Ghosts part 3

“Boss, you look like you’ve seen a ghost! Drink some of this coffee and sit down.” Luke mothered me for a minute. I don’t know if the look on his face meant he saw her or if he was worried about me. I took the paper cup and found a sturdy chair. I felt the chill subside, but the scent lingered. I asked Luke if he had noticed anything more abnormal than usual. It was New Orleans after all.

His hair fell over his eyes as he looked at me, the concern evident on his face. “Since I work in a place where we chat with a dead guy every day, how strange are you talking?”

“I saw something, or someone, “I said. “I also smelled lilacs.”

“Miss Maggie came in a bit ago with sweet tea and lemonade. She wears that flowery perfume, but I don’t think it is lilacs,” Luke thought for a moment. Miss Maggie is a dear woman from the neighborhood who worked in the shop for years before retiring for the third or fourth time. She still stops in to help when she gets bored being the social butterfly of the Quarter. It wasn’t Miss Maggie that I saw.

“Someone slipped in right before you came out of your office. I was with a guest so I didn’t notice who it was. I should probably go check on him. You ok?” he asked with sincerity and a bit of ‘my boss has lost her mind.’ He patted my shoulder and went back to the floor.

It wasn’t a man I saw. It was the girl from this morning. At least I think that’s who it was. I drank some more cafe-au-lait and wandered around my antiques to clear my head. I no longer smelled lilacs. The scent of the polish we used on the wood now filled that space. Light danced all around the interior. Shadows were cast, moving, swaying. I shook my head. Maybe I was still off balance from the heat and the odor of decay from my walk to work.

I returned to my office, determined to finish exploring and cataloging the box and its contents. The sketches and photos showed the owner was someone with significant wealth and affinity for details. As I leafed through the pictures, I was awed by the bright green, slightly flawed emeralds settled among tiny pearls. Brilliant blue sapphires and diamonds were wating for me. I checked on Luke one more time before I started. I heard giggling and saw him flirting with a young woman and her mama. He was in his element, so I closed the door and put on my gloves. Music playing softly in the background allowed me to be transpsorted to am era of fancy balls and carriages. I became so focused on the boxand the jewelry, I lost track of time.

As I walked through the streets of the Vieux Carre, I stopped for a moment and closed my eyes. I listened to the sounds of a busy morning all around me. Children were running and playing. Their laughter and screeches bounced off the walls of the courtyards and homes. A woman hummed in the distance as she snapped sheets to hang on the line. Horoses clopped along the streets, their heavy breathing a representation of frustration from pulling the heavy cart on such a hot day. Men spoke in hushed voices as deals were being finalized. Store owners yelled orders out to their workers.

I took a deep breath and smelled the hot, heavy summer air. Unwashed humans, horses, expensive perfume and cheap cologne, decay, and the hope of rain filled my nostrils. Breakfast cooking clashed with the filth in the gutters. I could smell the river a few blocks away, laden with fish and smoke from. the ships. Papa was waiting and would be angry by my tardiness. I was taking too long. Again. I shook myself back to the task at hand and continued to the shop on Royal. Work would wait for me, but Papa wouldn’t.

I ran the final blocks to Royal. My hair was a mess. The hem of my skirt was dusty. My hat was missing. I prepared myself for the inevitable encounter with Mrs. Amberly, Papa’s store clerk. She would remind me, unkindly, of the expectations of a young lady in society. She would chastise my freckles and lack of a hat. She would mutter under her breath the disappointment she had that Mama and Papa let me run so wild. How a week with her would make me behave appropriately.

I gathered my hair and retied my ribbon at the base of my neck. I knocked the dust off my skirt and shoes, straightened my blouse, and pulled open the heavy door. I headed straight for the office, with only a nod to Mrs. Amberly and her shocked exprssion. She shook her head as I walked past, whispering, “Back to work, you nosy, old, busy-body.”

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That Day

I was a young mama that day, exhausted already as I took Aaron to preschool with Alynne jabbering non-stop in her car seat. I was on Burlingame when Radio Rich said something about a plane in NYC. I didn’t think much about it. I was driving back home when the normally jovial radio DJ became much less jovial. Another plane hit a tower. He seemed shaken. His cohost was struggling as well. I still don’t think it registered to me what was unfolding.

I turned on a Disney movie in our little basement in the Woodvalley house, swapped out laundry, played with Alynne a bit, and headed upstairs to find the news. As I turned on the TV, another plane hit the Pentagon. I stopped and just held the tremote, unsure of what I was seeing. I know I called my friend across the cul-de-sac and my friend Jodi. Both of ttheir husbands were in the military. I was frightened for them.

I sat on my bed and held my bible in my lap. I started reading and writing and praying. Then a tower collapsed. I know I cried. My heart ached for those people hanging out of windows, the ones who were having simply breakfast overlooking the city, the ones who knew they were going to die, and especially those souls who had hope.

I couldn’t tear myself away, but my reality was a chubby faced angel with no hair who wanted “chocky” milk and a snack. I held onto my little girl and cried. She patted my face and wiped my tears. At that time, she hugged back and liked to snuggle. I needed that. Because another plane crashed in Pennsylvania and another tower fell.

It was surreal. Watching all those people, covered in dust, running and walking through falling debris to find a glimmer of safety. Firefighters ran into the buildngs with heavy packs and a ton on equipment on their backs. Men and women who did not care about color or background or anything beyond the fact that their neighbors were in pain rushed to help. Water, jackets, towels, bandages, and whatever else they could share. They were taking care of each other. I dont know what station I watched, but Paula Zahn was the anchor whose voice somhow soothed me. Her city was in its knees, but she was trying to make it easier for me.

I watched as a President tried to mask his horror as he sat with a bunch of litte ones at his knee. I saw his face change from joy to pain as his wife whispered in his ear. I knew it was never going to be the same.

I talked to Jon, who was at work. I hadto go get Aaron from school. My 4 year old told me some bad men did som bad things in the city. He wanted some lunch and “Fox and the Dog Hound” and could he eat in the basement. He and his baby sister ate lunch in the basement and watched “Fox and the Dog Hound.”

Through the day, I heard stories of heroism and sheer grace, luck of timing and blessings in the fact a child was starting school. People who missed their flights to flat tires or spilled coffee. People who switched to earlier flights and died horrible deaths. A man who had to bring donuts to his office on the 85th floor. A group of men and women who charged a cockpit and changed the direction of a plane and sacrificed themselves while saving hundreds of others. A flight attendant who was grounded because of a turbulence injry and didn’t fly her normal Tuesday morning jaunt and how thankful her mama was.

We lived in the flight path of an air base. As dust was starting to settle, the skies went quiet. No planes flew. We had gotten used to the noise and now it was deafeningly silent. That was how the tragedies of New York really hit home to me. The silence, no planes. That is what scared me. Our world was different.

In the days to come, we were a united nation. A country who loved each other. Covered in dust, we didn’t care wonwas next to us. Our hearts poured out love to our neighbors. We needed to do something. We were united, one nation under God. We needed each other.

I remember that. How far we have come. And not in a good way.

Writing

I’m reading a book by Stephen King about writing. I’ve been reading it for months, maybe even a couple of years. My heart wants to write. My soul craves it as expression and release. My head always has an excuse. King said not to allow the excuses. To choose a time daily and just write words. I will try. You must help.

I have procrastinated for 53 minutes this morning. Set the alarm for 5 am, before my yard starts to bake in the Tucson sun with my heart excited and my head knowing that I would take a shower, do my morning puzzle, check my facebook memories, and not write.

I am now drinking my Jamaican coffee on my patio with angry little hummingbirds letting me know that I am using their table. In a minute, I will crack open my notebook and start to write. I am meeting a character today. I think I know who she might become. I know what she looks like, but I won’t tell you all of that. I want you to make her yours, and other than general eye and hair color, you only need to know she is beautiful and smart and hopeful and sad. Her name is Amelie. I am sure there is an apostrophe, and I’m not sure how to pronounce it. I’ll googgle search it shortly. She is waiting so patiently for me to give her life, to let her roam streets I have come to love. To introduce me to her friends and family, thenreason for her sadness.

I’ve been scared, I think, to meet her. By meeting her, I have to then introduce her. And share her. She’s been mine for so long, I am not sure I want her to be known. That is so selfish.

Bear with me friends. Encourage me and tell me to get going. Tell me you want to know what will happen next. Demand that you meet Amelie and her people. Tell me when you close your eyes as you have read my words that you can see and smell and feel what I am trying to share with you. And if you can’t, or if it is awful, tell me that too.

Ghosts part 2

As I took a few minutes to get the shop ready for the tourists to come in and browse, the bell on the door rang. Luke, my summer help, walked in with a white bag and two cups. He looked sheepish with hair falling over his eyes and a wicked grin spreading across his lips. He said nothing as he shoved the treats into my hands. Wondering what he had done, I happily accepted the offering of beignets and cafe au lait. We’d have time to discuss his escapades after the morning rush.

Luke was the nephew of a dear friend of mine. He came and spent the summers in New Orleans, searching ever street and alley for Saints players when he was younger. Now, having just finished his first year in college, his interests had shifted to less intimidating figures, but he was great help. His charming smile and soft southern drawl was appealing to the ladies who came in to the shop. He could sell them just about anything with a flip of his hair, a smile, and a well-placed, “Yes, ma’am. ” He also had a knack for organizing the shop to allow flow of visitors and promote the best pieces without being pushy.

Luke went behind the counter, touched the picture, and told Arnaud hello. He got busy setting out jewelry and wiping the glass displays. I watched as he worked and hummed. It was an old song I had heard on records playing as a child. I couldn’t place the tune but smiled as my young friend obviously tried to avoid conversation. He was lost in a world of his own.

As the time came to open the doors, I spoke to Mr. Hebert. We always hashed out the plan for the day, or I ran through the day with a photo. Together, we looked over the shop, searching for things out of place, dust, anything wrong. It was ritual, process, habit, and to outsiders, it would seem silly. It calmed me before the bustle began. I rearranged a candelabra sitting on an antique cabinet so it’s crystals caught the light better and went to unlock the doors.

Luke smiled and started greeting guests. A flourish of compliments on his manners and smile floated through the air. Hoping he could handle the sales floor, I headed to my office. I had research to start. We had just gotten a box of tantalizing pieces from a back room of a Quarter slave cottage. It was common practice of the time for rich white men to have legally binding relationships and families with free women of color. Rumor was that this jewelry belonged to the mistress of a well-known banker just before the Civil War. He had set her up in her own cottage while his official family and his wife lived a few miles away in the American section of town. Where this jewelry had been for the last 160 years, nobody knew, but a young woman refurbishing some slave quarters had found the old leather box wrapped in oil cloth stuck in a secret space behind a wall. I could not wait to dig into that box.

Arranging my seat so I could hustle to help Luke if needed, I grabbed my cotton artifact gloves and started to peel the cloth away from the box. I had taken pictures the night before when the leader of the restoration project had brought the box in as the doors were being locked. I knew Hank from our childhood days. He was working for a local company restoring buildings in the Quarter and around the city, and I often did research for them if they found interesting things in their excavations.

This location had a storied history, including that of the banker and his mistress. Working with that knowledge, I slowly removed the oil cloth. The box was fairly small with few marking to identify it. A single initial was carved into the leather in a flowery script. I could barely make out an “M” and reached for tracing paper and a lead pencil. I gently rubbed the indention with the pencil to determine if I had the marking correct. There was a very faint, incredibly ornate letter “M” and a tiny flower pressed into the box.

As I was taking notes and pictures, I felt a chill. Shivering, I carefully placed the box and cloth into a safe and soun the lock. I got up to check if Luke had changed the thermostat. Luke was busily chatting with a regular from the neighborhood. He looked up at me as I walked out of my office and got a strange expression on his face. He excused himself from the conversation and headed my way. Suddenly, I felt a draft and caught the scent of lilac.

Ghosts in the graveyard

As I hurried by the City of the Dead, I caught the sweet scent of decay wafting through the thick, humid air. A year and a day had passed for some soul. His time was up. The tomb was being vented and prepared for the next burial. I wondered who he might be, who was replacing him on the slab in the tomb, who the family was. The tenders of the tombs were pruning and preparing for the next burial. The day was hot, and the air was heavy. I was late, but I had to stop. A chill swept over me.

I saw her out of the corner of my eye. She seemed out of place but very much at home. She wore a long, flowing dress of a lightweight fabric. It was blue and was covered in small flowers. She had a ribbon tied around her waist and a wide brimmed hat on her head. Her dark hair hung in a loose bun at the base of her neck. She looked at me with deep blue eyes, smiled shyly, and went around the corner of the tomb.

Joining the odor of the venting grave, I was sure I noticed the soft scent of lilacs where there had been none before. It was too late in the season for the flowers, and I didn’t remember seeing any bushes on my countless trips by the cemetery. It must have been the perfume of a tourist exploring the monuments.

I rushed on to my shop on Royal and arrived with a few minutes to spare. People were already looking into the windows at the jewelry and furniture I would try to sell them with a smile on my face in just a few moments. My key stuck in the door handle as was its custom. I murmured softly, something between a curse and a cheer of encouragement. The handle turned, chains were removed, and I slipped into the quiet of my store.

As I walked through, I dragged my hand along the soft velvet of chairs and the coolness of shiny mahogany tables. I turned on the chandeliers and soft light produced grand shadow. I wiped some spots of dust off a portrait hanging in an ornate frame. I straightened it, as was my habit, and greeted Mr. Hebert.

Mr. Arnaud Hebert was a previous owner of my family’s antique shop. He was a man of some renown in New Orleans a century or more ago. Like many of the people and the places in the Quarter and the city, the Heberts were struck by countless tragedies. His young wife and two small children died of yellow fever. He remarried and had more children. His second wife died in a fire, and a daughter was said to have run away with a latter day pirate.

He was a staunch and stoic man who ran a sundries store, supplying sailors and people of the Quarter with any number of things they might need. He died an old man, surrounded by his remaining children and grandchildren. He was buried in the cemetery I passed each day on my way to our shop.

I called it “our shop” because he watched from that frame as we did our business. I felt he saw each transaction we carried out and hoped he might be proud of what we were doing. It was important to me and my staff to do what we could to keep Mr. Hebert happy. Yes, talking to a ghost sounds silly to most, but this is New Orleans. The city was filled with all sorts of spirits.

A Tale of Two Rings

Nearly 27 years ago, Jon proposed to me at Chandler Court at the Plaza in Kansas City. He didn’t get down on one knee, but I have mostly forgiven him for that. We had women in the Halls window cheering us on and several specatators around the fountain clapping and offering congratulations. He gave me a beautiful ring, so much more than I expected! I had always envisioned a very simple setting and single stone. This one had 15 diamonds! I loved it.

Fast forward about 12 years, and I started to notice a rash on my finger. I started to wash and dry my hands very carefully, hoping the rash was a reaction to wet fingers or soap. I quit using lotion and bought different soap. I quit wearing it at night. Nothing helped. I was allergic to the gold. I was crushed. We discussed having it reset but never did. Then we found “my” ring on an impromptu shopping trip in New Orleans. My beautiful engagement ring sat in my jewelry box.

Fast forward another 15 years, and my boy was looking at rings for his girl. Jon and I talked. I also asked Alynne if she would like it. In typical Lynnie fashion, she said, “Probably shouldn’t wait for me on that one.” We offered it to Aaron. He and took the ring to a jeweler to look at options. His face lit up when he found the perfect setting for his beautiful girl.

Two weeks ago, Aaron asked Jacqueline to be his wife on a beach in St. Augustine and gave her a new ring filled with so many memories and love. He did get down on one knee. She did say yes.

Sweet Jacqueline, I am so happy you are going to be part of our family. I hope you love your ring and my boy as much as I do!

Crosses on the way

When Alynne and I went to Tucson a couple of weeks ago, we went a different way than we had before. We took back roads, and two lanes, and lonely stretches of highway where we saw nothing for miles. And by nothing, I mean nothing. Not even a cow. I guess I did see a dead deer and a buzzard, but those aren’t terribly uplifting.

What I did see was crosses along the road. Dozens and dozens of roadside crosses and memorials. Some were simple- a small wooden cross, maybe painted white or maybe it was left to the elements. A few had flowers or a picture wrapped in a plastic bag. Some were elaborate with flowers and rosaries and pinwheels and ceramic figures. One even had a wrought iron bench. My initial reaction is to always say a quick prayer for the person represented by those crosses and their families left behind. Those crosses in the road symbolize a life, a love, a memory.

With each roadside cross, I wonder how many hundreds of lives, loves, and memories aren’t marked on the side of the highway. How many families quietly and painfully drive by a spot where their mom or uncle or son or cousin or favorite teacher took their last breath? How much pain is actually been felt or how many tears have been shed along those roads and highways? How much love is not represented by a cross on the roadside? How many “general areas” of loss are fading because someone can’t quite remember the exact location?

My life lost, my memories never made, happened along a stretch of K18, in Russell County, Kansas, about 3 miles east of Waldo. That roadside was littered with Reese’s peanut butter eggs and pansies the night of April 12, 2003. We cleaned it up a day or two later. When you drive by, you don’t know that’s where Mama died. Unless you know.

We didn’t create a memorial for her there. I thought about it. She would have hated it. She had friends drive by on their way to work every day. They remembered. Maybe the Highway Patrolman who talked to me, held my hands as I sobbed while he walked us through accident report, remembered when he drove by.

I remember. I’ve only driven that road, gone by that location one time in 15 years. One time since the day we went to look right after it happened. I don’t think I’ll go that way again. As I’m doing my “Farewell Kansas” tour, I probably won’t add that stop.

We don’t have a cross on the road for Mama. I wear hers around my neck every single day. I hold it when I need to feel her close. I rub it when I need to cry. I proudly tell people it was hers when they comment on my beautiful cross.

I always say a prayer when I see a roadside cross. I know that pain and longing. I respect the loss. The cross is so powerful. All of the time.