The Welcome Note

NoteCassie reluctantly opened the front door, almost afraid of what she would see. “Dear God…” she muttered bitterly as she opened it just enough to stick her head in. A dank smell filled her nose as she took a breath. She steadied herself on the doorframe and looked around the small, 60-year old bungalow. No 3-piece leather sectional, no 60” HDTV, no family portrait above the fireplace…there wasn’t even a fireplace. No great room. No chandelier above the dining room table…it wasn’t even a real dining room. No spiral staircase leading to a second floor, this was all one level. No built-in shelves adorned with books and sculptures. No over-sized windows letting in the view of the lush backyard.

She stepped inside. She could see the entire floor plan from the front door. All 900 square feet lay before her, carpeted in cheap apartment grade beige, gold linoleum in the kitchen. At least it was clean…mostly. Except for that smell. Must have been left over from the landlord that had unclogged the shower the day before.

It was small, it was boring, and it was empty…but it was hers. Well, hers and her daughter’s. It was hard to explain to Shana why they had to leave, but Cassie knew they’d be better off away from Jack. And it was easier to walk away with nothing, than to stay and continue to fight for anything. Her daughter still didn’t understand completely, and Cassie knew that Shana would be mad at her for a long time. But she also knew, in her heart she had done the right thing. Living together had run its course. There would be no wedding, no happily ever after, at least not with Jack.

She set the box that read “KITCHEN” on the counter, and set her purse beside it. Shana wouldn’t be home from school for a few hours which would give her a chance to lay some shelf paper and clean up a bit, to try to make the place homier. But she struggled to find any resemblance of a home in the shell of a house that she held no connection to.

Anger welled inside her, and she was repulsed by the teal green countertop with the stained grout. “This is Jack’s fault,” she said aloud. She had given the best years of her life to that man, and for what? She had nothing to show for their years together except for the wounds of a warring relationship. He’d given her nothing but grief and insanity. It was by shear will that she mustered the courage to take her daughter and get out of his life. She knew it was the right decision, she knew it was the only decision. But it wasn’t fair. She would have to start over from scratch. An unfamiliar town, few friends left, even fewer family members still spoke to her, while Jack got to stay in the beautiful house near their old friends. His life would hardly change at all. In fact, without her around, he only had more freedom to do whatever it was he did all those late nights. It just wasn’t fair. Seemed that was the way life went for Cassie. She promised herself that she wouldn’t let that happen to her daughter, and yet, here they were, repeating history once again.

Cassie opened the box, and pulled out the scissors, and the utility knife, and a roll of shelf paper. The baby blue and white checkered paper clashed with the teal of the kitchen, but it would have to do. It was on sale and all she could afford for now.

She sat on the floor and started in the lower cupboards, first wiping down the shelves and then measuring and cutting the shelf paper to fit. It was tedious, but almost therapeutic…covering up the old with the new. She decided to do the drawers last, starting with the smallest one. She pushed her measuring tape to the back of the drawer and something was jammed in the back.

“Great…a dead mouse? Dear, God…don’t let it be a dead mouse,” she prayed.

She slowly pulled the drawer out, afraid of what she would find. To her relief, it was an old church bulletin, folded up. She scoffed, “Figures…church people lived here.”

She started to crumble it up when she saw some writing on it. Nosy as she was, she read it: To the new owners. Welcome to our home. Or should I say your new home! I wanted you to know what this house meant for me and my family. I grew up here. Between these walls, lives were grown, love was cultivated, and a family thrived. There were good times and bad, sorrow and joy, but God always seemed to bless us no matter what the season brought. I hope the same will be true for you and your family. This house is small, and some days can feel like the walls are closing in around you. But it was always in that closeness that I felt security. I wish I could play a soundtrack of the joy that was experienced in this house that made it my home. The birthdays, the holidays, the laughter, the practical jokes played on each other, even the meals gone awry (my mother wasn’t the best cook), would be on that soundtrack. I hope you make your own soundtrack, and I hope that it is just as memorable. I hope this house becomes your home. And I hope you will find the same blessings and love that I found. God bless!

Cassie rolled her eyes in disgust. “God bless…soundtrack of joy…please,” Cassie said out loud. “What a sappy bunch of…” She wadded it up and tossed it towards the trashcan, and it landed on the floor beside it. Too busy and annoyed to get up and throw it in the trash, she continued to measure out the paper, and finish the drawers.

By the time her daughter got to the new house, Cassie was nearly finished with the shelf paper.

“Hi, Mom,” Shana called.

“Hi, I’m over here…on the floor.”

“What are you doing?” Shana asked.

“Just lining these horribly colored cabinets,” and she wrinkled her nose.

“I kinda like the color,” Shana said. Aware of her mom’s irritation, she was careful not to encourage it. “Do you need help?”

“No, I’m nearly done. But you can help with the trash,” and she motioned to the scraps piled over by the trash can.

Quietly and dutifully Shana began stuffing the scraps into the trash can. She noticed the church bulletin and picked it up. “What’s this?”

“That? That’s definitely garbage!” Cassie said.

“Well, what is it?” Shana pursued, turning it over in her hand.

Slightly irritated, Cassie answered, “Oh, it’s some sappy note from the past owner. A real cry-fest.”

Intrigued, Shana slipped it in her pocket. Her mom didn’t notice.

“I’m going to go start my homework. I’ll be in my room if you need me.”

“Okay, I’ll start dinner in a little while.”

Shana sat down on her bed, opened the bulletin, and saw the handwritten note on the back. By the time she was finished reading it, she was in tears. It was the kind of family she wished she’d grown up with. It sounded wonderful. It was a letter she would like to be able to honestly write one day. She flipped the note over and saw what church it was from, Calvary Community Church. She and her mom had been there before, but left because her mom couldn’t stand the other women. Shana was beginning to wonder if all of the turmoil that seemed to follow her and her mom was really just following her mom. What if she was merely an innocent bystander? She felt sad for her mom, but needed to do some things for herself.

At dinner, Shana ate silently. She could still feel her mother’s irritation, and uneasiness in the air.

“So, did you read the note? Pretty funny, eh?” Cassie said.

Carefully, Shana mustered her courage, “I liked it,” she said without looking up from her plate.

Cassie nearly choked on her food, “What?! You liked that garbled crap? Seriously?”

Shana felt like she was mocking her, but she held her own, “Yes, I did. Did you see what church it was from?”

Cassie shook her head ‘no’ while she took a bite of food.

“Calvary. We’ve been there. Remember?”

“No, I don’t. They’re all the same anyways. Why? You wanna go?” again she mocked her.

“Yes…I do. And I don’t need your permission. But I’d like you to go with me,” Shana said, and held her breath, sure that she would be ridiculed.

Cassie was shocked. Shana had never spoken to her like that before. It was decisive, but gentle.

“Me? At church? I don’t think they’d let me in,” Cassie scoffed.

Still Shana pursued. “You’re exactly who should be at church. And so am I.”

Cassie resisted the urge to debate her. She didn’t want dinner to turn into a fight. There was enough going on in her life to argue about, she certainly didn’t need it under her own roof. Her daughter was her only ally.

“I’m not so sure about that, but it isn’t Sunday yet. What did you do with the note anyways?” Cassie said.

“I have it. Why?”

“Just asking,” Cassie said.

“You want to read it? Or throw it away?”

“Does it mean something to you?” Cassie asked.

“Yes. It does.”

“Then I won’t throw it away. You can keep it,” Cassie smiled. But behind the smile, she hoped that Shana didn’t buy into the perfect family. She knew it would only lead to disappointment.

The next few nights, Cassie hardly slept at all, and when she did sleep, she had horrible dreams. In the morning she could never remember what the dreams were about, but her mind wouldn’t let go of that letter…that awful, sappy letter. Who had a life like that anyways? Love between the walls, blessings, joy…those were just concepts, pipe dreams that made for Friday night chick-flicks. Nobody actually lived like that.

On Sunday morning, she was surprised to see Shana up and dressed before 9:00.

“You got plans?” Cassie asked.

“Yes…and so do you. Go get dressed, or you’ll be late to church,” Shana insisted.

“You were serious?”

“Very…now come on. Let’s go. We can still make it on time,” Shana said, and stood her ground.

At first, Cassie was angry that her daughter would speak to her like that. She started to argue, but Shana quickly ran to her mother and gave her a huge hug. Without letting go, she begged, “Please?”

Cassie’s anger melted. She couldn’t resist her daughter’s urgency. She kissed her on the head, and without a word went to her closet to find something appropriate to wear. She couldn’t explain what had come over her. She really didn’t want to go, didn’t want to face the shame and rejection. Church always turned out the same; judgmental, fake people with pasted-on smiles. What was the point? Still, Shana really seemed to want to go. Maybe just this once, Cassie should paste on one of those fake smiles too. She could sit in the back and avoid people and even leave during the closing song. Maybe she could get past her own issues for the sake of her daughter. After all, her daughter deserved better than what she had been given. She doubted she would find anything life changing in one day at church. How much harm could it do? It’s what a mom was supposed to do, right? Maybe it was time she got on board, for Shana’s sake.

Cassie stood in front of her closet and stared at her clothes. Nothing in her wardrobe seemed appropriate. She knew people would judge her no matter what she wore. Why did she agree to go? Why did Shana even want to go?

She slid her clothes on the rod; piece by piece…nothing…nothing seemed right to wear. Shana walked up behind her. She was dressed in a short skater skirt, flats, and a tank top with a sweater covering her shoulders. Her brown hair fell at her shoulders, and was clipped back on one side with a barrette.

“Need help?” Shana asked.

“I guess I do, thanks,” Cassie said softly. Shana stepped in front of her, and proceeded to pull just the right outfit for her…not too dressy, and not too edgy. Cassie watched as Shana’s confidence shown through. In her bitterness and anger over Jack, Cassie had missed the blessing standing right in front of her. Shana was becoming quite the woman, in spite of Cassie’s mistakes. Maybe Shana knew what was best for them…better than Cassie did.

“So, church, huh?” Cassie asked.

“Yes. Now get dressed, or we’ll be late,” Shana smiled and closed the bedroom door behind her.

“Church,” Cassie said as she held her dress in front of her and looked at herself in the mirror. She took a deep breath, “How bad could it be? It can’t get much worse than the way things have been going.”

And then she remembered that annoying welcome note. “Maybe it is time to make a new soundtrack.”

Downsized – a short story

She sat among her treasures…her memories of a life well lived. Family told her it was junk and that she needed to “down-size,” that she needed to organize. But she knew what they meant. “Down-size” was code for “get rid of.” She was expected to eliminate…to throw it away.

She knew they were probably right. At least it looked like junk to everyone else. But at a time in her life when it felt like everything else was being taken away, her job, her independence, her self-worth, even her dignity, how could she simply dismiss all the memories held within her collection…her “junk.”

Why did she need to be part of the down-sizing process anyway? What was the urgency? When she was gone, they’d probably go through the place with a bulldozer and get rid of it. This way was cruel and painful. How could she decide what memory was worth keeping and what memory easily tossed aside?

She turned her attention to the china cabinet. First the wedding china: she would pass that down to her children and hope they would treasure it. She paused to pick up the silver baby spoon that she thought belonged to her grandmother, though she couldn’t be sure. Still, it should be kept. It had value…at least to her. She hoped it would to someone else.

The old teacups that her great aunt had given each grandchild and great niece and nephew were dusty, but still without a blemish. She turned over one cup and saw her granddaughter’s name printed neatly on the bottom. She couldn’t remember if she had written that or if someone else had, but it needed to be passed to its rightful owner, as did the others as well.

She came across the set of frosted glasses imprinted with carousel animals, and remembered using them as a child. Surely they must have some monetary value, even if no one else cared if they were tossed aside after she was gone.

She thought how strange it was to get old. She always knew there was a generation gap, but never in history did there seem to be quite such a generation divide. In her day, people passed things down, from generation to generation. They treasured family heirlooms and saw them as family history. Her generation would never have dreamed of selling grandmother’s wedding dress. Now, to this new generation, it was junk, something that took up room. It was all about shiny and new. Nobody dreamed of wearing their grandmother’s wedding dress. It just wasn’t done anymore.

This new generation talked of recycling as if it was a revolutionary concept. Her generation recycled as a way of life, only they didn’t brag about it and wear it like a badge. They just did it.

Women reused feed bags and seed bags as fabric, and would make clothes or blankets from them. They recycled their glass bottles for cash, or used them for other household purposes. When something broke, they fixed it. Or if it couldn’t be fixed, they took it apart and used it for parts to fix the next thing that broke.

She found it odd that now people went to estate sales to buy “antiques” and things that their grandparents probably would have been happy to pass down…for free.

When the china cabinet was nearly empty, and her arms were tired, and sweat dripped from her brow, she sat back and looked at the emptiness. Even the cabinet itself was a memory. It was part of the dining room set that she and her husband bought for their first house. It was the first room they could afford to furnish. Everyone said they were crazy for not furnishing the living room first, that it made more sense than to get the dining room set up first. But she was pregnant with their second child and wanted more than anything to be able to sit around the family dinner table and share a meal. She also wanted to host Thanksgiving dinner, so it made perfect sense to her.

She opened up the cabinet, and with a black marker, wrote her daughter’s name on the inside of the door. But it wasn’t enough. She continued: I hope you hold on to this memory. But if you by chance get rid of it, I hope the next owner will treasure the value that this holds.

She wanted to write more, but there wasn’t enough room. She hoped that got her point across.

She closed the cabinet door, and traced the delicate trim with her finger.

The doorbell rang and startled her. Then she remembered her daughter mentioned she was going to try to come by to help her if she could squeeze in the time. She braced herself on the chair and slowly made her way to the door.

“Hi, Grandma. I brought a helper,” Lexi motioned to her friend standing beside her.

“Oh, I was expecting your Mom.”

“I asked if I could come. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, no…it’s always good to see you,” she kissed Lexi on the cheek. “I’m just surprised that you’d want to do this sort of thing.”

“Oh, I love looking through old treasures. Usually I have to go to estate sales, but this will be so much more fun. I mean, you can tell me all about your things and old photos and stuff. I’ve never really had a chance to sit with you and find out much about all your antiques.”

She didn’t know what to say.

“Grandma, you okay?”

“Yes, yes…I’m fine, dear. I guess I never realized we hadn’t ever talked about your, uh, heritage.”

“I know. I brought a notebook and my camera so I could document everything too. I want to be sure that I have the story behind everything, so I can tell my kids all about it…when I finally have kids.”

Lexi watched her Grandmother wipe a tear from her eye.

“Grandma, oh, I’m sorry. I’ve upset you. I, uh…” she stuttered.

“No, no. You’ve made an old lady very happy,” she reached for her granddaughter’s hand. “You’re a real gift, and more precious than any of these dusty antiques.” Then she reached out to her friend’s hand, “And you are too.”

The girls didn’t really understand, but they smiled and helped her back to a chair.

“Oh, I see you’ve done most of the packing already.” She looked disappointed.

“I didn’t do a very good job. Maybe you could help me organize it a little better. Here, start with this one,” and she handed a tissue-wrapped teacup to Lexi. She carefully unwrapped it from the tissue.

“Look at the bottom,” her grandma said.

“It has my name on it. This is mine?” she smiled.

“Yes. And there’s more…much more.”

They began taking pieces back out of the box, and the girls took notes while she told them things that she hadn’t talked about for a really long time. Maybe being down-sized wouldn’t be so bad after all.