“My Joe: A Reflection” was published in Edify Fiction in June 2017. It was my first story to be published. It is a heartwarming story of a love that lasts a lifetime. I hope you enjoy it.
My Joe: A Reflection
As I lie in bed listening to the battering of hail on the roof, I wonder how the years passed by so quickly. Here I am, eighty-three years old with the spot next to me empty, as it has been for too long. I’ve been alone and lonely for such a long time that I’ve lost track of how long Joe has been gone.
Joe and I got married young, like people did back in those days. I was nineteen and he was twenty-two. I may not recall how long he’s been gone, but I can see as clear as day the way Joe looked the first time I saw him.
It was Valentine’s Day in 1946 and our soldiers had returned from the war. The USO was having a dance in Milwaukee for the veterans and I went with my best friend. It was a bitter cold afternoon, with temperatures in the twenties; inside, the hall was warm and cozy, filled with people laughing and talking. Large pink and red hearts, along with carnations, transformed the room into an enormous valentine card. Sitting on the sidelines and watching couples dance, I hadn’t noticed anyone approach. Turning around to look for my friend, the best looking man I had ever seen was sitting next to me. Tall and thin with brown hair and twinkling blue eyes, Joe introduced himself and thus began a lifelong relationship. We talked and danced as though the world had stopped with just the two of us in it. Joe took my name and phone number, promising to call me.
I thought about Joe constantly until he called me two days later. We made arrangements to meet at Monument Square in downtown Racine that afternoon. Over hot coffee, Joe and I shared stories about ourselves, feeling as though we’d always known each other. After that, we saw each other every day for the next two months until he proposed. And, of course, I said yes.
Mama and Papa were against me marrying Joe. Oh sure, they said they liked him well enough and that he was a good guy, but insisted he had no future and they wanted better for me. I knew what they really meant. They didn’t like the fact that Joe practiced a different religion. I didn’t care what they said. Joe and I were in love, and we were going to get married whether they liked it or not. So, we eloped. That’s exactly what we did. We went to Milwaukee and a justice of the peace performed the ceremony. After all, it was 1946 and we could darn well do what we wanted.
When we told our parents that we were married, they threw a fit, especially mine. They told me to pack my stuff and get out, that I had disobeyed them, and they were done with me. So I did. Joe’s parents did the same thing, so he packed his stuff, too. We had a little money and went to the train station, since we didn’t have a car at the time. After all, Joe had just gotten back from the war. We sat on a bench trying to decide where we would go, and finally decided on Chicago. I can’t tell you why, except that it was far enough away from Racine, and our families wouldn’t be able to bother us. And since it was a big city, Joe figured it would be easy to find jobs and a place to live.
I sure don’t recall how much money it cost to take the train, but I do know that we didn’t have very much. Between us, we probably had about $1,500 from my job and the money Joe came home with from the army. It was a lot in those days, but still wouldn’t last for too long. We stayed in a hotel the first night we were in Chicago. The next day we found a cute little furnished apartment for forty-five dollars a month and then figured we’d better find jobs. And we did. I found one in an insurance office as a receptionist (I had typing experience) and Joe found one working in a grocery store.
Joe’s plan was to go to school under the GI Bill, something the government started for servicemen to help them get an education. The government would pay for Joe to go to school, pay our living expenses, and give him unemployment benefits for a year. Joe signed up for classes at the university to become a teacher; I kept working while Joe worked and went to school. We stayed in our little apartment. Life was good—we were in love, doing okay with money, and had everything we needed or wanted. We could even go out to a movie and to dinner on the weekend if we wanted to, but most of the time we stayed home.
I got sick six months before Joe was supposed to graduate. Just as things were going well for us, something hit me. After it lasted about a week, I went to the doctor without telling Joe. He was so busy working and studying that I didn’t want to bother him. Women sure were a lot tougher in those days. Anyway, the ‘something that hit’ me was the news when the doctor told me I was two months pregnant. At first, I didn’t believe him because we had been careful. Well, we thought we had been careful. After I got my thoughts together and stopped crying, I remember thinking that maybe it was a good thing. We both had talked about having children but just not quite yet. But it was okay. Things don’t have to go exactly like we plan, do they?
Annie was born a month after Joe got his teaching degree. With his new salary and the GI bill helping veterans get houses, we were able to buy a three-bedroom ranch style house in Elmhurst. Joe got a job teaching in the high school and life was good. Three years later little Jimmy came along, and two years after that came Paula. Our family was complete.
The years went by and all three children were in school before we knew it. Joe’s job was good, and he was happy. I was bored and ready to go back to work, so I got a job in the local library. The hours were perfect because I worked while the kids were in school. During the summers, we went on camping trips and to national parks. We loved to visit different states and learn about the history of our country. One year we even drove to Canada and spent a month traveling to historic sites.
I remember that the world changed in the early 1960s. The music became loud and wild; there was talk about people smoking marijuana and using drugs that caused hallucinations. Protests were taking place in cities like Milwaukee and Chicago so that people could have equal rights for housing and jobs.
It was on November 22, 1963 that the most shocking thing that could possibly happen did when President John Kennedy was assassinated. The whole country watched his young family in mourning and cried for their loss and ours. We were all shocked that something so tragic could take place in the United States. By the end of the 1960s, it seemed as though everything was out of control all over the place. In April of 1968, a man by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Tennessee. Dr. King, thirty-nine years old, was a leader in The Civil Rights Movement and he also left a wife and young children. Two months later, in June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in California. A presidential candidate and the brother of John Kennedy, he was only forty-two years old and left behind a family.
The Vietnam War had started in 1955 and was still going strong in 1970. Demonstrations were taking place on college campuses across the country to protest the war. I’ll never forget the day that Jimmy got his draft notice in the mail. Although we had been expecting it since his eighteenth birthday, it was still a shock to actually see it in writing. After all of the anxiety about my child going off to war, it turned out they wouldn’t take him because he had poor vision. The draft ended in 1973 and the war ended in 1975.
It was in the ‘80s that Joe got sick with cancer. He hadn’t been feeling well but thought it was from stress at work. I kept thinking it was his age because, after all, he was almost sixty years old. But when the doctor came back with the news that it was prostate cancer, I almost passed out. But my Joe was brave, just like he had always been. The doctor said it was in the early stages and he was going to remove the prostate. He didn’t think Joe would even need any treatment, which he didn’t. Joe recovered quickly and was able to dance at Annie’s wedding four months later. a
I never regretted marrying Joe or giving up my family because they rejected him. We had a wonderful marriage, raised a good family and taught them not to judge people because of what race they are or where they worship. We taught them to believe in God and practice religion the way they wanted to. The kids had done well. Annie married a doctor and gave us four grandchildren, two boys and two girls. Jimmy became a teacher like his dad, got married and had two beautiful girls; and Paula decided to become a lawyer and not get married. Our children have always been good to us. Like Joe always said, we were lucky to have such a wonderful family.
The cancer was more serious when Joe got sick the second time. The doctor said that it was in his pancreas and even I knew that there was no cure. Joe had retired ten years or so before, so I guess he was about seventy-five when he got sick. All we could do was support his decision to not undergo treatments, and to make him comfortable for the time that he had left. I never left Joe’s side while he was sick. We didn’t need nurses or anyone else to help. Joe and I had always taken care of each other and had promised that we would until the end. And we did.
Now I remember. It’s been about ten or eleven years since Joe was taken from me. It was a day just like this one, in the middle of winter, with hail hammering the roof. Joe opened his eyes, looked at me and told me he would always love me. And then he was gone; my Joe was gone.
I’m looking out of the window now, from my bed. The hail has stopped and snow is falling gently from the gray sky. The tree outside of my window is bare but soon the snow will cover it. I’m still in the house that Joe bought with the VA loan; the one our babies came home to from the hospital; the one where Joe and I laughed and loved; and the one in which Joe died in my arms. I’ve had plenty of arguments from Annie and Jimmy about living with them, but Paula has stayed here with me. Maybe that’s why she hasn’t gotten married; who knows.
I keep wondering when Joe and I will be together again. It probably won’t be long now. I must have dozed off for a few minutes because the sun is shining and I feel warmth that I haven’t felt in ten or eleven years. But now I see why. Joe is standing at the foot of our bed smiling at me. I call his name, but he doesn’t answer. It’s been so long since I have seen him or we have talked. Holding his hand out to me, I sit up and put my hand in his. Holding me closely, he whispers that it’s time for us to be together. I whisper back that we have never been apart.
Edify Fiction June 2017
“Willow Falls,” published in Edify Fiction in February 2018, is about love and family. I hope you like it as much as I do.
(Edify Fiction/February 2018)
Willow Falls is one of those places that doesn’t change over time. A small town in Vermont with a population of approximately ten thousand, it lies close to the Canadian border. Children grow up and stay, choosing to raise their own families the same way they were brought up. The residents look out for each other and know everything that is happening in their town. That’s why it wasn’t a surprise in the beginning of October when word spread that the new therapist had moved into the house on Bluebell Lane.
Cassie saw it as a good omen when she arrived in Willow Falls before dark. Pulling into the driveway, she looked at her new home with a mixed feeling of excitement and apprehension. A pale yellow two-story Victorian, the house’s picket fence matched its ivory trim. Flowers filled the window boxes and a well-tended garden bordered the front of the house. Cassie had known it would be a perfect home the first time she saw it. A small voice from the back seat of her car brought her back to reality.
“Mommy is this our new house?” asked Jeremy.
“Yes, honey, this is our new house and you’re going to love it. I’ll come around and help you out.”
Hand in hand, mother and son walked to the front door of their new home. Kneeling, she looked into his gray eyes and saw the same mixed emotions that she was feeling.
“Are you ready to start our new adventure? We have a brand-new house in a new town, and we are going to make lots of friends.”
Looking at his mother as intensely as she was looking at him, Jeremy wrapped his pudgy little arms around her neck and nodded.
“Come on, Mommy, let’s go look at our new house. I want to see my room.”
Sharing his excitement, Cassie opened the door for her son. The living room was the first room they looked at. The soft blue and cream color furnishings accentuated the gray and blue stone fireplace. A watercolor of Lake Champlain hung over the fireplace; with bay windows encompassing an entire wall, the mountains became part of the room.
Cassie watched the child that looked so much like her while he sat on the overstuffed chair. It had been a long time since she had seen him so content.
“So, what do you think?”
“I love it, Mommy. Look at the mountains and the fireplace. We have our very own fireplace so Santa can come. Let’s go see everything.”
Jeremy led the way across the hall to the kitchen. Like the rest of the downstairs, the floor was made of maple and the kitchen cabinets were walnut. The brown granite countertops were finely threaded with gold that glittered in the sun. Lemon colored walls and bay windows brought the sunshine in.
On the way upstairs, Cassie took a quick look at the den and the downstairs bathroom, pleased with what she saw. But she would never forget the look on her little boy’s face when he stepped into his bedroom. Jeremy was speechless as he looked around, his eyes bigger than Cassie had ever seen them.
“Do you like it, Jeremy? I wanted it to be special for you.”
“I love it, Mommy. Everything is about cowboys. Thank you, Mommy.”
Cassie watched as Jeremy walked around the room, taking everything in. Horses and
cowboys adorned the comforter and matching curtains. Pictures of cowboys decorated the walls, and the lamp was in the shape of a horse. A bookcase was stacked with new books and Jeremy’s old favorites; a wooden toy box was painted with horses, cowboys, and Jeremy’s name.
While Jeremy opened the toy box, Cassie went to her room and was pleased with the results. After checking the guest room and other bathrooms, she went back to Jeremy’s room, only to find him fast asleep next to the toy box. Careful to not wake him, Cassie gently carried Jeremy to the bed and covered him with his cowboy blanket.
“I hope I’ve done the right thing,” whispered Cassie, gently touching her stomach. “I just didn’t have another solution.”
Cassie met Doug while doing her social work internship at the office where he practiced family law. Intrigued by his good looks, she felt like a teenager going through her first crush. In contrast to Doug’s 5’ 11” athletic frame, brown hair and blue eyes, Cassie was petite with gray eyes and black hair. They talked tirelessly for hours about their plans for the future. Cassie told Doug about her childhood and her family, and how she grew up in a tightknit community. Whenever she tried to get Doug to tell her about his past, he would only say that he had lost contact with his family many years before. There was a conversation they had after becoming engaged that she would later recall.
“Doug, now that we’re starting to make the wedding plans, I think we should talk about the guest list.”
“I gave you my list, Cassie. Did you need more information?”
“You gave me the names of your friends, but don’t you have any family that you would like to invite?” asked Cassie.
“I told you a long time ago that I lost contact with my family. Why would I want to invite people that I don’t care about?”
“You’ve never talked about it. Maybe if you did, we could reach out to them.”
“Obviously I don’t want to reach out to anyone. Drop it, Cassie. I don’t want to talk about it.”
Realizing how agitated Doug had become, Cassie decided not to bring up his past again. Three years after meeting, Cassie and Doug were married in a fall ceremony in Cassie’s
hometown in Minnesota. It was there that Doug established his own law practice and Cassie her therapy practice. They bought the house of their dreams, became established as professionals in the community, and traveled to places they had dreamed of visiting. Their decision not to have children had been made before they married and, as time went on, they were both fine with that choice.
Cassie had dreamed of going to Holland, and Doug took her there for their fifth wedding anniversary. Soon after they arrived, she became ill, spending the first two days in the hotel room. Forcing herself to go out on the third day, she was so weak that Doug insisted they go to the local hospital. After the doctor examined Cassie, he called Doug into the room and then left. Doug was startled at how pale his wife was. The conversation that took place would replay in Cassie’s mind for years.
“Honey, what did the doctor say? You’re paler then when we came in. Tell me what happened.”
“Oh, Doug. I don’t know how to tell you. I’m totally shocked and know you are going to be as well. He said I’m nine weeks pregnant.”
“What?” said Doug, the color drained from his face. “When did you forget to take your pill?”
“That’s just it, Doug, I didn’t forget. I’ve never missed taking one. The doctor said it’s not unheard of for pregnancy to occur after being on the same pill for a long time. I never expected this to happen and I don’t know what to think.”
As he slowly absorbed what she said, Doug’s look transformed from shock to disbelief.
“That’s impossible, Cassie. Why wouldn’t your doctor warn you that this could happen? I don’t believe it, and I won’t until we get back home and you see your doctor. You probably just picked up a virus on the plane. You’ll see that it’s a mistake and everything will be fine.”
“You must be right, Doug. I’ll make an appointment with Susan as soon as we get back.”
At dinner a week later, Cassie told Doug that Susan confirmed that she was ten weeks pregnant. Not knowing what to say, they ate in silence. It was in bed later that night that Doug expressed his feelings.
“What are we going to do, Cassie? We decided a long time ago not to have children. Where does this leave us?”
“What do you mean, Doug? It’s happened and there’s no going back. I’ve been thinking that maybe it’s meant to be, that maybe we need a family. We’d be good parents and give a child a good life. Actually, now that I’m starting to feel a little better, I think I want children.”
“Are you out of your mind? We have plans for our lives, and children are not included in those plans. I don’t want this baby or any babies. It’s that simple.”
“Are you saying that you want a divorce? I can’t believe you’d leave me just because our so-called plans have changed. You can’t love me if you feel that way.”
“No,” said Doug. “I don’t want a divorce, but I don’t want a baby. I love you, but I’m not giving up my life for something I don’t want, so you’d better figure it out.”
“Maybe we didn’t plan this baby, but it’s not as though he or she wasn’t created out of anything but our love for each other.”
“What are you talking about? It was a mistake that created this baby, not love. How can you attempt to justify it?” said Doug, raising his voice.
As Cassie lay speechless, Doug got dressed and stormed out of the house. When he returned the next day, he asked Cassie if she had made a decision about the baby.
“I feel as though you are asking me to choose between you and our baby. I can’t do that, Doug. I love you, but not keeping this baby is not an option. If you can’t find it in your heart to love both of us, then our marriage is in big trouble.”
The way Doug acted towards her during the pregnancy was etched in Cassie’s mind. He made sure that he wasn’t available for doctor’s appointments and ultrasounds and also showed no interest in decorating the nursery or attending childbirth classes. One week before her due date, Doug went to London for a conference and came home a week after Jeremy was born. Much to her disappointment, Doug had absolutely no interest in being a father to Jeremy. When they talked about divorcing, Doug refused, saying that his love for her did not have to include being a father. Over time, Cassie accepted the situation the way that it was, hoping that Doug would grow to love Jeremy. When Jeremy was three and Cassie found out she was six weeks pregnant, Doug was still as indifferent about his son as ever. It was then that Cassie decided to leave with Jeremy and not tell Doug that she was pregnant.
Dr. Thomas Palinson had been a psychiatrist in Willow Falls for thirty years before deciding to bring a therapist into his practice. Sixty-eight years old, he had finally realized that it was time to start slowing down. The only other person in the office was his wife Betty, who was the office manager. It was her ad that Cassie had responded to. After being interviewed on the telephone three times, Betty encouraged her husband to hire Cassie. Two days after arriving in Willow Falls, Cassie walked into the office and approached a woman with sparkling eyes and a warm smile.
“Good morning. You must be Betty. I’m Cassie and I’m so glad to finally be here.”
“Yes, I am and I’m also glad that you are here. Did you have a good trip? Have you been settling in?”
“The trip was very good, and my things should arrive today. My son, Jeremy, started preschool this morning and
“Thank you, but I’d prefer water.”
“Tell me about you and your little boy.”
Jeremy is three years old and the love of my life. He’s adjusting to our new home and
seems to be very happy. There isn’t much to tell about me. My husband and I were having some problems, and I decided that I had to separate myself from the situation.”
When Cassie didn’t say anything else, Betty realized that the young woman was more hurt than she was letting on. Not wanting to press her, she started to change the subject and her husband walked in.
Looking younger than his age, Thomas Palinson was medium height with salt and pepper hair, and kind blue eyes. Standing, Cassie put her hand out and introduced herself.
I’m ready to start working.”
“My husband is with someone, but he should be done any minute. I know he can’t wait to meet you. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Good morning, Dr. Palinson. I’m Cassie, and I’m so happy to be here.”
“Welcome to Willow Falls, Cassie, and please call me Tom. I see that Betty has been keeping you company, but now I’m going to steal you away and show you what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
After buying some groceries and picking Jeremy up from school, Cassie thought about what she had gotten herself into. She knew that it was going to be difficult to be on her own, raising two children. But hadn’t she been a single mother since she had Jeremy? Just because Doug was there, she thought, it didn’t mean that she wasn’t alone. It wasn’t until she had put away the groceries and settled Jeremy in his room to play, that Cassie heard the tone on her cell phone that indicated someone had left a message. Sadness washed over her as she listened to Doug’s voice.
“Cassie, I just arrived home from California and found your letter. You never mentioned leaving so I don’t understand what happened. I thought everything was good with us. Please call me when you get this message so we can talk.”
With tears in her eyes, Cassie deleted the message.
“And like always, he didn’t mention Jeremy,” whispered Cassie.
By the end of October Cassie had settled into her job and was happy. Tom and Betty were wonderful to work for, and she liked her clients. When Jeremy came down with a severe cold, they didn’t mind that Cassie stayed home with him for a week.
Cassie realized in the middle of November that her clothes were getting tight and she was beginning to show. One afternoon while Cassie was documenting her last session of the day, Betty came into her office.
“How about a little motherly talk, Cassie?”
“Sure, Betty. What’s on your mind?”
“You are. I haven’t asked you any questions because
I’m not one to pry into someone’s personal business. And I’m not asking any now. I figured when you wanted to talk to someone, you’d feel comfortable enough to come to me.”
Looking perplexed, Cassie merely nodded, and Betty continued.
“Cassie, a baby can’t be hidden forever. But you must know that because you’ve already had one.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize it was noticeable. I’m not hiding it, Betty. I just haven’t wanted to talk about it yet.”
“Well, when you do, you know where I am,” said Betty, turning to leave.
Cassie took her hand and asked her to sit down.
“Doug and I had never wanted children. When I found out I was pregnant with Jeremy,
he was shocked and angry. I thought in due time he’d adjust and fall in love with his son, but that never happened. Even before Jeremy was born, Doug wanted nothing to do with him. So when I found out I was pregnant with this baby, I realized that Doug would never change.”
“Oh dear,” said Betty when Cassie finished. “Does he know about the baby?”
“No, I haven’t told him. I left a letter saying that I could no longer subject Jeremy to living with a father who didn’t acknowledge or love him. I had already allowed it to go on for too long, hoping that Doug would change. I begged him to see a therapist, but he always refused. So there was no point in telling him about this pregnancy and allowing him to treat another child the way he treated Jeremy.”
“Are you sure he would feel that way? Maybe Doug would see that if he doesn’t start acting like a father, he is going to lose you. Don’t you think he has a right to know about the baby so that he can make that decision?”
“Of course he will know at some point, but I just don’t know when,” said Cassie. “Have you started divorce proceedings?” asked Betty.
“No, not yet. Actually, I haven’t even thought about it.”
“Why do you think that is? Do you think you’re still holding on to the hope that things could work out?”
“I don’t even know. It’s a sad situation because I never saw that side of Doug until I became pregnant with Jeremy. It was as though the thought of having a child turned him into a stranger. I love him, Betty, but I have to put my children first. Does that make me a bad person?”
“No, Cassie, that makes you a mother.”
The call came three days before Thanksgiving, and Cassie answered without looking at the caller ID.
“Hello, Cassie. Please listen to me and don’t hang up.”
“I won’t hang up, Doug. I realize that there is a lot that we have to talk about. How have you been?”
“Horrible, Cassie. It’s been awful since you left. I didn’t see it coming and still don’t understand why you left the way you did.”
“I explained in my letter, Doug. I could no longer subject my son to a father who doesn’t acknowledge him. I had hoped over the years that your feelings would change but it never happened. It’s psychologically damaging for a child to be ignored, and I have to put Jeremy first.”
“Have you filed for divorce?”
“No, not yet. I’ve been busy getting settled with the house and my job and with Jeremy’s preschool.”
After a short silence, Doug asked about Jeremy.
“He’s doing well. He loves the house and his room. The adjustment to preschool has been easy, and he has made friends.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Cassie. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching since I read your letter. There’s a lot that you don’t know about me. In fact, there’s a lot that I don’t know about myself.”
“What are you saying, Doug?”
“I need to see you, Cassie. I don’t want to go into it on the phone.”
“Okay, but I can’t think right now. Jeremy is crying. I have to go to him. Can we talk in a couple of days and make arrangements to meet?”
“Sure we can. Go to Jeremy. We’ll talk soon. And Cassie, I have always loved you and always will.”
Thanksgiving morning dawned with new snow, making the world fresh and bright. Diamonds sparkled under the bright sun, and the air was crisp. After lighting a fire in the living room, Cassie and Jeremy went to the kitchen to decorate the cookies they had baked the night before. Since they didn’t have many visitors, the sound of the doorbell was startling. Jeremy ran to the window.
“My daddy’s here,” yelled Jeremy. “He found us, Mommy.”
Opening the door, Cassie was surprised to see Doug standing with a bouquet of fall flowers and a wrapped gift.
“Can I come in? It’s really cold out here.”
Unable to say a word, Cassie stepped aside while Jeremy stood looking up at his father. “Hi Jeremy. I’m happy to see you. Look, I brought you something. Would you like to open it now?”
“Yes, Daddy. Thank you!”
“Come in, Doug. Take off your coat and boots.”
Following Jeremy into the living room, his parents sat down on the sofa and watched him open a set of plastic cowboys and horses.”
“Thank you, Daddy. I’m going to take them to my room.”
“Doug,” said Cassie when Jeremy had gone. “Why are you here?”
“I came to talk to you, Cassie. I want to tell you what I’ve learned about myself and about us. Do you by any chance have some coffee made?”
When they sat down at the kitchen table, Doug started talking.
“Cassie, do you remember when we were dating and I refused to talk about my family?
There was a reason for that. My biological mother had given me up for adoption when I was born. My father had abandoned her when she was pregnant. I guess she thought I would be a constant reminder of the alcoholic she had fallen in love with. My adoptive parents were elderly, and they were wonderful. They both died a few years ago, and a person couldn’t have asked for a better family. But I always felt that they weren’t my real parents and for some reason, I couldn’t allow myself to pass my genes on to a child. All I knew was that my father was an alcoholic and my mother didn’t love me enough to keep me. That’s why I was so against having children. When we found out about Jeremy, I almost lost my mind. I could only keep asking myself what right did I have to bring children into the world when I didn’t know anything about where I came from.”
“Oh Doug, why didn’t you tell me? We could have worked through it together. That’s what love is—facing life together. It doesn’t matter where or who you came from. What does matter is who you are and what kind of father you can be.”
“I’m beginning to understand that. I’ve been seeing a therapist since you left. I’m confronting the ghosts. I want to be a good husband and a good father. I hope I’m not too late, Cassie. If you’ll have me, I’ve already found someone to take over my practice and buy the house. I want to be with you and Jeremy.”
When Cassie didn’t respond, Doug walked over to the windows and stood there. He turned around when he heard her call his name.
“Doug, I love you, and it’s not too late for me. And I don’t think it’s too late to be a father to Jeremy; he loves you.”
Cassie saw his expression change when he was walking toward her and stopped. Gently touching her stomach, his eyes met hers.
“Cassie, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I couldn’t. After what happened in Holland when we found out I was pregnant and then after it was confirmed when we got home, I just couldn’t go through that again or put another child through it. These babies have nothing to do with your mother and father, Doug. They exist because of our love for each other.”
Pulling her into his arms, Cassie felt his tears as they held each other.
“If you still feel that way, then I’ll understand. At least now I know why you reacted the way you did.”
“No, Cassie, I don’t feel that way. I’m going to make up the last three years to you and Jeremy. And this baby will know me in a totally different light, starting right now. When I move here, I want you to find a therapist for me. We are a family. I don’t care about my past. I only want a future with you and my children. Come on, let’s go check on our son.”
Spring arrived early in Willow Falls. The sweet fragrance of lilacs filled the air, and, to everyone’s delight, birds sang their musical tunes. It was on a sunny day that Anna entered the world with both of her parents present. And the people that kept track of what happened in their town welcomed their newest citizen to Willow Falls.
“Snowflakes, Stars, and Cookie Memories” is a short story that I entered into a holiday contest. Although it didn’t get published–I like it and want to share it with you. I think you’ll like it, too.
Snowflakes, Stars, and Cookie Memories
Like snowflakes falling from the sky, memories swirled in her mind. Cassie smiled, thinking about the day she had insisted that snow glitters because fairy dust is sprinkled on the flakes as they drift to the ground. Winter days had been filled with skating, sledding, and snow angels; hot chocolate, a cozy fire, and baking cookies were welcomed after the cold outdoors. Cassie pictured baking ingredients lined up on the counters and decorative tins ready to be filled for gift giving. Over the years, she had stored the recipes and memories in her mind to share with her own children. Sadness replaced the smile, as thoughts of not being able to share those times took over.
“It’s too late in life to dwell on it,” she said, her eyes misting. “It wasn’t meant for us to have the family we wanted.”
Finishing the breakfast dishes, Cassie was about to go upstairs when the doorbell rang. Opening the door, she saw two police officers accompanied by two children who were staring at her with saucer-sized eyes. Bewildered, Cassie looked at the officers.
“Can I help you?” asked Cassie.
“Are you Cassie Tramden?”
“Yes, please come in out of the cold.”
Leading the four visitors into the living room, Cassie waited for the officers to speak.
“Mrs. Tramden, I’m Sergeant Jackson and this is Officer Petersen; the children are Molly and David Grayson. Would it be possible that we speak privately? Perhaps the children can watch television while we go to the kitchen.”
Confused, Cassie put the television on and took the officers to the kitchen, offering them coffee.
“Thank you, we’d appreciate that,” said Officer Petersen.
“Mrs. Tramden, do you have a niece by the name of Angie Grayson?” asked Sergeant Jackson.
“Yes, her mother was my sister. Connie died a few years ago and I haven’t had any contact with her daughter since then. Why?”
“Angie and her husband died in a car accident two weeks ago and the children were placed in foster care while family members were sought. You are the first relative we’ve been able to locate.”
“Me? Those children are my great-niece and nephew? How did you find that out?”
“Through their mother’s records. At one time she had your name as an emergency contact, along with her mother.”
“How did Angie and her husband die?”
“They were on their way home from dinner and were hit by a drunk driver. Fortunately, the children were home with a babysitter or they would have been killed with their parents.”
“And you said that the children were placed in foster care after the accident?”
“Yes, the state steps in and places the children in a temporary foster home while they search for family members who would be willing to take the children. If nobody can be found, then the children are put up for adoption.”
“I don’t want my sister’s grandchildren adopted by strangers. Can I talk to them?”
“That’s a good idea,” said Sergeant Johnson. “We’ll stay here and finish our coffee.”
The children looked at Cassie when she sat down across from them.
“Are you hungry or thirsty?” asked Cassie.
David shook his head and Molly stared at her without responding.
“My name is Cassie and I am your great aunt. I’m happy to meet you. Your mommy was my niece and her mommy was my sister. You both look like your mommy when she was your age.”
“Are we going to live with you?” David blurted out.
“I’m not sure. Is that something that you think you’d like to do?”
“We have no place to go so I was just asking. The people are going to put us with families and we’ll never see each other again.”
When tears began to fall from his eyes, Cassie’s heart broke. Moving over to the couch, she sat down next to David and held him close.
“That won’t happen, David. Brothers and sisters have to stay together, don’t they Molly?”
“She won’t answer,” said David, sniffling. “Molly can’t talk anymore. She stopped when Mommy and Daddy went to heaven.”
Cassie went to the kitchen when she heard her husband’s voice. After the men were introduced to each other, Cassie told him about the children.
“Dan, the officers have brought Connie’s grandchildren here. A drunk driver killed their parents two weeks ago, and we are the only relatives that they’ve been able to locate. They’ve been in foster care since the accident and will be put up for adoption if family members can’t be found.”
“Cassie, I’m barely following you. Start over and slow down.”
When Cassie finished telling the story from the beginning, she took a deep breath and waited for her husband to say something.
“I don’t even know what to make of this whole thing,” stated Dan. “Where are the children now?”
“In the living room,” said Cassie. “Molly is nine and, according to her brother, hasn’t spoken a word since their parents died; David, eleven, seems older than his age. He asked if they are going to live here, that they will be separated if they can’t. It’s the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen, Dan.”
Dan made his way to the living room. Ten minutes later, he told his wife that they should keep the children for the time being. The sergeant said they would notify the caseworker in foster care and that the children’s belonging would be brought to them. After saying their goodbyes to Molly and David, the men left. Appearing confused, David looked at his great-aunt and uncle.
“David, your Aunt Cassie and I want you and Molly to live with us and be part of our family. Is that what you would like to do?”
David, looking at Molly before looking back to Cassie and Dan, nodded.
“We promise to be the best children ever and we won’t give you any problems.”
“David, we aren’t worried about that. This is now your home so let’s go see your rooms and figure out what you’ll need until your things are brought,” said Cassie.
Cassie took Molly’s hand and led her upstairs, with David and Dan following.
Two weeks after the children had settled into routines at school and home, Christmas vacation was upon them. The court had been notified that Cassie and Dan wanted to adopt the children and the final approval was expected before Christmas. The only concern was Molly’s continued silence. The pediatrician had said Selective Mutism was common in children following a traumatic event and that as she became more secure in her new life, Molly would regain her speech.
Three days before Christmas Eve, Dan walked into a kitchen that had been turned upside down. Baking ingredients were lined up on the counters; Christmas tins were stacked, ready to fill with homemade goodies for gifts; rolling pins, cookie cutters, and cookie sheets were on the table.
“What happened?” asked Dan. “Did I miss the tornado that came through?”
“We are baking cookies today,” laughed Cassie. “Now, you go to work and we’ll see you later.”
Shaking his head, Dan kissed her goodbye, happy that his wife was finally able to recreate one of her childhood memories.
Molly and David appeared in the kitchen just as Cassie was going to call them. Wide-eyed, they looked at the kitchen with the same look that had been on Dan’s face.
“I was just going to call you down. Do you remember that we talked about baking Christmas cookies? Well, today is the big day. Why don’t you both sit down and we’ll get started while you have your breakfast. We have a lot of cookies to make.”
The children stared in awe as Cassie scurried around putting ingredients together to form soft cookie dough. When she was finished, the dough was divided into several bowls.
“What do we do now?” asked David.
“This is the fun part when you and Molly get to make all kinds of shapes for the cookies. We can make the dough different colors and then roll it flat with the rolling pins. Then we bake them, and you get to frost and decorate them any way that you want. There’s frosting, sprinkles, and all kinds of special candies to put on them. What do you think?”
“I can’t wait,” laughed David. “Can we eat some too?”
“Of course,” laughed Cassie, hugging both of them.
“After showing the children how to roll the dough and cut the shapes, Cassie sat back and watched.
“David looks so much happier then when he came,” thought Cassie. “He looks more like a child. I can see it in his eyes and when he smiles. But will Molly even recover from the loss? She didn’t even smile when we decorated the tree or put up the lights.”
“Aunt Cassie,” said David. “The cookies are done.”
“I didn’t even hear the timer. After they are cool you can start decorating them.”
Putting another batch in the oven, Cassie told them they could practice on cookies they’d be able to eat.
Two hours after the first batch had been, there were frosted trees, snowmen, bells, and reindeer piled up in front of David. Cassie smiled to herself when he was pleased with his decorating skills, reminding her of how she had been with her cookies at that age. But Molly had only decorated seven cookies during the two hours. Watching her, Cassie wondered what she was thinking about. As though Molly had read her mind, she looked from the pile of David’s cookies back to hers’, appearing to be confused. Cassie watched as Molly took a star cookie cutter and then a snowflake, the only two shapes she had made. At the same time, David picked up the tree cutter and looked at his sister.
“Molly, why don’t you make other shapes? You only have snowflakes and stars.”
Molly continued decorating the star while David took green frosting for his tree. Suddenly, Cassie heard a voice that she hadn’t heard before.
“That’s not how cookies are made.”
“Molly, what did you say?” asked David.
“That’s not how cookies are made. They have to be snowflakes and stars.”
“Why, Honey?” asked Cassie, hoping that the child would continue talking.
Seeing Dan walk in, Cassie motioned for him not to say anything.
“Because snowflakes and stars are in the sky close to heaven. And Mommy and Daddy are in heaven sending them down to us.”
Holding back tears, Cassie knelt next to Molly.
“That’s right, Molly. And that’s why your cookies are so special. Even though you can’t see them, Mommy and Daddy are here with you and David, smiling at the snowflakes and stars.”
Turning toward Cassie, Molly fell into her arms, sobbing.
“I want my mommy and daddy back. I want them.”
With tears on his face, Dan picked the child up and carried her to the sofa, with David and Cassie following.
“We know you do but they are in heaven, Molly. Even though you can’t see them, they will always be with you in your heart.”
Sitting on Dan’s lap, Molly turned to him and cupped his face in her little hands.
“Don’t cry, Uncle Dan. I’m not sad anymore. I love you and Aunt Cassie and David. And I love Mommy and Daddy.”
Amazed at what had just taken place, Cassie held on to David.
“We love you, too. Let’s go make more snowflakes and stars,” said Dan.
“ I want to make Christmas trees and snowmen, too. Let’s go, David.”
As they watched the children run to the kitchen, Dan hugged Cassie.
“Dan, you are wonderful with them. I don’t even know what to say.”
Pulling an envelope from the pocket of his jacket, Dan handed it to Cassie.
“I do. After we show them the adoption papers, let’s make some cookie memories for our family to share over the years.”