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Guppies

September 23, 2013
How does a woman become immortal in the eyes of a sensitive eight year old boy, so much so that fifty years later he still carries her around in a special corner of his heart? In my case it involved, in addition to a woman, a guppy.

    

It was the last day of school at Briarwood Elementary and my second grade class was already bewitched by the siren call of summer and champing at the bit to race home, banish leather shoes and long pants to the back of the closet and embrace three months of unstructured freedom. Before releasing us, our teacher Mrs. Best asked if anyone wanted to take Mr. Guppy home for the summer. Mr. Guppy, named with a consummate lack of imagination, lived a solitary life in a fishbowl in the back of our classroom. Once there was a Mrs. Guppy but she turned out to be a dude and died over the Christmas break.

    

My hand shot up so fast my arm nearly popped out of its socket. It wasn’t until I was walking home from school with Mr. Guppy sloshing around in a mason jar filled with murky water that I realized no other hands had gone up. Not that I cared. I loved animals and wanted to own a pet store when I grew up.

    

My mother rolled her eyes when she saw my new pet, but since it was flushable if it died, unlike the German Shepherd I begged for constantly, she didn’t raise a protest. I placed the jar on the window ledge in my room, and realized that, in my haste to leave school and start my summer vacation I hadn’t grabbed the guppy food.

    

I ran back to school. The building was deserted, the doors locked. Back home I collected the change in my top drawer, climbed on my Stingray bike and pedaled to nearby Woolworth’s where fish and other small pets were sold. I didn’t have enough money to buy the package of guppy food resembling the one I’d left in the classroom but I had just enough to purchase a small container with “Fish Pellets” written on it. I rode home and dumped five or six pellets into Mr. Guppy’s jar.

    

The next morning there was a knock on my bedroom door and my mother appeared. “Your grandmother is having trouble with her insulin again. Your father and I are heading over to straighten out the problem. Your brother will be back from his sleepover in an hour so stay out of trouble.” With that she was gone.

    

It wasn’t often that I was left alone and the novelty was intoxicating. Then I remembered Mr. Guppy and realized I wasn’t alone after all. Rubbing sleep from my eyes I went to the window ledge. Confused by what I saw, I rubbed my eyes again, hoping the sight before me would vanish and be replaced with something more pleasant. Mr. Guppy was laying belly up on the bottom of the jar, a pellet of food lodged in his mouth, the look of a skinny kid who’d choked to death trying to swallow a whole cantaloupe.

    

I burst into tears. What should I do? I needed an adult. Adults always knew how to fix things but mine weren’t home. So I carried the jar next door and rang the bell. Helen Delgado appeared. “Ricky’s still aslee—what’s wrong, Stephen?” she asked.

    

With tears on my cheeks I held out the jar and explained what had happened. “Can you fix Mr. Guppy?”

     

She peered at the corpse at the bottom of the jar and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

    

I handed over Mr. Guppy and walked home. Later that afternoon, Helen arrived on our front porch. When I opened the door she handed me the surprise of my life, a real fish bowl with glittery sand and a little ceramic castle around which swam a gorgeous fantail goldfish, along with a canister of proper fish flakes. At first I thought she’d transformed colorless, transparent Mr. Guppy into this glorious creature but Helen explained that Mr. Guppy had gone to Heaven and this fish had come to keep me from feeling sad.

    

When I think about it I realize that Helen had only spent a few bucks to spare my tender feelings, but she was married to a drunk and seldom had a dime to spare while raising her four children. On that day long ago she used what little money she had just to cheer me up, and remembering Helen Delgado and her little act of kindness has put a smile on my face for over fifty years.

 

 

 

 

    

                

 

Just another guppy.

 



Comments

33 Comments
It is wonderful what a small gester can do for a child! Good people hide everywhere.
By: Tabor on September 23, 2013
Don't make me get all misty!
By: Cranky on September 23, 2013
Aw, how nice. I don't know why we let kids have fish as pets because they're the most fragile creatures anyone can own.
By: PT Dilloway on September 23, 2013
i just knew, by your opening lines, that it was mrs. delgado you were talking about. what a dear angel that woman was...
By: TexWisGirl on September 23, 2013
This is so cute! Wonderful story. My son got to bring home the classroom tarantula one summer. Oy.
By: Diane Laney Fitzpatrick on September 23, 2013
This reminds me of my son and his first fish...I just didn't replace his.
By: David Walston on September 23, 2013
This reminds me of the story of the goldfish that Bill tells Beatrice in the movie Kill Bill: Volume 2 near the ending. Such an innocent way of describing life and death.
By: Michael Offutt on September 23, 2013
Memories of our childhood and the significant people in our life are always as priceless as your stories are.
By: Anne on September 23, 2013
What a sweet woman!!
By: fishducky on September 23, 2013
God bless Helen Delgado. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 23, 2013
What a sweet gesture and a sweet woman. :)
By: Rita McGregor on September 23, 2013
I'm in love with her too, having read this story now. You look adorably huggable in that photo. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on September 23, 2013
It takes so little to make a child smile, and she was a special lady.
By: mimi on September 23, 2013
awww she was a wonderfully sweet person....lucky you! My son Paul wond a goldfish at the school carnival and had it for years....the fish grew to giant proportions as it was in a huge tank...we all loved that fish.
By: Kathe W. on September 23, 2013
Oh what a wonderful story! Angel points for Mrs. Delgado. I blogged a couple of years ago about my silly kids and their goldfish. :) http://feltsofine.blogspot.com/2010/04/death-row.html
By: Nancy Felt on September 23, 2013
Kids have people they really look up to but sometimes the adults have no Idea how they've influenced the kid.
By: red on September 23, 2013
What a sweet lady she was!
By: Pixel Peeper on September 23, 2013
What a sweet lady Ms. Delgado was. People like that are treasures. We need more treasures.
By: Scott Cody Park on September 23, 2013
What a thoughtful lady. Maybe she needed that, too, because Ricky doesn't sound like the kind of son who would need such a tender gesture.
By: Val on September 23, 2013
What a sweet story! Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous
By: Kellie @ Delightfully Ludicrous on September 23, 2013
Your story answered the question beautifully. Acts of kindness are priceless!
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 23, 2013
What a great story!
By: The Bug on September 24, 2013
I'm filling up! You know how to stir the emotions. A beautiful story.
By: Bryan Jones on September 24, 2013
What a beautiful story. I'm now in love with Helen, too. I hope life got better for her. As for that last photo, you were a handsome devil even then!
By: Mitchell Is Moving on September 24, 2013
You mean you CAN'T flush a German Shepherd??? No WONDER the old man got so hacked off. To say nothing of the dog.
By: Al Penwasser on September 24, 2013
that's another beautifully told story and i have a tear in the corner of my eye. what a lovely gesture. weren't you cute back then?
By: Fran on September 24, 2013
That is such a lovely story. She sounds like a sensitive sweet person....which makes it more than a little sad that she had to put up with the drinking husband. You did say in one of your posts that he dried out at some point, right? I hope so. It sounds like she deserved good things to come her way.
By: Cheryl P. on September 24, 2013
I knew it had to be Helen Delgado from the first paragraph. Lovely story. She was a real gem.
By: Hilary on September 24, 2013
How kind of her ... great story.
By: jenny_o on September 24, 2013
Oh Mrs. Delgado was a dear. What a lovely rememberance for you. Goodness is everywhere. I do believe. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on September 25, 2013
Look how cute you are! I imagine she was probably happy her kid had someone so sweet and honest as a friend. She sounds like a great person. Too bad her life was so hard...
By: Lexa Cain on September 25, 2013
What an incredible story of love and compassion, Stephen! I'm glad that you shared this wonderful post. It will touch many hearts!
By: Michael Manning on September 26, 2013
What a great story, sums up so well how generosity of spirit cannot be measured in monetary terms.
By: John on September 27, 2013

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