Out of the blue the call arrived. It was late and I was beyond tired. We were tempted to let it go straight to voice mail, but Gary thought it might be important.
“Gary? It’s Alice from the adoption agency. Fabulous news! We have a baby for you and Carol. Can you come by in the morning?”.
Gary jumped up. “My God!Are you sure?” Completely convinced that something terrible had happened, I grabbed the phone. “This is Carol Wheeler. Who’s this, please?”
Not bad news. Just the opposite … elating, top of the world, Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds news!
ALICE FOUND US A BABY!!!
“Yes!! We’ll be there! Thank you so much” I sputtered.
Dumbstruck, we stood there … then pandemonium erupted. Laughing, crying, hugging, kissing, dancing like lunatics. We didn’t think … or even care … to ask “boy, girl, age”? After eight years of trying to get pregnant and failing miserably, some loving stranger was presenting us with the most precious gift imaginable.
Collapsing onto the couch, we talked about the past eight years … the failed attempts … heartbreaking losses … the baby things we collected over the years, now hiding in the attic.
“Gary, do you realize tomorrow we will be a family of three?”
All tiredness forgotten, we raced to the attic for the plastic bins of assorted baby items. There in the corner sat the bassinet, glowing in the darkness – a mystical aura the likes of which I’d never seen before. I believe at that moment I heard angels singing. We reverently carried it down to our room. I leaned into Gary, overcome with elated exhaustion.
And then the phone rang … again. We stared at it, afraid to answer, convinced it was Alice calling to say the baby’s mom had changed her mind, there would be no happy family for us.
I reached for the phone and wearily, warily said “Yes?”.
“Carol? It’s Dr. Shaw. Sorry to call so late but your tests results are back. The reason you’ve been so exhausted lately? You’re three months pregnant … with twins … and everything looks great!”
Stunned, crying, all I could manage was a hushed “My God. Are you sure?”
Gary held me closely and whispered “Shh. Another baby will come along.”
I giggled. “You’re so right. That was Dr. Shaw. I’M PREGNANT … WITH TWINS!! We’re gonna be a family of FIVE!”
Out our kitchen window I can see my little girl Nell playing with her new best friend Gina. Since moving to rural Vermont two months ago, the girls have become inseparable. They are both four years old and about the same height but that’s where the physical similarities end.
Nell is a green-eyed lanky Irish redhead covered in a profusion of freckles while Gina is a slightly plump Italian beauty with brown doe eyes, smooth tanned skin and lustrous black hair.
As I stand at the kitchen sink I can see the girls playing in the yard. Their energy is boundless as they dash back and forth from the swings to the trampoline to their bikes.
Moving around the house doing my chores, I can hear Gina counting, followed by a loud “ready or not…here I come”, then the hysterical giggles as Nell’s secret (but usual!) hiding place is discovered.
The yard is fenced in and I’m completely aware of where the girls are and what they’re doing .. most of the time. Occasionally they’ll wander into a concealed corner of the garden to pick wild flowers for me and Gina’s mom. Even though I can’t see them, I can clearly hear their conspiratorial mumblings as they go from one blossom to the other.
“Buttercups and Lilys of the Valley” whispered Gina.
“And some of this pretty shiny ivy” added Nell. “Mommy likes shiny things.”
All was quiet and I presumed the girls were waiting for me to walk into the dining room to present me with a freshly-picked bouquet. To my amazement on the crisp white tablecloth sat a short blue glass vase brimming with buttercups, lilys and ivy. It was breathtaking. I stood there admiring the green, white and golden cluster when suddenly I heard woeful whimpering and sobbing coming from the under the table.
And there, huddled closely, were Nell and Gina, their little bodies covered in itchy red rashes. Only then did I realize the vine in the vase with the flowers was poison ivy!
“Come with me, my sweet girls. It’s nothing a little calamine lotion won’t fix. Thank you for the flowers .. the most beautiful I’ve ever seen! Won’t daddy be surprised when he comes home tonight!” I said, smiling and chuckling wistfully to myself.
And tomorrow we will rid our garden of all the pretty shiny ivy.
“Arabic For Dummies”? The Qur’an? What the hell are these disgusting books doing in our house? You’re still associating with that .. that .. savage, aren’t you, Gloria? Answer me!”
“Papa, please, calm yourself. It’s not good for your blood pressure. If you’re referring to Yusuf, he is not a savage. He’s a sweet, gentle and loving man and you’d realize that if you got to know him. He’s a student at the university studying religion and…..”
“And the making of bombs and God knows what else! Gloria, he’s an Arab, a Muslim, for the love of God! Haven’t you seen enough on tv and in the papers to know what these people are capable of? Crashing planes into buildings, blowing up villages, turning themselves into human bombs! They’re animals, all of them!”
“And since when did you become an expert on Muslims or Arabs? You’ve never even tried to get to know them. All my Arab friends are good people .. peace loving people. We’ve spent hours talking, exchanging philosophies and sharing meals.”
“I cannot believe what I’m hearing. You actually sit down and eat with these people, if you can even call them that? This is a nightmare! How can you do this to me?”
“What am I doing to you, Papa? You haven’t even given him a chance. You refuse to meet him, to sit down and have a conversation with him. You’d see he is a man of peace, a good man incapable of hurting anyone.”
“Are you crazy? Do you actually think I would sit with him in my house? Please, God, don’t tell me he has you brainwashed already! That’s what they do, you know…draw you in to their cult and before you know it you’re hooked and there’s no way out. Why can’t you stick to our own kind, find a nice Jewish boy? An Arab and a Jew .. whoever heard of such nonsense?!?
“I can’t believe we’re fighting over this again! Why must you keep bringing it up, Papa?You didn’t give Evelyn a hard time when she said she wanted to marry Sal. And what about Kenny when he and Makayla got engaged? An Italian son-in-law and a black daughter-in-law are in our family now and you won’t let me see Yusuf, simply because he’s an Arab!”
“Oh no, there’s no such thing as simply an Arab, Gloria. They all have a hidden agenda! Are you blind to what’s going on around you?”
“Papa, look at me. I’m a grown woman capable of making my own decisions. Why can’t you trust my judgement like you did with Kenny and Evelyn?”
“Gloria, you’re not thinking clearly. Sal is a doctor, making a fortune. Your sister and their kids will never want for anything. Makayla’s parents are both lawyers and she’s in law school herself. Your brother and sister made smart choices. They didn’t bring some maniac suicide bomber into our family.”
“STOP! Stop saying that! You know nothing about Yusuf and you have no idea what you’re talking about! He’s a wonderful man and I have deep feelings for him.”
“Deep feelings? What are you saying, Gloria? Are you sleeping with him?”
“Oh my God! I can’t believe you just asked me that! I’m not a child and, frankly, that’s none of your business.”
“None of my business? As long as you’re living under my roof, it’s my business.”
“Here we go again! Well maybe it’s high time I moved out of this prison and found a place of my own!”
“PRISON! After all your mother and I have done for you, you have the nerve to say that? And by ‘a place of your own’, you mean shacking up with that terrorist, don’t you? Why don’t you just stab me in the heart and put me out of my misery!”
“Enough! What’s going on here? I can hear the two of you all the way downstairs!”
“Hilda, אהובתי(“my love”) I didn’t hear you come in.”
“As if you could hear anything over all the yelling in here! What’s gotten into the two of you?”
“It’s your daughter. She’s being absolutely unreasonable. I don’t even know who she is anymore.”
“Oh, so now she’s MY daughter? Sheldon, the last time I checked she was OUR daughter. Is this about that Arab boy again?”
“Mama, please, I can’t talk to Papa about this any more. If anyone is being unreasonable, it’s him.”
“Gloria, why don’t you go out for a while, go to that nice coffee shop near the university. Sheldon, come sit with me.”
“Hilda, are you crazy? She’s going to run right to him! Don’t you see what you’re doing?”
“Just like you ran to me, Sheldon, when your parents called me a filthy Nazi? Look at me, Shelly. Do you remember what it was like for us when we first met? You a Jew and me a German. Ach du lieber! What were we thinking? My father was so furious, he wanted to kill both of us. But we knew we’d rather die than be separated. Sheldon, you should know better than anyone that you cannot judge one man simply by the color of his skin or what country he comes from or what god he worships. You’re a good man, liebchen. You were a good man when we were teenagers and you’re a good man now. You’re scared, Shelly, just like we were scared back then. But we persevered and in time my parents saw the real you and your parents saw the real me. Do you remember what you told your parents all those years ago?”
“Of course I do. I said ‘I love her and I would die for her’.”
“Ja. And do you remember what I said to your parents?”
“Like it was yesterday. You said ‘I love him and I would die without him’.”
“Things haven’t changed that much, Sheldon, except now WE’RE the parents. I hate to burst your bubble but they love each other and it’s as simple as that. Trust them.”
Head cocked to the right, Jake waited impatiently as I read the article he had slipped in front of me. Having been born with microtia, Jake’s right ear was very small and malformed with significantly decreased hearing…..just like his idol Paul Stanley from KISS….so tilting his head to one side for better hearing was second nature.
“Mom, can we go….PLEASE?” he pleaded. “The article says 50 dogs and cats will be euthanized next week unless they’re adopted. Please, Mom! I’ve wanted a dog forever! If I can get a dog for Christmas, I’ll never ask you for another thing for the rest of my life!!”
I slid my glasses down my nose and raised my eyebrows questioningly. “That’s a really long time, Jake! I’ll tell you what. Today’s Wednesday. If you finish that book report and clean your room by Saturday, then we have a deal.”
“Really?? I swear I will, Mom!” Jake threw his arms around my neck. “I can’t wait until Saturday!” I couldn’t help laughing at his unbridled excitement.
Saturday finally arrived and Jake was true to his word. His report was done and his room was clean. He even found an old frame in the basement for his favorite KISS poster.
So I was true to MY word, too. We got to the shelter early and looked around, stopping at all the cages. After a while, I lost sight of Jake. I called out to him and got an “Over here, Mom!” in response. I finally spotted him in the corner, bending down and staring into a cage. There weren’t any other people hanging around that section and I wondered what type of dog caught Jake’s eye. I was surprised to see it wasn’t a dog but two tiny grey kittens.
“Hey, buddy, what’s up? I thought you wanted to get a dog. Did you change your mind?”
Jake looked up at me, his big brown eyes brimming with tears. “Mom,” he whispered. “Come look. These are special cats!” Bending down to take a look, I thought “what could be so special about a cat?” My question was answered when I looked in the cage; I gasped slightly at what I saw.
“Ah, I see an introduction is necessary” said one of the shelter volunteers. ”These are our Scottish Folds. No one wants these little guys because of their folded ears. Everyone thinks there’s something wrong with them but that’s just the way God made them.”
“Mom, they’re just like me! I love them. Can we take them home, please?”
“We sure can, buddy” I managed to choke out. “What are you going to name them?”
“That’s easy.” Jake smiled up at me. “Paul and Stanley.”
“It’s a nice house, don’t you think, Virginia? The property is a decent size. And the fresh air! Just what the doctor ordered.” Finding the perfect house for his ailing wife was first and foremost on Edgar’s mind.
Encouragingly, he continued: “It’s very affordable at $5 a month! One bedroom and a writing niche upstairs and downstairs another bedroom, parlor and a nice kitchen which your mother will put to good use.”
From their carriage Virginia smiled at her husband, covering her mouth with a handkerchief as the deep cough began again. Edgar hurried to her side and she stared lovingly into his eyes. “Yes, my dear. I think we will be very happy here.”
“Then it’s settled! I’ll finalize the rental while you rest here.” Before returning to the cottage Edgar covered Virginia with a blanket to protect her from the cool April breeze.
Sitting in the carriage with her mother, Virginia gazed at the cottage. “A lovely little home for the three of us, Mother.” Closing her eyes, Virginia pictured their caged songbirds on the porch, a rocking chair nearby where she could rest in the sun and an etched signpost near the door which read “POE COTTAGE”.
**Virginia, I’ve been waiting for you**. Opening her eyes, Virginia asked her mother to repeat what she just said, but Maria assured her she had said nothing. Again Virginia closed her eyes and again she heard the gentle voice in her ear – **Virginia, welcome home**.A strange peace came over Virginia as she realized it was the cottage whispering to her. “My lovely forever home”, she thought.
They moved in on a beautiful day in May of 1846 and they were happy there. In the evenings after eating a modest meal prepared by Maria, Edgar worked on his poem “Annabel Lee” while the family cat sprawled across his shoulders and Virginia dozed by the fireplace. But even with constant care, sunshine and fresh air, Virginia’s consumption became worse, her waif-like body wracked with fits of coughing.
In January Virginia’s health began to fail rapidly. Edgar stayed by her side day and night, reading to her, until at last on January 30, Virginia heard the whispering cottage beckoning her.
She died peacefully that night in Edgar’s warm embrace as he softly recited