Sunday, March 23, 2014
Maybelle Kazinski was a welderette. That’s right, a welder-
ette. She worked at Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock in Chester, Pennsylvania. Sun Ship, one of the largest shipyards in the coun- try, boasted eight slipways and built mostly the indispensable T2 Tanker but also hospital and cargo ships. Ordinarily, this would seem an unusual job for a woman, but in 1943, thousands of women went to work building and repairing the ships vital to the war effort in Europe while most of the men in the country were off fighting Nazis—including Holden, Maybelle’s new husband.
Maybelle liked her job. Having begun in the sheet metal department, in only ten months she moved her way into being a first-class welderette in Department 59, working side by side with other women welding seams on the giant leviathans. And she could weld with the best of them, men included. However, some still remembered her first day on the job. She arrived wearing a pair of bright white, spotless overalls. They quickly turned grungy black and oily. She never made that mistake again.
But still, as much as she liked going to work and as much as it managed to fill the time and distract her thoughts, Maybelle carried a hole in her heart the exact size and shape of Holden. She missed him so much it hurt and longed for the day when he would come home—for good. After all, it was only right she should get to finish the marriage she had only two weeks to begin.
My dearest Maybelle,
Another long day has finally come to an end. We just finished dinner. Paxton is already snoring. He can sleep anywhere. I don’t have to tell you how sleep eludes me here. But, supper was good, lamb stew with potatoes and carrots. I had three helpings. I can’t tell you how or where, but we actually ate supper at a real house, not a foxhole. But now, I am in our tent, shivering because it is so cold and it makes me wish even more you were in my arms. I love you, darling, and miss you more than anything. I know you are worried, but don’t be. I’ll be home soon, I promise. I can hear artillery off in the distance, but if I listen real hard, I can hear your voice, singing the silly song you always sang. Oh, sorry, sweet- heart, I have to go now. My sergeant is waiting for me. Some sort of (censored) duty. Good night, darling.
Your Ever-Loving Husband,
Maybelle slipped the V-Mail letter into her pocket and headed off down Ninth Street toward the Sun shipyard. The main rea-
son she had taken the job was because she thought it would help take her mind off of missing Holden. And because most of the men had been sent off to war, they needed her. As it turned out, learning to be a welder repairing huge war ships did accomplish some of her goal, but it also accomplished something else. Maybelle had become a part of a small group of army wives whose husbands were fighting in Europe. A group that worked together, laughed together, ate together, and far too often cried together. Try as they might, the wives had a difficult time refraining from long talks of their husbands and the war. There was no use trying to hide their true feelings, although each and every woman was proud as punch her husband was doing his part. It seemed to be the motto on the home front. Do Your Part. Well, Maybelle certainly believed she was doing hers.
She lived only five blocks from the massive shipyard on the Delaware River in Chester—a small but bustling suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After Holden enlisted, Maybelle moved in with her mother. Maybelle and Holden had plans to move into one of the blossoming communities a little farther west. But for now, home with Mom and Bingo, her black mutt of a dog, was the best of all places for Maybelle. Still, she missed Holden more than anything. They had gotten married only two weeks before he shipped out for Europe. His orders came early. Six whole months early and so Maybelle and her mother scrambled to get the wedding organized in time. Pastor Mendenhall was more than accommodating. As a matter of fact, Maybelle was delighted the way the entire congregation, what was left of it, pitched in.
Maybelle could hear the shipyard whistle blow all day long from the house. The yard operated twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The whistle announced the numerous shift changes, lunch, starting and stopping times. She felt fortunate for having the day shift.
Ninth Street was a nice tree-lined street with large row homes, mostly stone and wood but a few clapboard singles with small yards. Although the houses might have been identical in architecture, each one had its own personality, the mark of the owner. Just like her house, many of the homes had red-and-white service banners with blue stars indicating the number of men from that house who were fighting. Many of the houses around town displayed a black banner in honor of a fallen soldier.
Patriotism was something Chester was not short of.
Maybelle stopped in front of her friend’s house. She was a friend who had been her matron of honor and did more than any friend should to keep Maybelle cool, calm, and collected. Maybelle and Doris had been friends since they were babies. It was the end house on her row—her parents’ house. Doris’s house displayed a banner with one blue star in honor of Doris’s husband, Michael. Everyone called him Mickey. They inherited the house after Doris’s father passed away some five years ago. Her mother succumbed to inf luenza years before. Doris never really knew her and was pretty much the woman of the house since she could remember.
“Hey, Maybelle,” Doris called from the door. “I’ll be down in a second.”
“Okay.” Maybelle said with a wave.
Maybelle waited. She always waited for Doris. Doris would be late for her own funeral. But Maybelle was used to it and always arrived a few minutes early. Then they would not be late for their shift, something foreman Logan T. Frawley did not tolerate.
Maybelle watched Doris pull the front door closed. She wore a straight, no-frills dress with pretty pink f lowers against a yellow
background. Her hair was short, like Maybelle’s. A decision they both made after hiring on at the shipyard. Long hair was not the best when working around machinery and welding torches. Doris’s cut made her appear cute and flirtatious, while Maybelle often had to remind people she was a girl. Even wearing a dress to work was risky. There were posters all over the yard reminding women not to wear skirts and to keep hair tied up or short. Doris always changed into overalls once she got there.
“What?” Doris said as if she read Maybelle’s mind. “I like dresses.”
“Suit yourself,” Maybelle said. “But one of these days you’re gonna get caught in a fan or something.”
“Never happen,” Doris said. “We better scooch. Don’t want Logan breathing down our necks.” She said it every morning. Maybelle had come to look forward to it.
“Right,” Maybelle said. “What did you pack for lunch?” “Leftover meatloaf.”
“I got ham—again. It’s one thing about this war that’s annoying. Food rationing.”
“Yeah, I’ll say. Everything is so hard to get. Hazel was completely out of Off-Duty Red nail polish. I had to settle for this.” She wiggled her fingers at Maybelle. “Dark burgundy. Yuck.”
“It’s not so bad.”
The two picked up the pace a bit as they crossed Front Street to the shipyard. It was a wide street with a lot of traffic and a traffic cop who directed folks in and out of the yard. His name was Wiley. Officer Wiley.
“Morning, ladies,” he said as Doris and Maybelle crossed. “Have a good shift.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Maybelle said with a backwards wave. “Build those ships.”
To Maybelle, the entrance to the shipyard, at least Department
59, where they worked always looked so disproportionate to the rest of the yard. A little, well, normal-sized steel door against a building large enough to house a battleship.
Doris located her card first. Maybelle had to wait for Big Murray Johns, one of the only men on the line. Murray wanted to go to war, but a heart murmur kept him home. He was not happy about it. “I woulda made a great soldier.”
And standing over six and half feet tall and broad as an oak testified to that fact.
“Morning, Big Murray,” Maybelle said.
Murray only grunted as usual and headed toward Slipway num- ber seven.
“Always a cheerful guy,” Maybelle said.
“Yeah,” Doris said. “He is just way too happy.”
They giggled, and headed for the women’s locker room. Inside they found the locker each shared with three other women. Maybelle pulled on her overalls and snagged her goggles from the many on hooks near the entrance to the actual dock where they worked welding seams.
It was a good job, a job Maybelle felt, in some strange way, rather suited for. She always was a tomboy, more eager to play base- ball and climb trees than fuss over clothes and baby dolls. Doris, on the other hand, was practically absorbed with her concerns about how she looked and dressed. Even under her heavy, oily overalls and welder’s shield, you could tell Doris was pretty, slight, and trim with a figure to pretty much turn any head.
Logan met them just before they took their station. “Boss said we have to get a step on. We’re under quota,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Maybelle said. “Get a step on.”
Doris just let a phttt noise leave her mouth. “He says it all the time, doesn’t he? I swear the boss just likes to get under our skin. And besides, what will happen if we don’t make quota? Will the Jerries win?”
“Just get to work,” Logan said from behind. “This is serious business.”
“Ohhh, I’m scared,” Doris said. “Look, just do your job and we’ll do ours and we’ll all get to Scotland before ye.”
Maybelle gave Doris a punch on the shoulder. “Don’t get him angry, Doris.”
“Ahh, he’s just a sourpuss. Never met anyone so grumpy. Besides, the ships always get launched, don’t they?”
The shift went as usual. Maybelle and Doris usually worked from seven in the morning until three or sometimes four in the afternoon before the next shift came on. Sometimes they worked later depending on demand and on exactly what task they had been given. And lately, it seemed President Roosevelt was adding more and more ships to their already bulging demand.
Maybelle worked steadily, while every so often feeling for the letter in her pocket and dodging welding splatter—the sparks f lew everywhere making the yard look like a perpetual Fourth of July celebration. Somehow, just knowing the letter was there helped pass the day and keep Holden close, almost home. Even though she would often remind herself anything could happen, and she really had no idea when Holden would be coming home. Or, as with the hundreds of other military wives in the yard, if he would be coming home.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” Maybelle asked on the walk home.
“How can you be so cool and so collected all the time?”
“Doesn’t what bother me?” Doris asked.
“The war. All the death and destruction. We build ships so our guys can kill their guys. What sense does that make? I mean, if you stop to think about it. It’s kind of crazy.”
“Hitler has to be stopped, Maybelle. We’re making it possible. So no, it doesn’t bother me.” Doris stopped and snagged a tiny rose- bud still hanging on to one of Ruth Bradshaw’s bushes.
“What about Mickey, then?” Maybelle asked. “Aren’t you worried about Mickey?”
Doris stopped walking and looked in Maybelle’s eyes. “Sure I miss him. I worry every single day, but I also pray every single day. God is watching over him and won’t let any harm come. I figure as long as I keep getting letters, I ain’t gonna worry. I just ain’t.” Maybelle could feel Doris’s determination to stay brave.
“Yeah, yeah, I suppose that’s best.” Maybelle didn’t know for sure. She didn’t know much for certain except her feelings about the war, and the restrictions on gas and food and electricity. She desperately wanted the war to end. And as for God? Well, things of that nature had started to elude her. She went to church every Sunday, and if push came to shove, she would admit God was in control but lately she had started to wonder.
“It’s like this rosebud,” Doris said as she picked up her pace. “I got no real guarantee it will bloom. But . . . but I believe it will. All I have to do is put it in some water and wait.”
Maybelle chuckled. She wished she had Doris’s optimism. But she didn’t. She reached her hand into her pocket and felt the letter. Still there. Still close. She still worried.
They reached Doris’s house. “All I can tell you is to try not to worry too much. Don’t ask so many questions and, like the president keeps reminding us, do your part to help. I think it makes me feel like I’m fighting with Mickey, not just waiting for him to come home or for victory—which by the way is more sure than ever if you listen to the news reports.”
“I do, I guess I’ll try harder.”
Doris kissed her friend’s cheek. “Look, I’ll see ya tomorrow.” “Hey,” Maybelle said, “why don’t you stop down for supper in a
bit? Mom’s making chicken and dumplings.”
“Oh, boy, chicken and dumplings. I love your mom’s chicken and dumplings. It’s a deal.”
“Great. Get changed and come by. About an hour.”
Maybelle picked up her steps a little as she walked; the air had turned chilly as late October settled into the Delaware Valley. Maybelle thought living so close to such a huge river might be part of the reason for the cool winds in winter and the steamy zephyrs in summer. She wanted there to be a spring in her step like Doris’s. Like some of the other women in the yard. They were all in the same boat, so to speak. But she couldn’t shake the terrible feeling haunting her for three solid days. Every time she read Holden’s letter she felt it. Every time she touched the letter, she felt it. Every time she mentioned his name, she had to hold back tears. Something was not right.
Maybelle stood a moment outside her house. She loved it. It was one of the biggest ones on the block and set off on a large lot now gone to mostly dirt and weeds. A huge oak tree grew on the side. Maybelle’s father had told her it was there when William Penn first walked the streets of Chester, the oldest town in Pennsylvania. She liked knowing this. It made her feel a part of history, the way the war was making others feel, perhaps.
“Mom, I’m home,” Maybelle called as she pushed open the front door. “Mom?”
Maybelle slipped off her boots as she did every day. The boots were heavy and made her feet hurt. Then she put her handbag on the couch. “Mom?”
Bingo came bounding into the living room to greet Maybelle. “Hello, puppy,” Maybelle said. She kneeled and rubbed the dog’s ears and head. “I missed you, too, boy.”
“What is it?” her mother called from the kitchen. “Nothing, just letting you know I’m home.”
Maybelle played with Bingo another minute before heading up the stairs. “I’ll be down in a minute,” she called. “Just want to wash my face and change.”
Blue jeans and f lannel shirts were pretty much all Maybelle wore lately. She was comfortable and happy and saved her dresses for important things like church and the occasional party at the Canteen. She quickly washed the oil and smudges from her face and then joined her mother in the kitchen. The wonderful, enticing aroma of chicken simmering in the pot permeated the room. A smell like spring, with celery and roasted pepper, carrots and peas. Truly one of Maybelle’s favorite meals, especially on a chilly evening.
“How was work today?” Francine asked.
Maybelle lifted the lid of the simmering stew and let the steam encircle her. She inhaled. “Mom, you make the best chicken and dumplings. I invited Doris.”
“I thought you would. I’m making plenty.”
Maybelle sat at the kitchen table. “I had a good day. You know, same old stuff. Logan was a bear, though.”
“Ahh, don’t let him bother you. He’s just sore ’cause he can’t be fighting in Europe.”
“I know, but he doesn’t have to take it out on us. But yeah, it was a good day.”
“Good, good.” Francine dumped a bunch of confectioner’s sugar into a bowl. A small white cloud drifted up.
“Whatcha making?” Maybelle asked.
“Frosting. I baked a chocolate cake this morning.”
“Really, Ma? That sounds good. Where’d you get chocolate?” Just then, Roger walked into the kitchen, yawning. Roger was
one of the three boarders Maybelle and her mother had living in the house. Since things had gotten so busy at the shipyard and there were so many rooms left vacant as men and women went to war, many folks rented out their beds. Some houses had two and three people sharing one bed in different shifts leading some folks to remark there was never a cold bed in Chester.
“Hey, Roger,” Maybelle said. “Graveyard again?”
Roger lifted the lid on the stew. “You make the best chicken, Francine.” He replaced the lid and joined Maybelle at the table. “Yeah. Graveyard. It’s killing me. Except well, I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I understand we’re starting some top secret job tonight.”
“Now, now,” Francine said. “Loose lips sink ships.”
Roger snorted air from his nose. “Yeah, yeah. I ain’t sayin’
“Hey,” Maybelle said. “Doris is coming by in a bit.”
A grin the size of Francine’s soup pot stretched across Roger’s face. “That’s nice, real nice. But I ain’t hangin’ around tonight. I’m meeting a couple of the boys down the taproom before work.”
“Ahh, you and the taproom. How can you go there before put- ting in a full shift?” Francine asked as she tapped a large spoon against the pot.
“I can’t sleep, once you hens start yakking, so I might as well.” Then he smiled and kissed Francine’s cheek. “See you tomorrow.”
“No, no, hold on. Sit. Let me give you a bowl of stew before you go. No dumplings yet but you can eat the best part.”
“Fine and dandy,” Roger said. “But Francine, we all know the dumplings are the best.”
Francine ladled a heaping helping of the chicken stew with carrots and peas into a bowl and set it in front of Roger. Then she tore off a chunk of bread from a freshly baked loaf. “Here you go. Eat up.”
Roger was definitely charming. Maybelle had always thought so, even in high school he could always get the girls. He moved in with her and Francine after Pearl Harbor, once the war was in high gear. Roger intended to become a soldier, but unfortunately, a small hearing loss in his left ear kept him from duty. But he stayed on at the house becoming for all intents and purposes the man of the house.
Francine pulled two cakes from the refrigerator. “Want to frost the layers, May?” she asked.
“Ah, Ma, you know I can’t bake or cook to save my life. I’ll just ruin it.”
“I know you are not exactly a great housewife, but give it a try. You’ll learn as you go. Use this wide spatula.”
Roger laughed. “Maybelle is too much a tomboy.”
Maybelle stuck her tongue out at Roger. “Gimme that spatula,”
she said. “I’ll show you.”
Bingo barked twice. Francine slipped him a piece of the chicken cooling on the counter. Bingo ate pretty well, considering. Table scraps, leftovers, the occasional fried egg.
But try as she might, Maybelle just couldn’t get the frosting to spread evenly, and in one swipe, she took a large chunk off the top. “I’m sorry, Ma. I told you.”
Francine took the spatula from Maybelle. “Sometimes I think you do this stuff on purpose.”
Francine expertly reassembled the top of the cake. “Why you can’t do the easiest domestic chores is beyond me,” Francine said with a chuckle. “Did I ever tell you about the time she tried to make a dress?”
“Mom.” Maybelle said. “Don’t.”
“No, come on, Francine, tell me. I can use a laugh.”
Francine continued frosting as she spoke. “I can’t believe you never heard this story. Anyway, it was in high school, so just a cou- ple of years ago. She was supposed to be making a dress. A simple, no-frills dress.”
Maybelle sneaked a spoonful of frosting. Sat at the table and cringed as her mother continued speaking.
“She was going along okay, sort of, the sleeves were crooked, her seams were not straight, but at least it sort of resembled a dress. But then came the hard part. The zipper.”
“It wasn’t all my fault. No one really explained it very well.”
Francine shook her head and spread more frosting.
“Yeah?” Roger said. “What happened?”
“She sewed it into the neck hole.” Francine drew her index finger across her neck. “No foolin’, my little girl zippered up her own neck hole.”
Roger laughed and laughed. He smacked the table. “Hysterical! Wait till I tell the guys.”
“I ain’t a monkey, Ma. I’m just not suited for it. I’m better at more . . . whatcha call brainy stuff.” She stood and made a hoity-toity motion with her head. “I can’t help it if I got the brains in the family.”
Francine elbowed Roger. “My genius daughter.”
“Ha, ha, make jokes,” Maybelle said. “Frost your own cake. I’m gonna go take a bath before supper.”
“Can’t do that,” Roger said. “No hot water left. I used it all.”
Maybelle heaved a sigh, “Fine. Then I’ll go . . . read a letter.”
“Haven’t you read that letter enough?” Francine asked.
“No, it’s never enough.” Maybelle felt tears rush to eyes. It was hard to know if the tears were from missing Holden or from embarrassment. Probably both.
Francine set the spatula down. She pulled Maybelle close. “I’m sorry, dear. I know you miss him.”
“I do, Mom. I miss him so much.”
“Ahh, don’t cry,” Roger said. “I can’t stand when girls cry. Holden is tough. He’ll be home, you’ll see.”
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 11:21 PM
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Daphne Ballinger never imagined that life would turn out like this. As she sat on the front porch of the restored Victorian house, peacefully enjoying her coffee and morning sun, she felt pleasantly amazed. After so many years in New York, she'd nearly forgot- ten how lovely summertime in Appleton could be. And since it was nearly August, she wanted to make the most of this glorious season before it all frittered away.
But like the fly in the ointment, she was also reminded that she now had less than ten months to find Mr. Right, plan a wedding, and seal the deal . . . that is, if she wanted to continue living here in Aunt
Dee's lovely old home. And she did!
Oh, she tried not to pay too much heed to the calendar, and she wanted to trust God to send her the perfect man, but as days slipped into weeks, a quiet niggling tickled the back of her brain. What if it didn't happen?
"Que sera, sera." She leaned back into the wicker rocker. "What will be will be." Then she took in a deep breath. No sense fretting over situations she had almost no control over. And no sense getting bummed about it either. Admittedly she'd been feeling a little blue the past few days. As a result she'd spent those days sequestered in Aunt Dee's office—rather Daphne's office, although that seemed more uncertain lately depending on the day or her mood.
Still she was getting a lot of writing done. She was caught up on the advice column and had even managed to draft several more chapters for her novel. Whether it was good or not still remained to be seen, but at least she'd been productive. And productivity seemed a good antidote to hopelessness.
Daphne sighed, remembering how hopeful she'd been several weeks ago. The future seemed exceedingly bright—almost as if the stars were aligning, as if God was about to shed his favor upon her. She truly believed that her aunt's attorney, Jake McPheeters, was genuinely interested in her. Hadn't he insinuated as much? And she knew without a doubt that she was interested in him. Although true to her nature, she had not said as much. But that was only because she wanted to take it slowly, wanted to savor each moment, wanted to be absolutely positively certain before she threw caution to the wind and jumped in with both feet.
And for the better part of July, it seemed like she was getting closer to the jumping-in place. Her confidence had been growing daily and she felt herself getting ready to become very vulnerable. She saw Jake almost daily. And every time they were together, conversa- tion flowed freely, and they both seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely. It had been perfectly lovely!
Then just a week ago, everything seemed to change. Just like that glass of soda that's been left in the sun too long, it all seemed to fizzle and go flat. It started with a little disagreement over the column. Jake had wanted Daphne to start sending her pieces directly to the man- ager of the syndicate—just like Aunt Dee used to do. But Daphne put her foot down, telling him she wasn't ready for that yet.
"Sure, you're ready," he told her.
"But I like having another set of eyes on it."
"You already have plenty of eyes on it." Then he listed off the various editors who went over each column with care and expertise.
"But I don't know them personally," she said.
"Maybe . . . but they know you." He held up the local newspaper as if to make his point. "You see their work after they finish their editing and proofing. You don't have any complaints, do you?"
"No, of course not." She frowned. What she'd wanted to say was that having Jake read her work wasn't just about not trusting the edi- tors. The truth was, it was simply reassuring. Plus it made her feel closer to him. It was intimate. And she wasn't ready to let go of it yet.
"Besides," he said lightly. "What will you do when I'm gone?" "Gone?" A wave of panic rushed through her.
He had simply shrugged, then looked away. "On vacation for instance."
This had led to some more disagreeing. Nothing terribly toxic or concerning. But it was the first time they'd been at odds like this. Finally recognizing that she was not going to win this argument, she had reluctantly given in. Perhaps he was right. Maybe it was time for her to take the next step as a writer. Maybe she needed to grow up . . . stand on her own two feet.
But as soon as she'd agreed to send the columns directly to the syndicate, she felt a distinct sense of snipping. Just like a pair of sharp, invisible sheers had cut some vital thread that had been joining them together. Oh, she knew it was silly and she was probably just imagining things. But when most of a week passed without a word from Jake, she felt fairly certain that something was wrong between them.
It was only her pride that kept her from calling him and demand- ing "what gives?" However, when her teenaged cousin Mattie Stone stopped by to pick some zucchini on Thursday, Daphne was not above making a subtle inquiry. After all, Mattie was best friends with Jake's daughter, Jenna. She'd probably know what was up.
"They went on vacation," Mattie said as she cut the stem of a long dark green zucchini. "They left a couple days ago. They'll be gone two weeks."
"Oh . . ." Daphne nodded like this was no surprise to her. "Now that you mention it, Jake did say something about vacation. Kind of slipped my mind."
"Yeah. They have this awesome cabin on Lake Tamalik. With a dock and a ski boat and Jet Skis and canoes and everything. I've been up there a lot. I would've gone this time too, but marching band practice begins on Monday. I can't believe football season starts in just a few weeks."
"This summer is flying by."
"Tell me about it."
Daphne handed her another zucchini. "So what's your mom going to do with all these?"
"She makes zucchini bread."
Daphne looked at the nearly full grocery bag. "That's a lot of zucchini bread."
"She doesn't make it all at once. She grates and freezes the zucchini to use later on."
"Oh." Daphne stood up straight. "Good idea."
"I think this is enough," Mattie told her. "Especially since I'm on my bike. But at least I have a big basket."
"Well, be careful," Daphne warned as she walked Mattie around to the front yard. "I've noticed that a heavy load in my bike basket makes steering tricky."
"Yeah, I know." Mattie glanced at Daphne with a slightly con- cerned expression. "I hope you're not feeling too bad about Mr. McPheeters being gone and all that."
Daphne forced a smile. "No, of course not."
"'Cause according to Jenna, her dad was pretty surprised that her mom wanted to go too. It's not like he planned that or anything."
Daphne tried not to look shocked. "Mrs. McPheeters is at the lake too?"
Mattie nodded as she put the bag of zucchini into her metal bike basket. "Yeah, it's always been a big deal for their whole family. A bunch of Jenna's relatives have cabins up there too. It's like they have this big, old family reunion every summer. It's always the first two weeks of August. But Mrs. McPheeters doesn't usually go. Not since the divorce anyway."
Daphne's smile stiffened. "Guess you can't blame her. A family reunion like that sounds pretty fun."
"Yeah." Mattie frowned. "I wish I was there too."
Daphne just nodded. "Well, being in marching band sounds like fun."
"Marching in the hot sun?" Mattie shrugged as she swung her leg over the bike frame. "Anyway, thanks for the zucchini."
"Tell your mom hi." Feeling slightly blindsided, Daphne watched her young cousin riding down the tree-lined street, slowly disappearing into the leafy shadows. She hadn't wanted to admit it to anyone, but in that moment, she felt like crying. Jake was off taking a two- week vacation—with his ex. It felt as if someone jerked the ground right out from under her.
Today Daphne was tired of moping. She was determined to put her confusion and hurt behind her. During the weekend she had rationalized the whole thing into a tidy explainable package. She had convinced herself that Jake had only meant to offer her his professional advice as well as a platonic level of friendship—right from the beginning. She had simply misread his signals, making it into something he had never intended. And it wasn't the first time she'd been mistaken about a man. In all likelihood it would not be the last. Chock it up to hopefulness and just plain desperation. It was her mistake and she needed to own up to it. The next time she saw Jake, probably not until mid-August, she would act perfectly natural—she might be slightly cool, but she would be kind.
Today she just wanted to get on with her life. It was time to pick herself up, dust herself off, and get back onto that proverbial horse. And maybe, if she stayed motivated, she might already be dating someone else by the time Jake returned from his cozy reunion vacation. At least that was her goal. As she sat on her porch, looking out over the sunny neighborhood, she was determined not to be discouraged or disheartened by her flattened expectations over Jake.
The only problem with her recovery plan was that she still needed to explain it all to her good friend Olivia. And Olivia would prob- ably pick it to pieces. She had been banking on Jake being the perfect guy for Daphne. And even though Olivia was keeping quiet about it, Daphne was certain she was already planning the wedding. Olivia would see right through Daphne's game face, and to make matters worse, she'd probably be all sympathetic. The last thing Daphne wanted right now was sympathy. That would be her undoing.
Daphne peered across the street to see a blonde woman waving eagerly from the other side. Wearing only a short pink kimono robe, she had a little dog in her arms and a frustrated expression on her face.
"Hello there, neighbor," the woman called out. Daphne stood and waved, hurrying down the porch steps to see what was going on.
"Hello," Daphne called as she crossed the street. As she got closer, she could see this petite, albeit scantily, clad woman was exceptionally pretty. But when she was a couple feet away, the brown ratlike dog in her arms began to bark wildly. Daphne had never been fond of Chihuahuas, but when this one started baring its teeth and fiercely growling, she was ready to hurry back across the street.
"Don't you mind little Tootsie here." The woman spoke with what sounded like a Southern accent. "His bark's way worse than his bite." She giggled. "Although I'll warn you he does bite occasionally.
He's very protective of little ol' me."
Daphne cautiously folded her arms across her front, keeping a safe distance. "You must be the new neighbor. Didn't I see you moving into the Tremonts' house over the weekend?"
"That's right. I didn't arrive until late Saturday night. I followed the moving vans all the way up here from Atlanta—what a gruelingly long day." She paused to quiet the still-barking dog, then finally gave up. "I think it's taken a toll on poor Tootsie."
"Welcome to the neighborhood," Daphne said loudly to be heard
over the nonstop yipping. "I'm Daphne Ballinger."
"And I'm Sabrina Fontaine. I feel just terrible to interrupt your quiet morning. It looked like you were enjoying yourself on your porch. But I find myself in need of a good neighbor at the moment."
Wanting to cover her ears to block the sharp barking, Daphne made an uncomfortable smile. "Well, you're surrounded by good neighbors, Sabrina. This is one of the sweetest neighborhoods on the planet."
"It's certainly pretty enough." Sabrina shook her finger in front of the dog's nose now. "Tootsie Roll Fontaine! You knock it off, you hear?" Now she clamped her hand around the dog's muzzle. To Daphne's relief, the obnoxious Chihuahua was silenced. "I was completely blown away when I got up on Sunday morning," Sabrina continued, "just to see how charming and pleasant it is here. All the big green trees and flowers and neatly mowed lawns."
"You moved here sight unseen?"
"I discovered this house on the Internet. The photos were marvelous. My mama told me I was a complete fool, but I loved the house and immediately made an offer."
"Really?" Daphne considered this. "That was brave."
"I suppose it seems brave, but the truth is, I just wanted a place to start all over and I'd already picked Appleton. But there wasn't a lot of real estate listed." Sabrina smiled. "Isn't Appleton just the sweetest name for a town?"
Daphne nodded. "I like it too. Now what can I do to be a good neighbor?"
"Well, I'm embarrassed to ask, but I just don't think I can stand myself for one more day if I don't."
"May I please take a shower at your house?"
Daphne tried not to look overly surprised. "You don't have water?"
"Oh, I've got water. The problem is hot water. I didn't realize when I bought the house that the hot water tank requires propane. Apparently I've run all out of propane. Or else the hot water heater is broken, but I hope not. The water turned ice cold on me Sunday evening right in the middle of a shower. I called the Realtor and she gave me the number of the propane company. Of course, they were closed. So I called them today, but they couldn't schedule me until tomorrow. Anyway, I've been trying to get by with using my teakettle to heat water. You know, like our ancestors used to do. But I am just sick to death of myself now. Living amid a maze of boxes and feel- ing like a slob." She ran her fingers through her mussed blonde hair. "And seriously, I'm sick of being housebound. But I refuse to go out in public looking like a hot mess."
"Of course, you can shower at my house."
"Oh, bless your precious heart," Sabrina said happily. "I'll run and get my things and be right over if you don't mind."
Daphne pointed at Tootsie. "You might want to leave him home. I—uh—I have a couple of cats."
Sabrina laughed. "Oh, don't you worry. Tootsie likes cats just fine."
Daphne started to respond in defense of her cats, but Sabrina had already turned around and was happily hurrying back toward her house. Daphne had difficulty believing that devilish dog would like anything—particularly a couple of docile elderly cats. But one thing she knew, Ethel and Lucy would not like Tootsie one bit. Suspecting her new neighbor might bring that obnoxious little dog with her, Daphne hurried back across the street. She would make certain the kitties were safely cloistered in the spare room. Only when they were secured, did she place some fresh towels in the downstairs bathroom.
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 10:32 PM
Sunday, February 23, 2014
THE LEAP OF FAITH
Vero Leland had been trying to fly ever since he was old enough to stand. His earliest memory was standing on the rail of his crib, perfectly balanced like an Olympic gymnast on a balance beam. He fully expected his mother to clap when she turned around and saw him. Vero remembers stretching out his arms, intending to fly into his mother's outstretched hands. But instead of clapping, she turned and let out a heartrending shriek. Startled, Vero hit the floor with a thud and cried hard as his mother cradled him.
But what Vero's mother, Nora, didn't realize was that Vero wasn't crying in pain. He was crying tears of frustration from failing to get airborne.
After the crib incident, Vero didn't stop trying to fly. Instead, he became quite the climber. He'd climb and throw himself off the kitchen table, his parents' bed, the piano, and pretty much anything with a few feet of air below it. . . until the winter of his fourth year. That's when his flying attempts reached a new and dangerous high.
It happened late one afternoon when Dennis Leland, Vero's father, was standing on a ladder and stringing hundreds of Christmas lights across the front of their two-story suburban house. Dennis was very particular about his holiday light display. Each bulb needed to hang exactly two inches away from the next, and they all had to extend fully, to just beneath the gutter. Christmas displays were taken very seriously in their suburban neighborhood of Attleboro, Maryland.
The men who lived on Vero's block had an ongoing competition, and each December the holiday displays grew more and more elaborate. Front yards were cluttered with inflat- able Santas, seven-foot tall snowmen, and animatronic reindeer. One dad even convinced his wife and young children to perform a live nativity each night, complete with a live donkey and goat. However, the goat was quickly sent back to the petting zoo after it ate the plastic sprinkler heads, causing impressive geysers that drenched his family and ruined the nativity.
It was a clear but chilly December day when Vero's father climbed down the ladder to test the magnificent light show. Wearing his one-piece brown coveralls and his checkered hat with earflaps, he rubbed his hands together and said, "This is it, Vero."
With great pomp and ceremony, Dennis dramatically picked up the plug of the extension cord. . .all of his hard work was about to come to fruition. But when he finally took a deep breath and plugged the extension cord into the outlet, nothing happened. The lights failed to illu- minate. Vero heard him use a word he'd never heard before, followed by, "I'm gonna have to check every stinkin' light bulb one at a time."
A few minutes later, Dennis grumbled miserably as he started to climb the ladder with some extra bulbs in hand.
Vero called down to his father and said, "It's okay, Daddy. I can help." While his dad had been inside the house getting some fresh bulbs, Vero had climbed the ladder and now stood proudly on the roof. Being small and nimble, Vero thought he could walk along the steep roof and check each one of the bulbs for his dad, saving him numerous trips up and down the ladder.
Vero could tell his dad was thrilled with the idea because Dennis was standing completely still on the ladder and looking at Vero with huge eyes. But when Vero caught sight of the surrounding neighborhood below, his penchant for flying took hold of him again.
"Daddy! I could fly from up here!" Vero shouted, grinning wildly.
"No, Vero! No!" his father shouted. "Don't move! I'm coming to get you!" He took two more steps up the ladder before his boot slipped, and he fell smack on his back. Luck- ily, a small bush broke his fall.
"Daddy, are you okay?"
Then piercing shrieks were heard as Vero's mother ran out of the house wearing an apron splattered with powdered sugar. Her cries alerted the curious neighbors.
Mr. Atwood from next door was the first one on the scene, since he was already outside admiring his "It's a Small World" display. He didn't notice Vero up on the roof at first.
"For Pete's sake," he said. "Calm down the both of you.
It's probably just a bum light bulb." Then he glanced up and saw Vero peering down at them. "Holy cow!" he yelled.
"That kid's crazy!"
When Mrs. Atwood arrived moments later, Mr. Atwood wagged his stubby finger in his wife's stunned face and said, "I told you that kid was off, but you never believed me! Remember that time I found him in our tree trying to jump off a branch that was as high as the house? I almost broke my neck climbing up after him!"
"Quiet, Albert! I'm calling 9 - 1 - 1!" Mrs. Atwood yelled, cell phone in hand.
"Maybe it's all a big stunt to draw attention to his Christmas display?" Mr. Atwood muttered to himself as he watched more and more neighbors gather. "I wouldn't put it past Leland."
Vero's father, meanwhile, had regained his footing and was attempting to climb the ladder once again.
"Yes, hurry!" Mrs. Atwood shouted into the phone. "The wind is gusting. It could knock the boy clear off the roof!"
Mrs. Atwood ended the call and then turned to help Vero's mother, who looked to be in a state of shock. She took off her coat and wrapped it around Nora's shoulders. "The dispatcher promised the fire truck would be here any minute."
"Vero, please don't move. . . . . . . " his mother said weakly. Vero saw she had flour on her cheek, streaked with a teardrop.
"Don't cry, Mommy," Vero told her. "I know I can do it this time."
Vero's five-year-old sister, Clover, joined them outside.
She'd been baking cookies with her mother, and she had flour in her blonde hair and down the front of her shirt. She opened her arms wide and called up to her little brother,
"Jump, Vero! I'll catch you!"
Nora quickly clasped a hand over her daughter's mouth. By now Vero's father had reached the top of the ladder.
He tried to grab his son, but Vero was beyond arm's reach; so he only managed to graze Vero's foot with his fingertips.
As Vero inched away from his dad, he became unsteady on his feet, and a collective gasp rippled over the gather- ing below. Yet somehow Vero regained his balance, and the watching crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
It was all too much for Vero's mother who fainted. Luck- ily she landed in the lap of the inflatable Mrs. Claus.
Mrs. Claus is cradling Mommy like a baby, Vero thought. And that's when a shiny red hook-and-ladder fire truck pulled around the corner with its siren blaring.
Vero felt absolutely wonderful. He smiled broadly and stretched his arms out wide, feeling the cold rush of the oncoming wind. It was exhilarating!
The fire truck's ladder swiftly extended, and a fireman stood in the enclosed basket, ready to carry Vero back to the safety of the ground below.
Vero watched as Mr. Atwood cautiously approached the fire captain now standing beside the hook-and-ladder. When the fire captain finished barking orders into his walkie-talkie, Mr. Atwood said, "Captain, when this is all over, would you mind helping me out next door? I really need a lift in your basket. You see, I've got this Santa that I'd like to stick upside down in my chimney so it looks like he's diving in headfirst."
Fire Captain Conrad looked at Mr. Atwood incredulously. "Absolutely not," he said. Then he turned to the crowd and shouted, "Clear the area! We're trying to save a life here!"
Vero saw Mrs. Atwood slap the back of Mr. Atwood's head as they moved away from the truck.
"Hi, Vero," the fireman in the basket said, as the basket stopped level with the roof's peak. "Climbing onto a roof is a first for you, isn't it? We've done this in trees before, but never on a roof — at least not with me."
Vero looked at the fireman and smiled in recognition. "Hi, Fireman Bob," Vero said.
"It's okay, Vero. Don't be afraid. I'm gonna help you just
like I did before," Fireman Bob said slowly, as he reached his arms toward Vero.
But Vero wasn't scared. He looked down and saw that his mother was slowly waking up in Mrs. Claus's inflatable arms. And just as Fireman Bob almost grabbed him, Vero took a deep breath, jumped backwards off the roof peak, and disappeared behind the house!
The neighbors gasped. Vero's mother immediately passed out again.
After Vero leapt off the house, the wind whipped against his face, and he felt like a bird soaring through the sky! Free- falling felt as natural to him as breathing.
But Vero's flying ecstasy was short-lived. Some powerful force — something other than the hard ground — abruptly ended his peaceful flight. He felt a sudden tightening around his chest like a yo-yo being yanked backwards on a string.
Vero suddenly found himself in the arms of a man who'd somehow caught him in midair.
"Vero," the man said, "that's enough with the flying."
Vero didn't recognize him as one of the neighbors. He was an older man with longish silver-white hair, a closely trimmed beard, and violet eyes. He wore jeans and a red puffy winter coat.
"I can't always be here to catch you," the man said. "I need you to promise me you'll stop."
"But I have to fly," Vero told him.
"In time," the stranger replied, and he gently lowered
Vero to the ground. "Everything in its own time. But for now, I need you to promise me you won't try to fly again until you know it's the right time."
Vero looked hard at the man. There was something familiar and likeable about him, and Vero thought he could trust him. Yet at the same time, Vero knew the man meant what he said.
Four-year-old Vero nodded. "Okay, Santa," he said, and he grabbed the man's beard with both hands.
"I'm not Santa Claus."
"But you're wearing a red coat. . ."
The stranger chuckled and said, "I'm too thin to be Santa Claus." As they heard the frenzied crowd rushing toward the backyard from the front of the house, the man locked eyes with Vero and said, "I expect you to keep your word."
Vero nodded again.
"All right. Now, I'm sorry about this next part, but it has to look believable," the man told him. And with that, the man twisted Vero's left ankle.
Vero screamed in pain, "That hurt!"
"I'm letting you off easy. It's only a sprain. Protocol says
I should break both of them."
The panicked crowd descended upon Vero who was now sitting on the ground holding his ankle.
"He's alive!" shouted the fire captain.
Vero's father picked him up and hugged him tightly, and
his mother was right beside him. Vero saw tears streaming down his father's face, and his mom had flour-streaked tear marks across both cheeks now. Vero felt bad for upsetting them.
Clover walked up and said, "He's okay. The man just twisted his ankle."
"What man?" her father asked.
"The one sitting in that tree," she pointed.
Everyone looked at the tree. There was no man in it.
Mr. Atwood shook his head and muttered, "She's just as crazy as her brother."
Posted by Bonnie S. Calhoun at 10:29 PM