Dear God – Chapter Eight

I asked Miss Mabel how she came to know Katy. She said, “well, let’s have us a piece of that lemon pie and I’ll tell you.” As we savored the pie, Miss Mabel began, but she side-stepped the question and fast-forwarded a bit.

“Katy eventually got older, bigger and faster,” she said. “She would run out of the house when her father was on one of his drunken binges and he couldn’t catch her. She wouldn’t go back until he had finally passed out later that day. Her hair even started to grow back.”

I asked what she meant. She said “that father of hers used to get the scissors and cut that child’s hair off, all the way down to the roots.”

I got a chill and remembered the doll I found in the attic, hanging from a ribbon with all of its hair cut off. I told Miss Mabel about it and said, “there were band-aids on her arms and legs.”

“Yes,” Miss Mabel said. “Once, after an overnight stay with her grandmother, which I always called a blessing, she came home with a doll and some ribbons. It enraged her father, and he yanked that doll away from her, took out his knife and started cutting its hair off. Katy was begging him to stop, but he kept on. He threw the doll down, stomped on it and then cut the ribbons in half. Then he threw the ribbons and the doll in the trash.”

“I imagine Katy rescued them when her daddy went to sleep. Poor little thing. She probably put the band-aids on the doll to hide the marks.”

I told her about the toys I found in the attic; a top, a little radio and the Easter egg. “They were pretty old,” I said. I thought maybe they belonged to the little child who was leaving notes all over the house. I didn’t know about Katy yet.”

“They weren’t Katys’,” Miss Mabel said. I can almost promise you that. They were probably bought before she was born, when they expected her to be a boy.”

Miss Mabels’ grief was almost tactile as she continued. “Katys’ father used to catch her praying and made fun of her. Maybe that’s why she started writing notes to God. That man once took her out in the yard, made her get down on her knees and raise her arms. He said ‘pray to that God of yours to turn you into a little boy. Then you might be worth something’.”

All I could think about was how much I hated that absolute horror of a human being and yes, I wished him a life in Hell a thousand times over. I wondered if he was the reason Miss Mabel thought all men should be put down. When it came to that monster, I agreed.

Before we knew it, we had talked through Miss Mabels’ mid-afternoon nap and it was time for her daily cigarette. She had spent so much time talking about what Katys’ heinous father had done to her, I thought she had forgotten my question about how she first met Katy. But then she said, “let’s go out on the porch and I’ll tell you how I came to know Katy.”

She lit her cigarette and began. “I saw her one day, sitting under that big oak tree over there. I called to her and offered her a Coca-Cola. She was like a scared animal. She just shook her head and walked away. I saw her almost every day, and eventually she came over and took the Coca-Cola. She didn’t say much for the first few weeks, but she finally started talking a bit and eventually came inside, but not before looking back toward her house in fear.”

“We talked about any and everything, except the hell that she was living. I told her about my love of the beach and how I longed to visit one. I would talk about funny things, hoping to keep her mind in a better place, at least for a few minutes or a few hours. I think she felt safe in my house but old memories were still vivid and the fear was, I’m afraid, never going to go away. If I made any sudden movements or accidentally bumped my chair into something and made a noise, Katy would jump and scream like someone had just shot her in the back. It was self-protection and I understood. I just hated it.”

“Katy was a bright little girl and like I said, a sweeter child never drew breath. But she never talked about her hopes or dreams or wishes. Maybe she put them in the notes to God.”

I told Miss Mabel that the last note I opened, Katy asked God to ask Santa to leave her a present. She said she thought Santa kept forgetting. I said “that was a hope or a wish or maybe a dream, and I wonder if Santa ever did visit. I sure hope he did.”

I didn’t know who was going to start crying first, so I decided to change the subject.

I asked Miss Mabel why she had never been to the beach. She said, “I just never had the opportunity, and the after my accident, it was too late. But, the wanting is not so much anymore. If I start longing for the sounds and the smells, I simply go down the hall and turn on the light.”

I asked if she minded telling me what happened. She put out her cigarette and said, “that’s a story for another day.”

She didn’t tell me that story but she told me about the day Katy brought all of her paints and brushes over, and said she had a surprise. Miss Mable said, “for darned near a solid week, Katy made me promise to close my eyes when I went down the hall.” She laughed when she said, “I kept that promise and had a few bruises and several dings in my chair to prove it.”

“The day she told me to come look at it, I almost cried,” Miss Mabel said. “I quickly rolled my chair toward her and raised my arms but she screamed and put her hands over her head. I think she thought I was going to hit her. She never did let me hug her. She couldn’t stand to be touched. I think she had been so damaged, that she didn’t trust anyone. Not even me.”

It had gotten late and was time for me to go home. Miss Mabel looked at me and said, “Do you think you might let me have one of Katys’ notes?” I smiled and said, “of course,” but I wasn’t sure which one I would choose.

As I was walking toward the door, I turned and asked if she knew what happened to Katy.

Miss Mabel looked down and in an almost whisper said, “one day Katy went away, and never came back.”

To be continued_______________

Dear God – Chapter Seven

When I got home that afternoon, all I wanted to do was sit down with a cup of tea and relax, but Katy was on my mind. I got out the little tin box and picked up a note.

I read the first one, and wept. It said, “Dear God. Could you ask Santa to bring me a present this year? He keeps forgetting. And could we maybe have a tree?” Dated 1957.

My heart was aching for Katy. I broke my own rule of only reading one note every night, and decided to look at another. It took me a few minutes to be able to read it. My vision was blurry and the tears seemed never-ending. When they finally stopped, I opened a note. It said, “Dear God. Please don’t let him kill me.” Dated 1962.

That night I decided that I absolutely could not read any more notes from that tortured little girl, and I never did.

The next morning, I returned Miss Mabel’s’ little plate and reluctantly accepted the Coca Cola she offered. I wanted to get right down to business and find out as much about Katy as I could.

I don’t think Miss Mabel needed to know what Katy had written through the years. I think she probably knew, but I sort of giggled as I told her the one about Katy drowning a worm and not wanting to go to hell. I didn’t tell Miss Mabel about the last two notes I had read. I just didn’t want to upset her.

Miss Mabel rolled her chair over to the window in front of her house and sat silently for a few seconds. Then she said, “Katy used to stand and look out of that little window in the back of the house. She looked like a prisoner longing for freedom or maybe a pardon.”

I asked what she meant. Miss Mabels’ voice was soft and her words sounded almost painful as she said, “sit down and get comfortable child, while I tell you a story.” She handed me a tissue, and it didn’t take long to understand why.

“Katys’ daddy was a vile, vicious drunk who almost beat that poor child to death,” she said. “Everybody in the neighborhood knew what was going on. Everybody in the neighborhood heard her screams and pleas for mercy, and everybody in the neighborhood saw her bruised and broken little body.”

“I know you’re wondering, and want to ask why nobody did anything, but back in those days you minded your own business. You closed your eyes, and your ears, and your windows. You shut your doors. You turned up the radio to drown out the cries for help, and you prayed for absolution.”

“She prayed for her grandmother because sometimes, she was able to walk up the street and rescue Katy, if for only an hour or two. But one day her grandmother died, and Katys’ beloved protector was gone.”

I was talking aloud to myself when I said, “that must have been why Katy wrote to God and told Him that she hated Him.” Miss Mable didn’t seemed shocked about that note, and said that Katy was devastated beyond words when she lost her grandmother. “Why didn’t Katys’ mother help her?” I asked.

Miss Mabel said she didn’t know for sure, but she suspected that Katys’ mother was afraid of her father. Or maybe she had the same mindset, and kept it hidden.

I was lost for a minute. I asked what she meant, and she continued. “Katy was an only child and her daddy made it clear that he never wanted her. He wanted a son. He would scream at her and say the most awful, hateful things you ever heard. I watched him throw Katy halfway across the yard once, because he caught her trying to climb a tree. ‘Boys climb trees’, he said, ‘and you are not a boy’.”

She said “Katy liked to climb out onto the roof and just sit. I think maybe she thought she might be a little closer to God up there.” I told Miss Mabel about the note telling God that she had climbed out onto the roof and begged Him not to tell her daddy, because he would whip her.

“She was right to be afraid,” Miss Mabel said.

I asked if she knew how Katy managed to get onto the roof, and she said she climbed out of that little window in the front of the house. “Ah,” I said. “I found several notes around that little window and I saw that it had been nailed shut.”

Miss Mabel said that Katys’ daddy had come home for lunch one day and caught her. He climbed up there and dragged her down. The whole time, Katy was begging him not to whip her.

“I tell you,” Miss Mabel said. “It was almost more than I could bear, hearing that little girl beg and plead with her daddy to not whip her. When he got her down, he slapped her until he blacked her eye and then grabbed her arm and snapped it in half. That was the day he nailed the window shut. I watched that animal with his hammer and even from over here, I could see the hatred in his eyes.”

I looked at Miss Mabel and said, “I think the picture of the horse with a black circle around its eye makes sense now.”

Miss Mabel said, “Not long after that horrible day, we heard him screaming in another drunken rage. ‘I wanted a son to carry on my legacy and my name. You can’t carry on anything because you are nothing but a worthless girl. You are nobody. You are worthless. Your name is worthless.’.”

She had tears in her eyes as she said, “I don’t know this for sure, but I believe the reason Katy never signed her work was because she believed that she and her name were worthless.”

Miss Mabel and I just sat there, numb, and for a minute I was afraid that we were both going to break down. Then, true to character, she said, “run along home now. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

As I walked back home, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I desperately wanted to open another note, but I had made a promise to myself and I never broke my promises. Besides, I didn’t think I could bear to read anymore hopelessly sad notes.

For an instant, I thought about having Dawn come over and cleanse the house, but an instant was as long as the thought lasted. Probably a misguided mistake, I really thought that maybe my growing affection and overwhelming compassion for Katy could somehow erase the sadness left by her, and dissolve forever the dreadful energy left by that horrible, drunken excuse for a father.

I wanted to cleanse the house, but I didn’t want to erase Katy.

I was being consumed by her and although the excitement of returning my house to its former glory was still there, it had taken a back seat. I found myself almost counting the hours until I could hear more of Katys’ story.

Late that night, I was staring at the little tin box. I was caught in a self-imposed state of limbo, wanting to know what they said and not wanting to know what they said; being in this time and wanting to go back to her time.

The next day, before I went to Miss Mabels’ house, I stopped at the market, bought a six-pack of Coca Cola and a freshly baked lemon pie. I thought it was my turn to treat and I didn’t give a whit about gaining another two or three hundred pounds.

I had so many questions, but I knew that I would have to be patient. Miss Mabel was a centenarian, and I also knew that talking about Katy was difficult for her.

As she sipped her Coca-Cola, she smiled and said, “now where were we?” I told her she thought she knew why Katy never signed her name. “Ah, yes,” she said.

Before we continued, I asked if she had ever seen the artwork in Samwell and Dawns’ houses. She said, “I didn’t know anything about them, but obviously you’ve seen them.” I told her I had and that they were absolutely breathtaking. Then, like a lightbulb being turned on, I asked Miss Mabel if she knew where Katy got her paints and brushes.

“I do indeed,” she said. Her grandmother bought them for her.” My ears perked up and I asked if she knew if Katy had painted anything in her grandmothers’ house. Miss Mabel said she didn’t know but maybe I could go ask the people who lived there now. She pointed and said “Her house is just down the street a ways.”

It was such exciting news and I fought the urge to get up and leave. Miss Mabel was reading me quite well and said, “there will be time for that later, child.”

I smiled and thought, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, Jeopardy and an occasional slice of mouth-watering lemon pie have done Miss Mabel proud.

To be continued________________

Dear God – Chapter Six

Samwell said, “well, since you aren’t selling anything, take a seat and I’ll get you a glass of cold lemonade.” I politely begged off, having so far escaped my diabetic coma, not to mention that I had just eaten lemon pie, so I told him that I would be grateful for a glass of water.

He excused himself and went inside. He walked sort of bent over, and it looked like every step he took was painful. I imagined it was from old age as much as anything, but I didn’t know. He was an odd looking little fellow. He was gaunt and frail and had skeptical, watery eyes. The bags under them made him look as if he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in years, and his voice was soft and muted, much like a psychopath.

He came back outside, carrying a mug of lemonade and a glass of water. He was a little abrupt, but not in a rude way. He looked at me with stern eyes and got right to the point. “So, what have you got on your mind? You say you’re not selling dishes, and I don’t think you came all the way here for water.”

I told him that I wanted to inquire about the painting. “Oh yeah, you mentioned that,” he said. “You’ll have to forgive me. My mind isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and I get distracted rather easily for some reason.”

I described the mural in Miss Mabels’ house as well as the one in Dawns’. I told him that Dawn suggested that I might want to talk to him and mentioned, “Samwells’ dilemma.” Samwell laughed and said, “yep. That Dawn is a real character.”

He looked at me and said, “I guess you’re wanting to see it.”

My heart skipped a beat as I tried to control myself. Despite the fact that Samwell could indeed be a psychopath, I told him that I would love to see it. Besides, I had my little plate and I could smack him with it, and if that didn’t work, I was sure that I could outrun him.

“Okay,” he said. “Come on inside, but mind you, be careful of Cujo.”

“Cujo?” I asked. I had seen that movie and that was one dog that I would never want to tangle with, rabies or not. The question was, which was scarier? Being murdered by Samwell or eaten alive by Cujo?

I lost all sense of good reasoning, cast my fate to the wind and went in. Laying on a satin pillow was this tiny wiry-haired dog that could have fit into the palm of my hand. He growled when I went in and his teeth looked like little hypodermic needles. A snap of Samwells’ fingers and the command to stay was all Cujo needed to hear. Samwell smiled and said, “he things he’s a lot bigger than he is.”

Naming that little snip of a dog Cujo made me appreciate Samwells’ sense of humor, and I decided that he wasn’t a psychopath…well not anymore.

We made our way down the stairs to the basement. When he turned on the light, I was witness to what I was sure was another of Katys’ unbelievable masterpieces. Samwell said, “I was told that this was painted for the folks who lived here before I bought the house.”

Like my house, his house had stood empty for years.

Shaking his head, he said “I wondered why none of the children wanted it, especially given that this painting is here, but you know young folks. They don’t appreciate much these days unless it’s brand spanking new. I just didn’t have the heart to paint over the picture.”

I quickly realized that Samwell was one of those old souls who saw beyond the mundaneness of the world. Modernization was unimportant when it came to saving a piece of art like this.

He didn’t mention a wife or children of his own, but his statement about young folks not appreciating much, made me think that maybe he had a ungrateful child or two.

Once again, I was staring in awe. She had painted the couples’ children playing in the back yard. Like the beach and the stallion, those children looked alive.

Samwell looked at me and said, “don’t you feel like you can almost hear them laughing? But look at their eyes. Their eyes look so very sorrowful somehow.” He was right and I wondered if the family had noticed.

A little boy was in a swing and if your imagination allowed, you could hear him begging for someone to push him higher. A little girl was holding a floppy rag doll, while stooping to pick a dandelion. I believe had I touched the rag doll, I could feel the softness of the fabric, which had so carefully been sewn together.

A third little boy peered from behind a tree as if playing hide and seek. The bark on the tree was so realistic, I thought I could actually pull off a piece, and the longer I stared, the more I swore I could see the little boys’ eyes follow me as I moved from one end of the painting to the other.

I wondered aloud to Samwell where those children were now. I wondered if they had no appreciation for having had their young lives captured for posterity. This wasn’t a photograph, which could fade or possibly be misplaced or torn. This was a snapshot, frozen in time that would last through the ages.

In this picture, they would remain forever young.

The mural was dated 1966 and like the others, hadn’t been signed. I asked Samwell if he knew who painted it. He shook his head and said, “no. I surely don’t.” I told him that I believed it was painted by a girl named Katy, who used to live in my house.

“Is that right?” Samwell said. “Well she sure was an artist.”

We made our way back upstairs, and he told me to sit for a spell. He looked peculiar when he asked, “why are you so interested in these paintings, besides the fact that they’re pulchritudinous?”

Ah, I thought. Samwell is using a fifty-cent word, and I was impressed. “Are you a sesquipedalian?” I asked. He smiled and said, “well, I’ve gotten about. I’ve gotten about.”

I took his response to indicate that he was educated, most likely highly educated but wasn’t the boastful type.

I told him about the notes I had been finding in the house. “All of them were written to God,” I said. “So far the dates range from 1956 through 1964, and two pictures were dated 1965 and I believed, 1968.”

Samwell asked if there was a painting on any of the walls in my house. “Sadly,” I said, “if there were, I think they have been painted or plastered over.”

It was time for me to go back home. I felt like I needed to crash and burn. Samwell gave me an standing invitation to come visit any time and I reciprocated. Like Dawn, I liked Samwell.

To be continued_________________________

Dear God – Chapter Five

Miss Mabel rolled her chair down a long dark hallway, and reached for the light switch. When the light came on, I stood in frozen silence as I looked at this wall, painted to look like the beach.

Hammocks were tied between palm trees and I expected them to start swaying at any given moment. Coconuts lay on the ground that seemed real enough to pick up, and I was almost certain that if I put my ear to the wall, I could actually hear the ocean.

“Katy painted this?” I asked, incredulously. Miss Mabels’ joviality seemed to turn nostalgic as she said, “yes. She painted this for me because she knew how much I loved the beach, and she knew that I’d never get to see one.”

I stared at this remarkable mural and all I could manage to say was, “this is just stunning. This is just absolutely stunning.” I asked Miss Mabel when she painted it. Miss Mabel said, “Katy painted this in 1965.”

I was scrutinizing the corners for a signature and Miss Mable, being the sharp cookie that she was, said “you’ll not find one.” Trying to act innocent, but not for one minute fooling Miss Mabel, I asked, “not find what?”

“You’re looking for a signature” she said, “but you’ll not find one. Katy never signed her work.”

I wondered why but before I could ask, Miss Mabel cut the conversation short. “Come on in here,” she said. “I have a lemon meringue pie that is so good, it will make you want to slap your mama.”

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. As I said, Miss Mabel was a real hoot. She cut two rather large slices and handed me one on a little plate that had to have been made the year she was born. I was thinking, “first the caffeinated sugar-filled Coca-Cola, and now a slice of pie that makes my teeth hurt just looking at it.”

I felt sure that I would be in a diabetic coma before I got back home, but I indulged and it was just as Miss Mabel said. It didn’t necessarily make me want to slap my mama, but it made me want to slap myself for the sugar high I was going to be experiencing pretty soon, not to mention the two hundred pounds I was sure to gain.

I wanted to know more about Katy, but Miss Mabel abruptly said, “it’s time for my afternoon nap. Run along now. You can take the plate and return it tomorrow.”

I felt like a delinquent child being sent home after being caught with my hand in the cookie jar, but I wasn’t angry. I hoped to live long enough to someday be delightfully curmudgeonly and need afternoon naps.

As I walked back home, I couldn’t get the image of that mural out of my head. It seemed to have been burned into the retinas of my eyes. Then I wondered if Katy had painted murals for other neighbors, or dare I hope that she had painted one in my house.

I decided to visit Dawn, small plate still in hand. I knocked on her door, and she answered wearing nothing but a t-shirt, a pair of panties and a smile. One of the fattest cigars I had ever seen was clenched between her teeth, and it bobbed up and down as she asked, “is that for me?”

I laughed and said that it belonged to Miss Mabel. “She gave me a piece of pie,” I said. “I was on my way home and decided to stop by your house first.” Dawn said, “hmm, so you come to visit and you bring an empty plate? That’s not very neighborly.”

I wasn’t sure if she was joking but she laughed and asked if I had decided to let her cleanse my house. I told her that I was actually wondering if she had any paintings, like a mural or something on one of her walls.

She looked at me and said, “that’s a strange question to ask someone the first time you visit, especially since you didn’t bring pie.” Then she laughed and said, “actually, I do.”

I wondered if she could see my excitement as I asked if I could see it. She said “sure. It’s over here.” She led me to a fireplace in her front room. It had been enclosed with layers of plaster, and on the plaster was a painting of a white stallion against a sky that looked like it was on fire. It was in mid-flight as if trying to escape the bonds of captivity and soar to freedom. Like Miss Mabels’ mural, this was a breath-taking piece of work.

Dawn bent down, looked at it and said, “I’d like to open the fireplace, but I would have to destroy this wonderful piece. It is truly remarkable, don’t you think? I mean, look at it. Every muscle is clearly defined, and the eyes. The eyes are full of fear.” She sighed and said, “it was painted in 1964, but there is no indication of who painted it.”

I said, “Katy Engle. Katy Engle painted it.” Dawn plopped down in an overstuffed chair and said, “cool. Who’s Katy Engle?”

I told her that she was the little girl who used to live in my house and was a phenomenal artist. I asked if she had ever seen the mural in Miss Mabels’ house. She said she hadn’t but I might want to walk up the street and talk to “Samwell.”

“Samwell?” I asked. She said “well, his real name is Samuel but when he was little he couldn’t pronounce it right, thus Samwell, and…well, it stuck. After I moved here, I heard someone talking about ‘Samwells’ dilemma’ as they called it.”

I asked her what that meant. She said “he bought the house and apparently there was a painting in the basement. He wanted to freshen things up but was wavering about whether or not to cover up the painting. Now, understand that I have no idea if it’s true. It was just the gossip around the neighborhood, and you know how people in the neighborhood love to gossip, but if there was a painting, and he covered it up, maybe he took a picture of it before he did.”

“Just walk up the street?” I asked. “Is there any particular house I should look for?” Dawn laughed and said, “it’s at the top of the hill and has a ‘Beware of Dog’ sign on the front door.”

As I was leaving, she said “do you think something happened to her?” I said that I was surprised she asked. She said, “I told you. Your house holds a lot of grief and sorrow.”

I liked her more and more. She appreciated beauty and had a depth that was not clearly evident at first, and I had unfairly judged her as nothing more than a strange, pretend-to-be-seer, air headed hippy.

I was thinking that maybe it was time to get my house cleansed but not before I had a visit with Samwell.

It was still early afternoon, so I walked up the hill and saw the house with the sign on the front door. A man, who I suspected was Samwell, was sitting on the front porch. I slowly walked up the sidewalk, trying my best to not look like a salesperson selling out of date encyclopedias or the Brooklyn bridge.

“Afternoon,” he said. “You lost?” I laughed and said, “no. I lived down the street and I was wondering if you could give me a moment of your time.”

He said, “I’m not buying anything.” It was apparent that I hadn’t succeeded in not looking like a peddler, and I assured him that I wasn’t selling anything.

He looked at the little plate and said, “I thought maybe you were selling dishes.” I laughed and said, “no. Miss Mabel gave me a piece of pie.”

“Ah, yes,” he said. “Miss Mabel. She’s quite a character. Doesn’t get around much. Doesn’t much care for the male species either, if you know what I mean.”

I nodded like I was agreeing with him and got right to the point. I told him I heard that there might have once been a painting in his basement.

“Still is,” he said.

I gasped. I was feeling like a child on Christmas morning. I was so afraid that he had painted over it, and when he said it was still there, I felt like I had been given a gift.

To be continued________________________________

Dear God – Chapter Four

It was a picture, drawn on a piece of cardboard, and as I looked at it, I was in awe of the details and also troubled by them. The artistry was stunning and the shading made the picture seem lifelike and ready to literally jump off the paper.

If she had drawn it, I wondered what she had been thinking. It was dark and even more haunting than the painting I found and named “The Mysterious Blue Forest.”

It was a picture of a strikingly beautiful man. He was sitting on top of a rock, looking as though he was admiring his kingdom. I thought for a moment he must be an angel, as he had wings attached to his back, but they were not made of feathers. They closely resembled the wings of a bat and had claw-like barbs on the top.

His face was expressionless but somehow, whether imagined or not, I thought I detected an evil look in his eyes. Suddenly, I realized that I had completely missed the horns on his head. Could it have been the artists’ rendition of the devil?

The little girl who left the notes and the picture of the horse, was obviously afraid of the devil, and of going to Hell. I just wasn’t sure that she had drawn this man. If she had gone to church, as I had, she would have learned that Lucifers’ beauty was beyond compare. But he became guilty of self-generated pride and was cast out of Heaven. If this was a picture of him, and she had drawn it, then in my eyes she had without question, captured that beguiling beauty.

As disturbing as I found the picture, I must admit that I was absolutely captivated by the exquisiteness of the man. I considered taking it downstairs, but decided to wait because I just wasn’t yet sure. However, I was sure of one thing. I wouldn’t destroy it. I returned it to the box and covered it with an old newspaper.

Before I headed downstairs, I realized that I had forgotten to look for a date or signature. When I pulled it back out of the box, the bottom right corner was badly bent. Part of it had been torn away, or possibly nibbled on by rats, but I could see what I thought looked like 1968.

A quick search of my memory did the calculation. In 1964, she wrote God and told Him that she hated Him. In 1968, if that is the real date, she is drawing a picture of the devil. What happened to her during those four years?

Later that night, I began reading the notes. The first one was absolutely endearing. It said, “Dear God. If you are real, would you leave me a dollar so I can buy a hamster?” Dated 1959. Even though I knew that wasn’t how God worked, I was really hoping to find a “thank you” note.

I began putting her notes in chronological order, and it was difficult. I forced myself to only look for the date and not read the words. By doing that, I believed I could determine when her faith began to wane. I wanted to play detective, without feeling like I was betraying her secrets, or invading her privacy. I wanted full disclosure, but I also wanted somewhat of a mystery to remain.

I still had much work to do to the house, and as much of a temptation as it was, I decided to only read one note a day, and I was almost certain that I had not yet found them all.

I had been so busy with the restoration of my house, not to mention the all consuming task of being a collector of all things mysterious, I realized that I hadn’t met any of my neighbors.

Walking to the mailbox one day, I crossed paths with the girl who lived next door. I had seen her before, but had never spoken to her. She was what my parents’ generation would have most likely called a hippie. She had full sleeve tattoos and long purplish black hair. She introduced herself as “Dawn Rising.”

I tried not to laugh as I shook her hand and introduced myself. She walked down to the mailbox with me and then back to the house. She was brash and bold and pushy, and invited herself in. I liked her right away. She seemed uninterested as I explained that things might be a little disheveled, as I was working on restoring the house, and she didn’t mince words as she asked, “have you cleansed your house with sage?” I didn’t know what she meant.

“I’m a seer of sorts,” she said. “Would you like for me to read your house?” I wasn’t a believer in that kind of thing and I tried to be polite as I told her that I thought the house would be fine.

She walked around, looking like she was in some kind of trance. She even asked to go up to the attic. I thought it strange that she even knew there was an attic, but maybe all the old houses on the street were pretty much the same. Huge rooms and attics.

I showed her the way. She could have been a serial killer, but like I said, I liked her. I stayed at the bottom of the steps, maybe waiting for her to have some kind of fascinating epiphany.

After a few minutes, she came down the stairs and asked for some water. As I handed her the glass, she took a sip and said, “this house has seen much sadness and it bleeds with great sorrow.”

I asked what she meant and she said, “your house needs to be cleansed and I can do that for you.” I was thinking there had to be a catch and was waiting for the sales pitch. A fool is born every day, but I wasn’t one of them. However, I don’t believe anyone wants to hear that their house is bleeding…something.

I politely declined and wondered if she really was some kind of seer, as she said. I was surprised when she said her services were free, and it was not about money. It was about releasing pain and agony.

I asked how long she had lived next door, and she said she hadn’t been there very long. I then asked if she knew if there were any original neighbors that I could talk to. I wanted to try to get some information about the people who had once lived in my house. She said, “yes, there’s one person. I think her name is Mrs. Cartwright. She lives behind you, and I have heard that she was actually born in her house.”

Just as quickly as she had invited herself in, she was on her way out. “Thank you for the water,” she said, “and let me know when you would like the cleansing.” I was more interested in talking to Mrs. Cartwright, but I thanked Dawn and told her that I would certainly think about her offer.

It was late in the afternoon, but I decided to go knock on Mrs. Cartwrights’ door. From inside, I heard a voice say, “I don’t open the door after five o’clock. Come back tomorrow.”

I smiled as I walked away and found myself looking forward to the next day. The next morning, I went back to Mrs. Cartwrights’ house and knocked. I heard, “just a minute.”

After about that long, the door opened and a smiling, toothless, white-haired, wheel-chair bound little old lady beckoned me inside. “Mrs. Cartwright?” I asked.

“Oh, child please. Call me Mabel, and wait a minute while I get my teeth.” She rolled her chair over to a doily clad table, and pulled her teeth out of a ceramic mug that said, “Here The Are!”

“Okay,” she said. Got my teeth in, and let me tell you something straightaway. I am not a Mrs. I’m not married, never been married and never intend to be married. All men are skunks and they should all be put down.”

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when she said that. I said, “Miss Mabel. I almost feel the same way.”

“You’re the young girl who bought the house in front of me aren’t you?” she said. I said that I wasn’t sure I would call myself young, but yes, I was. She shook her head and said, “you’re young to me. How old do you think I am?” I was a little hesitant to answer because I didn’t want to offend her. I thought she looked to be at least in her eighties, but I erred on the side of caution, and said “seventies maybe?” That made her laugh. She said, “honey. I’m one hundred and one years old.”

“Let me roll into the kitchen and get you a cold Coca Cola,” she said. I wasn’t a soda drinker, but I didn’t want to be rude, and I wanted information from her.

She came back with two bottles of Coke and said, “I drink a Coca Cola every single day, smoke one cigarette ever afternoon, and watch Jeopardy every night, except on the week-ends of course. That’s what keeps my mind sharp.”

To say that Miss Mable was a hoot, a holler and a hi-de-ho, would have been an understatement, and she had already endeared herself to me.

I could tell that, even in her wheel chair, she was a diminutive woman. Her yellowing, yet beseeching eyes, somewhat obscured by cataracts, peered through thick lensed wire-rimmed glasses. Her snow white hair was close-cropped, but not so that she would be mistaken for one of those aforementioned “skunks” she called men.

Stockings which had been rolled down to her ankles, peeped sheepishly from a tattered quilt, resting across her twisted mangled legs.

After taking a few sips of her Coca Cola, she said, “now then. Tell me what’s on your mind.”

I told her that I wanted to know a little about the people who lived in the house before I bought it. I got right to the point and asked, “was a little girl living there?”

Miss Mabel said, “yes’um. There sure was.”

I asked if by any chance she remembered her name. Miss Mabel was a little insulted, I think. “Of course I remember her name.” she said. “I’m old, I’m not senile.” I gave her the “okay, tell me her name” look.

Miss Mable, revisiting old memories said, “her name was Katy Engel and let me tell you. A sweeter child never drew breath.”

I was grinning from ear to ear and my excitement was almost tactile, until Miss Mabel said, “that precious little child never had a chance.”

My smile broke and I stammered a bit as I asked what she meant. Miss Mabel intentionally ignored my question and I could tell that I was not going to get an answer, at least not then, so I changed the subject.

I told her that I had been finding little notes that had been hidden all over the house, and also in the attic. I said, “she seemed to be very religious and she prayed for her grandmother.” Miss Mabel said, “yes, she believed in the Almighty Lord, she loved her grandmother, and although she never said it, I believed she loved me, too.”

I told Miss Mabel about the picture of the horse and the painting of the blue trees, but I didn’t tell her about the drawing of the beautiful man. She said, “oh yes. Katy was quite the artist. That child could draw anything.”

I asked if she had ever seen any of her art.

She smiled and said, “come with me.”

To be continued___________________________

Dear God – Chapter Three

As I made my way up the narrow steps, I got a whiff of what smelled like burning wood. I knew that everyone smoked back in those days, but this smell was not from cigarettes. It was more like the smell of a roaring fireplace that lent warmth and possibly, once a year, licked the toes of carefully hung childrens’ Christmas stockings.

Reaching the top, I could see right away that I was right. There must have been a fire at some point. Burned rafters were visible, but they were still sturdy enough to hold up the roof. The attic was huge and I felt like I was still on a treasure hunt. I saw a set of rusted old bed springs in the corner, the kind of springs that my Grandparents had in their house.

Jumping on the bed was strictly forbidden, but when their backs were turned, I discovered that the springs almost sang as I jumped on different parts of the bed. Inevitably, the slats would fall out and with an innocent face, I would disavow any knowledge of how it happened. I remember once telling my Grandma that when I walked into the room, the bed just fell right on the floor. Grandpa would have to put those slats back on the side rails, and he wasn’t particularly happy about it, but he never showed any anger.

As I continued to scan the attic, I saw several old doors, which had to have been original to the house and I wondered where they had once been. There were boxes everywhere. Some of them held elaborately embellished door hinges and curtain rod holders labeled with an “R” and an “L.” There were crystal and milk glass doorknobs, old window latches and a large number of skeleton keys.

Opening another box, my eyes grew wide with excitement as I found myself gazing at several old toys. There was a top, and although the upper part was somewhat cloudy with age, it was clear enough to see that a train went around a track when the handle was pushed down. I pushed the handle down and I thought I could hear just the faintest whistle of the train as it slowly strained to move around the track. Beside it was a badly dented, musical Easter egg, painted red with a white bunny and some flowers. A quick look on the back said “Mattel.” With a little coaxing, I was able to turn the crank, but the music had been silenced many years ago.

A little wooden radio with a pretend antenna made from a red ball on top of a spring was decorated with what looked like the remnants of the story “Mary had a little lamb.” I tried to turn the knob but it was frozen. My best guess was that these toys were from the fifties, and I wondered if they belonged to her.

I decided not to leave them frozen and forgotten in their cardboard tomb. They would come downstairs and find a place in the living room, perhaps gently resting in a carefully chosen basket, sitting beside my childhood rocking chair.

In another box, I found a plate. It was thick and heavy and had little partitions in it. A small coffee cup had been wrapped in newspaper and the green stripe that encircled the top, matched the one around the plate. They were clearly old, and didn’t look like household dishes. They looked more like they had come from some long ago closed down little side-road café, where everyone went to sup on some good old home cooked food. They too, would find a new home downstairs on my antique Hoosier cabinet.

As I meandered around the attic, I took care where I stepped, as only a few planks were positioned to allow one to walk around. Near the front of the house was a small round window. It had been nailed shut in a way that almost seemed threatening. I walked carefully, praying for a quick death should I miss and fall through the ceiling. Stuck around the window were more notes. I noticed several more, peering from the rafters.

“This is almost like a wailing wall,” I thought. I began taking them down and carefully put them into one of the small boxes I had just emptied, despite the remnants of what appeared to have been a recent rats’ nest. There were small pieces of ribbon, wrapped around protruding nails. I unwrapped them and put them in with the notes.

Making my way to the back wall, I found a doll, hanging from a ribbon. Her hair had been cut off at the roots and Band-Aids were wrapped around her arms and legs. It was a little creepy at first, but I reasoned that maybe our little author and artist was playing hairdresser and doctor. The little doll went into the box with all of my other treasures.

I decided to take a break and read a few of the notes. The first one said, “Dear God. Would you give me wings so I can fly away?” It was dated 1958. First there had been a prayer to be a horse and now she was praying for wings. Why did this little girl want to fly away? The next note made me giggle. It said, “Dear God. I drowned a worm. I didn’t mean to. Please don’t let me go to Hell. Dated 1958.

The next note said, “Dear God. Are you there? Granny says that you are everywhere. Please don’t let her die.” The date was 1959. It was the second note, pleading for her Grandmothers’ life. I wondered if her Grandmother was sick.

The third note I unfolded was another one that made me laugh. It said, “Dear God. I climbed out on the roof today. Please don’t tell my daddy. He’ll whip me.” It was dated 1959. How did that little girl managed to climb onto the roof? I could hardly make it from one side of the attic to the other. Did she climb out of that little window? Is that why it had been nailed shut? The attic was three stories up and surely if there had been a ladder, she would have been seen.

I wondered if the attic had been her playroom, or hiding place, or maybe even her refuge. Maybe she played dress-up. Maybe she pretended to be the fair maiden trapped in the tower, or maybe it was a make-shift, make-believe hospital.

I decided to read the rest of the notes later, while relaxing and having a much deserved cup of tea. Before I went back downstairs, I decided to open one more box. It was a rather large box and inside I found a picture. It was a scene of trees, painted entirely in blues. I couldn’t tell if it had been painted with oils or acrylics, but it was almost hauntingly beautiful and like the picture of the horse and the notes, it wasn’t signed. I wondered if it had been painted by her or by someone else. I decided to name it “The Mysterious Blue Forest.” It was dated 1960.

I thought it would look lovely in a frame and it would find a home on a wall somewhere, even though for reasons I couldn’t explain, I had always such an aversion to the color blue. Blue always seemed so cold and lonesome, much like I viewed the ocean. I wondered if the little girl felt the same way and that’s why normally lush, green trees were painted in somber, subdued blues.

I pulled out crumpled newspapers, dated from the fifties and sixties. They were almost as intriguing as the treasures they wrapped. Scanning the advertisements sent me back to a time that to me, was unfamiliar. French fries at McDonalds’ were 12 cents. Admission to Disneyland was $3.75 for an adult and $2.75 for a child under the age of 12.

The strangest one was an advertisement for “Cocaine Toothache Drops.” Price 15 cents. I imagine a little cocaine would fix you right up, toothache or not, and wondered if it really did have cocaine in it, like the old Coca Colas.

This grand lady was holding so many memories and bits and pieces of the past, which I appreciated. So often, it’s out with the old and in with the new, but I had always had a reverence for old things, and old people as well.

One last peek into the box before I went back downstairs, revealed another picture, and this one gave me chills.

To be continued_____________________

Dear God – Chapter Two

My next challenge was the dining room. As I stood in the middle of that big, empty room, my mind wandered back to the days of a simpler time. A time before computers and cell phones and video games. A time when families sat down together at dinnertime and talked about their day.

I kept a wonderful round oak dining table with lions’ paw feet which was one the pieces left behind. All it needed to be a warm, inviting place to eat, was a good cleaning and polishing.

A wood-burning stove was sitting in front of the fireplace on a bed of slate. I wondered how many times the family had dined while being warmed by a fire in that unique stove. A flu cover still hung on the wall and when I took it down to clean it, I saw that it was made of plaster. A paperclip had been embedded for hanging. On the front, a set of smiling cherubs floated on billowy clouds, looking as if they didn’t have a care in the world.

As I was sweeping, I noticed something under the stove. I coaxed it out with the broom handle and realized that it was a Bible. My first thought was that I wished I could return it to the previous owners, but I didn’t know who they were. I sat down for a minute to take a look. It was a Scofield Reference Bible. I had never heard of that. I always thought a Bible was just a Bible.

Inside the pages, I found numerous pieces of paper. I admit that I was hoping to find a note from the little child. One piece was the church budget for the year 1994. There was an article from “The Work Of The Holy Spirit,” subtitled, “Being Faithful.” On the top of the page, someone had written, “Monday, 12th, 1989.” An interesting one was a small piece of paper dated 9-9-84. It was hand-written and said “Funeral Home Is Expensive.”

A tattered bookmark said “Capricorn.” I laughed as I thought, “I know Jesus was Capricorn, but I am fairly certain this Bible did not belong to Him.” On the outside of the Bible, the owners’ name had been printed in gold letters, but they were so badly worn, the only thing that I could see was that he was apparently a “Jr.”

I was completely enthralled as I rifled through the pages. Most of the notes were scripture references, written in pencil that were now barely legible. I carefully returned each one to its original page, and all together, I counted 38 clippings tucked away in that old Bible.

I put the Bible aside and finished sweeping under the stove. Among the dust and dirt, I found another note. I opened it and began to read. It said; “I bought this Bible for my daddy when I was 13 years old. I saved my lunch money and took the neighbors’ mail to the post office for 10 cents. It took a long time to save up enough money but I don’t think it meant anything to him.”

I went from “aw, how sweet,” to “oh, how sad.” I was disappointed that it wasn’t signed or even dated. I had no idea who wrote the message, but I felt sure that it was from the little child.

I busied myself cleaning, taking down ceiling panels and carrying loads of rubbish to the curb. As I was inspecting the mantle in the dining room, I found another folded piece of paper stuck behind it. This was becoming almost like a scavenger hunt for me. I was excited as I opened the note and started reading.

It said,” Dear God. Please don’t let Granny die.” It was dated 1959. Someone loved their grandmother, I thought. I knew the feeling. I loved my grandmother, too.

I was truly enjoying the notes I was finding and I was absolutely mesmerized , but one question lingered. Were these notes written by a little girl or a little boy? The dates were on them but I had no idea how old the child was.

I was nearing completion of the dining room and as with the living room, there was an element of sadness coupled with the feeling of accomplishment. The last task was cleaning the windows and as I was spraying them with cleaner, I noticed a small piece of paper hiding behind the casing.

I pried it out with a small screwdriver, sat down and carefully opened it. It said, “Dear God. I didn’t mean to be bad. Could you please make me a better little girl?” It was dated 1957.

I jumped up and cheered to the point of embarrassment. The mystery was solved. The notes had been written by a little girl. She had obviously done something wrong, at least in her eyes. I couldn’t help but smile as I wondered what she had done to make herself feel that she was so bad, she needed Gods’ help.

Weeks later, the dining room was finally finished, so I decided to work on the upstairs bedroom that I had claimed for my own. I had previously noticed a small room in the very back of the house that appeared to be unfinished. It may have been an afterthought of whoever built the house or maybe it was just an incomplete addition in recent years. It was such a curious little room, which could possibly hold secrets…or more notes.

It only had baseboards along two walls and only one small window which seemed out of place. The rest of the house had grand windows that were 10 feet tall, and this one couldn’t have been more than two feet high and two feet wide.

The walls had been partially painted a dull blue color. I didn’t think it could have been a bedroom, but if it was, it could have only held a twin size bed and maybe a very small table.

My thoughts were to turn it into a library of sorts, putting shelves along the walls and maybe a comfy chair and lamp in the corner. I started removing the baseboards, and they proved to be formidable foes. I finally succeeded in getting the first one to yield, and when it surrendered its grip, a note fell to the floor.

I sat down and opened it. “Dear God,” it said. “I hate you.” It was dated 1964.

The notes had just spanned eight years. Why did she now hate God? I felt so sad for her, but like threatening to run away from home, hadn’t we all at some time, been a little pissed at God? I know I had.

The other baseboards held nothing but screws, a bit of plaster and a several dust bunnies.

As I worked in my bedroom, I was disppointed when I found no notes behind window casings or baseboards or mantles. But, the closet door held a secret staircase to the attic. I had always had an adventurous spirit, and this was going to be fun.

If there was an old abandoned building on the side of the road, I would stop and wander through, although with a little trepidation and the fear of possibly being arrested for trespassing, I once found an old yellow Tupperware bowl, complete with lid, and I still have it.

I wondered what secrets lay hidden in the attic. Maybe another Tupperware bowl, or maybe nothing, but I was ready to play Sherlock Holmes.

To be continued_________________________________

Dear God – Chapter One

This is a story, taken from the archives of 2017.  A few words have been changed, added, or removed.  

When I bought my first house, it signaled my independence and I was thrilled beyond words.  It had been an exhausting, arduous journey but I knew that when the right house came along, it would speak to me.

I’ll never forget the day I found it.  I stood outside this wonderful old house, my imagination going wild, and I knew it was the one before I ever took a peek inside.

It was an old three-story stately manor with genuine cedar siding, which still bore the original mint green paint typical for the time it was built.  It boasted intricate gingerbread trim on the outside, and stained glass windows adorned its façade.

I could almost hear the large yard, which had long ago gone to seed and become overgrown with weeds, silently begging for flowers to take their place in what looked like a neglected brick-enclosed bed, created years ago by some past caregiver.

As I entered the huge double-door entrance, I was greeted by wonderful things.  A U-shaped staircase beckoned ascension, and a genuine Tiffany pendant light hung gracefully from the original bead board ceiling.

To get it back to its original glory was going to be a labor of love, but it was one that I was prepared, and more than willing to undertake in order to revive this grand lady.

“One room at a time, one day at a time,” I told myself.  The old, neglected cracked and crumbling plaster walls seemed to wail with pain, but I could see beyond their gaping wounds.  I could see the beauty that was once there, pleading to once again, shine with grace and beauty.

I knew nothing about the previous owners.  Apparently they died with no heirs, and the house stood empty for years.  Time had definitely left its marks and the marks had not been kind.

Carpet had been installed in every room, except the parlor and the living room.  But it wasn’t thick, inviting plush carpet; it was indoor-outdoor carpet and had been affixed with tar. The floors underneath were solid oak hardwood, and restoring them was going to be a challenge to say the least.

The twelve foot high ceilings had been dropped in every room except the living room and the parlor, probably to make the rooms look more modern, or perhaps to help with the heat that escaped to the almost Heaven-like canopies of every room.  Those updates had been implemented when those older, glorious homes were being deserted for new ranch styles out in the suburbs.

Some of the furniture had been left behind.  As mine came in, it went out, but any piece that was salvageable was put aside for later restoration.  My plan was to first work from sun-up to sun-down, repairing the walls with layers of plaster, and then priming them for a fresh coat of paint.

I began with parlor.  All it needed was a quick waxing of the floors and stairs, and a good dusting of the baseboards and the light fixture.  My grand piano nestled perfectly under the staircase, and a candelabra provided the pièce de résistance.

The next challenge was the living room.  Like the parlor, the flooring hadn’t been smothered with carpet, and the reasoning for the towering ceilings to remain uncovered was probably due to two large pocket doors that separated the living room from the parlor; not to mention a stunning twelve foot tall bookcase.  The glass panes had all the hallmarks of having been hand-blown, and not a single one of them was cracked.

Standing opposite the bookcase was a beautiful, ornate hand-carved mantelpiece, which had begun to escape the captivity of the wall.  I was able to get it loose and give it a brief taste of freedom before it once again became a prisoner.  As I was cleaning up the crumbling plaster bits that had fallen, I noticed a small folded piece of paper.

I carefully opened it, and was delighted when I saw a picture of a horse.  It had obviously been drawn by a child, and I believed that it was a gifted child.  It was a side view and a black circle had been drawn around its eye.  There was no signature from the artist, but there was a date.  The year was 1956.

I put the note into a tin box for safe keeping.  It had been given to me by my grandmother and held only special things.  I briefly deserted the mantle and turned my attention to the bookcase.  I carefully began to pry open the doors. They creaked and moaned much like an old person trying to get up from a chair. The inside smelled moldy and the shelves were dusty.  It was apparent that they hadn’t held any books in recent years, but the outlines in the dust left their footprints.  As I climbed my rickety old ladder, I spotted another folded piece of paper, almost invisibly tucked away in the far corner.

I took it down and carefully unfolded it.  Like the drawing, the note seemed to have been written by a small child.  It said, “Dear God.  Please turn me into a horse so I can run away.”  The note was dated 1956, the same year the picture of the horse had been drawn.

I smiled as I read it.  It brought back memories of my own childhood.  Didn’t we all want to run away from home at least once or twice when we were young?  I know I did, and every time I mentioned it, my daddy would smile and say, “Okay.  Come on.  I’ll help you pack.”

It took months to bring the living room back to life.  Although most likely not an original color from years ago, I painted the walls a subtle rose and the baseboards and bookcase got a fresh coat of stark white paint.  I splurged and put ornate crown molding along the ceiling, having to tease it a bit in the corners, due to walls that were no longer square.  The antique chandelier hanging from its original medallion, was the crowing glory.

I filled the bookcases, not only with books, but with various collections, such as tiny Limoges boxes, and hand-blown glass spheres, which were supposed to bring good luck.  My prized Betty Boop doll peeped timidly through one of the glass panes and my 1959 Barbie held court in her black and white bathing suit, blonde ponytail, poodle bangs and sunglasses.

When the living room was finished, it was more beautiful than any of my imaginings could have possibly been.  At night, silhouettes from flickering candles danced unsteadily on the walls, like tiny ballerinas first learning to pirouette.

To be continued____________________

Ole Tin-tin – Chapter Ten

“I was paralyzed,” grandpa said. “I just couldn’t believe I was holding ole tin-tin. I almost broke down as I clutched it to my chest. It was hard to breathe, but suddenly, I found myself laughing and wondering why.”

“As we moved out, I had ole tin-tin clutched so tightly in my hand that it almost went numb. Then, I stopped dead in my tracks. I had a sense of foreboding. I don’t know why. The fighting was over, but nothing was guaranteed in the bush. It didn’t care if you had just arrived or if it was your last day. There was always the possibility that a bullet had your name on it. I looked at a guy and said, ‘if I fall, I want you to promise me that you will get ole tin-tin and take it to Georges’ mom’.”

“I never will forget the day the helicopters came to pick us up,” he said. “We were out of our minds with excitement, but there was sadness for the ones we were leaving behind, and for the ones who went before us on a different journey.”

“I always thought,” he said, “that war was like a jet flying overhead, leaving a contrail of memories that in time, would slowly be forgotten or disappear and when they finally did, the flight was over. Simplistic, I know, and somewhat naïve.” Grandpa shook his head and mocked himself. “How could I have been so insouciant?”

“When we landed in the States. I couldn’t wait to see mom and dad. I felt like I had been gone for years, and I felt like I had aged a hundred years. I knew I looked worn and haggard, but the little boy in me was comforted by thinking, mom will take care of me.”

“When we got off the plane, we were stunned. There were no colorful, handmade Welcome Home banners. There were no ticker tape parades or kisses with pretty nurses in the middle of town square. There were only angry protesters, who spit at us and called us baby killers. They taunted us with cruel and violent hostility. They threw rotten vegetables at us. We didn’t understand what was going on at first, but apparently the war had become very unpopular while we were gone, and we were now targets for everyones’ hatred.”

“Did you say anything to them Grandpa?” I asked. “Did you tell them that you were over there fighting for someones’ freedom? The very freedom that we all enjoy and probably take for granted?”

“They didn’t care,” grandpa said, “and I was just happy to get home.” Grandpa smiled when he said, “it took me a few weeks to be able to sleep through the night without jolting upright when I heard a strange noise. And a car backfiring?” He laughed and said, “that would get me prone faster than tripping over a rock.”

I said, “it sounds like you had PTSD, Grandpa.” He said, “you’re probably right, but back then it was called ‘shell-shocked’. Most doctors would more or less say, ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning’. I fared better than a lot of the boys who came home. Some of us kept in touch for a while, but over time, they just seemed to disappear.”

“What did you do with ole tin-tin?” I asked.

“I took it to his mom. His dad had died shortly after George was killed. His mom said she knew that he died from a broken heart. She took ole tin-tin and smiled as she thanked me. She gave me a hug and said she wondered why it hadn’t been with his other things when he came home. I didn’t tell her how I came to have it and she didn’t ask. Maybe she didn’t want to know, or maybe she didn’t care. All that mattered was that it was with her now. She asked if I would go to his grave with her. I hadn’t been yet and I wasn’t sure I could handle it, but I went.”

“George was resting beside his father in what was called The Garden of Remembrance, and I noticed that a marker had already been made for her. I tried to comfort her as she cried. I told her how much everyone liked George. After a few minutes, I wanted to lighten the moment when I talked about George playing that old harmonica and singing. ‘He had us in stitches’, I said. “He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” We both laughed. I think it was the first time I had laughed in quite a while.”

As she stood over his grave, she said, “you know. One of the greatest gifts anyone can receive, is to be remembered fondly with laughter and perhaps a few tears. If you cry for someone, someday when you’re gone, maybe someone will cry for you.”

“There was so much sadness in her voice as she asked, ‘who will cry for him after I’m gone’?”

“I put my arm around her and said, I will. I will cry for him as long as I live, and that’s a promise.” He looked at me and said, “I never faltered. I have kept my word all these years.”

“It’s funny,” he said. “When you go to the cemetery, you can’t see ripples but you know they’re there. You can feel them. They don’t make a noise but if you listen closely, you might hear the contented sighs of peace, or maybe the silent screams of a life cut too short. It doesn’t matter where those ripples were made, here or on the other side of the world, they carried consequences.”

“When Georges’ mom died, she left ole tin-tin to me and I will be leaving it to you. There are no incumbrances as far as its disposition. That is your choice. I just wanted you to know the story behind this old rusty piece of tin, which brought so much laughter into my life, and so much grief as well. I am at ease with things now and I can only hope that I haven’t caused too many destructive ripples.”

Grandpa turned and looked at me. He said, “There will come a time when we all must take stock of our lives.”

My grandfather died the next year, but he left me with such wonderful and sometimes, heartbreaking memories. That terrible war he endured…the remarkable friendship and death of a singing, harmonica playing best friend, and wishes that I carefully measure the ripples that I cause.

I keep Ole Tin-tin on my desk, and once a year I visit Georges’ grave. I do it for his mother, I do it for my grandfather and I do it for myself. Some day, I will tell the story behind that old rusty piece of tin, and I will ask the same question that my grandpa asked me that still echoes in my mind.

“Were the ripples I caused worth the price?”

El Fin