Wisps of Sunny’s long brown curls twisted in the late summer breeze. Her pink cotton sundress was streaked with dirt, especially the back side, from sitting between the tomato vines in the garden, digging up worms. Her legs were dusty, and her toes were brown from running barefoot through the grass and across the damp soil. They looked like they had been sprinkled with cocoa powder, darker than the golden tan of her shoulders and the glowing bronze of her cheeks. The dirt under her nails and the warm hue of her skin were evidence of the hours she had idled away under the sun that afternoon.
Sunny hummed an original tune as she picked another flower from the yard and added it to her bouquet. She admired her flowers, the deep yellow petals in rich contrast to the brilliant green stems. She had never seen anything more beautiful, she thought. She would give the flowers, so perky and bright, to her mother, who would confirm that they were beautiful, and then Sunny would watch her put them in her most special crystal vase, the one that rarely left the cabinet, except on the days when her daddy gave her mommy a yellow rose and a kiss. Her mother loved yellow.
But just as Sunny turned toward the house, her dimpled hands clutching her yellow flowers, another lovely something in the grass caught her eye. This was like a flower, but it was different, lighter and cottony and sort of like a ball of fluff. Sunny picked it, of course. The breeze caught her curls once again, blowing loose tendrils of hair in front of her eyes. As she brushed the wild strands from her face, she noticed that the breeze had also caught a few delicate petals from her new flower, and the tiny white pieces were gently drifting away in the air. They were lovely, and they reminded her of tiny bubbles floating in the wind, and Sunny immediately had an idea. She took a deep breath and puffed out her cheeks, ready to blow what was left of her flowery puffball into the blue sky. She wanted to watch the petals twirl in the breeze, just like tiny fairies would. At least that’s what she imagined.
“No, Sunny! Don’t!” her dad’s deep voice called to her. Sunny stopped in her tracks, her cheeks full of air, and looked at her father, who was sitting in the yard on his knees with an old metal bucket. He had a long, thin tool with an end like the tongue of a snake in his hand.
Sunny looked at the white puffball in front of her. Everything inside of her said “blow,” but she had a strong desire to please her father, and a healthy bit of fear, as well, and these overrode her instincts. She skipped over to him, the grass tickling her toes, the yellow bouquet in her left hand and the ball of fluff on a stem in the other.
“Why not, Daddy?” she asked.
“Because you are trying to grow weeds, and I am trying to kill them.” He looked up at her and smiled, and she noticed the soil embedded in the deep creases of his big hands, and she noticed that his bucket wasn’t filled with weeds at all. It was filled with the same yellow flowers that she had carefully plucked from the dirt and precisely arranged for her mother, the very same flowers that were in her left hand as she spoke.
“Daddy!” Sunny exclaimed, surprise exploding from her voice. “What are you doing? Why are you tossing those flowers in your bucket?”
“These are weeds, Sunny. We don’t want them in our yard.”
“But they are beautiful! And I love them! And I picked some for Mommy.” She paused. “Why are you being so mean?”
“Awwww, Sunny. Your mommy will love your bouquet. She will love any flowers that you pick for her – because they are from you. And they are yellow. You know she loves yellow, don’t you?”
“Yes. That’s why I picked them.”
“You’re such a thoughtful girl, Sunny.”
“I am thoughtful, Daddy. I’m thinking thoughts right now, actually. I’m thinking about those flowers in your bucket, and I’m thinking that they are not weeds.”
“Sunny, Sweetheart . . . Weeds, well, they will trick you. We didn’t plant these here. We didn’t invite them to our home. Yet they find a way to sneak into our flowerbeds and into our yard, year after year. They hide under our leaves and our grasses. They blend in while they make themselves comfortable. And some of them even deceive us with their beauty. But the truth is that they are weeds, and sometimes we miss the truth of what they are, and sometimes we let them grow very tall and become deeply rooted before we realize that we’ve been deceived. That’s why it’s best to catch the problem early.”
“Why are they so bad, though, Daddy?”
“For one thing, they spread like fire, Sonny.” He wiped the sweat from his forehead, leaving a dirty streak above his brow. “The first weed seems insignificant, but soon that mother weed spawns baby weeds, and before you know it, your one insignificant problem has given birth to many, many others. And then those weeds, fighting for their own survival, they begin to choke out the good things that you’ve sown. They steal the resources that the nourishing vegetables and the beautiful flowers that you’ve planted need to survive.”
“Oh.” Sunny sighed, disheartened.
“You picked those dandelions, Sunny, and they are pretty, right? But that one,” he pointed to the puffball, “is full of dandelion seeds. If you blow them into the air and they float away on the breeze, you are planting more dandelions wherever those seeds land. And guess who gets to dig those up?”
Sunny frowned and dropped the puffball into the pail. But then something occurred to her, and she smiled.
“At least I helped you, Daddy. I picked all of these weeds from the yard. No more weeds!”
“Thank you, Sunny. You picked a lot of them, didn’t you?” He looked into her eyes, and the sun shone on his face, and the lines at the corners as he squinted were familiar and comforting to her. “But this is also very important to know, Sunny, if you want the good things you are planting to flourish and the bad things that are uninvited to stay away.” He grabbed the snake-tongued tool and pushed it into the ground below another dandelion. “You can’t kill a weed just by removing what’s above the surface. You have to dig deep.” He popped the whole dandelion from the ground – the leaves, the flower, and a long, light-colored tail. “You have to get to the very bottom of the deepest root to rid yourself of a problem.”
He pointed to the dandelion’s tail. “Do you see that, Sunny?” She nodded, hanging on his words. “It’s hard sometimes,” he said, “to make that effort, to find what’s down below. But if you don’t, the same weeds will just keep cropping up in your life, over and over again. They will detract from all of the beautiful things that I know you will plant someday, Sunny. They will try to choke them out and kill them. Do you understand?”
Sunny nodded, and she glanced at the yellow flowers in the bucket, and she knew that a dandelion would never look the same again.
“Just because something looks beautiful, Sunny, doesn’t mean that you want it in your garden,” he added, returning to his work. “You should decide what to plant there, and no one else. I hope you choose wisely.”
There was something about this conversation with her dad that felt important, Sunny thought. She would remember it. She didn’t understand it yet, but somehow she knew that it mattered.
Sunny started to reach toward the bucket but stopped. She would still give the bouquet of yellow sunbursts to her mother. If you find out your flowers are weeds, she thought, you might as well make the best of them before planting something new. She headed toward the house in her dirty pink sundress and bare feet, the dandelions, already drooping, gripped snugly in her dimpled hand.
Hey, friends! I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from a fiction project I’ve been working on. I wasn’t planning to share, but, well, I just couldn’t stop myself! If you aren’t following Still Chasing Fireflies on Facebook and Instagram, please do! Thanks for reading, and keep chasing fireflies!