Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
THE SAINT OF THE POCONOS
She was sick of it. Another bulging manila envelope poking out of her mailbox just outside her door. She threw it on the living floor in a pique of anger. Then she picked up her coffee cup and took a sip. “Who are these people, anyway?” she thought.
Frauds, without a doubt. “Fraud.” That was her husband’s favorite word. This politician, that politician. They were all frauds.
She opened the envelope. She, Margie Morris, was awarded a certificate for being a “defender of the orphans” at Father O’Hara’s dude ranch in The Pocono Mountains, 102 miles north of Philadelphia.
“Honey,” she said to her husband, who was reading The Sunday Times and sipping on his coffee, which they drank throughout the day, “Would you mind if I went on a little road trip?”
She showed him the contents of the envelope – address labels, tiny gold stars, a rolled-up Phillies cap, since they lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Abington, and to top it off, a solar-powered calculator.
Norman shook his head back and forth. A stern man, he nearly began to laugh, but stopped himself.
“You’re not working?”
“I’ll just tell them I need some time off. That my carpal tunnel is acting up.”
“Is it? I don’t want you lying to the library,” where she was the children’s librarian.
“Happens to be true,” she said, showing him her small hands with their pink-painted nails.
She left in the morning, driving the “truck,” as they called their red Jeep Grand Cherokee. Margie took the back roads so she could watch the scenery in the middle of March, where a series of snow storms had closed her library and made hermits of everyone. She and Norman had a “marriage of convenience,” where each one did what they pleased.
“If you’re sleeping with anyone, Norman, keep it to yourself.”
Whoever the woman was who wore lilac-smelling perfume was his current dalliance.
She tried not to be bitter. She was grateful for so many things he provided her with. Material things, that is. Not love anymore.
She longingly look out the window at pine trees, dusted with white sprinkles of snow which glittered under the white cloudless sky. The white sprinkles reminded her of – what were they called? – nonpareils, wafers of chocolate with tiny dots of hard white sugar. She took a sip of her still-hot Dunkin Donuts coffee, which she sipped from a thermal cup. At home, in one of his unkind outbursts, Norman had said to her, “Why do you make so much noise when you sip your coffee?”
She was mortified but what was there to say? Later she called her sister Donna, the manager of a Starbucks Café.
“What a jerk!” said Donna. “I’ll tell you why you make that noise. So do our customers. It’s the best way to appreciate your coffee, to best savor the taste. Babies do it!”
Margie certainly couldn’t remember nursing Norm Jr. or Cecile or Eugenie, but Donna was a smart one.
The red Jeep charged along the highway like a sonic stallion. Margie had shut off the GPS. It was like their friend, Lorraine, who talked too much, and always wore smeared lipstick.
“Frog Hollow Rest Stop” read a sign.
Margie pulled over, used the ladies’ room – “all that coffee,” she thought, and vowed not to drink another sip – sat in the truck and reached into her brown paper lunch bag.
“No, you won’t,” she said to herself, about eating the Thin Mints first.
In the rest stop, she picked up her egg salad sandwich on rye, complete with minced olives, and watching the people go by, she took one delicious bite. She leaned her head back in the car in silent ecstasy, while seeing a father and son go into the rest room. Yes, Norm had once been like that with little Norman. She was so proud of him for being a good dad. She wrapped up the other half and put it in the paper bag.
The Thin Mints were wrapped in foil. Five of them. She put them in the passenger seat and began to drive away, but not before biting into one of them. Her granddaughter Chloe like the Samoas best. Too sweet for old people like Nana, coming up on seventy-three in July.
Squashed squirrels, their white bellies up, were in the middle of the road. Once they’d stepped in the Rubicon of the road, you never knew if they’d make it or not. Margie instinctively patted her chest in sympathy for the families awaiting back home, all curled up when they slept, using their tails as warm quilts.
Big fat snowflakes begun to fall. Margie switched on her wipers while wondering about her decision to reach the so-called dude ranch by twilight and then turn around and go home. Her Jeep lived up to its name as one of the best vehicles to drive in the snow. Mercifully, the snow stopped and she allowed herself another nervous sip of coffee.
She punched on the GPS. A mature woman’s voice spoke in a British accent, “Your destination is in two more miles on the right.”
Norman must have chosen this voice. Did the woman wear lilac perfume?
One day before driving home from the library, Margie drove to the Willow Grove Mall. She went to the perfume department.
“May I help you?” asked an attractive older woman at the Clinique counter named Lou. All the counter people wore black.
“Do you have anything that smells of lilacs?” Margie asked tentatively.
“With your attractive auburn curls,” said Lou. “I have just the thing.”
She brought over a clear-colored bottle and spritzed it on Margie’s wrist.
“Mmmm,” said Margie. “Wonderful.”
She explained she might come back and buy it as a gift. What? For the “other woman?”
Lou gave her her business card, which Margie put in her pocket, then tossed it out as she was leaving the store.
And, then, sure enough, a blue sign decorated with a white fence and horses, appeared on the right. She could not wait to catch “the fraud and con man” in the act. A little frightened, she pulled in and saw a long driveway awaiting her. Young men, some wearing jeans, others in shorts, had their sleeves rolled up and were shoveling the long drive. One wiped his face with a striped kerchief, another fanned himself with his knit cap. A few waved at her as she pulled up to a large white house with a porch.
“Park in the back,” said a young man pointing.
She parked her Jeep, quickly ate the last Thin Mint, and walked around to the front door.
Apparently “the savior” had been notified, as he appeared on the front porch. “My goodness,” she thought, “he’s a real priest. Apparently.”
He was an old man who wore a long black cassock. His hair sprouted in whiffs on his mostly balding head and he stared in wonder at his new guest.
She clomped up the stairs in her suede boots, and stuck out her hand.
“Hello,” she said, not knowing what to call him. “I’m Margie Morris.” She wanted to say, “And I’d like to use your bathroom and for you to feed me,” but instead she blurted out without thinking, “I so love those packets you send me and wanted to meet, well, the man behind them.”
He smiled. “Father O’Hara is my name. Won’t you come into our humble abode.”
She gladly did. Humble? It was huge. What had he done with all that money?
She stomped her wet feet on the rug, then decided to remove her boots.
“You must be hungry from your trip from….?”
“Oh, Abington, Pennsylvania. Yes it was quite far but my pony and I made it,” she laughed.
“The facilities are in there,” he said, pointing to a rest room that turned out to be spotless.
He served her a ham and cabbage meal since St. Patrick’s Day was only yesterday.
He invited her into the living room to talk about their work here at the dude ranch. “I don’t run the ranch atall,” he said with a mild Irish brogue, “but I’ve got me some fine young men who help with it.”
“Bobby!” he called.
“Comin’ Father,” said a young voice from upstairs.
He ran down the steps with an accustomed quickness she remembered when Norm Jr. was young.
“I’d like you to meet Mrs. Morris from far away in Abington, Pennsylvania.”
“Hello, Mrs. Morris,” said the young man. “Pleased to meet you.”
The three of them sat and talked, while sweet-smelling logs burned in the wood-burning stove.
“I loves these cozy evenings,” said Bobby, who wore a white Stetson hat. “Can’t wait till spring blows in. Neither can the horses.”
The Father explained it was one of the ways they made money. People from all over the area stayed at a nearby hotel and rode the horses during the day. The orphans, who ranged in age from 12 through 20, lived either in the house or in small cottages on the property.
“You wouldn’t happen to need a job, Mrs. Morris, would ya?” asked the father.
“And what kind of job is that? I know nothing about horses or shoveling snow.”
“Bet you’re a darned good cook and maker of splendid cookies with icing on them and coffee.”
“You know me through and through though you’ve never met me before.”
“Your thoughts, Mrs. Morris?”
She was quiet for no more than two seconds.
“I would be honored, Father,” she said.
Margie Morris and her auburn curls and borrowed white night shirt slept soundly in a bouncy bed with stuffed animals lining the outside. She fell asleep as she dreamt of making spice cookies with vanilla icing and chocolate-covered sprinkles.
Here she would find love and meaning. Who said age seventy-three was too old to begin again?