A Taste of Music

Don’t over think this, I tell  myself while contemplating a response to my niece’s inquiry about my taste in music. Amy’s 12 and at an age where she’s developing her taste for many things, music being one of them.

“Well?” Amy waits not so patiently at the wobbly kitchen table, one hand dipping into a freshly made batch of popcorn, the other clutching a glass of sparkling water and black current. No soda pop in this house.

“Music is a personal thing,” I attempt to explain. “It’s an expression of the soul. It can build up, and it can tear down. It can inspire. It can soothe. It can …” Words fail me really. My awe for the power of music is beyond description. And yet, I must try. “To develop your taste for music,” I proceed while staring out the kitchen window and tapping a finger on the table top, “you must listen to many genres to see what resonates.” I pop a piece of popcorn into my mouth and allow its buttery texture to dissolve rather than crunch on it. “I’ve developed my musical appreciation over a life time. Still,” I ruminate, “my tastes were guided most by what I was exposed to around the time I was your age.”

I smile and leave the table.

“Where are you going?” Amy calls after me.

“Don’t worry … I’ll be back.” I head into the family room to a trove of old albums hiding in an out-of-the-way antique cabinet. I’ve had them since I was Amy’s age and possibly even younger. My introduction to music was quite different than that of most. My mother was a professional opera singer, so classical music permeated our home. All other musical appreciation grew through the finely-tuned ear the great masters of music gifted me. I feel incredibly blessed.

I gather a few samples from my eclectic collection and bring them to the turntable Bill has just purchased and set up in the bay window. The old is new again.

“Amy, sweetie, come here, please!”

“But you said you were coming back!” she howls as only a beleaguered pre-teen can.

“C’mon …” I cajole.

With the scrape of her chair against the old hardwood floor … and a sigh of exasperation … Amy manages to manoeuvre her way from the kitchen to the family room. Such a journey, those few short steps. Youth is, indeed, wasted on the young.

“Why do you want me in here?” she asks as her shadow dons the door.

“You want me to answer your question about my taste in music, or not?”

“I do.”

“Well, then, you need to come in here,” I assert. “I want you to experience the music as I would have at your age, and then you might have a purer understanding.” It’s a stretch, but worth a shot.

Amy slumps in the sofa and Abbey, the rough collie, joins her. Puts her head in her lap. Moans.

“You know your grandmother was an opera singer …” I begin.

“Yes.”

“Well opera, naturally, is where my taste for music began. Your grandma started her training for the operatic stage while she was pregnant with me and so naturally it formed the basis of my music education. Would you like to hear a little bit of opera?” I need to give her the choice. Being forced to listen to something that ends up grating your nerves without the option of cutting it short is hell on earth.

“Sure, I guess …” Amy hesitates, and hugs the dog.

“Okay … good.” I reach for a recording of highlights from Mozart’s captivating  The Magic Flute and select the dark, dramatic Queen of the Night aria. This should get her attention. I slide the record down the post on the turntable and place the needle at the beginning of the appropriate track. The quality of the recording is a bit tinny, but the voice behind it is divine. I flop in my chair and watch for Amy’s reaction to the trills and thrills of this particularly fine rendering. Will she ask me to turn it off? She has the option.

Her eyes close; her eyes open. She scrunches her face; she releases it. To my delight we see the aria all the way to 3:10 minutes. At the end we pause for a moment as if to allow the music somewhere to rest. Amy breaks the silence.

“Wow! Wow! Wow!” her eyes light up like fire flies; her countenance brightened. “That was awesome!! Did grandma sing like that?”

“Yes, of course, sweetie. Opera was her life, and was a huge part of mine. I kind of have a love/hate relationship with it … but mostly love,” I sigh, remembering a childhood filled with trips to the theatre and introductions to the most glorious music. “It tuned my ear. Made me rather particular about the other genres I would entertain, which is okay with me. I rather like my taste in music.” I giggle to myself. I rather do.

“So, what else do you like to listen to, then?” Amy wants to explore my other musical dimensions.

“Oh, a little bit of a lot of different things, but I am, as I said, particular.”

I pick up the pile of albums from the floor beside me and head over to the sofa to sit next to my niece. She scooches over and I have to kind of work my way around the dog, but the three of us figure it out and I rest the albums on my lap.

“This … ” I pick up the first album with its dark outlines and sunset background, ” … is Hotel California by one of my favourite bands, The Eagles. I was 14 when this album was released. I’ve played it many, many times,” I tell her while feeling the cover’s frayed edges. “Their musicianship and vocal harmonies reach into the depths of my soul.” I get up from the sofa and take the vinyl out of its sleeve; slip it onto the turntable on top of the opera, and place the needle at the beginning ~ the title track. For a few minutes I’m transported to my tumultuous teenage years, a period of my life that relied heavily on music such as this.  Close my eyes. Lose myself.

“Auntie Ell …” Amy calls me back when the song is over and the needle has slipped into the next track.

“Sorry, sweetie,” I give my head a shake, “I was quite lost there for a moment.” I pick up the needle and set it on its rest.

“I know. I watched you. Where did you go?”

It’s then that I realize that the music we adopt becomes our meditation. It takes hold and moves us … for good or ill.

“It took me home.”

Amy gets her quizzical face on.

We continue in this vein for about an hour, lost in time and space as Amy patiently allows me to share with her samples from the soundtrack of my life. The records layering on the turntable just as the music has layered my life. Maybe, just maybe, I can help this young woman develop an eclectic music palette. Balance the rambunctious with the soulful; the pop with the classical. Introducing her to a variety of music gives her a choice. Every generation has its music, to be sure. Mine was light rock and disco. Likewise, every generation can benefit from, and find expansion through, the music of the past and meld it with the present. I’m rather fond of Adam Levine‘s vocal interpretations, truth be told.

I am not so eloquent at describing music’s meaning to me. Music is personal. It speaks to the soul ~ moulds it; heals it; or even destroys it. It is our choice. I only hope that in the sharing of the music I love ~ and that loves me ~ I am able to help Amy find the music that amplifies her happiness. There is music for every mood; every occasion. I have heard of people who don’t listen to music ~ even worse, don’t like it. This only makes me wonder if they have yet found the music that whispers to their soul.

I try new music on all the time. This is one of life’s more gentle explorations, yet we can never underestimate the profound power our choice of music has on our lives. I could write a book and never get to the depth of meaning music holds for me. The fact that I can sing every word and every nuance of a song I haven’t heard in 20 years still baffles me.

It’s been a full hour music sampler ~ bluegrass, blues, country, choral and more. My final selection, Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most as sung by my favourite jazz songstress Ella Fitzgerald, leaves tears streaming down my cheeks. Amy brings me a tissue.

“You asked.” I sniff and mop up my tears, embarrassed by my self-indulgence. I really just want Amy to understand that her taste in music is as individual as she is, just as mine is to me. And I haven’t even addressed the impact that participating in good music has on us as performers. One day I’ll tell her about that, too.

She gives me a hug. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie. Now, come on … ” with a gentle push I loosen her hold and take her hand for some help up from the chair, ” … let’s eat some popcorn and turn on the radio to something you like.”

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Daily Prompt: Music

 

Solitude is Your Friend

A little solitude. Yes, that would be a fine thing. Time to myself. Time to meditate; to day dream and, perchance, to rest.

Hmmmm … a fine thing, indeed.

And I suppose, as I watch my niece 12-year-old niece, Amy, snuggling with Max the big orange and white tabby who’s basking in the sun by the big ol’ barn door, I am in solitude. By myself, certainly. Enjoying my own company? Of course! While observing the innocence of youth interact with the trust of another species. It’s quite special, actually.

I want this for her. I want Amy to always feel safe and strong, so that even when the seas of life start to billow and bluff she will feel anchored and secure. Solitude helps us find that place within ourselves ~ that quiet place of strength. Lord knows I’ve had to discover this for myself along the passage of life, and often the hard way, but I have learned to enjoy my place in solitude.

I don’t find it necessary to be connected to people all the time. There is peace in finding your place in the world that starts within. Make peace with yourself and the world cannot move you without your permission.

Amy and Max have parted company now. Looks like the old barn cat has found a distraction worthy of his attention. His own solitude. I haven’t seen a mouse in our barn for years, for he and his four cohorts are terribly efficient hunters and leave no evidence of their work. Nothing goes to waste.

And here comes Amy now, running up the gravel drive toward the house and …

“Hi Auntie Ella!” The door crashes open with her exuberance and there’s a kerfuffle of boots kicked off and jacket removed and posted to an already loaded coat hook.

“So how’s ol’ Max, today?” I smile and give her a big hug after she’s stomped into the kitchen. She squeezes me back.

“Oh, he’s a happy boy,” she responds, wistfully. “We had a nice visit, and then he saw something and abandoned me to go exploring.” Disappointment tinges her words.

“How do you feel about him leaving you?” I ask, curious about how she feels about being abandoned, as she put it. We untangle and I move to the sink to fill the kettle with water; put it on the stove to heat, and then reach for the cookie tin in the ice box.

“Okay, I guess. We were having such a nice visit though. I’m sad he left.” She sounds conflicted as she plops herself down at the wobbly kitchen table and rests her head in her hands. Dirty hands.

“You need to wash up,” I admonish, nodding her over to the sink. Without questioning she gets up and wanders over to the kitchen sink and grabs the bar of hand soap. Turns on the tap and begins to scrub. “You know that cats, especially these barn boys, are predators and that’s what they do ~ always on the look out for their next meal. I hope you didn’t take his departure personally.”

Amy finishes washing her hands and turns off the tap. Grabs the tea towel to dry them.

“Not the tea towel, dear. The hand towel … beside it, please.”

“Oh … right,” she responds absently, and makes the switch. After she’s done she shuffles back to the table and sits. Still cheerful, but pensive. “I was disappointed. I was hoping we could stay there a little longer. It was so nice to play with him in the sun. I hope I didn’t do anything to put him off.”

I sigh. “Of course not, sweetie. If he didn’t like you he wouldn’t spend time with you at all. He’s a barn cat. He knows his job and he’s good at it. He caught wind of something else and went to investigate, that’s all.” I set a plate of ginger snaps on the table between us and gather cups and saucers. “If you like, we can go fill the cats’ feed tub when we’ve had tea.” The cats earn their keep, but we do like to supplement their income.

Amy smiles and nods. The kettle boils and I fill the china teapot with hot water.

“What tea would you like today?” I ask. Amy’s becoming quite the connoisseur.

“Lavender and camomile sounds good.” She knows her own mind. This is good. “I’ll get it.” Amy jumps up from the table, careful not to jog its wobbliness, and rushes over to the cupboard where the tea caddy lives. After a couple of moments spent ruffling through the packages she finds the favoured variety. She hands it to me.

“Excellent choice!” I smile. “Please put the caddy away.”

As together we complete our tasks I wonder about the lesson I might teach her today about solitude. We both sit at the table at the same time, and giggle as it wobbles. I really must fix that leg.

“You know, Amy, I think cats can teach us a valuable lesson about how to be alone.”

Amy helps herself to a ginger snap and begins to nibble on it. I know she’s desperate to dunk it. Just a minute more. “What do you mean?” She finally asks.

“Well,” I fish for words she’ll understand, “if you’ve ever watched a cat you’ll have noticed that they’re quite happy to be alone. They like companionship, too, but they’re comfortable enough with themselves not to need it all the time. They can watch a bird fly by and don’t need to point it out to their buddy. They enjoy the chase alone, and often even prefer it. When they do engage with us, it’s on their own terms. Many people object to this innate sense of independence, but I admire it. Knowing how to be alone ~ how to enjoy solitude ~ is an important life lesson.” I pause while she noodles, and then add, “Do we need to control everything? Cats are excellent teachers of letting go and letting be.” The focus has drifted somewhat, but done so naturally. It’s part of the discussion.

Amy ponders a moment and immediately dunks her ginger snap in the cup of tea I’ve just placed before her. “If we aren’t in control, how do we get anything done?”

“Good question. Have you watched Max hunt?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“How much control does he have over the outcome? Is he going to catch the mouse every time? Does he?” I take a sip of tea. Bite on a biscuit.

Amy gives this some thought. “Not necessarily. I saw him get really mad last week when a vole when to ground. It was kind of funny, actually.”

“Right,” I note, “so what else do you observe when Max is mousing?”

“He’s usually alone … and he seems to be having fun.”

“Okay, so in his solitude he knows how to entertain himself. He’s enjoying the journey of being a cat, notwithstanding it can have its moments of disappointment. He doesn’t need a cheering section. Doesn’t call in the troops for help when he’s zeroed in on his next meal. He’s resourceful on his own terms.”

“I guess …” Amy’s noodling again. “Some people don’t like that cats kill things.”

“That’s a topic for another day, sweetie. Cats are hunters and they kill things to feed themselves.” I sip tea and put this behind me. I get particularly impatient with people who don’t understand the laws of nature and always wish to bend it to their will. Take a breath. “Do you see what I’m getting at about being okay being alone, though?”

“Yeah, I think so.” She dunks her ginger snap again. “I’m alone a lot actually, and I don’t mind it most of the time. But sometimes I’d like more company. My school friends always seem to be having a good time without me and sometimes I wonder why I’m left out.” She takes a sip of steaming tea. My thoughts drift back to a recent conversation about her not being invited to a sleepover and how this had devastated her at the time. “But most of the time I’m okay with it. They get into trouble a lot. I don’t need that.”

“You’re a smart cookie,” I toast her with my tea cup and take a sip. “My mother always said that when the crowd goes one way, you go the other. It’s advice that’s always worked well for me. And in its way,” I stop and consider for a moment, “it really speaks to this idea of being comfortable being alone. As long as you can enjoy your own company, you need never feel compelled to run with a questionable crowd.”

 

“So, it’s okay not to be surrounded by people all the time?” Amy muses. “My friends think that if you’re alone you must be a loser.”

Friends, so-called. “That’s the crowd, honey. What do you think?”

“I think I’d rather learn to enjoy my own company.”

“That’s my girl!” I smile and take a final sip of tea. “Knowing how to live in solitude will always stand you in good stead. Then you have a choice, you see? You can be with people, or not, and be completely happy either way. So many people don’t understand this. I didn’t for a long time, and I was always anxious or worried that no one wanted me around. When I finally accepted it was okay to be alone and enjoyed it, it was amazing how fast new, good friends started to show up.” I get up from the table and walk around to give Amy’s shoulders a squeeze and whisper in her ear. “Never worry about being alone. Solitude is your friend.”

“That tickles!” she giggles.

“I know … Now, finish up. Time to feed the felines.”

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Daily Prompt: Solitude

 

 

 

Bedtime Story

“Would you read something to me before we turn out the light,” asks my sleepy niece, Amy, as I tuck her into bed. “Please.”

With her parents off on a well-deserved long weekend, Amy’s pulling an all-nighter at our house, something which doesn’t happen often, but which she loves because it means she can help out with the horses in the morning. She seems to love this more than anything in the world. Possibly even more than her devotion to all things chocolate.

Having no children of my own, I love to spend these impossibly rare moments with her. The somnolent tête à tête before lights out, when the dying embers of the day’s thoughts finally extinguish and we are left to our individual restorative peace. For some reason Amy, even though she is 12, still likes to be read to before I leave her to slumber. Perhaps it’s the special occasion of it. Our special occasion. It is a moment I am all too willing to share.

“Of course, sweetie.” I whisper with a slight yawn while setting myself down on the edge of the bed beside her. “What would you like?”

“A Shakespeare sonnet,” she yawns, drowsily in response.

“Really …” I tease and smile. She is a young woman who already demonstrates exquisite literary taste, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the William Shakespeare of old she has in mind. “And, pray, which Shakespeare is it to whom you refer?” I ask, while reaching for a small self-published chapbook that lives on the bedside table for the pleasure of anyone who might be interested in a moment’s distraction.

“You know which one, Aunt Ella,” she mumbles with sleepy agitation.

“Old Bill?” I ask.

“Old Bear,” she insists, her bleary eyes brightening slightly with anticipation. “Read me the one about love.”

“That one again?”

“It’s my favourite. He’s such a romantic.”

He’s such a romantic. She’s such a romantic. The he to whom she refers is my horse Shakespeare who fancies himself a poet. No, perhaps I am the romantic. I can’t help myself. When you’re a writer and a horse named Shakespeare trots into your life you have to do something with it.

“Do you remember what number it is in our little book here?” I ask while thumbing through the pages.

“I think it’s XIX,” she mumbles, being literal with her Roman numerals.

I continue to flip. “Ah, here it is. It’s actually XXI. Do you remember what that is in real numbers?” I ask, since the only numbers she considers real are the ones we use day to day.

“Twenty-one?” she murmurs, a little unsure.

“Geez, you’re a smart cookie.”

“I try.” Amy hunkers down under the covers as I flatten out the pages and hold the chapbook up where I can see it in the dimness of the bedside light. My fading eyes fight for the clarity of form and function. Removing my glasses helps.

“Okay then … here goes …” I clear my throat and begin in my best poetry reading voice ~ slow, methodical, lyrical.

~*~

Sonnet XXI

As in the dark of night a thief doth steal,
New love my heart hath seizéd in a trice.
And should I share with you just how I feel:
It’s thumpity-thumpy-thump is rather nice.
A feisty filly brightens this ol’ bay,
And so profoundly fills my Soul with bliss
I scarce believe, this cold Feb’rary day,
A shift from old to new hath brought me this.

I did not look for love; no, it found me.
And in my heart-home set most perfect peace.
Where once twas blind I now more clearly see,
For ‘pon this life love’s joy hath wrought new lease.
And to my heart hath whispered pure and true
With lovely presence of someone like you.

~*~

 We both wait for a moment before breathing a word.

“He is such a clever horse,” Amy says, dreamily.

“Yes, he is rather.” I smile. Amy knows that I am the pen behind these words. Still, Shakespeare, or Bear as we like to call him, is the Muse.

“Read it to me again, please?” My sleepy niece asks as she moves onto her side to face me. The draw bridges of her eyes close in as she buries her head deeper into the duck down pillow.

“Of course, darling.” I pull the covers up around her shoulders as Indy the black cat curls up in a ball behind her bent knees.

I repeat the sonnet ~ even slower this time, wrapping my tongue around every word so as to heighten its feeling until I am, again, without words.

“Again.” Amy demands, sleepily. She’ll be gone soon.

I repeat the sonnet, now at a snail’s pace as if it becomes a meditation, slowing the day to emptiness. (Gosh, now I’m sleepy.) And soon she is gone, into a netherworld I shall never know. Soundly breathing; her long, dark hair tucked in a pony tail; the collar of her flannel pony pyjamas poking out from the top of the covers.

With great care I ease myself off the bed and bend to kiss her soft cheek. I place the chapbook back upon the bedside table where I found it and turn out the light. But for the glow of the Full Pink Moon through the dormer window and a dim light in the hall way the room is in complete shadow.

“Goodnight, my sweet,” I whisper, as I creep toward the door.

“G’nmibh …” She mutters in her sleep.

Daily Prompt: Bedtime

 

Buying Time

 

fwfprompt

~*~

“Matyas, what are you doing?”

“Playing Liszt on a sad, old piano,” replied Matyas as he fumbled over the bass clef of an abandoned piano.

“But, we are in the midst of battle.”

“I play anyway.” He culled from memory the patterns of finger play for the opening bars of the Hungarian Rhapsody. His lately unpracticed, nerve-frayed hands poking at the ivories with determination.

“You will alert the enemy.”

“Yes, to my humanity. I am not a killing machine. I am a man with a heart trained to do the unthinkable.” Matyas pursued the lilting, heart-felt movements with the passion of a man buying time, the tinny sounds of the broken piano resounding plaintively throughout the barren wood. A tear pooled in the corner of his eye. He wiped it away with the back of a dirty sleeve. “I must remind myself I am human. I must show the enemy I am more than a man in uniform.”

“But they will kill you.”

“Then let my last breath be the last note I play. Let me die in the rapture of the music I love.”

“You are a romantic fool, Matyas.”

“I know. Let that be written on my stone.”

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

Free Write Friday

 

 

 

The Hard Question

goodbye.jpg

~*~

“Which, of all the goodbyes in your life has been the hardest so far?” Manda, my inquisitive 12-year-old niece, has asked the impossible.

Good grief. How do you tell a child, albeit an old soul, about the painful goodbye to lost youth?

How do you get the young to understand that all that lies between youth and old age is time? Time well spent, or time squandered or lost, it’s the same. One way or another getting from point A to point B involves the loss of youth along the ever-flowing river of time ~ until it opens into the vast ocean of death that awaits us all.

For saying goodbye to my youth has been the hardest goodbye … so far. The transit to middle age a shock like none other as I realize that what time lies ahead is undoubtedly less than the length of life I’ve already lived.

Jeepers!

Sure, I’ve said my farewells to the living and the dead; to a bad marriage (good riddance), to a self-absorbed parent and to those who’ve used and abused my trust and good faith. Many more glad goodbyes, than sad ones, to be honest. Nevertheless, all painful in the moment.

Still, the transition that has proved most troublesome; the goodbye that’s taken the longest and still haunts, is that bade to lost youth.

Where did it go?

I look in the mirror. When did the crevices deepen; the hair lighten; the skin get loose and lumpy?

As my outer aspect fades and the bones and sinews and flesh succumb to the ravages of gravity and wear and tear it is, at times, poor compensation to witness the joyous expansion of my inner landscape as it learns to embrace the new reality. As it endeavours to pull together the threads of my life into a woven tapestry that celebrates the path and not just the now ebbed youthful vitality of the mortal coil that walked it.

Why can’t I have both? And not through cosmetic surgery which proves a desperation to which I cannot cleave. No! Why can’t we have youthful beauty and mature wisdom at the same time, and by-pass the carping, and griping, and complaining about creaky joints,  hair loss and exhaustion that plagues those of us who make it to the golden years? The years when society least appreciates our contributions and the wisdom we have gained through hard work and experience.

Youth forgets they will, one day, be one of us. Rejecting our wisdom, they must stumble into middle age and beyond like the rest of us who thought that day would never come. Eyes wide shut and feet wandering in an overwhelming wilderness of aging unknowns.

Youth forgets you cannot run from the past. That it is recorded in the deepest space of our inner knowing. And not just our past … that of those who have gone before. The corrupted lives that were not healed and passed their pain on down the generations. Youth forgets. Until they, too, are old.

The advantage of saying goodbye to lost youth is, of course, that we are not so easily manipulated. We do not bend, as before, to the will of those who abuse, so they no longer look to bend us. At best, they ignore us. At worst, they will try to break us.

As well, since as we grow older we tend to recognize more readily, and reject, the narcissists amongst us, we can gather to our bosom the will to heal the wounds they so selfishly inflicted.

“Goodbye, lost youth, goodbye,” she said with a sigh.

And though it has been the hardest goodbye, I would not go back there. I would not want to face the fears and trepidations of early life again; feel I am never good enough and must yield to a commercial standard of perfection which none can meet without the selling of their soul. The pain of being corrupted by lies is, perhaps, one of the greatest of all.

Saying goodbye to my youth has been the hardest, yet I cannot linger in that space now dead. I embrace the new path. Not all make it this far … and who knows how much farther this path will take me.

Manda would not understand these things. She, who still has her whole life ahead of her does not need to hear about this hard goodbye.

“Manda, sweetie,” I ply her with a homemade chocolate chip cookie and wrap my arm lovingly around her shoulder. “Ask me another question. That one’s too hard for me today.”

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

 

 

 

Fanny

“What are you thinking about?” Manda plops down beside me on the window bench and follows my gaze to the paddock. The sun is setting. It’s a perfect time for reflection. “You seem so faraway.”

“I am, sweetie,” I sigh. “I am.”

“Why?”

“Oh, I’m thinking about your great grandmother. If she were still alive she’d have turned 100 years old today.” I watch Fanny, the new bay filly, cross the paddock to visit old Molly mare ~ her mentor of sorts ~ and smile. “You know,” I begin, “your great grandmother had a bay mare named Fanny.”

Manda’s eyes light up. She’s particularly fond of this new addition to our little herd. “She does?”

“Did, dear,” I correct. “Yes, she loved horses, and on the family farm she was the only one, out of eight siblings, to have a horse.”

“Do you know anything about her … Fanny, that is?” Manda asks. I love how she cares about family stories. It’s so important to understand our roots ~ it helps us to know ourselves. Still, I’m not sure I can share the only story I can recall gran ever sharing with me about her dear, old Fan. It’s sad.

“Well? Do you?” Manda prods.

“I have only one story,” I respond, “and it’s sad.” I register the look of disappointment in Manda’s eyes. “Are you sure you want to hear it?”

My niece looks at me assuredly through big, brown, beautiful eyes. “I can handle it. It wouldn’t be the first sad story you’ve ever told me.”

“You’re right, of course.” I smile weakly and reach for her hand. “Well, your great gran was a teenager when she had old Fanny. From what I know they spent many happy years together. Having her own horse was a pleasing distraction from a hard life on the family farm. Our mutual love of horses was one of the few things gran and I had in common.”

Manda’s mouth is beginning to twitch. I better get to the point or she’ll interrupt.

“Great gran got married when she was 18 …”

“Eighteen!!!” Manda squeals. “That’s only six years older than me!!”

“Yes, that’s true,” I sigh, “it was common practice to marry young in those days. People didn’t live as long as they do now and they got on with their lives quickly. Just as a side note,” I add, ” … your great gran was the only one of the five girls in her family who didn’t have to get married, if you get my meaning …”

“Ewww … that’s gross …”

“That’s life, sweetie. We live by our choices. Anyway …” I give her hand a squeeze and continue with the sad story. “She … her name was Mandy … you’re named after her.”

“I knew that,” Manda smiles.

“Of course, you did, sweetie … anyway, she married a handsome, but troubled, young man from a well-respected farming family in the same area. They met at a community chicken supper.”

Manda tilts her head questioningly.

“Those suppers were the social event of the week. Families from all over the farming community would gather on a Friday night at the local hall for a great potluck dinner, and after eating they’d dance, gossip and drink their cares away. Your great grandpa Louis was was a talented musician. He could play any instrument handed to him. He just had the knack and was particularly well know for his trumpet playing. It was one of the things that attracted Mandy to him. That and the fact he was quite the athlete. A pugilist, in fact.”

“Oh, he sounds dishy.” Manda pauses and then looks at me with uncertainty. “What’s a pugilist?”

“Oh, right, why on earth would you know what that is?” I laugh, “It’s an old term for professional boxer. Boxing was a popular past time in the early 1930s.”

“A professional boxer!!!”

“Yes. He was tall and lanky and athletic. Somewhere around here is a menacing-looking photograph of him sporting a pair of boxing gloves. Quite, quite handsome. In fact, your great gran, a diminutive and petite young woman, had to fight the other girls off to stake her claim. He was a popular guy.” I stop for a moment and think back to what I know of their history. It would have been so much better for gran had she lost him to one of those other girls. But then, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would Manda. I squeeze my niece’s hand and continue, “He had a flaw, however.”

“He did?” Manda’s attentive, but her gaze has shifted out the window to rest on Fanny.

“He was mean.”

“Oh …” Manda turns to me and pouts. With these three words her mood has shifted somewhat. “Why?”

“His narcissism … you remember how we talked about that word before?”

“Yes … it means the inability to see the world beyond your own self-indulgence … or something like that.”

“Very good!”

“See! I do listen, you know,” Manda’s face glows with triumph.

“I’m glad to hear it.” I smile and squeeze her hand again. “Anyway, his narcissism got the better of him. He was very hard on your great gran in many, many ways. Still,” I pause, “that’s a story for another time.” I turn my attention to Fanny where this train of conversation started. “Shortly after they were married Mandy and Louis visited her parents on the farm. Before leaving they ventured out to the paddock to see old Fanny who walked over to the fence to greet them. They visited with her for a while. Gran told me it was a really sweet moment.” I hesitate. “And then, as they were leaving, the old mare wandered back into the middle of her paddock and fell to the ground … dead.”

“No!” Manda shrieks with disbelief.

“Yes, Manda. I’m sorry to say it’s true.”

“But … oh, that’s so, so sad. Poor, ol’ great gran.” Manda wipes a tear from her cheek with the back of her sleeve and leans on my shoulder. “She must have been devastated.”

I let Manda stew in her sadness for a moment while remembering how spare gran had been with her feelings when sharing this story with me. I know she loved Fanny, so I have no doubt of her sadness. I’ve often wondered since if the timing of Fanny’s unfortunate death was a foreshadowing of the terrible marital years to follow. A shiver runs through me. Time to change the subject.

“Well, sweetie, I dare say she was. But that was long ago and far, faraway and we must now attend to our own little herd. I’m pretty sure they’re ready to go inside and have their supper.” I give Manda a hug and together we draw ourselves up from the bench. It’s starting to get dark out and her parents will be here soon to take her home. “Come on, let’s do chores and then we can have a quick snack before you go. Uncle Bill’s going to meet us in the barn. Oh look! … ” I point out the window as his truck pulls into the driveway, “there he is.”

Manda hesitates before following me. “May I spend some alone time with Fanny?” she asks, politely, as if in the asking she’s honouring that sad, faraway memory.

“Of course you may,” I smile. “Of course.”

~*~

Daily Prompt: Faraway

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

In the Pink

It’s 4 o’clock of an early spring afternoon and the mood in the kitchen is blue. As Manda and I both stare out the window to the paddock and survey the damage wrought by a spring ice storm we are rendered numb; speechless.

Mother Nature was reckless with her pruning shears. By the light of a full moon her inner were wolf violently slashed and crashed through our area’s tender woodlands and random old trees, leaving in its wake tree carnage as I’ve never before witnessed.

“Why did this have to happen?” Manda sniffs while interlocking her arm through mine. “That old maple was so beautiful and healthy, and now it’s gone.”

I sigh. I don’t really know what to tell her. I could give her the whole El Nino reasoning, but scientific explanations seldom soothe the broken heart. Cold reason does not conjure warm feeling.

“Sweetie, come away from the window and let’s have our tea by the fire.” I take Manda’s soft hand in mine and guide her to the living room where a pot of camomile tea is cosily brewing on an old cedar chest, a family heirloom, that acts as a coffee table. Two cups and saucers and a plate of homemade oatmeal cookies rest beside it. Tea in tea cups always tastes better, for some reason, and I’m trying to instil in her these little niceties for which her parents have no time. They’re lovely people, but always so busy.

Manda slouches into the sofa and Abbey the collie, all fun and fur, jumps up and flops over the unhappy girl’s legs. She rolls onto her back as if she’s not too big to be a lap dog (which she most certainly is) and demands a tummy rub. Manda buries her hand in the dog’s hair and begins the slow back and forth of rubbing the one who has made herself most vulnerable. Abbey groans with approval.

“If you were a colour right now, what would you be?” I ask while pouring tea and observing the gentle scene unfolding before me.

“What kind of a question is that?” Manda snarls.

Hmmm … I don’t need to ask. I know. Black. She’s in one of those rare black moods that distorts thought and reason. A mood that’s particularly challenging when you’re teetering on the teenage years and trying to understand your place in the world. A destructive event like an ice storm is enough to send me over the edge, and I have some life experience. For Manda, my sweet, sensitive tree hugger, there is no sense to what she’s witnessed. Her tender soul is black and blue with grief for the beloved maple snapped in half by a vicious storm. I understand that for now, at least, there can be no consolation.

“Nevermind, love. Here’s your tea. Have a cookie.”

Manda pushes the sated dog to the other end of the sofa and takes the tea cup and saucer roughly from my hand.

“Careful, sweetie!” I protest.

She slides back into her spot and takes the cookie from the saucer. Dunks it in her tea until it’s good and soaked and then takes a bite. Her tea is now, of course, full of crumbs, but she doesn’t seem to care. She sighs, and sips, and sighs some more. I understand this mood.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“What?”

“Whatever’s bothering you.” I don’t want to put words in her mouth. Perhaps there’s something behind the broken tree that’s really at issue here. I want her to feel safe to say so, if there is.

There’s no immediate response. Another sip. A purple sulk, and then a free fall of tears cascading down cheeks reddened by the warmth of the fire. I know she won’t share. She just wants me to hold space. She just wants me to be here to witness her sorrow ~ a sorrow she doesn’t understand; a sorrow for which there are no words; a sorrow for which there is no solace.

I move over to the sofa and wedge my way in between her and Abbey. Take the teacup from Manda’s hand and place it on the chest. And then I hold her while she weeps ~ weeps for the broken willows and birches and maples and pines. Weeps for the little animals and birds who have lost their little homes. Weeps for wanton destruction for which she has no reference in her happy little world.

After several minutes sobs turn into sniffs. I give her a clean tissue from my pocket so she can blow her nose.

“I tell you what,” I try to sound hopeful while hugging her tighter and whisper in her ear, “why don’t we call that fellow who does all the carving of old tree stumps in town and have him create something beautiful out of the maple stump? We can honour its place in our hearts and the joy it gave us with something meaningful.”

Manda leans back and looks at me, desperate for a happy outcome. “We can do that?” she pleads, wide-eyed with wonder.

“Of course!” I confirm. “Don’t you think it would make a wonderful rearing horse? You know, that symbolizes our ability to rise to the challenges that come our way?”

“Oh yes!” Manda sits up straight, her mood brightening as she begins to see a silver lining. “And can we plant a few trees, too? Another maple?”

“Absolutely, sweetie. There’s nothing I’d like more.” I hand her another cookie. “So, may I ask … what colour are you now?”

She smiles. “In the pink!”

That’s my girl.

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Daily Prompt: Colourful