The Luck of the Straw

by Kimberly McKenzie

Janelle couldn’t wait to get to the lunchroom as she picked up her pace. Today was the "Luck of the Straw Day," which was held on the first Tuesday of every month. Mabel had won the pull of the pink straw last month and won $150 dollar gift certificate to the spa. Now of course everyone was a little envious but no one could have deserved this more. Mabel had been working in this here straw factory for over twenty years. You’d never seen her complain one day considering she was the olde st of the bunch. She was near retiring now and Janelle couldn’t imagine working here without her.

When she first came here nearly two years ago, Mabel took her in and showed her the ropes. She had grown accustomed to that warm smile, something Janelle had a hard time doing with everything going on in her life.

"Janelle, we were just going to began without you," Sandy called out waving her to hurry along.

Janelle took a quick peep at her watch, "I still have one minute to spare," she replied as she grabbed a pop from the vending machines. When she made it over to the table everyone was about to burst from excitement as they awaited to began.

"So Mabel how was your day at the spa?" Sandy asked hardly able to sit in her seat.

"Oh, it was absolutely glorious!" Mabel explained telling everyone how she was waited on from head to toe.

Mabel was grinning from ear to ear as her perfect dentures sparkled with the best gloss Janelle had ever seen.

Sandy was sitting over there clapping the whole time. You’d think she was at some type of television show as the "APPLAUSE" light blinked on for the audience to clap. It was a little annoying as Janelle tried to tune her out. She’d never seen no one so hyper in her life, wondering if Sandy needed a dose of Ritalin. And to top it off she had the nerve to frost her hair pink. Just so over dramatic but Sandy was just being herself…just as sweet as she want to be.

"Okay ladies, are you ready to play the luck of the straw?" Mabel asked as she returned the pink straw back in the bunch.

Everyone agreed as they fumbled through the box trying to pick the lucky straw. Janelle was the third person to draw as her eyes nearly sprang out of its socket as she became the lucky straw winner for the month.

"Janelle, you’ve finally won," Sandy screamed as if she were holding the lucky straw.

"I know…it’s hard to believe," Janelle replied in excitement. Maybe it was time for her luck to start changing she prayed to herself. She sure needed it right now as she dug through the second box to claim her prize.

Janelle swung the envelope back and forth in the air like she had just won a million-dollar lottery ticket. Heck, she would be glad to see $150 dollar prize like Mabel had won last month. There were so many things she could do with it but the best part was it was a treat for herself. It was not for the kids or the thousands bills collecting to be paid at home. This was JUST for her. Janelle could taste the victory as her eyes bulged at what she was seeing.

"Girl, what is it?" Sandy motioned hardly able to contain herself.

Janelle smile quickly vanished as she scanned over the note for the fifth time. ‘Your prize for the month is to spend time at the Elderly Care Center for four hours this month. God will reward those who sacrifice to help others.’

"Is this some kind of joke?" Janelle asked reading the note out to everyone at the table. "Who in the world would put this in the box?" she looked trying to catch the guilty culprit. Usually everyone contributed what little money they could scrap up and if they didn’t have anything, they shouldn’t have played the game she thought angrily to herself.

"Janelle, now you know the rules," Mabel responded patting the back of her hand.

That certainly wasn’t going to calm her nerves she growled in disgust. ‘SACRIFICE FOR OTHERS,’ hell she’d been doing that for the last three years. Her husband had died and she had been working two jobs just to make ends meet. She barely had time to spend with her kids, no time for herself, and certainly didn’t have time to be spending in some old folks home.

Janelle was so upset she excused herself from the table without so much as a word. She hiked right out of that lunchroom and headed straight for the ladies room where she broke down in tears. How in the world could she help someone else when she couldn’t even help herself? The tears continued to flood down the corner of her eyes as she felt Mabel’s soothing hand kneed gently across her back.

"Janelle, everyone’s worried about you," Mabel told her. She hated to see her in so much pain. Janelle was like a daughter to her and she tried to help her whenever she could but her stubborn pride always stood in the way. Janelle said ‘she didn’t want to depend on nobody. Had to do everything herself.’ Now how could Mabel argue with that? Her husband had given her everything but when he left out of this world, Janelle had to start from scratch trying to raise two boys and all. She wouldn’t even move back West with her mother, ‘said she was retired now and didn’t want to burden her life in her golden years.’ That pride…well it just stood in the way Mabel thought contemplating whether she should contact her mother. It wasn’t her place but she promised herself she would do so if Janelle life didn’t turn around for the better real soon.

"Mabel, I’m fine," Janelle replied in a scratchy voice. "It’s just everything is hitting me all at once. Tell the ladies I’m fine and definitely will be at the Elder Care Center first thing tomorrow morning," Janelle smiled. The last thing she wanted was for everyone to think she was a sore loser. Somehow she knew Mabel had squared things away before she even left that table to come see about her.

"I know. Now let’s get back to work," Mabel motioned in her motherly tone. "We have to finish packing all these damn straws," she laughed glad to see Janelle do the same.


Janelle could be doing a million other things she thought as she walked through the doors of the Elder Care Center. Some of the old folks straggling through the hall stopped to speak to her. Their faces lit up with joy. Janelle actually felt sorry for them as she gave them a pleasant ‘hello.’ Visitors like herself were probably the only people they ever saw. Their family members probably abandoned them with a million of excuses of not coming as she had contemplated.

"Hi, how can I help you," the receptionist smiled as she directed Janelle to a seat.

"I’m here to volunteer some time."

"Oh, wonderful," the receptionist replied introducing herself as Cynthia. "We need more good people like yourself…bless your heart," she added handing her a quick form to fill out.

Janelle felt a sense of guilt shoot through her body as Cynthia led her down the hall. She didn’t want to be here, not by choice anyway. And the fowl stench traveling through the halls made her want to turn around and run towards the exit door. Hadn’t these people heard of air fresheners Janelle thought as she squinted her nose up? They walked a few more feet before reaching room #204.

"Raymond, I would like you to meet Janelle."

"Oh…oh, thank heavens! You’ve come back to me," Raymond called out loudly with open arms.

Janelle was shocked as the old man eyes filled with tears. To be truthful she was a little bit frightened as Cynthia went over to calm him down.

"Oh, glory, glory…hallelujah," he continued to call out waving his hands in the air.

"Maybe this isn’t a good time," Cynthia spoke.

"Please, let me try," Janelle said coming closer to the bed.

Raymond quickly scooted over and patted the bed for her to sit down. "I’m so glad you’ve came back to me."

"Raymond, who do you think I am?" Janelle asked patting him on the hand. She was quite surprised at her patience and willingness to stay. The old Janelle would have taken Cynthia’s advice and ran straight towards the exit doors but she didn’t. Something about Raymond captured her curiosity as she tried to comfort him.

"You’re my sister…my dear sweet sister."

"I’m sorry but I’m not your sister," she told him. "My name is Janelle Simmons."

"It can’t be. You look just like her," Raymond said running his finger across her cheek. "So beautiful. You haven’t aged a bit."

Janelle shook her head in sadness as she took his hands in hers. She wondered how far in advance his Alzheimer’s was? What a sad disease taking your mind and all the memories one build throughout their lifetime.

"It’s been thirty-six years," he told her.

"Why so long?"

"Stubbornness. I was so stupid back then. I was thinking only of myself, and not caring much about anything else…most importantly my family. Oh, I’m so sorry about splitting the family up."

Janelle was stunned at the information coming from Raymond’s mouth. She couldn’t believe he had been separated from his family for so long because of something so meaningless. Family was everything, she couldn’t imagine taking such special ties for granted. He was certainly paying the price now Janelle thought feeling sorry for him. Whatever happened he didn’t deserve to be alone in his old age.

"So what was your sister’s name?"

"Jasmine Peterson."



"That’s my mother’s name," Janelle said out loud. She looked at Raymond more closely. Could they be related? There was a resemblance but her mother had never mentioned she had a brother before. No, it couldn’t be she thought as she tried to rid the correlation from her mind.

"Janelle, you’re my niece," Raymond cried uncontrollable. "Oh, I’ve lost so much…I don’t even know my family," Raymond sobbed in disbelief. All the anger and carefree attitude over the years had caused him to miss out on so much. If only he could take back the time. If only his family did not fall apart and for what? Something so silly that he could have resolved a long time ago. His sister had reached out so many times but how much rejection could one person take? He hadn’t met her half way and now look at his life…it was near gone.

"Raymond, I think your getting ahead of yourself. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that you have the same last name as my mother," Janelle told him.

"It’s no mistake. I can see your mother in your eyes. A near replica, so beautiful," Raymond replied.

He filled Janelle in on his past. There was no mistake as her own eyes filled with disbelief.

"I can’t believe this. How could mom not tell me of this? It wasn’t her decision to make," Janelle told her long lost uncle. This was just unbelievable, everything was so out of order but that was life. She thanked God for picking the lucky straw of the month. Janelle had truly been blessed as she vowed to get her family back together again.

The Luck of the Straw by Kimberly McKenzie

© Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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