Pam pushed her chair back from the table. She was glad it was Helen’s turn to help with the dishes. But Helen stood up and said, "Come on, Mother. We have to go or we will be late."
"Go where?" Daddy asked.
"It’s Helen’s orchestra practice tonight," Mother told him.
Mr. Young looked at his wife with concern. "You’re tired enough now to call it a day," he said. "If I didn’t have that man coming—"
Mother got up from the table and picked up a few of the dishes. "No, I can take her," she said. "I’ll go on to Aunt Nona’s and wait there until Helen is through."
Pam slipped out of her chair and went quickly to her room while the rest of the family was talking.
The next day was Mother’s birthday, and Pam was painting a card for her. She had finished the design in art class at school. It was a picture of a vase of beautiful red roses, Mother’s favorite flower. Tonight Pam must do the gold lettering.
As Pam worked in her room, she heard the car go out of the driveway. Mother must have stacked the dishes in the sink. She and Helen hadn’t had time to wash them. Pam shrugged and turned to her painting. The dishes were not her responsibility for that night. It was Helen’s turn to help with them. "I LOVE" painted slowly and carefully.
A tapping on the window startled her. But it was only her girl friend, Leslie, who lived across the driveway.
"Come on out," she urged when Pam opened the window. "I have something to show you."
"I can’t. I have to finish the card I’m painting for my mother’s birthday tomorrow."
"Please, Pam. Just for a minute," Leslie pleaded.
"W–well—just for a minute," Pam finally consented.
Leslie had a new bike. She let Pam ride it to the end of the block. When Pam came back, they sat on the front steps and talked until Pam said she must go in and finish her card.
She was settled at her desk again when the doorbell rang. "Not another interruption," she thought impatiently. "I’ll never get this card finished."
But this time it was only the man who had come to see her father.
"YOU" she painted. Then she held the card at arm’s length from her to be sure it looked right. She wished the man visiting her father would go home so she could show the card to her father. She had to sign her name, and then the card would be finished. She shouldn’t have talked to Leslie so long. She was really getting tired and sleepy. Maybe a glass of orange juice would wake her up.
Pam went to the kitchen. In the sink and on the stove were the unwashed dishes and pans. She really had forgotten about them. Of course Mother would do them when she got home, for she would not leave them until morning. There was always too much of a rush then. Instead of getting the orange juice, Pam turned and went slowly back to her room.
At her desk she picked up the card for her mother and read the words she had painted, "I LOVE YOU." Her mouth drew into a troubled pucker, and she frowned as she read the words again, aloud, "I LOVE YOU."
Suddenly Pam put down the card and started back to the kitchen. Glasses first, then silverware, then china; that’s the way Mother liked to have it done. Pam washed and rinsed them carefully but quickly. Finally she had the last pan dried and put away, with only the sink left to clean.
The visitor left and Dad came to the kitchen.
"What are you doing up so late, Pam?" he asked.
"I washed the dishes for Mother," she told him as she made a last clean-up swirl of the dishcloth on the sink.
"Good girl. Tomorrow is Mother’s birthday, you know," Father said.
"I know. Wait a minute," said Pam as she hurried out of the kitchen. She flew to her room and came back with the birthday card.
"That’s lovely," her father told her. "You mean you did the roses and everything?"
"Sure. But I still have to put my name on it," Pam replied.
Her father looked at the kitchen clock and said, "Not tonight, Pam. It’s much too late. If you don’t get it signed at all, Mother will know it’s from you."
In her room, Pam stood by her desk. She was really very sleepy. Maybe her father was right. Maybe the card didn’t need to be signed. She would put it at Mother’s place at the table right now, she suddenly decided. Her mother would see it the first thing in the morning.
She was half-asleep when Mother and Helen came home. She heard Helen go to her room. Then Mother came to Pam’s bedroom door.
"Pammie," she said softly. "Are you awake?"
"Yes," Pam answered sleepily.
Her mother came in and stood by her bed. "It’s wonderful to come home and find all those dishes washed," she said.
Pam wondered if Mother had seen the birthday card on the table.
"And the card is beautiful, just beautiful, Pammie," Mother continued. The words came in jerks as if it might not be easy for Mother to talk.
"I didn’t get it signed." Pam apologized.
"It didn’t need to be," Mother said, and she leaned over and kissed Pam’s forehead. "Even the ‘I LOVE YOU’ wasn’t really necessary, though it’s beautifully done. You see, the dishes had already told me that."
Pam giggled happily and snuggled into her pillow. "As if dishes could talk," she said. But she knew what Mother meant. The best way to tell people you love them is to do something that will help them, like washing a stack of dirty dishes.
Alice M. Cox