Sammy Westfall set her story, “More or Less” (the featured story from our January/February 2014 issue) in the Philippines, where her family lives part of the time. It’s fascinating to get a glimpse of another culture and learn some words in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines, but Sammy’s story is a timeless one that could have been set anywhere in the world. It’s a story about two families of vastly different means. By the end, we have to ask ourselves, which family is rich, and which is poor?
Lina’s family has barely enough money to live. And then her dad loses his job! How will they feed six children and two adults with no money coming in? Lina’s parents have a loving relationship. Her dad wants to get another job right away, but her mom says no, she will get a job this time so the dad can get some rest. Lina’s mom finds a job cooking and cleaning for a wealthy family. She asks Lina to come along to help.
Lina is awestruck by the beautiful mansion the Barkers live in. She envies their wealth. As the day goes along, though, she sees that, in spite of their wealth, the Barkers are not happy. Mrs. Barker has raised her daughter, Claudia, alone. Claudia spends all her time in her room, talking on her cell phone. When she does talk to her mom, she is disrespectful. At dinner, Mrs. Barker and Claudia watch TV instead of talking to each other. By the end of the day, Lina feels sorry for the Barkers.
Back at home, Lina sees everything differently. Her family’s house may be simple, and they may not always have enough to eat, but now she couldn’t care less. Dinner is a happy time, with the whole family joyfully talking and laughing together. Lina knows she has everything she’ll ever need.
One of the powers of great literature is that it can show us truths about life and help us to be better people. Someone may tell us, “Don’t envy other people,” or “Money can’t buy happiness.” Sammy doesn’t tell us, she shows us. We get caught up in the story of Lina and her family. Before we know it, we see the world differently too.