Amber was feeling stressed when she went down to breakfast Friday morning. Her mother must have known she would be, because she was busy making chocolate chip pancakes, Amber’s favorite.
“Today’s the big day,” Mary said as Amber came into the kitchen.
“I know,” Amber said. “I’ll be glad when it’s over. Aren’t you going to work today?”
“No,” Mary said. “I’m taking today off.”
“Why?” Amber asked.
“I just want a day off,” Mary said cheerfully. “I’m entitled to a day off now and then.”
When she had finished her pancakes, Amber went back upstairs to get her book bag. She took a quick peek out the window to check on her bird family. Only two of the babies were in the nest. Amber was worried until she spotted another baby on a lower branch. “I guess you can fly now,” she said to the baby birds. “You’ll be flying away soon, won’t you?”
Amber arrived at school a little early. She went to her classroom and deposited a canvas bag in the back of the room. Then she went to meet Laura and Melissa on the playground.
“Are you ready for your career report?” Laura asked.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Amber said with a sigh. “I thought you were lucky, Melissa, because you get to give yours on the last day, but I don’t think I would want this hanging over my head until then.”
“I haven’t really started on mine yet,” Melissa admitted. “But I still have plenty of time.”
“Don’t wait until the last minute,” Laura warned.
“I won’t,” Melissa said. “I’ll be ready.”
When Ms. McGuire called Amber’s name, she went nervously to the back of the classroom. There she retrieved her canvas bag. On it were the words “US Mail.” As she walked up the isle, she removed envelopes from the canvas bag and handed them, randomly, to some of the students. When she reached the front of the class, she noticed that her mother had come into the classroom and had taken an empty seat near the door. Amber tried to relax a little before beginning her report. She asked the first student, Samantha, to open the envelope. From the envelope, Samantha took a piece of paper. Amber asked her to please read what it said on the paper.
“The US Post Office handles about 177 billion pieces of mail each year,” the student read.
Then she asked the next student, Derrick, who read, “The US Post Office employs about six hundred thousand workers.”
The next student, named Bobby, opened his envelope and read, “The US Post Office does not receive any money from taxes. It operates on the money collected from selling postage stamps.”
When all the envelopes had been opened and read, Amber began her report. “Mail carriers deliver mail by walking a route or by driving a vehicle. The longest route is 176 miles and has 174 mailboxes. The shortest route is only two miles long and has 640 mailboxes. Mail is even delivered to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
“To be a mail carrier, you have to be eighteen years old. You can apply at the post office. Then you will have to take a test. The better you do on the test, the closer you will be to the top of the list. When there is a job opening, three names are chosen from the top of the list. Those people have to pass a physical. One person will be chosen for the job.
“I wanted to bring something to show you, like everyone else did when they gave their reports. I decided to bring a real, live mail carrier. So here she is. This is my friend Betty Jenkins. She delivered the mail for thirty years in Kansas.”
With that, Betty came forward. “I’m glad Amber invited me to come here today, and I was so excited when she told me she was going to do her report on mail carriers. Some people call it snail mail because it is much slower than e-mail. But if you get a birthday card that has money or a gift card in it, you’ll be glad it came by US Mail. Amber asked me what I liked best about my job, and I told her it was meeting the people on my route. They were always glad to see me, even when I delivered bills or bad news.”
When Betty finished talking, she asked if anyone had questions. Students asked her about being chased by dogs and delivering mail in bad weather. As Betty was talking, Amber looked at Ms. McGuire, who gave her two thumbs-up to say she had done a good job.
As Amber took her seat and Betty left the classroom, Ms. McGuire introduced Amber’s mother.
“Mrs. Snyder is an insurance agent,” she said. “I asked her to speak to you today about her career.”
Amber’s mom smiled at her as she walked to the front of the classroom. “Selling insurance may not sound like a glamorous job,” she began, “but there is more to it than just a bunch of paperwork. Insurance agents help families prepare for emergencies and plan for the future. We work closely with our clients to show them ways to best meet their needs. In doing this, we build relationships that last for many years.”
Mary explained to the class about the requirements for becoming an insurance agent. She said that college was not necessary, but many agents have a business or finance degree. She told them that in order to be an agent, you had to pass a state test, just like a lawyer does.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were going to speak to my class today?” Amber asked her mom when she got home.
“Ms. McGuire asked me not to,” Mary said. “She thought it would make you nervous. I asked her to let me speak on the same day that you were giving your report so I could find out what your report was about. You did a very nice job.”
“Ms. McGuire told me later that I got an A on my report.”
“I’m not surprised,” Mary said. “It was a wonderful report, and having Betty Jenkins come to school was brilliant.”
“Betty helped me a lot,” Amber said. “But having her come was my idea.”
Even though the boys had told them not to come to the senior center until ten o’clock, the girls decided to show up at nine. It was a good thing they did because the Three Handy Guys were finished with the mowing and were planning to do the sweeping themselves. Spike was especially surprised to see the girls there so early and gave them a sheepish grin. Once again, Hank was there with his video camera. As the girls walked over, he began putting it away in its case.
“Hi, Hank,” Melissa called to him. “Did you get more video for your documentary?”
“Yes, I did,” Hank said. “I want to show what good work you kids do.”
The Happy Helpers went to the garden shed where Walt had told them they would find three push brooms. They looked around in the shed for about ten minutes without locating the brooms. Behind the door, they saw some lines of dirt that looked like they could have been left by brooms that had been leaning up against the wall. They also noticed a handprint on the wall behind the place where the brooms might have been.
“That handprint looks too small to be Walt’s,” Laura said.
“But it’s not too small to be Spike’s,” Amber added.
“He probably took the brooms so we couldn’t use them,” Melissa said. “There are three old brooms back there. We could use those.”
“It’ll take us longer,” Laura sighed. “But at least we’ll get the sweeping done.”
“That’ll be a shock for Spike,” Amber added. “He won’t get the best of us this time.”
The Happy Helpers carried their brooms out toward the walkways, just as the Three Handy Guys were pushing the mowers toward the garden shed.
“Nice brooms.” Spike laughed. “Did you fly in on those?”
“We wouldn’t have to use these if you hadn’t taken the push brooms,” Amber accused.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Spike said innocently. Chris and Logan looked at him, but he just shrugged.
The girls ignored them all and started sweeping the walkways. The edges of the brooms were uneven, and lots of the straw was missing. That meant that they had to sweep the same area over and over. It took them more than an hour to complete the job. But when they were finished, they stood back and admired their work.
“The walkways look great!” Laura said. “We swept away every rock and piece of grass.”
“Walt should be happy with what we did today,” Amber said proudly. “It was a lot of work with those old brooms, but we did it.”
“We can do anything those boys can do,” Melissa touted. “We just proved that.”
As they returned the brooms to the garden shed, the girls noticed Spike leaning against the wall.
“Do you think he heard us?” Laura asked as they got on their bikes.
“Who cares,” Melissa replied smugly.
The girls had to go to their own homes for lunch, but they agreed to meet at the pond at one o’clock. Laura was already there when Amber rode up on her bike.
“You gave a great report yesterday,” Laura said as they waited for Melissa.
“Thanks.” Amber smiled shyly. “I had a lot of help from Betty Jenkins.”
“She’s so nice,” Laura added. “I’m glad we met her.”
“She told me she misses her granddaughters,” Amber said. “We’re sort of taking their place, I think.”
“Anything interesting in the pond?” Melissa asked as she caught up with her friends.
“We just got here,” Laura told her. “We haven’t looked at the pond yet.” In spite of the spring rain showers, the pond was smaller than it had been the last time they were there. The girls were able to stand on rocks that had been submerged before. Now they could look into deeper parts of the pond. Amber had brought some Ziploc bags to hold any life-forms they wanted to take home for “research.” They spotted some tadpoles that had grown legs and some that were already tiny frogs. There were some other small fish they couldn’t identify. The girls filled the bags with what they could catch.
“What’s that?” Melissa asked, pointing to a yellowish-brown insect that had two long, skinny legs.
“I don’t know,” Laura said. “It looks like it’s swimming on its back.”
“Maybe we can catch it.” Amber grabbed one of the bags and waded into the pond. She made several swipes at the bug, but it was too fast for her. Finally, she gave up and climbed out of the pond.
Back at Amber’s house, the girls deposited their specimens in Amber’s little swimming pool. Then they headed for home.
“I heard you did a great job on your report,” Kyle said at dinner. He had gotten home too late from his away baseball game to hear about it Friday night.
“She was spectacular!” Mary said. “I was so proud of you, Amber.”
“You were a good guest speaker,” Amber said. “I was proud of you too.”
“Then I didn’t embarrass you?” Mary asked.
“No, but I was a little worried when I saw you there.” Amber laughed. “I thought maybe I was in trouble or something.”
“Fred, you worry too much,” John told her. “We’re all proud of you.”
“Find anything interesting at the pond?” Kyle changed the subject.
“We did see this funny-looking bug,” Amber said. “It was sort of light brown with two long legs. I tried to catch it, but it was too fast.”
“Did it swim on its back?” Kyle asked.
“Yes, it did.”
“That’s a backswimmer,” Kyle told her. “It’s a good thing you didn’t catch it. It would sting you like a giant mosquito.”
The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon