By: Katie Spiro, Gardner-Webb Media Student
A cold, crisp November morning had brought a blanket of fresh frost to the beds of Julie’s summer flower garden. The fabulously frosted sparkles covered every inch of foliage remnant, masterfully disguising the wilted and lifeless blossoms that crouched below. Julie’s gaze began to gloss as her sentiments dwelt with the inert bulbs, allowing the usual comatose to begin.
Like her garden, her life had once been filled with radiant roses and delightful daises; a home of happiness and a story of success. Yet also like her garden, her life was now left dreary and frozen, masked by an expired glint of a past that would never survive another harsh winter.
Julie shook her head and turned away. Not today. She walked into her kitchen, carefully tip-toeing around the creaky boards in the foyer, as not to wake her daughters from their rare holiday mid-morning slumbers. The house had been built in 1908 and was first owned by Mrs. Lenora Moore, the widowed wife of a civil war confederate army general.
The house, a Queen Anne style home with 2600 square-feet of pine-bead floors, was also on the National Register of Historic Places list—bringing in frequent foot traffic that forced Julie to keep it presentable. With Doric columns, a wrap-around porch, and a vivaciously red door, the house was unmistakable in the old town of Webster, North Carolina and has been the site of the town picnic since the time of Lenora herself.
With history embedded within the walls of the house, little had been done to modernize or update the southern gem and as a result, years of abandonment and emptiness had certainly weathered its luster. But an economy of low-priced housing had degraded the neglected jewel even more, allowing Julie to buy the house at a bargain price. Declaring the house in a desperate need of renovation, 3 months and one cashed IRA later, she had her own southern living home—complete with 3 daughters, one golden retriever, and total independence from any man known by the name of Jay.
Julie turned on the coffee pot and placed her oldest daughters’ favorite coffee mug on the cherry wood breakfast nook that sat in the corner of the window-filled kitchen. The hand-painted golden retriever pictured on the mug had been Katie’s favorite cup since she was eight years old. Santa Clause had placed it in her stocking, giving Katie her first “grown-up” gift—a running joke that seemed to resurface every Christmas. However, as Julie retrieved the cream and sugar from the cupboard, this jovial memory faded and an unpleasant, recent recollection began to taint the handsome mug.
It had happened one month earlier. Julie had stopped by her former residence to retrieve the last few remaining items she thought she could rightfully claim as her own. 18 years of marriage had not only left her heart dormant, but also her willingness to argue. She prayed no one would be inside. Arriving at the house, she saw no sign of activity.
Entering through the side door, Julie weaved through the house, having one last look through and that’s when she had found the cherished mug. Smiling at the happiness represented by the ceramic cup, she placed the mug into her last box of items, believing it would go unmissed and unnoticed. Leaving the box upstairs, she descended to the lower level of the house to finish her walk through.
Ten or so minutes passed and as Julie climbed the stairs holding her last few possessions, she heard a familiar sound and stopped before she completely resurfaced. Creak-creak-crack. Recognizing the sound as the opening of the coffee mug cabinet, she thought, Surely not… Finishing her climb, Julie rounded the corner to find him closing the cabinet door—no mug to be found.
“Jay, I didn’t think you would mind if I took that one. We have so many in that cabinet.”
“Yes, Julie we do. But we don’t have two golden retriever mugs. You know this is Katie’s favorite. That’s why you want it, so she can only have it at your house. Well, this is her house.”
The words stung. “I picked that mug out for her because despite her begging us for a real golden retriever throughout her childhood, you refused to allow it, just like everything else in this house. It was all hand-selected and approved by you.”
Filling with anger, Jay slammed open the cabinet and grabbed the mug. “Fine, take it! Take the fucking dog too!”
The memory hurt. Julie winced and turned away. Not today.
Standing over the stove stirring the freshly made banana-nut oatmeal, Julie reached for a pad of paper and a pen. What needs to happen today…? She thought, Let’s see… finish the laundry, thaw the turkey, chop the pecans, put up the tree, put salt on the walkway… As she categorized the tasks by estimated allotted times and urgency, she added honey to the pot of oatmeal, an old habit that Jay and Katie both loved. Entitling the list “First Thanksgiving To-do’s,” she had to make she everything was in order. Her first Thanksgiving without him was going to be perfect, right down to the whipped cream and cinnamon on the pumpkin pie.
As Sarah descended the stairwell, she smelled the sweet aroma of hazelnut coffee, a smell that signified that Mommy was up and that her sister, Katie was home. The middle sister of three, Sarah was never too loud nor ever too quiet. She loved to read, but hated to write and on any given day, you could find her reading her bible—making notes and highlighting verses in every which direction.
Since Katie had been home, Sarah had noticed a change in her mom’s new house. Julie was singing, making her old favorite dishes, and even buying random sweet treats for her and her sisters. The changes had all been positive, but Sarah had begun to wonder if they would last when Katie went back to college. Mommy never offered to make coffee for me…so what if I don’t like it? She could at least offer? Why does Katie get special treatment? Abby and I are here too… As these thoughts crowded her brain, she tried to bury them away as quickly as they had surfaced. She is happy, thank God. And that is all that matters…
“Good morning Sarah Bear!” beamed Julie, “I am about to pour Katie’s coffee and bring her breakfast upstairs. This is her first morning waking up in the new house. Will you help me carry some things?” asked Julie.
I have never been served breakfast in bed here before… “Sure Mommy, I’ll get the tray.”
As they made their way through the foyer and up the stairs, Sarah caught a line of the song playing on the XM radio channel in the living room, “But here, under the rainbow, people pass us by. But we laugh at the way they laugh at you and I…” It was a chorus line from country singer, Trisha Yearwood’s song, “Under the Rainbow.” Her grip immediately softened on the tray as the flashback began.
“Okay Sarah, we have to make this a good performance because Mommy and Daddy will be watching us! Abby doesn’t deserve all the attention all the time. Let’s show them we are just as important,” hyped Katie. They were nine and six years old and Abby, the youngest of the 3 sisters, had just been born. With a new baby in the house, the two sisters had been feeling rather invisible to their parents, seeing as they could feed and pee on their own, so that day they had decided to win back their parents via performance. Who knew the dance would make for such a grand memory.
“The wordy parts are the easy ones, Sarah. We can simply act those out. The chorus is where we have to be together and on queue. Let’s practice one more time.”
Katie pushed play on their “fancy sterobox”, a named coined by Katie, a typical product of the 90’s child and as the song began, the sisters acted and danced independently, each trying to out-do the other with polished moves and dramatic lip sync. Katie whirled and flipped around the room, performing daring backbends over toys and one-handed cartwheels between the couch and footrest; she had taken gymnastics since she was five years old. In an attempt to counter-balanced Katie’s abilities, Sarah dominated the front of their jump-rope lined stage with theatrical, brush-microphone singing, accompanied by spectacular hair flips and the spunky catwalk.
As the song played, the chorus approached and the two girls hurried back to the center of the room. The practiced moves had become second nature to them as the sisters executed their motions in total synchronization. “…the world is spinning around and around. Everybody’s is looking for higher ground…” They ran over to the stairwell and climbed the steps for ‘higher ground’ then retreated back to center stage where they took their final positions, “…but here, under the rainbow, dreams fall from the sky…from the sky.” With fingertips moving as raindrops from the sky, the girls slowly laid on the floor, posing as ‘fallen dreams.’ The song concluded and Katie whispered, “We are ready, Sarah. Let’s go win them back…”
Sarah smiled sweetly, I am so glad my co-actress is home. Climbing the stairwell behind Julie, they reached the top floor and silently peered through the cracked entrance of Katie’s light-green room. Still sound asleep, Katie rested on the right side of her bed, a long-since habit she had had for as long as Sarah could remember. Julie slowly pushed open the pine door and tip-toed into the room, motioning for Sarah to do the same. Creekkk… a loose board ached. Katie stirred and reluctantly opened her eyes; Sarah had never met a lighter sleeper.
“Good morning Snugglebunny,” whispered Julie; the name had been Katie’s since she was born. A colic-bearing child, Katie would cry ceaselessly day and night and it was only when she was placed into her parents’ arms and allowed to snuggle tightly that she could fall to sleep. The name had stuck around ever since.
Katie reluctantly opened her eyes and let out a high-pitched moan as she stretched out her curled body. She sniffed the air and took a long breath in, smiling. “Hmmm….You made hazelnut coffee!” celebrated Katie.
“And banana-nut oatmeal with honey,” added Sarah slowly, still jealous of the specialized treatment.
“We wanted to make your first morning home perfect,” beamed Julie. Katie took the handle of her favorite mug, bringing the rim to her nose and inhaling another long breathe. Sipping the hotness slowly, Katie seemed to slip into another world, driven by endless flavor and homely comfort.
“Katie, guess what song was playing downstairs?” asked Sarah. Katie’s eyes flickered open as she was brought back to reality. “Under the Rainbow! Do you remember when we performed that song for Mommy and Daddy?”
Katie laughed, “Oh you mean the song we used to win Mommy and Daddy back from evil Abby? Yes, I remember!” The two broke into an uncontrollable fit of laughter while Julie stood puzzled.
“Evil Abby? She was barely born, girls! How could she have been evil before she could even talk?”
“Trusts us, if you think she is evil now that she can talk, you would be surprised…” spout Sarah. All three girls went into another fit of giggles. This feels good again… reflected Sarah, not wanting the moment to end.
As the day continued, Katie, Sarah, and Julie prepared for their first Thanksgiving. Julie dwelt in the kitchen and concocted dish after dish, filling the room with sweet smells of glazed ham, cheery cinnamon spice, and ending with a heavenly aroma of rich pumpkin pie. As she worked, her contentment increased and the frosty feelings of the morning were soon forgotten. The turkey laid softly in a bed of stuffing and spice, glistening with cinnamon-roasted almonds and buttered potatoes.
As Julie admired her finished product, she thought to herself, Mom, if you were here, you would be darn proud of this turkey! The thought warmed her dormant heart, though it had been years since her mom had passed. It had also been years since she had baked a Thanksgiving turkey or glazed her own ham. Frankly, it had been years since she had decided much of anything on her own. Julie thought about this statement for a moment, swishing it around, and then releasing it. Not today…
Katie and Sarah had tackled the tasks of putting up the Christmas tree. The directions had been thrown away as soon as the box had been opened and now the girls were quizzically starring at the multitude of parts included for tree assembly.
“This is where Daddy would really come in handy,” complained Sarah, “all we are good at as decorating the tree, not putting it together.”
“I can figure this out, Sarah. I am in college, remember?” winked Katie. The three year age gap had never seemed to play a factor into the sister’s tight-knit relationship, and even when Katie had gone to college, the two had remained close. It was going to take more than 203 miles, 5 counties, and 2 hours to pull these two apart.
A few hours passed and the tree was finally on display. Julie had just finished topping off the pie when the phone rang. She answered.
“Oh hello Papa…yes the girls just finished the tree and I am setting the table now…okay see you in twenty minutes.” Click. Julie went into the foyer and yelled up the stairs, “Girls, Papa will be here in twenty minutes. What do you all want to drink?”
As if on cue, both Katie and Sarah yelled, “Eggnog!” Julie shook her head and smiled.
She walked back to the kitchen and began to pour the drinks, and then the wall hit. Her merry smile faded, her blue eyes began to blur, and before she knew it, Julie’s knees hit the kitchen floor; reality struck. The tears over took her, swallowing her spell of happiness as they returned Cinderella to her life of depressed darkness and sheer brokenness.
Time stood at bay as her emotional floodgates opened, thrashing forward a suppressed ocean of sentiments and disregarded follies. Lifeguarded by a man who had never learned to swim, Julie felt the weight of her failed marriage and the reality that her father was the only man she would ever be able to trust.
With her life transfixed in a state of wreckage, Julie wept for her shattered past, but was awoken from her coma when a small, light hand rested on her bowed head. A body crouched in front of her folded body and laid another hand on her shaking back. Soon enough, another set of hands took her own in theirs and cooed a whisper of warmth that breathed life back into her broken spirit.
Katie and Sarah had heard their mom cry before, but this silent sob had been different. The tears that came were quite and overflowing, as if years of leaking had finally given way and released, leaving their mom empty and poured out.
Julie slowly lifted her head and met the eyes of the two angels holding her. Two blue eyes and two green eyes starred back lovingly, silently producing an overwhelming sense of serenity—a feeling that had been vacant from Julie for many years. No words were needed, no expression required. From that moment on, Julie knew that the future was here with her girls and that the her past was no longer today.