One of the many blessings of being a writer is the people you get to know. I’ve learned a lot from my writing friends – about writing, of course – but about other things too. One of my smart friends, Tracey Sorel, has combined her love of good books and fine wine in Zinfandelity, the debut novel of her Wine Country Vixen series. (I told you she’s smart, didn’t I?) I’m happy to say she’s willing to share some thoughts about both with us. So, Tracey …
I don’t know about you, but I love a good glass of wine just as much as I love reading a good book. I started my love affair with the grape libation years ago. I didn’t perfect my tastes, though, until I lived in Northern California for a brief time about six years ago. There I fell in love all over again. I’d use any excuse to go wine tasting in Napa Valley, or better yet venture right outside my home in the Livermore Valley to the dozens of wineries almost within walking distance.
You haven’t experienced wine in the United States until you’ve traveled to the Napa region. It is like all the brochures and advertisement you’ve seen–wonderful sunny hillsides, dotted with chateau like structures surrounded by vineyards, their vines burgeoning with clusters of grapes. And each winery/vineyard has their own signature blend of wines. In Napa you’ll find wineries known for their tannin laced spicy reds, some for their fruity dry whites and a few who are famous for their sparkling wines. It sort of reminds me of my author friends. We all write romance, but we each have our own brand for our work. Some of us write sweet, while some are known for the hotter romance stories. And a few of us are successfully writing both.
As writers we are the vintners of our profession. Our books start as little seeds of an idea, and then develop into full blown story lines not unlike the way grapes grow from season to season starting out small and eventually filling the vines with full bodied clusters. I enjoy nothing more than an afternoon spent reading a good book while sipping from an equally good glass wine. Wouldn’t it be fun to try pairing your wine with your reading tastes? I might suggest a spicy red Malbec with a hot romance read, or a fruity Riesling paired with a nice sweet historical romance. How about you? What wine would you pair with the book you’re reading.
Tracey is also currently featured on the Guest Excerpt page of my website - http://www.sandracareycody.com There you can learn more about her and read an excerpt from Zinfandelity.
In honor of Love a Library Month, I asked a fellow lover of libraries, writer Terry McDermit, to share some of her library experiences with us. First, a little something about our guest:
Terry McDermid has been writing stories since she was in fourth grade and her parents say she has been telling them even longer. Her first ‘payment’ for a short story came in high school when she received horseback rides from a friend each time she brought a chapter to school. Writing and teaching have always been connected for Terry and she has written articles, short stories, and lessons for the educational market, in addition to an educational resource text. She currently teaches kindergarten and loves the stories that she sees daily in her classroom, finding that they help her discover new ideas about which to write.
Libraries I Have Loved
A few years ago, I was asked to speak at an area library during the month of February. The idea was that since I write romance novels and February is the month of lovers, I could share about my writing experiences. The audience, though, wasn’t just going to be romance readers so I needed to think of a topic that would appeal to all of the listeners.
Since February is “Love a Library Month,” I decided that I could talk about my love of libraries. First off, I LOVE libraries. They’ve been a big part of my writing life and I can’t imagine where I’d be without the different libraries and the helpful librarians I’ve met along my writing career. The other reason I figured the topic would work is that we were at the library and I assumed that those in attendance also appreciated the places.
My first library experience was at a large white house in Des Moines, Iowa, that had been converted into a neighborhood library. Every weekend, my mom would pull my sister and little brother in our red wagon while my other brother and I walked alongside. The books that we’d checked out the week before were in the wagon and when we returned, we’d have a treasured new stack of books. Plus, the librarian would read a story to us while we were there. When my fourth year grade teacher told me that I might think about being a writer, I started reading books differently, thinking about the ones that I might write.
The next library I visited was a Carnegie Library in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The building was very grand and you couldn’t help being quiet when you walked inside. The librarian would suggest books she thought you would like to read. One she gave to me was about a boy who was mean to ants and shrunk down to visit their ant hill. I learned about combining fiction and facts from that story – and a lot about the industrious ants!
We lived in Independence, Missouri, for a year and our area library was the same one that President Harry Truman used when he was a boy. He determined to read all of the books in the library and I decided that was a goal for me. However, I was too young to go into any section but the children’s section. I did read a lot of books that year, even if I didn’t make it through all of the library’s collection.
Our Florida years solidified my writing desire. Chris Evert was becoming a tennis phenomenon and most of us took tennis lessons to be like her. I was a bit too tall and gangly, plus it was very hot on the court. The library was at the other side of the tennis court – and it was air-conditioned! I decided I’d rather read and write than run around on the tennis court. (I did exercise – I had to ride my bike three miles each way to the community center.) For the first time, I could go into the adult section of the library. I discovered Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and many other strong women writers. I knew this was what I wanted to do.
College years slipped in and I studied at the library. Writing term papers was my only writing experience during those years but the thought of writing fiction still lingered. Moving to Lawrence KS and finishing my last courses at the University of Kansas was the beginning of that chapter in my life.
The library at KU was set up with stacks – long rows of books organized by category and behind a door. You could wander for hours in the stacks and never see all the books. To get to the stacks, you had to pass through the shelves of the periodicals. And my most common path was from the back of the alphabet.
Which is where I discovered magazines about writing! The Writer and The Writer’s Digest caught my eye. Going back decades and bound into volumes per year, these magazines were a treasure trove of writing information and my education into the writing world. I found potential markets for my ideas and soon I was submitting – and eventually! – selling my articles.
More libraries have followed from those early ones. I learned about research and the vast resources at the Atchison Public Library. I heard my first real author speak at the Lawrence Public Library. Twice, I’ve found a writing group through a library. The list of support I’ve received from librarians and libraries could go on and on.
While I had to do the work to be published, the libraries provided me with the knowledge and resources needed to do that work. Some people like to go shoe shopping. I like to browse a library, touching the spines of the books of all those other authors. And, of course, now it’s fun and rewarding to wander to the McD section and find (or not find!) copies of my books on the shelf.
So in February, I remember those libraries and send them each a box of cyber-chocolates! I love libraries!!
How have libraries touched your life? Any great library stories of your own?
To learn more about Terry, please visit her website: http://www.tessamcdermid.comLinks to the two magazines mentioned in this post:
Writers often talk about what a lonely road they’ve chosen. I don’t disagree. Staring at a blank computer screen waiting for inspiration to strike has caused more than one would-be storyteller to to question their choice (along with their sanity) - sometimes, unfortunately, to walk away from their dream. Why haven’t I? What keeps me going when the words won’t come? More than any other single thing: friends who write. One such friend is Nancy Labs. Nancy has been a part of my creative journey since I first dared to share my dream of being a writer. She is not only a fine writer, but also a talented painter and, from her, I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to step away from chasing those all-too-elusive words and let your muse enter by another door.
I’m pleased that Nancy has agreed to let me share with the readers of Birth of a Novel how she finds inspiration in another medium. Here’s a quote from her website:
“Through painting, I am able to express the joy and wonder I experience everyday as I observe the beauty of the natural world. I strive to invest my work—whether landscapes, portraits or still lifes—with the sense of spiritual presence I encounter when I look deeply at a subject, probing to find the inner life and energy that animates all of nature. I especially love exploring the nuances of shifting light and shadow to discover and express the many ways in which these atmospheric qualities affect the colors that dance in the trees, fields, streams, flowers, objects and people that surround us.
“I’ve devoted a section of my work to scenes from Peace Valley Park and Nature Center in Doylestown, PA. Peace Valley is—as the name suggests—a source of peace and inspiration in my life, and I wanted to dedicate part of this website to celebrating what this beautiful place has meant to me.”
There will be an exhibit of Paintings by Nancy Labs at Peace Valley Nature Center, 170 Chapman Road, Doylestown, PA through the month of February. This Sunday, February 3, 2:00-4:00 p.m. is the opening reception. Come meet Nancy, see her paintings, and take a few minutes to chat with this very talented and approachable artist.
To learn more about this multi-talented woman, visit http://www.nancylabs.com
Copyright to the featured image is owned by Nancy Labs.
Even when you know the story you want to tell, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Common wisdom says to start as close to the end as you can. Start when a character is about to be taken out of his (or her) comfort zone. Good advice. Why? Because the character’s reaction to change and the challenges it presents is the heart of a story. How will he solve the problem? That’s what makes a reader turn pages and keep reading into the night.
That’s pretty straightforward. Start with a problem. But, at some point, you want to show who the character is, how he got that way, and why this particular problem is important to him. That’s where backstory comes in.
Love and Not Destroy is the story of a young woman’s search for her true identity. It’s a mystery, so there’s also a murder to solve. I start with the discovery of the body of a homeless man – the one person my protagonist, Peace Morrow, believes can provide the answers she needs. This sets the story in motion.
Discovering the man’s identity and solving the puzzle of his death are the challenges of the plot. Why does Peace care enough to become involved? Because of who she is – her backstory. I waited until Chapter Three, when I hoped the reader would be hooked by the puzzle, to tell this. This is how I began to give the reader the information he needed to understand Peace and why the answers are so important to her:
An old-fashioned Christening dress and bonnet, encased in a shadowbox frame, hung in a place of honor in the room. Peace’s earliest memories were of her mother pointing to the dress and crooning to her: “Somebody loved you so much they dressed you like a princess and set you adrift, just like the baby Moses.” A scattering of daisies, embroidered with stitches so tiny they were almost invisible, edged the dress’s flowing skirt and the bonnet’s brim. A silver cup and a pillow, embroidered with the words “Peace Be With You” rested on a shelf under the shadowbox. When Caroline had adopted the foundling child, she’d given her the name Peace Daisy Morrow, taken from the fine needlework and in honor of her own Quaker tradition. Peace loved to tease her mother, calling her the most militant pacifist on the planet. Invariably, Caroline would retort, “And proudly so.”
On a table near Peace’s elbow was a photograph of her and her mother, taken last spring, on the day of her graduation from Temple. The physical disparity between the two was striking. Peace was five feet, nine inches tall, large boned and rail thin, with fair skin, red hair and a cinnamon dusting of freckles. That coloring, paired with clear blue eyes and a snub nose, suggested an Irish lineage. That’s all Peace knew about her biological heritage. Caroline Morrow was barely five feet tall and weighed less than a hundred pounds. What she lacked in size, she made up in energy; her dark eyes snapped purpose and resolve. Fifty-eight years old, her hair was an even mixture of salt and pepper. She wore it long, in a single braid that trailed down her back. When she was upset or deep in thought she’d bring the braid forward and run her fingers along its length. Watching her, Peace would imagine she heard Mozart.
I hoped that, by showing some of the treasured items in Peace’s life, I would give the reader a glimpse into her history and, at the same time, pique their curiosity enough to make them want to share Peace’s journey.
Love and Not Destroy -http://amzn.to/wxIV81
There, I’ve said it. More than just said it. I put it in writing for all the world to see (or at least anyone who reads this blog).
That’s surely a radical resolution for a writer to make. Writers love reading and I’m no exception. So, why? Why would I make such a radical resolution? There are a couple of reasons.
The first is that I’ve lost a sense of balance. I read when I should write. Yes, reading is essential to writing, at least if you want to write well, but sometimes I find myself reading as an excuse not to write, especially when I get stuck on a plot point. Instead of figuring out how to get Jennie Connors out of trouble, I’ll pick up a book and let Elizabeth George get Barbara Havers out of trouble.
The second and, maybe even more important reason, is that I’m reading without thinking. I gobble up books like popcorn – anything and everything with a title or a cover that catches my fancy. With this resolution, I’m promising myself that I’ll read fewer books but read more selectively. For example, I’m going to set aside a month to read Willa Cather. I’ll read (in some cases, re-read) all of her books in the order in which she wrote them. I’ll watch her grow as an artist and as a human being.
In this process of reading fewer books, I’ll read slower. I’ll take time to savor the language and to stop and think about the ideas. I admit I’m a character lover when it comes to reading. I’m going to at least try to find the theme in a story, to ask what this story has to tell me.
So, that’s my plan for 2013. Will I stick to it or will it go the way of most resolutions? Who knows? I’ll keep you posted. (I’m sure you’re all holding their breath to know.) Maybe I’ll decide it’s a bad idea and abandon it. Maybe thinking about reading too much will take the fun out of it. If that happens, forget it. If reading ceases to be a pleasure, I’ll know it was a bad idea and edit this radical resolution out of my life
NOTE: Every time I start typing resolution, my fingers want to type revolution. Could it be Freudian?
The beginning of a new year is full of promise, a clean slate, a time for a fresh start. However, if you’re like me (and surely some of you are), you’re not quite ready to jump in. There are a few loose ends to take care of. One by one I’m ticking them off.
The Christmas tree is down. Decorations are put away. Thank you notes are written. I’ve broken my first resolution. It’s almost nine p.m. on January 2. Dinner is finished. The kitchen is cleaned up. The dishwasher and the cat are both purring downstairs. Time to move ahead … um, not quite.
One of my yearly rituals is go through my “Books Read” journal. It’s a way of taking stock, of seeing where I’ve been. Browsing through the pages, I relive the pleasure I experienced reading each entry and I look for a theme, a connecting thread in my choices. I usually don’t find one. In the year just past, there were more ebooks than in any previous year. Not surprising. Many of the books were written by friends. Not the face to face kind. I’m talking about internet friends. These are people I would not know without facebook and the various lists in which I participate, but they are friends. I share ideas with them and respect their opinions. I treasure their friendship and savor the stories they tell.
Appropriately enough, the first book I read in 2012 was Cold Comfort by Ellis Vidler, an internet friend. Other friends whose books I enjoyed in 2012 were: Mona Ingram, Sheila Claydon, Beate Boeker, Sydell Voeller, Carolyn Brown, Rae Davies, Carolyn Hughey, Gina Ardito, Blanche Marriott, and Barbara Morganroth. I’m not going to list all the titles. If I did, this post would go on forever. To learn more about them, you can Google their name or look them up on Amazon. I will say that enjoyed their books – all of them. These are books which only a few years ago I might not have heard of. What a loss that would have been! They are set in a variety of locales, many of which were new to me. The voices are fresh and, for the most part, optimistic, a welcome respite in a year when I’ve come to dread picking up a newspaper or turning on the TV. So – thank you, my far-flung friends. Keep writing and keep me posted.
Of course, I read other books too, some by writers who were new to me, others by old favorites. A quick sampling:
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey – love the way this lady spins a plot
If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him by Sharyn McCrumb – a sly, entertaining tale that wraps a serious message in fluffy packaging
Deception on His Mind by Elizabeth George – an intricate mystery that examines the racial tensions simmering just below the surface in a small seaside town in Great Britain
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – a slightly different look at the unspeakable inhumanity of slavery and the damage it does to all involved, no matter the color of their skin or their position in society
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson – a gentle, but unflinching, examination of the artificial boundaries we allow to separate us
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – loved this book – what more can I say?
The list goes on, but that’s enough. I’ll just say that the last book I completed in 2012 was Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather. This is a bit different from other books I’ve read by her; it’s one of her earlier works and is set in Boston and London, not on her beloved prairie. It seemed more Henry James or Edith Wharton than Willa Cather. I’m glad I read it. It was interesting to see how this American icon evolved.
The book I’m reading now is Life Sentences by Laura Lippman. This is the third book by her I read during the past year. Obviously, I like her. I like the way she tells a story and suspect we share the same prejudices.
What’s next? La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith. Love, love, love his books. I’ve had La’s Orchestra for a while and been saving it to start the new year off right. I’ll probably finish Life Sentences tonight and start this one tomorrow. Can’t wait. It’s going to be a great year.
How about you? Any favorites to share or recommend?
Something a little different in honor of the holiday – a short story that has a special place in my heart because it’s the first fiction I ever had published. Some of you may have read it before. At any rate, I wish for all of you a blessed holiday season – whatever holiday you celebrate – and many good things in the coming year.
All is Calm
I set the last candle, swirled a little frosting around its base, and stepped back to inspect my handiwork. A tad lopsided. Otherwise, not too bad. A leaning tower of love. That’s what I’d call it. In my family, we like sentimental, hokey things. In that, we’re in agreement, if not much else.
My father is Timothy Connell, grandson of a proud rebel who left Derry in 1920, three short hops ahead of the Black and Tan; my mother, the former Naomi Herskovitz, is the child of Jews savvy enough to get out of Babi Yar six months before the arrival of the infamous killing squads. So you can see why I treasure small points of agreement – and why parties including both sides of the family are not, for me, an everyday event.
“Sarah! The balloons are up.” David’s voice, from the basement rec room. “Come have a look.”
Doesn’t he know how busy I am?
“You’re going to be impressed.”
Doesn’t have a clue.
“Sarah?” Swift footsteps, then, “Here you are.”
“Where’d you expect me to be?”
“I was calling you.”
“Well?” He looked genuinely puzzled. “Something wrong?”
It was impossible not to respond to his innocence. “Nothing wrong,” I told him. “Just a lot to do. I want everything perfect.”
“Benny’ll think it’s perfect – no matter what.”
Benny has Downs Syndrome. I guess that’s why I think of him as my little brother even though he’s two years older than I am and why I always try to make his birthday perfect. Falling on December 21, it would be easy to lose in the holiday madness of disparate celebrations, but we don’t let that happen – another area in which both sides of the family are united.
David put his arms around me and rested his chin on the top of my head. I leaned into him, trying to absorb his confidence. When the doorbell rang, he held me close for a brief moment before we moved apart. No need to answer the bell. We knew who would be first to arrive and that she would come on it.
“I came early to help,” Aunt Judith announced. She set a platter of latkes on the counter with her usual flourish, then turned a blush-enhanced cheek to be kissed. A former ballerina, her smallest action always seemed a statement, a statement that I found impossible to ignore. Aunt Judith is my mother’s twin, and one of the pillars of my life. “There’s more in the car,” she said, tilting her head gracefully in David’s direction.
He jumped to attention. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Be careful of the goose.”
“Aunt Judith! I told you not to. I made lasagna. Something everybody likes.” I looked at the large pans fresh from the oven, still bubbling, an aromatic compromise.
But my aunt is not by nature a compromiser.
I was saved from reprimand by the clattering appearance of my sons. Childless, Aunt Judith dotes on the young of each generation as they come along, and Daniel and Patrick were special favorites, a mixed blessing for them, since to be a favorite of Aunt Judith’s meant meeting her rigorous standards. “I love little boys,” she was fond of saying, only half kidding, “There’s so much room for improvement.”
Each boy, in turn, kissed Aunt Judith and stood tall for inspection, just as I had always done.
“Somebody get the door,” David called from the front porch.
Daniel opened the door for his father, and we all took a minute to admire what was surely the world’s largest goose, skin crisp and brown, glistening with fat, swelled with the chestnut and apple stuffing that nobody makes like Aunt Judith. David set it on the counter between my cake and the lasagna, where it rested, massive and proud. The little tower seemed to lean more, and the bubbles on the lasagna to deflate. Oh well, I told myself, it doesn’t matter. Anything that makes Benny feel important is good.
“I couldn’t carry everything,” David said, “Danny, why don’t you run get the bag out of the trunk.”
“Where should I put this stuff?” Danny asked when he came back with a bulging shopping bag. Aunt Judith turned to me and, with only the slightest lift of a dark, perfected-shaped eyebrow, asked where the presents should go.
“Basement. On the ping pong table.”
I watched David and the boys take the presents downstairs and took a couple of deep breaths.
“That’s right. Relax.” Aunt Judith put both arms around me. As always, I was awed by the strength that emanated from her diminutive form. “Stop worrying. Everything will be fine,” she said. “It always is.”
The commotion at the front door was a welcome distraction
Daddy pushed open the door and, convivial as always, sang out, “You can start the party now,” then stepped back to let Mom and Benny come in ahead of him before he added, “We brought the birthday boy.”
Seeing Daddy and Benny together, it’s hard to believe they related at all – much less father and son. Daddy is tall, straight-backed, has about him an air of go-to-hellish elegance. “Handsome as a Cossack,” is how Grandma Herskovitz used to describe him. Benny is stubby, hunched, and always seemed to be trying to keep up.
Daddy’s two widowed sisters drove up before he made it into the house. He went to help Aunt Meg out of the car and up the three steps, then came to gather me up in a bear hug. “How’s my princess?’ he asked, rubbing his face against mine.
I knew the exact instant he became aware of Aunt Judith’s presence. I felt his tight hug go slack and he stepped back at precisely the moment his sisters stepped forward – Sinn Feiners closing rank.
I winced at the look in Aunt Judith’s eyes when she saw that Aunt Meg now needed a cane and that Aunt Betsy had put on weight. Please, I prayed silently and vaguely to the God who surely watched over both Connells and Herskovitzes.
“It’s been a while,” Aunt Judith said, her voice absolutely level, too polite.
“Too long,” Daddy answered, though he must have known her comment had been directed to his sisters. Aunt Judith’s eyes narrowed. I held my breath. Neither of the Connell aunts spoke. They just stood there, flanking their brother, vigilant.
Then everyone started arriving at once, another aunt and uncle, cousins, spouses, kids. Of course, everyone brought food: a huge tureen of Russian vegetable soup, hearty enough for a main course; an whiskey cake, redolent of the degeneracy my mother had been warned against when she married into the Connell family; butter cookies decorated with blue sugar; tree-shaped cookies iced in green; Uncle Walter’s to-die-for rye bread; a sinfully-creamy potato casserole.
Greeting, kissing, admiring the food, everyone talked at once, creating a collective good will. Amid the jumble of voices, I heard Aunt Betsy ask David if he’d get the ham out of her car.
Not her too! “Aunt Betsy, I told you not to go to any trouble.”
“No trouble,” she said. “It’s just a ham. Same old, same old.” She lowered her eyes with becoming modesty.
“Loaded with salt,” Aunt Judith said, just loud enough.
Aunt Meg looked ready to respond, but Aunt Betsy chimed in, “With all these hungry mouths to feed, I’m sure a ham won’t go to waste.”
Aunt Judith’s eyes flashed, but her lips remained curved in a smile.
Thank you, God, for favors, large and small.
One of the cousins asked, “Did you bring your guitar, Benny?”
“It’s in the car.”
“You going to serenade us later?”
“Yet bet.” Benny’s slightly slanted eyes squeezed shut in pleasure before he remembered his manners and added, “If you insist.” He loved playing for an audience, but Mom had taught him that he had to wait to be asked.
“We insist.” Herskovitz and Connell voices united.
David came in with Aunt Betsy’s ham, its surface studded with fragrant cloves nestled among delicate flowers fashioned from bits of pineapple and cherries, a mouth-watering work of art. It was worth of a moment of silent contemplation, but Aunt Judith’s wrinkled nose and the lineup of expectant faces reminded me to keep things moving along.
I sent Benny to get his guitar and took Aunt Meg’s arm to help her down the steps to the rec room. Her tentative shuffle almost broke my heart. It didn’t seem that long ago she had been helping me – demonstrating the fine art of belly flopping – shining tangles of red hair streaming behind her, running through the snow, throwing herself and the sled at the earth, looking up at me laughing, daring me to follow.
Everyone pitched in to move the food downstairs. Aunt Judith composed her face and picked up the platter with the ham.
Cooperation. My heart surged with love. How could I have doubted these people? Flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.
I turned in time to see the ham slide off the platter, hit the floor and bounce down the steps – an obese blob, spewing a trail of clove-dark pellets, mingled with bright bits of red and yellow.
“I don’t know how I could be so clumsy!” Aunt Judith, who had never made a clumsy move in her life, said. Her mouth was arranged in a contrite, solemn line, but the look in her eyes was pleasure, pure and unadulterated, a mouse who’d just sprung the trap and stolen the cheese.
Aunt Betsy, the most ladylike of my aunts, glared at her the merest half second before she looked at me and said, “Don’t worry about it.”
I sent up a silent thank you that there was only one Aunt Judith.
A dramatic sweep of Aunt Meg’s cane cut short that prayer. Fat exploded from crisp brown skin as Aunt Judith’s goose left the table in a spinning trajectory, orbited by particles of bread crumbs, apples, chestnuts, and raisins.
Radiant innocence lighted Aunt Meg’s clear blue eyes as she placed the fat-glistened tip of her cane firmly on the floor, managing, just, to find a clear spot. “We’re none of us as graceful as we used to be,” she said, and smiled angelically at Aunt Judith.
I heard a quick intake of breath, then a barely-repressed chuckle – my mother and my father respectively – I knew without looking.
When Benny appeared, guitar in hand, his eyes went immediately to the greasy mess on the floor, then to our mother’s face. She signaled something to him in the secret language the two of them share. I didn’t know what Mom’s message told Benny, but I knew I would never forgive my aunts – and vowed that next year David and I would take Benny to a nice restaurant to celebrate his birthday among civilized people
I cleaned up enough to make the rec room usable and we all filled our plates and found places to sit: Daddy, Aunt Meg, and Aunt Betsy on the west side of the basement with the Connell cousins, Mom and Aunt Judith on the east with the Herskovitz tribe. David and I sat with Benny between the two, hoping to keep the twain from meeting.
I guess it’s true that good food maketh good fellows because we made it through the meal without incident – also without much conversation, but, at this point, I counted that a blessing.
Benny opened his gifts to the appropriate oohs and ahs, and I breathed a little easier. We’d almost made it, but I knew his birthday celebration wouldn’t be complete if he didn’t get to sing. At least a song or two. Surely the aunts could tolerate each other that long.
“Ready to serenade us, Benny?” I asked.
No need to say more. “Any requests?” he said as he picked up the guitar.
We answered in chorus – different words, diverse tones, overlapping, braiding themselves into one sentiment: “Anything you like, Benny.”
I watched his face, shining and pure, as I listened to the familiar words: How many nights … his stubby fingers caressed the strings, some instinct telling him that a minor key was needed to contrast the festive message …’til we light the candles? He continued to sing, far beyond the one or two songs I had dared hope for him and no one seemed anxious, or even willing, to end our time together. Silent night … His voice was harsh, with a hint of a lisp, not pleasant, and yet, it was the voice that united and soothed and healed us. All is calm.
All is Calm is one of three stories in the ebook Beyond the Fairy Light, available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/HYZREn