Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Story - Gia Dreams

She had work to do, and no office to do it in.  They had outgrown her old place.  The tiny house where she had raised her family.  It had been home for her children, and accustomed to it, they no longer remembered the larger house that had been part of their early childhood. 

But Gia knew that she needed a bigger place to do her work.  All her life she had drawn people to her who needed healing of some sort or the other.  And now she felt the call to help the walking wounded more effectively.  So she had begun opening her home and her heart to the friends of her children, and the people who wandered into her life like stray pups.  Often so emotionally battered by life that they snapped at everyone, even the hand that fed them. 

Gia had never thought of herself as a gentle woman, yet in her heart, she tenderly took these lost souls in and through patience and hard work, brought them out of whatever private hell they had been in.  She would have laughed at anyone who said that she was really a softie, but she had a secret place in her heart for anyone who tried, failed, and picked themselves up to go again.  Her children knew a bit of this secret, but they did not understand the depth of her fire, for they had not been through the hell that she had growing up. 

Hands that should have been tender had been brutal.  Words that should have been spoken in love were used as whips on the young Gia.  Chores that should have been easily accomplished were made infinitely more difficult by their unceasing demand. 

And yet, in spite of hiding her wounded heart behind walls and hardness, she had these tender spots.  She found enough courage within her to change how she talked to her children.  Not playing head games with them, she learned to ask for the behavior that she wanted.  Though in order to do that she had to figure out what she wanted.  It was an interesting journey for the wounded Gia, peeling one layer of pain away to reveal a sweeter, stronger woman, just as one would peel an onion.

She knew that part of her healing was to help heal others who had been wounded just as she had, with words, with fists, and with cruelty.  And so she stood there, looking out over her land, having the time, the space, and the willpower.  Missing only one thing, the money.  And no money meant no materials.

She had been clearing the land the hard way, the old fashioned way.  With an ax.  Pulling up the scrub, using it to create fences and foot paths through the woods, fill in the low spots, and cover over the muddy ones. 

But finally all that preparation was done.  She stood in the midst of the clearing, ax in hand and realized that there was nothing left for her to cut.  The trees around the area had ribbons around their middle.  These ribbons marked the edge of the yard that would surround her new home and office.  They would shade her home in the hot summer sun of Arkansas.  They gave protection from the winter winds too.  But it was the fierce heat that she was most worried about.  In the winter you could wrap up in a blanket or put on another sweater, but in the summer it was hard to take off enough clothes to keep cool.  Trees helped that tremendously, which was why Gia didn’t want to cut any more of the tall sentinels down.  Besides they made her feel safe.  Protected, watched over.  And she had never had family and friends who did that for her. 

But there she stood, ax in hand, uncertain what came next.

Sitting carefully on the ground, she crossed her legs and just enjoyed the peace.  Once her home was built, it would not be quiet in the clearing again.  And so she enjoyed the silence.  A silenced filled with the stirring of mice and voles, fluttering of butterflies wings, twittering of the yellow and blue songbirds, as well as the harsh cawing from the neighborhood crow.  The silence was anything but. 

As she listened to the cheeps, and whirring, the knocking and the clicking, she began to hear a pattern, a song really.  And hearing it, she began to hum along.  It began tentatively at first.  Just a quiet humming.  The song of the Forest seemed to quiet momentarily, as if listening to her song, and then it began again, quietly at first.  In her heart she heard the melody of the greenwood and allowed her voice to grow, adding a harmony, tentatively at first.  Gradually, the sound grew, echoing through the forest.  Eerie, haunting, and soulful, her song echoed the Forest, and the Forest echoed through Gia.  Each note sliding up and down the scale, harmonizing, shifting, swooping and diving.  The song drove on.  Harmony interweaving with melody, until she was not sure which was which.

Eyes closed Gia sang from the heart, pausing only to breathe, listening to the excitement growing within the Forest.  It had been many years since anyone had sung with it.  Enjoying the playfulness of it.  Stretching here, singing close harmony there.  The only dissonance came as a pick-up drove up the gravel road nearby.  Radio blasting, momentarily silencing the Forest.  Only to have the shifting melody start up again as the dust settled.  The song returning stronger than before. 

Eyes still closed, Gia found her self lying down in the center of the small meadow, feeling that her body was alive, perhaps for the first time.  As though she were larger than her skin.  Weaving melody and harmony, into Forest and home.  Bringing each separate sound into the melody much the way a builder would add each board when creating a building.  A home. 

Totally focused on the swelling symphony, she didn’t hear the quiet rustlings around her.  Didn’t feel the wind dance, ebb and flow, enveloping her lifting her.  Didn’t feel the earth move as the clearing reshaped itself. 

So totally focused on Listening and Singing, she didn’t see what was happening around her.  Didn’t notice until the melody wound down to its end, gently slipping into silence as the last note faded away. 

Eyes still shut; Gia felt vibrant and alive, wishing it could go on and on.  Knowing that soon enough she had to return to everyday living, she allowed herself the luxury of a short nap in the dappled sunlight.

Finally the sound of a dog barking in the distance drew her back to her body.  Sighing, knowing that she still had to figure out how to build her home, she struggled to a sitting position rubbing the sleep from her eyes. 

Confused briefly by the buildings that confronted her, she thought she was still dreaming.  For right in front of her was the home and office that she had envisioned.  Her hands had been unable to draw what her heart had wanted.  Her words a poor substitute for the vision she had carried all these years.  And yet it was before her.  She’d even managed to dream the guest cottages that she’d seen one time in a movie, so that the people who came to get her help wouldn’t always be underfoot.  There was lush thick grass, and as she looked down, even the dirt under her fingers was different from the poor sandy soil that had been there before.  It was rich and black, and the plants growing in it were strong and healthy.  Everything she had ever wanted, down to and including, the flower garden underneath the front windows. 

She knew she must be dreaming.  None-the-less she stood and went to investigate.  The house of her dream didn’t include furniture.  Nor did it include window screens.  Amused at the missing detail, she started to laugh.  And began to run through the house looking at everything.  She wondered why the wood of the window sills looked as if they had grown up from the ground.  The kitchen had just the kind of faucet she had seen at the hardware store and wished for, knowing it would never happen because of its expense.   In her dream it had happened.

Gia joyously spent the rest of the day wandering through this new home and office.  The guest cottages were tiny, but as exquisite as the rest. 

When Nathanial came home, supper wasn’t ready, hadn’t even been started, and Gia wasn’t in her usual places.  Worried about her, he decided to go the only place he could think of – the clearing.  She had been working herself near to death to clear the land.  And he was concerned for she had never stayed so long. 

She heard him call through the woods, as he hiked up the path toward the clearing.  Positive that she was still asleep, that when he stepped into view, Gia greeted him as if she were a mere girl again, skipping across the yard.  Puzzled by the look on his face, she peered into his face.  As tears ran down his face and he pulled her into his arms, Gia realized that she was not dreaming.

Gayle McCain
(Written for a friend in 2008.)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Cigar Box Christmas

Fighting tears, Peggy watched her husband leave the house, as he had every night for the last month with what was left from supper.  He would come home a short time later smelling of tobacco and the night air.  She didn’t know where he went, or what he did when he got there.  And she was a little afraid to find out for sure. 

All she knew is the money she put in the cookie jar kept disappearing.  She had expected to use that money to buy presents at the mercantile.  But found herself making Christmas presents for the children instead.  

Billy wanted to be a pirate.  So she made an eye patch and a pirate’s hat from a large scrap of felt and embroidered a dragon on the front.  Then she copied the dragon onto an old wooden cigar box.  Hours and hours of painstakingly painting the dragon till she got it right.  An old string of beads, a few tin foil coins, and an ugly cameo broach turned the box into a perfect treasure chest.

Discipline kept her from crying as she cut apart a stained pink dress that she had found abandoned in the attic, left by the previous tenant of their small rented house.  Located on the right side of the tracks, Peggy tried very hard to keep up appearances determined that her family would be seen as well-off, given her husband’s position as supervisor.  It frustrated her that his paycheck didn’t seem to be enough lately.  She was worried that his nightly outings would be seen sooner or later and the neighbors would begin to talk.  Small towns were so gossipy. 

A second cigar box, this one painted white, would serve as a bed for Katie’s baby doll.  Sniffling Peggy created bedding for the doll bed.  Sheets, pillows, a little blanket, and a small bedspread.  She was even able to make a little dress and apron for the doll from a sleeve.   She was not a seamstress, so this gift was truly a labor of love, working secretly while the children were at school. 

By scrimping on the amount of meat she bought and serving more stews and soups than normal, she had managed to buy a small pouch of her husband’s favorite pipe tobacco.

Nevertheless, she felt inadequate.   In his old job, there had been plenty of money and they had all become accustomed to lots of presents under the tree.  The three small presents were a stark reminder of the tough times of the depression and of how her husband was apparently squandering their precious resources.  But she loved him.  And so said nothing.

Arrrrrrgh !  Avast ye Mateys
The children opened the presents that she had carefully wrapped in pages of an old Life Magazine – snatched from a burn pile before a neighbor noticed.    Katie loved her baby doll’s new bed.  After jumping up to kiss her mother, she wandered off to play in the corner, while Billy put on his eye patch, and went around all day saying “aaargh.” 

But there was no present under the tree for her.  She just looked at Floyd with quiet sadness as he sat there smoking his pipe, thoughtfully.   He was a man who had molded himself into a tower of strength.  In his young life he had been a cowboy in Oklahoma, a gandy dancer laying track across the Illinois prairie, and a professional boxer, hanging up his gloves after he won his third purse, having proved himself to the rough Irishmen that worked alongside him.  He took this confidence into the hard work of laying telephone lines across the countryside, unafraid of the creatures that walked about on two legs.  But he didn’t know how to talk to his young wife.  Didn’t understand that her strength came from understanding why sacrifice was needed.

Hiding her emotions, she bustled about the kitchen, fragrances of roast goose, stuffing, fresh bread and apple pie filling the house.  The adults ate quietly, while the children chatted excitedly about their presents.   While he was outside getting more wood for the fire, Peggy packed a picnic basket with an extra pie for whoever it was that her husband visited.  Leaving the basket on the table, she went to their room.
Floyd heard Peggy cry herself to sleep.  He knew she didn’t understand.  Someday he would explain.  It had been hard to watch his brother and sisters starve as his mother took in boarders in an effort to keep the family together.  He believed his little sister would have survived, if he’d been able to put enough food on the table for her.  But with his father gone, he’d been the man of the family at ten.  And he just couldn’t do a man’s job, or get a man’s wage.  Though he did try.

But he was a man now.  He had tears in his eyes as he picked up the basket his wife had made and when out into the blustery night, his Christmas bonus tucked safely away in his shirt pocket.

A half a mile outside of town the lonely cabin stood, on the wrong side of the tracks.  Christmas was here, and Sarah had nothing to put under the tree for her children.  She had put them to bed with bread and milk, having nothing else to feed them.   

The scarlet fever had nearly done Sarah’s husband in.  He was starting to get better, but it had been touch and go there for a while.  Since he had taken sick, every night someone had secretly left a pot of stew on their porch. 
Some nights there were a few coins next to it.  Sarah didn’t know who the angel was that watched over them, but was grateful that someone in this town cared.

That night Floyd didn’t run out of sight after he knocked on the door.  He placed the basket in her hands and pulled his Christmas bonus from his pocket. 

“Ma’am,” he said quietly.  “Your husband works for me.  I’m glad that he’s getting better.  But I can’t keep coming here.  The Company is sending me and my family south for the winter.  It’s getting too cold to do the work.  There’s enough here that you should be able to live for a couple of weeks, if you’re careful.  Or take a train somewhere warmer for the winter.  Maybe go live with relatives or something.”  He fell silent, unsure what to say next.  Taking in Sarah’s confusion, he continued.

“My wife, is a good woman; she fixed you up a nice Christmas dinner.  She made an extra pie for you.  And she doesn’t even know you. I think she believes I’m having an affair.  But she did this anyway, because she just wants me to be happy.  I didn’t tell her about your husband being sick and all.  She’s the kind of woman who would have come to take care of him and you, and probably gotten sick herself.  So I have got to go fix the mess I made.  And explain the struggles I’ve put her through.  If you were my sister I’d tell you to go home to your family.  The trains will be running tomorrow.  And I’ll have one of my men come give you all a ride to the station if you’re going.  Now I’ve got to get home and fix it with her.” 

He tipped his hat and turned to leave.  She asked him to wait and ran to the pink cigar box she kept her precious treasure in.  She scribbled a quick note and placed it in the box.  Returning she asked him to please give it to his wife as a Christmas gift. He tipped his hat once again, and walked off into the night.

Taking off his overcoat, he silently poured himself a shot of whiskey and lit his pipe.  Then he went into their bedroom and woke his wife.

“Tonight, I gave a family a chance to survive,” he smiled grimly. “People are so proud.  It’s so hard on men when they can’t work.  But it’s even harder for the women and children; they’re so thin.  And when we try to help them, they get all prideful and won’t take what they so desperately need,” he said quietly.  “Honey, I gave them my Christmas bonus.  So they can go home to her parents.  I know it’s been hard for you, with money so tight. And I thank you for not complaining, for we have so much more than most.”

“She asked me to give you this,” he said handing the cigar box to his wife.  Inside she found a delicate ladies handkerchief with tiny pink and white embroidered flowers.  And a simple note that read:  “Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.  You saved us all.  Sarah.”

“I know I should have told you.  And I hope I didn’t ruin your Christmas, Peggy,” he wiped a tear from her cheek.  “I had hoped to take you to your mother’s for the holidays.  But I just couldn’t manage it.  I’m sorry.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.  Come to bed,” she said as she kissed him.

Some of the details are pure imagination.  But the presents were real and my grandmother died never knowing that those meager gifts were the most cherished things my mother and uncle ever received.