Yesterday's Magazette

13 – For Your Penance

“And For Your Penance …”

By Dahris H. Clair

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there lived a family—Daddy, Mommy, and their little girl. They lived on a farm with animals and chickens and were very happy. I was that little girl.

In the year 2000, 64-years after my departure, I returned to the magical place that lives in my heart. Together with my new husband I walked the needle-strewn paths of Sacandaga Park in the Adirondack foothills, and breathed in the remembered scent of pine. I visualized the park bench where I’d sat with my mother so long ago. Once again I was six-years-old, and I sobbed. My husband squeezed my hand and wisely walked quietly beside me.

When my tears dried, we went to what had been the dance pavilion. Discarded soda cans, crumpled paper napkins, old newspapers, and crushed cigarette butts were all that remained of  the once beautiful pavilion.

“This was where my parents met.”


“In the pavilion?”

“Yes—at a dance. I loved hearing my mother tell that part of their story.”

Carl gave me a hug. “Come on, Kiddo. Let’s drive over to the beach.”

When we got there we took off our shoes and strolled barefoot, arm in arm, two old fogies laughing as the sun-warmed sand squished between our toes. The echo of long-ago laughter as the kids skinny-dipped in the great lake combined with the present-day laughter of a group of young people playing volley ball. The aroma of barbeque revived my memory of clambakes on the beach when I was just a kid. All that’s left are the summer bungalows, the sighing pines, the beautiful lake, and Izzo’s.”

I pointed to the restaurant on the beach. “We hung out there when we were high school kids. When my parents met, Sacandaga Park was a popular resort. People came from all over to Paradise in the Park. And now the beautiful Adirondack Inn is gone. The railroad station—gone. The Rustic Theater—gone. My youth—gone.” I heaved a great sigh.

“Honey, wasn’t it Shaw who said youth is wasted on the young? Let’s go into Izzo’s and have lunch. You can tell me the whole story.”

“It’s a loooong story.”

“I have a lifetime to listen.”

I was at breakfast when the scratch on gravel announced Daddy’s return.  He parked close to the back door and got out, shouting, “Hey, Dotsie, come see what I brought.” He stood there, a broad smile playing across his tanned face.

I flung open the screen door.  “What is it?”

“Don’t slam that door.”

Heedless of Mother’s order, I ran down the wooden stairs, skittered past Daddy, and jumped up on the running board of his yellow truck. A wriggling burlap bag on the floor erupted with loud squeals. A small puddle oozed from under the bag and my eyes grew wide with curiosity. I lifted the edge of the bag and jumped back as a cold nose touched my hand. I recovered quickly and peeked in to see two little black and white piglets. “Are they ours? Can we keep them?”

Daddy assured me we could. He’d probably bartered something to get them. We had a pigpen and the pigs were placed in their new home. I learned how to “slop the pigs,”  but more often than not, I was in the pen playing with them. I didn’t know it then, but they would be the instrument of my first great trauma.

My perfect life on the farm ended when Mother left my father for the final time. My father sold the pigs and my heart broke. Mother and I moved to New Jersey and shared a cold-water flat with Uncle Martin, Mother’s bachelor brother. Life changed drastically.

We were by any definition, poor. Mother worked in the Relief Office, doing clerical work, and on occasion had a commission to make a dress for women who were more “comfortable.”  The fare we ate differed from that on the farm. Chicken would have been a luxury. Long before Pope John XXIII’s Ecumenical Council, we Catholics abstained from eating meat on Fridays, and several other days as well. On Fridays, Mother boiled rice in milk. She spread it flat on my plate, tamping it down with a fork. Then she added melted butter laced with sugar and cinnamon over the top of the rice. I loved it. It was not unusual to have oatmeal for supper in those days, but we never starved.

We had a black coal stove in the kitchen, our source of heat for the apartment and on which Mother cooked. To make toast, she took a long-handled silver colored fork and stabbed a piece of rye bread, removed the grate from the stove and held the bread over the coals until it toasted. If I had a cold, she smeared garlic on the toast.

Mornings, before school, Mother sent me to the bakery three blocks away. I had enough money for three hard rolls, one for Mother, one for Uncle Martin, and one for me. We always chose poppy seed. The rolls were crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. I loved the sensory experience of Kupeciewski’s Bakery. How I wished I had the money to buy one of the delectable crumb buns. I pressed my nose against the glass case as if to absorb the intoxicating smells.

Gathering courage, I asked, “Could I have some of those crumbs, please?” I pointed to the small mounds of sugar, flour and butter that had spilled onto the tray. The girl behind the counter smiled, scooped up some crumbs, and put them in a bag. I was in Hog Heaven all the way home. I wonder if she ever knew that I’d fallen in love with her.

*Dahris Clair has published dozens of articles and essays in both national and local magazines and quarterlies. She is the founder and senior editor of The Infinite Writer, an e-zine for writers. Her paranormal romantic suspense novel, The House on Slocum Road, was published in 2006. Clair is a group leader for the Florida Writers Association.

Vol. 38 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2011


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