The Unlikely Spy

There were other reasons, too. Seventy-five percent of Jews survived in France. And so many non-Jews risked their lives to save ours. Wasn’t that our duty to defend our country too? It was our duty, absolutely – Marthe Cohn

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Image from The Portland Press Herald

Born a French Jew in Metz, France on 13 April 1920, Marthe Hoffnung never once imagined that she would one day become a spy in Nazi Germany.  She was one of seven children of an Orthodox Jewish.  They lived near the German border in France when Hitler rose to power. As the Nazi occupation expanded, her sister was sent to Auschwitz while her family fled to the south of France.

In the year 1944 after France was liberated, Marthe  enlisted and became a member of the Intelligence Service of the French 1st Army.  Following 14 unsuccessful attempts to cross the front in Alsace, she crossed the border into Germany near Schaffhausen in Switzerland.  She assumed the identity of a German nurse because of her Aryan appearance (blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin) and her ability to speak and read German fluently and claimed that she was searching for her missing fiancée. She provided critical information for the Allied commanders.

For her bravery, Marthe was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire.  At the age of 80, she received France’s highest military honor, the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur (Legion of Honour).  Her children didn’t know that this woman faced death daily to defeat the Nazi Empire.  Under extraordinary circumstances, this ordinary woman became the heroine for her country.  She helped to defeat the enemies of freedom.

After the war Marthe returned to France and pursued a career as a nurse.  In1956, while studying in Geneva, she met an American medical student, Major L. Cohn, who was a friend’s roommate.  Within three years, they got married and settled down in the United States. They worked together for years, he as an anesthesiologist and she as a nurse before they retired.

In 2002, Marthe co-authored with Wendy Holden a book about her experiences entitled, Behind Enemy Lines: the True Story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.  She is now 99 years old and is currently living with her husband husband in Palos Verdes, California.  She continues to tell her story because “human beings have very short memories and it’s extremely important to remind them of what happened.”  In particular, the extermination of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

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Today, on Remembrance Day, Notes to Women wishes to acknowledge and salute this brave woman who risked her life to help to put an end to an evil regime. She did her duty.

Let us remember all of the brave men and women who risked their lives for our freedom.

Sources: The Portland Press Herald; Wikipedia; TCU Place; Maine Public

Women Astronomers

girl-looking-through-a-telescope-pietro-rotariThis painting of a young woman looking through a telescope is by Pietro Rotari, an Italian painter of the Baroque period.  He was born in Verona.  His career took him from place and he died in 1762 at the age of 55 in St Petersburg where he had traveled to paint for the Russian court.

He painted mostly women–some famous and his work was noted for its realism and beauty.  His art is showcased on this site.  This one struck me, though, because it is of a woman who is expressing and interest in science, specifically, astronomy.  During Rotari’s lifetime, there were notable women astronomers such as Maria Margaretha Kirch, a German who believed that she deserved an education equivalent to that given to young boys in her time.

At an early age, she showed an interest in astronomy and seized the opportunity to study with Christoph Arnold, a self-taught astronomer who worked as a farmer in Sommerfeld, near Leipzig.  She became his unofficial apprentice and later his assistant, living with him and his family.  She married the famous German astronomer and mathematician, Gottfried Kirch.

Maria was the first woman to discover a comet yet the Academy which she had made dedicated two decades of her life making it one of the foremost centres of astronomy, abandoned her after her husband died.  The academy turned down her request for her son to be appointed astronomer and that she be only his assistant. The institute was reluctant to set a precedent and feared ridicule from other institutions.  Maria spent 18 months petitioning the royal court for the position but received a final rejection in 1712.  Bitterly disappointed, she wrote in the preface to one of her publications that a woman could become “as skilled as a man at observing and understanding the skies”.

However, despite the disappointments she encountered in her career, her publications drew the recognition she deserved.  They included her observations on the Aurora Borealis (1707), a pamphlet on the conjunction of the sun with Saturn and Venus (1709), and a pamphlet in which she predicted a new comet (1711).

Nicole-Reine Lepaute was a French astronomer and Mathematician.  Her father was a valet for Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, the wife of Louis I of Spain.  Nicole was described as precocious and intelligent, being mostly self taught who stayed up all night “devouring” books and read every book in the library.  She married Jean-André Lepaute, a royal clockmaker in the Luxembourg Palace.

At her suggestion and together with Jean-André, constructed a clock with an astronomical function.  The clock was presented to the French Academy of Science in 1753, where it was inspected and approved by Jérôme Lalande, the same man who once said of Nicole, that even as a child “she had too much spirit not to be curious”  She later worked on a book with him and her husband although she didn’t receive authorship.

Lalande recommended that she and along with mathematician, French mathematician, astronomer, and geophysicist,  Alexis Clairault calculate both the predicted return of Halley’s Comet and the attraction of Jupiter and Saturn of the Halley’s comet.  In November 1758, the team presented their conclusion that the comet would arrive on 13 April 1759.  The actual arrival of the comet was 13 March 1759.  Not bad for a prediction and as a result of their calculations, that was the first time scientists had successfully predicted when the comet would cross the point of the comet orbit closest to the Sun.

Sadly, Clairault didn’t recognize Nicole did not recognize her work at all in his work which greatly upset Lalande.  He considered her the “most distinguished female French astronomer ever.”  He acknowledged her help in an article.  Good for him.

Nicole was again a part of Lalande’s team.  This time she worked with him to calculate the ephemeris of the transit of Venus.  While it is not recorded what her contribution to this project was, in 1761, she she was acknowledged by being inducted as an honorary member of the distinguished Scientific Academy of Béziers.   The pair collaborated for fifteen years on the Academy of Science’s annual guides for astronomers and navigators by developing ephemerides: tables that predict the location of the stars on each day of the year.

After her death, Lalande wrote about her contributions to astronomy. In 1762, Lepaute calculated the exact time of a solar eclipse which occurred on 1 April 1764 and wrote an article in which she gave a map of the eclipse’s extent in 15-minute intervals across Europe and predicted the time and percentage each are in Europe would experience.  And for the years 1774-1784, she calculated the ephemeris of the Sun, the Moon and the planets.

Both Maria Margaretha Kirch and Nicole-Reine Lepaute contributed greatly to science and has made it possible for women of all ages, color, nationalities to follow in their footsteps.  Today, we want to take this time to recognize them for their groundbreaking work and give them the credit they deserve.

 

Sources:  The Woman Gallery; Wikipedia; Epigenesys; Encyclopedia; AstroChix

Do it

Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it – Chuck Palahniuk

Change is a good thing–sometimes.  It takes courage to step outside of your comfort zone and follow your dreams wherever they take you.  You will have the naysayers and doubters on the side lines giving you all sorts of reasons why change isn’t good but it’s up to you if you will let them discourage you.  Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and not because you feel pressured or want to prove something.  If you believe that it’s time for a change, do it.  Don’t allow fear, doubt or what other people say to stop you.

You will know if the change you are making is the right one.  There will be a sense of peace and purpose.  One of my co-workers decided to pack up, leave Toronto and move to Omaha to be with her boyfriend.  She had no reservations because she believed that she was doing what was best for her.

If it’s a career change you are thinking of making, figure out what you want to do before you quit your job.  You can enroll in night school courses.  Once you have found a job in your new career, you can quit your current one and pat yourself on the back for taking a leap of faith.

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This was written for the Ragtag Daily Prompts for today’s word, Change.  If you’re interested in participating, click HERE for more information.

Sources:  Brainy Quote; Ms. Career Girl; Toronto School District Board

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

She changed the face of medicine

Rebecca Lee Crumpler

It was being raised by a kind aunt who spent much of her time caring for sick neighbors and her desire to relieve the suffering of others which led Rebecca Lee Crumpler down the a career path that would earn her the distinction of being the first African American woman physician in the United States.   In doing so, she rose to and overcame the challenge which prevented African Americans from pursuing careers in medicine.

Rebecca, a bright girl, attended the West-Newton English and Classical School in Massachusetts, a prestigious private school as a “special student”.  In 1852 she moved to Charleston, Massachusetts where she worked as a nurse.  In 1860, she took a leap of faith and applied to medical school and was accepted into the New England Female Medical College.

The college was founded by Drs. Israel Tisdale Talbot and Samuel Gregory in 1848 and in 1852,  accepted its first class of women, 12 in number.  However, Rebecca proved that their assertions were false when, in 1864, she earned the distinction being the first African American woman to earn an M.D. degree and  the college’s only African American graduate.  The college closed in 1873.

In 1864, a year after her first husband, Wyatt Lee died, Rebecca married her second husband, Arthur Crumpler.   She began a medical practice in Boston.   In 1865, after the Civil War ended, the couple moved to Richmond, Virginia, where she found “the proper field for real missionary work, and one that would present ample opportunities to become acquainted with the diseases of women and children.”  She joined other black physicians caring for freed slaves who would otherwise would not have access to medical care.  She worked with the Freedmen’s Bureau, missionary and community groups in the face of intense racism which many black physicians experienced while working in the postwar South.

Racism, rude behavior and sexism didn’t diminish Rebecca’s zeal and valiant efforts to treat a “very large number of the indigent and others of different classes in a population of over 30,000 colored”.  She declared that “at the close of my services in that city, I returned to my former home, Boston where I entered into the work with renewed vigor, practicing outside, and receiving children in the house for treatment, regardless, in measure, of remuneration.”

The couple lived in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Beacon Hill where she practiced medicine.  In 1880, she and her husband moved to Hyde Park.  It was believed that at that time she was no longer in active practice but she did write a “A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts”,  the first medical publication by an African American.  The book consisted of two parts.  The first part focused on “treating the cause, prevention, and cure of infantile bowel complaints, from birth to the close of the teething period, or after the fifth year.” The second section contained “miscellaneous information concerning the life and growth of beings; the beginning of womanhood; also, the cause, prevention, and cure of many of the most distressing complaints of women, and youth of both sexes.”

Rebecca Lee Crumpler died in Hyde Park on March 9, 1895.  Notes to Women wishes to celebrate this brave woman who had the tenacity to pursue a career in medicine, proving that women can change the face of a field which many wanted to bar her from because of color and gender.  Her passion to help alleviate the suffering of others was what led her to take this path.  Her courage and perseverance in the face of racism, sexism paved the way for many, not only African Americans and women but for those who like her, will seek every opportunity to relieve the sufferings of others.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler’s story is a reminder to all of us that we should never let anything or anyone prevent us from pursuing our dreams.

Selfish prudence is too often allowed to come between duty and human life – Rebecca Lee Crumpler

Sources:  Changing the Face of Medicine; PBS

Best Friends

mens-hairstyles-curly-hairstyle-menHe raked his fingers through his disheveled hair, frustrated.  It was no use.  He couldn’t concentrate on his work.  He had come here to the cottage to work on the manuscript which was due in a couple of days.  The quiet, solitude were exactly what he needed to get him going but his mind was refusing to focus.  His eyes shifted to the time at the bottom of the screen.  All he could think about was her with someone else…  Muttering under his breath, he jumped to his feet and walked over to the window.

He looked out at the mountains as they loomed in the distance.  The lake was calm.  He envied it.  Sometimes, he wished he didn’t feel anything.  It would make life so much easier.  Right now, he didn’t want to feel the pain that gnawed at him.  Why on earth did he break his own rule and fall in love with his best friend?  They had known each other since high school.  Back then, she was a skinny girl with the terrific smile and who wore glasses that were too big for her face.   She wasn’t pretty like the other girls but she was smart and he liked hanging out with her.  They were interested in the same things.

Over the weekends, they went to Art galleries, museums, poetry readings and the theatre.  They weren’t into parties or hanging out at the mall.  They went to the prom together and enrolled in the same university.  His major was Creative Writing and hers was Journalism.  Whenever he wrote a story, he would have her read it.  She was his best critic.  She was more excited than he when his first story was published in the local newspaper.  And it was she who encouraged him to consider writing novels.  One snowy day, he sat down and crafted his first novel which he dedicated to her.  It was a bestseller.

They were friends for life—inseparable until her career as a journalist took her to LA where she got to work at the magazine she had always dreamed of writing for.  It was too great an opportunity to pass up.  It was when they were facing each other at the airport that he realized that he wasn’t just saying goodbye to his best friend but he was saying goodbye to the girl he had fallen in love with.  When they hugged, he closed his eyes and buried his face in her hair.  He didn’t want to let go.

When they drew apart, she gazed up at him, her eyes brimming with tears.  “We’ll see each other in the summer and for the Christmas holidays,” she said.  “We’ll keep in touch every single day.”

He smiled even though his heart was breaking.  “Yes, we will.”

“I love you, Jonas,” she said, reaching up and touching his face.

He swallowed hard.  “I love you too.”  He knew that she loved him as a friend but he was telling her that he loved her as a man loved a woman.

“Take care of yourself.”

“I will.”  He watched her walk away, taking a part of him with her.

The drive back to home had been a depressing one and when he got in, he went into the study and sat down in front of the laptop to write.  Writing was the only thing that gave him any comfort and purpose.

They kept in touch through texting, emails, phone calls, Facebook and Skype.  They saw each other during the summer and over the Christmas holidays.   She had changed somewhat.  Gone was the awkward and shy girl.  In her stead was a glamorous and confident woman.   Gone were the glasses and in place of the braids was her natural hair.  She looked great.  Although they had both changed, they still connected.  Neither was dating.   That changed however, last summer when he visited her for Christmas and was introduced to Roger, the man she had started dating.

They met at some function or the other—he couldn’t remember.  His heart was aching.  Pain and jealousy consumed him.  He smiled but it was a facade.  It masked the hurt he was feeling.   He thought that was the worst moment of his life until that afternoon when they were walking through Seward Park where she told him that she was engaged.  It was too much.  He couldn’t hide his distress.  “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.  “I can’t do this.  I can’t pretend that I’m happy for you when this is killing me.  I have to go.”  He turned and walked away.

That was the last time they saw each other face to face.  She had called him but when he saw her number on the display, he let it go to voicemail.  She sent him emails but they sat unopened in his inbox.  Last week, she left a message about him going to LA for Christmas which was a week away.  He couldn’t go.  He couldn’t face her.  He couldn’t bear to see her with Roger.  He couldn’t do it.  That was why he came here instead.  He wanted to lose himself in his new novel but it wasn’t working out.  All he could think about was her.  He was losing his best friend.  He was losing the woman he loved.  How was it possible for a person to live with a broken heart?  Right now he couldn’t see past the pain.

I need some fresh air, he decided.  He moved away from the window.  Grabbing his coat, he left the cottage and went down to the lake where he stood, gazing at the mountains.   What a magnificent view.  The sun hovered over them, enshrouding them in its golden hue.  What he wouldn’t give for Rose to be there right with him now.  Just the two of them, alone out there, no interruptions.   They would sit by the lake and or go for a swim.  Afterwards, they would go and have a bite to eat or go for a drive.  At night, they would sit out on the back porch and watch the stars.

He closed his eyes in despair.  They soon opened.  It was so faint that at first he thought he imagined it.  Then he heard it again.  He turned.  His eyes widened in disbelief when he saw her running towards him.  “What are you doing here?” he demanded when she reached him.

“I’ve been trying to reach you,” she said, trying to catch her breath.

“What are you doing here?” he asked again.

“I came back,” she cried, her expression earnest as she looked up at him.  “I left my job in LA and moved back here where I belong.”

Jonas stared at her, dazed and confused.  “You moved back to Seattle?”

“Yes!”

“But what about Roger?”

“I broke off our engagement.”

“Why?”

“I broke it off because I love you, Jonas.”

He blinked.  “I’m sorry, but did you just say…?”

“Yes.  I love you.  I tried to tell you that when I called and emailed you.”

“I didn’t want to talk to you or to read your emails.  I didn’t want to hear anything about you and Roger.”

“That day in the park before you walked away, you said something that made me realize how you really felt about me.  Before that I had no idea.  I had hoped but I thought you said that because you didn’t think that Roger was the right guy for me.  I didn’t think…”

“Yes.  I was hurt, jealous and angry.  You have no idea how much I wanted to tell you that I loved you.  It was too much to deal with so I walked.”

“I wanted to run after you but I was afraid that I would make a fool of myself.  All the way back to LA, I couldn’t stop thinking about what you said and the way you looked. As soon as I arrived at the airport, I called Roger and asked him to meet me at a café near my apartment.  He took it well.  He suspected that I was in love with you.  After we say our goodbyes, I went home and typed up my letter of resignation.  Then, I booked a flight to Seattle.  And here I am.”

“How did you know I was here?”

“I didn’t.  I went to your place and your neighbor told me.”

Jonas stared at her.  “I can’t believe that you’re standing here in front of me.”

“This is where I belong, Jonas.  Here with you.”

He pulled her against him, his eyes darkening on her upturned face.  “Yes, it is,” he agreed huskily.  “Now, I really won’t be able to get any work done…”

She smiled.  “So, you’re working on a new novel?”

“Yes, but it can wait.”  He bent his head and kissed her.

Making Plans

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,” whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you are rejoicing in your boastings. All such rejoicing is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin – James 4:13-16

How many of us make plans way ahead in the future? And how many of those plans end up going nowhere? Why does the Bible liken making plans to boasting? It could be because we are doing so without consulting God. We act as if we are in control of our destiny when He is the One who is. As Christians, we should make our plans based on what God wants or think is best not what we want. He may have much better plans for us. Take the prophet Jeremiah. What would have happened if he had made plans for a career, travel or marriage? Those plans would have come to nothing because God already had plans for his life.

Remember the Tower of Babel? The people had the bright idea of building a tower so high that it would reach heaven. What were their reasons for building the tower? “…let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). They wanted to stay put instead of going abroad and populating the earth. In other words, they were making their own plans which were outside of God’s will. They were boastful in thinking that they could do things their way instead of God’s way.

Nothing is wrong with having plans but they must never be contrary to God’s will. To them, it seemed reasonable to stay where they were and build up a city instead of going out into the world to start new lives. There are times when we want to stay put but God wants us to step out in faith as He did with Abraham. And there are times when we want to go places but He wants us to stay put like Jeremiah. We have to be attuned to what God wants for us so that our plans will line up nicely with His perfect will for us.

It is always best to say, “if the Lord wills…” when it comes to making plans. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that God approves of your plans and will bless them?

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A Memorable Birthday

Todd had finally provoked her into ending their relationship.  She refused to continue to tolerate his wandering eye and embarrassing behavior in public.  He tried to sweet talk her into taking him back but it didn’t work this time.  She was fed up with him and wanted a break from relationships.  She was just going to concentrate on her career.  Right now she was at her beach house in Devon, enjoying the solitude and the sound of the waves was very soothing.

One afternoon she was walking on the beach when she saw a stranger sitting on sandy mound, watching her.  She stopped and stared at him, wondering who he was and why he was there.  Curious, she approached him.  He stood up, his six feet plus frame making her feel small.  Well dressed in a dark blue suit over a purple shirt, he was extremely handsome and was most likely in his mid to late twenties.  “What are you doing here?  This is a private beach.”

“Miss Flanning, I’m sorry to be trespassing but I had to see you,” he explained.  “You see, my mother is a big fan of yours and she’s celebrating her fiftieth birthday this Saturday.  I was hoping that if you weren’t otherwise engaged, you would come and sing for her as a surprise.  It would be a real treat for her and most likely the best gift she has ever had.”

Lola was touched by his request.  “I don’t have any engagements this weekend so I will be more than happy to do this for your mother.”

He looked very relieved and smiled.  “Thank you, Miss Flanning,” he said.

She smiled.  “Please call me Lola,” holding out her hand.  “What’s your name?”

“Julian Mortimer.”  They shook hands.

“What time is the party?” she asked.

“At seven.  Here are the particulars,” he added, reaching into the breast pocket of his jacket and taking out an invitation which he gave her.   “I’d like you to come at eight.  By then everyone will be there.”

She took the invitation.  “I’ll be there at eight,” she promised.  “This is a very thoughtful thing you’re doing for your mother.”

“Thank you.  Every year I give her flowers or take her to the opera or ballet but this year I wanted to do something different for her fiftieth birthday.  I surfing the Internet for ideas when I came across a recent interview you had on the BBC.  And the thought occurred to me what a wonderful treat it would be for my mother to have you sing at her birthday party.  The only problem was I didn’t know how to get close to you.  Then, I remembered that one of my friends knows your publicist and he spoke to her on my behalf and here I am.  I hope you don’t mind and that your publicist doesn’t get into trouble because of me.”

“Don’t worry.  No one’s going to get fired or anything like that.  Besides,  I trust my publicist’s judgment and obviously, she believed that this was a worthy cause.  And I must admit that singing at a private venue is a welcome change.”

“Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you doing this.  My mother will be thrilled.”

“Are you and she close?”

He nodded.  “Yes, we are.  I’m an only child and after my father died, we became closer because I was all she had.  She doted on and still does.  I love her dearly and would do anything for her.”

“She’s a very lucky woman to have a son like you,” she remarked.

“I believe that I’m the lucky one.”  He glanced at his watch.  “I must be going,” he said apologetically.  He held out his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you, Lola.”

She shook his hand.  “It was a pleasure meeting you too, Julian.”

“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”

“I look forward to being there.  Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”  He smiled, making her heart skip a beat before turning and walking away.

She stood there watching his retreating back until he was no longer visible before she turned and walked along the water’s edge.  Truthfully, she was looking forward to seeing him again too.

Saturday came.  She opted to wear a black pant suit with a white sequin top.  Her only jewelry were a pair of pearl earrings.  After examining herself in the mirror and satisfied with the results, she grabbed her handbag and left the house.

Twenty minutes later she was driving up a long, winding driveway flanked by imposing trees until the mansion suddenly came into view.  Her mouth dropped open.  It was was magnificent and it reminded her of one of those mansions she saw in the show, Hidden Mansions or something out of a Jane Austen novel.  The stately home made her beach house look like a doll’s house in comparison.  She parked her car where she saw other cars parked and got out.

Heart racing, she went up the short flight of stairs to the enormous door and stared at the antique lion door knocker before lifting it to alert someone inside that she was there.  A few minutes later, the door opened an gentleman stood there.  She presumed that he was the butler.  “Good evening,” he said.  “You must be Miss Flanning.”

“Yes, I am.”

“Master Julian informed me that you would be coming at this time.  Please come in and I will take you directly to the drawing-room where they are.”

“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and followed him through an impressive entrance hall with two side by side winding staircases to an exquisitely beautiful drawing room with antique furniture, rug, decorative walls, paintings, high ceiling, gigantic hanging chandelier and enormous windows through which light streamed and afforded one an unobstructed view of lush and immaculate green lawns.  She didn’t have time to really appreciate her surroundings as she was aware that there were over thirty people in the room watching her.  To her relief, Julian was one of them and he immediately came over to her, looking extremely pleased to see her.  “Hello,” he said.  “It’s good to see you again.”

“Hello,” she said, feeling a bit nervous.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said.  “You look very beautiful.”

“Thank you.  And you don’t look bad yourself.”  He looked amazing and very elegant in the black suit and black tie and with his hair slicked back.

He smiled.  “Thank you.  Come let me introduce you to my mother.”  Taking her arm, he escorted her over to the group.

“Which one is she?” she asked.

“The one in the wheelchair,” he answered, startling her.  “My mother has Multiple sclerosis.”

She glanced up at him.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want you to feel obligated to come tonight.”

“I would have come regardless.  How is she doing?”

“Her symptoms come and go in phases.  There are times when she suffers from fatigue and other times when she seems fine.  Right now, she seems fine.”

“Does she live here on her own?”

“No, I live here too and she has a live-in nurse.  Between the two of us, we take care of her.  I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees you.”

Lola blinked back the tears that sprang to her eyes and put on a bright smile as she stood behind him.

“Mother, I have a big birthday surprise for you.”

She glanced up at him.  “What is it?” she asked.

“Here she is.” He stepped aside while she stepped forward.

“Happy birthday, Mrs. Mortimer.”

She saw the woman’s eyes widened in shock.  “Lola Flanning?” she exclaimed, turning to look up at Julian.  “You brought Lola Flanning to my party?”

Julian beamed.  “Yes, Mother.  I wanted to surprise you.”

Mrs. Mortimer’s returned to Lola who held out her hand.  The older woman grasped it, her eyes welling with tears.  “I can’t believe that you’re here,” she said.  “Thank you.”

Lola covered her hand with her other one and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.  “It was my pleasure,” she said when she drew back, her own eyes moist.

“Yes, Mother, Lola graciously agreed to come and sing for you on your birthday.”

“I look forward to hearing you sing,” Mrs. Mortimer said, “but first, sit beside me.  Have you had anything to eat?”

“Actually, no, but–”

“Julian, please have Sophie fix a plate for Miss Flanning.”

“Please call me Lola and I really don’t want to put you to any trouble–”

“It’s no trouble at all,” Mrs. Mortimer insisted.

Julian excused himself and quickly left the room.  After he was gone, Mrs. Mortimer introduced Lola to the rest of the guests, some of whom were also fans and asked for her autograph.  They were excited that she was going to sing.  One of the women, remarked, “I was so relieved when I read that you had broken up with that womanizer, Todd Collins.  You deserve better.”

Lola smiled but didn’t answer.  Just then, Julian returned with a plate of a variety of delicious looking and mouth-watering smelling food.  Feeling a bit self-conscious, she began to eat it while the conversation kept going, touching on all sorts of topics ranging from her career to hot vacation spots and favorite charitable organizations.

After she finished eating and was ready, Julian sat behind the piano while she stood beside it and began to sing, her voice smooth and soulful as she belted out her popular ballads while the others watched rapt.  Mrs. Mortimer relaxed in her chair with a smile on her face.  Julian’s eyes were on her the whole time as his fingers ran over the keys.  An hour later, the room was filled with thunderous applause and after bowing graciously, Lola resumed her seat next to Mrs. Mortimer who thanked her, her expression one of deep gratitude.

“You’re more than welcome, Mrs. Mortimer.”

“Please call me, Olivia.  You’ve made this birthday the happiest I have ever had.”

“You owe it all to Julian.”

“Yes,” she agree, looking over to where he stood talking to a couple.  “He’s my pride and joy.  Besides God, he has been my rock through the rough moments of this terrible disease.  I don’t know how much longer I have but I hope and pray that before I go, I will see him settle down with a good woman.”

“Whoever she is, she’d be very lucky to have him,” Lola commented, her eyes wandering over to where Julian was.  Too bad I’m not ten years younger, she thought regretfully.

Just then Julian turned and their eyes met.  Mrs. Mortimer observed them and a smile tugged at her lips.  “It seems like I don’t have to wait long to get my wish,” she remarked and Lola turned to look at her inquiringly.

“I beg your pardon?”

Mrs. Mortimer.  “I was just saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun.”  That was true.  Tonight was a wonderful evening—one that she would never forget.  And she wished it would last longer but she suddenly felt very tired and she couldn’t prevent the yawn she had been trying to stifle.  In a flash, Julian was at her side.

“Mother, you’re tired.”

“No, I’m not,” she protested.  “Stop fussing.”

“You’re tired,” he insisted.  “I can see it on your face.  It’s after ten.  You should be going to bed now.  I will take you up to your room and Margaret will take care of you.  Please don’t argue with me, Mother.  Say goodnight to Lola and your other guests.”

Mrs. Mortimer sighed.  “Sometimes I wonder who is the parent and who is the child.  Very well, Son, I will say goodnight to these good people and then retire.”  Everyone in the room took turns wishing her all the best and made plans to visit when she was ready.  After they said goodnight to Lola, they left.

Lola took the older woman’s hands in hers.  “Olivia, it was a real treat for me to be here tonight.  You’re one of the most gracious and strong women I have ever met.  And it is my hope that we will see each other again.”

Olivia squeezed her hands.  “Have tea with me one afternoon,” she said.  “I will have Julian get in touch with you.  Thank you for making this birthday a memorable one.  God bless you.  Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” Lola released her hands and straightened up.  She looked at Julian who was watching her, his expression inscrutable.

“Don’t leave,” he said.  “I will be back shortly.”

“I’ll wait here,” she promised.  After watching him wheel his mother out of the room, she turned and walked over to the windows.  It was dark outside but the lights from the house illuminated the grounds.  She had once considered buying a stately home not far from here but decided to get the beach house instead because it required less maintenance and she liked being close to the ocean.   She wondered what it was like for Julian to grow up in this house and if it was ever lonely for him.  As a child, she had lots of friends and family to play and spend time with so she never experienced loneliness.

She turned when she heard Julian come into the room.  He joined her at the window.  “How is she?” she asked.

“She seems fine.  I left Margaret reading the Bible to her.”

“Your mother is a remarkable woman.  I admire her.”

He smiled.  “Yes, I’m a great admirer of her too.  Her inner strength is all due to her faith and it was one of the qualities that my father loved about her.  Would you like to take a short walk around the grounds before you leave?”

“Sure.  I was admiring them earlier when I first walked into this room.”

They went outside.  It was a balmy night.   He took her around the grounds, showing her the tennis court, the swimming pool and the Garden fountain where they paused for a little while as she admired its details.

As they made their way back to the front of the mansion, she asked,  “Was living here ever lonely for you?”

“Sometimes,” he admitted.  “But, I tried not to show it because I didn’t want Mother to know because she tried so hard to make my life here as content as possible.  As I got older, life got better and attending university helped because I made lots of friends whom my mother invited to spend the summer and Christmas holidays.  I could tell that she loved having a house filled with young people but after I left university, we decided that we wanted it to be like it used to be.  So, we spend quiet summers and Christmases.  And that’s fine for me.  We enjoy each other’s company.”

“I can tell that the two of you have a special bond which I don’t think it will change when you get married—”

He stopped abruptly and turned to face her.  “So, she has been talking to you about my future.”

She nodded.  “Yes, she expressed her wish to see you settle down with a good woman while she’s still around.”

“Do you wish to see me marry a good woman?”

She lowered her eyes.  “It doesn’t matter what I wish.”  The thought of him getting married bothered her more than she cared to admit.  How was it possible for her to care so much about a man she’d only met once before now?

“It matters to me, Lola.  Do you know that all during the week, I have thought of nothing else but seeing you again?  I couldn’t concentrate on my work.  I kept seeing your lovely face.  And tonight, I couldn’t take my eyes off you.  You take my breath away, Lola…”

Her head shot up then, her eyes wide as they met his and her heartbeat accelerating at an alarming rate when she saw the expression on his face.  “We-we shouldn’t be having this conversation,” she stammered.

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, because…How old are you?”

“Twenty-eight.”

“I’m thirty-nine.  Next year May, I’ll turn forty.”

He seemed unfazed.  “It doesn’t matter that you’re older than me.”

“Wouldn’t you prefer to be with a woman closer to your age?”

“I’ve dated women my age but I was never attracted to any of them the way I’m attracted to you.  So, the answer to your question is no.  I would rather be with you.”

“Well, you can’t be with me,” she told him in frustration because for one maddening moment, she wanted to grab the lapels of his jacket, pull him against her and plant one on him.  She was so attracted to him that it drove her crazy and scared her at the same time.  “I–I need to go now.”  She started to walk away when he caught her by the shoulders.

“Why?” he demanded, his eyes searching her averted face, his grip tightening as she struggled to break free.  “Are you afraid of what would happen between us if you stayed, Lola?  Are you afraid that if I were to kiss you, you wouldn’t want to leave?”  He was breathing heavily now and she could feel his body against her, awakening a desire in her that was so strong it made her gasp and then, his mouth was on hers, devouring it feverishly.  And for one unguarded moment, she responded wildly as she tried desperately to assuage the hunger that was raging inside her.

Then, she came to her senses and with supreme effort she pushed him away and ran to her car, panting.  She got in, slammed the door and after fumbling for the key, she put it in the ignition and the engine roared to life.  When she saw him coming towards her, she frantically put the car in reverse and then sped off.  As soon as she got home, she took a cold shower before she went to bed.  Sleep evaded her.  Her mind was spinning.  All she could think about was the kiss and how much she wanted him.  She closed her eyes in despair.   Julian Mortimer had breached the fortress she had built around her heart.

Three weeks passed since that night.  She was restless.  Her thoughts were filled with Julian.  Every time she closed her eyes, she saw his face and her longing for him clawed at her relentlessly, driving her crazy.  Sleep was fitful and it was hard to concentrate on anything because her mind was constantly on him.  She gave up trying to write the new lyrics and went out on the balcony.  The water was calm and she envied it.  The sun was high, bathing the sea and sand in its golden light.  Seagulls soared in the sky.  What a glorious day.  Too bad she couldn’t enjoy it.

Something caught her eye and she started when she realized that it was Julian.  Heart thudding, she ran down the steps and down the grassy slope to the water’s edge where he stood, hands in pockets, facing the ocean.  He was less formally dressed this time, clad in a white shirt and tan slacks.  There wasn’t a wrinkle of crease anywhere on his clothes.  As usual, they looked like they had just come straight off the rack.

“Julian, what are you doing here?” she called out just before she reached him.

He turned at once to face her, his gaze traveling slowly over her figure in the light green top and denim shorts, his gaze lingering on her bare legs.  “Mother wants you to have tea with her tomorrow afternoon at two–that if you aren’t busy.”

“You could have called or emailed me,” she told him.  “You didn’t have to come in person.”  Although I’m thrilled to see you. 

“All right,” he sighed.  “I came because I can’t stay away any longer.  I had to see you, LolaI can’t stop thinking about the last time we saw each other.  When we kissed…”  His eyes dropped to her mouth, his darkening at the memory.

“Julian, we can’t do this,” she protested.  “I’m much older than you.”  The truth was he scared her because the feelings he aroused in her were so powerful and unlike anything she had ever experienced.  What she once felt for Todd paled in comparison.  Her heart urged her to throw caution to the wind and give into her feelings but her mind resisted.

“Lola, please don’t let our age difference prevent us from being together.  Ever since we met, I haven’t stopped thinking about you and longing to be with you.”

“Julian, please…” She felt her resolve weakening fast, especially as he pulling her against him.  The expression on his face mirrored the emotions that were raging inside her, making so hard for her to resist him.  She wanted him with every fiber of her being but…Her hands came up to push him away.

“I know you feel the same way,” he persisted, his eyes darkening on her face.  “I felt it when we kissed and I can see it in your eyes right now.  Oh, Lola…” he moaned thickly before he bent his head and kissed her.

Powerless against her feelings and him, the hands that had tried to push him away gripped the back of his shirt as she kissed him back feverishly, blindly and with total abandon.

They entered into a relationship.  In April of the following year, they got married, much to the delight of Mrs. Mortimer.  Nine months later, she held Olivia, her first grandchild in her arms and as she smiled down into the red, crinkly face, she silently thanked God for granting her far more than she had expected.

 

Source:  NHS Choices;