All the Years of Her Life


Our the Special English program -- American Stories

Our story today is called "All the years of her life". It was written by Morley Callaghan. Here is Shep O'Neal to tell you the story.

The drug store was beginning to close for the night. Young Alfred Higgins who worked in the store was putting on his coat getting ready to go home. On his way out, he passed Mr. Sam Carl, the little grey-hair man who owned the store. Mr. Carl looked up at Alfred's back as he passed, and said in a very soft voice,

"Just a moment, Alfred, one moment before you go."

Mr. Carl spoke so quietly that it worried Alfred.

"What is it? Mr. Carl."

"Maybe you will be good enough to take a few things out of your pockets and leave them here before you go." said Mr. Carl.

"What things? What are you talking about?"

"You've got a compact and a lipstick and a list two-two of toothpaste in your pockets, Alfred."

"What do you mean?" Alfred answered, "Do you think I'm crazy?" his face got red.

Mr. Carl kept looking at Alfred coldly. Alfred did not know what to say and tried to keep his eyes from meeting the eyes of his boss.

After a few moments he put his hand into his pockets and took out the things he had stolen.

"That is things, Alfred." said Mr. Carl, "and maybe you will be good enough to tell me how long this has been going on."

"This is the first time that I ever took anything."

Mr. Carl was quick to answer, "So now you think you tell me a lie? What kind of food do I look like? I don't know what goes on in my own store. I tell you, you've been doing this for a long time."

Mr. Carl had a strange smile on his face.

"I don't like to call the police," he said, "but maybe I should call your father and let him know I'm going to have to put you in jail."

"My father is not home, he is a printer. He works nights."

"Who is at home." Mr. Carl asked.

"My mother, I think."

Mr. Carl stared to go to the phone. Alfred's fears made him raise his voice. He wanted to show he was afraid of nobody. He acted this way every time he got into trouble. This had happened many times since he left school. At such times he always spoke in a loud voice as he did tonight.

"Just a minute." he said to Mr. Carl, "You don't have to get anybody else into this. You don't have to tell her." Alfred tried to sound big. But * he was like a child. He hoped that someone at home would come quickly to save him. But Mr. Carl was already talking to his mother. He told her to come to the store in a hurry.

Alfred thought his mother would come rushing in, eyes burning with anger. Maybe she would be crying and would push him away when he tried to explain to her. She would make him feel so small. Yet, he wanted her to come quickly before Mr. Carl called in a policeman. Alfred and Mr. Carl waited but said nothing. At last they heard someone at the closed door. Mr. Carl opened it and said, "Come in, Mrs. Hengens." His face was hard and serious.

Alfred's mother came in with a friendly smile on her face and put out her hand to Mr. Carl and said politely.

"I'm Mrs. Higgins, Alfred's mother."

Mr. Carl was surprised at the way she came in. She was very calm, quiet and friendly.

"Is Alfred in trouble?" Mrs. Hengens asked.

"He is. He has been taking things from the store, little things like toothpaste and lipsticks. Things he can easily sell."

Mrs. Higgins looked at her son and said sadly.

"Is it so? Alfred."


"Why have you been doing this?" she asked.

"I've been spending money I believe."

"On what?"

"Going around with the boys, I guess." said Alfred.

Mrs. Higgins put out her hand and touched Mr. Carl's arm with great gentle nails as if she knew just how he felt. She spoke as if she did not want to cause him any more trouble. She said, "If you will just listen to me before doing anything." Her voice was cool and she turned her head away as if she had said too much already. Then she looked again at Mr. Carl with a pleasant smile and asked, "What do you want to do, Mr. Carl?"

"I was going to get a car. This was I should do, call the police."

She answered, "Yes, I think so. It's not for me to save because he is my son. Yet I sometimes think a little good advice is the best thing for a boy at soaking times in his life."

Mrs. Higgins looked like a different woman to her son outspread, there she was with a gentle smile saying,

"I wonder if you don't think it would be better just to let him come home with me. He looks like a big fellow, doesn't he? "

Yet it takes some of the long time to get any senses into their heads.

Mr. Carl had expected Alfred's mother to come in nervously, shaking with fear, asking with wet eyes for mercy for her son. But no, she was most calm and pleasant. And was making Mr. Carl feel guilty. After a time, Mr. Carl was shaking his head in a great * with what she was seeing.

"And of course." he said, " I don't want to be cool. I will tell you what I'll do. Tell your son not to come back here again. And let it go at back. Now was that.". And he warmly shook Mrs. Higgins' hand.

"I will never forget your kindness."

"Sorry we have to meet this way." said Mr. Carl, "but I am glad I got in touch with you. Just want him to do the right thing. That it is all."

"It's better to meet like this than never, isn't it?" she said.

Suddenly they held hands as if they liked each other, as if they had known each other for a long time.

"Good night, sir?"

"Good night, Mrs. Higgins. I'm truly sorry."

Mother and son left. They walked along the street in silence. She took long steps and looked straight in front of her. After a time, Alfred said, "Thank God it turn out to like that never again."

"Be quiet! Don't speak to me, you have shamed me enough have the decency to be quiet."

They reached home at last. Mrs. Higgins took off her coat and without even looking at him, she said to Alfred,

"You are a bad luck. God forgive you! It's one thing after another. Always have them. Why do you stand there so stupidly? Go to bed!"

As she went into kitchen, she said, "Not a word about tonight to your father."

In his bedroom, Alfred heard his mother in the kitchen. There was no shame in him, just pride in his mother's strength. "She was *." he said to himself. He felt he must tell her how * he was. As he got to the kitchen he saw his mother drinking a cup of tea. He was shocked by what he saw. His mother's face as he said was a frightened, broken face. It was not the same cool bright face he saw earlier in the drug store. As Mrs. Segeans lifted the teacup her hands shook. And some of the tea splashed on the table. Her lips moved nervously. She looked very old. He watched his mother without making a sound. The picture of his mother made him want to cry. He felt his youth come into an end. He saw all the troubles he brought his mother in her shaking hand, in the deep lines of worry in her grey face. It seemed to him that this was the first time he had ever really seen his mother.

You have just heard the story "All the years of her life". It was written by Morley Callaghan for the New York magazine. Your storyteller was Shep O'Neal.

Summary of the Story

Sometimes there are moments in a person's life that open a door to revelation; moments when life discloses a great truth that had previously been hidden, and huge personal growth and change suddenly become possible. Such moments are surprising, often unasked for, and may well shake up and transform rigidly held perceptions and beliefs. They may be more valuable for a person than months or years of dull, predictable day-to-day living. Such a moment is the essence of Callaghan's "All the Years of Her Life," which seems like a slight story until the last paragraph, when one single perception on the part of Alfred changes his life completely. There are so many implications in that one moment of heightened perception and understanding that...

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