they make fires to stay warm and cook their food,” she had said, and Zoe could tell that her Mother was very sad too.

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Wearily, Zoe remembered all this while she lay in bed. “I know I live in a little house and we don’t have much, but I don’t have to live in a box. I guess I am very lucky,” mumbled Zoe out loud. (She often talked to herself).

Finally she got up and Zoe stumbled through the day trying to help Ma get ready, but kept trying to think about what she could do to help the box people. Wanting to help and to see what it was like not having a home or enough to eat, she began to think of an idea.

That night, after Ma was sound asleep, she tip-toed into the shed. Her Ma would never wake up because she was always very tired from working so hard. Zoe remembered that there was a big, huge box left in there from when the man came to bring the new refrigerator! Zoe decided to drag it in the house and sleep in it.

“I want to see what it’s like for those people I saw in the street,” she thought. Zoe knew she could not do it outside or her Mother would be very worried and upset, but at least Zoe would feel how small the space was–how dark and lonely.

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Zoe pulled it in the living room and tugged in some blankets from the couch. She made a little nest inside the box and crawled in. Inside the box, Zoe felt cramped and whispered, “it’s so dark in here. It’s a little creepy and I’m glad the box is in my house.” She thought about all the people living in real boxes outside that very night and drifted off to sleep having bad dreams about people asking her for food.

In the morning Zoe’s Mom came into the living room and saw a big box in the middle of the floor. “Good gracious,” walking slowly toward the box, “what have we here?” With her foot she kicked the side of it. Of course Zoe’s Ma had seen Zoe’s little toes sticking out the end of the box, so guessed who might have been inside.

The tap woke Zoe and she jumped hitting her head on the inside of her box-home. “Ouch,” she snapped, “where am I? Oh wait, I’m in my box, that’s right, I forgot,” said Zoe as she started to wake up.

“Good morning Sweetpea,” Ma said, “what are you up to with this box?” As Zoe crawled out she explained to Ma about wanting to see what it was like to live in a box. Zoe told her it was spooky and dark last night and way too small. “And I wasn’t even outside!” Zoe said understanding how hard it must be for the people in the streets.

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Zoe had learned some things from sleeping in the box, but it wasn’t enough.  She wanted to do more. In her dreams, the people in boxes had been asking for food. She wondered if maybe she could help by giving food too? Now she really had to think hard about what to do next.

In school kids had whispered about a boy named Joey. They said he dressed funny, was too skinny and didn’t like to play with the other kids. Some of the kids said his family was poor  and they didn’t like him because he lived in a trailer. Zoe never thought Joey was any different. She had always tried to play with Joey on the playground, but he always seemed sad and shy. Zoe thought that maybe she shouldn’t bother him because maybe he didn’t want to play with other kids. She wasn’t really sure before, but now she was wondering about Joey.

Zoe was wondering if maybe Joey didn’t have enough food all the time, or maybe he didn’t get to go to town like she did and buy things with his Ma. Maybe being poor meant that your were sad and afraid to be near other kids. Zoe had heard they came here from another country and were all alone, just like she was in the box last night. Alone and scared.

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Suddenly, she had an idea! Maybe she could invite Joey and his family for Thanksgiving! There was always plenty of food–and isn’t that what the Native Americans did way back in history? Aren’t we suppose to share and be grateful for what we have? “I will ask Ma right now,” shouted Zoe as she ran to her Ma skidding into the kitchen.

Zoe told her Mom the great idea she had about inviting Joey’s family. And, because Zoe had the best Ma in the world, she said yes! So now Zoe just had to find his house and invite them.

She knew that he lived at the end of the village and it wasn’t a very long walk. Ma said she would go too just in case Zoe got lost, so off they went hand in hand, hoping to find the right trailer!

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Once they arrived to the street where Joey lived, it was luck that Joey was outside feeding their chickens! Zoe loved all the chickens in the yard and was happy to see her classmate.  “Hey Joey,” Zoe called! “Oh hi Zoe,” Joey said in his shy voice, “what are you doing here?” “My Ma and I know you are new in town and have no family around here and wanted to invite you, your Mom and Dad for Thanksgiving dinner at our house,” Zoe said with a huge grin on her face!

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Just then a door slammed and out came a pretty woman. “Joey, who are these people,” said a woman with long dark hair? “Mama, this is Zoe from school and her Mother. They want us to come for Thanksgiving dinner! Can we Mama, please? Zoe is my friend!”  The woman looked startled and a timid smile came over her face, “Let me ask Papa first, but that is a very nice thing to ask.”

The woman went back inside and in a moment, Joey’s Papa came out too–he was tall and slim with big muscles. “Hello, I am Joseph and this is my wife Carla. We would be so happy to go to Thanksgiving with you. You see I lost my job and it is very hard now. It is like a gift you ask us. This is what makes America great,” Joseph grinned widely!

Ma gave Carla all the important details of the gathering and they waved goodbye. With everthing settled, Ma and Zoe left and walked home. Zoe felt very good. She knew she wasn’t helping all the people in boxes, but she was helping one family. And now she knew that Joey was her friend!

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Thanksgiving day arrived bright and beautiful. All the guests started pouring in the house and it smelled so good. There was lots of food, almost too much! Zoe did not eat meat, but other people did, so there was all sort of stuff to eat. There was turkey, stuffing, vegetables and LOTS of desserts. Zoe hoped this year nothing would be thrown away. Maybe she and Ma could even give the leftovers to Joey and his family!

Zoe was especially thankful this year. She knew that she was a very lucky little girl. She had a home, even though it might be small, it was not a box on a street. Ma made sure she always had enough to eat and she never had to worry that she would be hungry. Zoe had family that loved her like Auntie Frieda. And this year, she had a special gift: she had her new friend Joey. Plus Zoe had learned how good it felt to be nice to other people, and Zoe thought this was the most wonderful part of Thanksgiving she had ever felt!

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Zoe The Only Child: Why Not Me?


The day broke brilliant and warm in the small village where Zoe lived with her Mother. Zoe’s Father had died when she was very small. Her Ma had told her how it had happened, but she always forgot. Or maybe she just didn’t want to remember. Today was one of those days, because today was a special day. Today a special person was coming to visit the little school where Zoe and the other kids went everyday (except on weekends) to learn about all sorts of interesting things.

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Most kids didn’t like school, but Zoe loved it! She loved learning her A, B, C’s and singing songs and especially her wonderful teacher Miss M (she had a very long name, so she told the children to call her Miss M to make it easier). But most of all Zoe loved to learn about the earth and it’s creatures.

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Miss M would bring out books and pictures of animals like turtles and deer and tell the kids all about them. She would talk about the trees, flowers and the sky. Sometimes Zoe would forget she was in school and float away on the back of a dolphin. Miss M would have to say, “Zoe, where are you, are you here in this class?” But Miss M would have a big smile on her face when she said this to Zoe because she knew that Zoe was daydreaming about all the wonderful animals. Miss M told Zoe she had a big imagination, which meant she could make lots of stories in her head.

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Today Miss M had invited a special person to class to talk about the earth. He was a scientist! He knew lots about animals and the world. Zoe was so excited she could hardly eat her breakfast. But Ma made her do it so she wouldn’t get hungry later. After she gobbled it down, Zoe ran to school down the dirt street, kicking up dust as she flew. Zoe was thinking about all the animals the man would talk about and said out loud to herself,  “Maybe the man will even talk about lions?” She often spoke to herself because she had no brothers or sisters and Ma was usually busy. 

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As she burst into the classroom, she looked around to see if the man was there. He had not arrived yet and Miss M told her to be patient. Zoe was never very patient and wiggled and squiggled in her seat until finally, sometime later, she noticed a very tall person with a dark moustache enter the room.

“This, children, is Mr. Goodfoot and he’s here to talk to us about the earth, animals and conservation.” Zoe knew all the words except the last big one, the one that began with a “C”. And Zoe thought the man had a very funny name. It had two words put together.

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The kids hushed while Mr. Goodfoot got his stuff ready–he had pictures that he flashed on a screen. He showed wolves, whales, coyotes, hawks and more. His moustache moved up and down while he talked about how there was no more land for these animals to hunt for their food, how the ocean is dirty and the air thick with smog. The more Zoe listened, the sadder she became.

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Mr. Goodfoot said humans were doing this to the animals, that humans were taking away the places for animals to live and have their babies and grow. Zoe could not understand why this was true? She did not hurt these animals, she loved them. How could she be hurting them? She didn’t see people taking the land, they only lived in their houses. Zoe became very confused.

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“Conservation,” said Mr. Goodfoot, “means we must take care of these animals, the earth, the water and the air, or we will have nothing left, not even animals. Some kinds of animals,” he continued seeming to look right at Zoe,  “are already gone, like the dodo bird.” The room fell silent for a moment. He finished his talk and then the class ended like always.

But Zoe was not the same after his talk. What had started as a beautiful day, was now bleak and dark. Zoe was sad and did not know what to do. The animals she loved were leaving the earth and Mr. Goodfoot seemed to blame her too. Afterall, he had looked right at her! He said all humans were hurting the earth, and Zoe knew she was maybe one of them. Zoe headed home feeling heavy inside, like she was carrying a big stone in her backpack.

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Zoe lay in bed unable to sleep. Tossing and turning that night Zoe tried to think of what she could do. As a child, Zoe felt she was too young and it might be too late anyway. Zoe thought, “I must figure out what I can do to stop it or there will be no animals left when I grow up.” She finally drifted off to sleep filled with dreams of animals calling out to her to help them.

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The next day was Saturday, so there was no school. Zoe decided to visit the village elder. This meant that this person had lived for many, many years. She was a very smart woman, wrinkled and stooped. No-one knew just how old she really was, but many sought her wisdom because she had lived in the village since way before most people could remember.

With drooping shoulders and a heavy heart, Zoe walked along the village streets to the home of Ranela.
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Quiet knocks on Ranela’s door brought scuffling footfalls. The door creaked open and an old woman answered, her warm smile greeted Zoe to enter the little house. “Hello Zoe my dear, what brings you to my home,” said the tiny woman with the long white braid?

With teary eyes and sorrowful words, Zoe murmured, “A man came to my school and told us that we are all killing the animals on earth. I am sad because I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. What can I do?”

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Ranela gently brought Zoe to sit on her comfortable chairs and together they bowed their heads in silence for some moments. Zoe looked up and saw that Ranela seemed have gone to a faraway place as Zoe watched the old woman’s face. Her breathing was steady and slow. Zoe was trying to be patient, but it was always so hard to be quiet and wait for a grownup.

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Finally Ranela looked up. “We are all interconnected like a spider’s web Zoe,” she sighed,  “when something happens at one end, it is felt at the other. When humans plow the land to grow wheat to feed cows that they raise for meat, the land is wasted and could have been used to grow food for humans instead. When humans drive thousands of cars that need fuel, and then a ship breaks carrying the oil that makes gas, the oil gets dumped in the ocean. Then much of the marine life is killed. Everything we do, everything we need, everything we touch has a reaction in nature,” said Ranela tiredly.

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Zoe sat for a minute. What Ranela seemed pretty complicated, but she thought she might understand. Finally, Zoe was ready to speak. “Is it like the time that I forgot to shut the door tight and Buster got out and ran away? Ma was mad because he came home and was hurt.” “Yes, something like that,” said Ranela softly, “you weren’t careful so an animal you loved suffered . Both your Mother and Buster were hurt because you did not remember to shut the door. So you see, everything we do may change another being’s life.” 

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Zoe thought about these words. It seemed scary that little things she did could hurt someone or something else.  “But how can I change these things, I’m only a child,” Zoe asked jumping up from her seat feeling frustrated and frightened?

“Even a child can make a difference,” said Ranela calmly with her deep blue eyes staring into Zoe’s. “You can make choices: you can stop eating animals and by your example others may too. You can study as you grow older to help the earth and all its creatures, go to school to be a scientist like that man or a teacher. And every day you can try to make very little garbage and think hard about what you want, what toys you really need. With everything you do: always remember that is has a consequence somewhere else in this world,” Ranela said firmly!

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“What does consequence mean?” puzzled Zoe.  Ranela looked carefully in Zoe’s young eyes and said, “Whatever you do may change something somewhere else: to an animal, to our water, to the air and to Mother Earth”. So think wisely in all you do,” Ranela smiled.
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With this, Zoe thanked the elder and started on her way home filling with new ideas and more hope. Zoe thought that if she grew up to be someone who would help the animals maybe they wouldn’t all die. Zoe began to think of all the things she could do RIGHT NOW to help her animal friends that spoke to her in the dream. 

She could stop eating meat right away because she never really liked it anyway. Toys were silly and they usually broke and made more garbage to fill the earth, so she would tell Ma to save her money. And maybe she could start teaching her Ma, the kids in school and other people about ‘consequences’ and maybe, just maybe things would start changing. 

Zoe knew this might be hard, and she would have to be patient, but she was brave. She could learn to be patient, her animal friends needed her to be. So with a deep breath she said out loud, maybe even loud enough for someone else to hear, “Someone has to do it, so why not me?” And with that, Zoe skipped back home feeling just like a kangaroo. 

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