Monday, October 29, 2018

"Just Give Us the Money" or ...

How does giving work in God's economy?

Last night we watched The Man Who Invented Christmas a second time. It's an excellent movie, I think. Clearly Dickens understood this concept: Some people suffer so that other people can learn to be generous. Tiny Tim suffered in that story so that Scrooge could be given a last-minute chance to repent, change, and open both his heart and his pocket-book.

We learned this spiritual truth years ago from our own lives and the lives of others who suffered. God puts suffering into the lives of innocent, unsuspecting people for the sole benefit of others whom He asks to help them. When the money or clothes or house or car or job is given to the needy person, it looks like that person is the recipient of God's mercy. But by a wonderful trick of God's economy (which is full of surprises), the actual beneficiary is the giver. He is changed ... or he is supposed to be. His participation in the giving is essential, and the more he participates -- the more he gives of himself in the exchange -- the more he benefits.

So, is it better for a person to open his wallet, place the $20 bill in the offering plate, and have no contact with the recipient because the church leadership gathers the money and sends a check? Is it better for a person to take a hungry person to a diner and spend $20 on a meal while talking for an hour? Is it better for a person to buy a $20 gift and drive it to the home of a child who has longed for it, seeing the child, seeing the home, seeing himself there?

We know the answers to these questions. It's better for the giver to be physically and emotionally involved as much as possible. The giving of help or cheer is not just for the sake of the recipient. In God's economy (Who can easily draw help for the poor from any source He chooses, yes?), the giving is probably more for the sake of the giver. Hmm. That thought twists our brains around and makes us uncomfortable. 

Recently Samaritan's Purse's Operation Christmas Child ("the shoebox ministry") has come under fire. Many feel that the cheap plastic toys Christians buy and send overseas are an utterly useless waste of money. Even a well-packed and thoughtful shoebox, they say, is a waste of resources. Couldn't all that money on stuff and postage have been better used as a single monetary gift to the church in the area in Africa? Buy a cow herd or dig a new well? It's a compelling argument. If you want to read more about this issue and some sticky, uncomfortable events in the shoebox world, click on the three links below:
Missionary wife breaks the silence.
Samaritan's Purse responds.
Missionary wife explains further.

All these articles are thoughtfully written. It seems there is some corruption on the level of the National Team that Samaritan's Purse is likely unaware of and will deal with eventually. 

The missionary wife extensively quotes the local pastors, who suggest this:
"If we could convince them [the donors] to just send it [the funds], it would be a very good idea, because I feel that even though this is for the sake of Christmas, the things that the kids get, and we thank God that what they are getting is American standard, but still it doesn’t really meet the needs of the children. These kids get a box – they’ve never been to school! They might get a toothpaste that is of a higher American standard, but we also have toothpaste here. So it’s nice that Christmas comes once but we can use cheaper things and in that way Christmas can go on and have a more lasting impact. Maybe we can convince some to just turn that [their box] into money. Because child-centered programs are incredibly important. And there’s a lot that can be done to mitigate the challenges that the children are facing."

The pastors make very good points. They know the needs. The shoebox contents are not as helpful as money would be. This makes givers in the U.S. scratch their heads and wonder what to do. Ditch the shoeboxes? Choose another ministry that also involves the givers individually, emotionally, physically? Doesn't it sound like the most helpful choice is simply to put $20 in the offering plate and have your church send a check?
Image result for occ shoebox

Why does God command us to give? What changes of attitude and acts of repentance does God intend to work in us? I've seen people who would never donate $100 to mission work, happily spent it in packing six shoeboxes and paying for their shipping. Why is that? Is there a joy in giving when someone allows you to fully participate? To decide, in your own inept way, what to give to a specific child far away? Is there any value in the joy of the child when she receives hair bows or toe socks or scented soap or a puzzle of a kitten, rather than having her family get a new cow? (Samaritan's Purse does livestock donations too -- click over!)

Must it be an either/or choice? Of course not. Lots people give to lots of ministries. And this is my personal advice (worth all of a penny!): give in the way that God leads your heart. If you love doing shoeboxes, keep doing it, and pray that God uses it fully for His kingdom, because He surely can. He can accomplish just as many eternal, kingdom blessings with shoeboxes as he can with cows. God's economy works that way.
Image result for angel tree

But if you prefer to support ladies making jewelry and selling it in the U.S., do that. Or digging a new well for better water for a village, do that. Or taking an Angel Tree gift to a child four blocks away, do that. Or sending a big check to a mission board, do that. Be open to the prodding of the Holy Spirit. He will direct you to give in the way that will most pry open your heart and tenderize it, which is His goal. 

God can always rise up people to help the poor, and He will do it. The question is, will I be one of them? When I give, then He takes the gift, whatever it may be, and He changes and uses it to meet His ends. That's the wonder of an economy of need and giving, ruled by the King.

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Week of Autumn

At last: sweaters, gloves, warm pants, hot tea all day, egg nog, fuzzy socks, frantic knitting, snoozy dogs, cold rain, space heaters humming, cold sheets, silly Christmas movies.

I brewed up some chai this morning with these spices.
 However, my new favorite tea is my herbal tea with lemon juice and lots of honey. I picked more herbs this week, probably the last of the year before they die back.
lemon balm, mint, tarragon -- lots of flavor!
 I hope I have enough to last the winter.

Until we can buy a new AC/heating unit (the mini-split system) we're using our space heaters like last year. They are cozy.

I took the old handmade wreath from the front door, removed the dead decorations, spray painted it a little bit red, and added new Christmas flare. It's rather plain and rustic, but I'm no good at interior decor, that's for sure!

I also picked plantain, yarrow, and dandelion leaves and made some more Healing Herb Ointment. I get such good reports on this product!
 Around here, we just call it "green goo."

I've been knitting a la Miss Marple lately ... in other words,  a lot!! This bulky infinity scarf is actually a bright gem blue.
 And this one's a nice pine green. Camera color is crazy!
 They'll both go to the market tomorrow for sale, along with the ointment.
I finally started a new weave this morning. Crazy yarn.
 I haven't gotten very far. My back is achy and I need a nap :) 
 Years ago a friend gave me some nice yarn. The pink yarn in this weave is some of it. She'd started some little baby booties but not finished them. I thought, "Why not unravel those booties and put that yarn right onto my warp?" So I did.
 What am I reading now? I finished Elizabeth Goudge's autobiography and have moved on to a favorite of hers, The Little White Horse. It's very good, very fun, a delightful children's story. 
 I've seen the Moonacre movie (which I regret). It's not a bad movie, but I can tell already it's woefully inferior to the book and takes great liberties. If you have a choice, go for the book.

It's nap time. Then it's knitting time. Then it's dinner time. 
 The October days have sped by much too fast, and my favorite month is nearly over. I've also been singing more and playing the piano more, since I'm back in the community chorus this semester. And I have a second piano student now! Yay! It's a good thing I'm not working a regular job!

Nearly forgot -- for anybody that didn't see the video I made of the little jewelry pouch:
Here's the youtube video:
Love to all! Enjoy these last October days!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Ten Days at Federal Hill: Chapter Seventeen

(To read previous chapters from Ten Days at Federal Hill, please click on the page tab above, directly beneath the banner photo.)

Chapter Seventeen: Abe Reports

Julia and Carla sat in the alcove bed, waiting until they thought Aunt Velma would be asleep. Frances whiffled and turned in her sleep across the room. Moonlight shone through the window and then dimmed as the night went on. The girls laid out a deck of cards on the bed between then and played concentration. When the house had been silent for a long time and Frances had fallen into deep sleep, Julia and Carla tip-toed slowly through the house and up the stairs to Cecil’s room. He was sitting by the window, watching.

“Cecil!” Carla whispered. “What’re we gonna do about Abe?”

Her brother was silent. He turned to her with a finger on his lips and pointed out the window. The moon shone down on the lady statue, her head glowing an eery white among the boxwoods. The girls crept to the window. Below, two figures walked among the tall shrubs in the box garden far apart from one another, the first figure tall and careful, the second one huddled and following cautiously, creeping from bush to bush.

“That’s Edward,” Julia said softly, pointing to the first figure.

Carla thought she recognized the second figure too, but said nothing. The creature was certainly following Edward, stalking him. She wished she could warn him. Edward disappeared into the woods near the barn; the craven creature sank into darkness as well. The girls sat on Abe’s disheveled bed, and the children began to discuss in low voices what their plan should be. Cecil wanted to return to the Assembly Room that night and examine the corner where Abe disappeared. Julia was adamantly against it; her mother would be certain to hear them – the floors and doors creaked in the old house – and they’d be in more trouble than they already were. Her mother would lock the room, and they’d never get another chance to examine it.

“He’ll come back on his own,” Carla reminded Cecil. “We always did, and hardly any time had passed at home, when we did come back. Let’s just wait.”

Cecil shook his head. “The problem is, Car, we don’t know where he went. If he’s at Lucie’s house, that’s fine. But what if he went to the workhouse? Anything could happen to him there!”

“Shhh!” Julia warned.

Carla pondered this problem. “Well, from Federal Hill, going to the workhouse world seems to happen through the tunnel, right?” Cecil nodded. “So … probably he didn’t go there, since he didn’t use the tunnel.” She was picking at her nails, a sure sign she was nervous. “I think he went to Lucie’s.”

“You hope he went to Lucie’s. There’s a difference.”

All three children were silent. Finally Julia spoke.

“What are we going to do about Edward? We can’t just leave him wandering around in the woods.”

“I don’t know if we can tell him what to do,” Cecil replied. “He’s older than us --”

“Not by much,” Carla interrupted.

“Yeah, but he feels a lot older,” Cecil said. “He’s almost like an adult.”

Julia yawned. She was exhausted. The conversation ended in awkward silence, and Carla longed to lay her head on Abe’s pillow. In the end, they could not agree on a good idea for finding Abe that night, so the girls crept back to their room, and they all went to sleep.

Velma Christopher was used to being the first one awake in the morning, so at 6:00 on Tuesday she was surprised to find Carla and Cecil in the kitchen before her. They looked very groggy.

“Good morning,” she said. She straightened her prickly curlers and tied a scarf snugly at the nape of her neck.

“Good morning, Aunt Velma,” they said together. “We’re really sorry about last night,” Cecil offered.

She smiled. “I understand. It’s quite tempting to play in that room.” Her sparkly eyes peered at them closely, “… especially by moonlight!” She poured water into the kettle. “I know the kids have a hard time resisting.” She sat down across from them at the table. “It’s just that this house doesn’t belong to us, you know. It belongs to Mr. Carter, and we have to take care of it.” As the water began to hiss she laid strips of bacon in a skillet. “He was most particular about the Assembly Room.” She turned and stared down at them over her glasses again. “He said especially that no children should be in there.” She vaguely waved a fork in their direction. “Lots of historical items in there.”

“But,” Carla responded, “Shouldn’t children be exposed to history like that? I mean, getting to see important history first-hand, that’s exciting!” She tried raising her voice in an excited way. “You don’t get it in school. Kind of like a little museum in your own house!” Cecil glared at her. What was she trying to do?

Aunt Velma stood with her back to them, spatula in mid-air. “Hmm,” she said. She tilted her head. “You may have a point, Carla. I’d never thought about it that way.” She slowly stirred biscuit dough, mumbling to herself. “Not alone … adult … documents … hmm.”

Carla gave Cecil the silent signal, and they let their aunt come to her own conclusions. In a few minutes some of the boy cousins came stumbling in for breakfast and they all ate scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and light, hot biscuits straight from the oven. Julia was nowhere to be seen.

“I’ll take a tray up to Grandmother,” Aunt Velma said. “Unless ….” She looked at Carla.

“Oh! I’d be happy to, Aunt Velma,” Carla volunteered.

Carla carried the tray of steaming food carefully. Turning the doorknob was hard while she balanced the tray on her left hand. Her grandmother’s room was stuffy and dark, and she heard at least two different snores. “Shamrock’s in here,” Carla thought. She crept across the room and found the bedside table, resting the tray there. Her grandmother mumbled, and rather than turn on a lamp, Carla twisted the blinds just a little to let in some faint light from the northern window.

Carla turned around. On the bed were her grandmother, Shamrock, and Abe. He was curled up at the foot of the bed. As Carla stood there, Shamrock began licking his hand. Abe smiled and stretched. He woke and looked around.

“I fell asleep,” he mumbled. His face was confused “Carla! How’d you get here? He looked at his hand. “That dog --” Then he noticed his grandmother. “I’m back home!”

“Shhh!” Carla said. “Come here!” And she led him from the room.

In the hallway she peppered him with questions. “Where did you go? Did you meet anyone? Were you scared? Were there children there?” Abe’s eyes opened wide and he backed away from her. The clatter of dishes and the aroma of warm breakfast biscuits came from below them. For a second Abe expected to feel Boy’s soft fur under his hand, Boy’s eyes speaking to him. His mind was still muddled from sleep. Carla’s questions tumbled in his mind.

“Whoa – What’s up with you?” He looked at her narrowly. “What do you know about it?” He crossed his arms and his famous stubborn look settled into his face. He leaned against the wall. Carla sighed.

“Look, Abe. You’re not the first one in this family to travel somewhere else unexpectedly. Cecil, Connie, and I did it last year, and it was a very scary experience, and we did meet people, and some of them were horrible.” She paused to catch her breath. “We just want to be sure you’re okay.” From the corner of her eye Carla saw Shamrock sniffing Grandmother Julia’s breakfast tray.

“I’m fine,” Abe replied. “I don’t know what happened. But to answer your questions,” and here he numbered them off on his fingers, “I don’t know where I went, I met some animals, I was not scared, and there were no children anywhere.”

Carla could only stare at him. Then he added, “I only met a German shepherd named Boy and saw a whole lot of really old people. But they were sleeping.” This baffled Carla even more. Clearly Abe had not gone to Lucie’s house.

"Where did he go?" she wondered.

At that moment Julia and Cecil ran down the hall. “We heard you talking in the kitchen!” Julia burst out. “Not so loud – the bathroom grate’s right in there!” And she pointed to the bathroom doorway.

“Shh!!” Carla and Cecil said to her together.

Abe rolled his eyes. “Oh, good grief! It was only a dream or something. What’s all the fuss?” He marched down the hall. “I’m hungry. What’s for breakfast?” Abe ran down the stairs, and the other children followed him, whispering.

After more biscuits and bacon, and having stuffed their pockets with snacks, the children resumed their conversation in the Clerk’s Office, where they knew they wouldn’t be overheard. They sat in a circle on the floor. Abe described his experience while nibbling several slices of bacon, and Cecil and Carla struggled to find any details tying his description to Lucie’s house

“Did the house remind you of your house?” Cecil asked.

“No,” Abe said.

“I mean, was it laid out the same?”

“No. It had this massive garden out back, plus a pine forest that went on forever. Plus, it was near the ocean.”

“Well, not the outside then. How about the house itself? Was it like Federal Hill?”

“It had big old porches all the way around the back. We don’t have that.”

Cecil sighed. “Then, without the porches! Would it have been the same shape without the porches?”

“I don’t know,” Abe retorted. “I didn’t see it without its porches!”

Cecil stood up and paced the floor.  He'd always found Abe to be an irritating cousin. “Alright. You went inside. You saw the kitchen. Did you see any other rooms?”

Abe thought. “Yeah. There was a really big room next to the kitchen. And a stairway. I went upstairs too.”

Cecil looked at him. “Okay, think about your house, about the stairway, the kitchen, the upstairs. Are those rooms generally the same in both houses?”

Abe slowly nodded his head. “I hadn’t thought of it before.” He looked up at Cecil. “Yes, they were!”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Cecil said. He looked at Carla.

“Abe, tell us about all the people and animals you met there,” she said. “Tell us as much as you can remember, even just impressions.”

So Abe talked about Boy, about how gentle but awe-inspiring he was, about how helpful the animals in the kitchen were, how the humans were all so old and sleeping so soundly. Then he remembered that Boy had said the sleepers in the house were older than the sleepers on the porch, that the sleepers got younger as they went toward the ocean.

“And the ones on the beach were awake and walking around,” he added. “Boy said they sleep for years after they come to the house. They were all really old and tired, like Grandmother.”

Carla thought about her first visit to Lucie’s house, how different it was from Abe’s experience. “Did you eat anything?” she asked.

“Oh, yeah!” he exclaimed. “Didn’t I say? In the kitchen they were all cooking --”

“Who?” Julia asked. “The animals?”

“Yes, they were! It was amazing. They were cooking for the sleepers.”

“Wait,” Cecil interrupted. “If they’re asleep, how do they eat?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t see that part,” Abe said. “But the food was so good.” His face beamed at the memory. “It was honestly the best thing I’ve ever eaten, and mom’s a really good cook.”

Carla and Cecil looked at each other. The food at Lucie’s house was that way too.

“Oh!” Abe blurted out. “I forgot the woman! There was a person there. She kind of blended in. Or maybe I forgot about her because of the food,” he mused. “Anyway, there was a woman in the kitchen. She was really tall.”

Carla leaned toward him. “What did she look like?”

Abe thought. “I don’t know. Tall, nearly as tall as Dad.”

“Brown hair? Brown eyes?”

Abe pondered. “Nooo …. Her hair was … kinda gray or silvery, maybe some yellow in there.” He closed his eyes to remember better. “She had blue eyes,” he said. “Yeah, blue.”

“Hmm,” Carla mused.

“And barefoot,” Abe added. “Her feet were darker brown, like she goes barefoot all the time.”

“Oh!” Carla said. “Did she wear a blue top with a long blue skirt, and a white apron?”

Abe hesitated. “Yeah, she did, now you mention it.” He regarded his cousin. “How’d you know?”

Carla said to Cecil, “Just like Lucie.” He nodded. “I think he went to Lucie’s world, only a different house.” Her eyes sparkled in excitement. “A house for old people instead of ...” and together they said it, “a house for children.”

There was a moment of silence, and Abe wanted to tell Julia about the quilt on the bed, about her name being on it. He wanted to tell about the dog who knew Shamrock. But he hesitated too long.

Julia jumped up. “Okay! Whatever! I don’t see what this has to do with anything! What about Edward? Aren’t we going to look for him? I think he’s more important that this silly dream Abe had last night.”

“It wasn’t a dream!” all the other children said simultaneously.

“Still,” Julia said, “I think Edward’s more important.”

A creak sounded above their heads, and then a voice said, “Thanks. I do appreciate that.”

It was Edward, coming down the stairs. His hair was tousled and he looked weary.

“Did you stay up there all night?” Julia asked.

“Not quite,” Edward replied. “I roamed around a lot.” And he proceeded to tell them of his night’s adventures. He’d explored nearly all of the house, the gardens and woods, all the barns and outbuildings, and inspected the Clerk’s Office.

“I did belly through that little tunnel from that fireplace,” and he pointed to the colossal stack of bricks near them. “It ain’t safe. You make sure none of ya go in there, ya hear?”

“We saw you after midnight, outside in the bushes,” Cecil said. “That other creature was behind you.”

“Yeah, I know. I know her,” Edward said. “I’m tryin’ to get her back to that other place, back into the tunnel.” He shook his head. “Nearly done it too.” He looked at Abe. “And you. I saw you disappear. Saw it through the window.”

“You did?” Carla interrupted.

“Oh yeah.” He eyed Abe. “Saw it clear as day. He walked through a box of blue light.”

“What? Cecil asked.

“Um … like a doorway, and just the edges are blue. But it was a blue light, just fer a second, till he was gone. Then it was black again.”

Cecil and Carla looked at each other. It was Lucie’s world after all.

[Ten Days at Federal Hill, in its entirety, is copyrighted by the author, M.K. Christiansen.]

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Country Bedroom

In The Joy of the Snow, Elizabeth Goudge describes each home she'd lived in. She loved homes, and her homes, a fondness that we share. Her last home was Rose Cottage in Oxfordshire. Like other very old English homes, its ceilings were graced with ships' timbers, and Goudge sometimes felt her old cottage was a bit like a ship. A dear friend sent her a copy of this little poem, found on the wall of another cottage in Devon. It's by Frances Darwin Cornford.

The Country Bedroom

My room's a square and candle-lighted boat,
In the surrounding depths of night afloat;
My windows are the portholes, and the seas
The sound of rain on the dark apple-trees.

Seamonster-like beneath, an old horse blows
A snort of darkness from his sleeping nose,
Below, among the drowned daisies. Far off, hark!
Far off one owl amidst the waves of dark.

I love this poem. It's nearly perfect, small, consistent, sensorily appealing, easy in its flow (as a rocking boat), with a strong, fascinating metaphor at its core. If I were teaching it, I'd ask the students one question: What do the daisies drown in -- How are they drowned?

Goudge found that at her cottage she had the owl and the old horse and the apple trees. The poem seemed meant for her. I've nearly finished her little autobiography now.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Ten Days at Federal Hill: Chapter Sixteen

(To read previous chapters of Ten Days at Federal Hill, please click on the page tab directly under the banner photo above.)

Chapter Sixteen: Boy

Abe didn’t mean to push on the panel, but he tripped over the edge of the rug in the Assembly Room. It was dark, and in spite of his boasts, he couldn’t see what he was doing. He stumbled forward one step and found himself somewhere else altogether.

The first thing he noticed was the smell. It reminded him of the only time he’d gone with his mother to the ladies’ department at the store to pick out perfume. His nose was assaulted with flowers, lots of flowers. He felt as if he’d been dropped into a vat of rose pedals. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was a shock for a boy of his age and bathing habits.

The place was also blindingly bright, but Abe realized eventually that was because he’d come from an utterly dark room into full daylight. He shut his eyes before he could see anything, but he knew he was outside, and that he was alone. He heard birds and the buzzing of bees and the rustle of wind in tree branches, but no voices. The next thing he did was sit down on the grass, for grass was certainly under his feet, and sky was certainly over his head, and he was in a garden.

Before he could open his eyes again, Abe felt a warm tongue on his face, and fur against his neck. Something panted in his ear, and something was wet against his cheek. Instinctively, he shoved against the beast and yelled, defending himself with his fists.

“Ahh! Get away!”

The dog yelped, backed off, and whimpered. A dark brown German shepherd, tall and handsome with deep black eyes, stood over the boy. Abe had never seen such eyes on a dog before. The dog didn’t speak, but his eyes quite clearly said to Abe, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to alarm you.” Then the dog smiled, and his eyes crinkled into happiness like an old man’s.

“Hey, old fella,” Abe said softly. He held out his palm to the dog’s nose, as he’d been taught to do. The shepherd tilted his head slightly and examined the hand, wondering what to do with it. Then he looked again at Abe, and the eyes said, “I don’t know what you mean by old. I was sent here to meet and welcome you. Please come with me.”

Abe was unsure how he could understand the dog, but he was certain he was meant to follow him, and sure enough, the animal turned and walked away across the grass and around some bushes, which Abe recognized by their smell to be gardenias. The grass was soft and sweet-smelling. The dog turned to see if the boy was following. Abe stood, nervously looking around him. Overhead was an ornate metal arch, a doorway into the garden. Paths of brilliant green lawn wove among flowering shrubs and blooming borders crowded with flowers in all hues of the rainbow. Abe had never seen such a garden. The mingled scents of all the flowers wafted toward him pushed by a breeze from far away. He thought he smelled a faint hint of the sea. Abe breathed deeply. The dog, wanting to be patient, watched him. Finally he returned to where Abe stood. The German shepherd sighed.

“Are you coming?” he said with his eyes. “My name is Boy. I know it’s startling to you, but I do speak with my eyes. The animals here do that.” The dog smiled, and his whiskers curled up. “All of us are kind and helpful. All that I ask is that you not pat me on the head.” He studied Abe, who was trying to recover his composure. “If you wish, you may put your hand on my back as we walk. I think you are the right height for that.” Abe stepped forward and obeyed. Together they walked among the flowers. The paths meandered endlessly, it seems, through thick hedges, low flower borders, and thick stalks of sunflowers and even bamboo over Abe’s head. At last they came to the end of the garden, which was wrapped by a long, low stone wall. Abe rested his hands on the wall, and Boy stood with his front paws on it. The land sloped sharply away before them, an immense pine forest. From his vantage point, Abe gazed over the tree tops, an ocean of green, undulating, with bright hills of sun and pockets of deepest jade. And far, far away at its edge he could barely see a sliver of white beach and then the sea.

“I thought I smelled it, the salt air,” Abe whispered. “It’s beautiful!” In the distance, he noticed movement in patches of grassy meadow scattered in the pine forest. “Who are they?” he asked the dog, and he looked into Boy’s eyes for the answer.

“They’re the sleepers,” Boy replied. And they were – all of them were stretched out on comfortable lounge chairs. Some were turned on their sides, some had hats over their faces, and a few had books open on their chests. They stretched, yawned, and rolled over. Boy continued. “The scent of the pine trees puts them to sleep. They are nearly done with their sleeping by the time they are beach sleepers.”

“Beach sleepers?” Abe peered out toward the sea, and there were tiny figures there as well, some asleep, some moving.

The dog turned and smiled. “Come and see.”

The pair strolled back to the house. Along the way Abe noticed new things in the garden that covered several acres. Dozens of deep hammocks hung among the trees, blankets spilling over their edges. Elegant gazebos with pointed cupolas and white, screened summerhouses dotted the landscape. As they passed them, he saw people sleeping there. Lovely soft pillows lay on long benches that circled the walls of the little garden buildings. Abe peeked in. Some of the nooks had curtains hung closed for privacy, and some were open.

“They’re all old,” he whispered to Boy. “Old like my grandmother.”

“Yes,” the dog replied. “They come here because they need a long rest. These are not as old as the ones in the house. These are starting to grow young.” And he led Abe to the building that dominated the scene, a home at the other end of the garden from the sea. Porches wrapped it entirely on both the first and second floors, and a third floor rose above that.

“That’s a huge house!” Abe noted.

“Many people live here,” Boy said. “We’ll go inside, but do be quiet. Everyone’s asleep.”

Abe followed him, talking. “Is it nap time? How come they’re asleep in the middle of the day? They’re grown ups!”

“They sleep nearly all the time,” Boy answered.

“That’s sad.”

“Not really,” Boy answered. “When they arrive here, they’re utterly exhausted. They need years of sleep to recover, before they’re ready to be awake again.”


“Oh yes.” Boy led him onto the porch. “You’ll see.”

Indeed, the wide, shady porches had lounge chairs, hammocks, recliners, futons – anything comfortable for sleeping was in use there. Most were occupied with sleeping bodies dressed in loose cotton clothes, wrapped in soft blankets and wearing fluffy socks. The boy and the dog carefully walked around the elderly men and women, all of whom looked older to Abe than the people sleeping on the beach. Some whom stirred and mumbled, and some lay in deep, profound slumber. One tiny, gray-headed old man woke for a moment, gazed at Abe with a bleary eye, smiled like a baby, and fell back into sleep.

Inside, the house was cool and quiet. The rooms on the first floor were spacious with high ceilings and drowsy, overhead fans. The walls were pale white, and gauzy curtains billowed in and out at the tall windows. Sea breezes drifted pleasantly through them. Abe and Boy passed through one vast room into a generous entry hall with a curving staircase, and into another enormous room. On the tables were board games and cards, left in mid-play, but there were no dishes or food around. “They eat very little, and we clean up after them,” Boy explained to him. And although it would’ve been a perfect house for the gentle tick-tocking of several clocks, Abe saw no timepieces at all. “We don’t keep track of time here,” Boy said. “They sleep as long as they like. There is no hurry.”

“Is there a kitchen?” Abe asked at last. He loved food, and he was feeling a little hungry.

“Of course,” Boy told him.

At last! Abe pushed through a door and down a few steps into a long, broad kitchen bustling with activity. Chopping, stirring, tasting, shaking, and the general clatter of dishes and pots filled the air. Steam wafted to the ceiling, and flashes of flame flickered from a massive range on the far end of the room. In the middle stood a tall woman wearing a long apron, her hands on a hefty work table. At each station of the kitchen were animals, dozens of animals. Several sleek cats tended to the stove top as various pots bubbled and steamed. A monkey, standing on the back of a little goat, chopped vegetables with amazing precision. “Careful, Dexter!” the woman called to him. But the monkey diced through carrots, celery, peppers, and potatoes with fascinating speed. On the floor, mice and puppies cleaned up every scrap of food and deposited any trash into a bin by the door. One small Corgi wagged her tail and licked Abe on the foot.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. He’d forgotten he was barefoot and still in his pajamas.

The kitchen was a hub of precision and excitement. Every movement went to the careful preparation of beautiful food. The boy and the dog watched as dish after dish was finished and placed on the long center table. Then the woman examined and tasted each one. She hummed happily and closed her eyes if an item were more than usually delicious.

“Ah! What a divine stew!” she said once, and, “That peach crumble is the best yet!”

The scene was a feast for eye and nose, and Abe found his mouth watering. Boy walked to the table and spoke to the woman. Abe couldn’t see his face, but the woman responded with a smile and beckoned to Abe.

“Why, hello! I’m so glad you’re here! Are you hungry?”

Abe gazed at the table. Every platter and bowl was filled with food made to perfection. It was a feast! “Yes, ma’am.”

“What would you like?” she asked. And she handed him a plate and a fork. “Take what you like. Take only what you will eat.”

A scoop of peach crumble, vanilla ice cream, a biscuit with butter, and a mountain of mashed potatoes filled his plate in moments.

“Interesting,” she said, studying his choices. “Why don’t you come to the kitchen porch to eat?”

Unlike the sleeping porches around the rest of the house, the kitchen porch was for eating, and all the animals not cooking were enjoying their meals there. The puppies and mice ate steamy oatmeal with fruit. The larger dogs lapped up the hearty stew. The cats, surprisingly, preferred fruit salad and cornbread. The animals ate neatly, cleaning their bowls and themselves and looking often at each other. Abe realized they were talking among themselves, but they also growled and laughed and smiled and panted like ordinary animals. The woman shows Abe to a small chair just his size and placed a tray in his lap. She returned to the kitchen, but Boy stood in the doorway.

“I’m working today. I’ll eat later,” he told Abe.

Abe bit into the biscuit first, a soft, delicious blend of bread, salt, and butter. The edges crunched as he enjoyed each bite, and he closed his eyes. The pile of mashed potatoes were gone in seconds, but then the boy relished the crumble and ice cream slowly; the cold cream mixed with the sweet peaches and crispy pastry, hot from the oven sparked bursts of flavor on his tongue. The last bite was better than the first! Abe felt satisfied and then almost immediately sleepy after his meal. The puppies had fallen asleep, and when he entered the kitchen again, the activity had calmed and most of the food was gone from the table. Abe yawned. Boy told him to explore the rest of the house. “The sleepers have had their lunch now, and they’ll be resting again outdoors. The ones upstairs are very tired and won’t wake if you walk around them. You may walk in their rooms. Just don’t touch them.”

As Abe ascended the stairs, he noticed a long row of bells hanging on the wall, each attached to a cord and each having a metal plaque above it with a number, and with initials. He counted them. There were twenty-four. “I wonder what they’re for?” he thought. The rooms upstairs and on the third floor were quite small. This area of the house was intensely quiet, as if in a state of perpetual twilight. Thick carpet covered the floors and dark drapes shut out the sun. Abe opened doors and peeked inside room after room, careful to do as Boy had said. Each room had a soft bed piled with quilts and pillows, a small table, an open window, and a comfortable upholstered chair with a deep seat and broad arms. In some rooms the residents were sleeping in the beds and in some they slept in their chairs, but in each room, someone slept. Each person looked extremely old, and some were curled tightly in their beds like babies. One women sucked her thumb. Their faces were scoured with wrinkles, but all looked peaceful. The numbers on the stairwell plaques corresponded to numbers on the doors, and each door had a pretty oval sign with initials. “These must be the sleepers’ initials,” Abe thought. Three rooms at the end of the hall were empty, with beds turned down in readiness. Those doors had initials on them too. Abe wondered who would sleep there. “K. M.” he said, and turned to the second one. “R. Z.,” he said and turned to the last one. “J. C.” In this room belonging to J. C., a sweet black and white Cocker Spaniel lay curled and dozing on the foot of the bed.

Abe yawned. All this sleeping was getting to him. The meal had made him drowsy as well, especially the mashed potatoes. The Cocker Spaniel’s nose twitched as it dreamed, and her back legs scuffled. She was adorable, and Abe reached down to pet her head.

“Boy didn’t say I couldn’t touch the dogs,” he thought. “She reminds me of Shamrock.” And he stroked her long, soft ears.

She awoke immediately and looked into Abe’s eyes. “Abe?” she said.

The boy started and backed away. He didn’t know this dog.

“No, you don’t remember me, but I remember you.” The spaniel hopped from the bed and paused before leaving the room. “Give sweet Shamrock my love,” she said, and smiled at him, and left.

For the first time Abe thought of what a strange place this was and toyed with the idea that it was not a dream. It didn’t feel like a dream. It felt quite real, somehow even more real than his life at home. All his senses here were broad awake. All colors looked brighter, all smells were more appealing, all foods tasted richer. Abe sat on the bed. A glass of milk was on the bedside table, and suddenly he wanted it. He drank the milk, pulled back the downy covers, and climbed into the bed. He had never felt such comfort and relaxation! Abe wiggled his toes into the depths of the bed and pulled the quilt to his chin. He sighed. The milk was like a drug, softening his mind. He blinked, trying to stay awake, and as he fingered the quilt he felt a small tag of fabric sewn into its edge. It was a name tag. And as his eyelids stopped resisting sleep and its numbness overtook him, he read the stitching on the tag. It said, “Julia.”

[Ten Days at Federal Hill is copyrighted in its entirety by the author, M.K. Christiansen.]

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ten Days at Federal Hill: Chapter Fifteen

(To read previous chapters in Ten Days at Federal Hill, please click on the page tab immediately beneath the banner photo above.)

Chapter Fifteen: The Blue Light

When Edward left the attic before lunch, he walked down the stairs and straight out the front door. He’d examined the attic rooms to his satisfaction and glanced into the rooms on the second floor as well. Grandmother Julia was sick in bed; Edward heard her heavy breathing and a dog whining in her room. Aunt Velma was noisily preparing a meal for ten people, and from the upstairs windows Edward saw that all the children were in the woods. He crept silently to the front doors and skirted around the house. He was quite skilled in avoiding detection. He’d run away more times than he could remember and could creep through a house full of people without being seen. Sneaking to the Clerk’s Office was a piece of cake.

From the children’s description he easily recognized the building from his vantage point behind a huge azalea by the back door. He watched Cecil, Carla, Julia, and Abe standing on the porch of the small building, near the massive chimney stack. The truck engine roared and spat and suddenly became louder. “C’mon!” Abe yelled, and they all ran toward the woods. After they leapt from the porch, Edward saw the mysterious creature hop from the ground to the other end of the porch, saw it crouch in fear as the truck thundered through shrubbery, saw it slink inside the Clerk’s Office. Viewing it now much closer and seeing its face, he was certain what it was – who it was. He’d suspected when he’d heard Carla’s description, but now he was certain. The creature was Hetta, someone who’d been part of his life for as long as he could remember. A slave, a cringing rodent of a person, barely human. She sometimes lived in Mortessen Workhouse, where he’d lived too, but mostly she roamed the woods, living on berries and grubs, begging for shelter from Madame Fen when winter came. She did things for them they loathed doing themselves, but mostly she hunted children when they wandered away. And she tended the babies when they were first kidnapped and brought to the workhouse. Her job was to keep them quiet, and her methods often made the older children sickened and afraid. She was a pitiful creature and not entirely harmless.

Edward approached the building. As he stepped up to the porch and placed his hand around its pillar, he felt an odd stirring in his stomach, a faint queasiness and inexplicable fear. Stacked on one end of the porch were quite a few wooden boxes, a broken chair, and stacks of burlap bags. He crouched behind these against the foundation, unwilling to enter the building with Hetta there, and waited until all the family had gone inside the house for lunch. He head the wreck of the truck, the family arguments, the weariness in the mother’s voice with three injured sons. Later the low sun sliced light across the lawn through the trees, and Edward ventured off the porch toward Aunt Velma’s garden. Providing for himself was no problem. He didn’t need Julia to bring him leftovers. He quickly picked a cucumber, a handful of tomatoes, a few string beans, and dug a small sweet potato. Used to scavenging and hiding, this evening felt to Edward like many others. He munched his dinner behind the barn, found a spigot and cup, and satisfied his thirst. All the while, he watched the Clerk’s Office for Hetta to leave. The barn offered a small hay loft from which he could see the building’s porch, and until sunset he studied the door but saw no sign of her.

From his vantage point, Edward could also look into the kitchen windows of the house. The figures within were tiny, but the warm light of the house, and the darkness of early evening before the moon rose lit the scene like a theater. The family was sitting down for dinner. The woman they called Aunt Velma, or Mom, flitted around the room. Edward saw her shoo several boys from the room who came back a few minutes later wiping their hands on their shirts. She handed plates to Carla and silverware to Julia. She talked most to another girl Edward did not know, and gave her platters of food to set on the table. A big boy was tussling with Abe, and the woman slapped the boy on the head. Then she caressed Abe’s head and kissed it. The children leaned toward each other, whispering and laughing. The mother circled the table as the children all sat, and she poured milk into their glasses. Her hand rested on Julia’s shoulder, and she gave another boy a quick hug. Edward was enthralled by the scene, and unfamiliar emotions stirred in him. He watched the glowing kitchen hungrily, not for the food, but for the affection and friendship around that table, the gentle, caring touch of a mother. Edward didn’t know what it felt like to have a mother.

When it was fully dark, Edward left the barn and walked to the Clerk’s Office. The building was empty. Silently, methodically, he searched every bit of it – the trunk and its contents, the chipped plates and cups that matched the ones Julia had brought him, the fireplace with its broken chair, the piles of books he could not decipher, the vacant upper floor. He discovered the secret panel and the ladder descending along the chimney stack to the hiding place. Unlike Julia, he followed it quite far, climbing down the length of the stack and into a tunnel via a small door whose hinge squeaked. The tunnel was small and badly built, but Edward, who had been in terrible danger many times in his life, thought nothing of crawling along it, his head bumping the earthen ceiling, his hands grazing the rough boards along the sides. Eventually he came to its end, just where he expected it to be. He reached out and grasped the rope ladder hanging below the lady statue and swung his body out into the larger tunnel. He assumed Hetta had come this way too. Where was she now? Had she returned to the empty house where he’d slept on the floor? Or was Hetta crouching at this moment beneath Julia’s bed? He had come full circle, back to the tunnel.

Edward was sick of tunnels, sick of hiding in holes. He wanted to avoid Hetta. He climbed the rope ladder into the hidden chamber under the lady statue. With all his might he pushed against the base of the statue, bracing his legs. Finally it lifted, and he heaved it over. It thudded on the earth. As Edward rose from the tunnel into the night air, the heavy aroma of boxwoods enveloped him and the earliest moonrise shone on his face. He felt again the same strange feeling deep in his gut. This place smelled and felt familiar to him, but it made him uneasy. He was more safe now than he’d ever been in his life, yet a tiny kernel of subdued terror was lodged deep in his mind. He could not shake it.

Lights flickered on and off in the house from room to room. For a while the voices were loud and there was much movement. One room on the second floor stayed dimly lit, and shadows passed in front of the window shade many times. Once the shade lifted and Carla and Julia stood there talking, looking out into the night. Carla seemed to be looking right at him, but the girls turned away. Later the room was dark. And in the end every window went black as Edward sat in the garden observing the passage of the moon overhead. The familiar stars he knew well twinkled into brilliance through the pine trees, but other lights, flashing lights high above also road across the sky. Edward found himself mystified again by this strange world into which he’d been thrown.

He wanted to return to Julia’s house, but he was afraid. So he crept up to the shrubs near the windows and looked inside. Now he was quite close, unlike before. He looked in the kitchen windows where Aunt Velma finished washing the dishes and turned off the light. An old dog lay next to a funny chair. Edward had never seen a chair quite like it. The dog looked up at him and wagged her tail. She smiled as only sweet dogs can smile. Edward gasped and covered his mouth, but the dog did not bark. Her tail bumped the chair and it rocked back and forth. For the first time in many years, Edward laughed. Why would anyone want a chair that rocked like that? The dog began to stand, and to avoid being discovered, Edward left the kitchen window and went to look into another room. He silently, methodically rounded the house, studying each room from the safely of the evening’s darkness.

Thus it was that Edward was peering into the Assembly Room as Abe slipped into the room first, and as Cecil, Carla, and Julia came in only moments later. Edward stood directly outside the window to the right of the fireplace. Against the dim hallway light, he clearly saw the children enter, but they could not see him in the shadows of the tall camellia bushes. He could not hear their words, but he watched Julia hide within the folds of the curtains on the other window, the tin cup clutched in her hand. He watched Carla creep under the table and then the chair. He watched Cecil stand with his back to the room. And he watched Abe recede into the shadows. Almost immediately a thin line of blue light appeared for a split second where Abe stood. It was shaped like a tall rectangle, like the outline of a doorway. It flashed cobalt blue and then was gone, and the other children did not see it, turned as they were with their eyes away from Abe’s location.

 When the chandelier burst into brilliant light and Aunt Velma scolded the children, Edward disappeared in a second as he was so good at doing, into the bushes, into the darkness, into hiding.

(To read the next chapter, please click here.)

[Ten Days at Federal Hill is copyrighted in its entirety by the author, M.K. Christiansen.]