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faith final 0 of 100,000 words
Patricia Coppola words
11770 Haynes Bridge Road #205-270
Alpharetta, GA 30004
FAITH'S IN THE CLOSET
A Novel by
Anne captivated my interest when I noticed her reflection in the window of Caravan's Drug Store. Tall for a girl in kindergarten, her long, skinny legs reminded me of willow tree branches. Dressed in a navy wool coat trimmed in velvet, her eyes glistened when they caught the sun. Strawberry blonde curls fell below a cream-colored knit hat, matching her scarf and mittens. I giggled, amused by my own reflection, and nodded to myself before continuing down the sidewalk.
Despite the blustery, frigid wind touching my bones, I continued to pull the wagon holding two bags tucked inside. Determined not to allow anything to dampen my sprits, I strolled down Allen Avenue no different from if I were on Madison Avenue shopping with Grandma.
Instead of fussing about the chore she gave me, I seized the opportunity to be alone, savoring the happiness, I felt my opportunity to be without any younger sibling to care for or annoy me. Alone time is a rare gem when you are the oldest of six. Sometime before kindergarten, I surmised--like it or not, the stork arrives like Santa once year at our house.
Never comfortable with the family and friends who frequently bent down to admonish me as my mothers little helper, I understood most had no idea how unwelcome their comments were. Like a miniature adult, I helped to care for my five younger siblings from the time I woke up until bedtime. Perhaps that was why unlike other girls I loved putting my dolls to bed; after all, mine dolls really, cried, ate, and wet.
Struggling, I pulled the wagon through the doorway, as the three people inside, turned, and watched me approach the washing machines. It was obvious that the woman behind the counter worked there; the others, a man and several women, were stuffing blankets into the washers. I took off my coat and hat, and, seeing no place to hang them, folded them and set them on a chair. Mom had separated the baby's clothes from the boy's before I left so I placed each load in a separate washer, as instructed, and set the water temperature on hot.
Magazines on a table seemed to be the only thing to pass the time lucky for me, as they were a secret passion of mine. Filled with places I never imagined, it was easy to get lost in the different worlds, enabling me to escape the adult realm my parents thrust me into. I sailed through the pages eager to see the beautiful people, and places, almost as though I infiltrated the pages. The pictures were stunning; depicting places otherwise a world away. An issue of Life caught my eye; I stopped in awe of the cover, which drew me in. It pictured a girl riding a horse, she seemed my age, her hair even styled similar to mine.
Quietly but aloud, I read the title on the cover, "The Fun of being." The women, who worked in the laundry, now standing behind me, finished reading the words, "Caroline Kennedy, her horse Macaroni." That is an old one sweetie," she said, pointing to the date. "Oh," I acknowledged, smiling without raising my face from the cover. Who is Caroline Kennedy? Why is she allowed to have this much fun? I wondered.
My imagination led me to think how wonderful it would be to have my own horse and ride through the woods filled with beautiful trees, hills, and flowers until I came to a lake.
Someone startled me by touching my arm, forcing me to leave my amazing journey. "Missy, you need to switch your loads," the women washing blankets said. I apologized for not paying attention but my thoughts remained about Caroline and the fun I could be having if I were living in her shoes.
Located at the top of the high commercial dryers, the coin slot appeared to be out of reach. Puzzled and in a quandary I contemplated the challenge before the woman came up behind me and dropped change in the slot. "Who dropped you off to do laundry by yourself?" she asked. "I came by myself because my mom's washer is broke and it is too cold for her to bring the babies outside," I replied. "What a good mother's helper," the woman said. "Thank you, I hope this will help persuade my dad to let me have a kitten. Not as wonderful as a horse but our yard is not big enough for one of them anyway," I said.
"I'm on my way to the church to pray for my ailing mother, would you care to go along?" she asked. Hmm, ailing, an unfamiliar word, having recently relocated to Maine with my parents, I assumed it was a word exclusive people from here. "Church, umm I do not know if I am allowed to go," I replied. "Missy, church is open to everyone; it is where we find our miracles and hope. My name Nancy and I promise you we will be back before the clothes are ready to fold," she said, with fervent delivery. I nodded and smiled, agreeing to go without giving it any further thought.
Once we were inside the car, I introduced myself as Anne, preferring my own name to someone else's. Hesitant, not to offend her or seem churlish, I inquired what miracles were. She explained them as something you did not think possible, but with God are. Nancy was hoping for a miracle for her mother, who was quite ill. "God is our father, who gave us life and will always be at our side, with him everything is conceivable, if we humble ourselves and ask, "she said with resounding passion.
When we arrived at St. Joseph's, without warning, I became nervous. As if she sensed my fear, she took my hand before we walked inside. Souring majestic ceilings opened up in the Cathedral, as if to reach the heavens. In the sanctuary, the warmth of the sunlight entered through massive bejeweled stained glass windows making a rainbow across the wooden benches. Walking down the isle the exquisite detail drew me in.
Young, tall, and handsome a priest walked gracefully toward us greeting Nancy with a warm embrace, telling her everyone has been praying for her mother. "Who might this be?" he asked. "This is Anne," she responded. He noted what beautiful hair I had and then continued on his way. When we approached the mahogany benches, she knelt making the sign of the cross on herself before kneeling. Along side her, I followed her lead and imitated her actions. Her eyes closed as she spoke to God, praying her mother would get well, but not at the price of her suffering. "God, please be with Anne and her family. Bless she may come to know you," she said, before pausing. "Tell God, what you want for Anne, it is alright to say it to yourself, he is listening," she instructed. Overwhelmed, and not prepared for the privilege to ask God for anything; my heart raced. "Caroline Kennedy, I want to be like Caroline Kennedy, God," I whispered. Nancy thanked God for hearing our prayers, before we departed.
Passionate about God, she spoke of nothing else on the ride back, but hard as I tried, I found myself unable to focus on her words. Unbelievable as it seemed, I Anne, spoke to God. Pictures of the stained glass, and high ceilings flashed through my mind. Never before had anyone taken me to his house, and if is always open, I wondered why. Exhilarated, an endless list of question flitted around in my mind. Her words transformed my state of conscious and suddenly if was as if I was the one who sat on the big horse not Caroline.
As I folded the clothes, I observed Nancy doing the same from the corner of my eye. "You are a good helper, and a good girl Miss Anne," she said. For the first time, those words filled me with pride. Before leaving, I walked over glancing a last time at the Life magazine, which so captured my fancy. "Take it, it is an old one, and only get thrown out anyway," the woman said handing it to me. Surprised by her generosity, I thanked her.
Without hesitating, I accepted the ride home when Nancy offered. Before I knew it, we were in front of my house and I found myself unable verbalizes my feelings. My mind tormented between the great experiences of my day, due in part to her, and the overwhelming fear I may never see her again. "Thank you for the pleasure of your company this afternoon Miss Anne. Good-bye, remember if you can't get to the Lord's house, he is anywhere you are; even in a closet," she said, smiling. "Good bye, and thank you for the most wonderful day of my life," I blurted out.
Frozen in place and momentarily overcome with emotion, I watched her get back in her car; she smiled, and waved before driving away. I clenched the handle of the wagon, and looked to the house to see my baby brother at the window, banging on the glass and calling my name. His smile and nose pressed against the glass made a steam of vapor, and within seconds, he disappeared.
Inside I searched for mom, anxious to tell her about my wonderful afternoon but discovered she was napping with the babies. My little brothers and sister Karah were running around, playing in the living room. Dad, who returned from work earlier than usual, scolded their rambunctious behavior, reminding them mom was asleep. "I had a magnificent day," I said, before he interrupted me. "That's good, can you take the little ones and laundry upstairs," he asked. He no more got the words out of his mouth and he walked away, leaving me alone and unable to tell him about my day.
Without hesitation, the boys instigated, making faces and taunting my sister. Gosh knows it would be but a minute before they made her cry, prompting dad to become agitated. Hoping to keep their hands occupied, I handed them a pile of clothes. Karah smiled and tagged along as we scurried upstairs to put them in the drawers. Finished, I invited them to come in my bedroom, hopeful they at least would appreciate hearing about my day. With an excitement, I never used reading any book to them I told them how I spoke to God. I described his house as having windows more beautiful than any kaleidoscope, and showed them the magazine cover of Caroline Kennedy riding her horse.
Andy, four and half, asked me to draw a picture of colored glass windows. Karah, just two and half liked the horse and touched the cover as though she was petting Macaroni himself. Mike, three, had more energy and thoughts than any boy his age should have, and offered to let us ride him like a horse. Agitated to realize they were too young to appreciate my experience, I quickly hid the book under my dresser.
"Anne, boys, Karah, time to wash up for dinner," mom called. One at time, I held them up to the sink to wash their hands. Downstairs, we enjoyed homemade baked beans, a long-standing Saturday night tradition in our house. Typically, dad served them with hot dogs but on special occasions, we had them with a ham. Dry out of the bag, dad soaked them over night until at dawn he combined them with molasses and other ingredients secret to me. From mid morning until long after dinner, the sweet, rich aroma filled the house.
Conversation at our dinner table was usually limited to the little ones asking for a second helping. Waiting for the best time to tell about my day, I glanced over to see mom smiling, it seemed the perfect opportunity. "Mom who is Caroline Kennedy, and why is it fun being her?" I asked. "She is not having fun Anne, her father and our president was shot and died, now she is a sad little girl," mom answered. Her voice sounded so absolute, even agitated, and upset with me for asking such an absurd question.
Her words left me defeated and prevented me from mentioning anything further. My hand full of plates and clearing the table she thanked me for my help with laundry. "You didn't talk to strangers did you?" she asked. Strangers I thought to myself, hmm, Nancy is not one of those; after all, she took me to God's house. "Anne, I am speaking to you, pay attention when I ask you a question," she demanded, interrupting my thoughts. Mom is not acquainted with any one outside of the house are a stranger to her, I convinced myself. "Anne," she repeated, with a discordant note in her voice. "No," I replied. The look of relief on her face assured me I answered appropriately. With out another thought she went, upstairs to her room to feed the baby. Her words, good girl, pure servile flattery, angered me.
Such happiness and joy and yet no one had the time or inclination to listen. As I trudged upstairs to play with the girls, my heart plundered to my toes. Karah is a quiet and obedient little sister who much often goes unnoticed. Despite her age, she seemed to understand someday she too would someday have to take care of the kids, and serve no other purpose in this house. Tina, nearly two, is a fussy and difficult child who understood nothing other than she preferred mom's attention, discontent, as mom often remarked. Then there is Lilly, the youngest for now anyway, who holds a precious sweetness to her, as she lies in her bassinet unaware of anything around her.
Changed into their nightdresses and ready for bed the girls raced downstairs. Usually I would knock, the polite and respectful thing to do, but this time the boys had the door wide open so I walked in. Mike stood jumping on the bed; whirling his pajama shirt at Andy who was racing around atop the bed. Embroiled in a tussle, they never heard me come in. "Stop, before someone gets hurt, dad is going to be furious," I pleaded. With no regard for my plea, they continued rough housing.
Annoyed I jumped on the bed pulling the shirt from Mike's hands, causing him to fall back onto the bed. Andy ceased the opportunity to lunge at him and being in the middle, I got my hair pulled, inflicting instant pain. With a firm grasp, I grabbed Andy's wrist, demanding they quit. Andy climbed down from the bed and Mike sat grinning ear to ear, silently declaring himself the champion in this battle.
Ready for bed, we headed downstairs to the living room to watch television. I stopped on the staircase, gazing out the window wondering if God could see me, noticing how the moonlight shone down on the front lawn already wet with dew. I joined the kids who were on the sofa, singing to the introduction of Flipper, one of our favorite shows. Mom sent Karah up to bed when the show ended and the boys shortly after that.
House rules dictated our bedtimes, staggered by fifteen-minute intervals, but as usual, the rambunctious play of the boys upstairs interrupted my time. Tonight as always, dad sent me to quiet them, and keep them from waking the babies. Up the stairs, I marched to their room thinking, how unfair it seemed. Their childish behavior frustrated me, and I wondered why they could not behave as the girls do.
I bet Caroline does not have to calm her brothers, another reason to be like her, I thought. As a good girl does, I went to the room and told them to behave and talk in a whisper. On the bed we shared, waiting for me, Karah held out her storybook Little Red Riding Hood. Memorized by heart by now I told the story and before I arrived at the part where the wolf threatens to eat the grandma, she was asleep. I was convinced, if she stayed awake to listen to the scary part, it would not be her favorite.
Tired I resisted my eye's closing. Unable to let go of how desperately I longed to call grandma; after all, she is the person I lived with before they sent me here and enrolled me in school a couple months back. We were the perfect family, my grandparents, Mariella, and me. Mariella (my Aunt, but more a big sister) would be so excited for me. She and I shared everything, and no matter what happened in her day she always made time for me. Undaunted by the darkness surrounding me in my room tonight I found it nearly impossible to sleep, the thoughts of Caroline Kennedy, God, his house, and Nancy, kept running through in my mind.
Sometime before falling asleep, I devised a plan to take the little ones to visit God's house. Sunday morning I woke with a determined sense of purpose but mom's not feeling well in the morning changed our usual routine of my playing with the little ones while she napped with the babies. Discouraged again, when dad interrupted my plans to walk them to the Church by telling me I had to nap with them instead. Left with no choice I retreated to my bedroom with them behind me and went to do as he asked.
Monday morning I dressed and left for school eager to knowing I had someone to confide in. With the Life magazine rolled up with a rubber band around it, I tucked it inside my coat pocket for safekeeping. Some mornings I walked with other girls from my class; they were pleasant but much the same as being with my little sisters. Most days I looked forward to meeting up with John Barton.
Handsome, smart, in the fifth grade and quite the conversationalist, he made walking an adventure. John delighted in talking about his stamp and butterfly collections, and was passionate about his intense love for historical facts and his Boy Scout adventures. This morning would be the first time I had something significant to share.
Without hesitation, he struck up a conversation, giving me the details of his weekend hike with the boy scouts. Anxious, I asked if he ever talked to God, he grinned as though he thought I joked. Impossible, this is the most monumental thing that has ever happened to me I bragged. After his finding humor in my use of grandma's favorite adjective, monumental, he explained he went to Church every Sunday. His voice morose, he described church as sitting dressed up for what seemed an eternity, and listening to a pastor yell and holler. His words told of an experience so far removed from mine, that I totally disregarded them.
In school, Mrs. Smith called me to the board to write the five numbers following where she left off. Mariella taught me my numbers and I taught my brothers before Karah, making this seem ridiculous and so basic, though part of me did revel in always having the correct answer. The bell rang signaling dismissal and I remained in my seat hoping to talk to my teacher alone. With the classroom empty, she looked to me wondering why I stayed behind.
"Do you know who Caroline Kennedy is?" I asked. "Yes Anne, I believe everyone in American does. She is the daughter of one of the greatest men who ever lived, why?" she said, curious. "I have a magazine with her on the front cover, she is riding a horse, and it says it is fun to be her," I said, bringing it forth. "Can you read this Anne," she asked. "Much of it," I responded. "Your reading ability amazes me, but to answer your question, I am sure it's fun being her. She has been born into a family of privilege. Run along now or your mother will worry what has become of you," she said, taking my hat from my hand and pulling over my head.
I repeated the word, privileged, walking home, as I wondered how one becomes so. Inside the back porch, I removed my hat and coat, watching mom through the window as she warmed the baby bottles at the stove. Anxious, I rushed to question her. "What does the word privileged mean?" I asked. "Hello to you too, Anne, it means a sense of entitlement; a class of people, and you enjoy things beyond the advantages of most," she explained. "How do you get to be privileged," I inquired. "You are born into a family, or marry up," mom answered. "Who do you consider privileged," I asked. "As a girl, I considered myself privileged. I have to get your sister now," she said. "Did you have your own horse," I questioned. "No, remember I was quite sick as a girl," she responded, before heading upstairs.
"I think we are in for a Nor-Easter," dad said, arriving home early. "Huh?" I said, puzzled. "Eight to ten inches of snow are expected tonight," he replied. "Come give me a hand preparing dinner?" dad requested. "Alright, have you ever visited God's house dad," I asked. "Absolutely, we went most Sunday's when I was a child. I still remember my baptism on my twelfth birthday, they submersed me in water," he proclaimed. "Is Jesus, related to God?" I wondered aloud. "Jesus is the son of God, Anne," he said. "Did they submerse you as punishment?" I inquired. "No, it is the Baptist tradition of Baptism, like John in the Bible," he explained.
"My friend at school goes to Church. Do you think we can?" I asked. "Sure, I will talk to mom," he promised. "Thank you, what about the baby kitten I want?" I asked. Now seemed as good a time as any to ask for what I wanted. "Sorry Anne, no kittens with new baby in the house, good try though," he laughed. "Ok," I answered content with the prospect of attending church.
Giddy to be the bearer of good news, I was excited the next morning to share with John my families plan to attend church. He surmised we would be going to the same church since it was down the road from my house. He wasted no time in telling me, I made a mistake in asking to go, reminding me of how long you sit and how angry the pastor gets. Reminded of the wonderful experience I had with Nancy, his words of warning did not discourage me. Impossible for me to believe the man, or priest, as Nancy called him is capable of yelling or be bad tempered to anyone.
Day and night, all week, going to God's house consumed my thoughts. Appreciative for the privilege, I tried to be extra helpful around the house on Saturday by doing what ever I thought she would want me to do before she asked.
Anticipation rendered my night practically sleepless but I woke excited to dress in my green skirt, white blouse with lace, and my freshly polished patent leather shoes. Downstairs, my two brothers waited in their long sleeve white shirts, ties, and trousers; their hair combed with polish. I turned around to notice mom still in her bathrobe; she read the perplexed look on my face. "It is much to cold to take the babies outside, sorry Anne. Your father will take you though," she said, apologetic. "Oh," I said, disappointed. Determined not to let anything spoil the day, I hugged her goodbye and took my brothers to the car.
He pulled into a church parking lot; but not the one I went to with Nancy, leaving me bewildered and confused. With the car in park, still running, and before any of us said a word, he turned around facing us in the back seat. "I will be here when the service is over," he said. Reaching back, he pushed two dollars into my hand, told the boys to behave, and instructed me to hold their hands. I was stunned, disillusioned, and suddenly filled with regret for the privilege.
"Go, you will be late," he urged. "I do not want to go by myself, please," I pleaded. "Anne you asked to go and now you are here. Your mother went to all the trouble to get you children dressed up, at your request I might add; do you want to disappoint her?" he said, annoyed and impatient. "Dad, you said we would all go, not me by myself, or taking my brothers," I insisted, filled with trepidation. The boys had no clue as to my hesitation and became restless; Mike sat pulling on Andy's mittens, and dad's face now matched the tone of his voice. "I have to go to the store for your mother, now run along. Set a good example for your brothers," he said agitated and reaching back to open the car door.
With Andy on one side, and Mike on the other walked hand in hand, each step drawn out as though it would prevent us from reaching the Church. To be honest I did not hold their hands as a mother's helper, but out of a troubling sense of fear and mistrust for all those around us. Thoughts of my first day of school flooded my mind. I clenched my teeth in anxiety, unable to stop the memory from crashing against the walls of my head.
Kindergarten, first day of school, I was dressed in my new clothes and shoes not long after the sun came up. I remember mom-taking pictures of me, and smiling with such an excitement I ached. When the time came to leave, I reminded her I had no idea where I was going, she reassured me not to worry dad was taking me to school. He took my hand and I waved to mom before we crossed the street, all the immense pride that filled me quickly dissipated when he instructed me to follow the other kids. He let go of my hand, and turned to go home never looking back.
Alone and watching most children rushing past me laughing, and chattering together, the fear of not doing as told is the only thing that forced me forward. At the next corner, I had no idea which way to go and seeing two older boys walking ahead, I followed them. They left the sidewalk and headed down a grassy path, sure, they must be taking a short cut, and I continued to follow them. In what seemed an instant no one was behind or around me; the boys light up a cigarette. Annoyed to see me they hollered to me; scat.
Where did they expect me to go; alone and terrified I froze. Helpless I fought back tears. "What's your name little girl?" one boy cajoled. "Anne," I responded, my voice quivering. "Scat Anne," he yelled, mercilessly mocking me. Terrified, but before I determined what to do, John Barton, a complete stranger, clenched my hand. "Leave her alone unless you want a helping of regret," he hollered. The boys turned away; speechless I followed as he led me from the grassy path to the sidewalk, his words sympathetic, he reassured me everything would be fine. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and my heart beat so loud it sounded like thunder in my head.
"New here," he said. I nodded, yes. "Are you in Second or third grade?" he asked. "Kindergarten," I said, my voice reduced to a mere whisper. "Kindergarten," he repeated, surprised. "Those boys are derelicts, you best avoid them," he declared. His hand crossed my cheek removing the tears, telling me; I needed to show everyone my smile. When we reached school, he told me as a boy scout he learned it could be dangerous to follow someone into the woods, warning me not to do it again. "Wait by the fence post, and I will make sure you get home this afternoon. By the way, my name is John, John Barton," he boasted. Without hesitation, I agreed before he walked me to class.
Again, dad is leaving me alone, with the same overwhelming fear, and this time not just my well-being but my two younger brothers as well. Inside I wondered, how I was supposed to know where to sit until a well-dressed man greeted us good- morning and requested we follow him down the aisle. We passed other children our age; unlike us, they sat along side their parents. Most adults gazed at us making a proper smile and saying, morning. "Sit here sweetie, I will be sure to save room for your mom and dad after they park the car," he said.
A young couple in front of us turned around, asking if we were new, to which I nodded yes. My brothers and I sat in the pew with a silent reverence as I tried to hold my head high and carry myself as the person grandma taught me to be, even in the worst of situations. Music played and everyone stood to sing, Andy kept a big smile on his face, and Mike making faces at people; I tapped him on the shoulder, reminding him to be respectful.
Ostracized, and estranged from the people here, I reached for the boys hands. Relieved when the pastor came to the pulpit, pleasantly greeting everyone with a good morning, in a second breath his disposition changed. His now deep and dark voice carried through you the same as the fog siren at the port on a quiet dark night; in a shrill, he told us what terrible sinners we were. His voice evoked fear reminiscent the boys in the woods when they yelled scat; I trembled with helplessness. I consciously took a deep breath, and looked to the two boys forcing a smile, in hopes of reassuring them everything would be all right. Andy sat quiet as if he understood every word or was too scared to move. "When is it time to go, he is bad, Sheriff Andy (referring to the Andy Griffith show) is gonna take him away," Mike said.
"Shhh," I whispered. Finished yelling, he moved away from the pulpit and the congregation stood. Hand to hand they passed a large brass bowl around, everyone dropping money inside; now knowing why dad handed me two dollars. When the song-ended people closed their eyes as I had seen Nancy do, no way my brothers and I were closing our eyes. No kind words spoken here, the man prayed for us sinners, and for God to show mercy on us, before everyone filed out row by row.
Man women alike, patted me on the head as if I were a dog, telling me - good girl. No good feelings came from this Church; I think God forgot to come today. Outside, someone called my name. Hesitant I turned to find it was John with his usual smile and looking quite handsome, who rushed to me. "I spotted you from where I sat but," he rambled, unlike himself. Before I said a word, the horn blew and without warning dad shouted my name. Pulling up along side the church steps, he blocked the path of those attempting to walk to their cars and Mike let go of my hand, running to the car.
John's mom now alongside him, she requested he introduce us. With not so much as a hello first, she wasted no time inquiring about my parents; I explained mom stayed home with the babies. She gave me a compassionate smile, before telling me, what good little girl I was. Again those repugnant words, ughh; nonetheless I told her how pleased I was to meet her before excusing myself. Andy alongside me, we went to the car where dad sat impatiently waiting.
Relieved to be out of there I sat quiet, while Mike insisted dad call Sheriff Andy (from the Andy Griffith Show) on the bad man inside, which dad found humorous. The three of us rode home in silence, sitting close together in the back seat of dad's 1965 Buick wagon. At home, mom smiled, but before I told her about church and being on our own, she kissed dad and thanked him for taking us. Worse yet, he told he believed Church was good for a family; his comment stunned me.
No one mentioned church all day until after dinner when mom told me she had a joyful day knowing we went with dad. Even with her words, I still had a nagging desire to tell her the truth, but in the end, not wanting her to be unhappy won out, so I said nothing.
Maybe in part, because I look forward to school each day but nonetheless the days and weeks passed fast and on the second Saturday in December we went to get our Christmas tree. Dressed in our winter clothes, with boots and hats and mittens, dad took the four oldest and drove out to an old farm where we tramped around in the fields looking for just the right tree. We knocked the snow off the branches to see how thick they were, and each tree we pointed out dad stood held his arm up showing us how tall it was in comparison to the living room ceiling. When we finally agreed on the perfect tree, Karah and I rushed inside the barn to drink hot chocolate while dad and the boys cut the tree down and carried it to the station wagon.
It was an exciting ride home, with the windows rolled down and arms hanging outside we clutched the prickly branches, freezing cold but elated to be breathing in the smell of the fresh cut spruce we picked out.
Decorated with gingerbread cookies, shiny ornaments, handfuls of tinsel, and colored lights the tree was beautiful. Everyone's favorite part seemed to be stringing the pop corn and cranberries we would drape around the tree, because we ate as much popcorn as we strung together. I helped the little ones make their list for Santa and intended to request no more babies coming to my house but I never had the opportunity to be alone with Santa. Every time we went into town, I went with the anticipation and hope of finding Nancy shopping too, but was that fortunate.
Christmas morning Santa left me a beautiful doll (I named her Nancy), colored pencils and drawing paper. Saturday mornings while everyone slept, I took Nancy and went to my closet, where I kept my drawing materials hidden under my suitcase. There I had a private studio and undisturbed sometimes for as long as an hour I would draw. Cold wintry days or not we played outside, first building a snowman taller than me, we dressed him in hat, scarf, coal eyes, and licorice mouth before spending days building a snow fort around him. Nearly three weeks later, with school vacation ended our snowman still stood on the front lawn to see me off to school.
A vivacious reader from the age of three, I welcomed our new class routine of reading aloud daily. Unfortunately, we were limited to a specific book, which was similar to something I would read to the little ones, and the lack of the challenge seemed at times tedious. When Valentines Day arrived John surprised me with a special Valentine card and a red heart shaped little box with chocolate candies inside. Tucked into my drawing book, I read the card some nights before bed, admiring his signature; to my special friend, love John.
Although neither the warmth nor the crocuses have arrived here in Maine yet, Monday is my birthday. More important grandma, grandfather, and Mariella are here. Born on Mariella's birthday she continues to tease me that I was her present when she turned ten. Insistent she cannot miss school, they only stayed a week. Glued to grandma's side the entire time, only her promise to return for me soon, kept me from drowning in my tears when they left.
Most days as I approached the house, the little ones were standing in the front window, anxiously awaiting my arrival. During spring break, we had all day to play outside so I took full advantage of the time and took them beyond the deep thicket of boxwoods that fenced in our back yard. Together we discovered a hill, tall enough to command the view of an endless supply of wild Blueberry bushes. Rows of Lilac bushes stood waiting to fill the air with a luxurious scent in the weeks ahead. Weather permitting, we return here most everyday after school to play, to what we now refer to as, our Blueberry Hill.
John and mines friendship blossomed over the winter months despite our difference in age, and he meets up with us most days at our Blueberry Hill. Sometimes he carries along a butterfly net for Karah and I to use in hopes of catching one of the many, which fill the lilac bushes waiting for the nectar rich flowers to bloom. On occasion, he surprises the boys with packets of little wood airplanes they put together and send off soaring into the sky, the three of them watched these swoop and glide through the air as if they were the most exciting toy they ever had. John fast became the big brother we so longed to have and we the siblings he never had.
"Summer vacation is in two weeks," I shouted, as we ran in the field amongst ourselves. "I know, I have been thinking of so many fun things we can do," John said. "How, I live with my grandparents in the summer," I explained. His smile diminished, no longer running, he stared at me in disbelief, and stated he needed to go home. We walked back not talking, listening only to the endless chatter of Andy and Mike.
Concerned when mid week came and John had not been to school all week, I worried he was angry with me. Still I took the boys and Karah to Blueberry Hill after school, but the boys are no longer content to play with me and only end up bickering, or worse yet wrestling on the ground. Without him, the harmony and playful jubilance we have together is gone.
After dinner Thursday night, I asked mom to visit my friend who was at home sick, she smiled telling me I had permission to go Saturday. "You can go after you do your chores," she said before walking upstairs. Chores, they take the whole day, and the boys would whine to go along, I thought. "Can I go by myself after breakfast if I promise to hurry back," I called up to her. To my surprise, she agreed.
Shy and timid, and not knowing who to ask I had no idea where John lived, so I walked to the hardware store his father owns. Inside, I recognized the man behind the counter as the man who seated my brother and me in church. Nothing prepared me for this and I hoped he would not remember me as I approached him. "Morning young lady," he smiled. "I'm a friend of John's, I stopped to see if he is alright since he hasn't been at school all week," I said, my face blushing.
"John's been under the weather but he should return on Monday. I will tell him you stopped by Anne," he said, catching me off guard when he called me by name. "I made this card for him," I said, holding the card out. "Mr. Barton, call me Mr. Barton. John speaks warmly of the friendship you share," he said, taking the card from my hand. "Oh," I replied embarrassed.
Happy, and singing a song stuck in my head for days, I walked home. My eyes caught sight of Nancy, my Nancy from the laundry, getting out of her car. Would she remember me, my heart pounding with excitement, I hoped she would. "Hello, Anne? How are you," her jubilant voice called. Elated, I smiled, greeting her. Standing in a simple A-line dress and short patient heels, she looked radiant and quite vogue in lipstick matching the soft shade of pink from her dress.
"Good thank you," I responded, in awe of her. "How is your mother?" I asked. "Anne, how sweet of you to remember her, she is living in heaven now; my prayers answered by the blessing of her spending Christmas with us before her departure. Thank you, for asking. Did you receive an answer regarding your prayer?" she asked. "Not yet, but I never went back to his house," I naively replied. "Oh dear, prayer is conversation with God and he sometimes finds it sweeter when you talk from your own place," she explained.
"I spend summers at my grandmothers where I have my own room so I will be sure to talk to him then," I replied. I knew she did not understand there is no time to think, let alone talk to God, in my bedroom here. "When you return from your grandmother's call me and enjoy a safe and wonderful summer," she said. On a piece of paper from her purse, she wrote her name and phone number, and then handed it to me. "Thank you, it is nice to see you again," I replied. Euphoric, I clenched the paper tightly in my hand all the way to the house, before tucking it inside my shoe for safekeeping.
The rest of my weekend seemed a blur; my thoughts remained with Nancy. I went to the closet countless times, thanking God for allowing my chance meeting with her. Monday morning, John lingered at the corner for me; I raced up along side of him. Without hesitation, he mentioned his father giving him my card, the tone of his voice expressed his pleasant surprise. "I thought you were mad at me for going to my grandmothers," I said. "I was, until at dinner my mother told me she made plans for my summer; Bible school, to scout camp and then to my Uncles for a week in New Hampshire," he explained. "Sounds magnificent," I replied, using a word my teacher uses at least once an hour in class. "I would rather work in the store than go anywhere," he said somber. The bell rang, and we walked our separate ways.
Carefree, we enjoyed our playtime, with laughter and silliness you only understand as a child. Most of our classmates seemed happy for the last day of school and summer vacation to arrive, busying themselves after school making plans with one another while John and I took our time, as if we would never see each other. We spoke little, choosing a silent communication, smiling at one another as we walked.
Quick I changed and grabbed the little ones to race out the door to play, first remembering to reach under my dresser and retrieve a picture I painted in watercolors days earlier. I rolled it up into the sleeve of my sweater and tied it around me. We played for hours, lost in our own world, running and laughing in the fields with grass now knee high, I lost track of time. In the middle of fun, I realized how much longer than usual we were gone. We should race back, but too exhausted we meandered slowly. "Here this is for you," John said, handing me a ring he made from twine. With no warning, he hugged me, telling me he would miss me. I pulled my painting of Blueberry Hill I made for him, and handed to him. "I am going to save this till you become a famous Picasso," he laughed, smiling in adoration of the gift. Andy and Mike passed through the hedges marking our yard when I bent down and picked up Karah to run. John and I turned and shouted goodbye one last time.
Grandma and grandfather greeted us when we arrived at the house. Packed up already, I spent the night playing with the little ones, but never explained I was leaving in the morning. The Sunrise woke me, shining brightly in my window casting a shadow over my bed, a welcome sign seeming to call me home. After a light breakfast, grandfather announced we best be on our way, the highways would be flooded with vacationers traveling. Still with no understanding, the little ones watched me carry my suitcase to the car; I was leaving for the summer. Everyone exchanged hugs and kisses before grandma opened the car door for me.
The car backed out of driveway and from the rear window, Karah's forlorn face looked as if we would never each other again. A twinge of sadness came over me, lasting until we were a mile down the road when exuberance took over; I am free. No babies, doing dishes, making sandwiches, bottles, freed of getting little ones in their night cloths, and from hearing their chatter nonstop.
Home is a peaceful six-hour ride where I daydreamed in anticipation of arriving at what I considered my real home. Everything became familiar when we reached highway 9G and I could barley stand the wait. "Almost home young lady," grandma reminded me. "You must be tired," she insisted. Truthfully, like a child on Christmas morning, a quiet euphoria closely guarded my pensive thoughts. Her voice interrupted my daydreaming, telling me how pretty I continue to get. Grandfather asked her not to embarrass me. "No, please I like her to tell me," I said, taking in every word of her admiration as if they were precious jewels.
Hyde Park, my family's home, is also home to some of the country's most influential families, like the Roosevelt and Vanderbilt's. The rivers and its beauty made an invitation in itself to live here; grandma was always quick to articulate. No matter where you came from, you noticed the distinct architecture and scenic landscape. Acres and acres of large green lawns sat tucked behind intricate black iron fencing and gates. Inside, immense houses stand grand and stately, with ivy trailing down the brick and stone. Most named by the architect who designed them grandfather told me once, giving them a life as important as the owners themselves do. My favorite, the homes with horses, they stood tall and dark in contrast to the lush green lawns, similar to where Caroline Kennedy had her photograph taken I imagined. Then there were those houses, which sit so far back from the road you could only imagine how magnificent they must be.
Grandma was usually quick to tell how much she loved the town's people; they were passionate and not only loved life but celebrated it in the way they lived. Our house while beautiful is modest in comparison to most, as grandfather acknowledged. My grandparents ran, and owned an Auction House, selling antiques, and often the entire contents of estate homes from the area and abroad. Our two story white house sat high atop a hill with two tall black cast iron pots adorned with tall, lush, and green Italian cypresses, on each side of the door. Our driveway widened to the size of a department store parking lot to accommodate the people coming to the auctions.
The Auction House itself sat conveniently located adjacent to the house, its building spanning the length the drive and two stories high. Inside countless beautiful and collectable objects sat, all demanding your attention. The best thing about my home is what it did not have in it, no little cars, toy soldiers, baby bottles, and no sounds of babies crying or bickering brothers and sisters.
Mariella drove in with Cousin Jackie as I reached for my suitcase from the trunk. I never did understand how Mariella could be Jackie's Aunt; they are just two years apart. When I asked grandma she answered with a laugh telling me the gift of a late in life child, I smiled with no understanding of her response. Mariella embraced me with a warm hug whispering in my ear, she reminded me we had much catching up to do. Inside she raced to her room and returned with a special gift; a red diary that locked, she attached the key to my charm bracelet telling me the book will keep all my secrets.
Anxious I wasted no time in going to my room. The girls went out for the evening, Mariella promised to sneak in my room and wake me when she returned. I opened the door, appeased; I took a long look before setting my suitcase down. The queen size bed gave me an appreciation of what it would be like to be a princess. Placed on the dresser my sterling handled brush and comb set, along side my new white linen and lace nightgown.
I walked in the bathroom, private and exclusively mine, and as always little pink and white rose soaps sat in an ornate glass dish. Pressed as crisp as any tablecloth the shower curtain coordinated with rose soaps. I sat on my bed taking in the room; knowing my room missed me as much as I missed it. On my bed my pink satin pajama pillow adorned by a fluffy white stuffed kitten, sat waiting to have my nightgown tucked inside every morning.
After unpacking, I placed the issue if Life with Caroline on the cover, atop the dresser. No one touched my things here, allowing me the liberty of setting them out in plain sight. In front of the mirror, I glanced down at the magazine cover and brushed my hair. "The fun of being Anne," I said aloud, smiling with pleasure. I felt quite sure at this moment; Caroline could not be having more fun than I am. Here at home, I felt pretty, not plain, and so full of hope. Grandma's voice awakened me from my dreamy state, calling me, to accompany her down to the office.
I called down to her, letting her know I would be down in a minute; looking at my room, reluctant to leave. Grandfather greeted me downstairs, sitting in his chair playing one of his daily games of solitaire. I hugged him around his neck and thanked him for bringing me home; he smiled, telling me he is happy to have me home.
Grandfather is a humble man, a man of faith, and whose words are always kind and gentle; he is one who puts family first and is someone who many refer to as having an astute discernment for business. While I am not sure what that means, everyone likes him and he is often in the company of people most consider both successful and powerful. Most important to me is the special sweetness he shows me, unlike anyone else; his love gives me a resounding sense of security. He has diabetes, and even if you do not understand the gravity of the illness; you witness the toll it takes on his health. Already it has robbed him of much of his sight, and I never remember him driving.
Proud of the success of his business, he reminds me; great visions often come from small dreams. Unlike many patronizing adults, he enjoyed my company while he plays solitaire; he uses this as an opportunity to quiz me on adding and subtracting of numbers. Grandfather is always quick to remind me being good with numbers is vital to everything in life. Everyday he has his own and special time, down in his office where he listens to talk radio of a political nature. He and his male companions comment so loud their voices carry beyond the door at times; I hear his repeated words of his claims to be a staunch Democrat. His business meetings peak my curiosity, particularly because they are always with stoic men dressed in fine Italian suits, held behind closed doors, and with the exception of the familiar odor of cigars, you never hear a word.
I walked through the house heading down the office; slowly, running my fingers across everything I passed. The beautiful vases, magnificent artwork, needlepoint pillows, family photos in silver frames sat atop a rich Mahogany table and the delicate pink china clock which always caught my eye. Bambi, grandma's dog sat near the door wagging his tail for my attention. A loving dog but without a doubt she merely tolerated everyone aside from her master; I loved her in part because I understand her love for grandma.
I walked through the business without finding grandma, until Uncle Joe come in the door. After a hug, he told me she went to the back. I approached the garden and saw her; the sun shining on her halo of white hair, and cast a shadow of her slim figure shown beneath the summer dress she wore, how lovely she is I thought to myself. Her beauty and vivacious presence was unlike any other women close to me.
On one side, she had a vegetable garden and the other, rows of fresh flowers. Roses, Peonies, Gardenias, Geraniums, just to name a few, all to provide the house with the fragrance and beauty she loved about summer. She gathered many of the vegetables, which ripened while she was away, and asked me to pinch back some Basil and Parsley. I motioned for her attention when I spotted a small fat animal scurry from under the squash plants.
"Shhh, walk slowly," she whispered, motioning me inside. She set her basket down inside the door and I followed behind her as she walked to the back window on the second floor of the business. "Stand here," she said, placing me with a view of the garden from behind her. Cautious, she reached for the long rifle propped up against the wall, grabbing the rifle with an intent purpose as though she were a solider she aimed out the window without hesitation. Before I cowered, she fired the gun. "Darn old woodchuck has been stealing since we left," she avowed. My heart racing, she propped the rifle back against the wall.
Grandma stroked my face, telling me she would send my uncle outside to remove, his dead old butt. "Never touch the rifle Anne, promise me," she asked. "I promise," I said, frightened, knowing I was too much of a coward to go anywhere near the thing. Dad let me be privy to a John Wayne movie once; and until this day, I thought guns were something only a man dare touch. "Who taught you to shoot?" I asked. "My brothers, before the end of the summer I will teach you too," she said. Grandma always a woman of her word, I hoped this once she would forget.
"Your Aunt Ursula will be here with your cousins soon, they are joining us tonight and I should start dinner," she reminded me, retrieving the basket of vegetables and herbs. "Alright," I responded. "Follow me first, I have a surprise upstairs waiting for you," she urged.
Handing me a shiny black shoebox with bright pink lettering on it, I removed the top and took a deep breath. Black patent shoes with matching satin ribbons to tie them, with metal pads, tap shoes were inside. I gasped; she kept a promise made months ago when she phoned on a Saturday afternoon. I told her how Shirley Temple mesmerized me dancing in her tap shoes. She promised in the summer I would have a pair of my own, and could tap until my heart was content. I hugged her tight, thanking her for the beautiful shoes. After a long embrace, she told me arrangements were set for me to take dance instructions beginning next week and until then I should practice on the platform downstairs.
The platform she referred to, is an expansive hardwood section of floor about 15" x 15," elevated above the main level in the auction house. Someone carries items for bid up there, enabling people to view what is up for purchase.
In my summer dress and matching panties, I carefully climbed up, trying to remain well mannered, and careful not to scratch my shiny shoes. I danced and sang aloud all the songs I remembered Shirley Temple singing. I had my own stage now, and in my mind an audience of people who were clapping and smiling at me. "On the good ship Lolly pop," I sang, when after a minute or two I realized the sounds of appreciation came from my relatives standing in front of me.
"Wonderful," Aunt Ursula called out. "Thank you," I said, with a curtsey. She helped me down and embraced me with a big hug, my cousin Joe (the same age as me), made me blush as he smiled. Aunt Ursula stood tall, with dark hair, eyes, and skin as beautiful and stunning is how grandfather described her. Always happy and joyful; everyone loved to be around her. The twins, just toddlers, clapped their little hands as if they paid to see a show.
Dinner, served in dining room for the adults and in the kitchen for the children, at my aunt's request. Aunt Ursula set the table and grandma insisted my first night home I sit at the table with the adults. Joe wore a face of jealousy when he heard her words, so I settled for sitting in the kitchen with him and his sisters. He chattered nonstop about everything that came to mind while the twins whined relentlessly for their mother until she complied and accompanied them. Lost in my thoughts of how odd dinner seemed; I found myself enjoying a meal I did not help prepare, nor set the table for, and one where no one asked me to feed the children.
Everyone relaxed and lingered at the table, talking far more than they ate. "Ask grandma if I can spend the night. Come on I never get to stay, it is not fair," Joe cajoled. "Ask her yourself," I replied. "I have, she never lets me. Please," he implored. "Anne you can come over and stay the night this weekend, if it is alright with grandma. You are coming to dinner on Saturday anyway," Aunt Ursula responded, having overheard Joe. He retreated with a sigh.
Ten o'clock and routinely I had a snack before a hug and kiss goodnight from grandfather. Eyes closed I loved the luxurious feeling of her brushing my hair nightly before listening to my prayers. Exhausted, I struggled to stay awake in my bed; part of me feared I might wake up in Maine if I fell asleep.
As she promised, Mariella came in beckoning me when she arrived home, we tip toed to her room. On her bed, she browsed the pages of her yearbook pointing out her friends, and neat guys. "We have are going to spend the day Taconic Parkway beach, and see The Sound of Music together over the next weeks," she said. "Really," I asked. "We can go to the Drive in Theatre too," she exclaimed.
A large silver medal, hanging from a brown leather string on the wall caught my attention; it seemed too heavy to wear around your neck. "My peace sign, it's a symbol against the war," she stated. Her eyes and words filled with anguish and animosity, she described the government's decision to call young boys to war using something called a draft. "Where is the war?" I inquired. "Vietnam," she answered. Her voice reflected the anger and hopelessness she held inside. Tired, I listened intently as she spoke about the war and its emotional toll on her and her friends. Many of her words confused me, though I did know President Johnson when she mentioned him. Our school library held his photo on the wall, from a time he visited Maine to speak. When read the article, it intrigued me; he referred to his wife as Lady Bird Johnson, as though she were British royalty.
Aroma's of Italian toast, scrambled eggs, and sweet sausage, crept upstairs and met me before anyone's voice. My place setting awaited me; I smiled and bit my lip, still in awe of how different life at home is in comparison to Maine. Grandma ran the day's itinerary past everyone; breakfast, then some inventory work, prior to a couple of loads of merchandise coming in for auction this Saturday. "Do you think I can practice my tap on the platform?" I asked. "Not today Anne, it is not proper for a young girl to be where men are working. After breakfasts go to the garage, grandfather is waiting with something special for you," she said.
Another surprise, the excitement subdued my appetite. I went about helping grandma clear the table when for the first time it struck me as odd, Millie cleans the house, yet grandmother never allows her to touch anything in the kitchen. "Go upstairs; put on a pair of tennis shoes first," she asked.
Downstairs grandfather had an unusually big grin on his face. Mariella waved and honked the car horn as she drove off. "Be careful," she shouted. Butterflies of excitement whirled around inside my stomach as I stood waiting. Grandma walked blocking any view of my surprise, but once she stepped aside, a blue bike appeared. Baby blue fenders over lapping white wall tires were on the Columbia bike, a shiny silver light, and horn fixed atop the handlebars sat above a basket to carry things. Astounded, speechless and yes somewhat intimidated, I gazed at my bike. "What do you think?" Grandma asked. "It is beautiful," I replied.
"This gift is for your helping your mother with the children," grandfather said, smiling. I reached up, wrapping my arms around his big chest, and as he bent down, I kissed his cheek. "Ride in the drive and be aware of the many vehicles coming in the business," he cautioned. Reminding me to be cautious, he teased, if I got hurt, he would be in trouble. Grandma held the handle bars as I climbed on to the seat to peddle; keeping steady proved to be a challenge.
On my own now, I walked the bicycle to front of the garage window, staring at how big it looked, worried I might fall, or even worst, get hurt as grandfather mentioned. "New bike Ann, Uncle Joe yelled, as he drove in. "Yes," I shouted, wheeling to greet him. Hop on and show me," he coaxed, stepping out of his truck. Without thought, I climbed up on the seat and peddled down the drive toward him, nervous; he gave me a thumb up and waved before going inside. People came and went from the business most the morning and every one encouraged and complimented my new bike.
Dinner at Aunt Marie's (grandfather's sister), and Uncle Johnny is a weekly routine. Here my Aunt Elena and my Cousin Elena greeted me too. Elena, 6 years older than I, met me with one of her contrary faces. An only adopted child, self centered and spoiled, she was beside herself, having to come to dinner at our aunts. Anyone could tell she never washed a dish, or helped around the house not once in her lifetime. More over she did not posse any of the qualities grandma raised me to regard as the utmost important in life. Virtue, humility, and manners she labeled all these as essential and non-negotiable.
Aunt Marie and Aunt Elena, both were grandfathers sisters, and much older than my other aunts. Both Italian women who dotted on family and friends, and When either of them cooked, they made enough for the whole town. Food is one of the vital and single most important things in our Italian heritage; by school age, you recognize our culture dictates specific foods for when we are happy, sad, for celebrations, and when people pass.
Elena's lack of maturity surprised even me, pouting when told she would have to sit with me while the adults had coffee. Even at my age, I understood the etiquette of children not accompanying their elders when they are conversing. Elena sat on the porch with me talking non-stop about her friends and of a shopping trip in the city, she and her mother planned. She considered herself a young woman, something I thought funny, but kept to myself. Unbelievable and downright disrespectful she left me aghast, when she referred to Aunt Marie as a boring old woman. Grandma once told me she found her not to posse a humble bone in her body.
After dinner, my aunt asked if I would like to spend the night with my cousin, offering to bring me home the following day. Reluctant, grandma reminded her I came without overnight clothes. Elena looked appalled that she should spend the night with me her younger cousin, and I wanted to go where I waited so long to be, anyway. No one asked either of us what we wanted though, and as my aunt persisted I found grandma hugging me goodbye. Saddened, I smiled not wanting to seem ungracious.
Small but meticulously kept the two of them lived alone in their house, my Uncle passed away relatively soon after the adoption. I followed my aunt to the spare room where she brought me a fresh pressed nightgown and pair of slippers. "You girls enjoy time together; I will be in my room to reading. I have mass in the morning but will be back before long," she said. "What's mass?" I inquired. My question stunned her. "Church, sweetie," she replied. "Oh, if it is not an inconvenience can I go," I asked. "What a blessing, I will wake you girls in the morning," she smiled. "No, this is the first week of vacation," Elena protested, with a scowl on her face. "Alright, you sleep in, Anne and I will go. I will fix your breakfast when we return," Aunt Elena, sighed.
The next hour was shear boredom as I listened to Elena talk of nothing but herself, and her friends and well nonsense. The only thing of any consequence to me, her words I would regret asking to go to mass. I was hopeful not to relive any experience similar to my infamous day at John's church. Tired of listening to her, I excused myself; in my room, I was comforted to find the sheets smelled fragrant, sprayed with lilac water when ironed like grandmas.
An unnerving anxiety kept me from getting much sleep and the clock read six thirty when I woke. Dressed and waiting when my aunt came to get me for breakfast, I was excited to go with her. Handing me a small white leather pouch, my bewildered face gave away my not knowing what she gave me. "It's a rosary, you recite prayers with the beads," she explained. "Oh," I said, embarrassed. "Don't you and your family attend mass?" she inquired. "No, mom has too many small babies. I did go once with this lady Nancy, who lives near me and I loved it more than anyone can imagine," I replied.
"Explain dear," she asked. "Well I did not just go to a church; I went to the house of God. His house had stained glass windows of beautiful pictures. When you kneel down and pray, he hears you there. Oh yea, and the father is nice and happy to have anyone come," I rambled on. Many months since my wonderful day and at last, someone was eager to listen. She remained quiet while she parked the car; I thought I must be in trouble when so many minutes passed before she spoke. She shut the car off, put the keys in her purse, and took off her sunglasses. Without saying anything to me, she hugged me and we went inside the church; I was not sure what to make of her response.
Her church reminded me of Saint Joseph's, with intricate stained glass windows. By the hand, she led me to a small room where two boys stood pulling robes over their trousers. "Wait here," she said, before she knocked on a door and went inside. The boys made polite conversation, telling me they were alter servers. Moments later, she peered from the other side of the door whispering my name.
Dressed in robe the father summoned me in the room. My aunt nodded her smile of approval. I feared I must be in trouble for riding to church with Nancy, remembering, the longer you wait to tell the truth the worse your consequences. Before another thought came to mind, Father John introduced himself and told me my aunt seemed concerned with our conversation this morning.
"I understand you do not attend mass or religious instruction with your parents?" he asked. "Once, dad said we would all go, but he dropped me off alone with my little brothers. There was a man, not a father who spoke at everyone angry, shouting and calling us terrible sinners," I explained. "Did you tell your mother?" he asked. "No, she assumed my dad went with us, and I did not want to make her sad," I replied.
"You're Joseph Fellini's grand daughter?" he inquired. "Yes, am I in trouble for going to church with Nancy?" I asked. "No dear, I want to ensure you worship and learn about our Lord. How long is your visit here," he questioned. "I live with my grandparents all summer," I answered. "Good, I will give you a something to read and a rosary, learn and recite the Hail Mary," he said, smiling, and touching my hair. He asked me to kneel in front of him, and though hesitant, I knelt. He placed his hand on my head and prayed, "Animus of Sarcalogos exsisto memor illae parvulus," the only part I was able to repeat to myself before he finished. He handed me a small book, prayer card citing the Hail Mary, and a leather pouch containing a Rosary before leaving.
Mass had already begun when we quietly entered the sanctuary. I wanted to read what the priest gave me but my aunt took the card in her hand, moving her eyes and head toward the father speaking; she told me to pay attention. When we knelt, she whispered, "Ask God for forgiveness for your sins, and help with your concerns. Say them in your head," she instructed.
Everyone greeted me cordial after mass, not with a forced proper smile, but a warm and inviting one. I wished I had worn one of my good dresses today, but instead held the secret of wearing the same one from the day before.
Relieved my cousin opted not to come with us when she drove me home I enjoyed the ride. When we pulled into the driveway, my aunt hugged me telling m