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 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

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, battle-bruised upright.

“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

 

 

 

 

Alfie

remember-from-we-heart-it
Credit: We Heart It

#FWF Memory Prompt:

Write about your earliest memory. Good, bad, happy or sad. Before you begin, take time to dwell in that memory. Absorb everything you can about it. What you see, what you smell, what you hear and mostly, how you feel. Let it resonate. Marinate your mind in that one moment. Then begin.

~*~

“You want to know about my earliest memory,” I confirm with my 12-year-old niece, Manda, before travelling down that perilous road.

Manda, covered in a warm throw, slouches in the leather recliner across from me, my 20lb black cat, Indy, sprawled without apology across her lap. “Sure, if you want to share. I mean, it’s another school assignment ~ you know, interview an adult about their earliest memory and write about it.” She pauses, trying to act nonchalant, like it doesn’t really matter, but I know it does. Somehow she has the idea that I have the best stories. I don’t know why she doesn’t ask her parents these questions. “You know,” she continues, “like, do you remember what it was like before the telephone, that sort of thing.”

I throw her a sharp look. “I’m not that old,” I bark, playfully.

“I know,” Manda teases while scratching Indy under the chin, “I’m just trying to get you going. So, what is your earliest memory.”

“Give me a moment to think about it.”

“Okay.”

While Manda continues to cuddle the cat I’m abandoned to the past. I’ve been on the planet a half century and complex-PTSD has buried my memories beneath layers of trauma I’ve been working to heal. I don’t want to share something that might hurt her tender heart, notwithstanding it may be my earliest memory.

“Excuse me, sweetie, I’ll be right back.”

“No problem,” Manda responds absently.

I get up from my rocker and head to the kitchen to stare out the window at the horses quietly grazing in the paddock beside the house. It’s early spring and the grass is greening up. Soon, my equine friends will need to be on limited turnout to prevent them from getting sick with the high sugar content. Horses love sugar, and the grass is rich here in the spring. Old Molly horse is cranky, lifting a leg as if to strike the rambunctious yearling who keeps pushing her boundaries. Boundaries, yes, boundaries. My earliest memories reflect crossed boundaries. Not going there with Manda.

Ol’ Moll buries her nose in the round bale. Junior has moved on to pester someone else. In the massive maple the robins flit and flee. Birds. Charlie. Charlie the canary. My first pet. A bird cage. Newspaper lining the bottom. Bird seed all over the place. I’d rather muck stalls than change tray paper. Still, it’s not the memory I want to share with Manda.

Max, the ginger and white barn cat, perches patiently on the fence post, his eyes half closed as he basks in the early season sun. He’s my fourth orange and white cat. They just seem to gravitate to me, for some reason. Such characters, those red-headed boys. My first one, Alfie, could catch a pigeon before it touched ground and …

“Aunt Sal, where are you?”

“I’m in the … “

“I know you’re in the kitchen,” Manda notes with a hint of impatience, “I mean, where are you? Can I be there, too?”

I turn to face my lovely niece who’s standing in the doorway looking a little worried. She’s still unspoiled by the world and growing more mindful by the day, and I like to think I’ve had something to do with that. I’m the de facto baby sitter while her parents earn their bread and butter. They’re good people, too, but children can always benefit from the loving attention of an objective third-party. I love to pick her up after school and bring her here ~ her home away from home.

“Aunt Sal?”

“Yes, okay … sorry …” I reach for the biscuit tin filled with chocolate digestives and offer her one. Manda helps herself.

“So?”

“So, what?”

“Where were you?”

“With Alfie.”

“Who’s Alfie?” Manda gives me that quizzical look with which she’s always so generous when something doesn’t make sense. Her eyes half closed, head tilted, lips slightly pinched.

“Alfie was my first red-head,” I say pointing at Max.

“You mean you had another cat like Max?” She asks between nibbles of biscuit. “You’ve had more than one red-head?”

“Yes, in fact Max is number four.”

“Four!!!” Manda exclaims, amazed.

“Yes … Alfie, Gus, Oskar and Max,” I affirm. “But let’s focus on Alfie.”

“Why was he named Alfie?”

“Actually,” I grin as memory recalls, “his full name was Alfredo Raffaello di Verdi ~ Alfie for short. Your grandma named him after operatic characters. And a character he was. He used to follow me and the dog when we went for walks around the neighbourhood. He invaded the vicar’s summer garden party once and helped himself to the salmon. He slept on the kitchen table beside my pile of books when I was doing my homework. He … “

“How old were you when you had Alfie?” Manda asks, confused.

“Hmmm … we got him when I was seven years old and he died when I was … 21?” I have to think about it.

“You were seven?” Manda asks, disbelieving. “And this is your earliest memory?”

“It’s the earliest memory I’m going to share with you,” I wink while offering her another biscuit.

~*~

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2016

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