He used to think that duct tape fixed anything. Too bad it didn’t work on humans. Josh would give anything for a kind of duct tape to fix his family.
The water in Josh’s drink bottle sloshed back and forth as they lurched in the stop-and-go traffic. He took a bite of a dry, store-bought, oatmeal cookie. He missed normal—the way life used to be before Mom had her accident. Homemade cookies after school, something besides hot dogs or frozen pizza for supper. But at least Mom was alive. They could quit worrying about whether or not she was going to “make it.” And every evening, after rush hour traffic, they could see her in the hospital.
Josh swallowed the last of his cookie and pulled the computer game from his backpack. “I’ve got a new riddle, Dad,” he said. “What gets bigger the more you take away?”
“Bigger the more you take away. Hmmm. Guess I’ll have to give up on that one.”
“It’s a hole.”
Josh’s dad smiled. “Where did you hear that one?”
“It was on a candy wrapper. I know it’s kind of a little kid’s joke, but I was looking for a joke to tell Mom. You know . . . to cheer her up. Do you think she’ll like it?”
“Sure. Mom could use a good joke about now.”
Josh halfheartedly punched a few buttons on his computer game. “Cody said I shouldn’t joke when my mom is lying in the hospital with her legs paralyzed. Is that right?”
“Actually, I think we could all use a little humor about now,” said Mr. McKay. “It’s been hard since the accident, but it’s going to get better.”
Josh glanced over at his dad. When had those first gray hairs appeared in his father’s dark hair? Josh felt old too. His mom’s accident was making them all feel old.
Josh clicked off his computer game. “Dad, will Mom ever be able to walk again?”
Mr. McKay gripped the steering wheel tighter. “I think so. We talked to the doctor yesterday, and he thinks there’s a good chance she will. But I’m going to let Mom tell you about that.”
Mr. McKay turned off the Denver-Boulder Turnpike. Before long they pulled up to the hospital. Josh tapped his foot as they took the elevator to the eighth floor. Josh tried not to think about the funny hospital smell. He should be getting used to it by now.
Inside Mrs. McKay’s room Josh climbed onto the bed with his mom so she could give him a hug. Her hair tickled his face, but he didn’t care. He told her his joke.
“That’s a good one, Josh,” she said. “I’ll have to tell that one to my therapist tomorrow. He’s always looking for a new joke.”
Josh took out his Swiss army knife and tightened one of the screws on his mom’s hospital bed. “Mom, are you ever going to be able to walk again?” he asked.
“Well, Josh, that’s a good question. We can thank the Lord that my spine was injured where it was. I can use my arms, and that’s such a blessing. But the doctor says if I work very hard, he thinks that I can gain full use of my legs.”
“How long will that take?”
“It’s hard to say. Maybe six months. Maybe a little longer.”
Josh put the screwdriver blade back inside the knife case. “Dad and I can help. I can do extra things besides just taking out the trash and cleaning my room. I can set the table and unload the dishwasher and all kind of things. I’m not a little kid anymore, you know. I may be short, but I’m thirteen and a quarter. I might even be able to cook supper sometime, if you tell me what to do. I could do as good as Dad anyway.”
Mrs. McKay laughed and rumpled his short, blonde hair. “Why? What have you men been eating these days?”
Josh thought about the hot dogs and corn chips they’d had the night before. Mom didn’t need more to worry about. “Well, Dad’s an OK cook,” he said. “But I could learn too.”
Mrs. McKay patted Josh’s arm. “I’m glad you want to help,” she told him. “We are going to need to make some changes. Dr. Palmer wants to send me to a rehabilitation center to help me learn how to walk again. It’s in south Denver, about an hour and a half away from our house. I’m going to need to stay there and work hard every day.”
Oh. So it would be another long time before Mom came home. Normal would have to wait.
“The Lord has provided a good place for me to do my rehab,” Mrs. McKay said. “They’ve even got some very small guest rooms where Dad can stay sometimes. He can do a lot of his work on his computer there and not have to drive to work. I’m going to need him, but he needs to keep up with his job so he can pay hospital bills.”
Josh thought about that. If Mom was going to be in the rehab center and Dad was going to be with her, where did he fit in? “Would Dad come home sometimes?” he asked.
Mrs. McKay smiled. “Actually, Josh, your father and I have been talking about that. For six months or so the two of us are going to be so busy we can hardly be the parents you need us to be. We want to, but sometimes life just doesn’t give us what we want.”
“So? What are you saying?”
“Josh, I like America, but New Zealand is still my home in many ways. Except for your Nana and Granddad, all of my family lives in New Zealand, and you’ve never met them. Neither has Dad. I haven’t been there since I was fifteen. I’ve forgotten so much about it.”
“So you know Uncle Hamish, my favorite uncle? The one I always talk about?”
“The one with the funny name. Yeah.”
“Well, it’s almost spring in New Zealand, and that’ll be lambing season, and Uncle Hamish could use some extra help. He must be lonely too, since Aunt Rosie passed away.”
“You want me to go to New Zealand?”
“Just for six months or so. A year at most. When I’m done with rehab, we’ll come down to get you. Then we’ll take a real family holiday.”
“Which holiday? Christmas? Easter?”
Mrs. McKay laughed. “Vacation. We’ll take a family vacation, which New Zealanders call a holiday. I guess you’ll have to make a few language changes, Josh.”
“Why? I thought they spoke English.”
“They do. It’s just a little different. It’s Kiwi English. New Zealanders are called Kiwis, you know, like kiwi fruit and kiwi birds. And the kind of English they speak is sort of like British English, with some Kiwi words added in.”
“You want me to go to New Zealand and speak some weird kind of English?” Josh asked again.
“Oh, Josh, you’ll love it!” Tears puddled in the corners of Mrs. McKay’s eyes. “It’s clean and green, and it’s got mountains, but no rush hour traffic—not in Southland where Uncle Hamish lives anyway. You can be there in a couple weeks. Late August will practically be spring down there. The wee lambs will be running around the paddocks. The daffodils and rhodies will be blooming.”
“You want me to go live on a sheep ranch? In New Zealand? Down under Australia, almost to Antarctica?”
Tears were running down Mrs. McKay’s face in earnest now. “Oh, Josh, it’s such an opportunity for you. You’ll get to meet your cousins and some aunts and uncles. Oh, I can hardly wait to see them all again!”
Josh looked doubtfully at his father.
“She’s right, Josh,” Mr. McKay said. “Most of the time I forget about Mom’s New Zealand side. We raised you in America and taught you to be an American. You’re a baseball and apple pie guy. Stars and stripes, the whole shebang. But New Zealand is home to Mom. And it’s a part of your heritage that I’m afraid we haven’t paid much attention to. We’ve wanted to take you there—even kept your passport current. But the time never seemed right. Until now.”
Josh fingered the American flag patch on the pocket of his backpack. “So can I skip school for six months?”
Mrs. McKay squeezed Josh’s arm. “No, Josh, that’s the beauty of it. You can go to school in Wylie Bush in the same country school I did.”
“I guess I’m just in time. School starts in just two weeks.”
“Actually, in New Zealand school starts in February, so you’ll be in the middle of the year. But you’re a good student, and the teacher there will work you into whatever they’re doing. It’ll be great. You can meet your cousins. They don’t live at Wylie Bush anymore, but they’re only about an hour away. And you’ll get to know Uncle Hamish and live on the farm.”
Wylie Bush? “But I’m a city guy,” Josh said. “I don’t even know how to milk a cow.”
Mrs. McKay laughed. “Uncle Hamish raises sheep, and he doesn’t milk them. Don’t worry, Josh. There’ll be lots of jobs you can do. Uncle Hamish will teach you anything you need to know. You’ll love him. He’s one of the best pipers in Southland. Maybe he can teach you how to play the bagpipes.”
“Mom, I don’t really think playing bagpipes is much like playing the tuba.”
Josh studied his mom’s face. Suddenly, she didn’t look as old anymore. She looked happier than she had since before the accident. It was good to see her smile again.
Mr. McKay put his arm on Josh’s shoulder. “I know this will mean some big changes for you, Josh,” he said. “But Mom and I have prayed a lot about the whole thing, and this just seems right. We were hoping to go to New Zealand together. This way we’ll go too. It’ll just take us a little longer to get there than it will you. We’re hoping you’ll not only go, but enjoy going . . . under the circumstances. It’ll help us a lot if we know you are happy about going.”
Actually, Josh had lots of doubts about the whole idea. But his mom had always taken care of him. Now she needed him to do this one thing for her. She needed him to be brave and strong so she could concentrate on learning to walk again. “If I play the bagpipes, do I have to wear one of those skirts Scottish men wear?” he asked.
Mr. McKay laughed. “You’re a Scotsman from both sides of the family, Josh. The McKays have just about forgotten what it means to be Scottish. But Uncle Hamish MacGregor will teach you what it means to be Scottish—and a New Zealander.”
“So does Uncle Hamish wear skirts?”
Mrs. McKay came out of her daydreams. “Uncle Hamish only wears kilts when he plays the bagpipes for a parade or a funeral or something.”
“Well, that’s good. Otherwise it’d be kind of scratchy when he rode a horse.”
They all laughed at his joke. “See,” Mr. McKay said, “humor makes us all feel better.”
Mrs. McKay’s grey eyes locked onto Josh’s blue ones. “I know this is kind of sudden, Josh, but your dad and I both feel that it’s the best thing to do under the circumstances. I know you haven’t met Uncle Hamish, but I know you’ll love him. And New Zealand is almost like America, so that won’t be a problem. You will have to travel by yourself, but we’ll ask the airline to have flight attendants look after you.”
Josh sat up as straight and tall as he could. “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll show Uncle Hamish MacGregor that the McKays are brave and strong too.”
“I know you will.” She pushed herself into a more comfortable position with her arms. “Now for lesson number one in Kiwi English. We say McKay the American way here. McKay rhymes with way. But in New Zealand we say it McKie. It rhymes with pie.”
Josh tried it out. “McKie, McKay. I’m Joshua McKie now.”
His mom was not coming home for a long time. Instead he was leaving Denver to move to a little sheep farm in New Zealand with an uncle who had a funny name and wore skirts while playing the bagpipes for funerals. He would have to change his English and mispronounce his name. None of this would seem weird at all, however. It would just be normal.
Normal might take a little getting used to.