EVENING IN PARIS

Grandma Lila and I always had a closeness few people get to experience in their lives.

My mother Zoey learned she was pregnant with me when she was 14 years old – too young to drive and too old to play with dolls. The boy she said was the father did what any teenager would do in that situation; he denied everything and bailed on her.

Abortion was not open for discussion. Grandma Lila told my mother in no uncertain terms that getting pregnant was irresponsible but ending a baby’s life was unforgivable. As far as Grandma was concerned Zoey had two choices: she could stay home and help earn money by doing work with her – sewing pearls and little bows on ladies panties – or go back to school until it was time for her baby to be born. She’d rather die than be seen in her condition so Zoey opted to say home with Grandma.

Even though it was the lesser of two evils, as far as my mother was concerned staying home was like being in prison. She and Grandma Lila sewed for hours while watching soap operas, cleaned the house and cooked meals. Zoey didn’t go out and never saw her friends. She got bigger and more uncomfortable with each passing month and couldn’t wait for the pregnancy to be over. Finally on a chilly November morning just before Thanksgiving Zoey’s water broke and Grandma Lila brought her to the hospital. Zoey was in labor for almost two days when the doctor finally decided to do a C-section. Then the unthinkable happened: there were “complications” and my mother bled out. She died in the delivery room.

Grandma Lila was devastated at the loss of her only child. My mother never had the chance to see me, hold me or delight in that new baby scent. When I was placed in my Grandma’s arms, she swore to protect me for the rest of her days. She took me home and held me tight as she settled in her rocking chair, her soft woolen shawl draped over us both. That’s where our bond began, wrapped in a shawl delicately fragranced by the hint of gardenias from Grandma Lila’s perfume, Evening in Paris.

From day one Grandma Lila was my champion. It was she who fed and bathed me, watched me take my first steps and sat up with me all night when I had scarlet fever. We baked cookies, played in the backyard sprinkler and laughed together watching I Love Lucy. Grandma put me on the school bus in the morning and greeted me every afternoon when I got home. She took me to piano lessons, Girl Scouts and soccer practice. Grandma was there for every concert, spelling bee and sports event. As I got older she sweetly explained the “birds and bees”, careful to answer only the questions I asked and not overwhelm me with too much information.

When I started dating, Grandma Lila would give me a little wink if she approved of the boy or a rub of her nose if she didn’t but she never interfered. Then I met Steve and she told me he was “a real keeper”. Steve asked for Grandma’s blessing before he proposed to me and she walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. And she was the first to hold our daughter Jenna just hours after she was born.

Months turned into years and Grandma Lila started spending more time in her rocking chair wrapped in her beloved woolen shawl and looking out the window. She was old and frail now but the thought of putting her in a nursing home never crossed our minds. Steve and I took care of her until the very end, just as she took care of me for so many years. I began wrapping Grandma’s shawl around my shoulders as I sat on the sofa watching TV; it brought me comfort and sweet memories of my life with her.

It was right after Thanksgiving, just a few months after Grandma passed away, when I returned home from shopping and was struck by the familiar fragrance of gardenias wafting through the house. Maybe Steve surprised me with flowers but gardenias blossomed in spring and summer, not late fall. As I walked by the living room I saw Grandma’s shawl wasn’t on the sofa where I left it; I found it draped over her old rocking chair and neither Steve nor Jenna had moved it. I picked up the shawl and held it to my face, inhaling the fresh scent of Evening in Paris. Tears filled my eyes; I knew that Grandma Lila had visited us that day. I miss her so very much.

NAR © 2020

SAVING GRACE

I have never told anyone this before but I got pregnant at 17.  

It was 1942 and I was crazy about Pvt. Roy Holmes at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Every night for two weeks I snuck out to be with him. Then he stopped coming and I heard he’d been deployed. I was heartbroken. One month later I learned he was killed. Another month later I realized I was pregnant. 

Mama and daddy would never forgive me. I packed some clothes and snuck out one last time. I caught a north-bound bus, getting off at the aptly named city of Hope, Ohio. Eyeing a pretty white church, I headed straight for it and rang the bell. I was surprised when a boyish pastor answered; he was even more surprised when I fainted in the doorway. When I came to I was on a sofa, the pastor and two woman standing over me. 

Better now?” asked the pastor and I shook my head. “Tell us what’s wrong” he suggested. “Maybe we can help.” 

Speaking softly, I made up my story as I went along: “My name is Grace Holmes. My husband of five months was killed in the war. I have no family, no money and I’m pregnant.” I started to cry again – real tears of sorrow and shame. Handing me a tissue the pastor quietly said “Stay the night here in the parish house and in the morning we’ll sort it all out.” 

The next morning I found everyone in the kitchen preparing breakfast. “Good morning, Grace! Join us! This is our cook Anna and Peggy, our housekeeper, and I’m Richard Clark, the pastor.” Everyone was so welcoming!

After breakfast Richard asked me into his office. “Grace, I believe things happen for a reason. We can help each other. You see, my secretary recently retired and I’d like to offer you the job. It’s not very demanding, the salary is decent and room and board are included. Won’t you stay here with me … um, I mean with us?” 

We both blushed. “But what about my condition? Won’t people talk?” 

“Have faith, Grace. You’ll find the people here very understanding.” 

“Then yes, I accept!” I replied happily. “I won’t let you down.” 

Parish life was wonderful! Richard and I grew close, fell in love and he asked me to marry him. I was thrilled but haunted by my lies. “Richard, I love you but I have a confession. I was never married and I left home because of the pregnancy.”  

“I was hoping you’d tell me, Grace. I’ve always known.” 

I was stunned. “But how?”  

“No wedding ring, no pictures of your ‘husband’, no mention of your family. I figured it out and it doesn’t matter. I love you and I want us to be a family.” 

Richard and I got married that weekend and a few days later our baby girl was born. 

She’s beautiful, just like you, Grace. What shall we name her?” 

“That’s easy, darling. Her name is Faith.” 

NAR © 2019