The Deception

The Deception
From my dining room wall, the coastal painting beckons me. Hues of blue, green and gray, behind glass, recessed in a shadow box.
“Come here,” a seductive voice whispers.
Male, the voice comes from somewhere inside the painting. I move closer. I study the knoll rising from the sea. Atop its plateau rests a cluster of cottages, their cedar turned gray from the sea spray. No one’s walking about, no vehicles travel its winding lanes. I look for, but cannot see who’s called out to me.
“Come here,” again in whispered voice.
Intrigued, I try to figure out how to get behind the front glass of the painting. Some may say I’m at the verge of madness. But, there’s no madness here. I’m sensible, rational, and pragmatic. These are my shield.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“I’m your friend.”
Suspicious and doubtful, I hesitate and look around, sizing things up.
Offering assurance and self-confidence, he croons: “Don’t be afraid. Just keep your bearings. You’ll be safe.”
I’m intrigued by the challenge: Just how far into the painting can I go? My mind’s eye travels up and over the bottom of the frame. Surprisingly, I plunk into cold knee-high water. Seagulls squawk and swirl above small dinghies in the shallows. The ocean’s stench of brine, decomposed seaweed, and stranded shellfish invades my nostrils.
Feeling uneasy, I question if I should go back.
The voice senses my hesitancy. “That’s it…take it slow,” it persuades.
“Where are you?” I shout.
“Take the steps up the retaining wall. I’ll meet you there,” the comforting voice promises.
When I get there, no one waits at the top of the steps.
“I’m here,” I yell.
No answer.
I walk the smooth cobblestones to the nearest cottage. No one there, either. Confused and impatient, I wait.
The wind picks up. Fog is checking in. Darkness threatens. A distant fog horn trumpets a foreboding and ominous warning.
I walk back to the steps. Waves are crashing over them and tantalizing the edge of the village. The dinghies rock almost onto their sides.
I feel trapped, lost, and in danger. I can’t figure out how to get out of the painting. I panic. The crashing waves compete with my cries for help.
Then, I hear the voice again. Now it’s loud, menacing.
“We’ve got us another one,” it taunts.
Other voices join in to pour out a terrifying cackle.
I hunch my shoulders and drop my head. I’ve allowed myself to be outwitted.

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The Inheritance

“The Inheritance”

My most memorable inheritance didn’t come in the form of money, real estate, or stocks. The gift was a love for reading and it came from my mom.

Mom held a fondness for words. A winner in school spelling bees, and a proof reader before marriage, she passed along her affection for language by reading to us every night. It was not officially bedtime until she had read at least a few selections from our favorite, The Bumper Book.*

If I close my eyes, I can still see the orange cover of the oversized volume with bunnies, chicks, a lamb and a pig frolicking with chubby-cheeked boys and girls. I can almost feel the weight of that book when Mom opened and rested it on our laps as we snuggled beside her. We held the outer edges of the hardback and were her “page turners.” She’d ask what we wanted her to read. She’d comply even if our selections were the longer ones.

The book included short stories, alphabet, number, and nursery rhymes, and our favorites-the poems. These offered a sing-song tempo that soothed us into slumber. As I think on these poems-which I still know by heart- I can almost hear Mom’s expression-filled tones as she’s retell our favorites:

“How would you like to go up in a swing?

Up in the air so blue?

Oh I do think it’s the pleasantest thing

Ever a child can do…” **

(As I write this, I’m feeling nostalgic and recall the wooden swing Dad built for us near the patch of hens and chickens.)

Our other favorites included Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod – who sailed through the sky in a wooden shoe, *** The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat- who got in a fight one night and ate each other up ****, and The Cupboard– which “held a jar of lollipops for me, me, me.” *****

When my first son-and my first niece- were born, Mom gave them Bumper Books. I read our copy to all our sons, who liked it as much as I. Later, when my grand-daughter and grandson were born, I also gave them Bumper Books. (By that time, it was out of print but I found used ones online.)

Mom’s inheritance has passed through three generations, with more to hopefully come. With impetus from The Bumper Book, we are all devoted readers.

Sisterhood and Unconditional Love

Give me the kind of sister who knows all about me, and loves me anyway. I’m fortunate-I have two of them.
Whenever I pull my notepad from my purse, I’m reminded of my sister Pat. The pad was a gift from her. On the cover are the words “More Than Sisters. We share a connection that forever binds us to each other.” Along the side of the cover, two mop-headed women in bright purple and red dresses embrace in a side-hug.*
Pat and I are only sixteen months apart. We kept Mom busy. We’d wander out-of-bounds to the shallow creek and captured mud turtles (we’d always get caught; how can you hide a pet turtle?), once walked barefoot in fresh tar (that stiff cleaning brush hurt), and, after a heavy storm, drank the cascading water in the ditch leading to the storm drain (luckily, the water test was negative for germs.)
In our joint memory bank are recollections of racing in our undies through pelting rain, cuddling with Mom to count the seconds
between lightning and thunder claps to estimate the center of the storm, snatching fireflies in Mason jars to twinkle-light our room as we fell to sleep, and opening the bathroom window to scoop snow from the low roof over the cellarway to play with in the bath tub. We also have recall of crayons, Roy, Dale, and Trigger, paper dolls, the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and the chicken pox. When we became too much for Mom, she’d give us big spoons and send us out back to dig to China (we never reached it, but we believed it was possible).
I was almost ten when our little sister Linda joined us. Because of the age difference, we weren’t close. Yet, over time the three of us just simply joined together, supporting one another through marriages, divorces, and other life happenings. Above all, we gather each year to celebrate us. Linda has become our guru for event planning. Two sister trips are well-worth repeating.
One winter, we arrived in Myrtle Beach for a week’s stay just as a cold icy storm raged along the coast. We never unpacked our warm-weather duds or the beach chairs we’d packed in place of the spare tire. For the entire visit, we wore our sweats all day and all night, washing and drying them each morning before putting them back on again.
We also had an eventful weekend in New York City, resulting in four room changes due to hotel mix-ups. When we entered our third room, we found two men in the same bed, partially undressed, with a sheet tossed lightly over them. They indicated they’d called for a “lady of the night”. They gawked at the three of us like they’d won the lottery. This final error got us the penthouse suite.
For us three “girls”, sisterhood has been a blessing. We give each other love, support, trust, and companionship. When we’re together, we laugh ‘til we’re silly and keep making more memories.

• Blue Mountain Arts. WONDERFUL WACKY WOMEN, copyright Suzy Toronto, a registered trade mark of Suzy and Al Toronto.
(A different Suzy)

A Near Miss

A Near Miss

In the retelling, they called it a near miss; she called it an honest mistake.

Beams of spring-time sun from the kitchen window had carried a hankering for fresh rhubarb pie.

As David left for work, she called out “Do you have any rhubarb?”

“Out by the side of the house,” he said. As he pulled the door shut, the keys on his belt loop danced their familiar jingle.

Within minutes, she had the bottom crust draped into the pie plate. She grabbed the kitchen shears and the colander then left in search of rhubarb. Just around the corner of the house, near a stretch of rampant violets, she found the patch of large green leaves. She painfully stooped to isolate the stalks in the dank soil. They proved too tough for scissor cuts. She headed back for a sharp-bladed knife and sawed off enough to overflow the colander. She pulled the leaves then went inside to rinse the stalks.

She tried to peel and cut them but they were woody. She needed the meat cleaver to chop them up. Putting them on to cook, she hoped they’d tender up. But, even after 45 minutes of a rolling boil, they were still hard.  Her patience used up, she left them in the sink and walked away.

When David got home, she told him of her failed attempt to make the rhubarb pie.

He glanced in the sink, gently placed his hand on her shoulder, and asked “Where did you find these?”

“Just around the corner of the house” she said.

A kindly chuckle sneaked from between his graying moustache and beard. “The rhubarb is at the far end of the house”, he said. “What you have here is some very old burdock.”

Now it was her turn to laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jasmine

Jasmine

 

Within hours after Jasmine was born, the doctor stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my husband at the edge of my bed.  The conversation was heavy.

“Since Jasmine’s cousin had cystic fibrosis, she’s at risk for this genetic disorder” he said. “We will test her blood to be sure.”

“Oh, dear God, please…” I prayed aloud. “How long until we know?” I whispered.  I felt the tears slipping down my cheeks, and reached out for my husband’s hand.

“It’ll take at least two to three weeks to get the results,” he said. “If the results are positive, we will do an additional test just to be sure.”

My husband squeezed my hand. “Honey, we have to be patient” he said. “I know it’s hard, but worrying won’t change anything.”

But, I had seen firsthand the ravages of this disease on my niece: sticky mucus plugging up her little lungs and wreaking havoc with her digestive system. Chronic infections. Constant shortness of breath. An early death.  I had cradled her Mom in my arms on the days she’d plead to God and asked “Why?”  And, I held her for a very long time at her daughter’s funeral.

In two weeks, the doctor called us to say the Newborn Screening test had been positive for cystic fibrosis.  We were probably in denial, but we were not prepared for this; Jasmine was eating well and seemed to be healthy. With heavy hearts, we took her in for the second test.

When Jasmine was almost four weeks old, we took her back to the Doctor’s for a check-up and to find out the test results. “I am so sorry, but both tests showed that Jasmine has cystic fibrosis,” he said. “My nurse-practitioner will call to set up an appointment to discuss treatment options with you and to help you get the medical equipment you’ll need.”

My husband and I both cried. Right there, at that moment, we vowed to give the very best care we possibly could to our precious little girl.

 

 

I now stand next to my husband at the front of our church, facing so many loved and familiar faces, and take a deep breath. “We thank you for coming. Just over fifteen years ago, Jasmine was born,” I say. “She was an exceptional child. I know, I know.. You’d probably say ‘She was your daughter; so of course you’d think she was exceptional.’ As her Mom, I admired her tenacity; she never let her challenges get her down. She was always upbeat and believed she could do anything she set her mind to. Her father and I took great pride in her.”

As we return to our seats in the congregation, Mr. Thomas, her school principal, takes our place. “We all loved Jasmine. She breezed through each of our lives, and changed us, made us better people. I remember a visit from Mr. Smith, our music instructor, after Jasmine informed him she wanted to learn to play the clarinet and be in the marching band. I called her Mom and she said to let Jasmine try; it was her dream.” He cleared his throat and then continued : “And, when Mr. Brown, our athletic coach, came to see me because Jasmine had told him she wanted to be on the track and field team, and I called her Mom, and you know what she said: It was Jasmine’s dream.” Chuckles ripple through the congregation.

The principle returns to his seat and the Rev. Miller takes the podium. “Jasmine was a very special young lady. She had such a joy for life. She was active in our church’s youth group, dated one of the boys in the group, and wanted to bowl on their team. So, I called her Mom, and you guessed it: She said ‘Let her try, it’s her dream.’”

Then, a number of young people speak of how popular and admired Jasmine was. As one of them says, “Jasmine did not let her illness define who she was. She was a true champion.”

In Tribute to Jasmine

1999-2015

 

More information on cystic fibrosis may be found at Mayo Clinic.org. This site was helpful in my writing this fictionalized account of a young woman in our area that recently passed away from the prolonged effects of cystic fibrosis. According to her obituary, she bowled, was in the marching band, competed in track and field, and was pre-deceased by her cousin.