"People have died for this country," she said. "People have sacrificed their lives so you could live in peace and freedom, and all that's asked of you is that you take care of it. Stewardship. That's all. You care enough about your community to look after those who aren't as fortunate as you. When you see someone in need, you give. When you see something wrong, you fix it. Because this is your country, it's your community. You can't sit around on your duff waiting for someone else to make it better. It's up to you."
She shook her finger at us, genuinely angry. Suzy and I stared down at our Mary Janes, waiting for something we hadn't heard a thousand times.
"If you girls devoted half the energy you use complaining and bickering to actually doing something for somebody else, I think you'd be amazed at what you can accomplish. So can I count on you? Are you willing to be good stewards for your country?" asked Mother. "Because I'll tell you right now, you're not getting back in that car until I hear you say it. Both of you."
"I'll be a good steward," Suzy responded immediately.
Mother cut her pointed gaze over to me, but I locked my arms in front of my round little middle, sun prickling at the back of my neck. I'm five, I wanted to tell her. Big enough to know I wasn't big enough to do anything huge or meaningful or missionary. But there was no use arguing that angle with Ellie Goodman, Standard Bearer, Doer of Good, Righter of Wrongs, Mitzvah Maven.
Suzy jimmied me with her elbow and hissed, "Just say it so we can go."
"I'll be a good steward," I said without budging the square set of my jaw.
Mother opened the car door. Suzy and I climbed in, thoroughly abashed. Returning to the road before her, Mom steered back into the traffic and proceeded with her errands, and we trooped dutifully, if not cheerfully, behind her. That night, as I lay thinking wistfully about cold hose water in a plastic pool, Suzy bounded onto my bed.
"Nanny! I know what we should do to be good stewards."
"What?" I yawned.
"Variety show." Suzy hatched her brilliant idea like a magician turning a pigeon out of a top hat. "A song-and-dance variety show and you can sing and dance and I'll sell tickets. We'll get everybody to help."
It was an ambitious undertaking, but I had no doubt Suzy could rally all the neighborhood children into cast and crew and sell tickets to all the adults, because everyone loved Suzy and would pretty much give her whatever she asked for. I could belt out all the words to "The Secretary Song." (Remember that great old Rosemary Clooney number with the "bibidi boo bot" chorus?) Just in case, I fortified my stage presence with a Donald Duck hat that actually quacked. A bit of the razzle-dazzle, I figured, to compensate for any vocal prowess that might be slightly lacking.
By noon the next day, all twenty-three children who lived in our neighborhood were on board. Suzy and I were like a couple of Broadway impresarios, auditioning talent, casting acts, herding crew. Suzy had most of the roughneck little boys corralled with her irresistible smile, and I strong-armed the stragglers. A grand theater was jury-rigged, employing the side of our garage as a backdrop. Something right out of a Mickey Rooney movie. Suzy went out and sold sixty-four tickets. That evening, friends and neighbors gathered on the lawn with folding chairs and picnic blankets.