Sunday, January 27, 2013

Just Delia

She wasn’t happy about it.  Not one little bit. She’d yelled at her coat, kicked one of her snow boots. Nevertheless, she’d been elected.  Everyone else claimed to have something more important to do.  And besides.  No one liked making time for Delia.  As Lucy drove the unfamiliar roads to her great aunt’s home, the flakes seemed to be getting bigger, and falling harder. Great.  Just great.  At this rate, I’ll end up getting snowed in.

Lucy was momentarily taken aback when Delia answered the door. Her great aunt looked ancient now, but then it had been years since Lucy last saw her.  Guilt stabbed her over this neglect, but the moral discomfort vanished when she remembered being here in her childhood.  Eat your peas Toots, and when you grow up you’ll have some dangerous curves on you!  Look at all those freckles!  You’ll have lots of boyfriends, mark my words! Between the cheek pinching and the endless servings of vegetables, Lucy detested every visit. As she stepped into the warmth of her great aunt’s home, she became aware of Delia’s hands fumbling to help her out of her sugar dusted coat.  That’s better! I don’t want you to catch a chill! My, but it’s really snowing out there, isn’t it?  Delia was shyly attempting small talk, though Lucy’s dry reply was in thought only.  Cold, uncaring thought.  Well, well, wellDelia’s sharp today.  What a treat.   Half an hour, and I’m out of here.

My stars!  How could it have happened so long ago?  It seems like only yesterday!  I still clearly remember that blizzard-right before Christmas, back in 1946. Delia was reminiscing, staring out the picture window in her front room. The snow, falling like feathery goose down, seemed to have whited out the passage of time as well as the world outside.  She’d made steaming mugs of hot cocoa. Trying to be a good hostess as well as a doting great aunt.  Lucy held her cup with both hands, secretly trying to glance at her watch.  Stifling a yawn, she hoped Delia’s story wouldn't last too long.

The war was finally over and Jack was home.  I’d been writing  to him for 3 years.  I still have his letters.  Anyway, he asked me to go for a walk in the snow.  We didn't count on being caught in the middle of a major storm.  We took refuge in someone’s barn and ended up being stuck in there for hours.  There wasn’t much to do but talk and…

Delia blushed, yet there was a sauciness in her eyes.

I let him kiss me.  He asked me to marry him.  He said we were going to be together for always.

Lucy snapped out of her indifference.  Her great aunt was not making any sense.  Um,  Aunt Delia… I thought Jack never, you know. Don’ t you remember? Jack didn’t come home.  She was proud of herself for knowing at least some of the family history, but it also made her wonder whether or not her aunt was playing with a full deck.

Delia stared out the window again, but instead of the soft white clumps of snow, she saw parachutes.  White silken clumps.  She thought about Jack and how he must have felt high in the sky where it was peaceful, far above the chaos on the ground.  She often wondered what had gone through his mind as he landed, his parachute covering him like a blanket of snow-and then a shroud.  All in the split second it took fate to play it’s hand.  She hoped he’d felt no pain. 

Her sigh was barely audible.

I know, Lucy dear, I know.  But  I don’t like to think about what really happened, so I’ve made up my own memories. And besides,  what else have I had all these years  but  memories.  I'm old, and probably not very interesting to any of you.   I realize none of you like to visit me, and I’m sorry about that.  How did you get stuck with me this time?   Are you being punished?  Did you lose the coin toss?   Delia seemed to wilt.

Lucy was stunned.  She hadn’t anticipated this-suddenly finding her heart aching for the old woman-and she wished a silent, desperate wish.  Please, please, please, let it keep snowing!  She knew, in that instant, that she wanted more time with this aunt she’d been aware of her whole life, but didn’t really know. 

Dear precious Delia.

Tell me more about Jack, Auntie. We’ve got all night.  I think I’d better stay over.  It looks like the storm is getting worse. Where do you keep your candles?  Do you have an extra toothbrush?  How did you meet Jack, anyway?

A grateful Oh Lucy, and tears.  An entire lifetime’s worth of tears, saved for this hoped for moment.  Spilling down Delia’s cheeks, as she prepared to answer.

The Gift

 It’s time, she tells herself. Time to give this away to someone else.  Someone who needs to know the power of those six words as much as I did. Clutched tightly in her hand is a penny. Plain and ordinary.  Worn smooth, the date no longer discernable.  Certainly not very valuable.

But worth can be deceiving.


She was looking down, on that frosty night.   Focused on her coin purse, her fingers trying to find a quarter to put in the black kettle that stood next to one of the many street corner Santas populating the city in December. She was looking down, searching, when the mitten clad hand of a stranger entered her field of vision.  Palm open, and  filled with pennies-enough pennies to just about cover the price of a cup of coffee.  Judging from the ragged appearance of the mitten, and the threadbare hem of the coat sleeve above it, the wearer was down on his luck, and in view of such unfortunate circumstances, both his greeting, and his generosity surprised her.

Merry Christmas! Here, take a penny!

She was feeling down that frosty night, as well.  Unloved, and unappreciated.  Certain that there was not another soul in heaven or on earth who gave her a second thought.  Friendless, and forlorn.  She had stopped to put a quarter in the black kettle because it was less awkward than simply walking past and giving nothing, and when she looked up at him-the expression on her face framed with questions-he whispered six words.

Give what you do not have.

Give what you do not have. Love-when you feel unloved.  Thanks-when no one seems to appreciate what you do.  Praise-when your own accomplishments go unnoticed.  Sympathy-when you are in need of comfort.  Take that which you long for in your own life, and make a gift of it to someone else.

His eyes were shining as he finished his message.  Shining more brightly than the fluorescent light illuminating the queue of poor waiting in line at the soup kitchen across the street.  The line he was about to join.

There are many good people out there-if only you will let them find you.


She is looking down, focused on her coin purse-her fingers searching for the familiar shape of pennies.  Enough pennies to just about pay for a cup of coffee.  It’s cold outside tonight, and she will need to wear her mittens.

Split Pea Soup

It’s obviously Friday afternoon.  A quick glance into the shopping carts that snake both ahead of her and behind her, like some sort of long grocery train, confirms the fact.  Cartons and six packs of beer, bags of chips, and plastic wrapped packages of hamburger and steak.  She won’t make this mistake again-shopping at the start of the weekend-and for a fleeting moment she is tempted to break from the line, put back the few items in her small basket, and leave.  But she is hungry, she is already homesick, and she still has not finished unpacking-and the comfort and nourishment that a bowl of homemade soup promises is too compelling.  And so she waits.

The train of carts inches forward until she is near enough the check stand to place her humble basket on the conveyor belt, watching it now inch forward, waiting for its turn.  With unpracticed hands, the clerk seizes the basket and begins to remove the soup ingredients one by one.  A small onion, and a few stalks of celery, one pound of bacon, and a package of split peas.  It is the split peas that are to blame. Not quite clearing the edge of the basket, a several inch gash opens up on the side of the package, releasing a torrent of green that cascades onto the conveyor belt and floor.  The clerk gasps, and there is an audible groan from the line of shoppers who are painfully aware that the beer in their carts is getting warmer by the minute.

Clumsily, the clerk is trying to gather the peas and put them back into the wounded package.  Clearly he is wishing  to put this incident behind him and finish up a shift that seems to have no end in sight.  She, all the while, stares open mouthed as the scenario unfolds, unable to say a word.  Until, unbelievably, the clerk places the partially filled bag of sullied split peas into the waiting brown paper sack. 

She finds her voice and stammers-

Wait a minute!

All eyes are on her.  She can feel them.  Angry eyes.  Impatient eyes.  Eyes that like the sight of ice cold beer.  Her face is hot, but she asks anyway.

I don’t want to be a bother, but may I please have a new bag?

The poor novice clerk.  His face assumes an expression of sheer panic, as though he is facing an impending mutiny.

Split peas…anyone know what aisle the split peas are on? 

He addresses everyone, and no one in particular.  She can offer him no assistance, either.  The layout of the store is already a blur.

As though taking part in a frenzied scavenger hunt, a dozen or so pairs of feet abandon their carts and scatter in every direction.

She is suddenly tired, and embarrassed beyond words, but she can’t resist thinking how amusing it would be if only she had the nerve.

Would somebody grab me some cold beer too!