There once was a little girl so lovely and gentle that everywhere she went flowers bloomed in her footsteps. Her name, quite fittingly, was Bella. Her special gift of flowers, and her gentleness and beauty, made her very well loved everywhere she went. Everyone in the village smiled when they saw her coming down the street. Old men resting on front porches would spring up and offer their arm to escort her wherever she was going, enjoying the fragrance of their lost youth as they slowly walked along. Housewives would bring Bella inside and feed her delicious meals, smiling on her gentle gratitude and feeling their cares lift for a few moments. The old mayor of the village, an avid gardener, often invited Bella to spend time in his gardens, and though his flowers bloomed more beautifully after her visits, his invitations were not wholly selfish. The mayor knew that Bella had no mother and father, and he wanted to be sure that she was well looked after.
Bella was not aware of his concern. She may have had no mother and father, but she did have three older brothers that she lived with in the old family house outside the village. Her brothers were all strong, gifted men, and they loved Bella very dearly. “You are the light of our life,” they told her, and Bella thought that they were very kind to her when she was such a useless thing. What Bella wanted more than anything was to be as splendid and useful as her brothers. Her oldest brother, Henry, was a talented doctor. People said there was healing in his hands, and they called for him whenever there was illness in the village. Her second brother, Gerald, was a genius chef. He had invented no less than fifty-six scrumptious ways to cook potatoes, and all the poor people in the village (who had nothing but potatoes to cook) sang his praises. Bella’s third brother, Joseph, was a master builder. He had built half of the newer houses in the village, and everyone claimed that even a hurricane could not make one of his roofs leak.
Bella loved her brothers and was proud of them. She wished so much that she could help them. She could not go along with Henry on his visits to the sick. He must always move in a hurry, and her legs were too short for keeping up. Gerald, of course, cooked for the whole family, and though he loved to have Bella in the kitchen with him, she was too small to help with the chopping and measuring. Sometimes Joseph would take Bella along to his worksites. He called her his assistant, and she handed him tools, but she knew that he would have worked even faster if she weren’t there. Bella tried to take on other tasks at home. She made the beds, but she was so little she had to crawl on them to tuck in the corners, so they ended up wrinkly instead of smooth and neat. She wanted to wash the windows and scrub the floors, but the buckets of water were too heavy for her. One day she walked back and forth many times wetting a cloth and cleaning what she could. She was so exhausted after several hours of this that she fell asleep before dinner.
Her brothers, tired after a long day of working, found trails of flowers all over the house and Bella curled up on her bed. They smiled and tucked her in and ate their dinner together with the lovely smell of flowers in the air. They felt so refreshed after an hour surrounded by the flowers that they each began to work on a little project to surprise Bella. Henry took Bella’s favorite doll, which had recently been torn by the cat in the barn, and sewed her up with his healing hands. Gerald baked a special cake, taking flavors from Bella’s flowers and blending them in a delicious sweetness. Joseph built a little cradle for Bella’s doll to sleep in, with sturdy rockers and a beautiful carving of flowers all around the edges.
When Bella woke up in the morning, she saw the three gifts sitting beside her bed, her sweet doll, all mended and sleeping in her wonderful cradle next to the table with the tempting cake set out on a plate. She felt so happy and so ashamed at the same time. Happy to have such wonderful brothers who gave her such wonderful presents and ashamed that she had fallen asleep without being useful…again.
That day was Wednesday. On Wednesdays, Bella always went to visit Widow Halloway, who was quite blind and loved to have company. When Bella arrived at the widow’s house, the widow, as always, knew it was her before she even knocked on the door. “Come in, Bella,” she called. Bella smiled. She wondered how the widow did it every time. Of course, it was because the smell of the flowers trailing behind Bella came to the old woman’s sensitive nose, but Bella was so used to the flowers she hardly noticed them any more. Bella had brought Gerald’s cake with her to share with the widow, but as she sat cutting it, she couldn’t help thinking again about how little she deserved such a wonderful gift. “What is wrong, child?” asked the widow. “You are sad today.” Bella told her everything, looking sadly at the table so that she did not notice the old woman’s smile. When she was done, Bella looked up. The widow sat quietly for such a long time that Bella thought she must be very disgusted by Bella’s uselessness. They ate the wonderful cake in silence until it was time for Bella to go home. As Bella went to the door and said good-bye, the widow laid a gnarled hand on Bella’s shoulder and said quietly, “The important thing in life, Bella, is to think about what you can do and not about what you can’t.”
Bella thought about this all the way home. She tried to think about what she could do while she listened to the busy bees visiting the flowers in her trail and sipping the nectar to take home for their honey. She tried not to think about all the things she couldn’t do while she picked flowers from her footprints and left them on the door steps of several friends. But that was just it, she thought, other than the flowers there was nothing special about her at all. Then Bella stopped. Why “other than the flowers”? The flowers were one thing she could do. She had been surrounded by them for so long that they did not seem particularly wonderful any more, but she knew that others enjoyed them. Bella smiled. The flowers were very beautiful. Beauty was not as important as usefulness, but it was something.
So Bella used her gift on purpose. She asked Henry who in the village was sick, and though she could not keep up with him on his rounds, she walked at her own pace to each house, leaving behind the gift of flowers at the bedside of each invalid. She asked Gerald which flowers made the best flavorings and picked those especially to leave with housewives struggling to turn plain food into something tasty for their families. She visited Joseph each time he finished a new house and spent time leaving behind a garden to surprise the new occupants. Beauty, which of course is entirely useful in the things that really matter, went to work. The people in the village had never smiled so often as they did that week. Bella’s brothers had never been so effective in their work as they were that next month. And Bella was happier than she had ever been.