The Foster Parents…a short story

Kevin and I hated having to give up Elijah. He was our third foster child, and we wished he would be our last. But we knew it was temporary when our caseworker contacted us to tell us that Elijah’s mother wanted him back. I know we should consider it a blessing when a mother cleans up her act and regains custody of her own child. But it felt as if we were losing our own flesh and blood. We never expected her to complete the program, but somehow, she’d managed, and Elijah went back home to his birth mother. We prayed she would stay clean.

When the agency called us in the middle of the night with an emergency situation, we were reluctant to take the plunge yet again. But a baby needed us, so we acted on it.

The tiny baby was wrapped in a pink blanket when I took her into my arms. Her big black eyes seemed to stare right through me. She was beautiful, with a full head of black hair at three months old, and rosy cheeks. Kevin filled out the paperwork as I nuzzled her close. All we were told was that she was dropped off in haste by her mother who seemed desperate. The woman had left the baby on the doorstep of the agency and knocked loudly on the door. She’d run off before anyone could talk to her. The baby was accompanied by a paper sack with the name “Alicia” written on it, and filled with clothes, nice clothes, that I would never have the money to buy. But no story to accompany her. She needed some place to go while the authorities tried to find her parents.

I slept on the floor next to the crib the first night we had Alicia so she wouldn’t feel alone. We called her Alicia since that was the name on the paper sack. She slept most of the way through the night, and woke around 4:30am hungry. I picked her up and she nuzzled into my shoulder. She took to the bottle just fine, so it was possible she wasn’t nursed.

In the morning, Kevin opened the front door to leave for work and on our front porch was a paper sack with “Alicia” written on it, just like the one that came with her.

Kevin picked it up and looked around the neighborhood for a sign of how it got there. Mrs. Shafer was just coming out to get the morning paper.

“Morning, Kevin,” she said and nodded his way.

“Morning. Did you happen to see anyone at our front door this morning?” he asked her.

“No. Why?”

“No reason,” he said. “I thought I heard a knock, that’s all.” No sense bringing her into his business.

He carefully opened the bag, assuming there’d be more clothes, but he jumped when he saw what was inside. He quickly brought the bag in to the kitchen where I was feeding Alicia.

Without a word, he held up a wad of cash in his hand.

“Where did THAT come from?!” I asked.

He set the bag on the table.

“It was on the front porch. In here,” he said, baffled.

“How did it get there?”

“I don’t know. Should we call the agency?” he asked.

The thought suddenly occurred to me that Alicia’s mother must know where we lived. A chill went through me.

“Yes. I think we should call them right now!” I told him.

“You don’t think that the mother…” Kevin said, catching up to my fear.

“That’s exactly what I think!”

“But how?” he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders, feeling a little violated.

“Did she follow us?” he asked.

“Oh, God! I hope not! That’s so creepy! How much is in there?”

He dumped it out on the table and counted it.

“There’s got to be over $5000.00 in here!” he said.

“Call the agency! Right now!” I said.

He called and talked to the receptionist, but our case worker wasn’t in the office yet. He left a message for her to call us back as soon as possible.

I went to the front window and peeked through the still-closed curtains. I looked up and down the street and saw no one.

Alicia began to cry and I took her into the nursery to change her diaper.

“Where did you come from, little one?” I asked her as she gurgled and smiled.

Kevin came into the room behind me.

“Look, I need to get to work. Can you handle this?” he asked.

I was still a little unsettled, but I lied and told him that we’d be fine. He kissed me on the cheek and I listened as he locked the front door behind him.

“We’ll be just fine, won’t we,” I said to Alicia and she smiled at me again.

I watched the news while I waited for our case worker to call me back. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I was hoping I’d see some clue on the news about where this baby had come from. Of course, there was nothing. I wanted to call my best friend, Shana, but I was a little worried about getting anyone else involved. I wasn’t sure what we were dealing with, and I couldn’t risk it. What if this was some gangster’s baby, or a criminal’s child who was on the run?

The phone rang and I jumped.

“Hello?”

“Hi, is this Anna?”

It was our caseworker, Jennifer.

“Yes, it is.”

“Hi, it’s Jennifer. My assistant said your husband called. Is everything okay with the baby?” she asked.

“Yes, yes…the baby’s fine,” I said, stalling.

“Oh, good. I thought something was wrong. Is she eating and sleeping okay?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then what can I help you with?”

“Well…did you find out anything about the mother yet?” I asked.

“No, but you’ll be the first to know. Why do you ask?”

“Well, I think she might know where we live,” I said. That same chill ran through me as I said it.

“What?! That’s impossible! Why do you think that?”

“Well, Kevin found a bag on the porch this morning with Alicia’s name on it.”

“That’s odd. Maybe it was from one of your friends as a welcome present,” she said.

“I don’t think so. We haven’t told anyone yet. And it was full of money…lots of it.”

“Money? What do you mean, money? How much?” she asked.

“Kevin counted about $5000.00.”

I heard her gasp on the other end of the line.

“That’s crazy! Are you sure it’s real?” she asked.

“I’m pretty sure. But besides the money, we’re very concerned that the mother knows where we live. What if she’s dangerous?”

There was a long pause. I knew that Jennifer was grasping the possibilities too.

“Well, we don’t know if it is in fact from the mother. And she probably isn’t dangerous since she left the money anonymously. But this is definitely a new one. Let me talk to my colleagues and see what they suggest. Is Kevin home today?” she asked.

“No, he had to work.”

“Do you feel comfortable being at home? I mean, I’m sure everything will be fine,” she tried to assure me.

“What should I do with the money?” I asked.

“Just hold onto it for now, okay? Don’t go on any shopping sprees,” she said, trying to lighten the mood.

“I won’t,” I said. I didn’t appreciate the levity.

“I’ll call you back as soon as I can, okay?” she said.

“Thanks. I’d appreciate it.”

I had hoped that talking to her would make me feel better, but it didn’t. She clearly had not dealt with a situation like this before, and I doubted that any of her colleagues had either.

After I put Alicia down for a nap, I turned the TV back on. I flipped around the talk shows, and the news shows, still hoping to find some clue as to who Alicia belonged to.

It was several hours before Jennifer called back, and I picked up the phone on the first ring.

“Hello?”

“Hi Anna.”

“What did you find out?” I realized I probably sounded more concerned than the last time we talked.

“Well, not much. It seems that we’ve never had a situation like this. Especially where the money is concerned,” she said.

“The money is the least of my worries. Do we know if she’s dangerous?” I asked.

“No, we don’t know anything about her still. But as I said before, I think we would have known by now if she was dangerous, especially since it appears that she knows where you live.”

Her words still didn’t assure me.

“If you’d like, we can place Alicia with someone else,” she suggested.

“I’ve already thought about that, and I don’t want to do that. It isn’t her fault. If anything, it’s your fault…the agency’s fault.”

There was silence on the other end. Jennifer knew I was right.

“Look, that’s all I can offer you right now. I wish we could do more, but I just…uh…” she stammered.

“I know, I know. Kevin should be getting home any minute. Let me talk to him and I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” I said.

“Okay. Don’t hesitate to call the police if anything seems out of the ordinary,” she said.

“Thanks. I’ll do that,” I said, disgusted.

Kevin was a late. I was feeding Alicia her evening bottle when he came home.

“Is that you?” I called from the kitchen.

“Yes!” He called back.

He came into the kitchen and had in his hand another paper bag just like the last one. He set it on the table.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I said.

He opened it up and spread the money on the table. Another $5000.00.

“Maybe we should call the police,” I suggested.

“Why? She hasn’t done anything wrong. What can they do?” he said.

“Maybe they can fingerprint the money or something?” I offered.

“Oh, I think they’d just laugh at us. No crime has been committed.”

“But what if it’s stolen? They could at least figure that out,” I said.

He thought for a moment.

“Maybe you’re right. Okay, I’ll call, just to be sure.”

When the police arrived, we explained the situation and handed over the bags of money. They assured us that this didn’t seem like a person that was unhinged, but rather someone that had their child’s best interest at heart. I wished I could believe them.

That night, as I lay on the floor in Alicia’s room, I heard every creak and moan in the house. I looked out the window several times hoping that Alicia’s mother, or whoever it was, would make another appearance. I wasn’t sure what I would do if I saw her, but I just wanted to see who it was.

I barely slept more than an hour that night. Kevin let me sleep in and checked on us in the morning before he left for work. Alicia had slept clear until 7am.

“Will you be okay?” he whispered.

I nodded.

“Call me if you hear anything,” he said.

“Do you think there’s another bag on the porch?” I asked.

“Maybe.”

I listened as he opened the front door, then he came back in with another bag. He smiled.

“Leave it on the kitchen table. I’ll deal with it later,” I said, exhausted from this strange situation.

Jennifer called later to check in with me and I explained that we gave the money to the police. She thought that was probably a good idea. I also told her there was another bag that morning.

The phone rang around 10:15am. It was my friend, Shana.

“Oh, my Gosh! Did you see the news?” she said, sounding like a gossipy teenager.

“Not yet. Why?”

“You know that teen actress, Clara Barton? The one that’s been missing for like almost a year?”

“I guess,” I didn’t recognize the name right away. “Why?”

“You know the one. She’s the daughter of Mimi Sheldon and Harry Barton…the actors. My gosh, it’s like you live under a rock!”

“Very funny. What about her?” I asked.

“She’s being accused of leaving her baby on her friend’s porch! She just abandoned it! Gave birth and walked away! What kind of a dirt bag does that?! I mean she probably has servants and everything? Why would she abandon a baby?! It has to be drugs!”

“You don’t know that,” I tried to defend the poor girl.

“What else could it be? Said she named the baby and everything and then just bailed!”

My head started to spin. “What did she name it?”

“What?! I don’t know. Something like Felicia or something like that.”

“Alicia?” I asked, slowly.

“Maybe. Wait…hold on…they’re talking about it on TMZ…Yeah…they said Alicia. How did you know?”

I was feeling nauseas. “I gotta go. I’ll talk to you later,” I said and quickly hung up before even saying goodbye.

I called Kevin and then called Jennifer at the agency. She said she’d check into it, but that it sounded like a long shot to her. I picked up Alicia and looked in her eyes. Something inside me told me this was that young actress’ child. I had to get Alicia back to her mother. She deserved a second chance at motherhood. She was just a scared and mixed up kid. Maybe with the right support, she could give Alicia a good life. Still, she did abandon her. It was entirely up to the agency what would happen.

 

Six months later, Kevin and I watched Clara Barton on the morning talk show. We listened as Clara talked about her upcoming movie and confirmed her engagement to a famous baseball player. The host joked about the rumors of Clara having a child. Clara laughed and posed majestically, “Does this body look like I’ve had a child? Please!” She laughed wildly with the host.

I looked at Kevin and sighed. “That’s pathetic.”

Kevin agreed and picked Alicia up as she toddled over to the couch where we were sitting.

“That mean old actress doesn’t deserve you anyways,” Kevin said to Alicia, and nuzzled her as she giggled.

 

The End

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Jane & Maria – 2nd Installment of the Coffee Shop Vignettes

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Maria wrapped her hands around her coffee cup to warm them.

“So, tell me…how did it go?” Jane asked Maria, as she handed her son a coloring book and some crayons, and moved her coffee out of his reach.

“I’m not sure,” Maria said.

“Well, was it a good interview? Do you think you gave the answers they wanted?”

“I’m not sure,” Maria said and slumped back in her chair.

“Oh, come on. It couldn’t have been that bad,” Jane tried to be encouraging. She turned to her son, “No, no…only in the book…not on the table.”

Maria smiled.

“It’s just that it’s been so long since I’ve been out of the workforce, you know?” Maria said.

“Oh, I’m sure that won’t matter that much. You have the experience they’re looking for.”

“Yeah, but from 200 years ago!” Maria said and laughed.

Jane laughed at Maria’s exaggeration.

Maria sighed. “I don’t know. Part of me is excited to go back to work now that the kids are in school full time, but the other part of me wants to be home for them. I hate the idea of sending them to daycare. I should be helping them with their homework, not some stranger.”

“I’m sure there will be plenty of homework for you to help with. Besides, don’t a lot of their friends go to the same afterschool care?” Jane asked.

Maria nodded.

“What about the job? You’re scared, aren’t you,” Jane said.

“I hate to admit it, but yes, I am. I haven’t had to work for anyone in a long time. I’ve been the one telling people, well, little people that is, what to do for the past ten years. I don’t even know if I remember how to take orders from someone else,” Maria said.

“Sure you do. I’ve seen you take orders from Sarah all the time!” Jane teased.

“Oh, please! I don’t take orders from my 14 year old.”

Jane raised her eyebrow.

“Okay, okay, maybe sometimes I do. But don’t you dare tell her that!” Maria admitted.

“Mama…other book, other book,” Jane’s son insisted.

“I see you have your own dictator,” Maria teased.

Jane frowned at her as she got out another coloring book for her son.

Maria’s phone rang, and she looked at the number. She put her finger to her lips, and Jane told her son to be quiet.

“This is Maria,” she answered, and listened.

Jane kept her son occupied and watched Maria’s face for any indication.

“Yes, I’d be happy to. Okay. Okay. Thank you. I’ll talk to you then. Bye,” Maria said.

“Well?” Jane asked.

“I got a second interview!” Maria exclaimed.

“I knew you could! See, I told you! When do they want to see you again?” Jane asked.

“Tomorrow morning,” Maria said. She let it sink in.

“How does going back to work sound now?” Jane asked.

“It sounds pretty good, actually. Look, I better go. I have to find something different to wear tomorrow. I haven’t had to wear a skirt for two days in a row in a long time! I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?” Maria said as she got up. She waved to Jane’s son on her way out.

“Bye!” Jane called after her, but she was already out the door.

“Bye bye,” Jane’s son imitated.

Jane smiled at her son, grateful that she had a few more years before she’d have to go back to work, but excited for her friend. She picked up a crayon and helped her son color his picture.

The Coffee Shop Vignettes – Jessica & Daisy

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Jessica wiped Jared’s pudgy face and he cooed at her. She’d already dropped the older two off at school, and had time to go to the gym. She wanted to enjoy her cup of coffee in peace, but Jared had a cold and couldn’t go to day care, so she had to bring him with her. So much for “me” time. She checked her lipstick in the review mirror one more time before getting out of the car.

She stood in line, with Jared perched on her hip. Two people ahead of her stood a woman holding a baby with out of control curly blond hair and a toddler, with equally crazy hair, hanging on her prairie skirt.

“Stop that, David…put that down,” she scolded. The one on her hip let out a single scream, and David laughed at him. Within minutes, David realized he had an audience with his brother, and began dancing in line. The woman struggled to control him, but it was clear she was going to lose that battle.

Jessica craned her neck to see the spectacle. Jared cooed and she shushed him. He obliged.

By the time the woman had gotten to the front of the line to order her coffee, David was in full entertainer mode, dancing around standing patrons. The woman struggled to give her order and then find her money while still keeping track of David. Other customers grimaced and gave her dirty looks. Jessica rolled her eyes.

“No control,” Jessica mumbled to herself.

“You got that right,” the well-dressed man in front of her said.

David continued to dance around the tables and the younger one screamed in delight as she made her way to the table. Jessica had to raise her voice over the commotion so that the clerk could hear her.

“David! Get over here!” the woman raised her voice.

Jessica watched her along with the entire café. She shook her head as she got her coffee and tried to find a table anywhere but near David and his Mom, but there was none. She was forced to sit right beside them.

Jessica no sooner set Jared in the high chair and he began to cry. She gave him a pacifier, but he spit it out. She gave a quick and inconspicuous sniff, but his diaper was fine. She could feel the eyes of other patrons on her and it made her uncomfortable. She was getting more flustered by the moment, and felt the need to leave, but she really wanted to enjoy her coffee. Still, what would people think? Even the older woman across the way waved at Jared and smiled at him, but he continued to cry. It was turning into a fiasco.

And then David came over to her table.

“Is he okay?” he asked.

“Yes, he’s fine, thank you,” Jessica said trying to shoo David away. She didn’t want people to think David was with her.

“But he doesn’t sound okay,” David continued.

“Thank you. I can take care of it,” Jessica said. Why wasn’t David’s mother attending to him?

As Jessica was struggling with Jared, he arched his back, knocking over her coffee. It spilled all over the table and onto the floor. Jessica was mortified. She reached for napkins, but only had a few.

David jumped back. “Mommy, Mommy! The baby spilled!” he announced to the café.

Jessica restrained herself from yelling at the child.

“Here let me help.” It was David’s mother. She appeared from nowhere and held a rag in her hand. Without a word she began cleaning up. David ran to the counter, got more napkins, and began helping too.

Jessica continued to tend to Jared. He’d started to quiet down as he was distracted by all the commotion. She didn’t want the woman helping her, but she really did need the help.

“Thank you,” Jessica said.

“No problem. This is nothing compared to the mess my boys make,” the woman said.

Jessica looked at the woman’s baby who sat quietly chewing on his pacifier. She felt guilty for judging the woman.

“I’m sorry. Jared’s not usually this much trouble. I don’t know what happened. But thank you for your help,” she said.

The woman handed the rags to David and he took them to the counter and handed them to the clerk.

David retuned with a cookie.

“Look Mommy! The lady gave me a cookie!” he said.

“That’s because you’re such a big helper. Thanks buddy,” she said to him.

“Again…thank you,” Jessica said.

“No problem. We mom’s have to stick together,” the woman said.

“Yes, I guess we do,” Jessica agreed. She held out her hand, “I’m Jessica.”

“Oh, I’m Daisy. I know, it’s a weird name. It’s what happens when your parents are hippy’s,” Daisy said.

“It’s lovely,” Jessica said.

“I’m David,” David said very loudly.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Jessica said.

“Do you have any coffee left?” Daisy asked.

Jessica looked at her cup which was empty. “Nope, so much for that cup of coffee.”

“Here, let me go get you another. What was it?” Daisy asked.

“Oh, you don’t have to…” Jessica started.

“It’s okay. I’m sure they’ll give you a free one.”

“Um…Mocha, thanks,” Jessica said.

“David, watch your brother,” Daisy instructed.

David dragged his brother’s high chair over to Jessica’s table and sat in the chair across from her.

“That’s my brother. His name is Riley,” David said.

Daisy returned with Jessica’s coffee and they spent the next hour talking about their kids, and Jessica realized they weren’t so different after all.

Introducing “The Coffee Shop Vignettes”

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Sometimes it’s hard to think of an idea for a Blog Post, but it’s much easier for me to think of a story. I think I get it from my dad.

When I was really little, he used to sing a bedtime song to me that he made up called “Jackie Penguin.” In the song, Jackie Penguin would just happen to have the exact same day I did. And Jackie Penguin’s day always ended happy or learned a lesson, just like I did. #thanksdad

That’s where the inspiration for “The Coffee Shop Vignettes” came from: for the days that I don’t have a Blog Post, but I do have something to share…or at least my fictional characters do.

My hope is that the reader would see themselves in the situations, or their friends, and would find connection and comfort.

This is a compilation of encouraging conversations from everyday life. Imagine yourself sitting at your local coffee shop cozied up with a book, surrounded by other patrons. It is alive with conversation, of people coming and going, and slowing down just long enough to get a glimpse into one another’s lives. These are the stories of your neighbors, your friends, your family, and maybe even your own story. They may sound familiar to you, and you may have even overheard a similar story at the table next to you.

My hope is that some of the stories bring you comfort, reminding you that we’re all in this together. Your stories are my stories, my stories are yours. Please check out the first installment of “The Coffee House Vignettes” listed under the “Categories” sidebar.

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.