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Great-Aunt Shirley Craig This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     At several years past 80, my great-aunt Shirley isan incredibly compassionate and strong woman. Despite experiencing death andpoverty, Shirley continues to provide proof of the heart's endless capacity tolove. Shirley constantly amazes me with her perseverance and desire to embracelife. Whenever I am upset about a bad grade or unfortunate turn of events, Ithink of Shirley to get a better perspective.

One time Shirley and I wentto visit her daughter who was in a nursing home after having a stroke. As wewalked in, Shirley and I saw her daughter falling out of her wheelchair. The aidewho was supposed to be helping with the safety straps was too engrossed in theseason finale of "General Hospital" to do her job properly. Aftermaking sure her daughter was okay, Shirley reprimanded the nurse. "You fool!Heaven forbid I catch you giving anything less than your utmost attention to mydaughter. Do you hear me?" I could barely keep my mouth shut, fearing Iwould burst out laughing or start beaming with pride, seeing my 4'8" great auntwaggling her finger at the woman.

After a visit at her home in New Jersey,I offered to take Shirley out to lunch. Asking where she would like to go. Iexpected her to name one of the many nice restaurants, but to my surprise, shereplied, "Arby's, if that's not too much trouble. Yes, I would love to go toArby's." An inexpensive fast-food joint? I had stopped at McDonald's on mytrip down and found it no big delight. For me, there was no thrill in going toArby's, yet for my great-aunt, Arby's was a treat. She put on her best sweaterand combed her hair while I warmed up the car. Driving there, I realized thatShirley does not often get to go out for lunch. She made me feel I was giving hera meal fit for a queen. While we ate, I filled Shirley in on whatever teenagedrama had occurred that week, and Shirley told me a funny story about her cats.

As I stood to throw things away, Shirley sweetly asked, "Do you mindif I take your packet of honey?" I hesitated, seeing that she had eatenevery last bite of her meal, wondering why she wanted it. Looking into her eyes,I pushed the packet toward her. Shirley thanked me and, along with her ketchupand sugar packages, tucked the honey into her purse. Noticing my quizzical look,Shirley explained, "The homeless shelter rarely has any of these. Peopledonate regular food but forget about the little niceties such as a spoonful ofsugar in coffee or honey in tea." I smiled, impressed with Shirley'singenuity.

As we left, I noticed Arby's had a whole table full ofcondiment packages. Yet Shirley didn't tactlessly hoard those, instead making thedistinction to take only what was hers. I had never thought that a person of suchlittle means could be so giving. However, from watching my great-aunt Shirley, Ihave learned that there is just as much dignity and generosity in the simple actof giving a homeless shelter one's leftover ketchup packet as there is in writinga big check.

Shirley has shown me that everyone can make a difference. Iheld onto that idea as I drove home from Aunt Shirley's house. Her selfless deedswere still on my mind when I stopped to pay a toll. By instinct when the grubby,dirty hand of the toll worker reached out to give me my change, I started torecoil. But a second later, I reached out, took my change and thanked the woman.In a time of materialism, and greed, I am thankful that Shirley has allowed to mesee the world in a new light.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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