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Nooks and Crannies

By Remy Benoit

  All of life is sacred, astonishing, and holds such vast wonder when we leave ourselves open to it.

  In The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore reminds us that:
   In nature, we become sensitive to our mortality and to the immensity of the life that is our matrix, and both of these sensations, mortality and immensity, offer the foundation for a spiritual life. The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.

   As you know, I feel nature can play an awesome role in our lives, not only for 'touching creation,' but for healing. And yet sometimes, the awakening is so vast that we need a quiet corner, a special chair, to just simply sit and be in.
  
   Sometimes it takes others to be catalysts of our awakening. In the case below, from my book, Letty, little Letty has just given her big brother his first real taste of freedom even though she is very young child and he a man grown. Stewart, like many of you, was told from the beginning to be a man, denied his youth being told to be a man.

  Letty, even at so young an age, in the mid-1870's when ladies must be proper ladies knows her own heart, and shares it with her beloved brother, and 6 year old Jacob. In getting her older brother to do such a simple thing as roll up his pants, take off his shoes and socks, and wade by the shore, three year old Letty opens a doorway that heretofore was closed to Stewart. In visiting Jacob's mother, who runs the Island  Library, Stewart finds even more delight in the simple act of sharing a cup of tea. His world has become open to enchantment.


Letty

...
   More sure of himself by the end of the week, Jacob took Stuart and Letty to the Island Library.  The shutters and window shades had been thrown open weeks ago to let the sea breezes freshen the air and clean out the winter's mustiness.  Mrs. Jordan heard the trio as their feet crunched the broken shells on the walkway, and met them at the front door with a great smile.
"Mr. Singleworth, Letty, welcome to our library. My Jacob has been telling me so much of your adventures."

Stuart was suddenly embarrassed as he began to speak and realized that his shirt was open at the neck, his sleeves rolled up, and his shoes and stockings in his hand.  As he began to stammer his apologies, he was able to see the ridiculousness of his situation through the eyes of the others and joined them in a robust laugh of the type he had always to suppress in his father's presence.

"Come in, come in," said Mrs. Jordan, putting her arms around the children.  "You, too, Mr. Singleworth.  Do make yourself comfortable.  Feel free, both of you, to just look around."

"Come Letty, " Jacob said.  "Come with me!" He spontaneously grabbed her hand and led her passed the cedar trestle table to the far center of the south wall where next to the now unlit fireplace there was a big high backed chair with a needle point footstool.  All around the chair were picture books and huge needlework pillows, each one of which depicted some aspect of Island life.  Together they flopped down, forgetting Stuart and Mrs. Jordan, lost in their own childhood world.

Jacob solemnly selected a small book with letters and corresponding pictures and said gravely, "Now Letty, you must learn to read.  See the "A":  "A" is for apple like in the pies my Mum makes in the fall, like the apples we store in the root cellar, only ours is above ground because sometimes the Island floods and salty apples wouldn't be very good."

Letty looked up at Jacob, her eyes wide with respect for his tremendous wisdom, and softly repeated, " "A" is for apple."

"Good Letty.  Here take this slate and chalk.  Here is my "A": copy it carefully over my marks with your own."

Letty's little fingers felt the chalk to be so big, but she wouldn't have disappointed  Jacob for anything in the world.  Her hand shook a little, but she traced as carefully as she could, sometimes staying on Jacob's lines, sometimes slipping off.

"I think I shall need practice," Letty said with a smile.

"You are doing fine, Letty.  Just try again.  Here is another "A."  This time he held her hand,  steadying it, a slight blush rising from his neck to his cheeks.

"It appears that you have a natural born teacher there, Mrs. Jordan," observed Stuart. "Perhaps I do, perhaps I do," she responded softly and with pride.  "But I'm forgetting my manners.  May I give you a cup of tea, Mr. Singleworth?"

"That would be delightful, " Stuart replied.  " And if you don't mind, I think I shall be more comfortable with my stockings and shoes on," he laughed.

"Please sit there," she said and motioned to the high backed chair across the room.  "I won't be a moment."

Stuart settled into the chair of deep green.  Its old cushion was well dented and the seat gave in to the sags and groans of the old wood.  The antimascars he noted, covered thread bare arms, but Stuart found comfort in them that he had never found in the rigid firm chairs of  his father's house.  Would his Amelia consider letting furniture grow old and comfortable like this, he wondered as he pulled his stockings and shoes over toes with sand between them. And then he grinned and realized that she would and that his mother would too if she was permitted.  He thought of the furniture Mother had made of the old cedar boards of the cottage.

There was a sewing chair next to the high back one with its thread and needle container bulging and an embroidery piece left to lie in its seat next to a small brown book, well worn.  Stuart reached over to pick it up and found it was a translation of the Odyssey. He leafed through the familiar pages hearing the sound of the surf through the windows and from the adventurers' explorations, and sighed.  At another level of consciousness, he heard Jacob's small voice, "D" is for dog, see Letty.  A long line with a big, fat belly.  You try..." and Stuart sat back with his head against the chair and closed his eyes and instantly slept.

It couldn't have been more than just a few minutes when the clatter of the tea tray brought him back, and he awoke totally refreshed, to assist Mrs. Jordan place the tray on a game table next to the two chairs.

She smiled at seeing his comfort in her special place.  That each room, each house, should have its special places had long been a belief of Mrs. Jordan.  It had to be a place that felt just right to a person, a safe harbor where storms could crash outside and never intrude.  Margaret could see that Stuart had found one here, and in one of those momentary flashes that were common to her, she knew that in the  years ahead, Stuart would spend many hours there with a writing desk in his lap, pen cascading across paper.  Of what he wrote, she did not know.  Just that words would come naturally to him when he let them.  That they would flow freely, but also that they would have deep meaning for him and many others. Some had told her that this gift of seeing came from her Celtic ancestors. Margaret didn't know about that but she did know that she had the gift and thought perhaps Jacob did although he hadn't spoken of it yet.

She poured the tea, spooned in two sugars at Stuart's request and handed him the mismatched cup and saucer.

"Please excuse me for a moment while I give the children their tea," Margaret said.  Stuart sat  back again to savor the steam rising from the cup.  He heard squeals of delight over warmed milk and buttered scones and then with her long skirts rustling, Margaret joined Stuart again.

"How is your mother, Mr. Singleworth?" Margaret inquired, as she put aside her needlework and settled in her chair.  Her agile fingers poured her own tea, and she sipped appreciatively.

"Mother is fine and I suppose growing accustomed to the new house, though in her heart of hearts, she, I do believe, misses the simplicity of the old cottage.  This past week I have often seen her absently running her fingers over the carvings on the old cedar boards of the kitchen chest as if in remembrance."

Margaret watched Stuart's eyes drift away seeing the old cottage.  She sipped her tea again for a moment, and then said, " Yes, Mr. Singleworth, there is a quiet in old things well worn and long  appreciated.  A new house takes so much longer than new shoes to bend to the occupant and feel warm and comfortable.  It is good she put part of the old into the new, it will give her a resting place while the new becomes a friend."  She set down her tea cup and picked up her needlework.

"It's kind of like this fireplace cover I'm embroidering here. When I began it, there was naught but the materials and bright threads.  But a piece like this takes weeks to make, many weeks, and as the design takes form the material becomes familiar to the fingers and in each stitch the day's events and moods become a piece of the whole.  I began this when the spring buds were just beginning to open and shall finish it as the autumn winds blow cold across the Island.  By the time it sits in front of that fireplace over there, a part of me will sit with it.  You must give your mother time to see the threads of her life weave into the new place.  For your wife, and you, Sir, the house will be a special place where your child grew strong before entering the world.  Perhaps, when she or he comes back next summer, there will be things that seem familiar and  comfortable."

Stuart sat looking at the woman he had known but a few moments and felt astounded that he knew more about what she was than he did of the multitudes of women he had spent hours talking aimlessly with at galas, engagement parties and formal teas.  The woman who sat in front of him was uncorseted, had been warmed by the sun without a hat, and had probably never left or received a calling card in her life.  But instinctively Stuart knew that calling card or not, this woman would be there to receive you when you needed her, that her truths would be spoken without stilted tongue, raised eyebrow, or uplifted chin.  How badly his mother needed a friend like that, but how could he arrange that when his father at all costs demanded separation between "them and us.?"

"May I warm your tea, Mr. Singleworth?" Mrs. Jordan asked with raised tea pot in her hand.

"I am sorry, I slipped away a little warmed by your words and the comfort you have so graciously provided me.  Yes, please, I would enjoy some more."

Stuart sat back with the tea cup and looked around the room commenting on the scrimshaw on the table which Mrs. Jordan said was the hobby of her husband and his father before him.

"Jacob is learning the craft from his father, as he is the skills of a seaman, but somehow I don't feel his life will be here on the water."  Her voice trailed away as she spoke.

"What a magnificent quilt!" Stuart exclaimed as his eyes fell on a large quilt mounted in a glass case on the wall.  " There are many scenes on it familiar to me, scenes from the Island, places that I know, but others unexplored.  Are there stories behind them?"

" Oh, yes, Mr. Singleworth, many stories, perhaps one or more for each piece.  Yes, I believe your mother is right.  I believe you are the one whose turn it is next to be the Keeper."

"The Keeper, keeper of what?" Stuart wondered, but did not speak aloud waiting for Margaret Jordan to go on.

"The things are here now because of the rebuilding on your family's Island House.  They had to be stored somewhere safe while the work was being done.  Now it is time they were returned to your home, and this time, to your care.  Your mother said I would know and understand her choice when I sat with you a while."

"You and my mother are well acquainted then?" asked Stuart. " I had thought..."

"Very well acquainted, indeed," laughed Margaret.  "But knowing how your father has become, our friendship has been kept between us through letters and sewing afternoons here when he is sailing or in the city.  Do you see your old cottage there in the left hand corner of the quilt?  Go and look at the initials on it."

Stuart placed his tea cup on the tray and rose from his chair to cross the room.  There he saw the initials L.S. on the corner and was immediately delighted to know that his mother did have such a friend, for he knew how empty she had found all those filled hours of social obligations.

"Oh, but this is wonderful," he said, turning with a huge smile to Mrs. Jordan.  And then he remembered and a quizzical expression crossed his face.

"But you said I must be the Keeper.  Keeper of what, certainly not the quilt.?"

"No, not the quilt.  The Island Girls make quilts for special people and, as the Keeper, one is in the making for you.  We have been sewing it, but we weren't sure for whom we were making it.  Now, now, I shall tell them it shall be for you.  What you are to be the Keeper of is of much more value, and yes, directly tied to the quilts."

She glanced over at the children.

Jacob was reading to Letty who lay on the braided rug looking up at him with eyes filled with devotion.

"They shall be all right for a while, " Margaret smiled.  " Please, follow me.  I'm afraid these things are all in sea trunks right now, but it shall be up to you how they shall be used."

Letty.

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This item is part of WelcomeHomeSoldier.com: historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.


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