"Tomorrow Comes Today"
Life. With a bit of reflection, and with some time spent on this road, you can actually sense the memories like a shadow growing with each passing day. You often revisit much of what you experience and pull about the most cherished events to reminisce on. It was my attempt to do such a thing. Reach back into my mind, find some happiness there, and to relive the world from which I had come from. Those clippings of time are but the moments we know most intimately; of a lost yesterday, that when they suddenly and most unexpectantly re-appear, not as shadows, but as spots in your thoughts, you realize just how much of a friend they really are to you. I would recall the happier times, along with the emotions and the feelings that were like fine silk threads interwoven into those occasions; pieces of history; my history; moments in time; my time.
Anything can trigger a reflection. Voices that can echo without warning from days gone by, and which huddle close to your every waking thought. At any moment they might spring about and ask you to recall the long and seemingly still ghosts from your wind-blown past. There, when something you hear is something you had heard from long ago. It moves you to remember. Do you hear it? Those whispers and sounds buried in that endless treasure vault of experiences. It awakes from what seems to be a dream buried within time itself.
In the most troubled times you find time to reflect; to ponder the world as it was. Perhaps the smell of an ancient fragrance will guide you there; or the whiff of some childhood candy you hadn't enjoyed in years. But you remember, and only forget until that same memory comes again to visit you; to say hello and remind you of what used to be.
I thought I was too young for this; to reminisce, to think, to ponder; to relive seemingly glory years that didn't seem so glorious while living in them. But here they are with me; fragments, pieces of treasures that are but a puzzle until you put them all together. I have always been told trauma bears trial; and in trials, a person discovers what they are truly made of. It is like a rainbow of emotions; where both sorrow and joy were born and brought out to look like a distant, beautiful rainbow. In this case, distance would need to remove me from the present and eventually make it a part of my past. Then, perhaps then, I could reflect on this moment I am living under, and see some scrap of joy that was produced.
It is true what they say of the heaviest showers. There is always a most beautiful rainbow after such a rain. Here, now, it was as if I were looking within a brief scope into my past and to where that shower had just passed by, still having no clear explanation on it; no rainbow still to be seen. I could not tell you precisely what it was, yet I observed all theses senses for clues to place with me adequate reasoning for it all.
But to see the puzzle pieces to my life flashing before and through me, gave me pause to escape on those aimless winds. They appeared to have no direction or navigation in them. I lost myself from the present, seeing now those traveled worlds like a good tale to review once more. Memories and Reflection - the particles of that which makes up the very essence of who I am, and who I have now become.
Now, I suppose this story has some virtue in its tale. How do I know this? Well, there is virtual truth in the belly of it. And where there is truth, then virtue is soon to follow like a good ending to a story. It was as if I had devoured life and all there had to be experienced, and when you come to some form of conclusion and resolution to what lays in that belly after all this, you know you have been well fed. It is true I have been most fortunate. A wondrous life, some would say. But inevitably; unexpectant trials trip you up and over, and you suddenly are in need of defining what the words hope and faith truly mean.
But here I sit. I am the silent inhabitant of an only island; mine.
I could see the block, white screen stare empty back at me. The sounds of a 38 mm film reel rotating and clipping against the aging projector at a constant beat, softly snapping close to my left ear. The weak, humming purr sound of that projector was playing a tune and rhythm of its own in that backdrop. I heard its echo swear at me with every top-turn to its reel. I was alone and only companioned with my daydreaming thoughts.
The room was vacated out now. I was sitting to myself, along with those vagrant memories still keeping me with good company. The screen never changed or altered. It stared back pure white as the flow of light expanded from the small cylinder lens of this projector and widened until it nearly took up most of the back wall to this room. But I swear, all the while, it was playing my entire life back to me.
Styrofoam cups were sparsed about. Some cleaned empty while others still held some of their drink at the bottom. My daughter Tyler had left her favorite doll propped upright in the small chair. I am sure it was staring back at me; smiling, holding its short stumpy arms wide open to me as if it wanted to embrace. I, too, needed a hug. My son Cory had also left some of his mementos about. Several of his army men were displayed on the far table with no reason for their positions. He still had yet to learn the true art to that playful warfare. I suppose he placed them about where he saw fit at that time.
I could smell the sweet aroma of pipe smoke drifting about this room and chalking the air with dust, wandering as freely as my thoughts were. My father Allen had only been puffing on his usual brand just a few hours before. It always seemed to put him at ease when he did so.
The lights about the room had long before grown dim. Yet I could sense the pondering shadow of someone lurking from my rear, appearing to stretch in quiet observation of me. I knew who it was however; it was Sandra. Her ways were always of soft measure. She had the charm to smooth out all the rough edges of the world and to somehow make the rainbow appear on every occasion. This time would seem to be an impossible act of nature if she could perform the feat.
I did not turn so suddenly, but feeling her head drop slightly around the doorframe; her frozen eyes, watching and staring over me. I could sense her presence as if it were as vivid as the dreams and memories I was currently visiting on. It was a loving shadow that bent over me there, like a good guardian angel she was. Sandra possessed the finest skill in timing. She was waiting, collecting herself, and then announcing when the time was appropriate to do so.
"And what would my husband find so fascinating about a blank screen?" I heard her voice softly whisper from behind.
"I don't know," she knew the answer before I could say it, "I really don't know."
I heard her steps draw near on me and I felt the gentle passing of her arm around my shoulder as she bent to stare on my profile. My sight remained constant to that empty screen.
"A college-educated man; the top of his class. A brilliant representative; a consummate husband, father, son staring silently, absent-minded in the privacy of his own home; spending his evening hours watching a blank wall…what would the public think of this little skeleton in his closet?"
I could feel the breath of her smile as her expression turned upward, though I remained on my fixation for just a spell.
"Every man has his moments," I weakly proposed.
"And what is yours?" she employed, turning her face in front of mine.
"Which one?" I tried to smile, but it fell short.
"Your being very deliberate here maestro," she grinned.
"A man is not a man without mystery."
She frowned on this, held to her thoughts, then spoke, "A man with too much mystery seems to abandon those close to him," she paused, "You know Conner; Cory and Tyler are like tremors to your every earthquake. Don't put barriers up to them for them to see. They're too young to get over these obstacles. They watch your every move and they see how you are neglecting your relationship with them," her face became slightly more drawn now.
"It just takes time," I spoke, "is all. But I hope they would never think that of me…trying to keep them at a distance and all..."
She paused for that moment, and in her usual wisdom, she replied, "I won't debate the things you already know. But just think about what they are going through. Sometimes we just have to mask our emotions a little, to protect the children. They feel it most when you withdraw from them. And they are confused by it. Kids are never blind because, in their small and bright world, we are the center to their universes…but you know this."
"I can't change any emotion that's honest."
"I'm not asking you to," she smiled, "just camoflauge them a little and you will see a big change in your children. It's ok with me. Let me be your sole sounding board if you want. I'm a big girl. But don't take it out on the kids." She paused, "Even if you don't mean to…"
My eyes captured hers in our looks, and I thought openly about what she was saying. I bent over to console myself in that instance; finding a silent tear dropping from my cheek as I brushed my hair back from my eyes.
"It just happened so fast; so suddenly. I had no way to prepare for it. I had no idea it would be this way," I could sense her arms linger around my shoulders and pull me close to her, "Nor had I ever imagined how it would be."
"I can't tell you how to feel," she hugged me closer still, "but feel as you are, and how you are supposed to be."
"This has changed me," I quietly replied.
"I know," she responded, "I suppose we are all finding out more about ourselves… in the end, we will know."
"Cody and Tyler aren't the only one's confused."
"Don't lose yourself Conner," she returned, "The way home isn't so long. You just have to trust in your beginnings, and know what is right- don't lose sight of this."
"We were both blessed with good parents," I remarked.
"The best," I could feel her smile start up against my cheek, "They say great parents in the morning make the sunset glow brighter for us. And in the end, you will own more wisdom than you will ever know. But you have something else to attend to." Her expression came across more constant to me.
I curiously looked on her. I wondered what that might be.
"Your children, they are so young. Go to them. They have been asking for you."
I looked to her and I caught that blank screen out of my corner stare. She was moving about the room as if this were her final speech, and that I knew exactly what to do from there. Sandra was right; I did know what to do. She went about, collected the cups and plates round, and so gave them more attention than me. I stood, took her hand into mine, and made her pause for that time.
"Not just the children…I have a wife to attend to as well." I replied, and so caught the edge of her grin meeting with mine. Silence broke on us, though we knew what I must do. It was time for me to see my children before they fell asleep and went into their dreams.
I was hesitant and reluctant to do so, not knowing what to say; to give them ease and normal perceptions to live by. I had been stretched away from them for a bit. As if the circumstances had pulled our relationships apart like a strained rubber band. Their room was so close, but it felt like such a journey to get there. Those self-taught emotions seemed to be playing havoc with my strong will. I knew what lay ahead and I was hard-pressed to find the right words for them to live by. I paused; Sandra smiled, then she gently pushed me free of her; all the while she mouthed the word 'Go' in a repeated fashion.
I traveled from room to room. The air felt quiet and as much asleep as the night had seemingly become. Each room was empty and scarce but for the sound of my dress shoes clapping on the hardwoods floors. The stairs creaked and echoed out their wheeze as I went cautiously up those flights of stairs. The banister likewise gave a little as I leaned on it from step to step. There, to the end of the hallway, sat my children's room. The door became slightly ajar but unmoved. I could hear the rustle in their sheets as I came still closer.
I pushed the door free, saw the long shadows grow longer still. I watched them as they apparently slept quietly without a diversion, though I knew they were play-faking sleep this early in the night. I moved to Cory's bed first and I sat on the edge of his bed.
"Hey," I wiggled him awake, and so he turned to see me, "How's your tooth?" I whispered as he grinned on me. I took to wiggle that top, front tooth, "Still there." He nodded in agreement. "Are you ready to pull?" He disapproved on this statement and I reacted with a smile. I brushed back his hair; felt the silence pass between us as we stared on one another for a moment. Such the likeness of me he was; that temperamental way; the soft freckles of youth I once owned myself; the reaching-back dimples whenever I smiled, poised themselves as well over his cheeks. I could see the memories of myself when I looked on him, noting how reflection plays such a stare with me while we were frozen in moments like this. Cory was my shadow and I knew this. His disposition; his mannerisms; his boyish performances were as I was so many years before. As if he were walking down the same pathway that I had first traveled on. Memories and Reflections- now came rushing on me like a past wind I once remembered, but I had so recently forgotten.
"You know, we are only delaying the tooth fairy.." I suggested with a silly grin.
"She can wait…" he fearfully proposed.
"She might forget," I further suggested by a sly grin.
"She won't," he smiled, nearly popping out that tooth when he did so, "She never forgets."
"If you say so…" I whispered. I brushing back his hair once more, taking a move to wiggle that tooth back and forth myself, "It seems mighty ready..."
"Not yet…"he pulled his covers up to his chin as I leaned in on him. I placed a kiss to his forehead and I sent back a serious expression like a shadow hovering over his bedposts.
"You remember what happened to the last tooth?"
"Yes," he shyly proposed.
"Then I think we should pull it…" I came again.
"He'll never let you pull his tooth dad…" I heard Tyler turn, rustle about in her bed, and roll to face the both of us, "Not me. Let dad pull three of them, and I got three dollars to prove it," she said this with such an air of pride.
"Will too!" Cory lashed out.
"Will not!" Tyler volleyed back.
"You haven't before," she grinned on this.
"Cory," I shot a firm glance to him, "Tyler," I did as much the same to her, "I am sure when the time comes I will be able to collect your tooth for the tooth fairy. No need for arguments here for the sake of arguing…you both still have a full head of teeth to lose, and will become more than 'well to do' by it at the expense of the tooth fairy herself," I eyed them both as they had grown more silent. They both shot me the expression that somehow I was angered by their little quarrel.
I paused. I made a sigh in hopes to defuse the situation and allow myself to collect my thoughts to speak on further.
"What chapter were we on?" I said.
"Chapter 7," Cory cautiously remarked.
"Which book?" I had forgotten.
"Dad?" Tyler pleaded with me to remember.
"Oh yes," there was a pause, and it seemed to be sent my way, "Robinson Crusoe."
"No dad," Cory softly replied.
"Black Beauty..." and by the look on their collective faces, I was in error again, "Heidi…Oliver Twist…The Call of the Wild?" I could only venture then, and still be fiercely abandoned by my more usually keen memory.
"You used to never forget..." Cory employed. I felt his words softly pinch me with its most accurate accusation. I had failed them again, and so I felt the most inept of our trio. To sense that these moments we shared; these very moments which held the utmost meaning to them had failed to hold any relevance with me. That pause brought me into shame and embarrassment in front of the very two little people who held me so in high regard and invincibility. I wondered where the right words would come from. I was holding still, gazing but into the reflective stares of their eyes while they were sitting, wanting me, hoping even still, that perhaps, if all were to go as it should, that I may remember the book we had stopped on before. I thought for a moment as I tried to discover the magical title which would appease them so. I could not find it.
"What can I say?" I only mastered this phrase.
"Huckleberry Finn…" Tyler spoke out, disappointed as she was with me. I was so finding more failure within myself.
"Yes…Yes," I threw my finger into the air as if it had come to me only a fraction of a moment after she had said so, and would have darted back into my memory if she had not blurted it out to me so premature. My look found theirs to be so full in acrimony that perhaps I had lost them for a second "Where were we in the story?" I defused.
"Huck was being chased by Pap with a knife..." Cory said.
"And why was he doing this?" I shot them a confused expression, as though I had never thought of reading that section before.
"Pap thought Huck was the Angel of Death, or something…" I saw the despondent stare resonate from my daughter's soft and engrossing eyes, which all but tore over me. I could sense that lump drive upwards in my throat; my inner tears remained within. They couldn't see my own sorrow.
The gaping hole of silence in our conversation seemed to frustrate them further; my lack of comfort; my inability to set things right and make the world as it was before; to somehow turn time backwards and give back those dear things which were so recently lost to all of us.
Surely I would have been an awkward clockmaker. I believe I would have brought to heir the revolution of having the hours spin counterclockwise. But I suppose I would have been just as well the smart clockmaker as a good father to these children now. It was true. Somehow I had lost my step along the pathway; turned a corner I was not meant to travel on. And in looking back and so seeing the ways I should have gone, I was in a struggle to redirect myself.
Sometimes life throws shadows in your way without the light to guide you by. Your hope is to discover the way as you see fit. But sometimes, even in the most winter of times, there isn't enough light to be sure on. Then, when the hour is most dim and the air the coldest still, you just have to discover the way.
I saw their worried eyes; their most early precepts of childhood where everything was to be of fancy and play. Nothing bad was to touch them in their lives, where security was as great as life itself. This infant bubble had somehow burst by the pin of fate itself. And now they felt the world seemed as cold and dim as I did.
Tyler moved from her bed to sit most near to me, to see more closely the weakness in my own eyes. Cory leaned up, intently eyeing in me the same thing as Tyler did. I felt the weight of their stares expose the very expressions I did not want them to see which so caused me to wilt under that pressure. The mask seemed not as strong as it did before. But I held to a sigh; looked away briefly until my daughter's soft voice caught me back again.
"How long will you be sad daddy?" her five-year old voice nearly struck the beat strings to my heart. I could not deny the sword in her words, yet I still refrained from my weep and I kept it silent.
"Only until the Spring dear," I whispered back. She placed with me a hug, and too, did Cory lean further until they both were within my grasp. I squeezed both into a tight fit within my embrace. We held each other still there; time eclipsed and spun now on that same moment as we locked into that comfort and embrace. We did not want to let go, but let everything pass until we were all sure that everything would at least heal a little in that time we could share together.
"We should attend to our reading tomorrow... can we?"
"Huckleberry Finn?" Cory hopefully said.
"Oh yes…and while you are at school I will be sure to review the first six chapters again," I smiled, "In fact, I will become the best expert on it."
"And the voices?" Tyler chimed in.
"Of course," I replied, "What is a story without voices?"
"Not a good one…" Cory leaned back with arms placed over his head. He stared back on the ceiling tiles like they were bright stars in the night sky.
"Then I will have to make good practice on different ones," I placed Tyler back into her bed.
"I like it when you do an old man…" she giggled aloud.
"Like this?" I grew my face old, rolled my eyes in retreat, gummed my lips over my teeth, and dried out my voice until it sounded like the one who needed a long and deep glass of whiskey, "A varmint! A heathen!"
"You sound like the way Pap would sound," she giggled once more and she smiled broadly as she looked to me.
"Pap…" I softly whispered that word through my lips and I so stared out into some unforeseen distance. As if my mind was venturing away again; eyeing the prodigal notions of a son lost in his own history; poking that long scope in retreat into the way I had come. I could see my own childhood as I peeped backwards like a good Tom, "Pap… I used to call your grandpa that."
My words trailed off at the end of that sentence.
"Grandpa?" Cory shot in.
"He was Pap to me…" I looked back onto Tyler's shining face, "You're a giggly goo one, aren't you?"
And she laughed once more as I tickled her to clear it out of her system.
"What did he call you dad?"
"Just Conner," I paused and winked a smile, "But when he was really angry with me, he used to call me Connnniiieee!"
There was a general roll-call of laughter which hit the room. I looked back at the shimmering light and open door. I could see Sandra's shadow standing off in the distance; silent and motionless, staring into our audience to overhear what was going on between us three.
"Time for bed," I returned my attention their way, "Butterflies and bats need their rest too," I imposed a metaphor to each of them.
They drew snug in their beds. The soft, cupping blankets rolled back just underneath their chins. Their eyes were in a droop, and yawns consuming the full expressions in their faces. I could see that they had had a full day. The tiny-tot children closed their eyes, fell to a slumber, and so tumbled into some dream and sleep I could only imagine. I left them as they were, but better still than before. It seemed perhaps they would have good dreams rather than nightmares now, as long as Pap did not show up in them.
I had often heard Tyler crying in her sleep. When I went to comfort her in those moments, the tears kept flowing even as she awoke. They were so very long to dissipate. Tonight perhaps would be different.
I drew the door closed and I stepped down the hallway where Sandra was leaning up against another doorway.
"Good job Maestro," she smiled and grinned in the same expressive way.
"I'm just a natural," I said modestly.
"Six chapters…" she had to remind me, "And all those voices. You know Huckleberry has as many characters in it as words," she reminded me still further.
"I can handle it," I said, "I will just have to spawn some riverboat magic, if you can do the female roles."
"Oh no," she shook her head on it, "You're better at voice alterations than I am. This is your job."
Then she stopped, and her grin was replaced by a serious look.
"They've missed that…more than you know."
"As I have…" and I left her side.
I knew Sandra would be gathering herself for bed soon as well. I moved outside our old Boston home and I caught the early winter air in my face. The ancient light shimmers in the wintertime there, and so the cross-town streets were gleaming back on me when I would look out their way. The soft spray of headlights moved about the nearest streets like lightening bugs in search for new companionship. I could hear the rain quietly pelt round the trees with a soft peddle thump, and sidewalks with the hoof beats of a tiny horse in a long and constant trot. The air was cool; not biting, though I could see my smoking breath rise up whenever I was exhaling into the night itself. I could see the mist swirl about like a cotangent stew; muddle about, drift in sways, brighten every porch light up and down the street, and so drip from the dark sky. As if Heaven was softly weeping in her sleep. I looked upward through the grand-perching trees in our long front yard. Clouds were constantly drifting to cover the glowing stars in that particular constellation; and so as such, clouds moved in their stealth and unseen ways. I saw the moon peek through for a glance, then drop out of sight once again.
Times like these a person has to reflect on. The urgency of such a time makes you see the world from a different angle altogether, though not self-imposed. I saw those memories loom like a big spinning yarn in my mind again; of birth; of youth; of burgeoning age; of life in all its wonder. The scene I suppose called for such a thought as I had there.
I drifted further into the lawn and closer to the street edge. There, in the very midst was an old, entangled, grossly enlarged oak tree; as old as earth itself. One burly limb hung out longer than all the rest; and there, as its big arm cast out along those grassy shores, it held a heavy swing out from its base. I was sitting there, swinging to and fro, watching the world about me seemingly move by my locomotion, and my eyes falling into a dream. There, as was always in the fancy of my imagination, I could alter the way of fate and bring back to life the days gone by.
Those sterling dreams; those memories of old; those employed reflections never grew old or appeared to fail me. There, the world was perfect again and I knew it to be so.
I would see tomorrow for what it was; a new adventure strung from the collective pages of the past. Like a book only half-chartered. A connection and a bridge to what had become was so now affecting what 'will be'. Through turmoil; through joy; through grief, life will still commence by its own stage. Fear can drive one to resist what is just there before us. Not me. I had seen that storm, and so knew its brash wind and its violent spray. I had survived, though not unchanged. Life will do that to you. Transform you; make you into the person of your own destiny. Like an eagle still growing its wings; a deer still learning to prance about and run; as a kitten captivated by its own play; and as a person still evolving and discovering what life yet has to offer us.
I was once told there was a beautiful rainbow after every heaving rain. Perhaps this is true. But perhaps, even still, the beautiful rainbow comes only after a long journey. It makes the walk seem nicer still when you get there. I had cried my ocean of tears then; saw the bounty of my emotions roll and heave like that storm. Now it was time for the rainbow to appear.
I stopped the swing there. Silence became more still than the dead empty space it resided in. I sat alone, eyes closed, and so I bent my head into my chest while wondering when the rainbow would come.
There was one last cry for me to go through; kind of like a brisk shower that was never forecasted. But it came and I went through it, so giving sustenance to the flowerbed to my emotions. Someday the world would seem brighter than that moment did.
I felt a soft hand touching to the sides of my face, and then a hovering cloud enveloped me. This stirred me to let the tears fall uninhibited and I felt the touch turn into a full embrace. Sandra had shadowed me. In this time of memories and of reflection, she too shared her tears with mine. There was more rain that night than in the skies above, for Heaven was not alone in her sorrow. And as the clouds above softly pelted us with her dew, I felt Sandra's warm heart take to comfort me.
I was raised in the heart and soul of Boston, within the middle of a section called Charlestown. Our clapboard house stood on Elm Street; a long and narrow way just a few blocks down from the Monument Square. Our particular setting was a simple, gray, wood structure home with white-framed windows. The lamplights rose from the sidewalks and lit about the evening at six every night. The house beside ours was of a darker gray tint. What always stuck out in my mind was the rather unusually large bay window that protruded so indecently from the main structure and the gated flower garden which surrounded it.
We lived on an incline that bent higher and further up for blocks on end, past Tremont and Bunker Hill Street. The foliage of trees sparsed about; the magnolias and lilacs in bloom always brought great rebirth during the month of March. The dogwoods also were cutting out their white tusky blooms about the same time.
The residents here always parked their cars on the street in front of their homes, being that so very little space was available to park ones' car. Everyone scheduled their days in the winter months about forty-five minutes earlier due to the harsh weather; and the car windows would need constant cleaning off from the ice and snow. I could often hear my father scrapping the windshield of our car, chatting about with a neighbor of ours doing the same thing. Kind of like the early morning water cooler discussions, except with ice and a scrapper instead.
Life was considered as normal for me as anyone I suppose. I was the oldest of four children, though we were born tightly together in time. I had been no more than eleven months older than the next in line, my sister Lorie. Soon thereafter, no more than a year later, Amanda came to be. Then four years after which the youngest, Adam, was born. My parents always jokingly said they wanted their family and quickly; all in attempt to get the 'birthing process' over with as soon as they could.
I was the leader and the more curious of the brew. Everything found its way into my mouth. I had such a sensation to see, touch and feel, then eat everything in my path. So much so, I nearly choked to death on a nickel when I was barely one. But for the sake and expertise of my mother in reviving me, I would have been lost. I had an intrinsic fascination with pictures and books. My parents would often find me silently in a sit in one corner. An assortment of books surrounded me, fully open and on display, and so I would go from book to book searching out those things that would stimulate me the most.
My mother always told me how quiet a child I was; rarely fussy, even when I was teething and had colic as bad as I did; though my training to the full functional potty was a difficult chore for both my parents. It nearly took me into the age of three to finally master that individual feat. They said, fondly, that when I used the portable potty and I took an attempt to do 'the number two' as they put it, I gathered myself from my seat. I looked down horrified at the mess I made and I would not return again for some time. It seemed I preferred to sit 'in my mess' rather than look at it.
I was broad, blue-eyed, and tussled with silvery white hair. I rumbled about the room with a glib and a smile on my face and I never appeared to be unhappy. I thought each thing was unique in its own right and I held such a will to investigate and inspect all that was around me, sometimes to the point of being a nuisance. I did not like to be carried or held, but wanted so much to go about my own way at my own pleasure, as soon as I took to walking.
Lorie was an adversely shy child in her own right, but she always was curious from a distance. Caution kept her step in that distance and it seemed to always accompany her. She was prone to accidents from the outset, so I suppose this being the reason for her continual, hesitant nature. She hardly ever reached for anything but waited for it to be brought to her, unless she knew it would bring no harm to her. If it didn't move in her direction, she never cared for it nor bothered to inspect it. Lorie doted over being held by her mother and she was quite affectionate to this. She enjoyed running, yet was never really very good at it in the beginning. We seemed to find her face first into everything for a time. It was not uncommon to discover Lorie bandaged, cut, or bruised about her face before the age of four.
When she smiled, her humorous gab filled up her face with that expression. She always held her tongue fully out when she giggled; a laughter which repeated so rapidly in succession, you thought she had been filled up with laughing gas. Her eyes sparkled brown and hid behind her smile as her lips rolled upward and spread from ear to ear. Her black locks of hair hung straight down to her neck, and she possessed such an insatiable habit to sucking and pulling her hair into her mouth that my mother had to put vinegar on the ends of her locks and braids to prevent it.
As Lorie grew older she was a primper with her clothes and mother's makeup. Whenever the opportunity arose she would sneak into our parent's bedroom, parade about, find eyelash, rouge, liner, lipstick, blush, and whatever other materials were at her disposal; sit about the mirror and paint herself so silly with lipstick running over half her face, one would think she had more than her fair share of drink before she set out to making herself appear as the artsy, modern, flashy, deco-type of woman she wanted to become.
On one occasion, while mother was involved with her garden work, Lorie made her way into mother's wardrobe, sat in front of the vanity for a good thirty minutes before being discovered, went about to paint her face all shades of blue, yellow, green, ruby red, and brown; fixate seven beads of necklace around her neck and shoulders; take grandmother's ancient and tired hat from the lower regions of the closet, and wear it tilted on her head, with a brim which was so rounded and worn, it drooped in front of her face; loop four separate pairs of earrings and place them on either ear, and even a ring or two in her nose. And when all was said and done she took mother's highest heels, plopped them on her feet. And she came from that back bedroom, down the long corridor as if she were the most graceful model ever to step on a runway.
It took mother an hour or two to clean Lorie clear off, yet little Lorie was not a small girl for mischief, just gregarious play.
Amanda was the most studious of the brew. Her golden hair always strung simple and straight right into her face. Her eyes were pearl gray and her dimpled smile brought light even into the darkest rooms. She was a regular to pull up her dress in the front whenever she got so excited. Even at the labored attempts my parents used to keep her from doing so. Still it was such a spontaneous act on her part. She simply could not help herself. My mother had to lock the bathroom door from the inside when she gave Amanda a bath, for fear she would dart out skin-naked into the other rooms and out the front door. There were times when mother turned her attention just for a moment and out went Amanda full head of steam, through the front foyer and door onto the cold pavement. We caught her one time circling the front sidewalk with her hands fully stretched into the air while she soaked in the evening sun rays on her giggling face.
"Allen!" my mother would direct feverishly, "Pull her in before the neighbors see and call social services on us!"
And without pause my father would slide down the front chill-covered stairs and make a play to grab Amanda. How she would dart about as if it were a game of tag.
"You can't catch me!" she would laugh, "You can't catch me!"
All the while flopping down the sidewalk a few doors down, looking back, and seeing her father half-dressed himself; he also was slipping and stumbling from the curb to the street.
"You better hope I don't, young lady!" my father sternly proposed. He bumped about the sidewalk and neighbors bushes.
"Sorry Mrs. Goldstein!" He pulled himself out of our neighbor's prized bush once when he landed square to the base of it and tore its limps to shreds. Mrs. Goldstein looked out her lower window, caught all the commotion in her snoopy, prying ways, frowned out on my father with such clear disdain, huffed a measure or two, then drummed her fingers continuously on the open window ceil while raising her eyebrows; left, right, then left again.
Amanda was never one to seem to take after either of our parents, though my aunt on my mother's side had hair as golden as Amanda's was. She always held a fascination with birds, the outdoors; deer in general, and of all things, roosters. Each month, at various times, she would ask mother and father for a rooster; either on Christmas or her next birthday. Our father eventually gave into her desire for one. He purchased it without my mother's consent, and in the same stroke he acquired her fury for doing so.
"What?" mother shouted; dad asked her in the kitchen, "She's been asking for one since she could speak 'rooster! rooster!' "
"But a rooster Allen?" my mother held a knife out in a menacing fashion. You could feel the heat rising in the kitchen from more on their conversation than the stove itself.
"That thing will cackle all hours of the morning; our neighbors Allen!"
"Just wait," he proposed, "You'll see; all is well."
Particularly myself, I was deathly frightened of the thing. It nearly attacked my friends and me as we came and went from the house. That contagion rooster always stood guard as if our home was a chicken coup, and we were the foxes who planned to carve out a meal from a chicken or two. He roused his feathers, stood erect in a soldier stance at the base of the front door; one leg pinned up underneath its belly feathers, and so ready to strike at the least movement he saw.
The neighborhood dogs took to badgering it incessantly, barking with such fierce anguish that the rooster would cackle, bob its head, prance around the dog in semi-circle, and duck-walk back up to its spot on the porch when it was done.
Of course the only remedy my father saw in the situation was to allow the rooster residence in our house. This brought out more ire from my mother, even still.
"I'll NOT have a rooster in our house!" she harped. She was carrying two kitchen knives this time; one for my father, and one for the rooster itself, "This is NOT an animal farm!"
"Lauren," my father pleaded, "Think of your daughter."
"NO, Allen," she firmly held her voice down, though she gritted her teeth through those words, "That rooster is very aggressive. It might one day attack our children."
"Then we'll leave it in the basement."
"Oh good," she swore, "and hear the call every hour of the morning. No Allen! The rooster must go!"
And with that sweeping edict, the decree was final and set by the script of my mother's own words. Certainly Amanda was disheartened by the news when my father told her in her room later that night. She had often carried the rooster with her throughout the local neighborhood. She always looked behind to see if the rooster had finally laid an egg. It baffled her as to why the rooster did not do so.
"Come on Chicky," she would call it, "Lay your egg now." Amanda would pause, swirl about her as she held the rooster in hand, round and round, and searched for the egg that must have dropped but had somehow escaped her detection of it.
Father had a friend who owned a farm several hours north of the city and he had so inclined that his friend needed a watchful rooster to guard his hen house from the neighboring foxes. They popped in and about when they had a mind they were hungry. Amanda gave the rooster her dramatic 'goodbye's', short-tear farewells, and off the rooster went in the station wagon. That night Amanda went to her room alone, crept into bed, and cried softly till she fell asleep.
The youngest was my only brother, Adam. He was nearly six years younger, and so my mother had some difficulty carrying him through her pregnancy. There was much mystery and privacy about that time; especially as she drew closer and closer to having Adam born. I do remember my father, on one instance, running to me frantically and saying we must call emergency.
"We've got to call the doctor son! Mind your sisters….your mother is bleeding!"
I drew into a freeze at that moment. I had no clear thinking on what I must do. My eldest sister was stammering about while Amanda was sitting on the floor, staring aimlessly with a pacifier in her mouth. My father quickly placed us all in a room together, shut the door, asked me to make sure none of us left, but remain until he came to retrieve us. My fear traumatized me there as I inched to the door. Quiet as I was, I placed my ear to the door and I heard the muffle sounds of my parents as they struggled through that crisis. My eyes grew to a bulge as I turned about, checked on my sisters who were in play, sat in a lonely chair by one corner, and so stared out into nothing. I waited anxiously for the roof to fall in on us. Time had no meaning there, but it seemed to play out into eternity.
I waited; my sisters grew tired and Amanda cried when the pacifier popped from her mouth, though no one came. I made my best attempts to console her through her own trauma, not knowing fully what to do.
"There, Amanda," I held her as best as I could.
Eventually the door pried open and my aunt came forward. She told us that we would all be staying with her for a few days. She gathered our things, what she could quickly shuffle about with, and so we went to ride home with her. I remember that seclusion so vividly; the foreign manner of the cot I slept on; those misty windows from the cold; her german shepherds which never seemed to take any liking to us; the cold sandwiches she fed us for dinner and supper. It seemed such a long time before father came to retrieve us.
I could often see myself peeking through the one bedroom keyhole. I looked about directly into the den. His expression was worn and tired, as if it had sat on his face for days, and near to a week that we had been apart. His eyes drooped and were despondent, near to tears; grief lingered constantly in his face. My aunt swiftly came to his aid and placed about him a hug.
"I'm so sorry Allen," she wept in my father's shoulder, though my father's glassy stare remained in his look. The moment stood still for a while as neither moved from the spot. And I so feared, even at such an early age, something terrible had happened to mother and my soon-to-be-born sibling.
As it were, father gathered us all into the station wagon for a most silent ride home. He said very little as I watched him. He paid no mind to my sisters while they sat in the back seat. He took to glaring out onto that dark road ahead, never flinching nor seeming to blink, as though it were a passageway onto nowhere. His soul apparently either escaped him or appeared to sleep inside. His usual, youthful, gay self was somehow in a pause. I looked about my window there, watched the stars above flicker in their light; it was an odd thing to see them twist and turn casually as our car went from south to east. The moon seemed to pop out from its hiding place with a quarter stare, as so the clouds drifted by. I was eager to see my mother.
I found her softly tucked in her bed. I captured a smile from her as soon as she saw me. Mother held her arms about for me to come forward. I ran to her, felt her grip entrap me with the warmth and love a mother gives to her child. The smell of her raven hair engulfed my face as it lay across her shoulders. I felt all was well at that moment.
My sisters soon followed and we all crawled into bed with mother. I felt her stroke out our hair, one by one, as we lay beside her. Amanda quickly took to sleep with that same pacifier dripping from her mouth. Lorie pretended to be reading her book until she, much the same, fell asleep. I leaned up on my mother as I watched her contently show care to my sisters, then to me. The hours drew deep into night; my father away again for an overnight shift at the firehouse.
"Mother.." I asked, "Are you alright?"
She leaned down on me, gave to me a comforting kiss, "I am son. The Lord takes care of you."
"The baby?" I questioned.
"It will be here soon," she smiled down on me, "The Lord will take care of that too."
Adam was born a month later; a strapping, hardy, bouncing boy which took to delight both my parents on his arrival. Balloons, party hats, cake, confetti all were strung about our home when my mother rose from the back seat of our family's station wagon the afternoon of her return. The air was brisk and sprightly cold; the flowers yet to bloom; the timber trees still yet to cast out its green foliage for the spring. But I do believe, by the happy occasion which ensued, spring had already come. There was a full entourage to greet her and the baby. We all were standing just outside on the porch, and freezing in that bitter air while we were still heavily clad in thick coats. Though, as odd as it may have seemed then, I could not recall such a celebration when either of my sisters first came home. I would eventually learn the thundering and consequential reasons for this.
It was my promise and my joy to finally have a brother in which I could play with. No dolls, but sports; no tea parties, but army men; no make-up dresses and slumber parties, but wrestling and bicycle races. Adam was to be the brother I endeared myself to have. And I was to be the older brother he would always admire on and say, 'he's the best older brother a guy could ever have!'
I knew from nearly the beginning however, Adam was not to be such a brother. He was a most quiet child, as I was but in a different way. Absent of any social bearing, he rather enjoyed keeping to himself but for the attention mother mainly provided his way. There seemed to be a wall there; a distance of travel between Adam and I. Others observed his behavior, and though he appeared a darling boy with a cute smile, a twinkle stare, and a loveable giggle, his skills for engaging others were never realized.
Even in sleep Adam would often hide behind the couch to be alone; or if placed in his bed at night, you could find him settled nicely underneath his bed. There indeed was something quite different about Adam. My mother encouraged him to garner friends and to attend gatherings from church and school. But he took a better liking to wandering out in his mind to a place he would neither speak of, nor tell. It seemed to be such a mystery; in particular when we had supper together. Often solemn and somewhat aloof, he could not bring himself to show interest in the 'goings on' of the other family members. And when asked of his day, he said the least that he could, to skirt out of being the center of any attention.
Now mind you, Adam was extraordinarily gifted in many respects. From the very early stages of his life, he would initially sketch out images roughly so, then quickly progress to depth, colors, measures of dimension, then at last adding 'spirit' to the watercolors, sketches, and eventually full portrait and drawings he would characterize. Colored pencils and empty blank pages were more to his liking than picture books and children's stories. He was found stirring often in his room; alone, by the dim light of a desk lamp, and even a candle or two; quietly, almost religiously poking along on his configurations. His gift for concentration and careful study to sights were a marvel to me. I wished I had such the gift as he possessed. It was as if God had taken the pricking of his own finger and touched Adam with it.
But most rare than this, Adam had the great ability to write. He studied the finest masters of word and literature. He began around the age of twelve or so. Dickens, Shakespeare, Twain, Faust, Homer, Poe, Whitman, Lord Byron, and Austen were some of his favorites. I knew where to find him during the school hours when he had available time; down in the dungeon, sitting alone in the corner of the library, as he read contently away at a pound-thick novel or gazing through a Di Vinci or Rembrandt collection of paintings.
It seemed vastly odd at how intelligent Adam seemed to be in these two arts; nearly mastering the unmasterful methods of its imagination. He did quite horribly in school; almost to the point of failing on every level. I made my best efforts to be a good brother to him throughout our growing years and I am sure he appreciated this in his own aloof and distant ways.
"Stop," I remember him saying once to me, "Sit still."
He looked at me as we sat out on a bench during a spring day. There, he proceeded to pull out his sketch book, eye me in a deep-thinking grimace, continue to eye me further, step his mind into his sketch and lose me in the process.
"No, no Adam," I refuted, "You're not sketching me."
"Yes I am," he was assured.
"I said no, Adam," I was not one to enjoy my picture taken, let alone to have myself under the pen of an artist; even if he were my own brother.
"I've already started…" he went quickly to work, eyeing me through his right eye, and charting the sketch with his left.
"But why Adam," I wondered.
"Because," his jaws locked, "there is a thought in your look; something reflective in your expression. Your look has a story to tell right now…now hold please."
I said nothing further; Adam was more determined than anyone I knew and he had the talent to back it up.
"Done," he proclaimed twenty minutes later. He spun the pad around. My eyes locked on it as my heart stopped. I had never known the perception of his ability till then. Not only to capture my appearance in such a real life form as he did, but to also snag the very core of what I was thinking when he drew me. As if my soul sat in the shadow of his drawing and he conveniently painted it for me.
My father was a long-term and highly-decorated fireman; nearly a legend amongst his peers within Boston's inner city. Station 112 was where he began his tenure as a fireman and that is where he would stay his entire career. It was something his blood was built from; a passion; an undying submission to; a part of his culture and entire character. There were times when I would feel the faint tingle of a kiss on my cheek around four in the morning when either he was going on duty or coming off. He carried his dedication like armor; his duty around like a badge of honor. He believed credit was earned and not freely given. That to walk into a firehouse, become assembled into a group of individuals whose design and purpose was to help others and to become a life-saving team, was much of what he lived for. There was indeed love he held for his family, but his heart was there in that firehouse. From the soup kitchens and late evening meals or early morning breakfasts that could easily be resoundly interrupted, he lived for the rush of being on that edge.
I was never forbidden to enter the fire station. In fact, it was often encouraged by my father for me to attend and be 'a man' amongst the group there. By the time I was born and of the age when I could make my visitations on him, he had become a sergeant and was quickly moving up the ladder, so to speak. He was always noted as unrepressed with his bravery. His skill was second to none and his instincts were far greater than any other which came out of his class of 60'. He knew danger and could smell it before he was at risk, or any others within Fire Station 112.
My visits were gradual and became more numerous as time went along. Before too much time I had met most of the crew in my dad's normal shift. There was Fred 'buckles' Willis, with those bright and shining gold and silver buckles he always liked to wear. I could never catch him without a smile on his face; regardless of the large gaps between his teeth. He loved coffee, a bagel, and afterwards I never failed to find him sucking on his teeth to get the particles out.
There was Gerry 'grumble' Show; a big brown-eyed black man who was as large as my father, but with a barreled chest and thick forearms the size of Popeye's. He giggled incessantly when he laughed, which stood out to be often. His voice was as deep as the deepest ocean and how he could sing when he heard the old Nat King Cole songs hit the radio. He threw me in a roar when he made his grand attempts to swing dance and sing all in the same motion; and how he tried so hard to get me to be his partner when a 'catchy tune' was 'strumming' out over the airwaves.
"Come on little boy blue!" he would smile on me.
"No, no," I confessed my desire not to, as the others laughed on me, "I can't today Mr. Show."
"What's to it?" he smirked, twinkled those enlarging brown eyes; and grinned a hefty grin, "Oh comes now! You got the rhythm; I knows you do! The beat! The rhythm! We will make the firelights above us swirl and dance!"
Reluctantly I would give in and be his partner through his 'one-of-many' favorite songs. Needless to say his voice talents far exceeded his dancing ability.
Next was Hank 'two-time' Hinkle. Why 'two-time' you may ask? He always repeated himself. But he could make the best waffles in Charlestown, being a marketable chef in his former life, and so deciding he would try being a fireman in his second. His salt and pepper hair, slicked straight back, stood out with me; along with his constant, habitual nature of primping in the mirror when he could get half the chance.
Then there was Captain 'Buck' Wilson; the eldest of the group and the one who held onto an old man's wisdom, worldly travel, and the acute ability to tell a great tale. He always found the best in everything and he drew on his vast ability to spin a thought-provoking yarn. A yarn that was pulled from the reserve of experiences he had during his life. I felt him to be more of a grandfather figure to me than anything.
Joey 'lippers' Habershack was another; 'lippers' because of all the girlfriends he had calling the firehouse. A dead on look-a-like of Elvis; even sang as well. Lamar 'caps' Singleton forever had a hat on his head due to the flaming red hair he was born with; which he preferred to hide as much as possible until he went to dyeing it a silver tint. His body-tattooed freckles were a different story, for there was not a place on his body he did not have a freckle bulging from. Kelly 'baby' Foster worked the small and cramped office just inside the main corridor leading to the restrooms. She drew the most attention with her golden blonde hair, dimple smile, city-girl approach, and her classic dress style. Kelly always exuded confidence and knew how to keep all the guys at the fire station in place; including me.
There were nearly thirty men and two women working at fire station 112, with two full-sized fire trucks in active duty around the clock. And of course, not to be the least, was Skip, the black-spotted Dalmatian the entire fire station adopted.
I have been told Dalmatians are not very akin to children. But whenever I walked into that firehouse he would gravitate to me, and I to him. It was an instant and long-lasting friendship. I would be sitting in the eatery and I could hear the shuffle sound of his food bowl. A few moments later, after turning around, out crept that bowl around the corner and he just behind it; all the while he was pushing it by his nose. Once I saw him I smiled. He would bring himself to a full stance, drop his lower chin, flip out his tongue, and wag his tail so violently that he would nearly flop his 'Behind' to the cement floor. There was never a doubt when Skip was hungry.
This was my father's home away from home. I could see why he felt such the attraction to it. There were times he would cast my tiny body into the back of the fire truck like a father placing his son in a swing set. I felt the overgrown fireman's hardhat droop down below my eyes. And no matter how hard I pushed it upwards, it would drop down again until I settled my hand to hold it back. This always brought a rustic laugh from my father.
That heavy, overbearing, twice-as-large-as-me fireman's jacket was soon flung over my shoulders. I felt the axe in my hand that I nearly dropped the head of it to the hard floor below. They made a 'clank-tee-clank' sound when I walked in those buckled boots of his. Before long I could hear the flash bulbs going off and my father at the other end of the camera as he took a large array of pictures to show to family and friends later on.
We would often find ourselves watching the sunset dip between the two arched and tall buildings behind the fire station there; lawn seats all stretched out as some of the men took to washing and cleaning up the fire trucks. Skip would play in the soapy water, make a dash between the fire hoses, lick up the excess flood running down the wide driveway, and then come to a sit by my lawn chair and take a quick nap.
I believe father wanted me to someday walk in his shoes. To become a fireman like him; to find triumph in tragedy; to build friendships that were life-long and beyond any measure, and live in the world he had become accustomed to. He wanted for me to have the same joys he held so to himself. This was his dream and I was glad to experience this time with him.
As for my mother, she was a rather articulate woman. She held a teaching degree from Agnes Scott College in Georgia. Her father was a prominent businessman in the local town she grew up in, and at one time, stood against the president of the United States in disfavor on his policies about labor issues. It was not a popular stance but he stood for it, and so remained with his convictions throughout. This very trait, the trait for duty and diligence, was the very backbone to my mother's own personality. She never wavered; not once in her ardent belief system.
She was affectionately referred to as 'Annie' throughout her life, even though her name was Lauren. I never knew the purpose for this but it always seemed to fit her so well when that name sounded out. There was love behind it when she was addressed this way; and such deserving love at this.
Mother had deep-raven, thick, bushy locks of hair; clustered gray-pearled eyes that hid behind her prescription glasses when she took the mind to wear them. A soft-tempered voice; not easy to rile, but simmered the Scottish heart she held to a heavy boil when provoked. Non-effacing and quiet in nature, she had the sense about her of calm confidence, yet remained within the confines of her own demeanor, as to dissuade anyone she was either cocky or arrogant.
There seemed an unknown brilliance to her manners; that genuine virtue and esteemed assurance radiated around her, and it could be most easily detected without a word spoken on her behalf. It didn't take a fluently-perceptive person to see this. Nor did it take much conscious effort for anyone to realize the real and true sanctity of my mother's presence. It simply just glowed from her.
But the deepest element my mother held in her possession; the rare jewel so many acclaim to have but so very few actually do carry, was a golden heart. It was so rare to the human race that mighty kings would fawn over to possess it. There was an unforgivable drive to never give in; to always persevere; to live the dream most see as impossible yet to be always seen as possible; to harbor hope at every angle; to cherish the longing of family and tradition; to never settle for less than what is deserving of you, and above all; to carry humility throughout the days of your life.
"Conner!" I heard her voice call back to me as I was leaving to walk myself towards school, "Young man!"
I would stop, pause, and think for a moment, then return to the back door, "Yes mother?"
"Conner, my boy," she placed both fists on her side and frowned, "You forgot something."
I thought for another moment, crossed my eyes back and forth, "Oh yeah."
I leaned up and kissed her on the cheek.
"That too," she slightly grinned, "but something else."
I thought again; my mind drew a blank.
"Don't remember?" her eyebrows shot up, "Take this and read it on the way to school," she displayed the paper she held in her hand. The words folded inward and out of view for me to see directly, "turn around," I felt her stuff the piece of paper in my back pocket, give me a pat on the behind, "now scoot son," and I was off. I heard the back door slam behind me. I had not traveled too far along when I reached back in my pocket as she asked me to do.
"Son? Do two things today…Ready? Good…Give joy to others, and always show yourself to be humble…"
I knew what she meant by it.
My parents met in Georgia. Mother was in her last year of studying to be a teacher; father had traveled to Georgia for training as a fireman. A friend offered my father a ride to 'Jimmy's Soda Shop' where my mother was sitting in a booth with three of her friends. The attraction was instant; the engagement was brief. Very soon they found themselves snuggled down in a small but adequate apartment off of Sycamore Street near the waterfront; third floor in 'B' section, closest to the sounds of the ships coming in and out of harbor. The waves would gently push at the docks, and the long shore men who quite often found a ruckus in song and merriment while they worked.
They were married in 61' and I came along four years later in 65'. And so the family began. In quick succession our family grew until all were settled within the home they purchased in Charlestown around 71'. A perfect life; a good life; built and harnessed by the American dream.
We were brought up in a religious setting; protestant no less, within the boundaries of a very large Catholic population. Both of my parents taught Sunday school on a regular basis. Mother was one to coach and teach the youngest class just outside of the pre-school age. Father, on the other hand, preferred more the high school groupings. It was not too far along in time that he would be recognized as a gifted, vibrant speaker. One who held people's attention like a kite to a string; so much so that my father was often asked to give sermons whenever the minister was away from the pulpit.
I could remember how packed the church became on those Sunday's. The sanctuary would fill to the rafters; the air stifling with the hand fans waving about frantically to keep everyone there cool; the choir so tugging on the necks of their robes to keep from over heating; the bad-tuned organ and off-key piano trying to play in unison, but rather sounding like two dying quails after they had been shot.
I would say over four hundred climbed into those pews when it was established my father was to be speaking on a particular Sunday. I marveled at their dedication, and how people felt my father was as gifted as a true witness for God. Mother had the measure to shy away from attention and would always have us ready early so we could be settled in the back of the sanctuary on the Sunday's he would be preaching.
After a few hymnal songs and a scripture reading my father would gather himself up into the pulpit, pause majestically, hold both hands straight out on the podium, send out a stern but yielding expression, clear his throat to gather everyone's attention, and then begin about his saving of souls. The minister constantly remarked that my father had a second calling to speak for the Lord. My father always considered it just a matter of saving the other half of the person, since he was in charge of saving those whenever their lives were at stake. This just seemed the more natural to him.
There was one Sunday which always stuck out in my memory more than any other. It was a hot July, just after the Fourth of July celebration. Some were in travel but most stayed close enough to hear my father preach that following Sunday. All were dressed in garb; ties and suits, flower dresses and bright apparel that had been sitting in their closet since Easter. I could see the church fill-in quickly which brought my mother to some worry.
Lorie had been dragging the whole morning and nearly keeping us from getting to the church on time. But there we were; in our polite dress attire, hovering about the back of the church. Mother held my hand to her right side; the fussy Lorie to her left, with Amanda still wrapped in her arms. Adam was still so young. We had a babysitter watching over him.
I looked about and saw all the tallness of the people standing by, so smiling in the usual affectionate way. Some were giving out nickel and dime hugs on me which I detested then. But I did concede to give out a return squeeze to keep my mother happy and not embarrass her. The heat nearly made me sweat my hair into a drench; my greasy collar felt much more tight than normal by the thickness of the tie that hung around it. I fidgeted most of the time till we took to a pew three rows back from the rear.
Lorie made a jab on me while I sat all huddling next to mother; staring about the ceiling, eyeballing the bright images shining through the stain-glass windows all along each wall. I turned and gave her back the offense. My mother was not amused and so grabbed my hand and Lorie's in a stern grip.
"Children," she whispered strong and flipped her head back and forth, "I'll not have this! Remember your manners!"
I could see Lorie bend past mother's waist, make sure I saw her, and jerk out her tongue on me and go, "Naaaaahhh!"
"Naaaaahhh!" I copied her tongue-for-tongue. My mother looked straight up and almost seemed to converse with God there. I shrunk back as far as I could in the pew.
"God forbid," she growled, "Conner; you're the oldest and here your sister is showing you the manners of a chimp! Look at you Lorie…be a lady for a change. If you two can't behave? I'll have you after church, standing in the middle of the kitchen, tongues out, with an ice cube stuck between you!"
I shivered at the thought, though I thought an ice cube around my collar, at that moment, would be good.
"Oh mother," I weakly objected.
"Don't Conner," she put her finger to me, "Don't! I have already had it out with your sister this morning…one more word in either direction? The ice cube is coming!"
We all drew somber and quiet on this last command. My mother, through her love, discipline, and beauty, was always good on her word.
I clapped my hands between my legs, being they were too short to set back on the carpet floor; there, they just dangled about as if I were on a dock somewhere fishing (not for souls of course), whistling a tune, and passing the earliest part of the morning away. My eyes wandered about. I caught the accidental glimpses of all the people I had seen from Sunday to Sunday. They were still very much strangers to me. Many would smile and tilt their heads to acknowledge me as a polite gesture. I, in turn, would halfway grin and roll my look away.
It was here that I felt such a strange occurrence; the need for food. I had just eaten no more than an hour before. But still I had those hunger pangs people always talk about; so much of an urge that I tugged on my mother's yellow-flooded dress to get her attention. She bent her ear back behind my hand as I whispered so no one else could hear.
"Can we go to McDonald's after church?" I asked.
"You just ate son.." she advised.
"I know," I kept to my whisper in my pause, "But, but, I am really hungry," my plea was so taken note of.
"We will see..." she patted me on my leg as the service settled into an introduction. Now my mother knew this was my most favorite place to eat. Even though to save money they would get one order; half the hamburger and fries for my sister and me. Still half a hamburger was better than none in my eyes. I made the valiant attempt to take my mind off the hunger urge that was surging in me. There, it happened.
As the silence went into a pause, a solemn prayer arose.
"Growl!" my stomach went off like an alarm clock in the middle of a library crammed full of studying students.
"Growl!" It went off again.
This time as if I were a rooster in the middle of a sleeping hen house.
Some looked around with an expression saying, "What was that?" My sister just giggled aloud until my mother brought her back in bay.
We stood on the next hymnal. My head was mostly covered by the back of the pew in front of us, yet I held to my song book and tried to mask the words on page 67 like everyone else did there.
I looked up to my mother, though she kept to her reciting on that hymn and she sang while not stirred to look down on me.
My father soon entered the pulpit, dressed in a purple robe that shinned and nearly clipped the sun with its brightness. He had an open bible in hand and a forceful look in his eye. Then, without credence, the 'fire and brimstone' sermon began. I tugged on my mother's yellow dress during an undetermined time in the sermon.
"Mother," I whispered, "Can we go to McDonald's after church?"
My plea was more to begging than anything there.
"Son," she appeared more pestered than ever, "we'll have to wait and just see..."
I sitting, wandering about with my mind; hoping, even praying my stomach would keep quiet. As my father took a sip of water, and after a long dialect of turning everyone else's stomach, there was a spot of silence that came over the sanctuary once more.
"Growl!" my stomach echoed throughout.
This caused my father to stop drinking his water.
Snickers rumbled in and out of the pews while the entire congregation looked seemingly at each other.
"Somebody is hungry for the Gospel!"
I just thought a McDonald's hamburger would do me some good right about then. My father went to roaring through his sermon like a lion casting eyeshots over his domain. At times he held that Bible on high and flipped it to and fro to get everyone's attention on his word.
When my father expended all his energy he at last asked for conversion; those to step forward during the final hymn; to accept Christ as Lord and Saviour; to enter the bounty of Heaven that very day and have your name written on the book of Life. The invitation was opened and he instructed the entire congregation to rise. That old wheeze of a piano started to play the hymn, and for all to sing aloud and rejoice.
We all rose in unison as my stomach rang out one final time, and so perturbed my mother that she tugged on me lightly to stand straight. I felt the push of that hymnal in my hands as I came to a pause, sung a verse, and then pull on mother's dress with one, final attempt.
"Mother," I said as she bent to me, "Please, can we go to McDonald's?"
It was urgent this time.
"Just wait, Conner," she urged, "We will see."
"Can we go to McDonald's after church...Please?"
I could see by her look on me with those gray stone eyes, she at last thought and persuaded herself perhaps she should give it a second thought after all.
"You'll just have to ask your dad…"
The second verse began to play as I settled back into my hymnal. I was not singing, but pondering the meaning of what she had just said. So far no one had come forward; the isles empty; my father standing alone at the front while I was peering around the mound of people in front of me. He had his head down as though he were trapped in his thoughts; standing there, and resting his chin onto the back of his right hand.
I wonder; hmmm, ask dad.
I flipped the hymnal closed without another thought. I placed it on the pew rack in front of me, stood out into the isle before my mother could even detect what I was doing, and so I marched forward. I would settle this final; once and for all.
I could see the sun glaring at its highest pinnacle point there. The strong cache colors were flowing through those windows like a dry rainbow without any water in them. I came from the outward seat of that pew.
I was amazed by those nearby who turned in curiosity and paused from their singing, nudged one another, and whispered about as I ascended forward.
"Look, the Fireman Pastor's son, Look!"
"He's accepting Jesus," another woman gasped.
"Minister's son," I heard others say as I looked left and right at all the heads that turned in my direction.
My father was the last to notice. I took a quick glimpse back as I did and I saw my mother squarely with her stare cutting back at me with a, 'When I get you home son? You'll need Jesus to save you!' look on her face. She thrust such a heavy expression my way.
I turned back and I saw my father taking full notice of me now. His arms were spread as wide as the smile he held on his face. I went to his waiting embrace; he leaning down and turning a receptive ear to my lips.
"Father?" I whispered right next to his ear, "Can we go to McDonald's after church? I really am very hungry!"
My father turned his face to meet mine, with so the strangest and oddest look, "What?"
"Mother told me to go and ask you..."
It wasn't bad enough that I had done the unthinkable there. But to throw my mother into such a bad light and so suggest it was her idea would have only doubled my trouble.
"Son!" my father grizzled, "Go sit in the front pew."
I nearly froze at the thought of what would come next, stiff-legged as I was on that pew. My father closed with a prayer and a benediction, and there seemed a sense of urgency in his words. I hoped as I did he would perhaps say a prayer of grace for me in the process. None came.
The crowd mulled about as my mother came forward. My father had already descended to the rear to greet those as they left. I looked for an alternate way out and I so found a side door when I felt the pull of my mother's hand grab onto mine.
"Not so quickly young man," I knew her voice so well, "That was a mighty embarrassing stunt you just pulled."
"I didn't mean anything by it," I cowered. I turned around to face my sheepish look onto her gritty stare.
"I think a nice hot bowl of cooked broccoli would suit you when we get home."
She knew broccoli was the food I detested more than any other. Castor oil to me had more of a taste than broccoli ever could.
"Oh," I tried, "but I don't like eating little bushes."
"It will suit you just fine," she pulled me closer, "It's good for you..."
"But what about McDonald's?"
It was my one last gasp to speak on before I was required to say nothing more.
"You should bring that up now."
"But…" she quickly halted my sentence with her eyes.
"One more word," she remarked, "and it will be two bowls of broccoli. Now get to the car and smile all the way out. Don't want to disappoint the Sunday folk."
I felt her hand leading me through the masses, smiling and conversing with those who were wishing her husband, my father, to be a permanent resident minister at the church; his gift for the oratory; his calling most profound; etc, etc. And at each stall step, my mother was still continuing to hold my hand high by her firm grip; with me standing in front, waiting patiently (or impatiently) for her next movement forward. I felt like a cattle head with a noose around my neck. And so all could see the grand embarrassment I was encased with.
Those before who thought I was accepting Jesus just then. And how so I was the sparkle darling in their eyes; how so things do change quickly. I could sense the eyes of a thousand looks pressing on me; with all thinking I was the evil soul and miniature demon which had been so irreverent by making my march forward during the invitation.
"Spare the rod, spoil the child," I overheard one elderly lady whisper out to my mother as we passed by.
To my most grief-stricken self, I soon found my father standing tall before me; right near the vestibule. His robe made him even more of an authority in my eyes and I nearly crumbled under the weight of his downward gaze.
"You've got a spirited one there," an old man poked his arthritic finger over my shoulder, laughed a chuckle or two, and went out the front door.
I looked about right on the outskirts of the tall wooden heavy doors. There to my amazement was Lorie cackling and carrying on like a liquored-up child; waltzing and prancing about in a stupor; pulling up her dress in the front while she was marching with the other girls, and seeming as if she were a go-go girl dancer on stage. All the while some of the most elderly ladies stood close by with such a shocked and incredulous stare that they were nearly fainting and huffing off in a fermenting stew. Their eyes nearly bulged out and fell onto the sidewalk at such a sight; my sister had been the sure leader of that parade pack.
"Oh My!" mother hurried out to Lorie, "Lorie James!"
I made a try to follow mother.
"Not so quickly Conner," father grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me to his side, "your mother can handle the situation rightly enough. You can stay here."
I did as he imposed while I watched the array of stares plopped down on me during the congregation's 'filing out' one by one. They made consistent comments on how wonderful his sermon was and how they could not wait for him to get back into the pulpit soon.
Needless to say I did not have my trip to McDonalds on that bright Sunday day. Yet I spent two hours at the kitchen table trying with all my powers to devour a FULL bowl of heated Broccoli. As so it goes on the appropriate punishment with the crime I had committed during that particular Sunday day.
Early in my youth, father would often take elongated trips out west. Especially during the late summer heat months when there was such a lack of rain and the risk of uncontrollable forest fires was great in the nation's western parks; most notably in Yosemite and Yellowstone. He would often seem to wrestle with himself in his sleep whenever he heard of the national parks being endangered by forest fire.
I believe the forest fire was his haunting ghost at night. He would toss and turn for hours before falling asleep, grunting and swaying through the long hours. Sometimes the sleep would never come and I would find him awake; watching the late hour news on our old nineteen-inch black and white television. It sat propped on a cart in the den. The shallow reflections mirrored back on his blank stare from the set itself. He was like a man who had been pulled into another land; wherever the news cameras would take him.
It wasn't long after this that he was off to the western states to assist in fighting the fires. He felt so compelled to 'do his share' as he put it, leaving us for weeks on end, perhaps even months at a time. No sight of him; little word, if any. Our family was fractured during these endless days and listless nights. Part of ourselves gone with him; our history stalled, the family broken from itself with everything on hold till his eventual return.
My mother felt the most anxiety from it all, though she never appeared to falter from it. She took it upon herself to play the dubious role of both mother and father. And so she might put on one hat then the other when it was necessary.
Through the birthdays, the holidays, the bumps and bruises from school, the temper tantrums, and the major tests we all feared at this time in our lives- to this, she seemed to correct everything and place it all in the appropriate order.
But there seemed a longing which was lost there; like a bird that had just awakened from a bad dream, only to discover it had only one wing to fly with and could not remember how the earth looked from the sky's point of view. And I to see how helpless this tiny bird was in its struggle to fly out into the skies once more; crying, silently for some measure of hope or goodwill to intercede. Where the laws of nature would somehow have grace on its shoulder and alter the seeming course of things; while at last giving this bird a new wing to fly with.
Each summer felt longer than the last. It seemed to be as some right of passage for him. My father would head west in his dire need to assist the lands we had never seen, or only knew of from pictures or lectures in school. Our normal ritual for bed felt all the more hastened, as if mother had a need to have time for herself; to escape even for a time when we would settle into bed, and until she found resolve to drop off to sleep. I somehow knew mother was trying to drown her thoughts in the four corners of her bedroom.
One middle summer eve, after being tucked into bed nicely for our evening sleeps, my sister Lorie was in her own room. The light darkened and the door went ever so slightly ajar. She had fears of being totally isolated at any one time and she always insisted the door to her room be lightly cracked during all segments of the night. Amanda and Adam were still quite small, and so in the room nearest the master bedroom.
I, watching the breeze drift through my curtains, and having no conscious reason to sleep, could in fact not sleep at all. I was tossing onto my back and gazing up at a dark and empty ceiling.
A dim light crept through underneath my door and it kept my room from what would otherwise be in complete darkness. It remained in a flicker deep within that night. I spotted my watch every twenty minutes or so, read the lit-up dial through these intervals. Midnight came and went; then a quarter till one. I heard the grandfather clock chime on through into one, then ring out a quarter after when I could no further lay in my bed than sit up and read, or do something more useful with myself.
I crawled from my bed and I sounded off the creaky wooden floors below as I stepped on them. The gentle hush of a whisper wind tossed in from the outside like a tiny rock that hit the floor about me. I felt a slight chill even in that heat as the damp air forced its way into my room. I huddled to myself, scooted quietly through the door leading into the long and narrow hallway. I looked for the origin of this weak light which kept homage with some fading tint, yet somehow I knew instinctively where it was coming from. There, simmering through between the door and the floorboards just below, this single light was coming from beside my mother's bed. I cautiously moved down that hallway.
I came within earshot of her room and I could hear the faint echoes of a sniffle, a ripple tear, a sweet but complacent cry, and then silence before it began all over again.
Her door was cracked and this bedside light showed me her faint silhouette as I approached; a kind and giving mother sitting up in bed. She appeared to be matching wits with her solitary despair and individual dilemma. She was wilting beneath the struggle. Her expression appeared locked into a face I had never seen before from her; a face of some level of realized delusion; a thought which extended a thousand yards long and so kept her mind in turmoil; a stare so distant that even the horizon could never hold it. Her emotions were on a rampage, as though it were a curse with no reason to exist, but was haunting her much the same. As I think on it now it seemed to me to be the shadow of some misguided truth that had captured her thoughts within her eyes and her expression. One so powerful it would not let go.
I stepped back for a moment and I watched this unseen being wrestle her. It was like some lost and forbidden spectre that had just hit her hard, and so settled in for that battle during the long night.
I knew she had been up the entire time; the wrinkled eyes; the heavy gaze that wished and desired to fall into a peaceful sleep. I could see she felt no recourse; trapped in a world which frightened her so. She shivered. I paused but yearned to comfort her. Still, I remained like a hush with no breath in it. The silence numbed me as I watched her further.
She buried her face in a tissue already drenched by her former tears; but so worn and tattered from its constant use, it had now fallen apart all over her nightclothes. These sorrows were for father. His absence was as if it were an unexpected push in her back while she stood looking out from the highest point of a cliff; overlooking some boundless, emptied-out, roaring sea. Now she felt the falling of herself, and then drowning into the ocean of her own tears. This convergence; this manner of her trauma exposed to me a mother I had never known or seen till that time. I so made war with myself as I watched her; fear battled my desire to give her what she needed most- comforting.
I stalled for just a moment when I pushed the door free. She watched me enter without a second to re-collect herself.
"Mother?" I wondered aloud as I stood silent in her doorway. I held an obvious, dumbfounded expression on my face.
"No, no," she rushed about as though the light exposed her for all the world to see, "You can't son…give me a moment."
"Mother?" I softly pressed forward; my eyes sat affixed on her. She shivered more so now.
"I hate sad endings..." I could see the television was on but mute beside me, "they can be tiresome, but also have a poignant meaning to them."
"Are you alright?"
There was concern in my voice.
"There's nothing wrong."
She collected another tissue.
"What's wrong?" I took another step to the foot of the bed, "There's no sound to the T.V."
"I didn't want to disturb your sisters and brother," she tried, but failed to hold onto her tears. They were all but dripping down each cheek like a constant stream of water running down a window, "they're hard to get back to sleep if they should wake up."
I saw her pat the foot of the bed. This was an offering to me to climb aboard. It was not often that she would do this. I moved to her side, felt her arm kindly reach over me when I bent lower to meet with her embrace. I placed my hands just underneath her chin and I felt her hug grow tighter still. I could sense the side of her cheek bending down on the top of my head.
"You will be very good about this Conner," she proposed, "and never tell your father."
"Why are you crying?" I knew the answer already.
"Because," she responded, "we can't go through our entire life without crying some. It's been awhile for me. Without the tears, the joys will never follow."
"It's about father..." I said.
She pulled me tight.
"Some days will go quickly; some days will grow longer…this day has just been one of those long ones," I could feel her cheek turn up into a tiny smile, "Like when you have to go to school, knowing you have a hard test ahead of you."
"I don't know about that..."
I had never been to school and had a test. I was still too young for it.
"Oh," she grinned more widely there. She cleared her throat as she went, "well, imagine having to sit through a very long sermon in church. Not one of the times your father went into the pulpit. But just imagine, going into church on a hard pew without any cushions. And the minister preaches what seems like a Bible full of lessons."
"Yeah," I giggled, "I know about that one."
"Well then," she said, "You know what it is like."
"When will father be home?" I asked.
"I don't know son," she answered honestly, "When all the fires are put out, then I guess he will come home."
"He sure has been gone for a long time."
"Long enough, I know," mother said. I looked up to her gray-stroked eyes, "but no longer than it has been before."
I pulled up the McNally map my mother had sitting on the bed with her; the leaf bent over was on the state of California.
"Is this where father is?" I questioned.
"California?" she inquired, watching me point to that map.
"Yes Conner, he's there."
"How far away is it?"
"Very far," she replied, "a long ways away."
"Can we go see him?" I seemed to have a continual question on my mind, "Maybe tomorrow?"
"No son," her chin wrinkled a bit on that thought and I felt the tears would begin again.
"Not tomorrow. We will have to wait for him to come home."
"I miss dad," I wondered, which nearly crushed her.
"I know Conner," she wept a tear on the top of my head as I played with her map book, "So do I."
I could feel her kiss the top of my bushy head.
Suddenly, little Lorie appeared in front of us. Her tiny gown was pulled up as she wiped the sleep from her eyes.
"What are you doing up?" mother asked.
"Couldn't sleep," she wined back, "I had a bad dream."
"Then come to bed," she offered Lorie. With a pat from mother's hand on the bed, she vaulted forward and landed on the same side I was on. Lorie gave me a slight push.
"Move over," she demanded, "I like being on this side of the bed." I decided to only do what she asked, considering I wanted to cause no trouble for mother in her state. I climbed to mother's other side; she being wedged between Lorie and I.
"Do you suppose we can all sleep in this bed?" mother asked on both of us. She shifted her return gaze on one, then the other, "Don't you suppose?"
"I suppose," I said.
"I suppose," Lorie echoed.
"Then turn off the television; I'll get the light."
And within an instant everything was off. We climbed beneath the covers and we said our 'night's' and 'sweet dreams'. I found the darkness to be so settled into a stillness that it allowed all of us to fall into a deep sleep quickly.
I was the last to slide off into my own dreams, as my mother and Lorie were nearly asleep within the first few minutes. I took a peek at my watch. The hour read upside down on my wrist as I had hastily put the watch on backwards. I thought it read something like a quarter after seven, though it was actually a quarter till two in the morning.
My mother was always an ardent proponent of teaching. This being her trade, she preferred her children to learn as quickly as possible. From early on she gave us all the loving care. She would always read to us and allow us to participate with her reading. I learned rather soon; talking by one, reading sentences by two-and-a-half, telling time a year later. Lorie however was more resistant to teachings than I, and consequently was on a slower pace.
There, in the vast well of that dark night, I felt very close to my mother. Her raven hair flopped about the pillow when she softly turned from one side to the other. Her motherly love always appeared to override all other concerns. The gentle sway of her manners and genuine love to all her children carved out such a secure blanket for us that nothing seemed to interfere with that increasing bond we held together.
It was in that moment I felt content enough to fall into my own sleep. My mother now found more comfort in a cramped bed of three instead of a semi-empty bed of one.
Father would attend to many weeks of firefighting out west; some stretches being for a month or more at a time. This gave us great time to expend as a family in waiting for his eventual return. Even during his homeward stays there were gaps of days where father would be continually at the firehouse, brewing up some hysteria of his own with 'the guys'. I often wondered during these early years when time would dictate his return. I had always the curiosity as to why he was gone as much as he was. Many of my friends had their fathers close by and attended to them during the normal course of everyday life, but mine often remained as he was, with pure dedication to his craft and work.
During the fading seasons of spring and the early days of a new summer, mother would make ready plans to take us on assorted field trips about Boston. She had as much curiosity about history as I had about life; in general, at that time of our lives together.
There was the Trinity Church which I found delightful to attend. The vibrant stained glass windows showed the sun's light in so a Heavenly setting when it hit in the afternoon days. I would stand in awe at the immaculate show of rainbow colors. The bell tower's sound tickled on the ears at every hour; the sanctuary burned a dim candlelight appearance as you walked from front to back; the baptistery and the chancel; the grand pulpit and its carved scenes of Christ's life. Mother would quite often go to the front pew of the church, with us tagging along, and have us sit directly behind her while she stayed in prayer for a time.
Beacon Hill and Charles Street were also of frequent visits. My mother desired to spoil herself while she looked at all the old shops and antique stores. We were finding ourselves as 'tag-alongs', going from window-front to window-front, occasionally ascending within to view all the assorted antiques one could imagine and then some. It never failed for us to take a trip around Louisburg Square, and though the bow-fronted townhouses were nearly impossible to see, we would stretch our eyes past the high iron fences and try to imagine what they would be like in full view, inside and out.
Park Street Church and its 'sky-reaching' steeple also caught all of our fancies; the Massachusetts State House and in particular, the Hall of Flags; the site to the Boston Massacre; the Old North Church; the Waterfront, and especially Paul Revere's House where he began his midnight ride; all made us constant visitors throughout the spring and summer seasons.
My personal favorite was very apparent. It was the one I vied for on many occasions, whenever mother threw up for vote 'where should we go?'. I was the first to respond; 'Old Ironsides! Old Ironsides!'. I enjoyed the seamless majesty of her sight; the tall distinguished masts; her contained canvas sails; those mighty side cannon portholes; her streaming decks. I got such a thrill whenever we went to the Charlestown Navy Yard.
However, all in all, our most common visitation was the Boston Common, Public Gardens, and the Central Burying Grounds. It was here where we roamed to play; where mother found her comfort and grace; where we 'would be of little bother to anyone, and we had the grasslands to 'play in', so mother would say.
We were early to rise on those days we went there. Packing a lunch, basket, drinks, blankets, Frisbees, and balls; enough food and water to last us until sunset. Mother always felt it to be such a harbor of nature in the middle of Boston. We began our trek at the Parkman Bandstand, where Lorie took a liking to those columns; and she so running circles around the circumference of it, darting up and down the stairs in a giggle, light a fuse in her belly, and head out in a direct line to the cemetery.
"Mother, are you coming?" I would look back at her. She carried all the utensils of the day and a continual smile while she strode along in our rear. She told us the purpose of this was to keep a constant watch on our activities, as well as watch over Adam, who at this time was barely a toddle and still struggling to walk on his own.
"As always son," she was a few yards behind us, "Now mind your sister; she has her tendencies to stray."
I would bolt out and relocate Lorie. If I could not find her in body initially, I could always discover her in spirit, due to the echoes of her laughter as she scampered about. The wooded area just before the cemetery would have her prance and dance around every tree she could find; then, off to the old church as it appeared to govern the cemetery about.
"You want to help me read headstones?" Lorie turned and asked of me. She found such fascination in dates, names, and the quotes that were sometimes left as an inscription.
"I'll need to help mother first," I would look back.
"You two know the rule.." mother said, setting a blanket about, taking the picket basket, and throwing out the food.
"If you don't see a 'stone', you go no further," Lorie and I said this in unison. We had heard that quote enough times to know it by heart.
The rickety stance of those headstones; how some arched backwards, others cracked, while others were barely readable, especially to two young urchins now beginning their attempts on the English language. We found some stones as far back as 1756.
The grass was thin and bare in spots, though there carried a lush phase of green wherever grass lay. Trees of overhang and heavy foliage would create long shadows throughout the entire cemetery. The hovering branches always kept us in cool shade, like overcoats to keep off the hot sun and heat from us. The flowers of bloom, especially in early spring, held the talents of every color. The bristles on that early spring wind blew in amongst the cascade of trees and sounded off those leaves as it rumbled through. Butterflies danced along the tops of the tombstones as Lorie found adventure in trying to catch one, then another, and another. I kept my eye to mother whenever I could. I found her sprawled long-legged, across the blanket as she kept both Amanda and Adam in tow.
"Conner," Lorie proposed, "Look at this one."
I could see the back of one stone. A crack directly down its middle; though by the looks of it, it may crumble at even the touch on the top. I saw weeds assemble at the base. No one had attended to it for many years.
"How old?" I questioned her.
"1804," she looked back at me.
"I say 1793," I responded.
"What do I get if I am closer?"
"Nothing," I replied as I followed her.
Lorie landed on the back of the headstone. She leaned up against the base of it where she found a daffodil close by and picked it clean.
I saw the marveled look on her face, "What's this?"
"A flower," I suggested, not knowing what it was.
"Yeah," she squinting her eyes out and up to me, "But what kind?"
She twirled it about her fingers.
"A flower," I repeated.
"You don't know," she laughed, twisted her dark hair, and began to place it in her mouth.
"It's a flower," I said, "Ok?"
I sat beside her at the base of that tombstone.
Suddenly we felt the presence of a moving cloud rise up above us in a strange, shadowy form.
"Daffodil," we heard a voice above us say.
There set a man leaning about the top of the headstone; his eyes in a glare. He wore a deep green cap over his hairless brow, as if his scalp pinned the brim of it on a prop there. The wrinkles were set deep into his expression and they gave the appearance his look was chiseled in stone.
I leaned back as far as I could, up against that high slab and template, and I caught the very wears of his eyes upon me. My sister, in counter reaction, seemed to be all too traumatized by his presence; her mouth was as wide as her eyes had become.
"Daffodil," he remarked, "as plain as the nose to your face Laddy," then he perked to look onto my sister, "Lassie."
"Mother!" my sister backed away and screamed, "Mother! There's a ghost in the cemetery!"
"Why lassie," he defended, "you've caught the cold in your eye. I'll be far from a ghost yet…I may be white, but no ghost," He smiled a grin with teeth sprawled apart that further agitated my sister as she cried out more.
"Mother!" she curdled a high throat scream, "The ghost is talking to me!" she retreated farther away.
"Ladd," he looked down on my stunned face, "Is she always like this?" he gruffed out a laugh like a choke and a cough, "As skittish as a bird out of flight."
"Are you real?" I could barely bring the words out.
"Of course," he grimaced, "I'll do haunting to the weeds and long grass of sorts, but no people, least of all children… I have six grandies myself."
I stood and kept my distance in a shy manner.
"What's the name?" he still leaned out over the headstone, with pruning shears lodged between his hands.
I said nothing, yet stared cautiously on him.
"Cat took out your tongue Ladd?" he smiled.
Still, I said nothing.
"Elijah Haberstaff's the name."
I kept to my silence even still.
"You think me to be a ghost then?" he questioned, "More of an angel than a ghost Laddy," he gruffly laughed once more, though to his dismay I could say nothing.
"Well Laddy," he shorted on our conversation, "Best be back to my work," he tapped his hat rim, "Good day."
He moved off slightly to the next burial spot, stooped low, and showed particular consideration on his work as he gleaned over that square landscape.
"Johansson Rails," he read the name aloud, "A great man lives on after death when the heart of another remembers him."
He was stooping further and he took great care in cleaning off around the headstone itself, then taking a flower from a basket he was carrying with him, and laying it about the very foot of that saying he recited to me.
"You still there?" he turned on me to grin, "An old man like me doesn't usually get so much attention from a tot like you…Where's your mother?"
I turned to see my mother standing off in the distance; her hand just over her eyebrows and she trying to spot on me with her stern look.
"Conner James!" she yelled into my vicinity. I saw Lorie had finally reached her, and was so instructing mother on what we discovered.
"Ahh," he leaned back on his legs to look at me, "Good name…almost as good as Elijah," he winked and laughed a gregarious laughter. It came out in such a way that it felt he had just discovered a humorous joke, told it to himself, and it seemed to him as though there could be found an incredible joy sitting somewhere in the punch line.
"I would have been a great poet," he sparked, "if I had written down all the epitaphs to these stones and placed them in a book."
I heard the stress in my mother's voice more prevailing.
"You better go son," he leaned back onto his work, "Never acquire a woman's scorn, I say," he smirked a glimpse on me, "least of all a mother with a ready-made-belt to use."
"Conner James," I softly said as my introduction.
"Kind of figured that one," he winked.
"Nice to meet you," I gave him a half-wave where I stood.
"Likewise," he waved back.
"Are you from here?" I asked.
Mother's voice was getting closer, and so was she. I turned and saw her stammering down the embankment directly towards me.
"You better go save yourself, and plead insanity."
"Why?" I was uncertain to what he meant by that.
"She's got a hickory switch in her back pocket."
"Conner James!" she was now in the cemetery, full steam, just behind me, "If I ask again…"
"Don't let her finish that sentence," Elijah whispered over, "if she does, it means trouble."
It was too late. Mother had found me standing just beyond the stone I had fallen behind.
"Oh..." my mother stopped when in sight of this elderly man, "I've come to retrieve my son."
"Quite alright madam," he began on his work again.
"See? Mother," my sister said. She stood behind the right-flowing side of mother's dress, "It's a ghost."
"Dear," my mother laughed, "I don't think a ghost he is."
"Quite alright madam," he repeated.
"I am sorry," she apologized, "My daughter has quite the imagination."
"Oh," he said, "They were tantalizing over a Daffodil. I've seen them all. I run a greenhouse in my spare time; cardinal flower, aster, buttercups, columbines. The nasty things here; mainly thistle, dandelions, clovers, and oh yes! The creeping bell flower and green briers are terrible pains."
"Your name?" my mother asked.
"Elijah Haberstaff," he dipped his hat again.
"Annie James," she responded, "My children, Lorie," who hid a bit further behind my mother, almost disappearing underneath her long-flowing dress, "My two youngest, Amanda and Adam. And of course, you met my oldest...Conner."
I waved on him a second time which made him grin at me.
"They take a liking to you Mrs. James," he eyeballed us each, "No... I think they do."
"As much to their father's good grace as mine."
"Perhaps," he said, "But I see your imprint."
"You must work here," mother suggested.
"On Wednesday's and Friday's…" he smiled, "But if the good Lord doesn't part the skies for good weather on those days; well, then, I suppose Saturday's and Monday's are just as fitting to be out here."
"It's strange that we haven't seen you out here before. We do come often," mother implied.
"Well," he looked about, "I am usually restricted to the cemetery. I just care take on the grounds; the resting people's beds. Good job; they don't complain much. They usually keep to themselves as do I," he grinned about as wide as his mouth would go, "Good benefits. I get a reduced price on a plot."
"No family?" mother inquired.
"As I was telling your son, Conner here, got six grandies; one on the way. Three kids- one in Oakland-technical engineer, one in Florida-scuba instructor, and the other one is in Wyoming working on a cattle farm…"
"And your wife?" my mother was full on questions.
"She died six years back," he saddened his eyes when he spoke on her, like the loving memory a husband would have of his wife, "emphysema; heart disease... She smoked."
He stalled to think on that moment; perhaps to flashback on his times with her, then he went on to change the subject.
"Worked in the Boston harbor and yards for thirty years as a dock worker and long shore man…"
There was a strange silence that was hitting the air, like a soft wind bringing in a peculiar odor; but one, with a bit of reflection, reminding you of something. You just didn't know what it was at the time.
"We are a bit upstream from here," my mother smiled and looked back at the distant blanket up on the high slope, "but if you wish to take a little time with us Mr. Haberstaff, we do have an extra sandwich or two if you care."
My mother was being polite in all this.
"Oh no, no," he shied away, "I could never impose."
"No, really," she pleaded with the elderly man, "I am sure the children would be delighted to hear your tales of old."
"Well I do appreciate it madam," he said, "I am on duty however. My direct boss isn't here," then he stared above, "but the overseer is watching."
"If you take a different mind on it later."
"Of course," he replied.
My mother began to back away with us all four clinging to her like monkeys in a tree limb. She stalled and turned, "Mr. Haberstaff," she wondered aloud.
"Yes Mrs. James," he turned and leaned up to her.
"Children can be quite venturesome. If you would please, that is if my children do come your way again, would you look over them?" hers' was of a cautionary concern.
"Why certainly," he smiled, "I would be delighted."
"The offer still stands," were my mother's final words, "lunch in thirty minutes."
"I'll keep that in mind."
We were off there as I spun about on occasion to look back for the old, feeble man. I saw him darting from headstone to headstone as if he were an elf on Christmas Eve, getting Santa's checklist filled in the toy store just before the big event. I saw him stand; look about; check out his list; recheck it once more; pull about his hat and scratch that bare, bald head of his; place his hat from where it came, then spot the marker he needed to attend to next.
Mother reminded us to remain close; to play about the small grassland close by and not to go beyond into the brush and woods again unless she approved. The wind was modest on that brisk, yet sunny day. The air brimmed with the early shadows of spring; the newborn leaves made new whistles as the breeze cast by. I could see a rabbit and her little ones hopping through the brush, inspect the surroundings, and then proceed to remain well concealed until all was clear.
I retrieved my kite that I had so longed for to fly, though I had not had a chance until now. It was a Christmas gift from that previous December. Though I was so delighted on receiving one, father had instructed me to wait until spring to give it a go for good practice; the winter air being too heavy and stiff for any chance to fly it.
It was like an angled mast with its bluish and purple design glaring back at me from the topside. I made my tumble runs across the ridge.
"Go! Go! Go!" my sister Lorie would parade me on, clap her hands together and giggle up a storm of laughter, "Go! Go! Go!"
As such was true, my tumble runs were just this; tumble runs. My eyes would catch the whipping of the tail, the bristle sound of that canvas flopping on the crossbars. And me being as astute as I was, I would spot it from behind, look back, then stumble out over a grass pothole I had never seen before, and so roll down the embankment as if I were a ball let loose in the streets somewhere.
"There isn't enough wind!" was my excuse.
"Your not running fast enough," was my mother's way of telling me to try harder, "You can do it…Know which way the wind is blowing."
I made several more attempts. I was daring in my attempts, yet I was still failing on every attempt to capture the kite on the wind.
"Conner," mother called out, "time to eat son!"
Before I had a chance to assemble myself with the others, I saw Lorie full in gorge of herself, Amanda sprightly picking at her food with displeasure and more in play, while the youngest, Adam, had crawled round the blanket and had gotten his hands and knees in everyone else's food.
From the bush and without any warning, Mr. Haberstaff appeared coming to our direction.
"Food still warm?" he asked my mother with a tease.
"Why yes," mother handed him a sandwich, "hot sandwiches at modest room temperature. What changed your mind?"
"Ohh.." he dug in, "Not often a pleasant day comes around to spend time with a pleasant family."
There we were like a spring thanksgiving feast, tossing about the various foods and calling out good conversation for near an hour. It was indeed a pleasant time as Mr. Haberstaff suggested. The company was warm and polite; the perfect weather a gift to us with its beauty and ease. There was a baseball field just off to our left where kids were playing a pickup game. I heard their jeers; their calls out to one another; the swing of a bat, the silence that follows; the ball lifting into the air, then the sudden cracking of the bat sound passing by us.
"You want to fly that thing?" Mr. Haberstaff asked.
"I've tried already Mr. Haberstaff..."
"And what makes a boy not try again?" he pointed a finger into my shirt, "It's Elijah."
We stood in the open, with me at the kite's helm and direction. He was looking up into the sky as though he were actually watching the wind play about just above us.
"You need a gust and good tailwind my boy," he said, "Ready yourself and when I say go; be a bird and fly as fast as you can…you hear?"
I nodded and I held the back of the kite close to my ear.
"Ready?" he softly spoke. I nodded. "Go!"
I shot out as quickly as my legs would carry me; my sister shouting 'hoorah' all the way. That kite flapped in my shadow as if I had a wing to fly with.
I instantly did so. I felt the kite glide from my hand, lift into the air, take a swirl and dive, stall for a moment, then take off higher still.
"Hold the string!" Elijah yelled.
I could feel the tug of the wind on it when my hand wrapped, hard-pressed, around it. My expression reached to spot the darting kite. It danced about the rich blue skies. The kite looked like a buck that was kicking and flapping its mane at the first sign of a rope, pulling me as it did along that embankment. I felt the exhilaration and fear all at once punch into me as I struggled to hold it at bay. Elijah came to my aid, and though he never took it from me, I could tell he was pleased at the sight of seeing such a grand smile over my face. His kind hands guided me through the process; his soft voice held me with its instruction.
"How did I do?" I looked at my mother. Her eyes were so charmed with pride in seeing me succeed there.
"I didn't have a doubt Conner," she clapped a couple of times and pulled Adam back to her knee. I thought I had just landed on top of the world there; the highest peek at my footstep, and the bridge of eternity now sitting in my every view – I just wished father could have seen this.
Before the day had drawn into the afternoon we all sat round this large blanket. Mr. Haberstaff took center stage with his grand stories of old. He captivated us with his knowledge; his humor; his experiences in life; the joys he appeared to hold in reminiscing. Even my mother fell silent to his jolly and carefree ways.
It wasn't long until we found ourselves along the rim of the large lagoon within these gardens. The boats were trimming the watersides; lovers reciting poetry to one another; others out on a day trip and traveling the parameter of that clear, blue lake. We went to the dock and watched people cast out by boat. I wanted to go myself but I was too young. I felt Mr. Haberstaff's hand lean around my shoulder and so pull me to his whisper.
"You'll be out there someday soon enough young man."
Mother had taken the children down by an embankment while Mr. Haberstaff and I walked onto the Lagoon Bridge. We peered down over the sides to look into the foaming waters. The ducks paddled by and underneath the bridge. Some would look up at us, quack a bit, then wait for us to throw down the leftover bread from our earlier meal.
The sprinkle ray of sunshine moved with the heart of that lake. The reflection spawned such brilliance that it nearly blinded me when the sun bent lower in the sky. A few clouds moved through the plain of that old day; it bringing shadows which were dancing across the bridge, embankments, and lake itself. Spring was almost near and it held a certain rebirth to that season; a bridge to something that was better than the past; the guidance to new hope, a dream long-last realized. I had just begun my life and I had not seen that much in the seasons changing. But this I do remember; on that day, in that hour, I had met a friend for a time in moment.
"Look below young Laddy," he pointed to the waters beneath where we stood, "You see?"
"See what?" I looked up at him with a confused stare.
"Look deeper," he said, and he lowered his voice.
I crumbled through the deck, came to a squint, reached deeper and more concentrated into that realm; past those ducks and geese, and so sighted my own reflection as it rolled in the waters, "Me?"
"It's a sign boy."
"Sign?" I asked, peering up to his ancient face.
"It captures you," he smiled, "in a time, when you give the waters your attention, it will look back at you. You will see what it gives back to you."
"I don't understand Mr. Haberstaff," I was being my normal self; a confused, little boy.
"It reads your face and tells of the boy you are," he said, "Now. A part of you will always be in these waters… To say, Little Conner James once past this way, like all the little boys before you once did. It will ripple and cast off wherever the waters go."
"Without a doubt…"
"I suppose," I got to my feet.
"Some even say," he began, "the rivers, lakes, streams, oceans, and seas are an entrance way into another world."
"Well, I wouldn't know about that," I splattered in a mater-of-fact way, "Don't suppose they lead to anywhere."
"Oh you think?" he gruffly smiled at me, bent down to spot my eyes with his, "And how do you suppose a boy of such small stature knows these things? Eh?"
"I don't," I was sure, "I just hear them..is all."
"You're not an easy Laddy to convince, are you now?" He let out a cantankerous laugh that seemed to echo throughout the areas surrounding that bridge.
"Just a boy is all I am."
"Well I have heard," he started, "that some waters are the waters of the past….they show you what has already been; fond memories that your remember from long ago..."
"I don't remember much," I shrugged my shoulders.
"Oh but you will," he giggled and wrapped his old hand around me, "when there is more time that you have seen, and the more time you can remember with, then you will my boy."
"I suppose," I was still rather confused.
"But there are," his stare was reaching out along the bay, finding solace on the tiny boats that were crisscrossing the horizon in front of us, "some rivers which are about the future…they show you what will become. You look into their waters; very deeply mind you, then they will show you a glimpse; just a glimpse of what is to come."
"I'm just a little boy Mr. Haberstaff. I don't know about those things."
I climbed up on the railing.
"But," I wondered aloud as I climbed back to lie across the bridge. I looked over the edge and I peered out on my reflection once more, "which one is this, do you think Mr. Haberstaff?"
"It is the sea of the future Laddy."
"Really?" I bent back to look at him while he stared down from the top railing onto me.
"For me, it is only the seas of the past. For you it is quite a different story."
I looked back in these floating waters, concentrated mighty heavily then, "I don't see anything Mr. Haberstaff."
"I do..." he softly spoke.
"What do you see?" I asked.
"Come up my boy," he asked. I stood as he leaned down in a kneel and brushed the dirt clean from my pants. He grabbed my waist with both of his eyes and he squared his expression at even-eye level with mine.
"Do me something Conner," he had a most worried look on his face.
"All right," I was becoming confused again. It was here that I looked away to spot my family by the shoreline. I heard only the last fragmented words of what Mr. Haberstaff said to me there.
"When the time comes," he paused, "be there for your mother. There will come a time when she will need you most."
He never blinked on this, nor did he flinch from his serious, engaged look. His brow became more cross and dark even; never breaking for a smile or flinching from the importance on what he was trying to say to me.
"I don't understand."
"You will need to do for her as she has done for you. You will be ready. I assure you…but be brave and ready."
I was speechless, not knowing what to say. I looked past Mr. Haberstaff. My mother was sitting by a small inlet where she was staring out our way. I leaned about one of the many stone columns and I caught a glimpse of my mother standing to that shore side. Our eyes did connect in a way which would have launched a thousand thoughts between us. She carried such hope in her gaze; the fixed, gray eyes posed something only a mother and a child will ever know; that connection; that inner language of dialect that only two people born of this relationship could ever communicate with. It was like a single harbor for my ship. She was standing there along those shores. My siblings were strapped to every side of her. I had no meaning and understanding on what Mr. Haberstaff was trying to tell me then. But by her gaze, there stood a thousand definitions of how our love was between us; this, in so my simple stage of life, I could understand most completely.
"Someday you will return," he said, "and remember what I have spoken," there he smiled as we heard the ducks give a uniform quack our way, in want of more food, "Time is an adventure Laddy... Enjoy your stay in Life!"
We threw out more food. All manner of fowl jockeyed for position on the next morsel we tossed that way. Mr. Haberstaff took me down below and so said his farewells to us all.
I thought of all he had said during our drive home. It constantly wore in my ear like an echo that spouted off when it had the desire to do so. Weeks passed and I wandered about Mr. Haberstaff and how his well-being was. I asked mother for us to make a return trip to the gardens and cemetery, but she slighted me off for another day. I still persisted. After nearly a month had passed mother took us all back to the gardens for the next visit.
A day that was much similar to the day when we had last seen him. The sun was rising and casting the grounds more green. The early morning breeze chased us through the meadows; spring was more to arrive and giving hints of flowers abloom. Different sights and sounds of sing-song birds paraded through the trees and seemed to give life to every limb about. My mind was set; I wanted to see Mr. Haberstaff again.
When we got there I asked mother for permission to go to the cemetery and find Mr. Haberstaff. She obliged in her usual manner and said 'No.' I was never one to find that word to have any appealing prospect whatsoever, so I pursued it further.
"No," my mother was more quick and firm about it. I would wait a bit for my opportunity again.
"I said no Conner." When she spoke my name, I was pushing it for sure, "Help me with lunch."
I decided to get on her 'good graces' and do as she had asked of me, then spring that request on her a third time.
"In a minute Conner," she was beginning to concede.
I waited. My mind was persistent now to the point I would no longer enjoy the day, the sun, the gardens, if I did not get my way.
"May we please mother?"
"Alright Conner," she proposed, "You lead the way."
I shot out through the long gardens, down into the thatch of woods which led to the cemetery, and I did not give care that they were following me.
No one could match my pace. I found myself out and about on my own in a matter of minutes. My breath was nearly lost as I reached the cemetery's outskirts. The lawns appeared strangely long and unkept. The weeds had begun to linger; the wildflowers more afoot. The strong array and assortment of beautiful flowers were gone and the cemetery looked more distilled and dark without them.
I felt the strange bellowing of a gust of wind cross over my path. I lingered from one side to the other; its' tiny gail blows followed me in my path; my gaze pressed my eyes to nearly come from their sockets while I went through these unguarded stones and posts.
"Mr. Haberstaff!" I called out, "Mr. Haberstaff!"
Nothing, but for the shimmering wails of the tree limbs overhead that seemingly were in a shudder at my presence.
"Mr. Haberstaff!" I came full circle. I found myself surrounded by the very mist of this cemetery. I saw the dotting of sunrays peeping through the heavy overgrowth trees. The shadows would pop through and then suddenly disappear when the clouds were playing about overhead. I was sure he would be here; he to be amongst the images and shadows of the treetops which skirted along the lawns throughout this entire cemetery plot. I felt the silence consume me, but for the high-perched bird that lofted above me. I am sure it was in watch of every move I was making. I went from plot to plot, looking past every stone.
"Mr. Haberstaff!" I would call out periodically, but to no avail.
My mother came into a distant view but she stayed there watching over me. My siblings climbed aboard her like she were the mother monkey of many chimps.
I felt a wind push through; the leaves rattle some call when it came to surpass me. A melody of nature, in sorts, hovered most nearby. These plots and gravestones had been here for many-a-years and they would so remain long after I was gone. But somehow they seemed alive here; carrying the eyes of those they represented, and so seeing the charm of a little boy running about these grounds in search of something he did not know, yet they knew more of.
Mr. Haberstaff was their friend. He took care of them; gave them the soft smell of freshly cut flowers; kept their grasses cut clean; the weeds and unsightly wild vegetation out. And without the love and care of such a man, it would appear less a harbor of love and more the harbor of neglect. There, in that moment, it felt as something was missing and I was in search of it.
I kept to my ongoing pace. I leaned over a headstone large enough to shelter that kind old man. I heard the clipping noise and I saw a bent figure huddled over near one stone.
"Mr. Haberstaff!" I ran to him. I spotted the figure as it turned round on me.
"What is it boy?" a grizzly, bushy-haired man with tiny-framed glasses stood to face me, "You lost your family?"
"You're not Mr. Haberstaff?"
"Who?" he kept to scratching his head.
"I thought you were Mr. Haberstaff."
"No son," he appeared frustrated with me, "Gilbert."
"I am looking for the groundskeeper," I spoke hesitantly, as not to offend him further, "He comes here regular."
"That would be me," he puffed out his chest.
"No," I responded, "The groundskeeper; Mr. Haberstaff."
"I said boy," he snuffed, "That would be me."
"I don't understand," I said.
"Neither do I son," he smiled with barely a tooth behind his lips, "Don't know this Haberstuff. Been here working nearly twenty years and I never saw anyone by that name come around here."
Just then my mother came to my rear.
"I'm sorry my son disturbed you."
"Quite all right lady," he made his way back to attend to the plot which, just a moment ago, had his fullest attention.
"He was just looking for someone," she politely defended me as she pulled me back by the shoulder.
"Haberstuff," he gruffed again.
"No, Mr. Haberstaff," I correct him.
"Elijah Haberstaff," my mother proposed, "The groundskeeper, you have seen him..."
"Listen," he stood, "I'm the only groundskeeper of this place; been so for years. If there was a Haberstuff here, he was here long before me; and hasn't been here since," and he snapped his head down as if to prove his point.
"We saw him here recently," I conjectured.
"You say Haberstuff?" he thought with a queer expression on his face, "Can't hear good boy.. Speak up."
"Haberstaff!" I pronounced more affirmed.
"Haber…" he stalled on the word.
"Staff," my mother calmly swayed on him, "Mr. Haberstaff… do you know him?"
"Haberstaff," he bent down and stared at the ground just in front of his feet, "Haberstaff, Haberstaff...Hmm...Let me think," he would say over and over again as though he were in a conversation with himself, "Seems like that name does ring a reminder with me," he opened up his blackened mouth wide this time and he barely showed us a tooth in the process, "Ah! I have it," his eyes lit out like two fireflies dancing in the darken air, "follow me..."
He led us through the maze. We crisscrossed over several rows of tombstones until he came to one smaller and nearly split-out stone; the etched out wordings were barely readable after all the harsh weathering it had been through over the long years.
"There you go," he lowered his head in presentation, "Mr. Haberstaff," he smiled once more; filling the air with a goofy grin and silent laughter which never made it to sound.
"This isn't right..." my mother questioned.
"Well, Miss," he sounded perturbed, "that's the only Haberstaff I have seen in these parts."
I had lost this man in my mother's conversation with him. The stone so lost in the ages, felt hard to the touch. I bent to remove the debris before it. The cryptic signs were barely recognizable; the words harsh and chiseled poorly out by a heavy hand. There was a crack embedded through the stone, and so cut through the name, "Elijah Haberstaff."
I could not blink, nor think to do so. I touched each letter in shock; the words seemingly dripped down onto my palms as I lifted myself free.
"It must have been an ancestor who comes to visit his family often then," my mother suggested.
"No Miss," the man replied, "Even the redcoats have visitors from time to time. But this one? No, never seen anyone come by this plot in all my years. This must have been a rather lonely soul through his years," he laughed.
"Well then," my mother angrily sparked, "there must have been an exception."
I knew by my mother's words she was in as much disbelieve as I was. Her tone told all that she too was thinking much as to my thoughts; Mr. Haberstaff was a figment of a ghost who had crept back into our world to shower a day with us.
For whatever reason, the lonely man from the past had found us and made his presence felt; in hopes of giving back something that was lost to him. His life was unknown but for the name he told to us, and it seemed now to be but a shelter to his real purpose.
I could feel his eyes looking upon me there, staring back from that distant history he had so long ago lived in. The talents from crossing time, like an echo which found its way to us. He had given me a message that had yet to be fully realized; and one I had passed away as nothing more than another sentence in our conversation. It had slipped by me then and I was so lost in that confusion.
I replayed what was said before, even the manners to his ways; nothing. I looked out across the fields of headstones and I swore I could hear them call to me.
"Don't you remember Conner?" They spoke out in unison, though in a sudden blast which rippled through the trees, I was brought back again. I found my mother's hand still settled over my shoulder.
"Remember Conner?" she said, "we have to get to the store," I felt a nudge come from her hand when I looked up.
I had forgotten everything at this point.
"Thank you sir," my mother said in parting.
"Not a problem lady," the old man shot back. He leaned down to continue on with his duty. We drifted away from him and mother pulled us along whether we wanted to go or not. We were to escape now, more so from our own fears than anything else.
"You are not to talk to your father about this," she tugged, pulled, bantered, dragged us along, "And furthermore, we are not to speak of Mr. Haberstaff again; probably a local miser playing a trick on an unsuspecting family - nothing more than this."
"I don't," I tried, but the words were lost.
"Young man. Mr. Conner. You abide by me. You hear? There was no Mr. Haberstaff; just a man playing foolery and trying to make us look like a fool. You are not to go into this graveyard again," she turned to Lorie and so smartly pronounced, "Nor you young lady."
"I told you he was a ghost," she whispered over to me.
"Stop it!" mother warned, "Mind your sister. This discussion is over with."
Nothing more was said again. I took hold of Amanda and helped her carefully walk through as we went along. All the while, Lorie just skipped in my mother's shadow. Mother clung most tight to Adam until we made it to the open grounds.
Later that evening, while sitting alone in my bed, I could hear the raptured sounds of that day in the park playing in the back of my memory.
The sky was so blue a painter's dye could not have made it more perfect. We were lingering along frog pond while watching other children wading in; and how I would soon take part by Mr. Haberstaff's constant encouragement; the swan boats and lagoon rides; playing about the bandstand; skipping rocks across the ponds, and settling out on Lagoon Bridge while feeding the geese and ducks as they passed underneath our stage. It was a most glorious day to be reminded of.
I would sit there in my first reminisce, even at such a young age; toiling about in my mind the times we shared, if ever so brief. It seemed a day made from Heaven's own hand to me.
The moon was white bright that evening and it cast a hollow gray hue through my window shade. The strange and iridescent misty shade filtered an odd radiance into my room. Everything appeared to light up as if a spotlight were being flung from the tree limb just outside. I was at comfort then, remembering Mr. Haberstaff's smile whenever I closed my eyes. And as much to all this, I tried to think of what he said to me that was so important. I spun the day's events back and forth in my mind, rewinding to every crucial segment for any clues; nothing came. It was lost when I was least paying attention to him. And no matter how hard I tried it would never come to me. Just the soft temper of his nature found its way back. The laughs; the grins; the drenching stories of old; the soft confidence he displayed to me was what prevailed.
I thought he would be lost forever; to somehow fade by my young inability to remember the particulars of him well enough; just another character to enter my life and then leave. But little did I know that he and I would meet again, and the words he relayed to me in my youth would play such a profound role in my life. There was more to Mr. Haberstaff than meets the eye you could say. Ghost? Angel? Or just a vanquished soul drifting in and out of life, I could never speak of with any certainty. Someday however I would discover just how important that one day was; those hours we spent together, and the words he sent my way. How all of this would resolve itself to me in the end.
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