The Beginning

“Tell me the story; I can see from your eyes, you have a story to tell.  Did someone break your heart?”  “Yes,” Grace replied.  “Did you break their heart?” Lily asked.  “Perhaps,” was the reply.

It was Tuesday, the beginning of five days together.  Enough time to talk and wonder, squeezing moments from time, stretching the days into nightfall.  We are good at this game, Grace mused.  For Lily and I never seem to have enough time together.  We seize upon the moments we have. Grace knew that soon Lily would fall captive to the lulling music of time’s tempo, believing the moments to be plentiful, lasting. Soon, their moments together would be fewer and farther between as life interrupted and others vied for Lily’s precious time.

Grace wondered, what is it about time’s force?  In youth, we embrace summers that seem to last forever until we spin and turn to face the winter of an older, unrecognizable self.  When did time pass me by? Our allotted time, almost spent, the clock winding down, until we realize what a fleeting commodity time is, how we’ve misused it, wasted precious moments, falsely believing, we had time banked, a foolish notion of forever.  Perhaps, that is what I was guilty of, making you wait, believing that I had enough time in a world where I wished time to stand still. 

Lily passed the turnip to Grace for chopping.  They were making soup, something warm to thwart the penetrating chill in the winter air. God knows, the child hardly knows what a turnip is, Grace thought. Let alone a frost.

      Lily, my beautiful child.  When Grace first laid eyes on the child, momentarily she beheld the face of one so familiar, her grandmother, Alice or English Alice, the name Grace’s mother used when speaking of Alice.  For the child, named Lily, held the essence of Alice, beauty captured in appearance and passion for all things found in nature.  For flowers, insects, and strays surrounded and found Lily, wherever she ventured.  Similarly, Alice, enchanted by beauty and at one time vulnerability, until she turned her back on every living thing that evoked those qualities from her. Viewing the likeness of Alice in her granddaughter’s face was a pivotal moment for Grace and she resolved that this child would never muse over the puzzle of abandonment, the missing pieces, or a missing grandmother.

      The pot simmered upon the stove top and Grace’s thoughts wandered back to a time many years ago, a time filled with whispers of hope and promise, when time possessed a particular suspended quality, as if frozen and still.  The story of her birth.

Once upon a time, or so the story is told, in a town in winter, Grace Elizabeth Smeaton, arrived on earth. It was a bitterly cold morning.  Feathers of frost clung to the windowpane, offering an opaque and shimmery view to the world outside the glass.  The world beyond the stark walls of the hospital room appeared enchanted, Father Frost had returned to the land, waving a wand true to winter style. The scene, dressed in white and glittering with ice, offered up quiet elegance to the morning light.  This gift was a suitable ornament for a wee bit, a winter sprite-like creature’s birth.  Grace so named after her mother’s aunt, and Elizabeth, after one of her mother’s given names.  The hospital that housed the child’s mother was also known as, Grace Hospital, the simple setting, fitting, as patience and mercy abounded within the walls and within the nature of this fresh child.

Grace, a name fit for a child who would pass through life in a polite and willing way.  A tiny, swaddled babe, whose rosebud lips, suckled the air.  “A Gerber babe with the full face of a cherub,” crooned Gracie, the aunt that dropped by to view the new-ness.  Grace’s paternal grandmother, English Alice, would reluctantly appear to stand crib side; “If you had, had a boy, I wouldn’t have come,” were the malevolent words uttered from the pursed lips. Shocked, Grace’s mother thought, the witch.  For who does not celebrate the birth of one so freshly pressed, so innocent to the stories?

Alice, perfectly coiffed, her bouncy, marcel waves set, a blue wool coat buttoned tight and leather gloved hands to protect her from life’s touch, leaned over the crib, blowing a cold wind that would seem to follow Grace throughout life. Apparently, English Alice, had standards, and the baby girl was scrutinized under her piercing visual inspection. Even Alice had to admit that there was something superior about the child created from inferior beginnings. Clearly, Alice was relieved to view a baby girl in the crib, as the thought of a little boy was too much to bear.  Alice had known the heartache brought on by troublesome, little boys that grow up and rarely return. For now, Grace had passed the test. For you see, English Alice had a heart and she held onto hope, a hope for love.

Home was a simple, yet elegant Craftsman style house in the heart of the town, owned by Grace’s maternal grandfather, James.  A tyrant within the walls of his home, James’s rages were merciless when directed toward his daughter, Grace’s mother, Marge. Grandfather James had agreed to allow the new babe to stay in the room off of the kitchen, the one with the view of the cherry tree.  As well, he needed a housekeeper, his only daughter, Marge, could earn her keep by performing household duties.  For Grandfather James, also held on to hope, hope for Marge’s forgiveness and love.

Grace’s parents, Marge and Roy Smeaton,were young, bruised souls clinging to hope and promise. Theirs was the hope of improved worth in life and the promise of a brighter future.  Love wouldn’t be their strong suit for both parents had scars on their hearts, left by the sins of their parents. However, the couple wished for love, to believe in it, to awaken its tender affection for another.  Grace Elizabeth was their beloved, a small gift from the universe to humankind, their hope for love.

The room with a view of the back property would prove to be the finest choice of room, as a large, magnificent cherry tree grew just outside the window. Grace would spend hours observing the solid shape centered in the yard, its strong, constant presence a comfort to the child.  Days passed in wonderment as the cherry tree changed with each season and with each change, its boughs brought new gifts to place within Grace’s expanding world.  One season, when Grace turned seven, the tree offered up a robin’s nest, the small bent twigs intertwined.  Woven among the twigs, was a shiny piece of tinsel, a glittery thread blown free of the family’s Christmas tree, a forgotten gift of love.

Upon awakening, the tree would be the first image Grace viewed, the twisted boughs reaching out as if to hug her at dawn.  “Come play.” In the darkness of night, the tree boughs swayed and tapped lightly upon the glass of the window, whispering, “we shall cradle you to sleep”; and in moments of sadness, as Grace pressed up to the bark, the tree would shelter the despondent child.

It was a beautiful setting, the home tucked, snug and safe, under a blanket of warmth, knit from threads of hope, promise, and love.  Grandfather James’s temper and outbursts mellowed to a quiet grumble, even English Alice began to smile. Time slowly moved forward, the seasons continued to bring change and Grace’s pleasing qualities polished the family’s predictable world.

Just as every fairy tale has good and evil, every life will have a piece of each, some lives more of one trait or the other.  A sinister, cold wind had followed Grace and the child would need to learn how to survive the brewing storms ahead.  The solid cherry tree would remain stoic and strong, reminding Grace that change is inevitable and storms can be weathered, if you choose to face them.

“I don’t understand,” Lily spoke.  “Why would English Alice speak such words to your mother?” To understand my grandmother’s simmering anger, I shall need to continue the story.