Hope

Today is Good Friday and the start of Passover. Every few years, those solemn holy days coincide. Good Friday is also the day I commemorate my mother’s passing, the 36th year. It was in March in 1986, but this end of Holy Week, the beginning of Easter weekend, this has always been the time I mark in my memory. A time of darkness before the light.

This year, though, it seems difficult to find any light. The long shadow of the pandemic still hangs over us. The war in Ukraine has cast a pall over much of the world. It feels as if we’re heading in the wrong direction in so many ways.

Times like these test our faith—faith in humanity, faith in the basic decency of most people, faith that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

We look to many sources to help bolster our hope in these times. Scripture for some. Stories like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter saga. Tales to show us that light endures even during times of great darkness.

This passage from Isaiah has always touched me:

“Yahweh is the everlasting God, he created the remotest parts of the earth, he does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming. He gives strength to the weary, he strengthens the powerless. Youths grow tired and weary, the young stumble and fall, but those who hope in Yahweh will regain their strength, they will sprout wings like eagles, though they run they will not grow weary, though they walk they will never tire.

I recently came across this video of Itzhak Perlman playing the hauntingly beautiful Theme from Schindler’s list. It’s a melody I’ve been listening to a lot when I need to get into my own quiet place.

I wish each of you the peace of hope, wherever you find it.

My Other Half

Despite the title and how much I love my wife, this is not a blog post about her.

I’ve been having dreams lately. Or maybe, they’re memories. Of things that never happened. Neither good nor bad. They just fill my nights.

If you’ve read this blog or my novels, you probably know that I’m adopted. My parents adopted three of us before my mom got pregnant, which wasn’t supposed to be able to happen. My youngest sister was born on my seventh birthday, and that connection has always made us close.

My childhood was fantastic—kind of a typical 60s middle-class upbringing. My mom stayed home with us. We lived in nice neighborhoods, the kind where we kids could safely run around all day, and every mom had her own bell or whistle. The kids all knew the sound of their mother’s signal to run home for dinner. I’m sure it wasn’t as magical as I remember it, but my memories are pretty great.

We always knew we were adopted from the time we were little. Mom and Dad made us feel special, that they chose us specially, something I teased my baby sister about—”They picked us, but they had to take you!”

I never felt any driving need to know who my biological mother was. I was told she was in her early twenties, and after I was born, changed her mind about giving me up for adoption. She kept me for six weeks, I’m sure trying to figure out the best thing to do, before finally making the hard decision to give me up. I’ve always felt incredibly grateful to her for everything—for having me, for loving me enough to hold onto me for those six weeks, and for finally having the courage to let me go.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I was researching adoption records searches for one of my novels that I realized New York state had recently passed a law allowing adoptees to request their pre-adoption birth certificate. I mailed my application in the spring of 2020. Of course, covid disrupted staffing in just about every government office, so I didn’t receive mine until that September.

I remember how my heart pounded as I held that envelope, kind of afraid to open it. This was a “no going back” moment. My hands shook as I unfolded those documents and saw, for the first time, the name of the woman who had given birth to me. I think I sat there for the longest time, just staring at her name, the name of the hospital where I was born, my birth weight. All the normal stuff most people know about their beginnings, but I never had.

A cousin who has done a lot of work on our family’s genealogy was able to look up a good bit of information on her. To my profound disappointment, we found that she passed away in 1996. She’d married four years after I was born, and she and her husband had four children—three boys and a girl. My cousin was looking at the girl’s name, and he said, “I think I know her.” He did a little more digging and confirmed it. San Diego, late 90s. He and my biological sister had been in Customs and Border Patrol training together. And then we found that the man my biological mother married had been a state trooper with my uncle. Talk about few degrees of separation!

But even with everything we learned, I wasn’t ready to make contact. I found my siblings on Facebook, but what if they hated knowing about me? What if they destroyed every fantasy I’d had about my biological mother? So many reasons NOT to reach out. So I didn’t. I sat on the information I had for a year. Not until the next September did I reach out to my biological sister and a brother.

It took a little while for them to realize I’d sent messages, and when at last, my sister contacted me, my hands shook again as I typed a long email explaining our connection. And then I waited. It turns out she’d been told about the baby girl given up for adoption, so my version of events rang true for her, but it was more of a shock for her brothers. My brothers. See how weird this is?

Turns out my new-found sister lives only an hour from me, and only about ten minutes from my same-birthday sister! (Without using names, this is likely to get confusing.) We’ve met up a few times, and she’s absolutely wonderful! It’s been such a joy getting to know her, hearing stories about our mother, what she was like. It makes me even sadder I’ll never know her, but I’m so happy to have even this much.

I’ve spoken on the phone with one brother, and also with an aunt and a cousin. It really touched me to hear my cousin say, “We’ve been waiting for you to find us.”

Between them, I’ve been sent photos. For the first time in my life, I see people I look like!

Which brings me back to those dreams. My nights are filled with conversations and images of people who now make up a side of me I’ve never known—a side that’s always been there, just hidden in my genes, maybe in my genetic memory.

I count myself blessed that they seem to be truly good people. I can’t wait to meet the rest of them in person, perhaps this spring. In the meantime, I’ll let myself absorb these newfound connections. Who knows? This may all end up in a future novel! 🙂

Pax

Pax Tecum 2021

I have to admit, when I wrote my Pax Tecum 2020 post, I had no idea we’d still be this mired in so many difficult things. At that writing, I was scheduled for my first covid vaccine injection in a few days. There was the anticipation that, with the coming vaccines, we’d soon be well on our way – not to eliminating covid – but to managing it. Joe Biden had been elected by a huge margin, and there was a feeling of euphoria at the knowledge that a change in administration was coming in a couple of weeks.

photo credit: unknown

Looking and thinking back over this year, it is almost unbelievable how much has happened, both good and bad: the Capitol insurrection, the rollout of vaccines, wildfires out West, hurricanes and floods and tornadoes globally, the Delta variant and now Omicron, my own retirement, and the discovery of new family I had never known.

The enormity of it all has felt overwhelming, crushing at times, but then, there have been moments of absolute delight.

It’s so easy to focus on the bad, glued to the news for the latest breaking story, thinking, “What’s happened now?” Why does the bad grab hold so much more strongly than the good?

We’ve had to consciously make the decision to look for the good, to see and count the innumerable small blessings that surround us every day.

I don’t make resolutions at the New Year, but this year, the thing I have determined to do is to make more time to be still…

photo credit: unknown

My wish for all of you is that you will find the stillness to see the good and beautiful things in your life, and that there will be many of them.

Pax

Do What You Can

As Thanksgiving draws near here in the US, the joy of that holiday is dampened by continued surges of covid cases and deaths, by court cases and events that seem to elevate darkness and violence and an assault on our rights. I know I’m not alone in having to take a break from the news to focus my energies on more positive things.

photo: anncapictures, pixabay

I’m writing (not very fast) the third Little Sister Island book, tentatively titled The New Shore. I’m learning to enjoy the freedom of being retired – though my wife laughs at my tendency to make lists for myself of the things I want to get done daily. And I’m trying to take better care of my grumpy back.

Unlike last Thanksgiving when we could only zoom and FaceTime, we’ll be going to my sister’s house to share that meal with family, including my brother-in-law’s mother, who is here from Belgium.

We’ve been able to continue supporting our local food bank and Feeding Pets of the Homeless, both charities I used to donate to with spring and fall fundraisers back when the world was a friendlier, or at least a more predictable, place.

I long for that sense of what used to be predictable and normal, but I don’t know if that will ever come back. At times, it seems we’re headed for days of greater darkness, more threats to our rights and our freedoms – things we have long taken for granted. I don’t think we’ll ever take those things for granted again.

When the world feels like too much, when bad things are happening that are beyond our control, all we can do is do what we can.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy holiday with your loved ones.

Pax

Bemused by Time

(Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory 1931)

Back in July, I wrote HERE about how my life was being abruptly pushed in an unanticipated direction with my bad back forcing an earlier-than-planned retirement.

This past Thursday was my last day at work. It was kind of bittersweet, as I imagine those last days often are. I adore my co-workers, who gave me a wonderful gift of a Creative Block. This cool little box contains little prompts for finding creativity when it feels elusive, but they also included little hand-written messages to me. I’ve only let myself read a few at a time, trying to drag things out. But this is a perfect gift for me. I told them, I’d change the names if any of them make it into a future book! 😉

I’ve worked as a physical therapist for thirty-two years, and now…

How can thirty-two years have passed so quickly? And why did it feel it was creeping by as I was going through it? How can time do both things simultaneously?

These are the questions that keep roiling around in my head as I try to get a grip on how to structure my days now that there are fewer outside things imposing structure on them. I know myself well enough to know I NEED structure, and perhaps a schedule, even if it’s of my own making. There are so many things I’ve longed to have more time to do, as well as many projects around the house that have needed more time than I had.

Later this month, Beth and I will celebrate twenty-nine years together. Holy cow! This, too, feels as fresh as it did when it was new, and yet, it feels as comfortable as if we’ve spent a lifetime together.

A couple of days ago, a friend lost her husband of forty years to a sudden heart attack. I can only imagine how devastated she and their children are. News like that cannot help but remind you how quickly life can change. It makes you want to cling to the one you love, just hold her and never let go.

Add in a pandemic that has kept many of us from seeing family and friends face-to-face for over a year and a half, and those connections to the ones we love feel even more tenuous.

However time moves for you, I hope you have time to see the people you love, to do the things that bring you joy, and some quiet moments to just sit and ponder the mysteries of time.

Pax

An Unlit Candle

For the past nine months (yes, I feel as if I am giving birth), I have been writing my latest novel. Ever since I published In This Small Spot and it was suggested to me that I write Mother Theodora’s story, this book has been slowly taking shape in my mind. It was daunting to write. Mother Theodora is such a beloved character. But how did she come to be the woman she is? What were the things that motivated and shaped her early years? What are her secrets?

Readers also begged to know what became of Lauren after the end of In This Small Spot. I couldn’t leave her out of this continuation of the story.

An Unlit Candle is the result of all of that ruminating, soul-searching, wondering about these characters. I had no real idea where this story was going as I began. I admit, it was probably the most challenging novel I’ve written thus far – how to span fifty years in a character’s life? I am very pleased with the result. I hope you will be, too.

The anticipated publishing date will be 1 October. I’ll post updates as we get closer.

Here’s the blurb:

The long-awaited follow-up to In This Small Spot

Patricia Horrigan is the eldest daughter of a family determined to gain entry into the upper echelons of Rochester society as the 1950s give way to the turbulence of the 60s. Born of an Irish father and a French-Canadian mother, Pip inherited the stubborn pride and fierce determination of both. With her life in the family business all planned out, she is most definitely not interested in throwing it all away to become a nun. But some calls will not be ignored, no matter how hard she tries. Fifty years later, she can’t help but wonder if her choices and sacrifices were worth it.

In present time, Lauren Thackeray has managed to put her life back together—in a manner of speaking. She has her weaving, her home, her chosen family, and she has the monastery and the lasting friendship of the nuns there. The one thing she doesn’t have, she doesn’t want. She won’t open her heart again after she barely survived the last time.

Gail Bauer is questioning her own vocation as an Episcopal priest. How can she minister to others when she’s not sure she believes anymore? In desperation, she flees, hoping to find answers.

In the shadow of St. Bridget’s Abbey, three very different women will need one another—to come to terms with their demons, to heal, and to rekindle the light that life has all but snuffed out.

For those who like to read excerpts (I know not everyone does), here is the first chapter:

The heavy weight of yards of velvet swirled as Pip tried to take a peek over her shoulder.

“Now, Miss Patricia, you stand still.”

“Oh, Felicia, why am I doing this? A bunch of people playing dress-up to try and impress each other.”

Felicia tutted from where she was kneeling, smoothing out the folds of the voluminous skirt. “They may be playing at dressing up, but they can’t help but be impressed when they see you. Mark my words, the men’s jaws will drop when you walk in, and all the ladies will be so jealous.”

She winced as she tried to get to her feet.

Pip bent to help her up. “That’s not going to happen. Can I look now?”

Felicia tilted her head, giving her creation one last inspection. Finally, with a nod of approval, she said, “Okay.”

Pip turned and couldn’t suppress a pleased gasp.

“Told you,” Felicia said proudly.

The reflection in the mirror was someone Pip almost didn’t recognize—her nearly black hair and dark eyes striking above the deep red velvet of her gown, the bodice tucked and molded against her curves. An embarrassed flush added color to her cheeks, contrasting with the luminous curve of ivory skin from neck to bared shoulders, accentuated even more by the upswept hair Felicia had agonized over.

“It’s too much,” Pip said, touching her fingers to the swell of her breasts above the plunging neckline. “Or not enough.”

“It’s perfect.”

She raised her eyes to see her father standing behind her in the mirror.

He stepped forward to share the reflection. “You’ll be the most beautiful one there, Pip.”

“Dad—”

“I know. You think this is silly.”

She turned to face him directly. “This is silly.”

“It might also be your ticket in. You know what these people are like.”

A frown creased her forehead. “I do know. And I don’t want in.”

He raised a finger to smooth the crease. “You say that now. But this is what we’ve been working for. Ever since my grandda worked his way over to America—”

“I know, I know,” Pip said, rolling her eyes. “With only an extra shirt and the family Bible, he got a job as a cook’s mate on a ship.”

“That’s right,” her father said. “And from there, worked his way across New York to start his own mill here in Rochester.”

“Pip, it’s time—oh…”

Pip’s mother stood, her hands clasped to her mouth. “Dieu, you look just like your grandmother. Doesn’t she, Patrick?”

“Aye, Marie. She does.”

Pip opened her mouth to correct father’s Irishism, as she liked to call them, but changed her mind. Between both her parents, there was never a chance she’d forget where she came from. A nervous tingle ran down her spine as Felicia gave the gown a last few swipes to remove imaginary bits of dust.

“You look so grown up, Miss Patricia.” Felicia dabbed at her eyes and sniffed.

Patrick offered his arm, and Pip couldn’t help but laugh as she took it, enjoying the way her skirt swept the stairs as they descended to the marble-floored foyer.

“Garrett, your sister’s ready,” Marie called, trailing behind them.

“About time.” A lanky young man unfolded himself from the sofa in the den where a gaily decorated ten-foot Norway spruce filled the bay window.

Loud footsteps echoed from the direction of the kitchen, and a girl skated around the corner, one hand clutching a spoon thickly covered with fudge. “I still don’t see why I can’t go.”

Pip smiled at her little sister, her cheek smeared with fudge. She reached out to steal a bit of chocolate off the spoon and popped it into her mouth. “Believe me, Josie, you’ll have more fun here than we will. Save me some fudge, will you?”

“One day, you’ll be invited to all the balls, ma petite,” Marie said.

Felicia fussed some more as she straightened Garrett’s bowtie and smoothed the wrinkled back of his tuxedo jacket. “I could steam this right quick.”

“We’re already late,” he protested. “If we don’t get there soon, there’s no point in going.”

Marie ran her hand over his glossy black hair to brush it off his forehead. “This ball will not get started on time. You’ll be fine.”

He scowled and squirmed out of his mother’s reach. “Well, let’s go.” He bowed with an exaggerated flourish of his arm. “If you’re ready, princess.”

Pip gave him a punch in the arm. Felicia wrapped a lustrous black silk shawl over Pip’s shoulders and joined Patrick and Marie on the front porch to see them off. Garrett helped Pip into the Thunderbird idling in the driveway, making sure to tuck her skirt in before closing the door.

Rochester hadn’t had any recent snow, so the streets and sidewalks were dry. Streetlamps glowed, golden orbs in the inky darkness as the T-bird rumbled its way toward Mount Hope Avenue, where the grand houses were all decorated, each more beautiful than the last. The house with all the traffic—their destination—was the grandest of all, with garlands of pine twined in gold and silver hung suspended between porch pillars, and glowing candles in every window. A brightly-lit tree sat on the porch to welcome guests.

“I feel like a fraud,” Pip admitted.

Garrett reached for her hand. “If I weren’t your brother, I’d be asking for the first dance.”

She squeezed his hand. “Thanks, Garrett.” She took a deep breath as he pulled into a semi-circular driveway, joining a queue of other cars. He came around to get her door for her, and a pimple-faced valet appeared.

Garrett handed him a folded bill. “No dents, no scratches.”

The valet’s face lit up. “Yes, sir.”

They joined the gaggle of young people entering the house—“it was more a mansion than a house,” Pip would tell Josie later. An air of anticipation washed over everyone. When the Wassermans had sent out their Yule Ball invitation list, all of Rochester had buzzed with who was included—“and who isn’t,” they whispered.

When Patricia and Garrett Horrigan’s names were included for the first time, Marie and Patrick had been elated. Not so, Pip.

“This is 1959 in America, not Jane Austen’s England,” she’d insisted. “I am not going to be presented. They’re not royalty.”

“In Rochester, they are. All the best matches are made by those invited to this ball.” Marie’s nostrils had flared in a foretelling that she would not be denied.

“Let’s just go and have a good time,” Garrett had wheedled. “It could be fun.”

Now, standing in line, ascending the mansion’s stairs to the lights and voices and music spilling through the enormous front doors, Pip whispered, “Still think this is going to be fun?”

Garrett snorted. “Just pretend we’re in one of the plays you used to make me put on with you.”

When at last they stepped inside, Pip forgot to pretend. It might have been 1859. The grand double stairs swept up to a balcony, the banister wrapped in garland and tinsel and red holly berries. In the center of the foyer stood another Christmas tree that must have been twenty feet tall. Servants in uniform were waiting to take coats and hats, while others glided by, holding trays with flutes of champagne and exotic hors d’oeuvres. Women in elegant gowns were accompanied by men in tuxedos, promenading about before wandering into one of the many rooms that opened off the foyer. To the right, couples were dancing to the strains of what sounded like an entire orchestra. To the left, a richly paneled library held several men, smoking and talking. Another room, definitely more feminine in its décor, held long tables groaning under the weight of the food just being set out by yet more servants.

Pip’s head swiveled as she tried to take it all in. She was startled when Garrett said, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Wasserman. Garrett Horrigan. May I present my sister, Patricia?”

Pip wondered briefly if she should curtsy but settled for an extended hand. “Your home is lovely. Thank you so much for inviting us.”

Mr. Wasserman looked rather like an overstuffed penguin, a bored smile pasted on his bearded face as he nodded vacantly, propped dutifully beside his wife to receive their guests.

Mrs. Wasserman, regal in a silver lamé gown that perfectly matched the silver of her hair, said, “Your father has become one of the city’s most important businessmen, my dear. We’re so pleased you could come. Enjoy yourselves.”

Garrett squired her away.

“Holy moly,” Pip murmured. “Have you ever?”

“Josie would give her eyeteeth to see this,” Garrett said with a chuckle.

Before Pip could reply, another young man bounded forward. “Hey Garr, Pip. Isn’t this crazy?”

“Hi, Andy,” Garrett said. “Any more of our gang here?”

“Yeah,” Andy said, his eyes glued on Pip. “Wow, you look so…”

“Watch it,” Garrett warned. “And keep your eyes on her face.”

Andy’s plump cheeks, already pink from excitement—and a bowtie that threatened to strangle him, Pip thought—turned a more brilliant scarlet.

“May I have this dance?”

Pip turned around to find herself staring into the handsome face of another of their friends, John Baldwin. “Why not?”

With a wave to Garrett and Andy, Pip allowed John to escort her onto the dance floor, joining the other couples dancing to a waltz. They swept around the room, twirling like figures atop an old-fashioned music box.

“Who knew those cotillion lessons would ever come in handy, huh?” John asked with a dazzling smile.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Pip said, giggling.

The music had barely faded before another young man had asked Pip to dance. For the next two hours, she didn’t sit out a dance. John came back for four more. At last, breathless and warm, she begged off.

“I have got to sit for a few minutes.”

John escorted her to a line of chairs at the edge of the room. “I’ll get us something to drink. Be right back.”

Pip felt glances being cast in her direction from a clutch of women of mixed ages. She smiled and nodded in their direction, but they turned their backs and continued to whisper with their heads together.

The miller’s daughter.

To them, that’s all she would ever be. No matter that all of them, regardless of where their family’s money had originated, were the recipients of some ancestor’s hard work and dreams.

She needed air. Wandering from room to room, she found her way to one with a door out to a dark balcony. She slipped outside into the welcome cold air, taking a few deep breaths. A set of stairs led down to what seemed to be a small garden, barren now. She descended and walked along a gravel path. Turning to look back toward the house, its windows spilling light down upon the garden where she stood, she thought again this was all like something out of a Regency novel.

She rounded a turn in the path and was startled to find she wasn’t alone. A sudden cloud of cigar smoke enveloped her, and she coughed.

“Oh, my dear, I’m sorry.” Mr. Wasserman waved one hand in a futile attempt to waft away the smoke, a fat cigar clamped between his teeth.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“Not at all.” He gestured toward a bench behind him. “Won’t you join me?”

She sat down.

He held up the cigar. “Do you mind?”

She shook her head, but he took the precaution of sitting on her downwind side. She noticed his bowtie was undone, and his shirt collar was unbuttoned.

“Got a little stuffy in there, didn’t it?” she said.

“Stuffy.” He gave her a sideways glance. “Yes, it’s stuffy.”

Pip started to laugh but choked it back, afraid she was being rude, but Mr. Wasserman let out a belly laugh and shrugged out of his tuxedo jacket. He puffed on his cigar and eyed her.

“You’re… the Horrigan girl.”

“Yes, sir.”

He nodded and puffed some more. “Here looking for a husband, I suppose, like all the others.”

“Oh, gosh no.” It burst out before Pip thought about what she was saying. “I mean, I may get married someday, but I want to work, live my life before that.”

He frowned as he flicked some ash off the end of his cigar into the decorative ashtray beside the bench. “You say that as if your life will be over once you marry.”

“Won’t it?” Again, she sought to pull her words back. “It’s just, I watched the girls ahead of me in school, smarter than most of the boys. Either they didn’t go on to college at all, or they did but never finished or just never used their degrees. They got married and had children and never did anything for themselves.”

He shifted to look at her more closely. “And what do you want to do? Work for your father?”

She tipped her head to think. “I could, I suppose, after I graduate in June. Garrett, my brother, already is. The mill will need to be updated to stay competitive. But we don’t need the canal or rivers for transport anymore, not like my great-grandfather did. I think my father should buy a bakery, make our own brand of bread and rolls, control the entire thing, practically from field to stores.”

Now that she’d been sitting still for several minutes, she shivered in the cold. He noticed and reached for his jacket.

“Here,” he said, draping it around her shoulders.

“Thank you.”

“Why a mill?”

“What do you mean?” She pulled the lapels of the jacket together and settled back against the bench.

“Why did your great-grandfather start a mill?”

“He was only twelve, the last of his family to survive the Hunger. When he buried his last baby brother, he left his home in Connemara, worked his way to Belfast, and got a job on a ship.”

She turned to Mr. Wasserman. “Are you sure you want to hear this?”

He nodded, and she continued.

“The ship’s cook was German and took my great-grandfather on as his mate, taught him all kinds of things, but what my great-granddad loved best was baking. The flour on the ships was riddled with bugs and had lots of chaff—the leftovers after the fine flour went to rich people. Eventually, on one of his voyages to America, he decided to stay. He worked his way across New York, mostly on the barges, but when he got to Rochester, the mills here were producing such good flour that he hired on, eventually became a manager, saved every penny he could, until he had enough to buy one of the smaller mills. And that was that.”

From somewhere behind them came the sound of raised voices. They both got up and hurried to find the source of the commotion. Rounding the corner of the house, where the kitchen apparently was, one of the uniformed servers had a Negro woman by the arm as she struggled to pull free.

“What’s going on here?” Mr. Wasserman demanded.

“Caught this one going through our cans,” the waiter said.

Pip spied a small girl and an even smaller boy, hiding behind a hedge, watching everything. The woman herself was wearing dirty, stained clothing, her eyes large and terrified.

“Call the police,” Mr. Wasserman said, turning to leave.

“Wait,” said Pip. “Please. She’s just hungry.”

The kitchen door opened, and another server emerged, carrying a tray with half-eaten food scraped from the plates of the guests inside. He paused at the strange sight before him.

“Look at all the food going to waste,” Pip said. “They weren’t stealing anything.”

“They? They who?” Mr. Wasserman asked, looking around.

Pip pointed at the hedge, where the children’s frightened faces could be seen peeping through the branches. “This is all being thrown away. Please.”

Mr. Wasserman’s whiskers bristled as his jaw worked back and forth for a moment. “Bag it up.”

“Sir?” said the first server, still holding the woman’s arm tightly.

“I said, bag up everything on that tray.” Mr. Wasserman pointed his cigar at the second waiter. “Give it to her. But,” he turned to jab a finger at the woman, “I want you to take it and leave, hear? Don’t go telling your friends they can all show up here for a free handout.”

The woman gave a tiny nod.

The second server went back inside while the first let go of the woman’s arm. A couple of minutes later, the second man returned, carrying a large paper bag and handed it to the woman.

“Thank you, sir,” she squeaked and backed away. Her children scurried to her, and they all disappeared into the darkness.

A few more heads had appeared in the kitchen doorway, wondering what all the commotion was.

“Back to work, all of you,” Mr. Wasserman said.

He led Pip back into the garden.

“Thank you,” Pip said.

He tried to puff on his cigar again, but it had gone out. “Blast.” He tossed the stub of the cigar into the ashtray and sighed. “Best get back in there, or there’ll be hell to pay.”

He buttoned his collar and fumbled with his bowtie. “Blast.”

“May I?” Pip stepped closer and tugged the two ends to get them even. “I always tie my father’s ties for him.”

She slipped out of the jacket and handed it back. He frowned at her as he donned it.

“Don’t you go telling everyone about that, either,” he said, jerking his head toward the kitchen.

She hid a smile. “No, sir.” As she stepped back into the lights and music and conversation, she thought she heard him mutter something that sounded like “baby brother” and “ship’s cook”, but when she turned around, Mr. Wasserman had disappeared into the crowd.

copyright 2021 Caren J. Werlinger

Face the Wind for the Win

Many of you were aware that the Golden Crown Literary Society had to hold this year’s conference virtually again this year due to continued covid precautions. The Awards ceremony was held yesterday, and I am really humbled and thrilled that Face the Wind won in the General Fiction category. This is always a difficult category, populated by really top-notch books.

To celebrate, I’m going to offer 5 audio codes to commenters on this blog post.

Just comment below (don’t include an email address in the comment), and I will pick 5 winners Friday, 6 August at 8:00 pm Eastern time.

Help me celebrate!!!

Transitions II

Sometimes, no matter how well you thought things through, how well you planned, how many details you thought you had all lined up the way they should be… it all goes flying out the window.

That’s what this past two weeks has been like for me. I had been making quiet plans to retire at the end of the year, trying to get everything I could anticipate taken care of ahead of time.

Part of that was giving Beth time to adjust to the prospect of having me home every day – in her words, interrupting the routine she’s established since she retired.

But as fate or luck or whatever would have it, circumstances have shifted so that I will be phasing out of my job beginning much sooner than I expected. Like… now. I’ve written before about my bad back, which, as bad backs tend to do, has only gotten stiffer and grumpier as I’ve aged. Enough so that some parts of my job were becoming unsafe for me to do.

My supervisor and some other people above my pay grade began working with me to help change around my job duties so that I will not have that risk. But that shift can only go on so long, with the end result that I will be transitioning from full-time work to part-time work to full-time retirement sooner than I had anticipated.

The future feels a bit murky at the moment. Sometimes, it feels a weight has been lifted that was a lot heavier than I realized. Other times, it all seems kind of scary. At least, that was Beth’s reaction upon learning she was going to have me around more and sooner than she’d planned for! 🙂

This transition to retirement brings with it a weird mix of sadness and relief. Sadness at no longer doing the thing I’ve done for 32 years, (it’s funny how much of ourselves we define by what we do), and relief that I won’t have to keep doing the thing I’ve done for 32 years. I could do physical therapy elsewhere if I wish, and I may. After a rest.

The upside, of course, will be more time to write and do the other things that I truly enjoy doing.

In my first Transitions post, published in June 2013, I wrote about the death of a friend and how it made me more determined to not wait until “someday” to do the things we really wanted to do. Since then, we have traveled to Ireland and Scotland, as well as other places in the US we’d never visited before. When the pandemic travel restrictions can be eased and more of the world has had a chance to be vaccinated, we’d love to see more of it.

So, I’m hoping this new transition will be just as positive. Even if Beth ends up creating a timetable for when I’m allowed to be in the house.

Crowded Tables

It’s no secret that I am almost off the scale on the introvert end of the Introvert-Extrovert continuum. I treasure time alone, and the isolation that the pandemic has imposed has not really been a hardship for me. But I balance that with the knowledge that I haven’t really been alone. I went to work every day and got to come home to my wife and dogs.

The social distancing has been much harder on her than it has on me. She’s about as far off the E end as I am on the I end. We balance each other nicely. She’s made do with Facetime visits with a knitting friend (I don’t know why she’d want to sit and knit and talk to someone other than me?).

But yesterday, we got to visit with my sister and niece for the first time since Thanksgiving 2019. I mean a full face to face, hugs and talks and laughing visit. We’re all fully vaccinated but have still been masking and isolating. We Facetimed last Thanksgiving as we celebrated separately. In normal years, we would have gathered in her house with anywhere from 13-20 people. It’s crazy and chaotic and noisy – and utterly wonderful.

Seeing them made me realize how much I missed it. Even me. There was a pretty big lump in my throat as they drove off.

Thanksgiving 2019 with a motley crew

It’s also time for the Golden Crown Literary Society to be planning their conference, which will be virtual again this summer. It’s funny that as strong an introvert as I am, I so look forward to seeing the friends we’ve made at that conference. I move from one group to another, doing more socializing in that week than I normally do in an entire year!

Me, Danielle, Jae

I recently heard this song from the Highwomen, and it really speaks to the need so many of us are feeling to be able to gather with friends and family again. Here’s to crowded tables soon!

One Good Thing

I can’t think of another thing in my lifetime that has united — and divided — the entire world in the same way that this pandemic has. Every country has suffered losses — loss of life, economic loss. On a personal level, so many people have lost loved ones. Many of us feel we’ve lost a sense of normalcy and stability that we took for granted would always be there.

But, speaking for myself at least, I think I’ve also gained something. And I don’t think I’m alone.

While some are running around maskless, congregating like there isn’t still a raging pandemic going on around them, others like me have used this past year to re-evaluate what’s really important. A year ago, it was hard to imagine being this content to eat every dinner at home, to spend the weekends with just my beloved and our dogs. Granted, I went to work every day, so I wasn’t at home round the clock, but even at work, most of us in our clinic re-assessed our own health and habits. We started taking breaks to walk, even if it was just around the building to say hello and check in. We jumped in to fill gaps when coworkers had to quarantine or suffered losses within their own families.

photo: Tatiana Kanevskaya

Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of my mother’s passing, though I’ll commemorate it again on Good Friday. She was only 49. We do go on, but we’re never the same. That hole, that place where someone we loved was, it scars over, maybe looks whole from the outside, but the thing about scar tissue is, it’s fragile. It rips easily, and when it does, sometimes it exposes a gaping wound underneath.

There are millions of families around the world experiencing that kind of loss now. I got to be with my mother as she passed; they did not.

We know the light is at the end of the tunnel with vaccines rolling out now, but that tunnel still feels mighty long sometimes.

If you’re feeling adrift and lost in this pandemic reality we find ourselves in, I hope you’ve found some good, too. Maybe you rediscovered your gift for art or music. Perhaps you’ve had time to read those books you promised yourself you’d always get to. Maybe you look forward to hugging and being with your family and friends soon, but in a way you’ll never take for granted again. Maybe your hair got long enough to try doing something wild with it!

I don’t think any of us will emerge from this unchanged. Be gentle with yourself and others. Go gently back into the world when you can.

Pax