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The deep lines on her face were knitted together in a worried pattern. They were permanent. The wrinkles encapsulated time. There were lines on her forehead that told of illness, and lines that told of late nights. The wrinkles in her brow told of anguish, while the lines around her mouth told of laughter. Though the scrutiny of each line revealed their individual stories, the wrinkles that folded in her skin in a delicate and deep crevasse told a larger story of hope and thankfulness.
Who was this weather-beaten woman? Was she someone important? Did she have great wealth, fame, or fortune? No. Indeed, this shell of a woman that once held youth, vibrancy, and love and that shone from her face was none of these things. She was a forgotten woman. Time ravaged her. She was a woman who was pushed aside and gave everything in private, receiving nothing in return. This woman was alone and lonely. Yet, despite these things, she was happy. Happy to have given and never received from others.
Although I, the narrator of this tale, should be ashamed of myself for saying that she never received anything, in truth, the previous statement is a fallacy. She did receive something—not a physical “something,” but something she can carry with her. She received peace. Oh, the joys of that peace, which brought rest to her troubled heart, were all she ever desired. For this, she was thankful and felt blessed.
The elderly woman pulled herself out of bed, placed her slippers on her feet, dressed, and covered her hair with her blue and white scarf. Gently lifting her long linen dress, she scuffled down the splintering wood floor in the corridor. Entering the kitchen, she watched the rays of sunlight dance upon the hand-painted teapot. She could not resist moving to the little pot and becoming a part of the dancing rays of light. Closing her weary eyes, she stood still, bathing herself in the warm glow of the morning sun. Minutes passed as she stood immovable, listening to nothing but the silence and her strained breath rising and falling. After this brief meditation, the old woman lifted her shaking hands and picked up the little pot. She gingerly poured the tea.
Little else gave her as much joy as quietly sitting in the morning light, drinking her tea, and listening to the birds chirping in the trees. It was during this time that she revisited her memories.
The morning light faded to darkness as she began to close her eyes. A cool breeze washed over her tightly shut eyes. This woman seemed to possess an almost magical ability to close off the rest of the world and return to bygone days. She would replay these memories over and over again to comfort herself in her loneliness. The images of her past would flicker in her mind like a movie. Even now, the sounds of the birds in the trees quickly fade as her memory paints a new scene. Her mind slips to a depth within her that is so deep that no outside influence can reach her.
She sees nothing at first, nothing but darkness. From the background of the endless blackness, a figure begins to step out of the shadows. The figure, upon first inspection, appears to be only a silhouette. Then, as the figure, much like on the stage of a play, steps forward, it is illuminated. The figure is a man carrying a black hat and wearing a large overcoat. From the left of this blackened stage appears another figure, and much like the first, it is a mere shadow until it steps into the light. The newcomer is a woman clad in brilliant white. Her auburn hair falls in loose curls about her waist as she runs to the man calling “John!” John embraces the woman warmly.
A tear falls and rolls down the cheek of the old woman as she watches the lovers walk back into the black stage in her mind.
“Was I ever that pretty?” the old woman asked herself.
The darkness was the only thing that was now visible as she saw the last white piece of her gown disappear with John back into the haunted caverns of her thoughts.
From another corner of her mind came a different memory. It started as a small light that illuminated a corner of a room. The soft light grew stronger before it burst forward, shining on a very domestic scene. There she was in all her former loveliness, holding an infant in her arms and anxiously looking toward her husband, who was pacing the floor. They awaited the doctor’s arrival. The doctor was due at their home several hours earlier, but he did not come. The old woman now envisions a knock on the door. A man with a white beard approaches the mother and child. Bending down, the old doctor looks gravely at the child, who is now very still. Shaking his head, the doctor takes the baby from the sobbing mother’s arms.
The old woman sighs heavily as this recollection pains her to her core. This, much like the first scene, faded into her memory, and another scene began to play.
In the darkness, the old woman watches wars being fought. She sees her former self being forced out of her home by angry soldiers. She sees the memories of herself walking through the streets, taking refuge in the homes of friends. The lights flicker on sights of war and refuge and bring us to another scene. The old woman sees her younger self receiving a telegram. Her heart begins to race as she knows all too well what is contained in that message. The old woman can’t seem to shake the memory of her younger self collapsing into a crumpled mess on the floor. The telegram is still clutched in the young woman’s hand. It read: “Sargent John Fitzgerald is believed to have been killed in action.”
Our wrinkled heroine began sobbing heavily as she watched herself in the visualizations that were replaying in her mind. Tears were now obscuring her vision. Quickly, the old woman wiped away the tears so she could see the figures that were dancing about in a tormented frenzy.
Scene after scene replayed themselves as she saw herself get remarried to a cruel man. She flinched as she relived the blows that had already bruised her body. She grieved for the girl that she once was. Despite this pain, she continued to watch intently as she breathlessly awaited the next scene.
There was a knock on the door, and her younger self crawled through the darkness as the door now became illuminated, and using the doorknob, she pulled herself up. Two men were standing there. The second stood behind the first. The first handed her another telegram. It read: “Sargent John Fitzgerald found. Heading home.”
The second man stepped out from behind the first, revealing himself to be the beloved John. Seeing her battered body, he lifted his bride as she sank to the floor, crying tears of joy. Reclaiming his wife, he took her from the pain filled house, and away from a ruthless husband.
The old woman continued to replay her memories. She watched the reunited lovers as they made their escape to a new city and changed their names. Sadness once again presented itself when she learned that she would be unable to bear any more children. She watched her former self and her husband as they joyfully opened an orphanage. She and John wanted to give their love to children, and since they couldn’t have any of their own, they gave it to those who needed it most.
Memories swirled through her mind as the little ones that she had helped quickly grew, married, left the orphanage, and began new lives.
A final memory began to surface from the depths of her thoughts. She tried to command this memory to leave her mind. It would not go. It was the curse of being able to relive her memories. She could not pick and choose which memories she would see. This time she saw her faithful John, who surrendered to the sleepless slumber of death and readied himself to return to his Lord.
The old woman listened to the final echo of her husband’s tender words of departure. Holding her eyes shut a moment longer, she reflected on all that had been. She was grateful for all of it—the joy, the sorrow, and the pain—for she knew that without it she would never have truly learned to love and trust in all that was good and right.
Rubbing away the tears, she opened her eyes. She could no longer live in a mind filled with mere memories; it was time to open her eyes and once more return to the living. However, what “living” did she have to return to when all that she knew and loved were gone?
When her heavy eyelids fluttered open, she saw something wondrous standing before her. She could not believe what she saw. She thought her eyes were deceiving her. There before her, clothed in brilliant light, was John. He was no longer an old man feeble with illness, but he was strong and young again.
“Abigail, my darling, it is time to come home.”
The old woman, who shall from here on out be rightfully called Abigail, stood up and took her husband’s outstretched hand. As she did so, she noticed her hand. It was no longer shriveled and worn from years of work; it too was young and filled with health. Abigail and John embraced once more.
“It is time to go home, my love.”
Abigail smiled through her tears of joy and nodded happily. Before she left, however, she sprightly walked over to her former self. The self that was left clutching her teacup was sleeping in a unawakenable sleep. Abigail looked at the shell of her old, wrinkled self-seeing just how sad and lonely she had become. Pitying her aged self, she gingerly walked to the shell of the woman she had become, kissed her own forehead, and walked into the light with her beloved John.
The aged body of Abigail now no longer looked sad; she was finally at peace and thankful for the life that she led.
Thankfulness isn’t always about being thankful for everything going right in life. Thankfulness often comes from mere moments of joy spread out over a lifetime. Abigail focused on those whom she helped and trusted that no matter what happened in life, she must take time to find happiness in even the smallest of moments.
This Thanksgiving, no matter the pain that you are in, I hope there is one joyful moment that you can look upon with thankfulness.
Until next time when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
Stories connect us. They help us understand one another. The right story can be like a never-ending melody; even when the tune is finished, the memory of its sweet notes lingers. Christina understood the impact of stories, for she was a storyteller. Taking a simple memory and breathing life into it, filling it with the richness of her experiences. Her voice had the wisdom and experience of a woman who lived a thousand years while still possessing a spark of her bygone child-like enthusiasm. It was no wonder then that little Hopi sat in front of this storyteller, as if one was entranced by a snake charmer. There was something so innocent yet sad about Christina. Hopi sensed it. She was drawn toward the old lady, as true kindred spirits often are. Maybe it was that Hopi noticed that no one else paid attention to the aged lady; maybe it was simply that she knew that they both needed a friend. Regardless, Hopi hung on every word Christina said as she spun her very simple memory.
“I walked home that day looking down at my feet. I just couldn’t help but admire my new shoes. They were black patent leather, so shiny that I could see my face in them. Papa saved up an entire year for those shoes. They were a size too big, but at the rate I was growing, they would last an entire year. No matter how careful I was, I kept kicking up dust along our dirt road. The dust got all over my new shoes. I desperately tried to wipe them clean. Shoes are only new for one day, you know. I decided that the only way to keep my Mary Janes clean was to carefully unbuckle them and place them in the pockets of my dress. I looked down at my feet and my skin looked ashy under the sandy dirt. It was only about a mile uphill to our little shack, so I walked barefoot the rest of the way home. It wasn’t the first time I did this, so I carefully watched out for all the “biting rocks,” as I called them. You know, the kind of rock that feels like it’s ripping a chunk of flesh from your foot when you step on it? After carefully avoiding the last of the biting rocks, I opened the door, and I was greeted with the biggest surprise anyone could ever get. A man was standing in the middle of our freshly cleaned one-room home. On one side of him stood my father, and on the other side stood a stranger. Can you guess what he was holding?” asked the elderly woman.
“Noooo, Ms. Christina, what was it?” Hopi had large dark eyes and curly hair, which was tied in two long spiraling pigtails. She was slight in stature and often appeared younger than she was. The eight-year-old was staring at her storyteller expectantly.
“It was the biggest, shiniest cello I ever saw. I had always wanted to play the cello, and Papa and Mama knew it. The whole world knew it. I dreamed that one day I would be the best cello player that the world had ever known. I didn’t want to be just what they called a “Jazz Cat”. I wanted to be a classical musician and be like those fancy ladies that I would watch on the black and white TVs that were in the department store windows. I wanted to be just like Sissieretta Jones…”
“Who is that?” asked Hopi, impatiently waiting to get back to her friend’s story.
“Oh, child,” continued the old lady. “Sissieretta Jones was the first black woman to headline a concert on the main stage at Carnegie Hall. How I dreamed of being as glamorous as she was and of playing my cello and having people of all colors listen as I played beautiful music. ” Christina sighed as her dreams of grandeur resurfaced.
“Why does it matter what color you are to have people listen to you?”
“Because back when I was a little girl, different races rarely mixed in society. If you and I grew up together, we wouldn’t have been allowed to go to the same school. “
“How horrible! How could people keep best friends like you and me apart? ” Hopi was indignant at Christina’s last remark.
With this, the elderly woman laughed and felt for the head of her companion to stroke her curly hair.
“Well child, that is a story for another day. Let’s finish this one first, shall we? “
The little girl nodded in agreement and laid her head on the old lady’s shoulder. Hopi picked up Christina’s little brooch that dangled off the elderly woman’s red jacket and turned it over. The broach was scratched from years of wear, and beneath its once clear case were two faded pictures. On one side, the brooch held a picture of her late husband, and on the other side, a very old photograph of her father.
The old lady thought for a moment before beginning again with her story. “Where was I? Oh yes, Papa had been acting very suspiciously for several months, disappearing at night and coming home for just a few hours each morning before he had to leave for work.
Papa took another job so he could buy me my very own cello, and the man holding it was going to give me a year of free lessons. I was so delighted that I danced around the room. I spun so hard that my shoes, which were still in my pockets, flew out and landed on the floor right in front of Mama! Mama looked at me with that eye of hers that told me that I was going to get a scolding when our guest left. You see, it was starting to get cold out and I wasn’t supposed to take my shoes off. “
Christina was suddenly interrupted by a soft voice coming from behind the two friends. The voice came from none other than Hopi’s mother. “Excuse me, Ms. Christina, for interrupting. Hopi, I am glad you and Ms. Christina are having such a good time, but it is time that we go home. It is getting late. “
“But Mama,” whined Hopi, “Ms. Christina is just getting to the good part!”
“Oh, child, I will be at church next week. We can finish the story then. Run along and do as your mother says. “
“OK,” Kissing the old lady on top of her head, the little girl said, “Goodbye, Ms. Christina I can’t wait to see you next week! “
This made the old lady smile, and a little tear formed as she quietly said, partially to Hopi, but more to herself, “Me too, child.” She listened as she heard her little companion walk out of the building hand in hand with her mother. Closing her eyes, Christina sighed deeply, and, in her heart, she longed for the next weekend to hurry and arrive. The old lady was now living a very lonely life. Hopi, though only a child herself, understood this about the woman and wanted nothing more than to bring her a little joy.
On the long car ride home, Hopi chatted with her parents and sister about the story that Ms. Christina was telling her.
When she was through, Hopi’s father asked her, “You like talking with your friend, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, Daddy! That’s the best part of Saturdays. I like to go and get us snacks and sit and listen to her stories. Daddy, how come no one else ever talks to her? She is the most interesting lady I have ever met! “
“I don’t know, baby, maybe no one else knows how cool she is,” replied the child’s father.
“I don’t think I can wait until next week to hear the rest of the story! The kids at school like to hear about Ms. Christina. Sometimes I tell some of the stories she tells me to my friend Zuri. Do you think Ms. Christina could come over for my birthday this year? “
“I think she would like that very much!” replied her mother.
The long week finally passed, and it was again time for church. Hopi jumped out of bed, put on her clothes, and sat by the door while she watched everyone get ready for their hour-long drive to services. She could hardly wait to see her friend and to hear what happened after Ms. Christina got her cello.
After the last prayer was said, everyone gathered and mingled while sipping coffee and eating a variety of foods. Hopi ran to greet her friend. She then ran to the snack table where her mother was standing. Together they picked out delicious-looking snacks for Ms. Christina and herself to enjoy. The little girl brought her cherries and cheese, and, of course, a cookie. Hopi understood how hard it was to make friends when you are shy. The more she got to know the elderly woman, the more she thought everyone around her was crazy for not spending time with her.
“Is everyone here shy?” wondered Hopi. “Is that why no one ever comes over to talk to my friend? No, I don’t think so. They talk to each other. They must not be that shy. ” Hopi dismissed dwelling on these thoughts any further as she knew that Christina was waiting for her fruit and cookies.
Hopi took over the plate of goodies, sat down next to Ms. Christina, and gingerly handed her the plate.
“My little friend, is that you?”
Yes, Ms. Christina, it is me! I brought you some delicious-looking things to eat. Your favorite was there today too, cherries! “
“Bless you, child.” Christina began feeling her plate for the coveted cherries. Once she found it, she gently bit into the fruit, savoring every morsel.
“Now where did I leave off in my story?”
“The man with the cello was there to give you a year of free lessons.” was Hopi’s excited answer.
“Ah, yes, his name was Mr. Perry. He was tall and very handsome. Every day, Mr. Perry came over and spent an hour each afternoon. First, I learned my scales, and then I learned some songs. It was hard work, and I worked at it until I fell asleep on my songbook. The year came to an end, and so did my lessons. My Papa said he would work nights again so I could have more lessons, but I couldn’t do it. I knew my father worked so hard just to put food on the table that I couldn’t bear to think he would have to work even harder just so I could have some music lessons. So, I told my father that I hated the cello just so he wouldn’t give me the lessons. I hurt him when I said that. I took my cello to my room and practiced any moment that my parents were out of the house, so that they would never know how badly I longed for the lessons. We never talked about it again until right before Papa died. He told me he knew why I said I didn’t want lessons and that he knew I kept practicing. Eventually, I grew up, met, and married a wonderful man, and I began taking lessons again. Then suddenly, I began getting headaches that would last for days. Eventually, my eyesight began to fade. At first, I blamed God. I didn’t even want to pray. I was angry. There wasn’t an explanation as to why I couldn’t see, and I didn’t care. The only thing that I cared about was that I wouldn’t be able to see my husband’s or my child’s faces and I couldn’t play the cello!
There went all my hopes and dreams of playing at Carnegie Hall. My husband tried everything to cheer me up. I remember one night after work, he brought me home a radio, and on one of the channels, there was a radio program about a man who played the piano and lost his sight. He never gave up; he began to reteach himself notes by feel and to play by ear. I thought to myself, if this man could do it, so could I. So that’s what I did. I learned a lot about myself during that time. With or without vision, God showed me that I needed to depend on him. I wasn’t going to give up the things I loved; I just had to find new ways to enjoy them. I think I see now better than I ever did because now I only see people’s hearts. “
“That is a great story! I’m glad you never gave up. Did you ever get to play Carnegie Hall? ” Queried Hopi.
“No, I never did.”
Suddenly, the old lady changed the subject and asked, “Is there a bright light here?”
“No,” said the little girl, “Why?”
“Oh, I just wonder sometimes, especially lately; I think I can see light,” answered Christina.
“Hopi, it’s time to go home!” called the little girl’s mother.
“Coming Mama,” Hopi kissed Christina goodbye and stopped to notice that the old lady was crying.
“Why are you crying?” asked the child, taking her tissue out of her pocket and wiping away the old lady’s tears.
“It’s nothing, child. I am just so happy to have a little friend like you. ” She held onto the little girl tightly and cried a moment longer.
Hopi left the church with a strange feeling. It was as though her spirit told her to remember that hug. That it might be the last time she sees her friend. Hopi had a restless night, tossing and turning, dreaming in feverish fits of her dear friend. The clock struck midnight when she walked down the corridor to her parents’ bedroom. The little girl was burning with fever. She caught a bad case of the flu and, for the next three weeks, was confined to her bed. In the fourth week, the child’s strength began to return, and a rosy color came back to her previously pale little cheeks. The day for church came about again and the child insisted that she felt well enough to go. She dearly missed her best friend. Hopi looked around for Christina but did not see her. After the last song was sung, the preacher asked everyone to bow their heads in prayer.
“Dear Father, today we remember our dear friend Christina, who is now resting in your heavenly presence…”
The preacher’s voice now sounded muffled. Hopi’s face turned white as the words of the preacher began to cement in her mind. She felt confused at first; she never realized that Christina was ill. In what felt like an instant, the eight-year-old was struck by the hard realization that her friend had passed away. Hopi looked up at her father, who was also in shock. The little girl could no longer hold in the pain of the news that fell upon her unsuspecting ears. She began sobbing so violently that her father carried her out of the sanctuary.
Christina learned the night before she last saw Hopi that she was terminally ill. The doctors only gave her two weeks more to live, but she held on a little longer in hopes of seeing Hopi again. After services, one of the ladies came up to the little girl and handed her an envelope from Christina. It was a photo of the old lady with a note that was written to Hopi.
“Hopi” it began “Your friendship was more important to me than you could ever know. I love you, child. Please keep this photograph of me so that you will never forget your “best friend.”
Friendship knows no limitations of age, race, or creed. Sometimes the best and most meaningful friendships are made between two people like this. It is a bittersweet moment when kindred spirits meet and then are suddenly separated by the veil of death. Like most of us, she would never forget the joy of meeting her kindred spirit nor the pain of losing her.
Until next time when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
Within a terrifying instant, it was over. The bloodshed, the outpouring of cries, the slavery, the genocide, in one final great battle, it was finished. Shouts of joy and pain were hurled heavenward. Men ragged, weary, and ravaged by war waded through the blood-filled sea. The bodies were numerous. It was hard to tell who was alive and whose lives were beginning their journey to their final resting place. The smell, the sight, and the horrific sounds of that day would haunt each survivor. A deafening silence fell upon each soldier. The wounded were carried back to the Navy vessels, and the last of the enemy were taken into custody. The waves slapped the sides of the ships before rolling onto the shore. The sea echoed the men’s victorious shouts. When the Allied forces invaded Normandy, no one could have anticipated the onslaught of Operation Neptune. Soldiers were counted as they walked, limped, or were carried onto the ship. Some of the injured would perish before reaching home, while others clung on until they saw the shores of their homelands and, breathing their last breath, surrendered their souls’ content to be home.
In a crumpled and seemingly immovable heap, lay another man. His clothes were torn, his skin a deadly white and cold to the touch. Everyone thought he was dead. So, as the troops made their way back to the ship to either have their wounds attended to or to head home, they disregarded the broken body. The body had a name. His name was William Patterson, Seaman First Class. Patty, as he was known among his comrades, lied about his age and enlisted in the Navy at the start of the War. No one questioned his age, as he was quite tall and appeared older. However, he was merely seventeen years old. Patty lay on the sandy shores of Normandy, barely conscious, let alone able to call for help. The boy slowly and with throbbing pain opened one of his eyes. He saw that the last of the wounded soldiers were being carried on board. He tried to scream out, “Hey, don’t leave me here,” but the words never came. All he could muster was a muffled moan. His cries merely sounded like another wave heading toward the shore. William saw the plank begin its ascent, and the captain began a roll call. William began to lose hope and consciousness. Until he suddenly heard a familiar voice calling to him and feet pounding against the sand.
“Patty, boy, what are you doing laying on the beach? We have to get home,” said the nervous voice, who feared for his friend’s life. The sailor was now bent over poor Patty. The newcomer gently rolled the injured man toward him. He checked his pulse and was satisfied that he was alive. Patty tried to moisten his lips to speak. Without opening his eyes, he asked, “Jones, is that you?”
“Yes Patty, boy, it’s me.”
“Too … late…” murmured the boy. “The plank is lifted…”
Jones frantically looked around for something to carry the injured man on, a piece of driftwood, a left-behind stretcher, anything. Nothing was left. On picking up his head, he looked toward the vessels. When the captain saw the two men on the beach, he ordered the plank to be lowered. Jones blew a sigh of relief. He tried hard not to worry his injured comrade by remaining calm.
“No, they won’t leave without us. Who will protect them on the trip home? Or keep up their morale with singing and dancing? We make a great dance team, don’t we? “
Patty made a noise, which Jones assumed was a chuckle.
“Well, my boy, the bad news is that I don’t have anything to carry you on to the ship. The good news is that I am here, so I will carry you myself. After all, these muscles aren’t just for show! ” He said with a laugh. “Hey, did I ever tell you the time that I won the Mr. America contest?”
Jones kept talking as he picked up the wounded sailor, gently but firmly slung him over his back, and made his way to the ship.
“Hey Cap, do you think I can get a lift home?” came the sounds of the heavily laid Brooklyn accent.
“Jones! Where have you been? You can be court-martialed! It’s off to the brig with you unless you explain how you missed the entire battle of Operation Neptune. “
The captain called over two medics who were already rushing to take the injured man.
“Don’t worry, kid, you will be just fine,” Jones said as he looked nervously at the medics who were taking Patty below deck.
Jones turned the captain’s words over in his mind before giving his most charming smile and replying, “Cap, no need to worry about me. The Admiral will be calling you to explain at 0800 hours. ” If you like, I’ll sit in the brig until he calls. Just as long as this tin can drop me off in New York Harbor. “
“Cap.” was not amused by this answer at all.
“Johnson, Smith, come and escort Mr. Jones to the brig.” The captain looked at the sailor who was covered in the young boy’s blood. “Before you escort him below deck, see that he has a change of clothes first.”
Smith and Johnson nodded.
“Ok, Cap, have it your way,” replied the sailor with a cheeky smile. “Just don’t forget to call me when we reach New York.”
The sailor whistled and, with a quick about-face, began walking toward his temporary quarters below deck until he could be “punished”.
“Hey!” called some of the sailors. “Where have you been, Whitey? You missed one heck of a fight.”
“Don’t worry about me. Let’s just say I was working on something top-secret. ” Here, Jones, or Whitey, as he was also known, turned around to wink at the captain.
The captain, seeing this, tried to stifle a chuckle. Composing himself, he yelled, “Attention sailor!” The captain was fond of the All-American Boy and the one-man bandstand. However, even though he found the sailor amusing, the captain still had to maintain decorum.
“He is a fine sailor. However, if Jones gets out of line, he must be punished like anyone else.”
These were the last words Whitey heard from his captain as the door shut and locked behind him.
The sailor, finally alone, took a deep sigh of relief. The weight of his mission, having to keep a brave face for his fellow fighters, and the fear of never reaching home finally wore him down. He picked up his dog tag off of his chest and ran his fingers over its engraving. In the safety and solitude of the darkened cell, his emotions poured out. Relentless sobbing and prayers begging for forgiveness. These cathartic cries emerged from the depths that every soul possesses but rarely visits. Exhaustion overtook the weary warrior, and he allowed the rock of the ship to lull him to sleep.
He slept in fits, though he was too fatigued to awaken himself. The swinging open of the cell doors brought in the morning light. Sunlight flooded the room from the passageway. Immediately, the sailor awoke, sprung to his feet, and stood at attention.
“Well sailor, I received an urgent message from the Admiral: you are to be released immediately. Return to your bunk and get some rest. As soon as we reach port, we will both go before the Admiral. That’s all, sailor; you may go. Oh, there is one more thing that you need to do. I suggest that you report to the infirmary. Patty is asking to see you. “
“Will he make it, Cap?”
“That’s not for me to say, son, but I think it is best for you to see him.”
Whitey took a deep breath as he walked through the passageway to the top deck. He needed to collect his thoughts before seeing his friend. Stepping out into the light of day, he was greeted with joyous shouts, pats on the back, and “how do you do?” from his fellow sailors. He did not want the others to see the tears welling up in his eyes, so he tried to make light of everything he had just witnessed. Doing a little jig, he danced his way off the “stage” and exited back to his quarters. “Patty loves to dance,” Jones thought to himself, “he always dreamed of being a tap dancer like Gene Kelly or Dan Dailey.”
“Do you plan on leaving us for Vaudeville?” one soldier called after him.
“Now you just need Ginger Rogers,” shouted another.
Jones had many fears and questions at that moment. He feared the Admiral’s visit. Was the war really over? Would he have to go on another mission? What was to become of Patty, such a young man? His whole life was ahead of him, and now suddenly it seemed as if it was going to be ripped away. But Jones couldn’t bring himself to go to the infirmary just yet. He needed time alone; “it will do me some good.” He drew his feet up to his chest, peered out the porthole, and watched the waves roll in. He lit a Sturm Cigarette that he swiped off a German soldier. Despite his ability to make the most of life’s joys, in the privacy of his room he allowed himself to be the stoic, quiet man that he truly was. Stillness ran through him like a stagnant river.
The day came for the Admiral’s visit. It was also the day that Charles Jones would face one of his biggest fears: death. The captain came to escort the sailor to see the Admiral. However, the young man was not there. The captain scoured the vessel in search of Whitey.
“Hey Cap,” said one sailor, “If you are looking for Whitey, he is in the infirmary with Patty.”
“Thanks, Sailor.” The captain changed courses and headed toward the infirmary, but the sailor again stopped him.
“Oh, and Cap. You may want to prepare yourself for what you will see. “
The middle-aged captain walked into the infirmary. Jones was sitting by the sickly boy’s bed.
“Hey, kid, you have to pep up. I planned a new dance routine. I thought we could try it out on Wednesday for talent night. “
“That would be great. I wish I could, but I think that we both know that there is only one place that I’m going. I did get a lot of Nazis. I wish you could have seen me. I was able to be brave like you.”
“I’m sure you did great, kid.”
“Do you think that they have animals in heaven? I always told my dog, Buster, that I would see him there.”
“I don’t know, Patty, but I would think that God would have animals in Heaven.”
“What do you think Heaven is like?”
” I think that it is a beautiful place. I believe God takes the best things he created on Earth and makes them even more beautiful in heaven. I think it is more beautiful than we can imagine. It is a place filled with light and peace. It’s a place where nothing scary can ever find you. Patty, if you do go there now, can you do me a favor?”
“Anything for you, Jones, you know that. What is it? “
“Can you find my little brother? Can you tell him that I love and miss him every day? I can’t wait to see him again.
“Of course, Whitey. Thanks for not letting me die on that beach. At least now I will die in American waters. “
“Are you sure that it is time for you to go?”
“Oh yes, the light has already started to dim. Will you stay with me until I go home?”
Jones could say nothing through his tears. All he could do was nod.
“Hey, don’t cry Jones, I’m happy to go home. I have had the greatest honor one guy could have. I served my country and I have my best friend by my side as I go. Will you pray the Our Father for me? Then I’ll go. “
Jones shook his head, kneeling next to the dying boy’s bed. He began to pray. As he uttered “Amen,” Patty breathed his last and made the final surrender. The grieving man shed his tears as the captain approached him.
Placing his hand on Whitey’s shoulder, he said, “Jones, it’s time. The Admiral is waiting now. ” Jones shook his head in agreement. The two men walked back down the passageway to their meeting. Before entering the room, the captain said, “I know you are grieving, but remember you’re a sailor, son. When meeting your superior, act as such. “
The Admiral was an imposing man, not so much in girth but in presence. On his right was therear admiral. The grieving sailor was already acquainted with both men.
“There he is!” The Admiral said with a proud smile. “You have served your country well, my boy. We have briefed your captain about the nature of your mission. What you did for us will not go unnoticed. I am here to offer you a new commission. It is up to you whether or not you wish to accept it. The last battle may have been fought, but there is a lot that still needs to be done. This is only the beginning. I see a lot of potential in you, sailor. I feel that you will be able to write your ticket to any rank you want in the navy. What do you say? “
“I… I don’t know what to say, Sir. I need time to think this over. “
“Understandable. Jones, what is it you want?”
“To go home, Sir, to start a family and feel what it is like to be a civilian for now.”
“Good answer, my boy. I want you to think this offer over very carefully, however. The offer will always be open to you. Incidentally, there is one thing I must ask of you. “
“What is it, Sir?”
“You must never speak about what you did during this mission. It is a well-kept secret that when you die, it must also die. I know that you are an honorable man who has proved himself over and over. But I must have your word here and now that you will never speak of this. “
“Yes, Sir,” saluted Jones.
“Good man. I will be in touch about that promotion. One more thing, I am sorry about your friend, Patty. “
“Thank you, Sir. I feel as though I have lost another brother. “
With these last words, the Admiral dismissed the solemn mourner. He returned to his bunk feeling perplexed yet proud of his meeting with the Admiral.
Several days passed as the tired sailors waited to pull into the next port. They longed to see America, their homes, and family. When the day finally came, cheers were heard all over the city.
As soon as his feet touched American soil, Jones bent down and thanked God for returning him home. He then kissed the “good old American soil” before Hitchhiking a ride to Jamaica, Queens. He was greeted with tearful cries from his mother, father, and older brother. His brother returned from war a few weeks earlier.
“Unpack your bags, brother, and rest up.” After you take a snooze, you are going to have the greatest meal you have ever had in your life. You know that girl, Alice, that I wrote to you about? Well, she has a friend, and the girl cooks like a dream. This is the best apple pie you will ever taste. Just don’t tell Mom I said that! “Go rest, sailor; that’s an order!” said John with a wink.
Whitey, or as his mother called him, Charles, flopped into bed. Images of war and his friend being left for dead on the beach filled his dreams. Downstairs in the kitchen, his mother dropped a pot from the cabinet. It came crashing to the floor. Charles, dreaming that he was about to be shot by a German soldier, grabbed what he thought was his rifle when he heard the crash. Once he began shaking off the sleepiness, he looked around the room and realized that he was home. He didn’t have to fight anymore, or so he thought. Little did he know that that night’s dinner was to bring about a very different kind of fight.
After a shove and a shout from his nagging brother, Charles put on a clean uniform. “You’re a civilian now. Why are you wearing that?” Before Charles could answer, John said, “Come on, let’s go or we will be late. Alice was a pretty girl with light brown hair and dark eyes. She welcomed home her soldier with a big kiss. Upon seeing Charles standing amusedly behind John, she excused herself.
“Where are my manners? Please come in, both of you. There is a bit of a party going on. My brother and some of his soldier buddies just arrived as well. Wait until you see what Catherine is cooking for you two!”
“Catherine lives with you?” queried Charles.
“Oh, yes, my parents took her in from the orphanage. We are trying to help her get back on her feet. She is a darling girl, and I couldn’t be happier that she is here. “
“What happened to her family?” asked the sailor.
“Her father died of pneumonia when she, her brothers, and sister were little, and her mother is in the hospital with tuberculosis.”
Just then, Catherine came out of the kitchen to announce dinner was ready and to greet their guests. Charles was awe-struck when he saw the pretty, skinny, blonde girl. She was scarcely eighteen. Her blue eyes sparkled when she saw the tall, handsome sailor. For that one moment, the love-struck fellow forgot everything, the war, his friend’s death. In one instance, there was nothing more important than getting to know this vision.
Throughout the delectable meal, Charles couldn’t help smiling and spoke lively throughout his dinner. She was lovely and demure, though he thought “she is dreadfully skinny. Her ribs jut out from her baggy blouse. ” In Charles’ mind, Alice’s brother’s friends were quite unwanted in his mind, for they too were vying for the affections of his lovely new friend.
Charles was trying to not get lost in Catherine’s blue eyes, but he couldn’t help it. He was content for the first time in months, perhaps years, as he daydreamed. Suddenly, he became aware that someone other than Catherine was speaking to him. At first, he thought the voice was coming from a distant place. That is, until he felt an arm around his shoulder. Another of the soldiers, Harry, asked if he had met with any pacifists. When Charles said that he did, Harry wanted to know how Charles dealt with it.
“I think the best thing to do is to punch them straight in their mouths. We are trying so hard to defend them and the country, and they have the nerve to tell me that it is wrong,” said Harry.
Charles leaned back in his chair and said, ” You are right; we go to war to protect our homes and loved ones, and it is fine to protest your feelings against the war; after all, freedom of speech is one of the things we are fighting for. However, once the war begins, whether you are for it or against it, it is important that you support the soldiers fighting to keep you safe. Soldiers need to know that their country is standing behind them no matter what their personal opinions are. To punch them in the mouth wouldn’t solve anything other than to prove their point. They need to understand that though you value their right to speak their mind, that is exactly the thing that you are fighting for. The right to free thought and speech and the right not to have to keep your mouth shut out of fear of offense are inseparable. That is why it is important that during times of emergency like what we have been going through, everyone must support us, even the pacifists. Freedom is a chosen way of life, one that I enjoy. That is why I chose to fight for it. “
No one said much after this. Catherine’s eyes sparkled at the young man, and she smiled and nodded in agreement. “He is almost too good to be true,” she thought.
After supper, when the dishes were put away, the soldiers began drinking as they told only the amusing anecdotes of their war stories. Catherine had excused herself to go and get the pie that she had labored over. The kitchen was quite small, and with the number of people and food that piled into it during supper, she was obliged to put her pie on the pool table in another room.
Charles noticed that she excused herself, so he sat back on the porch swing, trying to think of what to talk to her about when she returned with the pie. He had a sweet tooth and thought about dessert all the time. “Maybe I can talk to her about the pie she made,” he thought. Suddenly, he began to feel uneasy about her absence. The uneasiness nagged him until he abruptly stood up and went to look for the fair maiden with the pie. Going into the kitchen, he found it void of anyone. He was about to return to the enclosed porch where everyone had gathered when he suddenly heard a scream.
“Let go of me! I told you no! “
It was Catherine, and it was coming from the pool room. Without a moment’s hesitation, Charles threw open the closed door. Catherine’s assailant was one of the visiting soldiers. The gruff man was chasing Catherine around the pool table. Eventually, he pinned her to the aforementioned table and tried to force himself on her. Without a moment’s thought, Charles grabbed the aggressor by the throat, held him over his head, and threw him against the wall.
“If I ever see you go near her or this house again, I will kill you. How could you do such a thing? Haven’t we just lived through enough violence? Now apologize to the lady and then get out. “
The frightened soldier did as he was told. Charles looked around the room and saw the smashed apple pie on the ground along with broken dishes. Next to the mess of food and porcelain was Catherine. She was frantically, and with heaving tears, trying to pick everything up. Charles walked over to the girl and gently picked up her hand. He lifted her face towards his. He looked into her eyes, and from that moment on, he knew he wanted nothing more than to take care of her. He pulled her near him and kissed her cheek with such tenderness that Catherine began to sob again.
After that night, the two young lovers were inseparable. They spoke about everything; war, the loss of his friend, growing up in an orphanage, being pushed from foster home to foster home; they spoke of their hopes and dreams and how the country would finally have peace.
Later, when Charles was asked if he believed in love at first sight, he would always say, “Oh yes, it happened to me over a pool table.”
Until next time, when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
He rubbed his eyes wearily. The light from the candle began to diminish. The more frustrated he became, the more paper was crumpled and thrown to the floor. It was now two in the morning and five days had already passed since Tom was given his daunting task. He pushed back his chair from his writing desk and looked at his candle. The flame was now only a tiny flicker on a well-worn out wick. The first rays of light were now seen rising in the eastern sky. Tom watched as this ball of fire rose, stretching its long rays across the city. His eyes were heavy from lack of repose. This was to be the greatest document ever written. What if the words were not right? If the words were not factual, poignant, and stirring, then they could not influence these great minds. The lack of nourishment and sleep was too much for him to bear any longer. After blowing out the last bit of flame, Tom walked over to the window and angrily drew his curtains shut and sank beneath the covers, allowing his mind to take a much-needed rest.
Ordinarily, trouble of this weight and importance would have kept him awake, but he was beyond the capability of worry. All Tom knew was that when he awoke, he needed to write with focus as well as rapidity. Six hours of exhausted sleep passed until a sharp rap was heard at the door.
“Tom, Tom, are you awake?” asked a husky voice outside of the bedroom chamber.
“Go away, John,” said the weary man.
“Tom, if you don’t open this door immediately, I will break it open.”
“John Adams, what could you possibly want this early in the morning?”
“Firstly, Thomas, it is almost noon. Secondly, I wanted to make sure that you are well. No one has seen you since you were given your task of drafting the Declaration.”
“I’m not well. If I properly pen this document, it will have the power to change the minds of the Continental Congress, endorsing the need for independence from Britain. If I fail, well, if I fail, then we may be crushed under the weight of King George. Only this time, I fear that the people of these colonies will not recover. So no, with this amount of responsibility that rests on my shoulders, I am not doing well. Anxiety prevails, and the lack of words, the proper words, eludes me. See for yourself the piles of papers that are piling up around my desk, my bed, and every corner of my room. Explain to me, John, how you think that I should be well?”
During his friend’s discourse, John sat himself at the desk in the far corner of the room. He occupied himself by reviewing the piles of crumbled articles strewn about. John often felt it was better to say nothing while his notable friend chastised himself.
“Are you going to just sit there and say nothing?” exclaimed Tom, who by now realized that his friend was ignoring his tirade.
“Yes,” replied John, “I think any of these are quite good. The spirit is there. I suggest that you merely finish. You are fully aware, I am sure, that your work will end up being edited anyway, so just finish it. “
“My learned friend, I do not think that you understand just to what depth of importance words truly have in affecting the opinions of others. One wrong or misused word may completely sway someone’s entire line of thinking within a moment. “
“Thomas Jefferson, you have had an excellent education, thanks to your father. You spent years in boarding school, excelling in languages, philosophy, and literature, among other things, at William and Mary College. You studied the law so well that, in truth, amongst our circles, you are considered to have one of the best legal minds. Can you truly stand before me complaining that you don’t have the right words? The words are before you. Take hold of the brilliant mind that the good Lord gave you and use it. Wasn’t it you that published literature of this nature before? You called it “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” if I recall correctly. Therefore, if you can do it once, you can do it again. Seize your faculties and set to work. “
Jefferson sat stunned at the forcefulness of his friend’s attitude. He composed himself and, with the very stoic manner that all attorneys possess, waived his hand in dismissal, stating:
“In 12 days’ hence, if you do not hear from me, come and see me. For I shall finish this Declaration and it shall be so moving that I know that the votes shall be unanimous. “
After Thomas’ dismissive remarks, he returned to his writing desk and began writing with such fury that John quietly left the room.
True to his word, Mr. Jefferson worked tirelessly on his manifesto, and then, on July 4th, the Continental Congress formally adopted the Declaration of Independence. Not before thirty-nine revisions were made to the text before it was adopted. By the time the Declaration had been completed, the revisions had numbered approximately eighty-six. Some revisions were later made by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
The vote for independence took place on July 2nd, 1776. July 4th would become a day for revelry, commemorating the birth of American independence.
Despite how the writers of the Declaration may have felt about the revisions, it remains one of the most important documents in American history to date.
Below, please see a transcript of those immortal words that would help to shape a nation.
“In Congress, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitionshave been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript)
Happy Independence Day!
Until next time, when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
Taking a ribbon, she tied back the top of her blonde pageboy. Even the faded blue ribbon didn’t improve the look of her hair. Catherine sighed as she leaned forward, viewing herself in the mirror. How she longed to have curly hair like Shirley Temple instead of straight, limp blonde hair fashioned into a typical pageboy. She turned up the light of the lamp as she lingered in front of the looking glass a little longer, envying Shirley Temple.
“No Catherine,” she said to herself.
“It is a sin to think about yourself so much. Sister Evangeline did her best cutting your hair. Be grateful for what you have. She was even able to find you a blue ribbon! It is a beautiful ribbon even if it is a hand-me-down. ” The girl chastised herself as she took the little ribbon out of her hair again to look at it.
“Mother would have been able to make my hair look good…” Here she broke off her sentence, wiping a tear away from her eyes as she did so.
Catherine heard footsteps along the corridor leading to the dormitory where she and the other little girls from 2nd to 4thgrade slept. The lightness of the footsteps told her that it was Sister Mary coming to do her nightly bed check. Catherine froze, and her little body shook. Sister Mary warned her before that if she was caught again lighting the lamps at night and wandering around, she would be in trouble.
“What should I do?” thought the seven-year-old. She looked around at the other sixteen little girls, all sleeping side by side for warmth. Noticing an opening between Harriet and Sally, Catherine decided that she would quickly blow out the little lantern and dive in between the two girls and pull the covers over her head. Catherine’s heart quickened as she picked up the little light, and just as she pursed her lips to blow out the lantern, the door handle began to move.
The little girl couldn’t do anything but stand completely still, hold her breath, and scrunch up her face. She thought if she stood completely still, maybe just maybe God would spare her. With Sister Mary’s poor eyesight, there was a chance that the little girl wouldn’t be seen.
Sister Mary was not nearly as blind as the little girl imagined, but God was to smile on the seven-year-old. The door handle jiggled, and the creeping door began to swing inward towards the girls’ dormitory.
Catherine was too afraid to open her eyes. They were still clenched tightly as a soft voice whispered, “Catherine, my darling, why are you out of bed this late?”
Catherine relaxed her face a little as she knew that the voice that now spoke to her was not Sister Mary’s. Still, she was not certain of who the speaker was, so she continued to hold her eyes shut.
“Catherine Sweeney, don’t you answer your friends anymore? Come child, open your eyes, “said the voice a little louder than before.
Catherine could not mistake the speaker’s Irish brogue now; it had to be Sister Evangeline. Catherine slowly opened one blue eye, then the other. Standing before her was indeed her favorite of the Sisters, Sister Evangeline.
“Oh, Sister! I’m so sorry. Please, oh please don’t tell Sister Mary? “Pleaded the little girl.
Poor Catherine’s emotions were brimming with a mix of fear, relief, and sadness. The kind Sister took pity on the child and picked her up in her arms to soothe her fears. Catherine, who so longed for her mother, began to sob at this motherly gesture of the nun.
“Come on, let’s go for a walk, and you can tell me all about it. Perhaps I won’t tell Sister Mary,” The nun said with a wink.
The two walked out of the dormitory hand in hand, down the corridor to the kitchen of the orphanage. The Sister seated Catherine on one of the large kitchen stools and began to warm some Ovaltine. She placed a plate of graham crackers and the steaming Ovaltine in front of the little girl.
Catherine’s eyes widened in delight. It wasn’t often that she was allowed to have sweets before bed.
“Well, Miss. Catherine, why don’t you tell me what has been troubling you and keeping you awake at night?”
Catherine wiped away the tears that had already begun to reappear in her eyes.
“I miss my mommy and daddy. Every time I fall asleep, I dream about the fire that took away our nice house, and sometimes I dream about Daddy dying or seeing Mommy taken away to the hospital. Then I wake up because I just know I will never have any of those nice things again! Then I think maybe I did something wrong and that’s why God took it all away. Maybe if Santa didn’t try to surprise me with a lit tree, the curtains wouldn’t have caught on fire, Daddy wouldn’t have got pneumonia, and Mommy wouldn’t have had to go to the hospital and stay there. “
The child could not fight back tears any longer and they poured forth like a gushing fountain. Her tears piled quickly, creating a little stream on the plate of her gram crackers. Sister Evangeline, whose eyes were also filled with tears, ran to the child.
“There, there my child, you didn’t do anything wrong! God isn’t angry with you! Sometimes things happen because God doesn’t want to see his children suffer. Maybe the fire saved your lives from something worse. Your father’s passing away at the time he did may have kept him from more pain later on. You can’t question the will of God. Sometimes He doesn’t show you why He does the things that He does. It may be to protect us, help us, or change us. When we hold on to that and know that God is taking care of us, that is how we build faith. I know it is a hard thing for a young child to try and understand. But know that you are loved, and I will always be here to listen to you, guide you, and be your friend. “
The little girl dried her eyes and threw her arms around the nun. Sister Evangeline carried the child back to the dormitory. Catherine was tucked into bed, and the kindly Sister left the room.
Sister Evangeline was not someone who could ever let a poor little soul feel downtrodden and alone. She walked to the doors of each of her fellow Sisters. By quickly rapping on the door, she woke everyone up. Once all of the nuns, including Mother Superior, were gathered in the kitchen, Sister Evangeline told them of Catherine’s plight. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The little nuns didn’t have much, and special things were not always available to give to the children in their care. However, they decided it was time the children, and in particular Catherine, had a very special treat.
The next day, when the children were supposed to have their regular math lesson, Sister Mary announced that instead of the lesson, the children were to line up to go outside. The girls excitedly looked around at each other as they rose from their seats. When they were led outside, they saw the most exciting thing! The Sisters were lined up with aprons, standing in front of Root Beer and Ice Cream!
“Today instead of math, we are going to learn to make root beer floats!” said Sister Mary.
Here the girls let out joyful cheers as they ran to the tables where they began assembling and slurping down their floats.
“You see, Catherine,” said Sister Evangeline, “sometimes God gives you little surprises just when you need them most.”
From that day on, Catherine declared her favorite dessert to be root beer floats. She grew up, met, and married a handsome man, and filled their home with love, many children, and numerous grandchildren. Whenever she needed to have a treat, she always had a root beer float, especially on her birthday.
Until next time when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
Cheyenne E. Mitchell
P.S. Happy Birthday, Grandma. Today I will have a root beer float for you!
It was smooth as a vintage wine. The colors of the wood gleamed and shimmered. Tones of black, red, and gold shone brightly on the surface. He loved the feel of its weight in his hand as he lovingly polished each of its glossy curves and edges. Nothing was more thrilling than the sound it made as his fingertips brushed against its strings. Hours passed as he took refuge in the solitude of his first love, his guitar. The sound of his children laughing and running through the house was the only thing that distracted him from polishing the beloved instrument.
“Where is Daddy?” asked one little voice as she twirled around in her newly made mermaid costume.
“I looked upstairs in your room, but he was not in bed.”
“He is downstairs in the recording studio polishing Benson.” replied the little girl’s mother.
“Benson” was what the girl’s father called the treasured item. The owner of the Benson spoke about it as if the guitar was a person, and he treated it with the same amount of care.
“Again?!” exclaimed the little girl.
“But I want to show him my beautiful new mermaid tail. Look at me twirl with it, Mommy. “
The mermaid’s tail was a cleverly crafted design that “Mommy” imagined and brought to life. The tail was constructed of wire, stuffing, and elastic beautifully adorned in pink and peach-colored cloth. There were clear embossed flowers in the fabric, which made the little mermaid’s tail all the prettier for it. The wire and stuffing allowed the tail to sit upright and balance gently on the little girl’s hips. It was secured around her waist with elastic covered in iridescent ribbons. The four-year-old felt like a real mermaid out for a swim thanks to the curved mermaid tail.
“It’s almost suppertime, Hopi; why don’t you go downstairs and show Daddy?”
Hopi didn’t waste time. She flung open the cellar door and ran down the stairs, calling “Daddy, Daddy, look at me.” She ran through the cellar to yet another door, which opened into her father’s recording studio.
There Daddy sat, waiting for Hopi to come charging into the room. He gently laid the Benson down in the interior of its lush red velvet guitar case before scooping up the little girl in his arms.
“Mommy finished my mermaid tail! Don’t I look beautiful? “
“You are the most beautiful mermaid I ever saw.”
“Now if I only had red hair, I would look just like Ariel!”
Here she picked up one of her black curls, looking at it in dismay.
“Now why would you want your hair to be red?” Her father retorted, “Ariel! Ariel has nothing on my beautiful mermaid. “
The words “Dinner Time” floated down the stairs, landing in the ears of the father and daughter.
“My mermaid and I are coming, sweetheart.” He called back to his wife.
The two climbed the cellar steps, which led into the kitchen, where “Sweetheart” was standing with her wooden spoon in hand as she stirred the simmering tomato sauce.
“How was the recording today?” asked “Sweetheart,” who was watching her husband carry their child up the stairs.
“It was terrible. The band needs a lot more work before they are recordable. I don’t see how I will be able to make any money off this recording session. “
He now put Hopi down, who was intently listening to their conversation.
Mommy, who was looking for a way to speak to her husband in private, instructed the little girl.
“Why don’t you go get washed for supper and tell Sissy and Nana that dinner will be ready in a minute?
The little girl did what she was told as quickly as she could. Then, after her tasks were accomplished, Hopi dragged her big sister, Honeysuckle downstairs to the kitchen. The two hid in the doorway, so they could hear their parents talk.
“Does the band just need a few more days of rehearsal before they record?”
“A few more days. No, try a few more years of constant rehearsal. I had to teach them their own song. “
“What did they say when you did that?” queried his wife.
“They asked if I would be in their band. I thought when I was well enough to sit up that I could start working from home. I thought people would be interested in music lessons and studio recordings. Instead, I only get people who can’t play and kids who don’t want to learn. I physically struggle just to make it through the day. How am I supposed to pay the bills if we don’t have any steady income?” He asked, exasperated.
His wife said nothing but turned her back and continued stirring the spaghetti sauce. What could she say? She knew her husband was trying his best; she knew he had been ill with a debilitating disease and often had to spend weeks in bed.
During the man’s relapses, he was confined to his bedroom. His wife knew how he longed to be a part of his family’s lives, so she would bring their two children into their bedroom to see him. The visits between father and daughters usually only lasted a few minutes before the father would sink back into bed exhausted. Honeysuckle, looked pained as she watched her father struggle to appear “normal” for those few moments that they would spend together. She was six years older than Hopi. Though she was still very young herself, Honeysuckle had a better understanding of her father’s infirmities than her little sister did. Honeysuckle watched as her four-year-old sister would gently climb on top of their father, playing “doctor” attempting to make him feel better. Sometimes Hopi would make up names for diseases, so she would properly know how to “heal” her daddy. It gave Hopi solace to know what caused her father’s condition, even though she knew that she was making up diseases. Nonetheless, their father’s malady, no matter how uncontrollable, never stopped him from showing affection, understanding, and care to his wife, children, and his mother, who lived with the little family.
“Mommy” took on odd jobs such as childcare, laundry, and any other thing she could think of to bring in income. However, with two small children, a sickly husband, and a mother-in-law who needed looking after, it was impossible to take a job away from home. A job, any job, was greatly needed at this moment. The cupboards were bare.
“I am surprised that we are having spaghetti again. Weren’t you just saying that you are sick to death of pasta? “
“Did I?” replied Mommy.
“Yes, you did, so what gives?”
Here the poor woman broke down in tears. Uncontrollable tears. Her husband silently stood up and walked toward his wife, holding her as she sobbed in his arms. The woman’s sobs subsided as she began to explain the evening’s meal.
“There is nothing left. We need to go food shopping, but we don’t have the money to go to the market. I have applied for help today, but it will take some time.”
“We have talked about this before. If you’d just let me sell Benson. It’d keep us going for a few months, at least until we could get ahead financially. It could sustain us for a while.
“No!” shouted his wife. “You love that guitar, and it helps pay the bills. It is the one thing that you look forward to.”
“You and the kids are what I look forward to. Besides, now with this illness, I can’t play live shows anymore. I just don’t have it in me. ” The man replied in hushed tones. His wife started crying again.
The two children, still concealed in the doorway, heard their father’s voice,
“Come now and dry your tears. Tell me what you and the girls did today while I helped that awful band.”
“Oh, nothing too much. I took them for a drive, and then we stopped at Macy’s. ” Mother sniffed and wiped her tears away with a tissue.
“Did you look at that garnet ring again?”
“What ring? I don’t know what you are talking about,” said his wife with a little knowing smile.
“What ring indeed, the one you always look at when you pass Macy’s window.” If I could, you know I would buy…”
His wife cut him off here and said: “We can’t afford it, so there isn’t any use talking about it.”
Their voices seem to trail off and fall silent to the eavesdroppers’ ears. The eavesdroppers were still cloaked in the shadows of the door frame. They listened in deep silence. They may not have been old enough to understand the depth of financial trouble that the family was in. They just knew their father needed money for food. Hopi stood perfectly still, not moving a muscle. Then, thoughtfully, she looked up at Honeysuckle and said, “I think we can help.”
“How can we help?” asked Honeysuckle.
“Well, remember that movie we watched with Grandpa? Maybe we can do that too.”
“Do what? What are you talking about? “
“You know, with the bottles.”
“Do you mean selling bottle caps?”
“We can’t,” replied the older girl, “Mommy won’t let us out of the yard, let alone let us off our street.” Besides, you just can’t do things that they do in the movies. That’s all make-believe. “
“Then what can we do?” The dejected four-year-old asked.
“We can have a lemonade stand to raise some money. I’m sure the mailman is good for a couple of bucks if you cry enough. Do you know how to make yourself cry?”
“No,” Hopi replied, “but Mommy says I learn fast.”
“Good. You practice making crying faces in the mirror, and I’ll ask Nanny to help us make lemonade. Now Hopi, remember, you can’t tell Mommy and Daddy. It’s a surprise and you will spoil it if you tell. “
“OK,” Hopi grumbled, “Hey, I have lots of money in my piggy bank from my birthday. How much did you tell me that it was again?”
“Goodie,” clapped Hopi with delight, “that will help.”
Honeysuckle nodded in agreement, and then the two girls ran to find their Nana to ask her to help them make lemonade.
After dinner, the girls brushed their teeth, climbed into their beds, their parents heard their prayers, kissed them good night, and tucked them in. As soon as their bedroom door was shut, the siblings jumped out of bed and ran to the door. They placed their little ears against the door, intently listening to make sure they heard their mother and father go back downstairs. When they were quite sure it was safe, they ran back to Honeysuckle’s bedside. They knelt by the bed, praying one last time. They begged God to let them sell enough lemonade so that their Daddy wouldn’t have to worry anymore, and Mommy would never cry again. Hopi and Honeysuckle were so excited about helping their parents that they lay awake most of the night. The morning takes a long time to come when something worthwhile is waiting to get done. The sun rose right on schedule. The girls got out of bed, dressed, and carefully tiptoed past their parents’ room.
They reached the top of the stairs; they were seemingly safe from being discovered. “Creak” went the first step. “Creak” went the second step. The girls now froze. Turning their heads very slowly, they peered around the hallway, hoping the creaking didn’t awaken anyone. Honeysuckle nodded to Hopi, which was the signal that it was OK to move ahead. “Creak, creak, creak,” went the next fifteen wooden steps of the old Victorian staircase. The girls heard footsteps coming from upstairs. Without turning around, the two grabbed the bag of lemonade supplies that Nana had packed for them the night before. As they reached the front stained-glass door, they heard their mother calling to them in a sing-song voice that it was time to get up.
The mini entrepreneurs were now safe outside, breathing sighs of relief. “Mommy,” however, was not relieved. When she walked into the little girls’ room, she saw that their beds were empty. The children were not found anywhere in the house. Nana, who was now quite awake from the morning’s ruckus, came out of her room to watch the frantic mother.
“Gracie, there is no need to worry about the kids. Come here and look out my window. They are outside setting up a lemonade stand. They asked me not to say anything. They are working on a surprise for you.”
Gracie joined Nana at the large window and looked down at the two. Honeysuckle desperately tried to teach her sister how to “fake” cry. By the time the mailman came along, Hopi was so frustrated that she was unable to “fake” crying that she burst into tears. George, the mailman, felt sorry for the little girl when she broke down. She told him her plight. The mailman picked her up, dried her tears, and handed her sister twenty dollars.
The girls worked hard all day trying to sell their delicious pink lemonade. Their father, too, was on an important secret mission. Daddy also got up early. He walked silently to the recording studio, where he picked up Benson and polished it. He was about to put it down again when he decided to play his favorite George Harrison song. As the last notes of “As My Guitar Gently Weeps” flowed out of his fingertips, tears rolled from his eyes and fell with gentle splats onto Benson. Seeing this, the man picked up the soft cloth. He gave his Benson one last cleaning. Placing the guitar back into the red velvet-lined case, he shut the top, locked it tightly, and snuck out of the house.
Daddy didn’t return home until late that night. The two girls sat by the window, watching for their father. Just as their mother was about to send them to bed, the sisters heard their father’s old rickety car pull into the driveway. The exhausted man opened the front door of the house. Stepping through the threshold, he was greeted by two eager little faces. In their hands, they held the solution to all of their father’s problems.
“Go on, Hopi give it to Daddy.” nudged Honeysuckle.
Hopi picked up the little tin can that was sitting next to her. The can was purple and adorned with bunnies proudly holding Easter eggs. The tin can filled with pennies, dimes, and the twenty dollars the mailman gave them, rattled.
Hopi dramatically cleared her throat, “This is for you, Daddy. It is going to solve all your worries, so Mommy can buy food.”
Their father carefully opened the little purple tin can. He looked to see what miracle was contained inside. The man’s eyes filled with tears as he looked at the meagre loving offer. He looked at his wife, who was also crying at the sweet gift their children had made. A shower of hugs and kisses was given, and the girls were tucked into bed.
Putting the can down, he said, “It was sweet of them to do this. I think I will take it and put it aside for them when they want to do something special. How did they get the money? Did you help them?”
“No. Your mother helped them set up their lemonade stand. That’s where the twenty dollars came from. George, the mailman, wanted to help them out.”
They sat silently for a moment. “Daddy” broke the silence.
“I had an errand to run today. One that you won’t be happy about. I sold the Benson Guitar. “
His wife’s eyes widened as her husband continued speaking.
“It took me all day, but I finally found a buyer that was willing to pay me what it was worth. It brought in more than I thought it would. I got $10,000.00 for it. Stop looking at me like that. I don’t need things to make me happy. I have each of you. However, this family needs food, clothing, and a roof over each of our heads. If selling something like a guitar is going to do that, then so be it. I did get a little memento, though, to remember Benson by. But not a memento for me. “
Here he knelt by his wife and handed her a little ring box. It was the garnet that she stopped to look at in Macy’s window nearly every day.
“Before you say you can’t afford it, I tell you that we can. You have given so much of yourself to me and this family that I wanted you to have something special that you loved just for you. “
“But your guitar…” she stammered, “You loved it so much.”
“It is just a guitar. I will get over it. Love is sacrifice, and that’s worth more than any guitar. “
Until next time, when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
Today we celebrate Memorial Day. A day to honor U.S. military personnel who gave their lives while serving in the United States armed forces. I think of my great uncle George, who willingly gave his life for this country. Uncle George was hard-of-hearing, and, despite this, he enlisted in World War II, claiming that he would not stay at home; he would fight for his country no matter how long he was able to. However, due to Uncle George’s hearing, he was killed almost immediately after enlisting. Grandpa always said that his brother died exactly how he wanted to, fighting for the country that he loved.
Happy Memorial Day, Uncle George, and thank you.
Until next time, when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
Water damage marred the walls of the basement apartment. She walked inside what used to be the living room. Her gaze fixated on the deteriorating back of the couch. It was yellowed, frayed, and drenched with the stench of cheap liquor and cigarettes. The smell radiated throughout the apartment. The room was dimly lit. She turned on the hall light and saw ringlets of smoke rising from the couch. The smoke stretched itself out, filling the room with its gray mist. A raspy cough issued from the sallow lips of the smoker, who, until now, lay silently on the couch.
“Are you ready?” asked the newcomer.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” replied the man, still in his recumbent position.
The smoker rose slowly and motioned for the newcomer to join him on the filth-ridden couch. The woman approached, carrying her “necessary instruments” in a black bag. As she looked down at the man, she asked,
“Is that the best you can do?”
“What do you mean?” queried the smoker.
“Jasper, that fake makeup you’re wearing ain’t ever going to fool the attorney, let alone the medical examiner. How do you expect to make money looking like that? “
” Well, what do you want me to do? Besides Sasha, what about you? “
“What about me?” replied Sasha.
“You are supposed to look like you are dyin’ of cancer, and you look like the healthiest lookin’ sick woman I ever saw,” retorted Jasper.
“Don’t you worry about me. I have everything figured out. First, we have to take care of you, then I’ll fix myself up. “
Sasha bent down to pick up the little black bag that she placed on the floor alongside Jasper. Before opening the bag, she pulled back her dirty blonde shoulder-length hair, tying it into a knot on top of her head. Slowly, she opened the bag so Jasper could not see its contents. She pulled out a heavy gold object and placed it on the table. Jasper looked at her in wide-eyed amazement as she pulled out a bottle of aspirin, bandages, a syringe, needles, a medical PICC, and a small bag full of white powder.
Jasper examined the little bag on the table closely. “Is this what I think it is?”
“What do you think it is?” Sasha asked with a peculiar smile.
“Is it heroin?”
“Yes, sir, it sure is. It’s not that crappy stuff that Johnny gives you either; this is the real deal. “
“Wow, you brought home the lute today. Where did you get all of this?” he inquired.
“Don’t worry your sweet face ’bout that.” Sasha was now picking up the syringe, the needles, and the bag of heroin from the table. She cleaned her arm with alcohol and prepared to take her first “dose” of the drug.
“Hey, save some for me!” yelled Jasper.
“No, my love, this will make this easier for me when I take care of you.”
“What do you mean?” he asked as he watched Sasha pick up the gold object from the table. It was clear to Jasper now that the heavy gold item was brass, or in this case, gold knuckles.
“Hey, you’re not going to hit me with that, are you?”
“Of course, I am,” said Sasha. “How else are you supposed to look like you were in a ‘horrific accident’ if you don’t look banged up?”
“How is heroin supposed to help you accomplish this?” Jasper gulped and nervously began to move away from his ‘beloved’.
“Well, it’s like this: if I take enough of it, it will make my skin look gray. The needle will give me a bruise to make the PICC-line look real. I will look like the poor, ailing wife who puts herself aside to take care of her sick husband. Oh, I also said that we had five children. Remember that when they start asking questions. If we pull this off, this will be the biggest con job ever. Now just focus on the money that we will be getting as I hit you. It will help ease the pain some. “
Before striking her co-conspirator, Sasha looked around the room. She looked at the cracked and barren walls and the open windows. She pulled the windows shut, latching them as she did so, and closed the drapes. The heroin began taking effect. She threw a pillow over Jasper’s mouth to muffle his screams as she began to mercilessly pound her husband with the brass knuckles.
About an hour later, the damage was done, and their little scene was set. She had been acting ill for months, convincing the neighbors that she was a poor, sick woman. She thought that if they were ever caught, the neighbors could, with clear consciousness, aid her alibi. Now with the PICC, added drug-induced skin coloring, coupled with her husband’s broken body, no one could ever expect the truth.
Sasha cleaned up and destroyed all evidence of what transpired in Apartment A at 1515 Calico Lane. Once the last of Jasper’s blood splatters were removed from the walls, Sasha drove to an abandoned field. This is where they would later say their car mysteriously “exploded,” leaving the battered Jasper lying in the wet grass. Sasha waited until a passerby was near enough to hear her scream for help. Picking up her phone, she called 911, relaying their fabricated story, and thus began their biggest con job. Jasper was taken to the hospital; examinations took place; diagnoses were discussed. It was decided that Jasper should stay in the hospital for a month under constant supervision. Every day, his dutiful and loving wife, Sasha, limped up the hospital steps, taking care to look more ill each day.
Finally, when Jasper was set to be released from the hospital, the lawyers were called. The next phase of the ‘con-artists’ plans was put into motion.
People with unsavory characteristics are naturally attracted to other people of ill repute. They cannot help it; it is embedded in their soul and is deeply rooted and part of their genetic make-up, as is DNA. It was of no surprise when Sasha and Jasper sought out not only the wealthiest but the most crooked lawyer in town.
Seth Chernobog, Esq., was a perfectly large, round man with blonde hair and a charming smile. Mr. Chernobog was well-known in town as a man who was so charming that he could learn anyone’s deepest secrets in a matter of seconds.
Mrs. Crumenboch learned first-hand of the attorney’s charisma when she confided in him about her famous pickles. Seth’s smooth, careful questioning led the elderly woman to admit that she would add Happy Bee Supermarket’s pickle brine to her own pickle brine. She would then “can” the jars and enter her “world-renowned” pickles in the fair. Mrs. Crumenboch won the blue ribbon each year at the fair because of her pickles. Seth Chernobog, Esq., was titillated by this “confidence,” so much so that he drove down to the nearest headquarters of said supermarket and weaseled his way in to see the CEO. He twisted the words of Mrs. Crumenboch in such a way that poor Mrs. Crumenboch found herself in the middle of a lawsuit. The illustrious Seth Chernobog, Esq., was a fantastic weaver of fairy tales. The Court was so besotted with Mr. Chernobog’s testimony as both the attorney and the key witness that the Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiff, Happy Bee Supermarket. Mrs. Crumenboch found herself destitute, without friends, and banned from any fair competitions. Happy Bee Supermarket felt justified in its actions and a million dollars richer. What about the lowly attorney? That night, after the Judge declared the case closed, Mr. Chernobog walked home, climbed the stone steps of his mansion, sat in his favorite chair, lit his cigar, and sat back in pure self-satisfaction and delight at having ruined another life.
A few weeks after the attorney ruined the life of the aforementioned pickle-maker, he began to grow bored. He sat back in his favorite chair with his fists tightly clenched together, his eyes closed, desperately trying to decide who his next victim should be. Try as he might, he could think of no one to torture. Abruptly standing up from his chair, he decided that a stroll down Main Street might inspire his next evil deed. It was a particularly hot morning, and the attorney found himself walking along the cobblestone streets that led to his office. On the way, he nodded his head in recognition of two ladies who were cooling themselves beneath the shade of a large oak tree. The first girl, rather pretty in her blue and white linen dress, said
“Well, I just don’t know what Tilly is going to do. She is simply beside herself after being laid off from work.”
The second of the two girls replied, “Since the boss’s wife hated her anyway, she is probably better off.”
This was all Seth Chernobog, Esq. needed to hear. A devious smile formed on his lips. He mused to himself, “Hmmm, I wonder what kind of trouble I can stir here?” I will offer this girl a job; it doesn’t matter if she can do it or not. I may get some fun out of this. I will look gallant in helping this distressed girl and her sister. I will probably get them to do anything that I need them to. “
“Excuse me, girls, I could not help overhearing about your poor friend.”
“My sister.” corrected the first girl.
“Yes, of course, your sister. I have a position opening up as of this morning. I need help with a special project that will take several months to complete. I will train her and start her off at $18.00 an hour. Then if she is any good, I will increase her pay to $20.00. Do you think that she would be interested? “
The two girls looked at him excitedly, not knowing the depths of evil that flowed through the veins of the robust man who stood before them.
“Oh, yes, I am sure that she would!” exclaimed the first girl.
“Then the job is hers.” Send her to my office this afternoon and I will tell her the details of the position. Tell your sweet sister to dry her tears and let her know that everything will be OK now. After all, I am very good at helping people.”
Tilly was a slight girl with big eyes and long, thick hair. Luckily for the girl, her new place of employment was within walking distance of her home, which would save on travel expenses. Though she was excited about the prospect of having a new job, something didn’t feel right. The more her sister spoke about the position, the more uneasy Tilly felt about taking it. Her uneasiness grew as she walked up to her new place of employment. Over and over again, she told herself that she felt this way because she was nervous. No matter how many times she tried to blame her apprehension on nerves, the initial feeling that this was not the right position only implanted itself deeper.
Her new employer spotted the shy Tilly approaching the front door from his office window. He watched her hesitate at the door, and he watched her begin to turn away from the building. Seth rose from his chair and hurried to meet her. Seth Chernobog, Esq., was nothing more than a malignant spider trying to trap his fly in his web of fabrications. He wasn’t going to let his latest prey get away from his trap. He met the girl at the front door, flashing his most charming smile and lured her into his entrapment.
Days passed, and then weeks passed. Each day, the sly, overstuffed attorney would come into Tilly’s office to fill her head with convenient lies. Deceptions would fall over his tongue, through his yellowed teeth, and out of his thin lips, as smooth as liquid. With every falsehood he told, Tilly became more and more suspicious.
There was a junior attorney who also worked at “The Law Offices of Chernobog PLLC.” The junior attorney, unlike his employer, was kind, insecure, and very truthful. He was a few years older than Tilly and took a liking to the girl. He viewed her as one would view a younger sister, and the two became fast friends. Tilly began to confide in her new friend about all that their boss was telling her. Soon the two were beginning to piece together the threads of Seth Chernobog’s deceptions.
Mr. Chernobog, true to form, noticed the blossoming friendship between his employees. He decided after two months it was time to end it. The friendship, Tilly’s employment, getting his newest clients, Sasha and Jasper, the largest settlement to date would all finish at once. With one action, he could take care of all three of his problems. The miser only needed to be patient a little longer before he could fully unleash his scheme.
“In the meantime,” he thought, “I will have Jasper and Sasha come in and tell them all I know about their little “plan.” Then, once they are convinced that I know everything about them, they will be indebted to me, and I will have two more souls to work with in my dirty dealings. “
This is just what Seth Chernobog, Esq., did. He called the con-artists into his office, and the three began creating their devious deception.
“Sit down. Sit down. You both look exhausted. Sasha, how are you doing with those heroin injections? Oh, don’t look so shocked. I know that other than your current high, you are perfectly well. I also know that;” here, Seth dramatically paused and pointed his finger at Jasper, “were caused by something other than your car imploding, such as brass knuckles and a baseball bat.”
“I… I don’t know what you mean,” stammered Sasha, who knew that they were caught.
“Oh, don’t you know?” inquired the lawyer, who was quite enjoying his new game of cat and mouse.
“Let’s just pretend that I believe your story for one moment. If you tell me the truth here, fine, I will help you with your little insurance fraud, for a cut, of course. However, if you persist with this farce, I will have you both put on the stand, make you look like such fools, and feed you to the mercy of the jury. “
The two con-artists could do nothing but stare at each other in amazement.
“I can see that you are at a loss for words. Let me give you a moment alone to discuss my generous offer.”
The large attorney waddled from the room, leaving the two to discuss his “generous offer”.
“Well, I’ll be…” was all Jasper could say.
“We are stuck. We are going to have to let him help us. I figured someone may find out, but I never thought he could figure it out down to each detail of our plans, ” said Sasha.
“Ok,” said Jasper. “Let’s tell him the truth.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Seth, who burst into the room at that very moment.
“Since we are going to be honest with each other, I might as well start by telling you that I was listening at the door. There is no need for you to go into any more details. I think I have them figured out quite clearly. Instead, let’s talk about my newest hire, Tilly. Tilly is a truth-teller; she is also quite naive and gullible. She walks around with this innocent-looking face that makes people want to tell her things. If she believes you, she makes it known. If she doesn’t believe you, she makes that known as well. I sent her to the store to do some errands to make sure that she didn’t overhear our conversation. We need her to make your story more plausible. My plan is thus. Are you two listening? “
Sasha jabbed Jasper in his bruised ribs, for he was dozing off during the attorney’s long-winded soliloquy. Sasha then nodded that they were listening. The attorney continued
“I will send Tilly to your home on the mission of taking your statements and writing down what you claim to have happened. All you have to do is tell her the same story you told me. Use the same props: the fake PICC line, the dirty apartment, show her pictures of your “destitute children”. Give the greatest performances of your lives. Once the jury sees her sweet innocent little face on the stand and hears her sobs for your predicament, there is no way that they won’t believe her. Do we understand each other? “
The two schemers nodded in agreement.
“Good. Now leave my office quickly through the backdoor. We don’t want to take a chance on her seeing you. “
The couple promptly left. As soon as Tilly came back to the office, Seth Chernobog went to speak with her. He set the scene for her little “visit” with the “helpless” couple. Tilly quickly gathered her things, drove the twenty minutes to 1515 Apartment A, Calico Lane, parked, and walked inside. Once inside, she saw the dirty, decaying apartment. She saw the terminally ill Sasha, the banged-up Jasper, and pictures of their five children. The scene affected her just as everyone hoped that it would. She left their home sobbing; she got in the car and called her mother.
“Mom, it was just like something out of a novel. It was simply Dickensian. These poor people. ” Sobbed Tilly.
Tilly’s mother did her best to comfort her daughter over the phone while Tilly drove back to the office. Once inside, at her desk, she continued to sob. Her friend, the junior attorney, walked in and saw her crying.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“What’s wrong?” Tilly told him everything she had seen and heard.
The junior attorney handed her tissues and told the girl to dry her eyes.
“Let me tell you a little something. None of it is true, it’s all an act! We have known for a while now that our employer is a shyster. However, today I was able to prove it. When you were out, Mr. Chernobog had that couple in, and while they were in their “meeting,” I snuck by and put a recording device outside of his door. I have their whole scheme on record. As soon as they left, I took the recording and went to Court with it. However, you were already gone by the time I got back, and I wasn’t able to warn you. I am sorry for that. At this very moment, the recording is being reviewed by the Judge.”
Tilly sniffed and blotted her eyes with the tissue and asked, “What do you think will happen next?”
Just then, the police barged through the door, grabbed the very surprised Mr. Chernobog, and brought him to prison. Unfortunately, like in most stories, there is a catch. Seth Chernobog, Esq. also had “friends” on the police force, and he mysteriously escaped from prison. Luckily, no one heard from him again.
Sasha and Jasper will spend the rest of their lives in a state penitentiary.
Until next time, when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
There it was, large and imposing. An oversized, handsome oak-paneled door with a beveled glass window. It was not the door itself that was a source of anxiety, but rather what it held behind its oak panels. The window on the door had the name of D.R. Jameson etched in black letters. In front of the door stood a rather tall man with short black hair. Placing his hand in his front left pant pocket, he pulled out the worn and smudged piece of paper. There wasn’t a doubt that he carried this piece of paper for quite some time. Dusting off the fragments of lint, he read the address:
“10th St., Hamilton Park-
“Dr. James… “
Here the ink ran down the rest of the torn page. The black-haired caller merely shrugged his shoulders and muttered to himself that this had to be the same ‘Dr.’
I think it is worthwhile to note here that the caller was rather nervous about visiting this “doctor.” He was so distracted that he ignored the writing beneath the name “D.R. Jameson” and shoved open the oak-paneled door. As he did so, he was greeted by a woman with large, soft grey eyes. She asked him his name to no avail; he only muttered that he was expected, and could he please see Dr. Jameson?
“Dr.?” the woman repeated, at first looking confused, but then smiling, “Oh, you mean-” but before she could utter another word, D.R. Jameson came out of his office.
Mr. Jameson was a tall, lanky man with wire-framed glasses who had a love and appreciation for finery. When someone entered his office, they would always remark on the fine and sometimes quirky items he had strewn about the room. Such fine things were very rarely found in an office of that profession. He greeted this newcomer with a smile, sticking out his hand and saying, “Please come in, young man, and have a seat in my office.” Then, turning to his secretary, he said, “Mrs. Merely, please hold my calls.”
Mrs. Merely’s grey eyes lit with curiosity as she nodded and watched the two gentlemen enter D.R. Jameson’s sanctum. The dark-haired man quickly seated himself in the large, overstuffed green leather chair. There was a clock in the room that sat on the bookcase behind the head of D.R. Jameson, who was soon to become a questioner of sorts. The clock ticked loudly, and every movement of the hand reverberated off the office walls.
“What brings you to my office today?”
The young man twitched nervously in the large chair as D.R. Jameson looked at him expectantly. He watched his visitor with curiosity as the man continued to stare at Jameson. The visitor’s body was tense, and his eyes were troubled. It became increasingly apparent to the man that his new companion either could not; or simply did not want to answer any questions.
The questioner leaned forward on his desk and picked up the pen with the inlaid mother-of-pearl handle. Tapping the pen on the oak desk and looking down at his pile of papers, he said to the man in the green chair:
You know, it’s OK if you don’t have any answers. “Let’s just talk and see what we can find out.”
The man looked momentarily relieved.
“How should we start?” he asked nervously.
“Well,” said D.R. Jameson, “you can start by telling me your name.”
Again, the man in the overstuffed chair tossed from side to side in his seat. Mr. Jameson looked inquisitively at the man seated opposite him. Puzzled more now than ever, the man stood up from behind his desk and began to move toward the door. However, as he did this, the seated man said in a whisper, “My name is Gordon.”
“Ah, Gordon, very good. Now we are getting somewhere. Can you tell me what brought you into my office?” Mr. Jameson asked as he moved back beside his desk.
“Emojis,” replied Gordon, who now seemed to gain some confidence after speaking his name.
“Emojis?” parroted our ‘questioner’, who was until now still standing alongside his desk. He sat down and indicated that his visitor should continue.
“Yes,” Gordon repeated, his voice mingled with relief, annoyance, and despair. It began as a way to get her attention, but now I can’t move past it. I just need help. That’s why I’m here. I’m desperate. “
D.R. Jameson silently chuckled and thought to himself, “Does this man understand where he is?”
The questioner looked around his office at the array of trophies and equipment strewn about and realized that this man was so upset that he didn’t even notice he was in the wrong office. Yet somehow, the good-natured D.R. Jameson didn’t have the heart to tell the darkhaired man that he was in the wrong place.
“Gordon, why don’t you start by telling me this girl’s name and what happened?”
Gordon sighed, stood up and began to pace.
“Well, her name is Lily. She had long, dark hair and big eyes, and I blew it. “
A smirk began to appear on the lips of Mr. Jameson. This isn’t the first time he’s heard something of this nature.
“Oh, I see,” said Mr. Jameson, who by this point had collected himself. “What did you do that made you feel that you “blew it” with this girl?”
Gordon nervously ran his fingers through his hair. Returning to the overstuffed green leather chair, he began his tale of woe.
“Well, I guess I am no different from most guys. I had this girl that I was crazy about. She was the best person to talk to; warm, understanding, loving, and kind, and she made me feel like I was ten feet tall. She appreciated me, understood who I was, and wanted to learn what was important to me. She even understood my family background, the fact that we immigrated here, she embraced our traditions. Her background even shared some of the same traditions. She was so easy to talk to. I couldn’t get enough of her. She was all I thought about; it drove me crazy. My friends all told me that I was in love with her. I finally worked up the courage to tell her, but I wanted someone to talk to about it first. Naturally, I sought the advice of my childhood best friend. “
Gordon paused his story and began to shift again in his seat.
“So, what happened to change your mind?”
“How do you know that I changed my mind?”
“Simple,” replied the pseudo psychiatrist, “if you were with her now, you wouldn’t be sitting in my office and, if I may speak frankly, quite miserably.”
The wretched man nodded in agreement and continued.
“Well, I stopped off at my friend’s apartment on my way up to see Lily.”
“On your way up?” inquired D.R. Jameson.
“Yea, you see, that was part of the problem. We lived about an hour and a half from each other.”
For some reason, this last statement seemed to bother the pseudo psychiatrist. Mr. Jameson abruptly stood up, looked Gordon in the eyes, and appeared to be about to scold. However, as suddenly as he stood up, he sat down again. He indicated once more that Gordon should continue with his story.
“I climbed the three flights to my friend’s apartment. When you are in love, nothing feels like too much of a burden. I flung open his door, danced around the room as if I were in some old-time movie, and told Adam, everything. Then, as I began telling Adam all the plans that I had concerning Lily, he began pointing out reasons why I shouldn’t pursue her. He pointed out that she lived far away from me, I work a job that takes advantage of me, and therefore I am not home often, etc. The more he talked, the more I felt defeated. Then he pointed out that there was another girl who had been buzzing around me who might be better suited for me. Adam pointed out all of her advantages: that she, too, was a nice enough girl, that she lived in my apartment building, and that she was a safer choice. He made me feel that I would only cause Lily pain if I pursued her, and it didn’t work out. So, I left. I didn’t tell Lily that I had developed feelings for her, and I shut her out of my life without saying a single word. I started dating the girl who lived in my apartment building, and I let Lily find out about it through someone else. I say, ‘someone else,’ but I should really say something else. “
“Gordon, what do you mean you let ‘something’ else tell her?”
Gordon began fidgeting more now than ever. He rubbed his hands together, pushed back his black curly hair, and cleared his throat before speaking.
“Well, you see, doc. I was too afraid to tell her in person, so I just posted a photograph of my new girlfriend and I together. “
D.R. Jameson’s heart broke for Lily, and he pitied the man who sat before him. Mr. Jameson was once in a similar situation to Gordon. The difference is that Mr. Jameson had a very different outcome.
“Tell me, if you moved on with this other girl, then what seems to be the problem?” Do you not like the girl that you are dating?”
“I like her. She is just what Adam said she was; safe, nice, and conveniently located. “
“So, if you like this girl so much, why are you here? Also, what could Emojis possibly have to do with it?”
“I don’t know why!” Shouted Gordon in anguish. “All I know is that Lily is always on my mind.” I have trouble eating, thinking, and sleeping. I want to know where she is, who she’s with, and it drives me crazy any time I see her with any guy! I can’t stand it anymore!”
Here, Gordon broke down trying to hide his tears from D.R. Jameson.
“And the Emojis?” asked Mr. Jameson.
“Well, I found her on social media and now when she posts things, I make sure that I look at each post and sometimes I even click the ‘like’ button.”
“What do you intend to do about this mess that you created?”
“I don’t know,” sniffed Gordon, who thought the phrase “mess you created” was an unusual term for a psychiatrist to use. “That’s why I am here, to ask for help.”
Mr. Jameson sat back in his chair, making it squeak as he did so.
“Let me tell you something, young man. I was once in the very position that you are now. “
“You were? What did you do? “
“I had an important decision to make. To stay with the woman that I only liked or to be with the woman that I loved. You see, the woman that I loved not only lived far away from me, but she lived on the other side of the country. It took me hours to reach her. Six hours and five minutes by plane, to be exact. I didn’t know what to do either. We didn’t have the convenience of social media then. Not seeing the girl that I loved and not hearing from her was secretly driving me crazy. Can you imagine what it was like when I was growing up? I didn’t have the luxury of seeing photographs or videos of her online. I missed her. I missed all aspects of her. I missed her smile, laugh, the quickness of her mind, creativity, and I certainly miss that special bond and friendship we created. I went to my father and sought his advice. My father told me something that I will never forget. He explained to me that I was being a very selfish and foolish young man by staying with the wrong woman and keeping the right woman at bay. He told me that as long as my heart was still in California, I would never truly belong to the girl that I was dating. I had a decision to make that needed to be the best for all parties concerned. I could either keep trying to force myself to feel more than I did for a girl I cared about but didn’t truly love, which would end up hurting her in the process. Or I could take a gamble on the girl I loved and give us both the chance that we deserved. You see, young man, I was at a pivotal point in my life where I had to learn that love was more than just about convenience. That it is about overcoming distance, it’s about growing up and solving life’s problems together. You may think that you need to have life figured out first, have that job, house, etc. before you can be with the right person. If you wait for those things, you may be waiting the rest of your life. The right woman puts things into perspective and helps you through the pain of finding your way.”
Gordon just sat there staring at D.R. Jameson in disbelief.
“What if she hates me too much? She doesn’t respond to my social media interactions. “
“Did you ever stop and think that maybe this girl wants to see if you will do more than give her morsels of attention on social media? She wants to see how serious you are. If she is as warm and understanding as you say, then she will listen to you. “
“I’m afraid.” replied Gordon.
“I was afraid once too. But I wasn’t going to let myself be a coward for the rest of my life. “
“What happened between you and the girls that you were involved with?”
“I made my decision. I broke up with the girl I was with, and then I married the girl whom everyone told me to forget, the girl from California. I spent the happiest days of my life with my wife. I never once regretted my choice and was truly at peace the moment that I found her. Sadly, she passed away some years ago, but there isn’t a day that I don’t think about her. When I think about her, it is with joy and not with regret. “
“What became of the other girl, the girl you were dating?” asked Gordon.
“I believe she knew, as I did, the truth in her heart. The truth is that I was truly in love with a girl in California. After we ended things, she had a great career and married the perfect man for her. I ran into her a few years ago and she still seemed extremely happy. You see, young man, you can never truly let someone down when you do the right thing. Life isn’t always about comfort. Sometimes you must be uncomfortable for a while to achieve true happiness. It’s a process. Gordon, I suggest that you follow your heart and take that chance. For heaven’s sake, do not keep leading Lily on by giving her morsels of attention. Do something real; reach out to her, ask her for forgiveness for hurting her. If she is agreeable, start your relationship over again with her. The right partner in life changes everything. “
Gordon thanked Mr. D.R. Jameson, shook his hand, and left the office with a lightness of spirit. However, after the door closed, he paused, turned around, and read the black etching on the window. This time he took note of the fine print. It read:
“D.R. Jameson – Mechanic, Handy-Man, and Sports Equipment Salesman.”
Until next time, when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,
Sometimes we happen upon inspiration, and sometimes inspiration happens upon us. It is rare, however, when inspiration is present, yet it goes unrecognized until a year or so passes. I have fallen victim to the latter. People filter in and out of life, much like a revolving door. Some stay because they want to, and some leave because they are too afraid to stay. Some continue to inspire you even after they’ve abandoned the start of a relationship. This inspiration may not have been intended, nor may it have been more than a passing thought from the speaker. Nonetheless, the thoughts that he left behind have gnawed at me. The reasons why escape me even as I write this. The only logical explanation that I can divine from these haunting ideas is that perhaps it’s something that needs to be explored. The concept of tonight’s story was a painful subject for him. Though I am no longer in the thinker’s thoughts or heart, I am grateful for the inspiration for this story. Maybe if he comes across this story, it will bring him peace on the subject.
The smell of sizzling meatballs wafted through the kitchen. The delectable scent carried itself out of the kitchen window, down the street, around the corner, and up the steps of “School No. 5”. The second-floor window of the little school was cracked open. The wind taking advantage of this blew open the window wider. Floating the smell of warm, sizzling meatballs past the nose of Rose. Once the smell of the Italian spices tickled her, Rose instantly began looking at the clock and squirmed in her chair. That smell told her it was homemade spaghetti and meatball night. It also meant Nana was hard at work frying them. That is, at least, what she told herself. It is hard to wait until the end of class, especially when you are in the second grade. The school year was ending, and summer vacation was imminent, mingling with the smell of meatballs which the wind, obligingly carried five blocks in through the window of School No. 5. The clock refused to move its hands closer to three o’clock, making it almost unbearable to wait for.
Rose was growing more impatient by the moment. She couldn’t wait for the blasted school clock to strike, setting her free to go home and bask in the glory of homemade spaghetti and meatballs. Finally, Rose’s wish was granted; the school bell rang! She gathered her things quickly, running down the steps of the school where her father waited.
“Is Nanny making meatballs?” asked the little girl when she saw her father. Her father looked at her blankly and answered, “Yes, but how did you know that?”
“It’s the third Wednesday of the month. That’s how I know Nana is making meatballs, “giggled Rose.
“What does the third Wednesday of the month have to do with your grandmother making meatballs?”
“Because Daddy, Nana always makes meatballs on the third Wednesday of the month. And she always saves me two whole meatballs to eat when I come home from school, while I wait for dinner. It’s tradition. “
This last sentiment made her father laugh, as he understood it was undeniably tradition. His mother would also save him meatballs when he was a little boy returning home from school.
The little girl became quiet and thoughtful on their walk home.
“Daddy,” she began slowly, “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course, what’s on your mind?”
“Are we different?” asked the little girl.
“What do you mean? Everyone is different, and your mother says that’s what makes the world so beautiful. “
Well, I don’t know… but we must be the kind of different that isn’t the good kind…”
“I don’t think there is a kind of “different” that is necessarily bad. What happened at school that is making you ask these questions?” inquired her father.
“The kids started making fun of me. They found out that I had to keep my lunch in the teacher’s lounge today because it needed to be refrigerated. That was bad enough, but then when they found out what it was, that mommy had made me a…”
Here the little girl stopped and looked around to make sure no one could hear her before mouthing the words “a veal sandwich.”
“Why would they make fun of you for that?” asked her father, who was not exactly surprised.
“I am not sure. But that dumb Tom O’Leary turned around and said, ‘You must be one of those stupid *******.’ I asked what that meant? And he said that was what his grandpa called Italians. I’m not exactly sure what that is supposed to mean. It must be pretty bad because the teacher yelled at Tom and sent him to the principal’s office. “
Rose’s father’s face was mingled with a sense of remembrance and pain. He looked down at his daughter and asked, “What did you do next?”
“Nothing, I wasn’t sure what to do. I just finished my sandwich… but I did feel kind of embarrassed. What’s so wrong with bringing a veal sandwich for lunch? It looked way better than the fake pizza that Tom was eating.
“What is ‘fake pizza’?” inquired her father with a chuckle.
“I am not exactly sure,” answered the girl thoughtfully, “but it is whatever he was eating. It didn’t look or smell anything like Nanny’s pizza. It must have been icky because Tom put ranch dressing all over it! Ranch dressing on pizza is gross, but I didn’t make fun of him. “
The pair said nothing else the rest of the way home from school. When the two arrived home, Rose ran up the porch steps to greet her mother, who was outside sweeping. She tilted her nose skyward as she took a deep breath in and sighed with delight as she smelled her grandmother’s meatballs and tomato sauce.
“See Daddy, I was right.” Rose ran through the house and into the kitchen, where “Nana” was pouring olive oil into the hot frying pan and gently dropping the little meatballs into the sauce.
“Ah, my little Cucuzza is home just in time for Nana’s homemade meatballs.”
Nana handed the little girl a piping hot meatball wrapped in a paper napkin so she wouldn’t burn herself. Rose was so excited that she savored every little bite of the before-dinner treat. She sat in the kitchen and watched as her grandmother sang over the dinner she was preparing. Rose didn’t understand this little ritual of singing over each meal, nor did she question it. It was just something that she did. However, considering what happened with the school bully, Tom O’Leary, Rose decided she wanted to know why her Nana sang over her food. Why was she called “Nana” instead of “Grandma” like Rose’s other grandmother? Why were they different in many ways from other families? Or at least, “Daddy’s” family was very different from her mother’s. Pushing her kitchen stool closer to the stove, where Nana was hard at work, Rose climbed up and watched her grandmother.
“What’s on your mind, Cucuzza?”
Rose could no longer keep her curiosity to herself; she began spitting out question after question at her grandmother.
“Nana, how come you sing over dinner? What does “nana” mean? How come our spaghetti doesn’t come from a box? What does “Cucuzza” mean?”
Rose’s grandmother just stared blankly at the little girl as if she had never heard these questions.
“Well, because your family is from Naples and Palermo.”
“Where is that?”
“They are towns in Italy and Sicily. That’s what makes you Italian, well, not your mother. She is only Italian by marriage. “Nana” means grandmother. Cucuzza is a type of squash; it is what is called a “term of endearment.”
“How come mama is only Italian by marriage?”
“Well, because your mother isn’t Italian by birth, she wasn’t as lucky as you are. She, however, was lucky enough to marry your father, so now that makes her Italian also. As far as spaghetti goes, if someone gives you spaghetti from a box, it means they are not a good cook. They don’t have the love. That’s why we sing over the food to make sure it has love. Without love, food is no good. “ Nana’s accent thickened the more she talked about what it meant to be Italian.
“You should be proud of your Italian heritage.”
“If we are to be proud of it, how come you don’t speak it anymore?”
“Because now we are Americans, and we need to fit into our new home. However, though the language may change, that doesn’t mean you forget who you are or where you come from. That’s why it’s important to do these things. It is important to marry an Italian.”
“Mommy isn’t Italian. What if I find someone who is French or Irish? “
It was here that Nana began to beat her chest in frustration. Taking her pointer and middle finger, Nana looked at her granddaughter, bit the aforementioned fingers, and with her other hand, picked up her wooden spoon.
“Let’s not talk about your mother’s not being Italian anymore. Now go on, Cucuzza, if I stand here talking to you, we will never get to eat. Go, go play.”
Cucuzza, I mean, Rose hopped off the tall kitchen stool to find her mother. Her mother was helping her sister with her homework.
“Mamma, why is it so bad that you’re not Italian like Nana and Daddy?”
“Who told you that it was bad?” asked her mother.
“Nana,” replied the girl, “she also said I had to marry only an Italian.”
“Don’t worry about it. There is nothing wrong with other nationalities. That’s what makes the world so beautiful: all the different people in it. When the time comes, you can marry whomever you love. After all, Grandma is French and Irish and you love her, don’t you? “
“Oh, yes!” replied the girl, for in truth, “Grandma” was the little girl’s favorite. Grandma always had the biggest hugs and kisses and she let Rose help while making pies!
Rose was only momentarily satisfied with the answers her mother and grandmother gave her. She went to school the next day, that being Friday, and was once again bullied by Tom O’Leary. This time, Tom came back to school with bigger insults than the day before. There was no doubt that Tom was talking to his grandfather again. Rose came home from school upset. However, her agitation lessened when she found out that she and her sister would be sleeping over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a very special place for the two girls. It was filled with laughter, love, and, most importantly, pie.
After arriving at their grandparents’ house, the girls were greeted with big hugs, kisses, and as much food as they could eat. Much like Nana, Grandma enjoyed having help in the kitchen when she was baking or cooking. However, Nana only liked the girls in the kitchen when she was trying to teach them to cook. Grandma was different. She would let you bake with her. Crack eggs, mix things, experiment with new recipes, and sometimes she would have the girls sit and watch her for hours. She said that by sitting and watching her cook, sew, or do anything important around the house, they would eventually learn it. Rose assumed later that Grandma was trying to teach through osmosis.
That night was another sleepless night for Rose. She kept thinking about what Nana said about her mother not being Italian. How it was good to be proud of where you came from. Yet she was supposed to forget parts of who she was, such as her family’s native language. Nana tried to explain it, and so did Mama. Neither seemed to make sense as to why she should forget any part of her heritage. Rose decided that it was time to ask Grandma.
“Grandma, I have to ask you something about what Nana told me.”
Grandma listened intently to her granddaughter as Rose incessantly talked. The little girl had exhausted herself by the end of the speech. Grandma thought for a second, handed the little girl a freshly baked cookie, and then began to explain.
“Well, Rose, sometimes people, especially people of an older generation, feel that you have to stick with people that have the same background as you. They feel that if they do not stick together, they will forget who they are. I don’t believe that. You should follow the path that God puts you on. I also believe, much like your Nana, that you should hold on to your traditions. I do not think that means that marrying someone who isn’t Italian is going to make you give up that part of yourself. I feel that you should be able to create new traditions by mixing what you hold dear with what someone else holds dear to them. You never really lose who you are. As we get older, things change. Life will not be the same for you, even ten years from now. Things can’t stay the same as they are now when you grow up. That’s just not how it was intended to be. If it did, life would be monotonous. Families will grow up, move out, and start new families of their own. Even Grandma and Grandpa will eventually get old. That doesn’t mean it is bad; it is just a change in how we live. It will be an adjustment for sure, and sometimes change can be scary, and sometimes it’s really hard. None of that should affect how or what you are. It is going to be up to you to keep the values and traditions that we instilled in you now alive. Even after your sister and all your cousins grow up and move away, you will still have each other. You may need to work a little harder at your relationships, but then they will become better than you ever imagined. Do you understand what Grandma is telling you? “
“Some of it,” replied Rose.
“It may be hard for you to understand now. One day, this will all make sense. You asked very thoughtful questions, and sometimes those are the ones with the hardest answers. ” Grandma stroked the little girl’s hair as she said this.
Families, traditions, and the things we have as children never die. They may take on new shapes and new forms, but they are not dead. Take hold of what you value and pass it down to your children; shape your values and traditions so that they can be passed down through the generations. If you do this, you will not only be sharing your memories but building upon them, making them greater and stronger.
Until next time, when we return to more storytelling, I remain respectfully,