Papa Joe

August 12, 1952.  It was a date she would never forget.  It was the day she buried the man who had been a father to her for over twenty years.  It seemed so surreal.  Papa Joe was gone.  She stood there alone in her grief, shivering although it was a hot and muggy day.

She stared at the ground where Papa Joe lay.  The tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled his worn Bible, remembering how he used to read it to her when she was a child. When her parents had died he took her in and raised her as his own. She had grown to love the old man as if he were her very own blood.  Many of the townspeople had a problem with the widower raising a black girl and didn’t hide their displeasure but Papa Joe ignored them.  His business began to suffer.  Papa Joe was a tailor.  He knew that business would pick up again if he got rid of Cassandra but he refused to do so.  Even if he went bankrupt, he would never part with her.  He vowed that only death would separate them.

It was Papa Joe whom she shared her dreams with.  It was Papa Joe who comforted her when she went home crying because of the racial slurs and taunts.  Papa Joe was the only one who knew that she loved a man she had no right to love.  She had known Dr. Baker since she was a child.  He used to stop by and see Papa Joe.   He was always kind to her and brought her treats.  As she grew older, the visits became more frequent.  Papa Joe was no fool.  He could see that feelings were developing between them and he warned her, “You and the doctor have to be careful, Cassie.  This town will not take kindly to a relationship between a black girl and a white man.”

One night when Dr. Baker visited, Papa Joe excused himself and went to his room.  As soon as they were alone, the doctor took Cassandra into his arms and kissed her.  “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered when he raised his head to gaze down into her face.  “I know that there is a considerable age difference between us but I love you, Cassandra.  I tried to stay away when I realized that I had fallen in love with you but I couldn’t.  I had to see you.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m leaving for Paris in three weeks and I would like you to come with me.”

“Paris?” she exclaimed.  “Why there?”

“I have always wanted to go there and set up a practice.  My mother was French and your family was from Haiti.  So the language won’t be a barrier for us.”

“I can’t go to Paris with you, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Papa Joe.  He has been so good to me.”

“Joe would want you to be happy and you won’t be as long as you remain in this town.”

“I can’t be happy knowing that he is here all alone.”  She could see the distress on Robert’s face and she reached up and touched his face.  “I love you for wanting to take me away with you, but I can’t.  I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he sighed.  “Well, I better be going.  Please say goodnight to Joe for me.”  They kissed and then she walked with him to the door.

“Goodbye, Cassandra.  Write me and let me know how you are doing.”  He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it.  She took it.  After a lingering look, he was gone–perhaps out of her life for good.

That was three months ago.  They had exchanged letters since and when Papa Joe died, she had written and told Robert.  She stood now at the grave, the tears falling.  Papa Joe had left the house to her and all the money he earned from his tailoring.  She had the money locked away in a box.  She didn’t want to go back to the empty house.

She had no idea of how long she stood there but the biting cold prompted her to start making her way back to the house.  She had just reached the front porch when she saw a car pull up and Robert got out.  He walked over to her and taking her arm he led her up the steps.  “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time for the funeral,” he apologized as she unlocked the door and they went inside.

Once inside and the door was shut, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  She sobbed, letting out the pent up grief that had closed around her heart like a fist.  Robert stood there, holding her until the sobs subsided and then ceased.

When she was spent from all that crying, Robert took her over to the sofa and sat her down.  “Joe wrote me this note,” he said, handing it to her.  “I think you should read it.”

She wiped away the tears before she reached for the note.  Frowning, she slowly unfolded the paper and read it.  Dear Robert, I know that you love my Cassie and that you wanted to take her away from this cursed place.  If I know my dear girl she will not want to leave me.  She feels a sense of obligation to stay and take care of me as I have taken care of her all these years.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  She is young and deserves to live her life.  There’s no future for her here.  I know that she loves you and that it broke her heart to be separated from you.  She thought I wasn’t aware, but I could see the unhappiness in her sweet face and I could hear her crying in the night.  She had sacrificed her chance for happiness for me.  I haven’t told her but I don’t have much longer to live.  When I pass on, which should be any time soon, please come and take Cassie away from here.  Take her to Paris where you and she will be free to love each other.  She can use the money from the sale of the house to pay for her fare.  I am sorry that I won’t be there for your wedding but know that I wish you both all the happiness in the world.  Please take good care of my precious girl.

Yours sincerely,

Joe

Fresh tears fell.  “I had no idea that he was dying.  He was tired more but I just thought that it was to do with age.  I am thankful that I was here for him.”

“Now, you can get on with your life.  We have his blessing.  Let me take you to Paris.”  He reached out and took her hands in his.  “Cassandra, I want to marry you.  Let me take you to Paris.”

She nodded.  “I will go to Paris with you,” she said.  Her life here was over.  There was nothing to keep her here.  Her future was with Robert now.  She would sell this house filled with so many wonderful memories and leave this town which had been the source of her unhappiness.  Yes, she will go to Paris and marry the man she loved.

 

crying african american woman in the 1950s

Much to Celebrate

“Happy anniversary, my Darling,” he said as he handed her the beautiful bouquet of flowers.  “Forty years ago, you turned my life upside down when you moved into my neighborhood.  And it took a few years before I plucked up the courage to ask you out on a date.  Thank you for not saying no and for the happiest years of my life.”  He pulled her to his side and kissed her on the temple.

Joanne smiled as she inhaled the sweet fragrance of the roses.  “These are lovely,” she said.  “Thank you for being such a wonderful husband.”

Tears came to her eyes as she thought of how amazing he had been when they found out that she couldn’t have children.  It had devastated her because she had longed to be a mother and she knew that he would have made a terrific father.  For years they had tried and then she had learned that they would never have children.  It was a very bitter pill to swallow and for months she was depressed but Martin was always there, loving her and trying to help her through those though times.

During the moments of despair, she lashed out at God, asking Him why He would deny her the joy of being a mother.  Friends encouraged her to looking into adopting a child but she didn’t want to consider it.  And Martin assured her that she was more than enough for him and tried to encourage her to go away on trips with him and get involved in activities to take her mind off of things.  He was so devoted to her that sometimes she felt ashamed of how she was so fixated on not being able to have children that she might be neglecting him.

One day she was turning the pages of her Bible, not sure what to read.  It had been a while since she had even opened it.  And her eyes fell on the chapter one of the first book of Samuel.  She began to read it.  She could identify with Hannah.  She remembered those times when she couldn’t eat and was always in tears.  And all Martin could do was try to comfort her as best as he could.  It must have been so hard for him.  The words, But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.  Martin loved her even though she couldn’t give him children.  Her barrenness hadn’t diminished his love at all, in fact it had grown stronger.  Her friends remarked on how he treated her like a queen.

And Elkanah’s words to Hannah cut Joanne to the quick.  “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”  Wasn’t Martin better to her than the children she wished she could have?  He was there and they were not.  God had blessed her with an incredible man whose happiness was wrapped up in her and the life they could have together.  She felt ashamed and she cried out to God, asking Him to forgive her for being so selfish and for her anger and bitterness toward Him.

That night when Martin came home, she asked him to forgive her and he, of course, assured her that there was nothing to forgive.  He took her in his arms and held her close for a long time.  That night was the turning point in her life.  She decided that she would focus on her marriage and nothing else.

Forty years later and they were still going strong.  There were still moments when she wondered what would have happened if her life had turned out like Hannah’s.  Hannah had prayed to God and He had opened her womb and blessed her with seven children.  Joanne had prayed for Him to do the same miraculous thing for her but it didn’t happen.  God had blessed her with a lasting, strong and healthy marriage and tonight she was going to celebrate.

“Are you ready?” Martin asked.

She nodded.  “Yes.  I’m ready to celebrate forty years of being married to an incredible man.” Yes.  There was much to celebrate.  And she had God to thank for that.

man giving wife flowers

Unexpected News

“What is all the commotion?” Isabel asked as she removed her bonnet.  She could hear excited voices in the drawing-room.  She didn’t dare go in.  “Is Elsie in trouble again?”  Elsie was her youngest sister.  She was a bit of a wild one, always managing to get herself in trouble and sending their mother in a tizzy.

Amelia shook her head.  “No, it’s not Elsie this time.  It’s Mr. Hornby.”

“Mr. Hornby is here?”  Isabel felt her heart lurch.  She ran her hands over her hair and smoothed the skirt of her dress.  “Has he been here long?”  If she had known that he was coming over this afternoon, she wouldn’t have gone for a walk.

“Not long.”

“Why is Mr. Hornby the cause of such commotion?”

“It seems that Mr. Hornby has decided that he wants to move to Canada.  He had considered the possibility for a very long time.  He sails next month.”

Isabel felt the color drain from her face.  “He’s leaving for Canada?  Next month?”

Amelia looked at her in alarm.  “What’s the matter, Izzy?” she asked.  “You have turned white as a sheet.  Are you not feeling well?”

“I–I need some fresh air,” she mumbled.

“But you just returned from your walk.”

“I need some fresh air.”

“Perhaps you should go and lie down.”

“No.  I need to go outside.”

“Would you like me to come with you?”

“No–I would rather be alone.”  She quickly made her exit, leaving Amelia standing there, looking perplexed.

Outside in the garden, Isabel burst into tears.  She couldn’t believe that Mr. Hornby was leaving England and—her.  How could he leave without knowing that she loved him dreadfully?

She had known him since she was child and he had always been so kind to her.  He never made her feel like a nuisance and when she was a teenager, he never treated her like a child.  They had very stimulating conversations and she looked forward to his visits.  He seemed to enjoy it when she played the piano and would sit beside her with the newspaper open in his lap, pausing from his perusal of it to compliment her playing. She loved to play for him and didn’t feel a bit nervous at all. Sometimes, they would take turns reading poetry.  She could have sat for hours just listening to him recite the sonnets and the works of her favorite poets.  He had such a marvelous voice.

She didn’t know exactly when her feelings for him had changed but one day when she went into the library and found him there looking through one of the History volumes, she realized then that she was in love with him.  It didn’t matter that he was twice her age. To her he was the most wonderful and handsome man she had ever known.  She cherished the time they spent together and the fact that she hadn’t heard of any romantic attachment on his part with anyone, she hoped that this might be in her favor.  However, that could all change now.

Why was he going to Canada?  Why so far away?  Will she ever see him again?

“Isabel?” She hadn’t heard him approach her and was startled when he materialized beside her.  “You are crying.”  He gave her his handkerchief.

She took it and wiped her eyes and her nose.  “Mr. Hornby,” she said.  “Amelia told me that you were here.”

He frowned.  “Why didn’t you come and see me then?” he asked.  “When I arrived I was very disappointed to learn that you weren’t home.   Why didn’t you join us in the drawing-room?  I wanted you to be there to hear my news.”

She felt the tears coming again and she turned away so that he couldn’t see her face.  “I heard the news,” she said.  “Amelia told me that you are going to Canada.”

“I suspect that Amelia wasn’t in the room when I asked your father permission to marry his middle daughter and to take her to Canada with me if she would agree to it.”

She swung around to face him, her eyes huge with shock.  “You asked my father to marry me?” she could scarcely believe this.

“Yes.  I must admit that at the age of two and forty, I never imagined that I would be asking a girl half my age to marry me.  Isabel, I am old enough to be your father but my feelings for you far from paternal.”

“Oh Mr. Hornby, I had hoped that you would come to regard me as I have regarded you for the past three years.”

“Then, you will marry me?”

“Yes!”

“And you have no objection to moving to Canada and being so far from your family?”

“I admit that I shall be sorry to leave them and the house in which I have spent the happiest years of my life but my future happiness is with you.”

Mr. Hornby smiled and brushed his knuckles against her cheek, his eyes filled with the love that had long dwelt in his heart.  “I shall resolve to make you as happy as you have made me, Isabel.”

“I cannot imagine being happier than I am at this moment, Mr. Hornby.”

“Please call me Nigel.”

“Nigel.”  His name came out as a laugh and a sob as she was overwhelmed by the sheer happiness of this moment.

victorian gentleman and young lady at piano

The Refusal

“What offense did I commit, Mother?” Catherine demanded.  “All I did was

turn down Mr. Nivens’ proposal of marriage.”

 

They were sitting outside the hotel facing the sea.  The family  was vacationing

at their favorite seaside resort for part of the summer.  It was there that

Mr. Nivens had proposed to Catherine and she politely refused him.  Upset,

he left and her mother, upon hearing the news took her outside where they

could have some privacy.

 

The sun was setting and it was pleasant evening.  Ships sailed

in the distance, people were on the beach, enjoying the last

few moments of sunshine.

 

However, Catherine was not out there to enjoy the view or bask

in the fresh air mingled with the briny smell of the seashore.  She

was there to explain to her mother why she had rejected Mr. Nivens.

She sat down beside her mother who was casting her a censorious look.

 

“What offense did you commit?  You turned down John Nivens.  A fine,

upstanding gentleman.”

 

“Mother, I do not love him.  He’s old enough to be my father and he’s

a bit of a bore–”

 

“A bore?”  Her mother was incredulous.  “Why I find Mr. Nivens to be a

very amiable man.  And to think you turned him down.  With his wealth

you would have been well provided for.  You have thrown a perfectly

good future away.”

 

“Mother, I could not in good conscience consent to marry Mr. Nivens when

I did not love him.  Besides, my heart belongs to someone else.”

 

“What?” her mother was aghast. “Who is he?”

“James Fenmore.”

 

“The solicitor?”  The older woman was beside herself now with indignation.

“You turned down Mr. Nivens for a man who is below your station?”

 

“Even if I were not in love with James, I would still have refused Mr. Nivens.”

 

“Has your Mr. Fenmore proposed?”

 

Catherine lifted her head, her eyes flashed in defiance.  “No, he has not.”

 

Her mother shook her head in disbelief.  “You turned down Mr. Nivens who

chose you when he could have chosen any number of fine young ladies for

a man who has not even proposed to you.  How could you be so foolish,

Catherine.  I always thought you were a sensible girl but you are letting

your feelings rule your good sense.  You have no future with Mr. Fenmore.

You would have been better off with Mr.  Nivens.  Perhaps, it isn’t too late

to appeal to him.  Perhaps he will forgive your reckless behavior and reconsider.

I shall write a telegram to him and—”

 

Catherine jumped to her feet, her face flushed with anger.  “Mother, you shall

do no such thing.  I will not marry Mr. Nivens even if he were the last man

on the earth.  I would rather die an old spinster than subject myself to a life

of unhappiness with a man I do not love.”

 

Her mother took out her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.  “Very well then,”

she said.  “Suit yourself.  I will say nothing more on the subject.  But I must say

you behaved very badly toward poor Mr. Nivens.  Yes, very badly indeed.”

 

“If putting one’s happiness above another’s constitutes bad behavior in your

estimation, then I am guilty.  As for James.  I cannot determine if he will ask

me to marry but I will admit that I hope he does.  I love him, Mother, and

I would count myself very fortunate to have such a man for a husband.”

 

Her mother got up and stalked over to the chair which faced the beach

and sat down rather heavily.  She sat with her back to Catherine gazing

stonily out at the sea.

 

“Excuse me, Mother.”

 

There was no response.  Shrugging, Catherine turned and walked away.

No matter what happened between James and her, she had stood up to

her mother and secured her own happiness by not settling.  And contrary to

what her mother had said, she had used good judgment and reason to

make her decision.  She was convinced that she would not have made

Mr. Nivens any happier than he would have made her.  She had

spared them both future unhappiness. And that accomplishment alone

was well worth the ire of her mother.

 

Young Victorian girl walking away from mother

A Second Chance

Natalie stood on the deck watching the Mediterranean Sea. It was a beautiful morning and it was the first day at sea.  She was on her second honeymoon.  For twenty-five years she was married to her first husband, Richard, a truly wonderful man.  They had started out as friends and then their relationship developed into something they hadn’t expected but felt was a blessing.

Together they raised two remarkable kids—Josh and Annie.  Those years with Richard were the happiest for her.  So, it was devastating when he died.  It was so sudden.  He was on his way home from the office when he collided with another vehicle which ran a red light.  The other driver escaped with scrapes and scratches but Richard’s injuries were severe.  He died at  the hospital.  It was her faith and the consolation of family and friends that got Natalie through those horrific years after Richard was gone.

 

In time the pain grew less and she was able to think of Richard without breaking down. She slowly began adjust to life without him.  Her kids now grown encouraged her to go out and enjoy herself.  She attended dinner parties, operas, ballets, concerts and even went on a cruise with a group of single friends.  It was on that cruise where she met Mark.  He was travelling with some friends too.  They shared the same dinner table and while the others went off either to the casino or to watch the live entertainment, she opted to go to the deck where she stood, enjoying the cool night air.  He joined her.  They spoke and she found that she enjoyed his company though she couldn’t get past the fact that he was much younger than her.  Still, he was really nice and she was so relaxed around him.  They spent a lot of time together and when the cruise was over, they exchanged phone numbers, promising to keep in touch.

 

Life returned to its old routine when she returned home but the highlight of her evenings was speaking to Mark on the phone  for hours.  They made plans to see each other over the summer.   She introduced him to her family and they seemed to like him although her mother didn’t seem too pleased.  She didn’t know exactly when it happened but she knew that she had fallen in love with Mark.  One night when they were sitting on the sofa, having tea, Mark confessed that her.  He asked her to marry him and she accepted but after he left, she worried about her family’s reaction.

 

She waited until they were at her mother’s house to make the announcement.  You could have heard a pin drop.  Her news had knocked them all for a loop.  It was some time before someone said something.  Josh spoke up.  “I can’t say that I am happy that you are marrying a man in my age group but I won’t stand in your way.”

 

Annie hugged her and said, “Yes, Mom.  You deserve to be happy again.  And I don’t see why it’s okay for a man to marry a woman much younger than him but a woman can’t marry a younger man.”  She said that for her grand-mother’s benefit.

 

Natalie looked at her mother whose expression was thunderous.  “How could you seriously be thinking of marrying a man half your age?” she demanded.

 

Natalie drew a deep breath.  “I didn’t plan to fall in love with a man younger than me but it happened.  Like you, I had a problem with our age difference in the beginning but I remembered that father was considerably older than you and yet, you were so happy together.  Mother, I am sorry that you don’t approve but God has given me another chance at happiness and I am going to take it.   We haven’t decided on a wedding date as yet but I will let you know as soon as we do.”

 

Her mother pursed her lips.  “Well, don’t expect me to be there,” she said.

 

And true to her word, she didn’t attend the wedding.  Nor did Mark’s parents which came as no surprise to her.  Still, she had hoped they make an appearance for their son’s sake.   She met them once when she was invited to dinner at their home in Long Island but that meeting didn’t go well.  They raised the same objections as her mother.  Mark’s mother had remarked that Natalie was a lot older than she expected.

 

It was a beautiful and simple wedding with some family and friends in attendance.  Her son gave her away and her daughter was the bridesmaid.  It was a day she would always remember.   And here she was now, basking in the joy she didn’t imagine she would experience again.  She had twice been blessed with two great men and she was thankful to God who had been her Anchor during those dark moments.  He had brought Mark into her life.

 

Mark.  He must be awake by now and wondering where she was.  She turned away from the rail and walked back to their cabin with its scenic view of the ocean, her steps quickening in anticipation.

 

woman in hat on deck of ship

The Wedding

A wedding farce, that’s what it was.

She sat there with a smile plastered

as her uncle told his tired jokes before

toasting to her happiness.   After fumbling

with the microphone, and saying “Testing, Testing”,

her father recited the lyric for “A Song for My Daughter”

which made her cry.   She cringed as her mother told every

body about the very embarrassing scrapes she got into

when she was a child.

 

Her sister got up there and remarked,

“Brian, I don’t know how you got my

sister to marry you.  She always said that

she would never get married.  She told me

once that….The bride’s mother signaled to

the DJ and her sister’s voice was drowned

out.  Thanks, Mom.

 

Brian held out his hand and they went

on to the dance floor for their first dance.

 

Aside from the shameless way her friends

were prowling after the eligible men,

her aunt’s incessant chatter and the no

so subtle looks the bartender gave her,

it was a pleasant evening.  She leaned

her head on Brian’s shoulder and smiled.

Tonight was the first night of many nights

together.

 

bored bride

Joy

Happiness is temporary

It comes and goes…

It’s there when things are going

Well and flees when there is trouble

With happiness, there is no peace.

Always, at the back of your mind is

that fear that it will be snatched away.

Joy, on the other hand, is there

During the ups and downs

It doesn’t depend on the situation

It doesn’t forsake you

It is there when you need

It takes you through the rough

Times.

It is not of this world

It is from heaven

It is ours for the asking

And once you have it,

hold on to it

It is a of the fruit of the

Holy Spirit

With joy comes peace—

The peace of knowing that

No matter what you are

Going through, you

Are not alone

You have our Anchor

To Whom you hold fast

Until the storm passes.

The storms are

Temporary.  In the midst of

Them, you can say to yourself,

“I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.”

You may spend an entire night weeping

But joy will come in the morning.

Hold fast.  Don’t lose faith.  Cling to

That which will last.

womanatwindow-window-curtain-morning.1200w.tn

“But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You” – Psalm 5:11

Sources:  Psalms 16:8, 30:5