Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s a time of change for our sons, graduating high school and college, and a change for us as well.  Increasingly, I hear the refrain from friends, “Are you going to stay in town?  Or, where are you thinking of moving to?”  As my husband says, he realizes that shortly we can move just about anywhere, now that we are through with the school system. But, where else is better than here?

I have a friend who is quite clear in her plans: part of the time in France (with her French speaking husband), and a “pied a terre” in some great city, i.e. New York, Boston or Philadelphia.  Other friends have bounced around ideas, like, for instance, “further south”, but without specific destinations in mind.  Or, the idea of being a “snow bird” is a reality for quite a few older folks that we know, part time here in the north, part time in the south. For a few giddy moments, I dreamed of Costa Rica – where many American expats live. A truly beautiful country with a warm, temperate climate, and a fairly stable political and social climate.  And a little English. I’m quite taken with the idea learning Spanish, a second language later in life. But my husband, not so much so. In fact, he’s still recovering from the trauma of high school Spanish.

 Certain facts anchor us to this area, for at least a while longer. First that my husband is not likely to retire too early from his profession(s), lawyer and accountant – going by the history of his parents and relatives, who worked until ripe old age.  And that means staying with his clients, to some extent. Yes, some work can be done remotely – say at the Cape, 1 ½ hours away. But not everything, and not too far away. The other is my husband’s mother, now 87, who lives in town with us, still independent, with us as her chief support system.  Her health and friends networks are here, and she would not be happy to uproot to an entirely new place. And we would want to continue our close relationship as long as it goes – which could be quite a bit longer, going by family history.

 And then, the financial equation:  not a larger house; not a more expensive house; perhaps a smaller house closer to the more expensive city (net equal).  Or, what many around us have done, a smaller place in a less expensive area (southern New Hampshire, farther out in the burbs) to create a little nest egg, but essentially be more inconvenient to all the things we value: church; theater and culture; good restaurants, etc.  We did at one time consider moving home base to the Cape – where we have a vacation home. Still a possibility, but not sure of the tradeoffs.

 Maybe we’ll wait it out until after my husband’s mother has passed and see where our boys end up.  Always a possibility, especially, if that might make life easier for them, regarding us.  But maybe not. And someplace completely new to get used to.  And missing the things about New England I find that I truly love and value, including perhaps, the diversity and more liberal outlook. 

 Still, after this past long winter, I finally admitted to myself – I will need a respite from this. Not just the physical effort of dealing with lots of snow and ice. But the cold, especially in my bones.  I could give up some of my daily walks in exchange for Zumba and other aerobic exercise, but I missed terribly the fresh air in my lungs.  And my constant cold hands and cold feet were debilitating at times.

 So, what then?  I guess as yet, it remains to be seen. But I can definitely see a getaway of some kind in the coldest part of the year where I can walk outside without all the layers, just sneakers on my feet and a sunhat on my head.

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My World of Paper

Much as I would love to save hundreds of trees, I cannot vacate my paper world.  Savvy tech-embracers view me with, is it pity?  Relieved condescension?  They are light years beyond  encamped piles of papers, wandering slips of jotted notes, the confinement of a–OMG; does she still really use one?— paper calendar. 

I sense at times they want to keep their distance; that perhaps they are unsure if my papyrophilia could be contagious. Might they stray too close to the edge and slip back into this archaic morass?

Or does it yet call to them?  My world of paper.  These modern people who have reduced all record keeping to a slip of a machine, a machine they have made the ultimate manager of their life, a command central that conjoins with my worst nightmares of a Tokyo-ish Blade Runner-type city, where one can NEVER get away.  Connected to modern technology, there is no literal quiet, no visual quiet, no mental quiet, no solitude, ever. For that is what a computer is to me.  Even when it’s turned off, I know it’s there, working, compiling  information, charting up emails I need to be answering, connecting to people who are wondering why they haven’t heard from me, housing the work I need to be doing.  My challenge with computerized technology is precisely that it is so eternally centralized, and so eternally BUSY.   

Sometimes I want to sit down at my wooden desk, and separate from all the other tasks that call to me, I want to see the slip of paper where I jotted down how to contact a dear friend of my mother’s. The vibrant woman who, belying her age, drove across a number of states last December to attend my mother’s memorial service, bringing a basket full of assorted cloth napkins she’d cut and sewed in remembrance of my mother.

When my mother was healthy and hosting, every visitor to my mother’s table was invited to explore the varied colors and patterns on the folded fabric napkins waiting in her tableside basket. You were to choose one to use during your visit. That was your napkin, to hold in your hand, to skirt over your lap, distinctive in hue and texture and print, marking your place at the table for the duration of your visit. A physical reminder that for those hours, those days, we were a community “breaking bread” together.    

I want to pick up this slip of paper and do nothing but remember this friend, Mary, walking to the front of the small chapel where we’d gathered for my mother’s service, a basket of new napkins on her arm, to relive her fond memories of my mother.    

At the lunch afterwards, Mary encouraged us to choose napkins from her basket and to take them home.  I did.  And now, today, without being called to all the other emails scrolling on my computer that will call to me as soon as I engage myself with my computer, I want to savor my newest napkin memory, that we used those spring-themed napkins gifted from Mary, with their pastel pink, baby blue, and sea turquoise pattern swirling around gilded Easter eggs, at our Easter brunch this year.  And we thought about my mother, her friend Mary, and the wonder of community.

Then I will get on my computer and write Mary an email.  I will be thankful for the technology that allows me to shoot this message off to her, to have it fly through the ether, to reach her command central almost instantaneously, and then reside until she chooses to read it.   

But I will be equally thankful for the moment in my tactile world of tree pulp, for the slip of paper one of us pulled from our purses that sunny winter day in Maryland, the slip of paper I carried back to my desk where it lay, a tactile memento, releasing memories in a way that a slip of a computer will never accomplish.         

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The Breadwinner Wears a Bra (or Maybe She Doesn't)

When I was growing up, we didn’t know of many other families where the mother was the head of household and chief breadwinner. I can only think of one, and that was a friend, her mother and grandmother who lived together, but whose main source of income was alimony from the dad.  My mother did not choose this role; it came to her after Dad died, leaving her in charge. There was some life insurance money, but that didn’t go too far in raising six young children. In addition, our household included our grandmother, Memere, main cook and child-care provider, and my Uncle Dick, who worked at a vending machine factory and helped to support Memere. He was a couple years older than my mom, and did all the yardwork, snow removal, and transportation needs, as well as recreation guide but he was not the main decision maker in our house.

Mom, on her salary as a nurse, bought and sold two houses and a condo; many cars over the years (chiefly station wagons); paid for groceries, clothing, and all the various lessons we children undertook. She was, of course, the banker and bill payer for the family.  Pretty much all expenses, expected and unexpected, were paid for by her. On her retirement from nursing, after forty years, she told us a story I’d never heard before – that her father was reluctant to pay for her nursing school education, because “she would only get married, have children and quit”, which was true, initially. Poppy died before he saw his daughter resume her career.  I didn’t know until quite a bit later that the salary my mother made upon retirement (about $40, 000 in the early 1990’s) was the highest of any of my friend’s mothers, or pretty much any other woman I knew.

 Now, that situation has changed, dramatically. The women’s movement may have not achieved equity in all areas, but there are more women in the work place than ever, and more in charge of their financial lives at home.  Some are widows, mostly older. Of these, a fair number were not prepared for running a household on their own, and struggle with practical and financial matters. Many women are divorced, now heads of their own households. If they do get alimony and child support, they are still working jobs to cover expenses.  And a surprising number of my generation, and following, are chief breadwinners, even if their spouse is living at home, who may or may not do childcare for the family.  Most of these families, with the woman bringing home the main income, don’t live too high on the hog, and many of the women still do a lot of the household management as well.

 The upshot of all this is still playing out. I can’t help but think it’s a good thing for girls to understand all the business end of running a household, at least being capable of taking charge if needed. A question arises, did the couples of divorce split in part because the woman felt she could go it on her own, in a situation she might otherwise have stayed in in another generation?  Ever so slowly, it seems, some of the political and business leadership is changing over to women, who are clearly capable.  But I can’t help but think back to my mom’s situation, and how exhausting it was, the neverending responsibility, and I’m grateful I don’t have to contend with that as she did. I do wonder, too, if the women who are “on duty”, in charge, responsible, may have lost some of the energy needed, the “green place” of retreat, that artists need to create. That is, they have so much more direct experience in their lives, but perhaps less chance to reflect upon it and share.

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Thank You, Aunt Lou (and Uncle Frosty)

Last time I saw my Aunt Lou (Alma Lucille), about two years ago, she had just celebrated 90 in her usual dapper style. The day we visited at the nursing home, she wore some cute little outfit and a snazzy cap, coordinated, no doubt by her daughters, Barbara and Jeannie. She was tiny, yes, and her hearing was not good. But she knew us, my sister and I, and brightened right up. We go way back with Aunt Lou, and that special relationship remains. She’s the one who took care of us as little girls for about six months while our father was sick in Philadelphia and my mother cared for him at home with the three youngest children. It was a sad time for our family, but I look back that that stay at Aunt Lou’s house, the summer especially, with a kind of lightness and even fun.

We were taken to Aunt Lou’s in CT when I had just finished up Kindergarten and Maura, first grade (at the Catholic school). We would be spending the summer with Aunt Lou, my mom’s oldest sister, Uncle Frosty (Forrest Hurd), cousins Bobby and Danny, who were our age, and their beautiful, glamorous older sister Jeannie, around 18, still at home. There had been nine children; one, Betty Lou, died as a baby, and the others had married and moved out.  Even more amazing to us, the eldest, Barbara, was almost as old as our own mother! Maura and I shared one of the vacant rooms, and pretty much had the run of the house with our boy cousins, while Uncle Frosty went to work at the machine factory during the day, and Aunt Lou had one of her part-time jobs (at the airport diner, perhaps?) on some night shifts.

We were in the country-side, very rural compared to our suburban home. Across the street was a blueberry patch, and the backyard gave way to endless woods, with a working farm up the street. We ran pretty wild, that summer, as I recall:  going where we wanted, when we wanted, all over the place. Somehow we got rides on the farm wagon, bumping through the pumpkin field. Every so often, one of the married cousins would invite us for a sleep-over. At Patty and Joey’s, there was a crystal dish of cellophane wrapped caramels on the coffee table and a big horse chestnut tree in front. Next door to Aunt Lou’s house lived Bobby and Danny’s cousins on their dad’s side, more boys our age to explore the woods and play in the tree house with. My sister was the one to catch crickets and grasshoppers in her hands; I was the one to rub noses with one of those other cousins, learning to kiss, Eskimo-style. When I couldn’t sleep one night, I sat up with Uncle Frosty watching Bonanza, as he picked meat off the bones of a pheasant he had shot. There was no “Go back to bed, now. Try to sleep.” He was a taciturn old Vermonter, but he seemed glad of my company.

By fall and the start of school, things were not so carefree. We were not going back to Philadelphia. We had one short visit back home, and after we saw our father, it was clear that things had changed, and we were not going back to our life there.  We started school with our cousins; the days passed. We were fine, but we were waiting. When the news came in Nov. that Dad had passed, we already knew somehow. My mother was moving up to CT, where we would all be reunited. And so that chapter had passed. And I didn’t realize for some time that to live away from home, with relatives, was not a common experience for many children our age.

Only, I didn’t think to say thank you — for taking us in and caring for us.  But thanks, also, for keeping us away from the hardest, darkest days of my father’s cancer death.  It gave us a sense of belonging to a great big family, passed sometimes from hand to hand, wanted and welcomed. And a sense of freedom that I never again felt in my life, nor, I believe, have I been able to share with my own children. Freedom of movement; of time and schedule; freedom to come or go; freedom from judgment for our looks or our smarts; freedom, too, from guilt or expectation.  It was summer, yes. But it was also their gift to us. And I thank you for that, Aunt Lou and Uncle Frosty, and all my Hurd cousins.

 

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Une Femme Propre – A Proper Woman

I was talking to my sister a while ago about the subject of her next talk for Toastmasters, the public speaking program. The suggested topic was “Someone Who Has Greatly Influenced You”. My sister decided on our grandmother who helped raise us, Alma Mary Philomena LaFlamme Maloney, aka “Memere”.  No question, she had a strong presence for such a small and elderly person, when we knew her. To us, she was “the General”, even if she looked a bit like Mrs. Santa Claus. “That’s why we’re sort of old fashioned,” my sister explained, “because of her.” “Not me,” I argued, “I’m a flower child, if anything, liberated and feminist.” But my sister maintained that we had inherited many of my grandmother’s qualities, nonetheless; which, perhaps, in some light, might be seen as old-fashioned or proper. And then one day I came across a term that spelled it out exactly: femme propre – a proper woman. And strangely enough, I might be one.

The term was used in one of Louise Penny’s mysteries which are set in the province of Quebec, and feature a chief detective and his assistant, who are both French Canadian. Part of the charm of the series, besides the rustic settings and colorful characters, is the viewpoint of the French characters toward their English compatriots, known familiarly as “blockheads”, as well as reflections on the Quebecois culture and cuisine. In one of the novels, the detectives are interviewing the elderly mother of a possible suspect, and she is described as a “femme propre”.  Not a lady, exactly, but a self-assured and dignified matron. Her house is modest but clean and well kept. She’s not dressed fashionably, like the francophone ladies of Quebec or Montreal.  She is gracious without being warm, calm and courteous.  Behind those brown eyes is a sharp intelligence that doesn’t miss much.  I recognized her right away – my grandmother!  Both of them actually. 

Neither I nor my sisters are known to swear, even in this day and age.  We are not fans of “potty” talk, or anything very off-color or blue, although not prim or censorious of movies or literature that contain sex or violence. We’re Democrats and socially liberal. I’m not in the least modest, but not likely to dress in a revealing way, even if I had more bosom to display. We expected to work, and never to use “wiles” to get our way. We were raised to be courteous to all, and to give up seats or places to those in greater need.  Our houses may not be showplaces, but the idea is to tidy once a day and to keep the public spaces “pick-up-able”, in case of company.  Like my grandmother, we are careful in personal habits, not likely to eat or drink too much, but not judgmental toward those who have addictions or other harmful behaviors. In a large family, you’re bound to be related to some of those, and so learn to “love the sinner, but not the sin.” Memere adhered to her Catholic faith to the end, but that didn’t keep her from attending the weddings of non-Catholics, or those with children out of wedlock. And, looking back, not all of Memere’s own sisters were proper in the way that she was, some of them more naughty and fun-loving.

What I think Memere gave us was a sense of self, a sense of valuing your own self and your time, in the way that some women are never taught. To not be taken advantage or, to repel those who would demean you, to stand up for yourself and have a backbone. We are the most accommodating of people, but not to be used or disrespected. Not for nothing, after all my lost and wandering years, I never was abused and never raped, and for that I thank God and my Memere.  Not that any woman in any circumstances could be said to invite those things.  I could never be a real “lady”, but possibly, I am a femme propre, as I think my sisters are. And probably, many of my dear friends, too.

 

 

 

 

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Kilkenny – or, Hands Across the Water

All over Ireland, they’re calling us home: the Irish Diaspora who left during and after the Great Famine.  We are invited to a year long celebration called “The Gathering”, to show ourselves and find our roots, and maybe lost cousins.  In Kilkenny, Heritage Week was celebrated this year with events and displays, including an exhibit in a small hall with easels and posterboards showing information on families who emigrated: Where did they go? What happened to them? In one room, on one board, there is a chart of my family, the McCormacks, with pictures of my father and his siblings, and reference to my mother, Patricia Maloney, and “her six children”. In Ireland, they have reached across many years and many miles to find us.

 My Uncle John and his wife, Joyce, had started work on family history, traveling to Ireland and corresponding with a genealogist there, Ned Moran. Then Uncle John died, and there was no further contact. But Ned Moran, as part of this project in Kilkenny, remembered my Uncle John’s visit and his information about the marble quarries in Vermont, where many of the relatives found work. Years later, without a current phone number, Ned Moran posted an ad in the Rutland Herald, and that’s when Aunt Maureen responded, and picked up the reins.  Working with an American cousin, they put together the extended tree of four related families: McCormack, Corrigans, Kearney’s, and Flemings, and with it, the outlines of the story of their emigration to America.

 Some of the people on the charts I knew of, and the towns they came from: Graiguenamanagh, Tomnahaha, Skeaghvasteen, and Billyjohnboy. The exhibit says only that these families were farmers, but it seems some had labored in the quarries, and that was their link to Vermont. Although records go back to the marriage of Thomas McCormack and Terry Hayden in 1826, the real story, I believe, starts with the marriage of two of their grandsons, Tom and Patrick McCormack, to two sisters, Mary and Ellen Corrigan: the one couple coming to America, and the other staying behind. Patrick, it is said, sailed to America only to be refused entry because he was illiterate, and returned to Ireland to raise his family. Tom and Mary in Vermont had two sons who started the Green Mountain Marble Company, employing numerous relatives from abroad.

 For the McCormacks in America, marble and granite were the keys to eventual prosperity: my grandfather, a business owner, town selectman, with college educated children. But of the ones who stayed, little remains. Having survived the Great Famine, there was little opportunity. Many of those cousins never married or had children, living at home until their deaths, working as farm hands or housekeepers. According to Ned Moran, “In 2013, there are no survivors of the above families living on the ancestral farms and only distant cousins living in Ireland.” For the most part, it was the end of the line. There are no Irish cousins to welcome American cousins. My Uncle John got a picture of the ancestral home, now in ruins.

Still, in Kilkenny, Ireland, an exhibit in a town hall shows that the McCormacks went on,  a happy enough ending, or at least chapter. Thank God they were able to get here – or another family might have gone extinct, wiped off the face of the earth. What would these Irish forebears think, I wonder, of the latest young man to carry on the name, Patrick McCormack, our adorable ten year old nephew, Paddy:  my brother’s son with his Vietnamese wife, Lien.

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Company!

When I was growing up, and somebody dropped a piece of silverware, the cry went up, “Company!” both in warning and anticipation. Any yet, the prediction hardly ever came true. We rarely had company.  My mom and six kids, uncle and grandmother – 9 at a table were enough (and the reason we never had friends over for birthdays or sleepovers). Most of our social life, outside of school, was with family nearby. And mostly, we went to them, because they had a pool and Uncle Dean at the grill – God bless him.  Pretty much the only company we had was elderly and distant relatives come to pay a visit to Memere, matriarch of the family.  And they only came for a few hours, which involved talking about people we kids didn’t know in the living room with cold drinks and snacks. Hardly a party.

 After this summer, I think you can call our house in Falmouth, “Party Central” – where a lot of visiting went on, with plenty of fun and games and good food and drinks.  Donald and I both have large, extended families, which is the bulk of our company. In addition, our teen-age/young men sons like to have friends down on the weekend, anywhere from 1 to 8, boys and girls.  This is all good, and the reason we wanted a Cape house, where family and friends can gather and visit, unhurried. It’s a good chance to visit and catch up, and lots going on: beach and pond and fishing and thrift shopping, and country fairs and walks, games and puzzles.  I like nothing better than late afternoons on the deck, sharing thought and experiences with our guests.

 But. At the end of the summer, I was bushed, and ready for back to school time. Nothing went wrong; everything went well. Our company is generous and considerate. The catch of it, I’ve come to realize, is keeping up two houses, trying to remember what is at each. Plus, the fact that summer on the Cape is busy anyway, and busier when you’re trying to get people places.  Our favorite beach, Old Silver, fills up quickly, and you need a resident parking sticker (which we have one of). If the kids want an afternoon at the beach, we must chauffeur them there, drop them off, and of course, wait for the return call.  Likewise, parking in town, or a movie or dinner at a restaurant. Lots of waiting in line; and that means planning – the very opposite of relaxing.

 Over the years, I’ve gotten more realistic, and our company, I think, seems to have less need or interest in real site-seeing. Instead, it’s more about spending time together. There are some glorious spots to walk and hike, but cruising through our neighborhood and the surrounding bogs is pretty nice, too. The boys and their friends are more self-sufficient and able to find things to do on their own, especially at the pond, where they build campfires at night and talk about the universe.  Yes, next morning, I may find charcoal footprints on the white rug (from stomping out the fire), but a few friendly words and some Resolve can take care of that. We’ve had our challenges – cuts and Epi-pens; lost phones and tick bites. Not to mention, our recent Muslim visitor observing Ramadan – in the midst of all that good Armenian food and BBQ. 

 It’s all good, and I’m happy and grateful that people want to spend time together with us, and that we can accommodate them. But, I think I’ll keep a good grip on my knives and forks — we’ve had enough company for a while.

 

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Good Story, Babe

I was sitting in “rush” hour traffic in my town the other day…my New England town is not particularly large but our main thoroughfare is a central artery to and from Route 95 so rush hour generally means literally sitting still in your not-moving car figuring out something to keep you occupied until you can inch on home.

A slender young man, I’m going to guess twenties, maybe approaching thirties, was walking on the sidewalk.  He had accessorized his jeans and black tee-shirt with a black baseball cap and his arms were covered in tattoos, but it was the message on his tee-shirt that caught my attention.

“Good story, babe.  Now go make me a sandwich.”

I laughed out loud, and then sat beaming, not at the joke, but because I had been able to laugh out loud at this particular joke.  

For I am perennially the babe with the “good story,” surrounded by males who aren’t interested.  They are, however, eternally ready to have me prepare food for them.

At times, this has really gotten my ire up, when DH has displayed his nuclear disinterest.  Okay, so maybe he doesn’t care that there is a new huge puppy in our neighborhood, a rescue from Tennessee, part coon dog, whose owner has no idea about dog etiquette and who is one day going to find his big darling the victim of a dog fight because of it.

What my husband doesn’t realize is that if he would give me a brief moment of eye contact, a little nod, a quick “Really?” “That’s funny,” “I’ve never seen them,” or something of the sort, the episode would be over and I’d go on my merry way. 

No, as any real story teller will tell you [gladly], a nonresponse fires challenge neutrons.  My only possible return to this annihilating disinterest is to make the story longer, grander, embellish more, enthuse more, imitate the voices of the starring players and maybe even physically act things out, all in a bid to make my story grab my audience’s attention.   

Does this work?  Pretty much never.  But every now and then, I can catch him, and he involuntarily looks up, a glint of interest in his eye, or gives a verbal response indicating a passing moment of attention–because I’ve managed to launch some recipe of words, that has gelled into a morsel he can’t resist.     

Ah, success is sweet.  But little does he know, whether it’s me, or any other story teller drawn to turn life’s simple events into fascinating vignettes, this moment of interest only strengthens the Pavlovian response.    

Good story, babe.  Now go make me a sandwich?  Bring it on!  

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Affirmative Action for Women? A Business Loan for New You

Here we have an excerpt on the topic of women in business (in the 1980’s) or really, the impediments to starting and financing a small business, in this case a fitness center for women.  Not so long ago….  Got me wondering, if affirmative action may be of benefit to minorities who have started at a disadvantage, how about women of all kinds, at a disadvantage in the business world pretty much forever?

From: Blue Eyes In Black Wonderland  (Nora and Anita are waitresses at the Grand Marsh Inn. Anita dreams of starting her own business with a partner, Shelly, while Nora hopes to work there when it opens.)
 
     She met Anita at the end of the shift, carrying their plates into the break room, mostly deserted by the time they got there. In spite of working so hard, Nora had little appetite for the pork chops in an apricot, mushroom sauce.

            “This thing is turning into such a headache,” Anita began, after a short prayer. “But I am determined, one way or the other, that this is going to happen.  We haven’t forgotten you.  This time next month the doors will be open, I promise.”

            “So, what’s the hold up, anyway?”

            “Oh, it’s too stupid.  I can hardly even say it without getting all steamed up.  I told you about the bank loan, right?”

            Nora nodded, chewing slowly. 

            “I’ve had my savings and checking account with this bank since I was ten years old.  I have saved up quite a little sum over the years, and I have never bounced a check.  But they won’t give me credit, not on my own.  They’re saying I have to have my father co-sign the loan for me.  I’m thirty-five years old!  Ugh!”

            Her eyes were blazing. But now Nora knew how old she was, if she was telling the truth….

            “What about that other woman, Shelly?” Nora asked.

            “She’s just recently divorced and all her credit was in her husband’s name.  They said we don’t have enough credit in our own names.  She’s got to get her father to co-sign, too.  It’s humiliating, and it’s wrong.  We’re not irresponsible.  We’re….we’re mothers, for God’s sake.”  Then she blinked. “Forgive me, Lord.”

            This was all very interesting to Nora, who had little knowledge of the business world. 

            “So, will they?” she asked. “Will your dads sign the loan?”

            ‘’Well, yes they will.  But that’s beside the point.  And that’s not even the worst of it. When we take over the lease of the store at the strip mall, the landlord says he won’t meet with us unless there’s a responsible male present.  Just in case ‘we don’t understand’ what we’re doing.  It makes me so mad, I could spit. But I keep having to tell myself, ‘keep your eyes on the prize’, just do whatever has to be done to get started, and give the rest over to Jesus.”

            Nora nodded in sympathy.  If it was as difficult as this just to get started, she wondered if they really were going to be able to make it.  For a moment she sat silently, wondering about this whole thing about credit and loans. And then there was an interesting image of Jesus sitting in at the meeting about leases and fitness equipment; maybe he could be the responsible male.

            “I hope it all works out,” she said. “Just keep me informed and let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

            “Thanks, sweetie.” said Anita. “I will.”

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In Light of the Trayvon Martin trial


Here is a scene from Blue Eyes in Black Wonderland, where a young black man appearing in a predominantly white neighborhood is causing a problem for our girls, Nora and Grace. Nora assumes it is her new love interest, a black Romeo.  The nursing supervisor who lives in the apartment below assumes it’s a punk casing the building.

(Conversation between two sisters on the car ride home from Wilmington, DE, after Thanksgiving)

(Grace)  “All right.  There is something else, but there’s no really good way to say it.”
            “Go ahead.  I’m your sister.”
            “You know Nurse Harrison from downstairs?”
            “Yes.” Nora rolled her eyes.
            “She said she’s seen a number of people in and out of the apartment.”
            Nora’s heart leaped. Jay? Was she home? Did she hear them?
            “Does she know they’re my friends?” she got out through a constricted throat.
            “I told her that.”
            “And?”
            “She finds them noisy and disruptive.”
            “No!”
            “She says she hears loud music and people moving around.  She thinks you’re having parties up there.”
            “Well, we’re not.  Maybe we put on music to dance to a couple times, but there’s no drinking or smoking, ever.  I swear.”
            “I believe you,” Grace said. “But she says she’s nervous now to come to her own house. Apparently, there are some kids, black kids, who roam the streets after school bothering people, heckling them I guess. She thinks they’ll start coming to our neighborhood.”
            “That’s ridiculous.” Nora sounded indignant, but immediately she thought of the acorn assault. It wasn’t just heckling.
            “She saw a man there once, in front of the building, a young black man just standing there, looking up at the apartment. I guess it really frightened her.”
            Nora gulped. There was such a storm of thoughts that she couldn’t answer. She swallowed to wet her throat.
“So what are you saying then?  They shouldn’t come over?”
            “Maybe you could find other places to meet for now, like the pizza place or the bowling alley.”
            They were passing the mini-mall at the by-pass on the outskirts of Sutton.  Grace stayed on the road leading into the center of town. Just before twilight, the landscape was colorless and uninviting.
            Grace heaved a sigh. “Nora, I’m sorry.  I really am.  I wish I didn’t have to say anything about it at all.  But I’m afraid what Nurse Harrison might say at the hospital about me, and us.  I can’t afford to lose a job, and I’ll probably be here long after you’ve flown off someplace else.”
            Nora couldn’t argue.  She was, after all, a guest in her sister’s home.  She knew better than anyone how Grace had made her own way, and it wasn’t fair for Nora to jeopardize that, even for a principle.  She had to work harder at making a plan, having a timeline, or taking some courses, or finding another job. Which probably meant leaving.
            “OK, Nora said, quietly. “I won’t have them over any more. I’m sorry if we caused a problem.”
            “It’s not your fault, Nora.  It’s nothing you’ve done, and I know it’s not right.  The rules are different here, compared to how we were brought up, but I don’t see how we’re going to change things, right now, just me and you.”


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