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

 

 

 

Tea Time

Daily Prompt: Leap

~*~

“Leap’s a funny word, isn’t it, Aunt Sal?”

“Why do you say that?” I ask while brushing the mud off my boots before entering the house. We’ve been out at the barn feeding the horses. Such a mucky day as the seasons transition.

“Well,” Manda pulls off her boots and shoves them in the corner by the door. “It’s such a small word that can mean so many things. And it sounds funny. Leap!” She says it over and over as if to make her point.

I give her shoulder a playful shove as we move from the mud room into the kitchen. Manda flops down in a chair at the wobbly kitchen table while I put the kettle on.

“You really need to get Uncle Bill to fix this,” she says, annoyed that it’s still a topic of conversation after several months.

“Your uncle has other things on his mind … I’ll get around to it in due course,” I respond, my own annoyance bubbling. She’s right, of course, but it’s not a priority. I settle down at the wobbly table and plant a plate of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies in the centre of it. We both reach for one. “Tea or chocolate milk?” I ask.

Manda doesn’t answer right away.

“What’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?” I ask, curious.

“Well, I usually have chocolate milk, but I’m wondering if I should try tea instead.”

“Oh,” I exclaim, “you want to take a leap and try something new, then?” Manda rolls her eyes. “What’ll it be?” I ask, “Earl Grey? Lavender? Peppermint?”

“What are you having?” she asks.

I get up from the table and head for the cupboard where the tea caddy is kept. Take it out and return to the table. I place the antique wooden box in front of me and carefully open its fragile lid. It’s really too delicate for everyday use, but if it’s not used it’ll simply gather dust and get forgotten in the interest of preservation. I prefer things to be used up in gainful employment. Then they always have a purpose.

Manda looks on and asks, “Why haven’t I seen this before?”

I smile. “Oh, you’ve seen it. You just haven’t seen it.”

“It’s beautiful!” my 12-year-old old soul exclaims as she examines its intricately carved details. “Where did you get it?”

“It’s been in the family a long time. My grandmother left it to me. She used to love her tea in the afternoon. We’d sit together, much like this, and shoot the breeze.” I sigh. It wasn’t quite like this. There was a lot more tension, but she doesn’t need to know this. “Would you like to see what’s inside while I deal with the boiled kettle?”

Manda nods and I slide the fragile box carefully across the table cloth to where she’s sitting. “Oh look,” she notes, “the packets are all pretty colours! Like jewels!”

I return to the table with my Royal Albert china tea pot and two matching cups and saucers.

“Oooh, those are pretty!” Manda squeals. “I haven’t seen you use them before.”

“Yes, you have, you just haven’t seen them.”

“Why do you keep saying that? What do you mean I haven’t seen them?”

“Your eyes are opening, darling, that’s all.”

Manda looks at me funny.

“A lesson for another day. Now, pick a tea,” I suggest. “Anything you like.”

“But how do I know what they are?” she moans, confused.

“Well, you don’t, and that’s part of the fun. This is a leap of faith moment, albeit a small one.”

“What’s a leap of faith?” she asks.

“I’m so glad you asked,” I respond. “Pick your tea.”

Manda surveys the 12 flavours all stored separately in little compartments, their fragrances commingling to a heady sense of well-being.

“How do I do that … pick a tea?”

“Well,” I lean over and pull my favourite, though I don’t tell her that, from the box. I bring the mauve and sage packet to my nose and take a big sniff. Hmmm … delightful. “Smell this.” I give Manda the packet and she takes a whiff. “No, not a whiff … inhale it’s fragrance.” Manda takes a deeper whiff. I guess that’s as much as she can commit right now.

“Oh, that smells sweet. What is it?” Manda turns over the packet. “Lavender.” She reads aloud. “What does it taste like?”

“Do you want to find out?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, smell them all, if you like. Maybe there’s something else you’d like to try.”

Manda scans the box ~ rose hip; Earl Grey; camomile, peppermint, roiboos, et al. She picks up each packet and sniffs it. Her face registers delight or dismay accordingly and she separates them on the table into two piles. This takes several moments.

“Come on,” I chide, “I’m thirsty.”

“These smell nice,” she points to four possibilities in a pile to my right. The lavender we started with, green tea, liquorice and a citrus blend.

“Okay, so which one?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she moans.

“Okay, so this is where we employ a leap of faith. This is when you take a chance on something not knowing what the end result will be and hope with all your heart it turns out in your favour.”

“It’s make my mind up time,” she states.

“It’s make your mind up time,” I affirm.

Manda eeny-meeny-miney-mos it. The tiger in my tummy is rumbling in time. Finally she lands on liquorice.

“Is that the one?”

“Yes,” she responds with certainty.

“Let’s see then. Open it up and put the tea bag in the pot.”

Manda tears open the packet, takes another whiff of its sweet, exotic aroma and then drops the tea bag into the pot filled with hot water. “I like liquorice,” she declares.

“I know.”

“How long does it take?”

“To steep?”

“Is that what they call it?”

“Yes.” I smile. I love these impromptu life lessons, especially when Manda’s of a mind to engage. ” A couple of minutes, that’s all.”

We wait. Manda takes another cookie and puts it on her saucer in anticipation. “Do we need sugar or milk?” she asks, hesitating.

“Not with liquorice,” I smile.

The Victorian Regulator ticks and tocks in the hallway. Abbey, the collie, lies beside her food dish and groans. A nor’easter wails against the windows. More rain to come.

“There. That should do it …” I pick up the tea pot and pour some liquorice nectar into Manda’s cup. “Wait for it to cool just a little,” I warn, “and no dunking.”

Manda nods and waits for me to pour my tea. The tension is surprisingly high for this little leap of faith moment. She sniffs at the steam as it rises from her cup. “Smells good,” she admits.

“Okay, you ready?” I ask after a couple of minutes of thumb twiddling and worried looks.

With utmost care, Manda picks up her cup and draws it to her lips. Takes a sip. “Oooh, hot!” she squeals, but then takes another, this time more prepared. Her eyes get wide as she savours the exotic flavour of anise while it tickles her taste buds.

“How’s that for a leap of faith?” I wink over the rim of my cup while taking a sip.

“Hmmmmmm …”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Perish the Thought

Daily Prompt: The Road Less Traveled

~*~

I shudder to think about that alternate road while Manda, my 12-year-old inquisitor, continues to draw in her journal awaiting an answer.

Indeed, where would my life have taken me had I stayed with her uncle Ted?

We were ships that passed in the night, by the end, caught in each others’ wake of misery in a sea of lies. He’d never really loved me, and told me as much when he returned home after completing his Masters degree. For five long years I worked to glue the relationship back together again. I was committed ~ or perhaps I should have been committed ~ because I was beating my head against the proverbial brick wall of his narcissism. He no longer had eyes for me. I served no useful purpose to him anymore. But how do I tell a 12-year-old about failed love without making her jaded?

“Well, sweetie, that’s a really good question,” I delay while sipping on soothing chamomile tea and looking across the table to peek at her drawing of a horse under a willow. Such a good little artist, my Manda. “And I’m not sure how to answer it, to be honest.”

Manda stops drawing and puts down her green pencil. Evidently the grass will have to wait. She reaches for a small bunch of grapes from the ceramic fruit bowl in the middle of the kitchen table and plucks one from its stem. Pops it in her mouth. She’s thinking. Oh, dear.

“Why?” she asks with the nonchalance of youth.

“Why?” I repeat with the desperation of age.

I never understood his side of the story, because he wouldn’t talk about it. Why does anybody fall out of love with someone they promised to spend eternity with, and why would anyone want to stay with a person who’d fallen out of love with them? We’d had nothing to keep us together either. No children because blessedly, as I was to find out later, I was unable to get pregnant. The longer I stayed with him the more I became lost in his narcissistic need for everything to be about him. It was always about what I could do to keep him happy; never about what I even needed to be happy. So much so, in fact, that by the time we parted I had no idea what made me happy anymore.

“Sweetie, as you get older you’ll realize that relationships are only as functional as the people who are in them. If I’d stayed with your uncle Ted you and I would not be sitting here having this conversation, for one thing. We’d still be a one-car family which I’d never have access to, and the only time we would see each other is if your mom or dad came to get me. Before your uncle Ted and I parted ways we lived in a tiny town isolated from friends and family. I was stuck at home and,” she may as well know this, “cried a lot.”

“You cried?” Manda’s eyes light up in surprise. I don’t know that she’s ever considered my feelings beyond what she knows of me now  ~ the happy, smiling auntie who loves life. I did not love life so much back then.

“Well, Manda, when you’re unhappy that’s what you do, right?” I confirm. “Remember when those so-called friends of yours excluded you from their group and you ran away crying your eyes out?” She nods and absently pops another grape into her mouth. “Well, my experience with your uncle Ted is just a more complicated version of that. I was desperately unhappy. He’d cut me off; excluded me from his life. Everything I’d ever considered to be true about our relationship turned out to be completely false. I’d been living a lie with a man who’d lied about ever loving me.” I stop to register the effect of my words on this young mind. She seems okay, so I continue, “If I’d stayed with him … well, to be honest, it doesn’t even bear thinking about.”

I take another sip of tea and for a moment we become lost in our own thoughts. Oh, the journey I’ve taken since leaving that sad man. I recall the tipping point. We’d been out shopping in early January, spending Christmas gift certificates, I think. Went to lunch. I’d asked him what his plans were for the year, digging, I guess, and nothing in his answer included me. It was telling, but I didn’t say anything at the time. And then on the long drive home his seeming indifference began to eat away at me. I started asking those suppressed questions. His answers got defensive.

“So what do you want from this relationship?” I finally asked as we pulled into the driveway.

“A furnished house.”

His answer floored me. I was so flabbergasted by this strange response I had to ask him again. Certainly our new home had a few empty rooms in it, and my work as a writer, artist and riding teacher was not so lucrative, yet. But, could it be that all he wanted was for me to be a conduit of financial resources for his precious lifestyle at the expense of my own dreams?

“I want a furnished house,” he repeated without apology.

Nothing about love, or family, or shared dreams … just a house with furniture and his travel plans mentioned previously over lunch. I did not fit into his scheme at all.

“Auntie Sal,” Manda’s loving voice brings me back. I shudder away the memory and take another sip of tea.

“Yes, my lovely Manda?” I respond, glad of the present moment.

“Really, it doesn’t matter to me what your life would have been like if you’d stayed with uncle Ted. I love that you are happy now, and don’t want you to be unhappy thinking about all that other stuff.”

I reach for a grape from the bowl and throw it at her playfully. Her reflexes are good. She catches it as it hits her chest and puts it in her mouth.

“Well, all I can say is thank goodness for that. Now, let’s have a cookie.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

Another Writer

Daily Prompt: Life After Blogs

“Honey, I remember life before computers, so imagining my life without one isn’t much of a stretch,” I wink at my 12-year-old niece, Manda, who simply stares at me in disbelief. Of course, her generation has practically been raised by computer, so imagining a world without one would be a challenge.

“So,  what was it like?” she asks, tentatively while gnawing on a homemade oatmeal cookie, part of a batch we made this morning.

“Well, life was simpler in a more complicated kind of way.”

Manda gives me the wooly eyeball. “What does that mean?”

I set my tea cup back in its saucer on the table and look past her through the window to the snow-covered garden. Cardinals are flitting back and forth from tree branch to tree branch, enjoying the sunny respite from what has turned into a frigidly cold winter. I feel old even thinking about the way things were before computers, so I stick to thinking about what it would be like to live without a computer now.

“Well, as a writer it means that I’d be doing my work on a typewriter, which is far more arduous, but in some ways,” I muse, “it’s more connected to the page. You make typos and learn to let them fly or risk interrupting your train of thought. With a computer you can back track and correct ad nauseum, which is great, of course, but it’s just not the same. There’s something rather grounding about using a typewriter. And perhaps this just makes me a nostalgic, old fool, but so be it.”

I gather by the look in Manda’s eye that something hasn’t registered.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?”

She hesitates. Takes another bite of her cookie and a sip of tea ~ such a sophisticated young lady for her age, full of curiosity and honest to a fault.

“C’mon, dear. Don’t be shy. I know you want to ask me something.”

Manda sets down her cookie and leans back in her chair. The kitchen table wobbles as she bumps the leg. The tension breaks with a giggle.

“I really must get that fixed,” I smile and nudge her calf with my foot. She smiles. There’s my girl.

“Go on then,” I prod, “what do you want to ask?”

“Well,” she looks at me with resolve, “what’s a typewriter?”

Of course, I didn’t see that one coming. Why would she know what a typewriter is? Still, I laugh.

“Hey, don’t make fun!” she squeals, “I can’t help it if I don’t know what it is.”

“You’re right, sweetie, and I don’t mean to make fun. It’s just when you say things like that I realize just how old I really am, and how much has happened in my life time. I laugh more at myself than I do at your naiveté.”

Manda turns her smile upside down and waits for some action on my part that will turn it right side up again.

“Here,” I stand up from the table and walk around to where she is sitting.

“What?” she snarls. I deserve it.

“I want to show you something.” I take her hand, which she allows with some reluctance, and together we journey up the stairs to my writing hide-out.

“Where are we?” she asks.

“This is where I write.” I tell her. “I haven’t brought you here before because I didn’t think you were ready. But since you’ve asked such an important question I wanted to show, rather than tell you, what a typewriter is and looks like.

As we enter the sun beams in gently from the southwest window which overlooks a mature forest of maples and firs. Book shelves line the walls, filled with the works of my favourite and inspiring authors, interrupted only by the occasional large, framed photograph of a favoured spot on our property. I lead Manda past the Apple to a corner of the room where sits an old oak writing desk. Upon it a lumpy form covered in a dust cloth, which I gradually pull back to reveal a vintage black Remington Rand manual typewriter, complete with ribbon. Beside it, a stack of paper.

Manda looks at it, the little laugh at her expense forgotten as her eyes wander its curves and crevices. She takes a step closer to the Remington and then turns to me. “May I touch it, Aunt Sally?”

“Of course, but be gentle with her. She is old.”

Manda lightly touches the keys and runs her hand across the top toward the cylinder.

“Mind the ribbon, though sweetie. It’s full of ink.”

“It still works?”

“Yes, except when the keys get stuck, or I run out of ribbon. But yes, it works wonderfully.”

“Do you ever write with it?”

“Occasionally, when I need to slow down my process. Sometimes my fingers get whipping on that computer over there and the magic doesn’t feel the same.”

“May I try?”

Without answering I reach for a piece of paper from the stack and feed it into the cylinder, rolling it to the perfect start location about two inches down from the top of the page. I show her the space bar and the carriage return. With a look of intense concentration she pushes down the letter I. There’s a chirp of glee as she experiences the mechanisms click into gear and the letter lands on the page. She types another letter, and then another, searching as she goes; frustrated a couple of times, until she’s typed I love my aunty Sal. I beam with pride.

“Oh, aunty, this is amazing! May I keep going?”

“Yes, Manda, of course. I’ll leave you to it.” I smile and give her shoulder a gentle pinch as I turn to leave.

Another writer in the family. She, like me, would be fine without a computer.

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

 

 

Do Over

Daily Prompt: If I Could Turn Back Time

~*~

“I have no regrets, sweetie.”

“Yeah, but if you were given a chance to live another part of your life again … you know, a do over, would you?” Twelve-year-old Manda’s digging for a story.

“Hmmm … let me think about that.” I pour another cup of chamomile tea and reach for a fresh-baked double chocolate cookie. Manda takes one as well, and dips it in her chocolate milk. A triple chocolate delight. We both giggle when the kitchen table wiggles on its three good legs, the foot on the fourth having disappeared a long time ago. I really must fix it.

Memories flood back ~ memories of lost youth; lost love; lost opportunity. Years on I understand the root causes of so much loss, but that doesn’t make up for lost time. Now I’m simply trying to make the most of the years I have left with the awareness that I have struggled so hard to achieve. Such a wonderful gift I give myself.

“Have you thought of anything, yet?” Manda asks while agitating her cookie in her milk. “And nothing sad, like the last time. I don’t want to cry.”

Ah, the innocence of youth and their penchant for associating tears with all things sad. She’ll learn one day, I hope, that tears cleanse the soul in preparation for new horizons. If I cry for the past, it’s only because I’m giving myself permission to let it go and move into the future. Accepting permission is almost harder than the letting go.

“Okay, then …” I squint my eyes as if peering into the distance for a point of interest. “Right … I have a funny story about a botched date.”

“Oh, goodie!” Manda shrieks with glee. She leans back in her chair to get comfortable, and fixes her beautiful brown eyes upon me. “Tell me everything …”

“Well, I was 16 and just starting to date. I met him at school … or was it church? … gosh, what was his name?” I stumble for a moment fumbling with memory. “Doesn’t matter … let’s call him Rick.”

“You don’t remember his name?” Manda is astonished.

“Well, you need to understand that my tendency has been to block unpleasant memories. And while this seems funny now, it wasn’t at the time so, I’m afraid, I don’t recall the young man’s name.” I take a breath. “What I do recall is that he shared my birthday and was exactly one year older than me. And, oh yes, he was quite cute.”

“Oooh, that’s interesting.”

“Yes, I put rather too much stock in the birthday thing, to be honest. Like it was kismet, or something.”

“Kismet?”

“Fated that we should meet.”

“Oh,” Manda nods in understanding. “And was it fated that you should meet?”

“Well, we met, didn’t we?” I twiddle with the corner of the table cloth, remembering my pain. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be sharp with you. Still a bit of … never mind.” I gather my thoughts and begin my story. “As I recall we hadn’t been dating long when he decided it would be wonderful to take me to the opera. At first I was excited that he should be so thoughtful. He knew my mother ~ your grandma, Esther ~ was an opera singer and I guess was trying to impress me with his sophistication. And he did. Golly, what was the name of that opera? I don’t know. Anyway, as the date got closer I started to back off.”

“Why?” Manda asks between nibbles of cookie.

“Fear, I suppose. Fear of getting what I wanted; of being happy ~ you know, having a nice boyfriend who wanted to do nice things for me. I guess I didn’t feel worthy.”

Manda frowns. “This isn’t sounding like a fun story.”

“You’re right,” I agree, and continue. “I decided I wanted to put him off, but he’d already bought the tickets and I’d made the commitment to go, so I went. But I didn’t dress up, I didn’t wash my hair, and I acted like a cold fish.”

“You did? That doesn’t sound very nice.”

“No, it wasn’t very nice. He’d gone to so much trouble and I was pushing him away, the same way I used to defend myself from all kinds of good things and people. I guess it was easier for me to be unhappy. My father had been such a deadbeat and so emotionally distant that the moment any decent man tried to get close I’d push him away. I just didn’t understand healthy, emotional interaction with the opposite sex.”

Manda gives me a quizzical look.

“Hmmm … I didn’t understand my own feelings let alone someone else’s … never mind being able to relate to them. I was guarded and insecure and it played out with me pushing back all the time.”

“This isn’t funny at all.”

“No, it isn’t. Poor guy was so bewildered and, frankly, so was I. And I felt terribly guilty about it. I had no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it. Just horrible …” I attempt to drown my sadness in a sip of tea and realize something a little stiffer would probably offer better success.

“So, how would you do it over?” Manda grimaces, so far not impressed with my funny story.

“Well, that’s the thing about do overs, isn’t it? Hindsight always gives us the perspective of age and experience,” I pause and sip more tea before continuing. “I would be more gracious, that’s for certain. He’d spent the money and gone to so much trouble. I recall us sitting in the gods ~ it’s all he could afford ~ and wishing I could be anywhere else, all the while conscious of my dirty hair and poor behaviour. He tried so hard and I was such a … oh, dear …” My thoughts trail off for a moment as I consider how many moments of my life I’ve missed because I was too afraid to enjoy them.

“Aunt Sally?”

“Oh, sorry,” I shake my head and smile. “I’d have washed my hair, that’s for sure,” I wink, attempting to be light-hearted, and take another sip of tea.

“Sorry, Auntie, but it sounds like you have some regrets after all. And your definition of funny is not at all accurate.”

I sigh and gaze upon the loveliness of this innocent old soul. “Not regrets, sweetie, remorse. It’s not nice to hurt people’s feelings, and I’m afraid I hurt his. Still, I didn’t know any better at the time, and I have learned since then to be kind even when I may not necessarily feel comfortable. Not everything is about me.” Another sip of tea. Another wink. “And not everything is about you either, dear.”

“It isn’t?” Manda jokes in mock astonishment, her eyes big as coat buttons.

I shove the cookie plate in her direction with a playful flourish. “You’re funny. Here, just one more before dinner or I’ll give you something to do over.” We both giggle and take a cookie.

There’s nothing about this moment I’d do over .

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Blank

Daily Prompt: Childhood Revisited

What is your earliest memory? Describe it in detail, and tell us why you think that experience was the one to stick with you.

~*~

“Aunt Sally, what’s your earliest childhood memory?” asked Manda while  thumbing through the pages of an already treasured new horse book. Christmas had been good to her.

“Why do you ask, sweetie?” Sally hesitated. Her memory of those early years were foggy at best. And not all the memories good.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just wondered.” Manda stopped admiring her book and sat back in her chair, arms folded waiting for an answer. She loved her Aunt Sal and was curious to know all about her. Besides, there’d been an assignment at school to discover hidden depths in a favourite family member. For Manda, Aunt Sal was that person.

Sally thought for a moment. Her earliest childhood memory that wouldn’t throw them both for a loop. Hmmm … it had to be qualified. “Give me a moment, please dear.” She stood up from the kitchen table and walked over to the counter to fetch a piece of homemade shortbread from the tin. Her mind was a blank. Searching for memories had always been troublesome for her. She’d spent so much of her life somewhere else. Dissociated. She could recall the cumulative trauma, but that was hardly a memory she could share with a 12-year-old girl.

“Aunt Sally … can you even remember your childhood?” Manda was beginning to feel concerned.

How perceptive she was, thought Sally brushing a tear from her cheek while still bent over the counter eating her cookie. Finally, she turned to face her niece.

“Auntie!!!” Manda squealed, upset at the sight of her aunt’s watery eyes. She jumped from her seat and ran over to give her a big hug. “What’s wrong? I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

Sally choked back a sob and cleared her throat. She wrapped her arms around Manda and gave her a big squeeze. “Sweetie, you didn’t make me cry. My lack of memories makes me cry. I wish I could share with you my earliest childhood memory, but I can’t. It’s just too painful and I don’t want to hurt you.” She knew it was better to be honest. A lie simply bred more lies.

“Oh, auntie, I’m so sorry,” Manda pulled a piece of paper towel off the roll and gave it to her aunt whose only tissue was now in tatters. “If I’d known I’d never have asked.”

“But you weren’t to know, Manda, so please don’t worry. I have many good memories, just not too many good early ones. There was too much trauma in my life too soon, which is to say life became overwhelming before I was mature enough to handle it. Traumatized little ones develop all kinds of coping strategies to help them get through life. Often these carry on into adulthood and can be quite destructive if not addressed. My strategy was to check out when my life got too stressful. That’s why I don’t remember a lot of it. Sadly, a lot of grown ups never seek, or find, the help they need.”

“Like uncle Ted?” Manda wondered about her aunt’s ex-husband.

“Yes, like your uncle Ted.”

“What about you?”

Sally sighed. “Oh, I was finally able to get the help I needed a few years ago. That’s made my life more liveable now, but it still doesn’t reclaim all the lost memories.”

“Do you have any nice childhood memory you can share?” Manda asked, her eyes wide with hope.

Sally beckoned Manda to the kitchen table where they sat down across from one another. She thought for a moment, and then smiled. “When I was six years old,” she began, “I lived for a year with my grandmother … your great granny, Esther. Mother was off on a world tour and my father was absent, so I lived with gran. Of course, I went to school ~ grade 2 ~ and it was about that time that my musical talents began to surface. So, for the school play, Bambi, I was given a song to sing.”

“You were! Which one?” Manda was excited to know.

Drip, drip, drop little April shower …” Sally sang what she remembered.

“Oh, I know that song!” Manda squealed with joy, remembering the animated movie soundtrack.

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Sally grinned.

“Were you happy?”

“Yes, I was happy. Gran had outfitted me in my favourite red velvet dress with gold buttons down the front and put tight ringlets in my hair. For just a little while I was the centre of her universe, so I felt pretty special.”

“What happened next?” Manda was all ears.

Gran took me for a hamburger and milkshake at the old hotel on Main Street. Bit of a dive, but it didn’t matter. I remember her boasting about me to her friends. I have good memories around that.”

Manda was entranced. “Oh, auntie, thank you for telling me your story. You have such a beautiful voice.” And then Manda paused, a look of curiosity swept into her eyes. “Why didn’t you grow up to be a singer?”

“That, my dear,” sighed her aunt, “is a story for another day.”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

 

 

 

The Outsiders

Daily Prompt: The Outsiders

Tell us about the experience of being outside, looking in — however you’d like to interpret that.

~*~

Well, this hits close to home, Sally mused as she listened to her niece, Manda, tearfully explain how she’d not been invited to a sleepover with her supposed friends … again.

“I don’t understand it, auntie, what did I do? Why don’t they like me? Why do I always feel like I’m on the outside looking in?” Manda snorted through heavy tears and a stuffed up nose. She snatched at the tissue proffered by her aunt and blew hard into it. Nothing moved.

Sally sat beside Manda on the soft two-seater sofa and put an arm around her distraught niece. What could she say? It was a feeling all too familiar, but one with which she had learned to live while finding strength in her own solitude.

“Now, now, my sweet girl, don’t you worry,” she gave her niece’s shoulders a squeeze and then moved away slightly. “Look at me … please …”

Reluctantly, Manda turned to look at her beloved aunt and wiped a shaking hand across tear-tracked cheeks. She sniffed.

“Listen, Manda my love, you’re a strong girl, born into a strong family. We’ve learned to stand on our own two feet, and while that can feel lonely at times it is, in the end, the better way because we learn to be our own best friend. To take care of our needs without constantly needing the validation of others.” Sally reached for one of Manda’s hands and held it gently.

“What’s validation?” 12-year-old Manda asked with a sniff.

“Well,” Sally began, “it’s when people need other people to tell them how great they are all the time to feel good about themselves. Instead of finding that confirmation from within, they demand it of others. The only problem is that people can change their minds all the time about how they feel about someone. One day they think you’re great and the next you’re yesterday’s news. That can be really hurtful. These friends of yours, if they were true friends, would include you and not hurt you this way.”

“And it hurts so much!” Manda howled while doubling over into her knees and rocking back and forth. “I don’t want to be alone!!!”

Sally rubbed her niece’s back and gulped back her own sob. Oh, how she wished this lovely girl didn’t have to feel the pain of exclusion.  And how long the journey would be until she found contentment in her own company.

They sat in silence for a few minutes.

Finally, Sally spoke.

“Manda, I know this feels horrible now, and believe me I totally understand what …”

“No you don’t!” Manda sat bolt upright and looked straight in her aunt’s eyes, still shaking. “How could you possibly know how I feel?”

Sally sighed.

“Of course, sweetie, you’re right. I am not you and cannot possibly understand how you feel. But, I’ve had my own experiences with this, and even now I struggle with it at times. But I would rather be alone, and happy in my own company, than with fickle friends who blow hot and cold. That is too painful. … You may have noticed that I don’t have many close friends,” she continued. “It’s not that I don’t want any, it’s just that I … ” How could she say it without sounding like a snob? ” … that I’ve learned to be selective. To only welcome people into my life I know want to be there. Life is too short to waste precious energy on people you have to chase to like you all the time. Believe me, sweetie, pretending to be someone you aren’t for the sake of being on the inside is exhausting, and debilitating, in so many ways you won’t understand right now. But one day …”

” … one day I can look forward to being lonely like you?” Manda wailed. “No thank you …” and she stood up sharply and stormed outside to drown in her tormented sea of self-pity.

Sally reached into her apron for another tissue and dabbed at salty tears.

Now she felt on the outside.

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

Where The Path Leads

Daily Prompt: Que Sera Sera

Do you believe in fate or do you believe you can control your own destiny?

~*~

Can we possibly know the end from the beginning?

Sally gazed thoughtfully at her 12-year-old niece, Manda, who was thumbing through old family photo albums at the kitchen table. She sighed. Who knows what will happen to this lovely girl as she gets older, Sally mused. It all depends on the choices she makes. And even then, nothing is certain.

“Aunt Sally …”

Sally drifted back to the moment at the sound of her name.

“Yes Manda, sweetie …”

“Did you and Uncle Ted plan not to have any children?”

Trust a child to get straight to the point.

“Why do you ask that, love?”

“Well,” began Manda, “you would have made a great mother. I just don’t understand why I don’t have any cousins … why I have you all to myself.”

Sally walked toward the small pine harvest table and sat on one of its companion chairs. She reached for a photo album and gazed at the page that had prompted Manda’s question. There it was … a family reunion photo of several years before, with all the cousins and their children, including Manda as a toddler, and no one under her and Ted’s wing. She pushed the album away and turned her attention to her niece who was patiently waiting for an answer. She’d have to have an answer or Sally would get no peace.

“You know sometimes, Manda, you can make all the plans you want about achieving a certain thing, but …” she hesitated, truth was a hard thing, ” … but unless you have a true understanding of yourself and the support you need you will rarely achieve it.”

Manda tilted her head toward her right shoulder in wonderment. “Hmmm … I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

Sally took a deep breath.

“Well,” she began, “I always wanted children. When I wasn’t much older than you I had dreams of having a large family. Wanted six children, you know.”

“Six!!!” Manda’s eyes burst open wide.

“Yes, six,” Sally repeated with a sigh. “Within a couple of years of getting married we started trying to have a baby mostly, I think, because all of our friends were having babies and we wanted to keep up. For some reason I couldn’t get pregnant. Your uncle went back to school for his Masters and upon his return we tried in earnest to create that first child. Even went for fertility treatment a couple of times.” Sally stopped, checking to see if she’d lost Manda, but her niece seemed fully committed. She took a deep breath. The memories were almost too painful to share, but perhaps in the sharing some of the pain would release.

“What happened?” Manda whispered, intent to know but somehow understanding the sensitivity of the story being shared.

“Nothing. Nothing happened. There was no baby. When I found out we’d failed the second time I was devastated; heartbroken, and my emotions got the better of me. I cried so much and your uncle was not at all supportive or empathetic. In fact, it was as if the whole episode had not touched him at all. Instead of offering me any comfort he told me I belonged in a nut house,” Sally paused seeing the shocked expression on her niece’s face. “I’m sorry, but you need to know this because it explains what I did next.”

“And what was that?”

“I was so shocked by his lack of empathy and the emotional gulf which seemed to divide us that I told him that I would never go for fertility treatment again. That a pregnancy had to occur naturally or not at all.” Sally sighed. “And, of course, it happened not at all.”

Manda shrugged her shoulders in sadness. “Is that why you left Uncle Ted in the end?”

Sally looked down at her hands and played with her wedding ring from the new man in her life who was everything Tim was not. “It was the beginning of the slippery slope as I realized I could not trust him to be there for me. It took a few years, but yes, it was the first step toward divorce.” She looked up at Manda and smiled, “By the time I met your uncle Bob the biological clock had wound down and my chances for bearing a child were gone.”

“Are you sad about that?” Manda wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.

“Come now, Manda, you must not be sad. I’m not. I learned years later after meeting with a hormone specialist and having tests done that my body chemistry could never have supported a baby. My hormones were so out of whack for so many reasons. This, at least, gave me some peace. I could stop thinking of myself as unworthy of being a mother and focus on taking care of my body which my experiences with early life trauma had somehow compromised. You won’t understand all of this now. I simply share it to illustrate that we must really know ourselves to find our real dreams. And we must have support around us to help them come to life. I had neither.”

Manda sighed and smiled. “Do you believe it was your fate not to have children then?”

Sally thought before answering.

“I believe life unfolds the way it should, sweetie. Set a path and see where it takes you. Don’t be fixed to ideas or goals. Use them as guidelines. Perhaps they will lead to even greater things than you can imagine.”

“Is that what happened to you?” Manda asked, hopefully.

Sally pushed the family album aside and reached for her niece’s hand. “Well, I have you, don’t I?”

~*~

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2015

Reminiscing Revisited

Daily Prompt: From You to You

Write a letter to your 14-year-old self.

~*~

Sally gazed thoughtfully through the kitchen window toward the hammock strung between maples where her 12-year-old niece, Manda, was once again happily swinging. The sweet tones of the young girl’s voice reverberated into the summer stillness, singing the tune to Reminiscing even though she’d only heard it for the first time a few minutes earlier. What a remarkable ear for music the young girl had, her aunt mused. A chip off the old family block, that’s for sure.

Sally smiled as Manda stopped to take a breath and inhaled chocolate ice cream. Oh, to be young again.

She returned to sit at the kitchen table with her glass of iced tea and sighed, remembering how much less idyllic her life had been at that age. And then her thoughts shifted to that favourite song and being 14 years old, and she sighed some more. Fourteen. What a torturous year that had been.

Sally reached for a notepad in the middle of the circular pine table, kept there for random thoughts, and dug for the fountain pen she always carried in her apron pocket. Perhaps it was time she wrote her 14-year-old self a letter. For some reason she felt prompted. Taking another sip of iced tea she set to work.

~*~

Dear 14-year-old Sally,

(She hesitated, not knowing where to start and then decided it was best to free write and see what happened … )

Oh, I remember you so well. Does that please you? To have not been forgotten? I hope so, because there are so many other periods of my life that have disappeared from memory liked clouds in the ether. But I remember you, and I wish it was for completely happy reasons.

(Sally took another sip of iced tea and peeked out the window. Manda was still happy. Returning to her missive, Sally continued to write … )

Having said that, I remember only part of that year ~ a time where you ought to have been most happy and were, instead, most traumatized. I know how you loved to visit your grandmother; to be in the small town where she lived, so close to the countryside where you and she and your brother would take long drives up to the old family homestead and stop for ice cream at the greasy spoon. I know you loved that. It helped you to feel rooted to hear the family stories of homesteading and hardship and ultimately, family success.

However, I also remember the terror you felt of  …

(Sally stopped. Was it too painful a memory? She took a deep breath and continued …)

Oh, if not for that dreadful man your whole life might have been different. If only people had known how despicable he was. If only gran had understood she would never have continued to let him visit knowing what he’d done and how much you feared him. Did she just not see? I know you were never able to tell her about what had happened eight years before ~ he’d made you promise. And you, being the good girl you were, kept your promises. But at such a cost! No wonder you ran away to your friend’s farm for weeks at a time to escape the prospect of him dropping by unexpectedly for tea.

Such terrible arguments you and gran had about your absence, but she never understood why.

If only you’d been able to tell her. 

(A deep swelling sigh freed itself from the depths of Sally’s chest. If only … )

I know you did what was necessary to protect yourself. Made yourself invisible; escaped however you could. It was no way to live. You missed so much, and I am sorry for that. What ought to have been the most care-free time of your life was made complicated by the sins of a nefarious heart. I’m so sorry.

(She wiped a tear as it trickled down her left cheek.)

All the trauma you felt lingered for years, and though I did as well in life as my invisible self would allow, I had to get help eventually. Your pain, I’m sad to say, crippled me emotionally. Still, the worst is behind us.

(Sally smiled to herself. Of course her 14-year-old self should know this!)

While your tenacity and sense of self-preservation served as a form of protection it also put obstacles in the way. I’ve been clearing those obstacles so we can both be free of suffering. I say “we” because you will always be a part of me. “We” are free to experience life fully and completely, now. It is such a wonderful gift. And I want to help Manda to do the same.

Thank you for taking such good care of yourself the best way you knew how. Perhaps now we can start to reminisce about more of the good ol’ days … like being on the track team at school, or spending time with the horses, or those lovely drives in the country with gran. You know, she did her best, too, with the limited understanding she had. We must always remember this.

With much love,

Your Self as a woman-of-a-certain-age,

Sally

~*~

Sally put the pen down and read over her letter. She smiled and pressed it to her heart. Somehow the exercise had been healing. Lovingly, she folded the piece of paper into quarters and slipped it into her apron pocket along with her lidded fountain pen. She would save the letter in her journal later. But now it was time to give that vivacious 12-year-old girl with those big, brown, sparkly eyes and the innocence of youth a big hug. Manda would always know who she could trust.

~*~

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti 2015

Reminiscing

Daily Prompt: Always Something There to Remind Me

A song comes on the radio and instantly, you’re transported to a different time and place. Which song(s) bring back memories for you and why? Be sure to mention the song, and describe the memory it evokes.

~*~

“It’s impossible to pick just one song, Manda. My life is a play list.” Aunt Sally dove into her memories to think of a song that transported her to time and place and came up empty. “It’s like asking me which is my favourite cheese. There are too many.”

Twelve-year-old Manda jumped from her chair at the kitchen table to turn on the old transistor radio accommodating her aunt’s window sill.

“First song that comes up I want you to share a memory … please … I love your stories.” Manda returned to her seat as the commercials wound down and the DJ introduced the next song on the 70s radio station.

As the first cheerful chords of an old familiar tune played Sally caught her breath.

“What? … What do you remember?”

Friday night it was late I was walking you home we got down to the gate and I was dreaming of the night …

The Little River Band. 1978. Sally’s thoughts returned to her 14th summer, spent at her grandmother’s in a small town in northern Alberta.

“Oh, Manda … this is one of my favourite songs from when I was just a couple of years older than you are now.” Sally took a breath. Her body started swaying to the beat and she began to hum along. She stretched out her hands to her niece and invited her to dance in the middle of the kitchen with her. The mid day sun flared shafts of memory through the window as the two girls sashayed around the floor.

The song was too soon over and Sally flopped into her chair and sipped at her lemonade. It was another hot, sticky day. The exertion almost too much, even with air conditioning.

“That’s a nice song, auntie,” Manda hummed what she could remember. “I can see why you like it. What memory did it drum up?”

Sally took a deep breath and wondered whether to make something up or be truthful. It wasn’t much of a debate.

“Oh, you know, that wasn’t a very happy summer for me. Too many hormones. Too little parental attention of the kind I needed. Terrified of life and trusting no one. I was really raising myself, at the time, and doing a poor job of it.” She sighed. “Gran was there, but I never felt I could trust her. Wasn’t her fault, I suppose. Oh, it’s complicated. … Anyway, this song,” Sally closed her eyes and hummed the opening before continuing, “this song always made me happy. It still makes me happy. I love the rhythm. There’s a promise in the song about never leaving someone alone, and I suppose, at some level, that’s what I wanted. To know I would never be alone …”

Sally’s voice trailed off as she saw herself lying on her bed at Gran’s scribbling in her journal, the radio her consoling companion at a time when nothing, or no one, else could be.

Manda waited, a gentle tear pooled in the corner of her eye. She walked around the table and gave her aunt a big hug. “You never need to worry, Aunt Sally. As long as I am here you will never be alone.” Manda squeezed hard and planted a kiss on her aunt’s cheek.

“Well, Manda, you are a dear,” Sally responded. “I am not alone anymore and haven’t been for a long time. I enjoy my own company now and you know it’s amazing …”

“What is?” interrupted Manda, curious.

“It’s amazing how the people you really need in your life gravitate to you the more you enjoy your own company. Perhaps you are too young to understand this now, but one day you will.”

“So you don’t need me?” Manda gasped, frightened by the prospect.

“Of course, I need you, Manda my dear,” Aunt Sally reassured, “but from a place of  love, not from a place of neediness. There’s a difference. Do you understand?”

“I think so …”

Sally released her niece and gave her a big smile. “One thing you need never question is my love for you and that great big heart of yours. How could I ever feel alone when you fill my heart with such joy?”

Manda smiled back and wiped the pool from the corner of her eye.

“C’mon, sweetie, let’s get ice cream. Chocolate or vanilla.”

“Oh … chocolate. Definitely!”

~*~

Reminiscing …

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … Aimwell CreativeWorks 2015