The Little Red Truck

models of truck and trees

( Intermediate Level )

Nadine and her son, Vince, had been window shopping all day. Vince spotted a little red truck in the window of the toy shop in the town square. He would love to have it but Vince knew he couldn’t ask his mom. Christmas was just around the corner and would definitely ask Santa for this truck. At his tender young age, he knew things were a little tough this year for them.

Last year Nadine and her husband went through a divorce. She tried to keep things normal for Vince’s sake but it was too difficult.to make ends meet as a single parent. The two ended up moving back to her hometown where she grew up.

Clarksville hadn’t changed much since she was a little girl. Only one thing was missing, her mom. She had passed away two months ago leaving her dad at a loss. Moving back was a no-brainer for all involved. She hoped it would be temporary. She just needs to save enough time to save enough money and get a place of their own.

The first thing was getting a part-time job. She hadn’t worked since she gave birth to Vince. She was determined and talented so she didn’t worry too much. Small towns didn’t offer much in the way of great opportunities. Nadine wasn’t looking for anything special. She just wanted to provide for her son to the best of her abilities.

Her father could watch Vince while she worked and her son would be great company for her father. The loss he had just suffered would soften.

“Did you have fun today in town, Vince?” Grandpa asked as they arrived home. “Yes Grandpa. Mommy and I walked by the toy store and they had many decorations up. There was a sign that said Santa would visit on Sunday. I am going to ask Santa for the red truck I saw in their window. Grandpa, it was the brightest red truck I ever seen!” Little Vince couldn’t contain his excitement.

His grandfather chuckled. “Well maybe you can show it to me someday. I’d love to see this special red truck of yours. Now go upstairs and wash your hands. I heated up some soup for dinner, and I got you those animal shaped saltine crackers you like so much.” Vincent smiled and hurried upstairs to wash up.

Nadine looked at her dad. “I don’t want to disappoint him. I need to find a job dad. At this time of the year it will be difficult to find one. Try not to encourage him. I don’t have the extra money.”

“Santa hears all little boys and little girls wishes, Nadine. You never know.” Her dad smiled, turned and headed to the kitchen. Nadine stood there and shook her head in dismay. He obviously didn’t understand.

Vince talked to his grandfather about the red truck he saw then became preoccupied with the animal saltines in his soup. Nadine ate in silence. She enjoyed hearing her son’s excitement finally. He had taken the break up between her and her husband hard and didn’t quite understand why daddy wasn’t going to be around any longer.

As Nadine tucked her son in bed that night he asked mom if they were going to see Santa on Sunday. “Mom, we are going to see Santa on Sunday right? I want to ask him for that little red truck.”

“Of course we will go but Vince asking Santa for that truck now, so close to Christmas it may be impossible for him to fill the order. His elves work all year to make enough toys for everyone. So don’t get your hopes up ok?”

Vince smiled , “I love you mom.” He turned over and pulled the covers up over his shoulder. “Love you too.” She turned off the lamp by the bedside and headed out the door, closing it quietly behind her.

Nadine’s father was sitting in his favorite chair when she arrived downstairs. He had busied himself reading one of his favorite books, again. “Don’t you ever get tired of reading those books over and over again?”

Her father glanced up and shook his head. “Of course not. Classic books are meant to be read again and again.” He smiled and went back to reading. Nadine spent the remaining part of the evening quietly watching the television.

Today was going to be a big day. Vince and his grandson would head into town to pick out the perfect Christmas tree. Vince had woken up earlier than usual and dressed. He bounded downstairs wanting to get an early start.” You ready Grandpa?”

“It’s way too early . We will leave in a few hours. Maybe you can show me that special red truck today.” Vince took off his coat and mittens to sit down to a bowl of oatmeal his grandfather made for him. The sweet smell of brown sugar made Vince’s mouth water. His mom didn’t like him eating so much sugar but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt.

Finally, Vince and his grandfather headed into town. For Vince it seemed an eternity but it was actually an hour and a half. Vince grabbed his grandfather’s hand and hurried him to the toy store. There in the window sat the infamous red truck. It sat amongst a tiny village and Christmas tree lot.

“See Grandpa, there it is.” Vince’s nose was pressed against the store’s window. “One day, when I grow up, I will own my own red truck. I want it to look just like this one!” Vince’s Grandfather looked down at his grandson. He saw how important this truck was to him. He would need to talk to the shop’s owner before Christmas.

From the toy store the two headed to the tree lot on the edge of town. “I want the tallest and fattest tree ever! “ They both laughed. After running up and down the aisles of trees to choose, Vince picked out the perfect blue spruce. Its needles shimmered the perfect blue green in the morning’s sunlight. It stood nearly ten feet tall.

“I hope we have room for this tree. I think you’ve picked the tallest tree they had here.” Vince was smiling from ear to ear. He couldn’t wait for his mom to see his tree.

After dinner the three decorated the tree. Topping it with Grandma’s favorite angel that grandpa had given her on their first Christmas together. Vince had fallen asleep on the sofa. His day was filled with excitement from the start to the end. Tomorrow will also be an eventful day. Vince would finally get to ask Santa for that little red truck.

Vince and Nadine stood in line to see Santa. Grandpa had told them he couldn’t make it. He had a prior engagement to go to. Of course, Vince was a little upset but he soon forgot as he stood in line with all the other boys and girls.

As they moved closer and closer to the front of the line Vince’s excitement grew. He could hear all the others ask for trains , dolls or a ball. There was something in Santa’s voice that sounded familiar to Vince but he shrugged it off.

He was finally there at the front of the line. He climbed up on Santa’s lap and was asked, “So, what do you want for Christmas, Vince.” Vince looked at Santa in amazement. He knew his name.

Vince looked out at his mom who stood in front with her cell phone recording every moment then at Santa again. ” I want a few things Santa. I want my mom to find a job. I know she worries about this and for my grandpa, I want him not to be so sad anymore. Grandma passed away and he has been very sad. And for me Santa, I want the little red truck I saw in the window at the toy store. Ever since I saw it I have wanted it.

Santa looked out at Vince’s mom and saw tears in her eyes. He thought, what a special young man she raised. “Well Vince, let me see what I can do for you. Merry Christmas.” He hugged Vince and gave him a candy cane as he climbed off of Santa’s lap.

Christmas was in a few days. Vince helped his mom bake sugar cookies and assemble a gingerbread house. The days flew by. Nadine had shown the video to her father of Vince meeting Santa.

“I thought there was something very familiar about this Santa and it wasn’t until I watched it for the second time that I realized you were Santa. I could see it in your eyes. Vince has your eyes.”

Her father looked at her. He smiled and winked. “I have been Santa’s helper for the past six years. It gives me something to do. This year I almost declined until you two came to stay with me.”

Nadine hugged her dad. This Christmas was turning out to be special and surprising. Her own son is selfless, wanting her and grandpa to be happy before him.

Christmas morning Vince had woken early running downstairs to see what Santa had left for him. To his surprise, there on the coffee table sat his little red truck with a tiny Christmas tree wrapped and sitting in its bed.

It wasn’t until years later when Vince headed off to college that he was told his grandfather was Santa that year and that truck signified more to his grandfather then he realized.

His mom told him that he brightened up his grandfather’s life when he most needed it. That one day when he was shown the truck and he picked out the biggest and fattest tree from the lot had given him the will to live on.

To this day, Vince still has that little red truck. Hoping to pass it on to his own son and telling him the story of his own grandfather being Santa’s helper that year.

Written By: Angel

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Thoughts From Angel:

Sometimes, the smallest of treasures can hold the most memories.

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Vocabulary:

tender young age – idiom:  a time in your life when you are still young and lack experience

sake – noun: out of consideration for or in order to help someone

make ends meet – idiom: earn enough money to live without getting into debt

no-brainer -noun: something that requires or involves little or no mental effort

dismay – noun: surprise

preoccupied – adjective: preoccupied

classic – noun: recognized and established value

bounded – verb: walk or run with leaping strides

what (she) didn’t know wouldn’t hurt -idiom: if someone does not know about something, he or she cannot be damaged by it, blamed for it, etc.

eternity – noun: infinite or unending time

infamous – adjective: well known for some bad quality or deed

amongst – preposition: surrounded by; in the company of

shimmered – verb: shine with a soft tremulous light

shrugged it off – phrasal verb: ignore it or treat it as if it is not really important or serious

declined – verb: politely refuse 

selfless – adjective: concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own; unselfish

Question ( s ):

Do you have any holiday memories that you will share with generations to come?


When Life Is Unfair

( Intermediate Level )

Mark had spent most of his life behind bars. His life was quickly taken away from him when he was twenty – one years old. Now at forty – two, he lives free.

If only he could rewind his life to that night he would. The night his life stopped. The night he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Every Friday, after a long week at work, he would go to the local pub near work. He would meet up with a few coworkers, drink a few beers and shoot darts. It was a great way to relax after a long stressful week.

One particular Friday, he remembers, his life and how he knew it, had changed. Something terrible occurred. A fight broke out. In the end, two men were injured and one lay on the floor clinging to life. The police and ambulance were called.

Mark had tried to help the one who was seriously injured. He knew he was one of the regulars at the pub. He had seen him there almost every Friday. As for the other two men, this was the first time he had seen them.

Once the paramedics arrived he let them take over. His work shirt and hands were stained with blood. He drifted over to the bar and began wiping his hands off with a few bar napkins. He was still at the bar when the police arrived.

Eyewitnesses gave their statements. Somehow, Mark had become the number one suspect. He tried desperately to tell the police he was just trying to help and this was a mistake. He was not part of the incident.

As for the three men, two of them were treated at the hospital then sent to the county jail. The other, who was seriously injured, had died on his way to the hospital. All the circumstantial evidence pointed to Mark. And so his fate was sealed.

He consistently told the judge, “It wasn’t me.” His words fell on deaf ears. The twelve jurors had found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. His life changed with one simple word. Guilty.

Mark spent twenty – one years behind prison bars, and now he walks free. His release came as a surprise to him. All the turn-key said to him, ” After new evidence presents itself in your case, you are to be released immediately. On behalf of our State’ we offer our deepest apologies.”

He remembers the day he walked out of prison. He looked up into the sky and felt the warmth of the sun on his face. He had fresh air. The smell of the cell no longer tainted his nostrils.

He didn’t want to stay bitter about what had happened. Instead, he felt he should regain his life back as best as he could.

He needed to find a cheap hotel where he could wash the feeling of the prison off of him. After he cleaned himself up he would find some type of permanent living arrangements.

More than a month has passed since his release. Somehow, he needed to find his path. When life stopped for him, the world outside continued forward. The city had changed. Where would he go? What would he do?

The State had given him a compensation check for his wrongful conviction. He was annoyed by this offering. It would not bring twenty – one years of his life back. He knew, though, he could use this money to get back on the right track.

Finding a job turned out to be very difficult. It seemed every application for employment had the question that asked, “Have you ever been convicted of a crime and found guilty?”

He never had the opportunity to explain the situation. He was never called for an interview. He thought about just writing no as his answer to this question but he was an honest person even after everything he went through.

Mark used his money wisely. He lived in a simply furnished studio apartment. His mother had passed while he was incarcerated so he didn’t have other family members in his city.

Even though he missed out on a lot of living he wanted to get the most out of the rest of his life. He, still, was unsure which direction he should go until one night he was watching the news on the television.

The newscaster spoke,” In a recent fourteen – month investigation of the city’s prison system, documents show that many of the prisons had not prepared their inmates for life on the outside. The money allocated for rehabilitation was not used for this purpose.”

Those inmates who were close to being released should receive training and classes to help them integrate into society once released. There has been a recent increase of repeat offenders going back into the system. The Governor has requested a complete breakdown of the expenses…

Mark turned the television off. The breaking news continued but he had heard enough. He knew at that moment what he was supposed to do. He knew how difficult it was for him to adjust to living on the outside. Now, he wants to help other inmates.

In the next few months, Mark had a lot of planning to do. Who could help? What did he need? Since his lifestyle was simple he had some money left from the compensation check. Now, he could put it to good use.

After sixteen months of meetings, planning, and construction Cecelia’s Halfway House was ready to open its doors. Within a week he would receive his first, newly released, group of inmates.

Many people had volunteered to help him start his journey. A journey he knew would be difficult at times but he wanted to help make a difference and give every inmate a fighting chance to regain a normal life.

He named the halfway house after his mom. It was his way of commemorating her and thanking her for instilling the values she had given him.

When life is unfair, you need to move forward and forget the past and help others along the way.” This was his Momma Cecelia’s way.

Written by: Angel

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Vocabulary:

circumstantial evidence – noun: evidence of facts that the court can draw conclusions from

deaf ears – idiom: to fail to be heard

guilty – adjective: charged with a crime

turn-key -noun: keeper of the keys in a prison; a jailer who presides over inmates

tainted – verb: contaminated or polluted

bitter – adjective: angry, hurt, or resentful 

feeling – noun: emotional state

compensation– noun: money awarded to someone as a gesture for loss

back on the right track – idiom: to move in the right direction

convicted – noun: proof that a person is guilty 

incarcerated – verb: imprisoned or confined

newscaster – noun: a person who reads broadcast news stories

allocated – verb: distribute

integrate – verb: live, coexist and be as one

adjust – verb: to achieve the desired fit, appearance, or result

halfway house – noun: an institute for people with criminal backgrounds to learn the necessary skills to re-integrate into society

commemorating – verb: show respect

Question ( s ):

Has this situation ( wrongfully convicted ) happened in your city or country?

What are your thoughts regarding Mark paying it forward and helping other released inmates adjust to life on the outside?

Homeless

( Intermediate Level )

Each day fades into the next for Benjamin. He lives on the streets and calls the sidewalk his bed. People pass him every day and do not give him a second look as if he is a bad person.

If only they knew him in his past. People would not be so easy to judge him. He keeps his eyes lowered and minds his own business. Trying to survive day to day.

Benjamin, once, was a very successful businessman. He had worked in the downtown business district in New York. Now, he shares the streets with so many other homeless people.

He had a loving wife, Anne, and a beautiful eight year old daughter, Katie, until that tragic day six years ago. A day he wished he could rewind and do it all over again.

He remembers that day as if it was yesterday. He woke up late and had a early business meeting. He was rushing around getting dressed when his wife called up the stairs and said , “Breakfast is ready.”

He immediately yelled back, “No time. I have a meeting and I am running late.” He ran downstairs and grabbed his suitcase.

He looked at his wife who was holding a cup of coffee for him. He shook his head and said, “I will get coffee at the office.” He smiled at his daughter and rushed out the door.

His daughter looked at his wife, with a sad face, and said, “Daddy didn’t say I love you to me.” Anne quickly responded, ” He forgot me, too, but daddy is running late for a special meeting. I know he loves you and he would want you to have a good day at school.”

Katie smiled and continued eating her breakfast. Anne gathered Katie’s homework and stuffed it into Anne’s backpack. ” Come on kiddo, finish up so you can be ready when the bus comes. We don’t want you to be like daddy and run late.

Anne ran upstairs to get her shoes from the bedroom. She would always walk her daughter to the bus stop. Katie quickly followed her up the stairs. She wanted mom to put her hair up in a ponytail.

In the rush of the morning, Anne had forgot to turn off the burner on the stove and take the skillet off the burner. She had made bacon and eggs for breakfast. The pan was too hot to move and she simply forgot to turn off the burner. Her husband had come downstairs just at the moment she had finished cooking the bacon.

As Anne was brushing Katie’s hair up into a ponytail , she looked at her watch and said, “The bus will be here in less than five minutes.

These were Anne’s last words. The hot grease, from the skillet, had started a fire and an explosion soon followed. In a matter of a few moments the house was engulfed in flames.

This was the day that Benjamin’s life had changed completely. He was given word that his wife and daughter had perished in the fire. He lost everything. His life spiraled downward to a bottomless pit of sorrow.

If only he took a few minutes more to sit down and have a few bites of breakfast with his wife and daughter. He may have realized the burner was left on. He took full blame for their deaths. He shouldn’t had been in such a hurry that morning.

He was unable to concentrate at work. His company was sympathetic for a long time following that day but they had to eventually let him go. He had lived at a hotel since the fire but without work and no money he had to find other means to sleep.

In deep state of depression he couldn’t find work. It felt as if he stopped living when he lost his wife and little girl. This is how Benjamin ended up homeless. This was his story.

The people who walked passed him on a daily basis didn’t know his story. If they could, they would avoid him completely. They would cross the street to reach the other side, in order not to have contact with him.

In some ways Benjamin felt he deserved this. Other times, he felt he shouldn’t be judged so quickly. This is human nature, he guessed. You assume before you know the story.

One late autumn evening, he had found a spot to settle down for the night. He tried to give himself a little variety where he would sleep each night. He usually found an area out of the way of heavy pedestrian traffic but close enough to people where he felt safe.

Sometimes people would drop off a few non-perishable food packages or bring him a sandwich and a hot cup of coffee. Whatever he received he was ever so grateful for. He still had his dignity about him. He never wanted to beg. He felt others needed before him and he didn’t deserve.

Benjamin was drifting off to sleep when he felt as if someone was watching him. He looked up and seen a small framed woman around thirty years old standing over him. She said, ” So mister, you want to tell me your name?” .

There was a street light behind her and as he looked up. It was difficult to make out her face. He said. “Benjamin ma’am.” She bent down and said, “Well Benjamin, my name is Annabel but you can call me Ann.” She reached her hand out for a handshake.

Benjamin just stared up at her. He had not heard that name in a long, long time. His mind drifted back to memories of the past until she began to talk again. “I believe everyone deserves a second chance and I am needing workers for my printing factory.”

I am not asking for free labor, you will be paid. Nor am I asking for hard labor. I need a few good hires to supervise the machines, as they print, and keep watch of the place at night. Are you interested?”

Without thinking, Benjamin’s answer was, “Yes, ma’am.” He had sat up by now and saw Ann’s face. She had a warm smile and beautiful chocolate – colored eyes. Just like his Anne.

“Alright then Mister Benjamin. I will be back tomorrow early in the morning. You will not need to worry about anything. You will have simple accommodations at the factory where you can sleep and cook. Nothing fancy but you will stay warm. Once you get on your feet you can make other arrangements to where you want to sleep.”

She turned and glanced back at him before she walked away, “See you tomorrow at seven in the morning. We can discuss all the details on our way to the factory.” She had turned the corner and disappeared.

Benjamin sat there just staring down the street where she had disappeared. He thought to himself, “Out of all the places I decided to hunker down for the night, he had picked this particular spot. What were the odds? Maybe this was the break he was needing. Maybe, this Miss Annabel was sent by Anne to turn his life around.”

Written by: Angel

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Vocabulary:

fades – verb: disappear

judge – verb: opinion or conclusion

district – noun: area of a city

rewind – verb: back to the beginning

ponytail – noun: a hairstyle

engulfed -verb: sweep over something, surround or cover

perished – verb: sudden death

spiraled – verb: continuous and dramatic increase

sorrow – noun: a feeling of deep distress caused by loss

sympathetic – adjective: feeling sympathy

assume – verb: without proof

variety – noun: state of being different 

pedestrian – noun: person or people walking along a road or street 

grateful – adjective: showing an appreciation of kindness

dignity – noun: worthy of honor or respect

hiresnoun: one who is hired

supervise – verb: observe or watch

accommodations – noun: temporary lodgings

on your feet – phrasal verb: well enough

glanced – verb: quick look

hunker down – phrasal verb: stay in one place

particular – adjective: special

Question(s):

Are you quick to judge people by first impressions?

Are there many homeless in your city?

Do you believe people deserve a second chance?

Sarah’s Story

( Intermediate level )

As Sarah lay in her bed, in the dark of night, listening to the clock on the wall she wondered why she was such a failure. Her heart was in the right place, just her choices were not always the best.

She had one failed marriage and, now, is unhappy with her current husband. You see, he was a wonderful man, in the beginning. Always there for her. Sharing the same interests and doing things together.

As the years went by, his drinking became incessive. Starting early in the morning until he passed out at the end of the day. This was, usually, around four or five in the evening . Sarah usually tried to avoid him during the day so the arguments wouldn’t begin.

She thought many times that she was the cause of his drinking. He used to tell her so. He never laid his hands on her but the emotional abuse was real.

Her friends would ask her why she was with such a man. They would tell her she deserved better. She knew if she left him he would surely die. He would drink himself to death. This is why she felt she had to stay.

Many times she would try to talk with him, regarding his drinking. He would just nod his head and tune out. Agreeing with her just to shut her up.

Now, as she lay listening to the clock she felt she could not continue on. Can she make it on her own? Can she move on without guilt? Her days were consumed with misery . Her work was suffering. Something had to change with her situation and it was only her who could make this change.

She saved as much money as she could in the course of the following months. It took about nine months and she, finally, felt she had enough to get away and have a new start.

Sarah kept swaying with her decision, until the very last minute. Should she go or should she stay? She knew if she stayed nothing would change.

While her husband lay passed out on the sofa, Sarah quietly packed one simple suitcase with the barest of necessities to get her by. She quietly took off her wedding ring and laid it on the table.

She chose not to say good-bye but to leave. No arguments or drama. She took one last look at him on the sofa and walked out the door, closing it as softly as she could.

Sarah has not looked back since that day and has made a secluded life for herself. She is content and now has to heal from years of emotional abuse.

She now can lay in bed at night, listening to the clock and her thoughts can wander to what new and exciting things tomorrow will bring.

Written by: Angel

It is never too late to turn the page and start the next chapter in your life.

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Vocabulary :

Incessive: intense , a lot

arguments: opposite views, usually in heated discussion

emotional abuse: a way to control another person by using emotions to criticize, embarrass, shame, blame, or otherwise manipulate another person.

guilt: feeling of doing something wrong

consumed: used up

misery: feeling discomfort of mind or body

decision: making a choice, deciding something

secluded: private, quiet

Question(s):

If you were Sarah, what would you have done differently?