General Fiction posted June 11, 2014 Chapters:  ...10 11 -12- 13... 

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Karen visits Sarah's mother

A chapter in the book Enough to Miss Christmas

To Grandmothers

by Fridayauthor

Sarah has feelings for Paul but his wealth makes their lives worlds apart. Two children complicate matters further. Sarah and Karen are beginning to deal with each other but there's a long way to go.
       Karen and I were back on the road with both of us in a high mood.

     “You just got a full dose of regular people,” I said to Karen as we drove the Connecticut countryside. “Suzie is as ‘regular’ as anyone! What do you think of my sister?”

     “I like her. She’s different from you but you regular people all talk with your mouths full and laugh a lot. You don’t seem to care what people think.” Then she asked, “Why did she say, ‘enough to miss Christmas?’”

     “It’s something we started when we were about your age. We’d try and outdo each other on how much we loved. Enough to miss Christmas was the max.”


     “You have to understand. Christmas at our house wasn't just a nice day when Aunt Mable gave you pajamas and if it were a good year you might get a toy or something; Christmas was a season. It began sometime in November with the planning and list-making, and digging out of all the stuff we buried last year, like the manger, the villages, the outside lights, everything! Then there was the cooking, not just for us, for nearly everyone we knew, fruit cake, and cookies and pies! Things we only got to eat once a year!  There was a contagious excitement I can't explain and it lasted weeks, even after the big day passed and school started back up. It wasn’t that we received so many presents; there was just enough money to get by; but December was a state of mind, a wonderful, peaceful, joyous, loving state of mind! So when Suzie says she loves me ‘enough to miss Christmas,’ well, that means she loves me more than anything in the world. And it makes me feel very, very special, and very fortunate to have her as my sister.”

     Karen didn’t respond and I dared not ask her about holidays in her Newton castle. I envisioned central casting providing Santa and a team of interior designers doing the decorations while choirs of hired angels strolled the grounds.

     We made a stop at a book store where I purchased two mysteries for mother, keeping my fingers crossed as my credit card once again made it. On a whim, I pushed my luck and grabbed three books I thought Karen might like, not classics from her so-called reading list, but titles I’d personally read and loved.
     “Sorry there isn’t a Latin translation. Don’t show them to Sister Rose. She might be scandalized." She looked the books over one by one and accepted them with a polite thank you.

     While Karen was nervous meeting Suzie, she showed no such reticence when she followed me into my mother’s room at Maple Grove Manor. My belly-bug population was once again on high alert, and I was worried I might spew my lunch.

       Mother was seated in the same chair. I was pleased to see she held one of the books I’d purchased for her on our prior trip. She looked up and smiled.

     “You’ve brought Karen,” she said. 

     I was so euphoric I had trouble not bawling. We’d caught her in a rational mood. Karen walked directly to her and took her hand.

     “I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Blanding. I’ve met both of your daughters and now I get to meet you.” She held my mother’s hand in hers. Will this child ever cease amazing me?

     “Please call me Grandma,” my mother said, surprising me even more. She’d yet to acknowledge my presence so I walked forward and bent to kiss her cheek. She pulled back and stared at me and then turned back to Karen.

     “The book lady came in with you. I have two visitors in one afternoon. That’s nice.” She turned to me. “What did you bring me today?  Your timing is very good. I’m almost finished this one.”

     “I’m Sarah,” I managed to stammer.

     “That’s nice. It’s easy for me to remember. Sarah the book lady. Sarah is my daughter’s name too. This lovely young lady Karen is her husband Paul’s daughter.” She smiled benevolently and patted Karen’s hand. Karen sat on the floor, Indian style, next to her, still holding my mother’s hand. I plopped on the edge of the bed, not knowing what to say. The book lady relegated to the background.

     “Your father’s not coming today?” mother asked Karen.

     “No. My little brother Timmy fell and hurt his head. He’s much better now but Dad is staying with him. I came with Sarah.”

     If this confused my mother, she didn’t say. Instead she continued to hold Karen’s hand and asked how she was getting along. 

     My mother noticed that I remained in the room. “I don’t owe you money for the books, do I?  I’m sorry but they don’t let us keep any funds in our room.”
     “No,” I answered. “They’re a gift . . . from your daughter.”

      A broad smile crossed her face. “That’s so kind. My daughter Suzie does the nicest things for me.” I felt punched in the gut but didn’t speak. “You can stay if you like,” she said before turning back to Karen. I gulped a little air and remained in place, a compliant book lady.

     “Tell me all about your new family, Karen dear. Is Sarah being nice to you?”

     Karen glanced at me before turning back to my mother. “We’re getting to know one another other, Grandma.”

     “It’s early yet. Sarah can’t know much about raising children. She and that man she married never had any. Mothering is talent learned on the job, don’t you think?”

     “She said you were a very good mother and your family did a lot of fun things together while she and her sister were growing up.” I felt like a spectator in a private performance. This is your life, Sarah Jeanne Blanding. Sorry you couldn’t show up.

     A far away looked passed over my mother’s countenance. “I’m pleased Sarah remembered. I thought she might have forgotten the good times. It’s been so many years. But she’s correct. We had a delightful time when the girls were growing up. It couldn’t have been nicer. I seem to recall your mother died. Did you have good times to remember with her before she passed on?”

     Karen bit her lip but I’ll give her credit for answering honestly. “No, unfortunately we didn’t.” My mother looked up, perplexed, as Karen explained. “She was sick a very long time. I don’t remember any good times.”

     “You poor girl! You deserve to have sweet memories to carry you when bad times come to call. Do you go to church?”

     “Yes, Ma’am. We go every Sunday.”

     “That’s good. We did too. Keep it up and always remember those close to you as well. It doesn’t matter if you’re poor or well off, family is everything.”

     “Sarah said Christmas around your house was extra special.”

     “Oh my, yes!  It was a wonderful season every year. The girls would craft items and save what little money they could earn, going back to the summer, to buy presents for everyone they knew! They couldn’t wait for the catalogs to arrive and they’d dream about perfect gifts. And Christmas carols; they knew the words to all of them. We’d cook and cook until there was more than we could eat.”

     “That sounds marvelous, Grandma.”

     “It was, child. It was a family time. There’s no closer tie than family, especially a mother and her child.”

     Karen looked away and bit her lip. I thought she might cry but instead she asked about me. 

     “Was Sarah a good child?” I wanted to block my ears against my mother’s reply. She answered without hesitation.

     “Both of my daughters were perfect. I couldn’t have asked for nicer girls. I love them dearly. There was no one else in the world to compare to my children, and my husband, God rest his soul.” Karen hesitated, and then moved closer.

     “Tell me more about Sarah,” she said. “Did she do everything perfectly?”

     My mother laughed out loud. “Heavens, no! Neither of my children did!  When they stepped out of line, I had to punish them much as I hated to, but they learned to be responsible for their actions and learned by their mistakes. They understood right from wrong but that didn’t mean they didn’t experiment. I expected that. Good children do naughty things sometimes. That doesn’t make them bad children. All children have to make mistakes and they’ll be better for it. We talked, lord did we talk, about everything!  I was always proud that my girls could discuss anything with me. I’d never lie to them and we trusted them far more than most parents.”

     “Lots of adults lie.”

     “Yes, that’s unfortunate but true. You have to learn to trust the truthful ones. Do you lie?”
     Karen hesitated. “Sometimes.”

     “Don’t. It’s not just naughty but it has a way of destroying relationships. We never allowed it around our house.  Don’t lie to Sarah and I’m sure she’ll never lie to you. Does she give you a free reign . . . allow you to make choices?”

      Karen looked to me before responding, once again, tactfully. “More so than before Sarah came into my life. My brother and I were rather sheltered.”

       “There was very little we forbade our children to do. They respected our trust and nearly always acted responsibly.”

     “You let them do anything they wanted to?”

     “Heavens, no! I didn’t say that. I’d explain the possible results and let them make intelligent decisions on their own. They almost always made the right choice and when they didn’t, they knew the consequences. In some ways, ours was like no other family, there was so much love and understanding.”

     While I continued to feel like a piece of furniture, I was fascinated by my mother’s reminiscences. 

     “What other fun things did you do?” Karen asked.

     “The four of us went everywhere. The girl’s dad had an unexciting job so his time with us, especially the weekends, was extra special. There were theater plays and sporting events and lots of hikes and camping trips. We loved to explore new places and do new things. Not pricy things; we didn’t have a lot of money; but we fished and hiked. We liked history so we visited every museum and historical site in driving distance.”

     “You all liked the doing same things?”

     “No, not always, but we made concessions to each other because we loved one another’s company.” Instantly, a strange look passed across my mother’s face and she moved back, startled. She stared from one of us to the other. “I think you people are in the wrong room. Who are you here to visit? Where’s my bell? I’ll call the nurse’s station.”

     I jumped up, alarmed at the change, but Karen patted my mother’s hand. “That’s all right. We’ll be leaving now. I’m glad we stopped in.” She rose and gently kissed my mother on the forehead and walked past me as if I wasn’t there. At the door, Karen turned. “Good bye, Grandma.”  My mother remained perplexed as I too kissed her before following Karen from the room.

     Once outside, I walked a short distance ahead of Karen and let the tears flow. She stood off until I’d finished. Neither of us spoke until we left the back roads and were settled on the Interstate. I turned to Karen, silent tears still running down my cheeks. “Thank you,” I said. “You were marvelous with her. I’ve never known anyone your age who’d come close to being so gentle and caring.”

     She ignored my tears. “I had a lot of practice.”

     “It’s much more than that. Don’t minimize your virtues, Karen. They’re extraordinary.”

     “She’s a very nice lady. I can see how she was a great mother. You and Aunt Suzie were fortunate to have her. Why did you stay away from her?”

     I had all I could do to respond. “I shouldn’t have. I was so wrong.”

     Mercifully Karen didn’t press. Instead she said, “Perhaps now you can make it up to her and visit frequently.”

     I agreed. Time passed before I spoke again. “I’m glad you were able to meet her when she was lucid, at least for a little while.” I looked over as Karen sat pressed against the door.
 “Did your mother fade in and out like that?”

     “I told you; I don’t want to talk about my mother.”

     I sighed, wiped my face and concentrated on my driving. “What do you want to talk about? It’s a long trip.”

     “Nothing. I have a lot on my mind.”

     So did I, but I’d rather have spent my time in conversation with Karen than trapped in silence. To make matters worse, our return trip was delayed by an over turned garbage truck and the resulting clean up. We’d barely crossed into Massachusetts before darkness fell.

     “May we have a civilized dinner together with at least some conversation? Driving in silence is one thing, but I don’t want to eat like a Trappist monk.”

     While Karen failed to apologize outright, her tone was conciliatory. “I guess, as long as we don’t talk about mothers.”

     We pulled off at the next exit. We entered a small town, and spotted an old country inn with, hopefully, a reasonably priced menu. I hesitated stopping; it was fifty-fifty my credit card could handle it. Karen sensed my concern, reached in her pocket and dropped several hundred dollar bills on the seat. “I got these from Dad’s wallet, just in case.”

     “You stole them?” I counted seven hundred dollars.

     “Not exactly. I was going to ask him but he was shaving. Then I forgot; honest.  He’d have given them to me anyway.”

     “What if he needs the money and it’s missing?”

     “I only took a few of them. There was a lot more.”  I took one bill, just in case and handed the rest back to her. She stuffed them in her pocket.

     We sipped ice tea while perusing the bill of fare. While Karen was a rudderless ship shopping at the mall and uncomfortable ordering fast food, in this more elegant milieu she was perfectly at ease.

     “The roast chicken looks good. I think I’ll have a cup of soup as well. I hope it doesn’t contain too much salt,” she announced. I ordered the same.

     Karen called her father to tell him we were delayed. She asked about Timmy and her smiles told me he was back to his old self. I pointed to her pocket.

     “Tell him you ripped him off,” I said.

      She grimaced but mentioned to her father that she’d taken some money from his pocket, just in case. It was obviously no big deal to either of them. I didn’t ask to speak to Paul, nor apparently did he ask to speak to me.

     As we settled into our meal, I broached a question. “If, by chance, I’m still on the roster and visit you again, what would you like to do?”

     She pondered the question. “I don’t like ‘if’ questions. They’re usually make believe but I’d have to think about it.  Maybe I’ll let you know when I write you the thank you note for my clothes and books.” Then she asked, “Do you want to come back?”

     I couldn’t meet her eyes. “Yes, I do, very, very much. Do you want me to come back?”

     “I won’t answer that. I don’t know.” Then, out of the blue, she asked if I went to movies.

     “Sure. I’ve been living alone for a long time, and I like to get out once in a while. Do you enjoy them?”

     “We don’t go out but we have a movie room, and we watch a lot of them. There was one I wanted to see but Sister Rose said it was bad for me and told Dad I shouldn’t see that kind of stuff. She picks out all of the titles and they’re more for Timmy than my age. He likes to see some of the same ones over and over and it gets boring.” She named the forbidden movie. I’d seen it and would have thought nothing of taking her though I didn’t say so.

     “Maybe I could talk to your father. We could go to the movies together, to more age appropriate showings you’d enjoy.”

     “Then we couldn’t bring Timmy. He’d be disappointed.”

     “I’m sure I could find lots of fun things for Timmy to do too. You and he have different interests and need to find challenges on your own. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of fun things you can do together.”

     “We do. Dad takes us places like the circus and the beach. He does lots of things with us, when he has time.” Once again, Karen abruptly changed the subject.

      “Did you and Dad have a fight?” 

     “Why do you ask?”

     “He was quiet and didn’t say much about you this morning. You’re spending all day with me and not him. Is it about my lying?”

     I didn’t want to answer with a lie of my own but I knew our problems went far deeper than Karen’s untruths. “No, Karen. We’re not fighting. We’re just trying to stumble forward a step at a time, getting to know one another. Sometimes we stop and look around before we take another step. Our lives are incredibly different and I’m not sure there’s much common ground. It’s difficult for you to understand at your age.”

     Tightness formed around her mouth. “Don’t you think I’m old enough to know the Cinderella story is a fairy tale?”

     “I don’t want a castle and I’m sure glass slippers would hurt my feet.”

     “Maybe you could exercise a little give and take. Don’t make excuses.” 

     A twelve-year-old just gave me hell, perhaps deservedly.   We left the restaurant, paying with Paul’s pilfered hundred bucks.

     There followed an hour of uncomfortable silence in the car. Karen’s last words to me were spoken as she politely shook my hand and thanked me for the day as she stood by Paul on the front steps. Once again, she was a different person in her father’s presence.

     Paul drove me back to my hotel, trying to glean information on the day’s happenings. I detailed our visit with my mother and told him how wonderfully his daughter acted with her. I refrained from discussing the strained relationship between Karen and me. I could tell he was proud of her deportment. Contrary to his obvious wishes, I dismissed him at the hotel entrance and declined a ride to the airport the following morning. We wouldn’t see each other for three weeks. His good-bye kiss nearly changed my mind but I stuck by my self-imposed commitment of celibacy. Perhaps the next three weeks would give us a chance to see if we would move forward together or further apart.

Earned A Seal Of Quality

Enough to Miss Christmas is a family love story, about sisters, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and children. But mostly it tells the story of a stepmom and a precocious young lady and how they bonded in spite of overwhelming odds.
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