Rebecca lay snuggled up to the trunk of the enormous old Oak, eyes closed, her breath as smooth as a satin ribbon. It had been far too long since she’d felt such peace, or rather, since she’d allowed such peace. It was as if she were bundled neatly in a cocoon as the wind whispered soothing words in her ears. She closed her eyes and deeply inhaled the fragrant air.
The Oak was a towering giant with limbs stretching out in an all encompassing manner. His name was Your Highness. That’s what she’d named him the first time she made her way bravely through the meadow to climb into the branches and be held in his arms. She was the princess and he was Your Highness. He spoke to her as did the wind and the deep green fluttering leaves as they whipped together in the elements.
She felt warmth radiating through her bones and goodness and truth at her fingertips. The bark of Your Highness was hard and grey with deep groves and ridges. Rebecca used to love working her small fingers into the grooves, making her feel attached. She smiled at how different and difficult it was with adult fingers.
Without moving anything but an arm, she reached to gather a scattering of acorns and prepared to place them all in a little “nest” just as she used to do. Each one would represent a wish or a goal, same as it had when she was a child.
Sighing contentedly, she gave herself permission to let go of the last ten years. The first acorn entered the nest. She would let go of the blackness; acorn number two. She would let go of the unnatural hold the world had on her and she would discover who she was once again with the help of Your Highness; a third acorn. Rebecca smiled from the depths of her very being, once again safely tucked into the heart of what is real.
“I heard she was back,” the women said quietly. “I’d never have recognized her with that spiky black hair if Max hadn’t told me who it was.”
“I know,” her husband replied. “What do you think she’s doing out there? It’s been hours and I haven’t seen her moved an inch.”
“I don’t know. But did you see her? She’s scary. It’s not just her hair that’s horrible; it’s her black clothes and her make-up, too. All that eye liner. She looks like the definition of depression.”
“Maybe she is,” the man replied. “Maybe that’s what she’s doing out there, why she came back after all this time. Do you remember when she used to call it her talking tree? Marilyn said she used to go sit under that tree for hours as a little girl. Then she’d come into the house and tell her all the things she and the tree discussed, like that old Oak was her best friend. I’d forgotten about that.”
“I remember,” the woman smiled. “I’ve missed her so much, Bert. She was like a granddaughter to us.”
“Well, she still is,” Bert declared. “Come on Agnes. Let’s go out there and re-claim our girl.”
Bert was suddenly on his feet, reaching a hand out to his wife. He stood tall and proud, a look she hadn’t seen in a long time. Agnes joined him as they stepped from the porch stair and headed across the meadow, hand in hand.
Rebecca gazed around her, the meadow so familiar, the earthy smells and bird songs. Well, everyone gets a second chance, right?
She let her eyes wander back to the farm house. It had been so much larger, so much grander in her childhood. The wraparound porch seamed to sag a bit, right in the middle where the same wooden rockers, dining set, and porch swing were congregated. It had always been a great gathering place.
Her heart stopped for a moment when she saw the old couple walking her direction. She knew immediately who it was, Bert and Agnes, forever a part of her family’s life. She remembered how much love she’d felt for them all the years growing up, and how much love they had given to her.
At the urging of Your Highness, Rebecca got to her feet and began a slow tentative walk toward them. The next thing she knew she was running and throwing herself into Bert’s arms.
Rebecca burst into tears. It was a lie, she realized. You can come home again after all!
It wasn’t often he had time on his hands. Normally, there was nothing but a shortage. Yet, somehow, on this rainy windy morning, he had time; time to pick and chose, time to use or waste, time to wonder.
He studied the clock above the work bench hanging among the menagerie of tools. The hands were long black sticks with arrows on the ends pointing to the numbers on the face. It was an old fashioned clock, the old man thought. A clock much like himself, he smiled.
Reaching for the tube of Arnica Lotion, he unscrewed the cap and squeezed a dime size amount into his palm. Ivan slowly massaged in the therapeutic lotion, concentrating on his swollen fingers. His thoughts were on the many half finished projects he’d accumulated, much like all the half finished dreams stored in his mind. Never a shortage of either, it seemed.
The hands of Ivan’s had been chubby and dimply when he was a baby busily pushing and pulling and exploring with all the time in the world on his hands.
His teenage hands banged on a typewriter, gripped a baseball bat, and grabbed for food every chance they got. They were a young man’s hands that could spell trouble if they’d had too much time on them. Yet they weren’t allowed time, so there had been very little trouble.
Examining his hands, Ivan realized how much they’d changed. His hands had looked much better decades ago. They had been long slender hands with long slender fingers. A pianist dream hands. He didn’t play though. Music wasn’t his thing. Building and fixing were.
The scar cutting across the palm of his right hand felt numb as he rubbed it. He’d had very little time on his hands the day he’d nearly cut his thumb off and had been in a real hurry.
Yet today, there was plenty of time; time to pick and chose, time to use or waste, and time to wonder.
Every year, the arrival of spring brings a new reminder of how blessed we are to live in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, it often takes an out-of-towner to bring the stunning beauty surrounding us each and every day of our lives, to our attention once again.
Do we take it for granted? The mountains; towering and snow-capped, Puget Sound and Lake Washington and all the other spectacular bodies of water encroaching our land, land so lush and green and rich.
Do we take it for granted? The fresh seafood; crab and salmon and oysters growing wild in our backyards. The farm fresh deliveries of lettuces, squash, beets, onions, garlic, and kale to name only a few.
Do we take it for granted? I know there are times when I do. And then comes along the out-of-towners. Thank goodness for them. They are amazed by the beauty regardless of rain or shine, stunned by the gifts Mother Nature has bestowed upon us as though we must be her favorites. I think we are!
As nature yawns and stretches and shakes off the dormancy of winter, so should we. Grab a rain jacket and dirty sneakers and head outside to see what’s going on. There’s a lot! And it’s energizing. Enjoy!
He really hadn’t meant to burn the place down. It was a prank gone awry, something to get her attention. Yet, the fire raged, the sirens screamed, and the police lights flashed.
He sighed; why was it that nothing ever turned out the way he thought it would? Maybe next time he should try a different approach. If she survived, he’d simply ask her out.
I knew the highway was no more than about a quarter of a mile farther and things would be better there. I was proud of myself for getting this far and sighed deeply as we snuck cautiously around the bend in the road and then slammed the brakes, slammed them so hard I thought my foot would go through the floor. Thank God we were going so slowly or we never would have stopped. As it was, Peggy Sue and I came to a halt about four feet from a man standing smack in the middle of the road.
He was visibly relieved to see us stop and also aware that I was too stunned to do anything. He approached the driver’s side and made the roll down your window motion. I had my hand over my chest making sure my heart didn’t jump out yet managed to lower my window.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “Thank goodness you were going so slow. I couldn’t get out of the road, it’s solid ice.”
That’s when I noticed a Suburban laying sideways in the ditch.
“Is that yours?” I pointed to the vehicle.
“Yes, unfortunately it is. I’ve called but no one is willing to head out this way until this storm clears. At least it’s out of the road.”
“Well, I’ve been doing okay,” I said, indicating I was going to keep driving. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”
“No, my cabin is right up that drive,” he pointed to one of those hidden driveways. “I think you’re making a big mistake if you keep going.”
“Oh, I have to,” I said. “I really need to get home. My husband is…”
“Just put your car in park and get out for a minute. You need to walk up around the corner and check things out before making that decision.” He opened my door and I climbed out, looking up the road.
“I think I should move it…”
“No. If you move it you’ll end up in the ditch just like I did. Don’t worry. I think it’s too late for anyone else to be heading out. But you’ve got to see this.”
I abandoned Peggy Sue and trailed after this stranger, a little afraid of what I would see. He was right. There was no way I could keep going. A snow plow blocked the road, immobile because of the huge Ponderosa Pine pinning it down.
“Mike Grainer drives this plow,” I gasped. “Is he in there?”
“No, he got out. I sent him up to my place. He’s pretty shook up and there’s no way he can get home.” He looked at me and extended his gloved hand. “I’m Jason Braxton, by the way.”
I shook his hand with my bare one and shoved it immediately back into my pocket.
“Vicki Wallace,” I introduced myself. “I think I’m going to head back to our cabin. Obviously there’s no getting out tonight.”
“You seriously shouldn’t drive anywhere. How far back is your place?”
“Just about to the end of the road, about seven miles I guess.”
“It’s far too dangerous to go back.” Mike shook his head. “Look, I know you don’t know me but you’re welcome to stay at my place tonight. Mike’s staying too. At least you know him and you can call your husband and let him know where you are. I’ve had cell reception this afternoon. I also have everything I need to make my famous chili, so at least we won’t go hungry, and the wood stove works well. It’s warm and dry in the old place.” Jason’s smile was disarming and I realized I really didn’t have a choice, at least not a safe one. And I was sure Zeke would rather I stay put.
“Okay,” I smiled. “Just let me move my car somewhere and get my backpack.” Jason walked back to Peggy Sue with me.
“I think you should pull into my driveway just enough to clear the back end out of the road and leave it. Getting up my drive is impossible.”
Looking around, I realized he was right. We made it just up the gently slope far enough to be clear of the road when she began to slip. I got her stopped, in park, and set the emergency brake. Opening the back door I fetched my backpack, closed it up and locked the doors.
“Okay,” I was feeling a bit strange. I didn’t know this guy and I suddenly wondered if Mike were really at his cabin. What if he wasn’t? What was I doing? Yet what choice did I have?
Jason’s cabin was one of the old originals, a log structure I’ve always envied. Walking up the driveway was tough. The snow was a good two feet deep even though he’d shoveled it earlier in the day. I could tell from a distance the cabin was going to be absolutely charming with a wide covered front porch supported by thick peeler poles. Two wooden rockers were visible under the expansive eves and a huge row of fire wood was stacked against the house and around the corner. There were lights on inside and smoke coming out of the chimney.
“Oh, good,” Jason exclaimed. “I asked Mike to get the fire going. It’s the only heating source so I’m glad to see the smoke. The insert works well. It’ll stay nice and warm once it’s heated up in there.”
We stomped up the front steps, snow falling off out heads, shoulders, tops of our boots. Mike heard the footsteps and opened the heavy front door, surprised to see me.
“Vicki! Oh,no, you didn’t end up in a ditch too did you?”
“No, Mike. I almost ran Jason over, but my car and I are safe.” Zeke and I had known Mike for years and I welcomed his comforting hug. “You better call that man of yours.” Mike said. “I know he’s worried about you.”
“What do you mean?”
“He called me about ten minutes ago and asked if I’d seen you. Apparently he’s been trying your cell phone but he hasn’t got an answer.”
“Oh, no.” I quickly stepped out of my snow boots and hung my down jacket on the rack by the front door. I took my backpack and fished out my cell phone, standing close to the fire. It was warming up nicely in the cabin. I took a good look around as I placed my call. Old cabins like this were fascinating.
Zeke was just as upset as I expected him to be, yet relieved I was safe and off the road. He spoke with Mike too, making sure he was alright and asked his opinion on the road conditions. It was finally settled; the three of us would stay put and ride out the storm. Things were supposed to clear up by morning. I would call him then.
In the mean time, Jason had ground beef and onions sizzling in a fry pan and other chili ingredients set out on the counter.
“Would you like some help with that?” I offered.
“You know, I have this down to a science. You and Mike make yourselves comfortable. I’m going to get this all in the pot and then I’ll show you around my humble abode.”
Mike and I sat by the fire in two rickety yet lovable rockers outfitted in big soft pillows and fuzzy blankets. I was instantly comfortable, grateful to be in this lovely old place instead of stuck with Peggy Sue out on the road or in a ditch somewhere. We talked about the snow plow and how Mike just managed to escape serious harm.
The aroma of Jason’s savory chili caused my stomach to grumble loudly and Mike and I laughed. “Just exactly how I feel, too,” he smiled. It was so good to have an old friend there. Mike’s wife had passed away a few years before and we all missed her good nature and gentle spirit.
“Okay,” Jason set the lid on the big pot. “Let me show you around.”
The cabin turned out to be larger than one would think. I was assigned the bedroom tucked behind the main room, on the far side of the back door and laundry space. A small bathroom was conveniently located right next to it. The room was called “the rose room” named so by Jason’s sister, because of the feminine décor. I was secretly thrilled to have such a cozy room and my very own toilet.
Mike would sleep up the back staircase in a dormer style room with four queen size beds of which he could have his choice. He would be sharing the antiquated hall bathroom located just down the hall with Jason. Jason, of course, had the master suite, a room slightly larger than the one I’d be staying in, yet housing a beautiful small rock fireplace in the corner. There were built-in cabinets lining the hall and a spacious extra room with a huge closet, large window looking out toward the lake, and a work table filed with fly tying supplies.
“My hobby,” Jason announced with a smile.
We descended the steep narrow staircase and wound our way back to the kitchen and main room. Jason pointed out the pantry hidden behind a curtain that slid open and closed on a rod, an antique stove his grandmother used to cook on that was now decorated with dishtowels and pots and pans, an old fashioned ice box used for outdoor cooking and barbeque supplies, and told the history of the big round oak table, decked out in names carved into the surface by family and loved ones over the years. If I had to spend the night in a strangers home, I was glad it was this one.
As it turned out, Jason’s chili was mouth-watering and robust, satisfying the demands of our empty stomachs. Full, warm, and exhausted we bid each other good night. I was happy to be in the rose room. Some of the heat from the main room reached the back of the cabin, making it comfortable and welcoming. I was glad I wasn’t upstairs. It was cold and damp up there.
I used the restroom then snuggled up tight in the cozy bed. It wasn’t long before I drifted off, sleep taking me away easy as a thief in the night – which was just about what happened!
It was 2:25 a.m. when I heard some thumping around, possibly in the kitchen. I’m sure of the time because I checked my cell phone hoping it wasn’t morning yet. I was so tired I had to remind myself where I was, and through my foggy head decided what I’d heard was probably just Jason putting wood in the stove or something like that. I started to drift back to sleep when I heard it again, this time it sounded as though it were right outside my door.
Remembering there was a back door through the tiny laundry space, I decided he was heading outside for wood. But then I remembered him and Mike bringing in a good supply earlier and Jason saying it was sure to last us through the night and most of tomorrow.
I was waking up now and curious about what was going on but I didn’t want to leave the warmth of the bed. The back door squeaked softly and closed very softly. Nice of him to be so quiet, I thought. Nice of him to be so considerate.
There was a footstep, a pause, then a few more steps. A floor board squeaked and the footsteps stopped. About a minute later there were a few more soft steps and a pause. I could actually hear what sounded like breathing outside my door which gave me the creeps. What was he doing?
That’s when a chill ran up my spine and I felt a hand on the door knob. I know that sounds strange but I swear I felt it. The door cracked open just enough that I could see a shadow of a man in the door way. I held my breath. He closed the door.
You’re such a drama queen, I told myself. He was just making sure you were alright.
Why wouldn’t I be alright? Why would I need checking on? My mind wouldn’t shut up.
Okay, fine! I told myself in a huff. Go see what’s up.
I’d gone to bed fully dressed in jeans, sweater, and socks, so I easily slipped out from under the covers, turned on the little bedside lamp and opened my door. It was quiet now, no sounds or movement. I decided he’d probably gone back to bed, yet by this time I was fully awake and wanted to take a look around.
There was a nice glow from the fireplace insert gently lighting the hall. I paid a visit to the restroom then headed for the kitchen and main room. It was lit by the flames of the steady fire. The room was warm and welcoming. I took a seat in one of the rockers and wrapped the blanket around me, checking things out. Whoever it was, Mike or Jason, they’d apparently gone back to bed.
Staring into the low burning flames worked like a tranquilizer. They danced around in colors of orange, red, amber and tiny flickers of blue now and then. I wondered what caused the blue. I stretched my neck, turning my head from side to side, and that’s when I saw it; a slight, barely noticeable movement of the curtain covering the pantry space. Then nothing.
Did I imagine it? Was I just tired? As these thoughts played around in my head, the curtain tweaked. Just a little tweak. There wasn’t a fan blowing around to cause a curtain to move. Could heat cause it to move? A mouse?
I got up slowly, knowing I’d never go back to my room until I was satisfied that the movement behind the pantry curtain was caused by nothing more than moving air.
I clutched the blanket around me tightly, taking small quiet steps until I found myself standing face to face with the curtain. It was just a curtain. It was just a pantry. Maybe I needed to see if there was any tea, something to help me go back to sleep.
I reached out my right hand in slow motion then pulled the curtain to one side. There he stood. Tall. Huge piercing black eyes boring into me. Black hair stuck out in every direction, he was unshaven. He smiled a rotten tooth smile and took a step towards me. That’s when I noticed the knife in his hand. He slowly and deliberately lifted it, all the while smiling.
I felt myself shaking, all of me shaking. I tried to scream. I was screaming my lungs out on the inside but couldn’t for the life of me get it out. Gasping for breath I tried to force the air out of my lungs, tried desperately to scream. Scream. Scream.
Nothing. Suddenly, I jarred myself backwards and crashed into one of the wooden kitchen chairs. The back of the chair hit the table top and toppled to one side, causing another chair to tip over. Although it wasn’t a terrible crash or anything, it was enough for Mike to holler down in a groggy sleepy voice.
“Hey, Jason? What are you doing down there, man?”
No voice. I couldn’t answer. But the voice upstairs caught the full attention of the intruder. He took one last look at me and bolted for the back door. He didn’t slam it. I barely heard it close. I still couldn’t scream. I could hardly breathe.
I was slumped on the floor with two toppled chairs and I still couldn’t utter a sound. My insides were exploding yet I couldn’t move, couldn’t make a squeak, couldn’t catch my breath.
My chest ached from lack of oxygen when I finally inhaled a huge breath of air and filled my empty lungs. I opened my mouth and screamed. Nothing. No sound. Just screaming my lungs out on the inside. There were tears running down my face, yet no sound. But I could finally breath. I picked myself up from the floor, shaking so hard it was difficult to walk.
I made it to the big old rocker and nearly fell into it. The huge cushions engulfed my, hugging me tenderly. The blanket was still clutched around my shivering self. The fire still glowed. I was alive. I fell asleep.
It was five a.m. when I woke with a stiff neck from sleeping in the chair. The fire was dying down. The chairs were still on the floor. The curtain was still pulled back from the pantry.
I rose cautiously, stretched and tried out my steps. Better. Not nearly so shaken up. I upturned the chairs and put them in place, pulled the curtain closed and decided to put a few logs in the insert so it would be nice and warm when the guys got up. Then I folded the blanket and draped it over the rocking chair and went to bed.
On the way I locked the back door. I crawled gratefully under the covers, thanked God for sparing my life, checked the time on my cell, and fell sound asleep.
The winter of 2007-2008 is noteworthy for two reasons: one being a memorable time for the community around Rathdrum, Idaho, and one for me personally.
First of all, we had a record one hundred ninety inches of killing-me-softly snow; and second, it was the first time in my entire life I’ve completely lost my voice. I don’t mean the “laryngitis” kind of lost it, I mean a desperate to scream my lungs out yet not managing so much as a squeak, kind of lost it. As you will see, both these things happened in the same day.
It all started with that snow storm, the absolute dumping of eighteen inches of white powder on the cabin, on the cars, on the roads. Most importantly – the roads. This was in addition to the twenty seven inches we were already dealing with. My husband, Zeke, had just shoveled and cleared the way for me four hours prior, making it quite manageable if only I would have left.
But then it started up with a vengeance. I kept cleaning and packing things up, believing it would let up in a minute and then I’d head out the door. A minute turned into an hour, then another one, finally two more.
Zeke kept calling, making sure I was on the road before it would be impossible. But I wasn’t. I was hesitating; waiting for it to stop, and then it was too late. Apparently it wasn’t ever going to let up.
I was a good snow driver but this was ridiculous. The phone rang again. “Yes, Zeke,” I answered irritably. “I’m on my way. Don’t worry.” I wasn’t though. I was just about out the door, but not quite.
“Good. How is it?” He asked.
“Umm, it’s tricky,” I semi lied as I shoved stuff in the back of my SUV and ran into the cabin for the rest. “I need to hang up and concentrate. I’ll call you if I have a problem.”
I could feel my blood pressure rising and my heart rate picking up. Why hadn’t I left earlier when I was supposed to? When I’d promised him I would?
Zeke hated worrying about me. He liked things according to plan and my natural knack was to mess up the plan. It drove him crazy and I have to admit, it was understandable.
I finally shoved the key in the door and locked the place up, took one last look around, and climbed into my trusty old 4Runner, Peggy Sue. Times like this made me very grateful for four wheel drive. I shifted into gear and crept slowly down what I believed to be the driveway, wipers going full blast as well as the heat. I was grateful for familiarity. Otherwise I may just as well been out in an open field.
The bottom of the driveway spilled gently onto the main lake road which Peggy Sue and I managed to slide right on to. Thank goodness no cars were coming. Great, I thought. Not just snow but ice too.
How did the day get away from me, I wondered, feeling a bit of Zeke’s frustration with my inclination to procrastinate. I could kill four hours in what I thought was about fifteen minutes. Unbelievable.
The lake road was a vacant canvas. No tracks to keep us company, no lines to stay inside of. It rolled out before us like a white carpet, completely unblemished, all ours. I didn’t want it. I wanted other cars, tracks, a snow plow. Where was everyone?
We proceeded, me and my trusty old SUV, slowly, testing the brakes now and then. Sometimes we actually stopped but mostly we barely managed to slow down. At this pace it could take all night to get home. Yet the freeway was sure to be in good shape. It always was. We just needed to get that far and then it would be clear sailing.
“Just stay on the road old girl,” I mumbled to both Peggy Sue and myself, “focus.”
The heater had always been a good one and it wasn’t failing me now. I wiped either melting snow or sweat from my forehead and turned the temperature down. Things were looking up a bit. There was still no one to be seen, but the car was managing well and I was getting my confidence back. I turned on the radio and found the news station and settled in, relaxing my shoulders and turning my neck from side to side to release some of the tension. This wasn’t so bad after all, I decided.
The lake road was a bugger but I could nearly drive it in my sleep so that was a definite advantage. Yet it was eight miles of winding, hilly terrain, lined with hidden driveways and steep embankments all embraced by towering evergreens lending too much shade even on the sunniest of days. One could never be too careful. I’d come close to hitting too many animals emerging from the shadows as they step out to cross the road at that last minute. Stops my heart every time.
So I was giving all of my attention to the road as I listened to the weather man assure us the worst was yet to come and no one should be on the road for any reason short of an emergency. I tried calling Zeke to let him know I was safe and on my way but the cell reception is spotty on a good day let alone on a day like this. I’d try him again in a while I decided, and let him know the road was really not that bad.
Yet it was. It was really bad.
To Be Continued Next Thursday!
The old man nearly coughed up a lung hauling the twelve foot dingy down the beach to the water, dragging it over piles of driftwood, gravel, and rocks. His hip-waders had sprung a leak somewhere along the way, and water was slowly seeping in, soaking his toes on the right foot. He’d forgotten to put a plastic bag over his foot before putting on the boots as he normally did. He’d been forgetting a lot of things lately, he noticed.
If she were still around, she would never let him out the door on a day like this, let alone anywhere near the water. The waves crashed against his legs as he struggled to shove the little boat up and over them, scrambling at the same time, to climb in. He managed to slam into one of the oars, popping it out of the oar lock and sending it overboard.
“Shit,” Matthias mumbled. “Won’t due having only one of the bastards.”
Using the other oar, he paddled furiously toward the one escaping. Unfortunately, the current was strong and pulled the little boat south even though the waves were carrying the desperately needed oar toward the north. Matthias fought his frustration as he relentlessly battled the tide and the current, making no progress whatsoever towards recovering the oar.
A spasm in his lower back caused the old man to straighten up and catch his breath. Looking around, he was shocked to discover how far down the beach he’d floated. It became apparent how useless his one oar struggle had become.
Matthias sat as far forward as he could without sending the small craft head over teakettle and paddled for shore as furiously as possible, to no avail. It seemed the harder he tried getting to shore, the faster he was being swept out to sea.
Sighing deeply, he brought the oar he had into the boat and took stock of the situation. The bad news was he didn’t even have a life jacket, he had one very wet and cold foot, and he had no control over his destination.
The good news was, she wasn’t here to berate his stupidity, and if all went the way it appeared to be going, he’d be bumping up against the dock at Anthony’s Restaurant at the Port of Everett in about two hours.
Just in time for dinner, Matthias thought. And still with a bit of daylight to spare.
The desperateness of the situation disappeared. The old man sat back in the small craft and smiled. He loved Anthony’s, and he’d always wanted to go to dinner by boat. In his mind, he was already ordering a cold beer and a large bowl of their famous clam chowder. He’d figure out how to get home later.
Elizabeth didn’t really know how she came to have dreadlocks. Something strange happened right after the celebration of her sixtieth birthday. It had been a wonderful day, all her family and friends gathered together in the backyard. The flowers were in full bloom, the sun was shining and the air was warm.
Her son Joe had salmon on the grill and her daughters, Jane and Susan, had made salads and roasted red potatoes and baked too many deserts. It was a feast and a party, everyone happy, laughing and dancing, and…well, you get the picture.
Yet somehow that too-good-to-be-true day came to an end and there she was, left with the most desperate feeling, as though she’d suddenly realized she’d forgotten the most important thing in her life, and just now discovered it had been forgotten for as far back as she could remember! The anxiety was unbearable. What was it, she wondered?
Two years later, Elizabeth is celebrating her sixty second birthday. This time the party is limited to family only, strained smiles and arched brows and heavy sighs aimed in her direction. Her gifts consist of beauty salon certificates; spa treatments, mani/pedis, and a day at a Gene Juarez hair salon.
Much to Elizabeth’s delight, a mere day or two after her sixtieth birthday, it became very clear exactly what she had forgotten.
She’d been digging away in her garden, dirt in her fingernails, hair flying out from under an old sun hat, happy as a clam, when suddenly, she got it. She sat back on the heels of old rubber boots, breathed deep the warm spring air, closed her eyes and realized exactly what she’d been missing all these years.
It was her spirit, the one she had as a child, the one that defined who she truly was, the spirit that was now struggling out from under the rock it had been delegated to for nearly a life time.
On this sixty second year of Elizabeth’s life, Jane, her youngest child at thirty four, looked up from her chicken salad, set down her fork and leaned back in her chair, sighing in a manner resembling a sob.
“All right,” she stammered. “I…I can’t do this. I can no longer just sit back and watch you become this, this, this…” Jane’s hands were waving in the air, swatting towards her mother as though there were flies in her face. She burst in to tears, reigned in the fly swatters, and buried her face in her hands.
“Don’t, Janie,” Susan said softly as she put an arm around her sister’s shoulder. “Don’t upset Mom on her birthday.”
Their mother couldn’t keep the corners of her mouth from turning up, her dimples deepening, the smile widening. She’d been so content, so happy since embracing her spirit.
“Honestly Mom,” Joe scowled, “I don’t think it’s helpful for you to laugh at Janie. She’s got a legitimate concern, one shared by all of us, I might add.”
“I’m not laughing at Janie,” Elizabeth assured them. “I’m simply happy. I’m just so happy to be me, enjoying a meal with my babies, all grown up, and celebrating the day of my birth.”
Jane, Susan, and Joe stared at their mother.
“Oh God,” Jane groaned, “She’s…”
“You know,” Elizabeth interrupted, “I’ve just come to realize something over the past few years; something very important.”
Elizabeth wiped the corners of her mouth, set the napkin on her plate and continued, smiling brightly.
“I remember being a child once, you know. And as children we have dreams and imaginings about who we will be and what we will do when we grow up. It’s sad when we enter adulthood and forget all that.”
“Oh-my-gosh,” Joe groaned.
“But,” Elizabeth forged ahead, “that child is still there, and if the dreams aren’t fulfilled we grow old wondering what’s been missing all our lives. Why don’t we feel complete? I know you must feel it sometimes.” She smiled encouragingly at her three offspring, expecting them to nod enthusiastically, to admit the truth to what she was saying. No one nodded.
“Well,” Elizabeth shook her head dismissively, “I began feeling it after your father died; the loose ends and incompleteness, as if my soul were actually calling to me but I couldn’t understand what it was saying.”
“It was dad,” Joe nearly shouted, “That’s what was missing in your life!”
“No, I’m sorry, I loved Seth dearly, but our marriage had been complete. Nothing was missing there. Whatever it was, involved no one but me. A very personal thing, you see?”
Clearly, they did not see.
“I’ve been so happy since I discovered it, since I made the decision to simply be me, to go ahead and embrace what’s important to me, what I love, what brings me joy.”
All three siblings sat back in their chairs, appetites gone. Janie sniffled, Joe looked ready to throw up, and dear Susan was straining to understand her mother, pity in her eyes.
“Mom,” Susan began, “Was your dream as a child to be a…well a….kind of a hippie? I mean who wears their hair in dreads at sixty two years old?” She threw her hands up in the air, voice rising. “And you used to take such great care of your nails and your make-up was perfect and your wardrobe…”
“I understand, Susan, dear. I understand all three of you, I do. Now, you need to make the decision to accept me for the genuine article that I am, and respect my right to live and be authentically me.
“I’ve been there for all of you, your father included, for years upon years. I looked the part of the prominent business man’s wife for him, I lived my life as a good example for my children, and now, at this beautiful time of my life, I get to just be me, that child again who just wants to go outside and play.”
“No, Janie. This is it. I claim my freedom. I don’t care about my nails, I care about my garden.” Elizabeth stood and began to clear plates, speaking gently to her family as though they were breakable.
“I hated fixing my hair and wearing it all sleek and styled. I always wanted to just let it go, let the thick curly mess go. I just love it now, it’s absolutely freeing.” She stacked the dishes in the sink and turned back to the silent threesome.
“I love my colorful long skirts and I’ll never again in my life wear another pair of those awful heals,” she glanced joyfully at her soft leather sandals, “and I burned all my bras.” She laughed at their horrified faces. “That was a joke. I kept a few for special occasions.”
“Now,” Elizabeth stood at the side kitchen door, “come out to the garden with me and we’ll pick some beautiful vegetables for you to take home. And then you’re on your way!”
She opened a drawer and grabbed her gardening gloves and pruning shears. “I have a yoga and meditation class at four this afternoon and I can hardly wait.”
Joe, Jane and Susan silently followed their mother out the door to the garden, looking as though they were heading out to a funeral.
“Have any of you ever practiced yoga?” Elizabeth threw the words casually over her shoulder. “It’s the most wonderful form of exercise, all your muscles stretch and lengthen and the tension just lifts from your body. You should come with me…”
Feet tapping, tapping, tapping. Shuffle, shuffle forward, shuffle backward, cross the ankles, uncross the ankles then tap, tap, shuffle forward, shuffle back, tap, tap, tap. The legs cross, foot pulls up to the knee, foot back on the floor. The legs uncross, cross, uncross, the feet hit the floor and she stands up to walk in place, dance in place. Can’t go far tethered to the blood pressure machine and the I.V. line like she is. She stretches and groans and lays back then sits up and stretches then taps and taps and taps. It’s like watching a cat on a hot tin roof.
Her eyes close, open, dart around the room. What is happening? This is enough to drive her right out of her mind.
She is tired, so tired yet her legs can’t stop and her feet can’t stop and the drugs won’t stop.
Her insides are cold yet her outsides sweat.
She’s wired. The port in her chest makes it easy for the drugs to flow straight into her system, to travel straight to the bad cells and attack. That’s the point of all this, right?
There is a war raging inside her body and our minds are overwhelmed with the reality of what is happening.
She is a mother and a partner and a business woman and a friend with far too much on her plate to have time for this. There is no spare time for much of anything let alone for something as outrageous as this.
Yet, there is no choice. The time is found and the treatment begins and will continue until the bad cells are dead. Fried. Obliterated. Annihilated. Gone forever and don’t come back. Do let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
Sleep is a precious commodity for my friend. Not a lot of it going around these days. Insomnia’s here though, with plenty to spare. Good ol’ insomnia. Can always count on her.
Her new short hair style is adorable. Enjoy it while I can, she says. It’s sure to fall out soon. And she is thin. Oh. So.Thin. Not an ounce of fat left.
Yet she tenaciously fights the good fight.
In eleven months we plan to have a party and invite everyone she knows. It will be a celebration of a battle well fought and won. We will celebrate the courage and strength demonstrated in her victorious battle over the evil that is cancer, and we will rejoice in the return of good health, of embracing life, and of living it to the fullest.
There has never been, nor will there ever be, a moment of doubt.
We believe in you Shannon, and are behind you all the way!
The next ten days of Betsy’s Christmas Break were spent doing little other than cooking, baking, and delivering. They made complete meals and delivered them to individual families in need, and deserts to elderly folks, much like her grandmother, living alone. They spent an entire day baking and decorating sugar cookies then delivered platefuls to everyone in her grandmother’s life with children and grandchildren. Not a day ended without Betsy’s heart full of pride and joy.
She lay snuggled in at night embracing a new freedom, a kind of contentment she’d never known. Smiling faces and gratitude shown by those they’d visited flooded her heart, and Betsy felt the time spent with Grandmother Graham had opened doors wide, welcoming a fresh awareness of a rich life outside Betsy’s limited world.
Her cell phone had been abandoned and forgotten. It was a surprise to discover she hadn’t missed the wasted hours spent doing nothing with the phone attached to her hand like an appendage she couldn’t leave alone.
Thoughts of her parents marched in and out of her mind, not like soldiers warring, but simply as a line of little black ants moving purposefully through her life, yet without threat. Betsy saw clearly how the problems in their marriage were not her fault nor were they hers to fix. Accepting that truth removed fear from one shoulder and guilt from the other.
Just as her grandmother had done, Betsy vowed to grow up strong and independent and make life good for herself and for those around her. The self absorbed life she’d been immersing in would fall from her sight.
Exhaustion lay over her like a blanket. She closed her eyes and tried not to cry.
“Wake up sleepy head! You haven’t got all day!” Her grandmother stood over her scornfully. “You’ve packing to do and your tea is getting cold.”
With that, her grandmother once again, did an about face and hurried out of Betsy’s father’s childhood bedroom, door gaping wide open.
Betsy smiled. It was quite possible she would not miss her grandmother’s way of saying good morning.
Teeth brushed, clothes on, hair in a pony tail, Betsy bound down the stairs to the kitchen. On the table in the nook were the customary two cups of tea and a not seen before shoe box.
Betsy sat down to her tea while her grandmother finished dusting what looked to be French toast with confectioners’ sugar. She set two plates on the table then got hot syrup off the stove and poured it into a tiny pitcher.
“There,” she smiled at her granddaughter. “I’ve saved the best for last.” She watched expectantly while Betsy poured hot syrup over thick golden toast then used her fork to cut off the first bite. Betsy savored the richness of egg, cream, and cinnamon. Taking a second bite, her eye’s lit up in surprise.
“Yes, stuffed French Toast.” Her grandmother smiled. “Wonderful, isn’t it?”
“Oh Grandma, this is the best yet!” Betsy took a huge bite making sure it had all the ingredients in one bite; toast, sugar, syrup, and peach filling.
“The absolute best!”
Her grandmother beamed.
“I knew you’d think so,” she looked at her folded hands on the table for a moment, then at Betsy.
“I’ve made you a box of tools to take with you, so you won’t forget and you won’t quit.” She pushed the box towards her granddaughter.
“Have a look.”
Betsy lifted the lid and peered into the shoe box. The first thing she saw was packets of yeast. Then cards containing the recipes she and her grandmother had been using over the last ten days. Betsy smiled as she flipped through them then saw the pastry knife, a pastry blender and bags. There was an assortment of brushes and a box of toothpicks. And there was a card.
Betsy fought back tears as she opened the card from her grandmother and read the words written in small scratchy letters. Her grandmother loved her. That was all she needed to know.
There were no words to fill in the space. They finished their breakfast, sipping tea and gazing out the window. They cleaned the kitchen together then Betsy went up the stairs to zip the last few items into her suitcase.
The metal hangers swung freely in her father’s closet once again. The little bed was neatly made up and her clothes were gone from the dresser drawer. Betsy looked at the cork board, decided on five photos to take, and removed them, tucking them into a pocket in her backpack. She’d charged up her cell phone in the night and she checked to see that it was back on.
The doorbell rang.
Down stairs her father stood in the foyer as a stranger would. His smile was insincere as he thanked his mother for keeping Betsy, saying how he hoped she’d been no trouble.
He appeared to be in a hurry to leave, even agitated.
“I’ll meet you in the car Daddy,” Betsy heard herself say by way of dismissal. His face showed surprise yet he nodded toward his mother and left the house, closing the door quietly behind him.
Betsy embraced her grandmother and although it took a moment, the old woman softened and hugged her back, at first gently, then fiercely.
Stepping back Betsy and her grandmother shared an honest smile.
“Thank you, Grandma,” was all Betsy could say.
“It was my pleasure,” her grandmother responded.
Betsy lifted her bag and opened the front door. Looking back, she asked, “Grandma, do you know how old I am?”
Grandmother Graham frowned. “I don’t think you ever told me.”
“Well,” Betsy smiled, “I’m twelve year old in two months. “That means I’ll be old enough to take the bus by myself. Can I come and see you sometime?”
“What do you think?” the old woman grinned as she watched Betsy walk down the steps and down the narrow walk way to the curb where her father waited with the car running. “What do you think, girl?” she hollered.
Betsy smiled and waved as she shoved her bag in the back seat then went around to the passenger side of the car. She opened the door, took one last look at her grandmother, and threw her a kiss.
As they drove away she smelled yeast, sugar, cinnamon, butter, nuts, raisins and currents and orange zest and lemon zest and curry. She smelled spices and spices and spices, as they wound down the road, away from her grandmother’s kitchen.
Sighing, Betsy wondered where the kitchen would be that she’d be baking in next.