Watching a caterpillar grow into a butterfly renewed her faith.
Shorty ran ahead of me, pulling me the last block to Grandma’s house.
Guess it’s your favorite place in town too, I thought, holding tight to the other end of the leash.
My little terrier and my grandma seemed like the only bright spots in my life that summer I turned thirteen. First my older brother, Phillip, joined the Air Force and left home. Then Dad announced he was getting remarried and selling our farm. We were moving from southeast of Ponca City, Oklahoma, to Purcell, Oklahoma.
I was in a new town with a new stepmother—one who wouldn’t let me go anywhere on my own except to see Grandma, who also lived in Purcell, thank goodness. How could I ever be happy with everything so different?
Shorty barked a greeting. Grandma waved from the lilac bush she was trimming, her blue eyes sparkling behind her gold-framed glasses. “I love having you close,” she said. I offered to help her trim the bushes. I wondered what my best friend back home was doing as I clipped at the leaves. I would never find anyone like her here.
Grandma pointed at a fat, fuzzy caterpillar clinging to the underside of a leaf. “You want to know a secret, Ludie?” she said. Shorty put his paw on her knee, as if listening too. “This caterpillar that God made for us will one day change into a beautiful butterfly.”
“I know,” I said with authority. With all the years I’d spent exploring our farm, I knew my insects. A wave of homesickness washed over me again, followed by a rush of anger at Dad, my stepmother, Phillip—even God. Especially God. He’d ignored my prayers to stop all these changes from happening. But I couldn’t say that to Grandma, who went to church every Sunday and Wednesday.
“This caterpillar will go through lots of stages in her life,” Grandma said. “Not long ago she was a tiny egg. Soon she’ll build a cocoon and become a chrysalis, then a butterfly. Isn’t that a wonder?”
“I guess so,” I said, but it was hard to feel much enthusiasm. It was fine for the caterpillar who could sprout wings and fly away. I was stuck in Purcell practically alone.
Every day for the next few weeks Grandma wondered about the caterpillar’s progress. One morning when I got to her house Grandma stood up from hoeing her garden and grinned. “Is that curly hair of yours the envy of every girl in town?”
“I don’t have one friend here except you and Shorty!” I blurted out. Shorty gazed at me from the weeds, his head tilted sideways in concern.
Grandma leaned sadly on her hoe. “Friends take time,” she said. “And you’re sure to make some once school starts. Speaking of friends, why don’t we check on our caterpillar?”
I followed Grandma to the lilac bush. The caterpillar was no longer on the leaf where we’d first seen her. Maybe she left town, I thought. I wish I could do the same.
“She’s around here somewhere,” said Grandma. “Help me look.” I turned over leaf after leaf, looking for the familiar fuzzy body. “A caterpillar has to eat all day long to prepare for the next stage of life,” said Grandma. “Changing is hard. Sometimes she probably wonders if it’s all worth it. But we know that one day all the hard work is going to get her wings.”
I turned over a leaf and gasped. The caterpillar was resting next to a pile of skin lying on the leaf like a discarded sweater. “Is this her?”
Grandma adjusted her gold-framed glasses. “I’ll bet so. She’s molting. Soon she’ll be a chrysalis.”
“She looks asleep,” I said. “Maybe she’ll never be a butterfly.”
“Our caterpillar just appears quiet,” Grandma said. “It’s all a part of her magical transformation.”
A mournful cry came from the woods beyond Grandma’s house. Shorty’s ears pricked up. “That’s a mourning dove, Shorty,” I told him. “You should know that sound. Don’t you remember how Phillip used to raise those doves on the farm?” The thought of the old days with Phillip brought a lump to my throat as big as a walnut. “I don’t blame you for forgetting. He’s been gone so long.”
“You miss your brother, don’t you,” said Grandma.
“I miss everything!” The walnut in my throat exploded and I burst into tears. “I miss the farm, I miss my animals, I miss my best friend, I miss my brother. Everything’s changed!”
Crawling into my lap, Shorty nuzzled under my chin. Grandma put her arm around me. “Change can be the hardest thing in the world. Why, just look at our caterpillar. Imagine how tired she must be with all the work she’s doing. She’s probably scared too, not knowing how it will turn out. But God is helping her every step of the way.”
“God didn’t help me!” I said. “That’s why I’m so mad at him!”
Grandma is surely going to scold me for speaking that way, I thought. Instead she laughed. “I get mad at him too,” she said. “The best thing to do when you’re angry with God is to keep talking to him until you work it out. He always listens. It makes me feel better.”
I wasn’t sure about Grandma’s advice, but on the way home I gave it a try anyway. “I hate this place,” I said. “I miss the farm and my best friend and Phillip. Shorty misses them too. And he misses being able to chase rabbits and dig for mice.”
Shorty barked in agreement. It felt good to tell God how I felt, even if nothing changed. My step was lighter the closer I got to home. About two blocks away I passed a house with a boy in the yard. He was about my age. “Nice dog,” he said.
“He sure is. His name’s Shorty.”
“My dog’s named Pete,” he said nodding to a mutt now sniffing at Shorty. “I’ve got a mule too.”
“Wow,” I said. “Even I never had a mule back on our farm.”
The boy, whose name was Burt, said he would let me meet his mule. Shorty sure seemed happy on the way home. I think he was looking forward to making friends with Pete.
When I returned to Grandma’s she led me straight to the lilac bush. There was our chrysalis, almost ready to crack open and reveal the butterfly inside. I wonder if Burt’s interested in butterflies at all, I thought as I bent close to look at her. Maybe I’ll stop by his house tomorrow and ask him.
Caterpillars were turning out to be more interesting than I thought. I was thinking so much about the chrysalis when I got home I nearly missed the letter waiting for me by the door.
“It’s from Phillip!” I said, tearing it open. “Sent from the Air Force!”
“When you write him back,” my stepmother said, “be sure to invite him to visit on his next leave.”
Phillip here in Purcell for a visit? It was too good to be true. I ran all the way to Grandma’s the next morning. She had good news too. Under the lilac leaf, our caterpillar had emerged from her chrysalis—no longer a caterpillar but a bright yellow butterfly, her wet wings folded tight against her. “This calls for a celebration,” said Grandma.
Grandma, Shorty and I shared a real feast with apples, green beans, corn, black-eyed peas—all from Grandma’s garden. “Soon that butterfly will be enjoying a brand-new life,” said Grandma.
I saw the yellow butterfly once more. A few weeks before school started the three of us sat on Grandma’s porch when a magnificent yellow and black butterfly landed on the toe of Grandma’s shoe. No one had any doubt it was our caterpillar.
“I’ve never seen a butterfly so grand,” I said. Then the butterfly disappeared into the tiger lilies.
“I think she’ll be happy in her new life,” said Grandma.
“Me too,” I said. Then, more shyly, I told Grandma about my new life. How Shorty and Pete had become good friends. How Burt had promised to walk me to school the first day. How my stepmother had invited Phillip to stay with us. And how my dad was taking me to visit my best friend for three whole days.
“Well, well,” said Grandma. “It looks like our caterpillar isn’t the only one who’s sprouted wings.”
I couldn’t stop the grin spreading over my face as I finally understood what Grandma had been saying all along. Change was hard. Sometimes it was painful. But God had been with me every step of the way.