The Queen of Soul

“When God loves you, what can be better than that?” ~ Aretha Franklin

There is so much I could write about Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul but I decided to concentrate on the highlights of her music career and her “social and civic contributions”.

Aretha Louise Franklin was  born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee.  Her father, Clarence LaVaughn “C. L.” Franklin was a Baptist minister and a circuit preacher while her mother, Barbara was an accomplished piano player and vocalist.  Theirs was a troubled marriage because of her father’s philandering.  The couple separated in 1948.  Before her tenth birthday, Aretha’s mother died from a heart attack.  Several women, including her grandmother and Mahalia Jackson alternated helping the children at the Franklin home and it was during this time that Aretha learned to play the piano by ear.

Following her mother’s death, Aretha began singing solos at New Bethel, debuting with the hymn, “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.”  When she was twelve, her father became her manager, bringing her on the road with him during his “gospel caravan” tours for her to perform in various churches.

Her music career found Aretha signing on with big recording giants such as Columbia, Atlantic, Arista and RCA.  She belted out many hits such as You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman, I Say A Little Prayer, Hold On, I’m Comin’.  And she thrilled the younger generation with Who’s Zoomin’ Who and Freeway of Love.  Hearing Freeway of Love transported me back to the ’80s which were a great time for me when I was living in New York.  And who could forget I Knew You Were Waiting For Me, her number one duet with George Michael?

In 1980, she gave a command performance before the Queen at Prince Albert’s Hall, in 2009 she sang at the 2009 inauguration of President Barak Obama.  In the following year, she received an honorary degree from Yale University.  In 2014, she received honorary degrees from Harvard University and New York University as well as honorary doctorates in music from Princeton, Yale, Brown, Pennsylvania, Berkeley, New England Conservatory of Music and University of Michigan.  She was the recipient of other honors such as Doctor of Humane Letters and Doctor of Law degree.

Aretha was dubbed “one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole.  More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.”  Her voice was described as being a “powerful mezzo-soprano voice” and she was praised for her arrangements and interpretations of other artists’ hit songs.  At the age of 14 when she recorded her first album, Songs of Faith, Jerry Wexler declared that her voice “was not that of a child but rather of an ecstatic hierophant.”  A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.  Aretha’s explanation for that would have likely been, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.”

Singing and music weren’t her only passions.  Aretha was a civil rights activist.  Throughout her life, she was involved in the struggle for civil rights and women’s rights.  When Angela Davis was jailed in 1970, Aretha told Jet Magazine that, “Angela Davis must go free… Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”  Not surprisingly, her songs “Respect” and “Natural Woman” became anthems of these movements for social change.  She was also a staunch supporter of Native American rights, supporting their struggles worldwide and movements which fostered their cultural rights.

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right” ~ Aretha Franklin

It was a sad day when it was announced that the great Aretha Franklin passed away after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer.  She leaves behind a world touched by her music, her incomparable voice and her effortless work in championing human, civil and women’s rights.  She was the first woman to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.  In 2013, she was again ranked first in Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Greatest Singers” list.

“American history wells up when Aretha sings.  Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll—the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope” – President Obama in response to her performance of “A Natural Woman” at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors.

Notes to Women salutes the woman with “the voice of the civil rights movement, the voice of black America” and a “symbol of black equality”  She was an inspiration not only for those in the music world but for all of us.  Although she is no longer with us, her music, her legacy will live on.

“It really is an honor if I can be inspirational to a younger singer or person. It means I’ve done my job” ~ Aretha Franklin

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Sources:  Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

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The Fashion Show

Martin glanced at his friend, Albert and was amused when he saw him staring at Brenda who was strutting down the runway, hands on hips and big smile on her face as she modeled the black and white 50’s looking dress.  The fashion show was actually a charitable event and sponsored by Martin’s company.  After much cajoling, he managed got his friend to come.  Until now, Albert had seemed unimpressed and rather bored with the fashion show.  None of the beautiful women who walked past him got his notice.  And then, Brenda walked out.  Albert glanced up with the same bored expression on his face which immediately changed when he saw her.  His eyes followed her up and down the runway.

Martin leaned over and said in a low voice.  “She’s a stunner, isn’t she?”

Albert didn’t answer.  He watched as she paused at the end of the runway before heading back in his direction.  As she drew nearer, he sat forward, anxious to see her.  She stopped right in front of him.  After acknowledging Martin, she shifted her attention to Albert.  Their eyes met and he felt his heart stop when she smiled at him.   Then, she was gone.

“Would you like to meet her?” Martin asked him.

Albert watched her retreating figure until she disappeared from view before he turned to his friend.  “Yes.”

Martin grinned.  “Good,” he said.  “You’ll meet her after the show.”

“Is she going to come out again?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Albert looked disappointed.  He sat back in his seat, anxious for the show to be over so that he could meet the model who had captivated him.

She was standing on the terrace, looking down at the gardens when they joined her half hour later.  She was wearing a simple orange pant suit which complimented her complexion and flattered her figure.  As she watched them approach, her gaze went to the tall and attractive man with the thick dark brown hair, dressed in the dark grey sweater over a white shirt and dark grey trousers.  The glasses he wore suited him.  She didn’t usually go for the preppy, nerdy type but something about his guy made her pulse race and heart do somersaults.  He looked shy.  She liked that. He would be a welcome change to the obnoxious and overbearing men who usually hit on her.

“Brenda, thank you for being a part of a very worthy cause,” Martin said when they joined her.  “You looked really great out there.  Have you ever considered modelling for a new career?”

She laughed.  “No, the thought never occurred to me.  Besides, I’m too short.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I had fun.” Unable to resist, her gaze shifted to his friend who was watching her.  Behind the eyeglasses, she could see that he had beautiful, expressive eyes.

Martin observed them, smiling.  “Brenda, this is my good friend, Albert.”

Albert was nervous.  He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  His gaze was riveted to her face.  “Hello,” he said when what he really wanted to say was, I’m so very pleased to meet you.  He took the hand she offered and clasped it in a firm handshake.  Her fingers felt small and delicate in his, yet they had the power to stir feelings in him which he never experienced before.  His heart was pounding and he began to worry that he might make an utter fool of himself.  In all of his forty years, not once had he had ever been tongue-tied or nervous around a woman.

She smiled at him.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Albert,” she told him.  “Did you enjoy the fashion show?”

He realized that he was still holding her hand and he released it.  He put his hands behind his back in an attempt to appear relaxed.  “The last bit of it,” he said.  He didn’t want to admit that until she walked out, he was bored out of his mind.

“I’m not into fashion shows but I don’t mind doing them if it’s for charity.”

Martin chimed in.  “If you two will excuse me, I have to go and find Margot.” He left them and headed off to find the fashion photographer whom he was currently dating.  Margot used to be a model until she decided that she liked being behind the lens better.

Alone together, Albert and Brenda became intensely aware of each other.  They couldn’t hide their attraction for each other even if they tried.  “You really are very beautiful,” Albert said to her, his expression tense.

She had been paid many compliments before but she was never affected by them as she was by his.  Albert made her feel beautiful just by the way he said it and the way he looked at her as he said it.  “Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m not usually this bold,” he sounded apologetic, “but I was wondering if perhaps, we can go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“What do you do when you’re not modeling for charity?” he asked as they strolled across the well manicured lawn.

“I work at a law firm.  When I’m not working, I like to curl up with a good book.  What about you?”

“I’m a Financial Director at Shadoworks Company.  I like to write essays in my spare time.  Just recently, I wrote how the words of Christ, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, would be the panacea for the social ills plaguing our society such as abuse, bullying, racism, violence, oppression, sexual harassment.”

“And gender inequality, rape and human trafficking.  This world would be such a different place if we all were to follow the teachings of Christ.  I’d like to read your essay.”

He smiled, flattered that she wanted to read something he had written.  “It’s in the Opinion section of the April 4 issue of the Daily Observer.

“I like the Daily Observer.  It has great articles and it’s not afraid to address sensitive issues.  Yesterday I read a very frank and informative article on sexual harassment in the workplace.  At my firm, we deal with hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination and harassment and bullying in the workplace.”

“I would imagine that it becomes overwhelming sometimes, having to deal with such cases.”

“It does.  I still remember the case of a lawyer whose was being sexually harassed by one of the partners at the law firm where she used to work.  She sued him and the firm and won.  Now she has her own practice helping women who are victims of sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, including law firms.”

“It’s unfortunate but sometimes people have to go through terrible experiences so that they could turn around and help others.  But, you like what you do.”

“Yes.  I like being a part of the solution.  Although I have been working there for four years, compared to the others, I am still the neophyte of the firm but every day I am learning and growing.”

They found somewhere to sit and talked for a long while about different things, learning more about each other and finding that they have a lot in common.  Then, he glanced at his watch and an expression of deep regret came over his face as he looked at her.  “I’m afraid that I must go,” he said apologetically.  “I have a pressing engagement.  It’s my niece’s piano recital,” he added quickly when he saw the look on her face.

She smiled, relieved and stood up.  “How old is your niece?” she asked as they started back to the building where the crowd was starting to disperse.

“She’s fourteen.”

“What is she playing?”

“I believe it’s a piece by Mozart.”

“I wish I learned how to play the piano.  It’s my favorite musical instrument.  I am a big fan of Chopin.”

“I’m more partial to the violin and Bach.”  They were standing at the foot of the steps now.  “Do you need a lift to anywhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but my sister, June is meeting me here in about fifteen minutes.  I’m spending the rest of the day with her and her family.”

“I really enjoyed our time together,” he said quietly, his eyes serious on her face.

“Me too.”

There was a pause as he seemed to be contemplating something. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?” he asked, his expression hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

“Yes, I will,” she said.  She opened her handbag and after tearing out a sheet of paper from the back of her address book, she wrote her address and phone number.  She folded it and gave it to him.

“I’ll pick you up at seven” he said as he took the paper and tucked it in his wallet.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”  She watched him ascend the steps and waved when he stopped to glance back at her.  When he disappeared from her sight, she stood there for a moment, thinking about him and how much she had enjoyed his company.  Then, she went to meet her sister at the front entrance of the building.  As soon as she got into the car, she said to her, “I met him today.”

June stared at her.  “Who’re you talking about?” she asked, pulling away from the curb.

“The man I’m going to marry.”

June laughed.  “Really?” she exclaimed, sounding very skeptical.  “And what made you come to that conclusion?”

“I used to think that love at first sight was a foolish romantic notion but today it happened to me.”

June glanced at her and realized, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.  We spent about an hour just talking and getting to know each other.  I loved being with him. He’s so different from the men I usually go for.  We had the most stimulating conversation and I could have sat there all day just talking to him but he had to go to his niece’s recital.  He asked me to have dinner with him tomorrow evening.”

“Wow.  I wish I’d come earlier to meet him.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll meet him.”

“Does he know that he’s going to marry you?” June teased her.

“Maybe not as yet”

She thought about him for the rest of the day, wondering how his niece’s recital went and if he was thinking about the time they spent together.  She looked forward to seeing him the following evening and was thankful when it arrived.

He showed up at promptly seven wearing a black suit over a white shirt and no tie.  His hair was slightly damp, a few tresses falling across his forehead and he was not wearing his glasses.  He looked so handsome that she couldn’t stop staring.  “I’m wearing contacts,” he said unnecessarily.  Perhaps he was as nervous as she.

Her heart was pounded wildly, especially when she saw his eyes travel over her and the expression in them when they returned to her face.  She was wearing a Burgundy Long Sleeve Shift Dress with rounded neckline and long sleeves with lightly puffed shoulders.  Long, shapely legs clad in sheer hosiery, peeped out from under the hem and black dress pumps completed the outfit.  “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  He offered her his arm which she took and they walked to the lift.  Fortunately, for her it was a balmy evening but she had brought her shawl just in case.  On the way to the restaurant she asked him about his niece’s recital and as he talked about it, she could tell that he was very proud of her.

They went to a modern French restaurant in Covent Garden.  It was reputed to be the world’s most romantic restaurant.  They started with the Crispy Parmesan Polenta & Saint Marcellin Cheese and for the main course, she had the Oven Roasted Free Range Chicken Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver & Truffle while he had the Pan Roasted Organic Irish Sea Trout as they each enjoyed a glass of white wine.  They had a lively conversation and made plans to see each other again.  For dessert, they had both had the Greek Yogurt & Lemon Zest Mousse, Yuzu Curd & Honey Comb.

After dinner, they drove to Canary Wharf.  He parked the car and took her on a little tour of the office district, showing her the building where he worked.  The place looked beautiful at night and the tall office buildings reminded her a little of Manhattan.  “How long does it take you to drive to work?” she asked as they walked back to the car about half-hour later.

“Approximately 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.  Longer during the winter.”

“I like it here.  Very busy, upscale and lots to see.”

“I will bring you here again another time and we can spend a longer time, walking around and perhaps go to a concert, if you like that sort of thing.  We can grab dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds wonderful,” she said smiling as she got into the car.  “Thank you for dinner.”

“It was my pleasure.  Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“No.”

“I was thinking that we can go on the Little Venice to Camden Walk.  Someone at work mentioned it to me a while ago and I have been meaning to look into it.  Afterwards, we can visit the Waterside Café before the walk.

“I didn’t know that there was a Little Venice in London.  Sounds very interesting.  I would love to go.”

“I read online that it was named such by the poet Robert Browning who lived overlooking the canal in the 1800s. I’ve never been to Venice but hope to one of these days.”

On the drive to her flat, they talked more about their plans for the following day.  Outside of her door, he said goodnight and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  They held each other’s gaze for several minutes before he turned and walked away.  She watched him go, touching the side of her face where his lips had been before she went inside her flat.

They went for the Little Venice to Camden Walk and had a wonderful time.  After that, they started seeing each other on a regular basis and by the end of the year, they were dating each other exclusively.  Spring of the following year came and it was when they were in walking in St. James’ Park that he turned to her and said, “I have been meaning to say something to you all morning.”  They were standing at the western end of the park from where they had a clear view of Buckingham Palace.

She stared up at him, wondering what was on his mind.  He looked very serious, nervous.  He took her hands in his and clasped them.

“I love you, Brenda,” he confessed.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.  You came into my life and changed it completely.  The times you and I have spent together have been the happiest for me.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  So, if you have no objection and I hope and pray that you don’t, I am asking you to marry me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed his.  Her heart was in her eyes when she raised them to his face.  “I love you too, Albert,” she admitted huskily.  “Until I met you, I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  Of course, I will marry you.  You’re the man for me.”

Albert released an unsteady breath and letting go of her hands, he hugged her around her waist and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing while the ducks waddled about the grass before some of them headed for the pond.

At length, he drew back and said, “I have something for you.”  He reached into his pants pocket and took out the box with the ring.  He opened it and her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite diamond.  He took it out and taking her hand, he gently slid it down her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  When he raised his eyes to look at her, they were filled with emotions.  “I love you.”

She swallowed.  “I love you,” she managed to say and then he kissed her again.  They left that spot a few minutes later, his arm was around her shoulder and hers was around his waist.

They had a summer wedding.  June was her matron of honor.  When they had a chance to speak, Brenda said to her with a smile and a wink, “I told you that I was going to marry him.”

June laughed.  “Yes, you did.  And after meeting him and getting to know him, I can see why he’s the one you ended up with.” She hugged her younger sister tightly.  “I wish you both the very best and God’s many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

It was a lovely reception and afterwards, they left for their honeymoon in Venice.  They did return to Canary Wharf and it was when they were sitting on a bench, having sandwiches that she told him they were going to have their first child.  She laughed when he almost choked on his.  He quickly put it back in the paper and put it down on the seat beside him before turning to hug her tightly, burying his face in her neck.  She hugged him back as she felt his tears wet her neck.  They sat like that for a long time.

Sources:  Fantasy Names Generator; Findlaw; Lulu’s Fashion; YouTube; Trip Savvy

The Nutcracker

It was on a Saturday night at the London Coliseum where Alexis and her sister Gwen ran into Mrs. Bannister, Alexis’ music teacher, a wonderful lady who didn’t look as if she had aged very much at all.

She was delighted to see her former pupil, her face beaming and her light blue eyes sparkling.  “Hello My Dear,” she said, “What a lovely surprise and on my birthday too.  How are you?  Are you still practicing on the piano?  You were a very promising student and one of my favorites.”

“It’s so good to see you, Mrs. Bannister,” Alexis said as they hugged.  “Happy birthday.”

Mrs. Bannister turned to the young man who was standing beside her.  “This is my grandson, Jeremy.  He brought me to the ballet this evening for my birthday.  He has always been a very thoughtful young man.  Jeremy, this is Alexis.”

Alexis’ attention shifted to the older woman’s companion.  He was tall and very handsome.  His thick brown hair was a bit long but it suited him.  He was wearing a fine and rather expensive looking dark grey suit, blue shirt and tie.  His light green eyes met hers and she thought she saw admiration shining in them.

He took the hand she proffered and shook it.  “A pleasure,” he said with a cultured English accent.

She smiled.  “It’s nice to meet you.   This is my sister, Gwen,” she said.  He acknowledged Gwen with a smile and shook her hand.  Then, he returned his attention to Alexis.

“Did you enjoy the ballet?” he asked.  “Grandmother has always wanted to see The Nutcracker and I promised her that one year I take her for her birthday.”

“Yes, I enjoyed it very much.  I’ve always wanted to see it too.  It was my good fortune that my brother-in-law is not a fan of ballet or musicals so Gwen asked me to come with her.”

“I should thank your sister for bringing you tonight,” he said quietly.  “I got to meet you.”

She smiled, not sure of how to respond to that remark.  He was staring at her making her feel both nervous and flattered.  She had never had a man this young interested in her before.  He had to be at least ten years younger than her.  “Are you and your grandmother close?” she asked.

“Very,” he said.  “She always says that I’m her favorite.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have an older brother and a younger sister.  Do you have other siblings?”

“No, Gwen is the only one I have.  We were very close growing up.  Now she is married with two girls and a boy.”

He glanced down at her hand.  “I see that you’re not wearing a ring,” he said.  “I guess you’re not married.”

“No, I’m still single.”  She didn’t mention that she was once engaged but she broke it off when she found out that her fiancé was two-timing her with his new assistant.

Just then, Mrs. Bannister said to her, “Alexis, how would you like to have tea with me tomorrow afternoon, if you have no other plans, of course.”

Alexis smiled.  “I would be delighted,” she said with a big smile.

“Splendid.  So, I shall see you tomorrow afternoon at two.  Gwen, it was a pleasure to meet you.   Come, Jeremy, it is past my bedtime.  Thank you, Dear, for a lovely evening.  I shall never forget it.”

Jeremy said goodnight to Alexis and Gwen, his eyes lingering on the former before he took his grandmother’s arm and led her away.

Gwen looked at her.  “Mrs. Bannister seems like a really nice lady, very gracious and friendly.  I had a rather nice chat with her.  Her grandson is very handsome.  I noticed him paying you a lot of attention.  What did you think of him?”

“He’s very handsome and polished.”

“Were you attracted to him?”

It was no use denying it.  “Yes, very attracted, a lot good it would do me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, for one thing, he’s younger and another, he’s upper crust.”

“It seemed like neither of those two things mattered to him and if he’s anything like his grandmother, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t at least entertain to idea of dating him.  Don’t allow what happened with Sidney prevent you from having a love life.  I never did like him.  Good riddance to him, I say.  You can do much better.  So, if you happen to see Jeremy again and he asks you out, don’t turn him down.”

Alexis looked unconvinced.  “I don’t know if I will see him again and even if I do, I don’t think he’ll ask me out.  No, I’m not going to get my hopes up.  I’ll go and see his grandmother tomorrow and we will spend a pleasant afternoon together, catching up.  Now, what do you say, we grab a bite to eat before you head home to your brood?”

The next day, Alexis drove over to Mrs. Bannister pretty cottage, nestled among thick foliage and surrounded by immaculate gardens.  She had a live in housekeeper who opened the door and showed Alexis to the drawing-room where the lady of the house was seated.

Mrs. Bannister’s face lit up when she saw her.  “Hello, my Dear.  Come and sit beside me and by the fire.  It must be cold outside and grey too.”

Alexis went over to her and after hugging her warmly, she sat down on a chair close to the one the elder woman was occupying.  “What a lovely home you have,” she remarked.  “I couldn’t help admiring your gardens.  I imagine that your grandchildren must have loved playing in them when they were young.”  She wanted to ask her so many questions about Jeremy and what he was like as a boy but thought better of it.

Mrs. Bannister nodded, smiling.  “Oh yes, they loved playing in the gardens which they were children.  Jeremy’s favorite spot was the lake. He would swim there sometimes.  He was always scampering about the place, vexing his mother who thought he was a bit too wild.  I always told her that he was a boy and boys were supposed to be a little unruly.  When he comes he could take you for a walk on the grounds and show you the lake.”

Alexis’ heart lurched.  “Jeremy’s coming here?” she asked.  The thought of seeing him again thrilled and terrified her at the same time.  She couldn’t believe that she was behaving like this over a younger man.

“Yes, he said that he would stop by around three.  He doesn’t usually come and see me on a Sunday so I was quite surprised when he called me this morning to tell me that he was coming over this afternoon.  I’ll ring for our tea now.”

They had their tea and sandwiches as they talked about old times and other things.  The time went by very quickly and Alexis had just finished drinking her tea when Jeremy walked into the drawing room.  He went over to his grandmother and hugged her.  When he drew back she looked up at him, beaming.  “It’s good to see you, Dear.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” he said, smiling at her.  Then he turned to Alexis.  “Have you had a chance to see the gardens?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I saw them when I was coming up the driveway.  They look amazing.”

“I told Alexis that you would take her for a walk in the gardens and show her the lake where you used to swim as a child.”

“I’d be happy to,” he said, his gaze still on Alexis.  “Shall we?”

She got up and after excusing herself, she followed him out to the foyer.  She got her coat and scarf from the closet.

“I won’t keep you outside too long,” he promised.  “It’s very nippy.”

They walked through the gardens and to the path which led to the lake.  She looked around her in wonder.  Autumn in Surrey was breathtaking.  The thick foliage on the opposite side of the lake was cloaked in rich, bright colors.  The air was cold but very fresh.  “I can see why you loved coming here,” she commented as they stood there watching two swans gliding through the gold lake.  It was so peaceful out there.   It was a nice change from the city.

“Yes.  I used to come out here all the time and swim or feed the swans.  I loved being here more than at my parents’ estate in Yorkshire.  Yorkshire is even more beautiful in the autumn but I prefer being here in Surrey.  You’re right about it being peaceful here and that’s why this is still my favorite place to relax and think about things.”

“Do you still swim in the lake?”

He smiled and shook his head.  “I stopped doing that when I turned thirteen.  Besides, I don’t want to scare away the swans.”

“This is a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she remarked.  “Your grandmother was surprised that you visited her today.  She said that you don’t usually visit her on a Sunday.”

“She’s right.  I’m usually at home or out with my friends but I came here today because of you.”

She swallowed.  “Me?”

“Yes, I wanted to see you again.”

A slight breeze started blowing and she shivered.  She pulled the hood over her head and shoved her hands in the pockets of her coat, wishing she had worn her gloves.

“You’re cold,” he observed.  “Let’s go back to the cottage.”

He helped her remove her winter gear and then he took off his coat and hanged everything in the closet.

When they went into the drawing-room, Mrs. Bannister was not there.  She went over to the fireplace to warm her hands.  He joined her.  He turned toward her and took her cold hand in his and rubbed it between his.  Her heart was pounding as she watched his long fingers move slowly but vigorously to warm hers.  Then, she raised her head to look up at his face and her breath caught in her throat when she met his smoldering gaze.  “I want to kiss you,” he muttered thickly.

She trembled at the thought.  “Your grandmother could return at any minute,” she said, trying to remain rational in spite of her senses which were screaming at her to let him kiss her.

“You’re right,” he admitted.  “It would be awkward if she were to walk in and find us kissing.  Have dinner with me tonight, Alexis.”

“Yes,” she said simply.  She gave him her address and he made a mental note of it.  “I think she’s coming.”  He released her hand and moved away from the fireplace just as his grandmother entered the room.

“Did you enjoy your walk?” she asked as she went over to the chair she had vacated and sat down.

“Yes, I did.”

“Good.  You must come in the summer.  It’s really nice then.”

“Mrs. Bannister, I must be leaving now.  Thank you for inviting me to tea.  I had a wonderful time.”  She went over and kissed her on the cheek.

“Goodbye, Dear.  Jeremy will see you off.”

He walked with her to her car and held open the door for her to get in.  As she was about to, he leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.  She closed her eyes at the sensation of his warm lips against her skin.  When he drew back, their eyes met and held for a while.  “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said quietly.  She nodded and got in the car.  He stepped back and watched as she drove off.

When he returned to the drawing-room, he sat down in the chair Alexis had occupied and looking at his grandmother, he said, “Grandmother, I’m in trouble.”

“You are attracted to Alexis, aren’t you?” she asked.  “I noticed the way you looked at her last night.”

“I couldn’t help it.  That’s why I’m here today.  I wanted to see her again and I asked her to have dinner with me tonight.”

“Now, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.”

“I know and I feel like such a fraud,” he muttered, exasperated.  “She has no idea that I am engaged.”

“Well, from where I’m sitting, you have only two options—break off your engagement to Bridget or forget about Alexis.”

“I can’t forget about Alexis.  And I can’t marry Bridget.”

“It seems then, that you have made your decision.  I never did think that Bridget was the right girl for you.  I imagine that the engagement was all your mother’s doing.  Well, it’s time you started making your own decisions.  You’re old enough now.  You should go and deal with Bridget right now.  And when the time is right, you can tell Alexis everything.”

He got up and hugged her.  “Thanks, Grandmother.  I’ll go and see Bridget now.”

“Be gentle, Dear.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

His meeting with Bridget went better than he expected.  She too had been having second thoughts about their engagement but didn’t know quite how to tell him.  They parted on amicable terms.  They realized that what all this time their feelings for each other had been platonic rather than romantic.  He let her keep the ring.

Over dinner at a trendy and romantic French restaurant, he told Alexis everything.  “I’m so thankful I met you,” he said.  “If I hadn’t, I would have married the wrong woman.”

“So, the two of you never slept together?”

“No.  We had decided that we would wait until we were married but I never wanted her.  Yet, I wanted you from the moment I saw you.  After I took my grandmother home, I went down to the lake to figure out what I was going to do.  I was engaged to one woman but had fallen hard for another.  I didn’t want to hurt Bridget but I couldn’t get you out of my mind.  When I saw you again the next day, I knew that I couldn’t give you up.”

“Where do we go from here?” she asked.

“I want to see you—go out with you,” he said, covering one of her hands with his, his expression earnest.  “I want to be in a relationship with you.”

She covered his hand.  “I want that too,” she admitted.

After dinner that night, they became romantically involved and a year later, they got married.  His father, brother, sister, grandmother and Bridget attended the simple wedding but his mother was conspicuously absent.

 

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 Truth

“What are you doing?” she asked him, agitated.

 

“I am going to turn the pages for you,” he said.

 

She was sitting at the piano about to play something

while her aunt and her visitors were sitting in the drawing-

room having tea.  “I can manage,” she told him.

 

“Please, Helen.  I haven’t been alone with you for

days and you have been avoiding me.”

 

“Have I?” she began to play and for the next

few moments, no words were exchanged

between them.  He turned the pages, his eyes

never leaving her face.  How she managed to

concentrate with him being so near, she had

no idea.

 

The last note she struck was accompanied

by applause and compliments on her playing

and then the conversation resumed.

“You know you have been avoiding me,” he

insisted.  “Why, Helen?”

 

She looked at him in frustration.  “You know

why, Jonathan.”

 

“All I know is that we love each other and

avoiding me isn’t going to change that.”

 

“Please don’t say that.”

“It’s the truth.”

 

“We’re not supposed to love each other.”

“But we do.  Come for a walk with me.  I

need to be alone with you.”

 

“I can’t.  I’m–I’m not feeling well.”  She

did feel a little warm.

 

“Liar” he interjected.  He reached in his

breast pocket and took out a folded

sheet of paper.  He slipped it over to

her.

 

She stared at it, not taking it up.  “What

is it?”

 

“A poem.”

 

“Another one?  Jonathan, you have to

stop writing me poems and letters.”

She had them hidden away in her

drawer and at night before she went

to bed, she read them, even though

it tortured her to do so.

 

“It captures the feelings that I want

so badly to express.  I will leave you

now.  If you change your mind, I will

be in the gazebo.  It promises to be a

beautiful night.”  He walked away.

 

She sat there for a while, staring

at the sheet of paper and then she

picked it up, her fingers trembling.

She slowly unfolded it and read

the bold letters scrawled across

the lines.  Her heart breaking as

she read the words.  She pressed

the page against her chest and

closed her eyes.

 

“Are you all right?” the sound of

her aunt’s voice jolted her and

she got up hastily from the piano,

the sheet of paper slipped from her

fingers and fell on the carpet.

 

“I have a headache,” she said, “Please

excuse me, Aunt Cora.”

 

“Wait,” her aunt called, frowning, but

Helen had left the room.  Aunt Cora stood

there for a moment, pensive and then

she bent down and picked up the paper

which Helen had dropped.  She glanced at

it and then she folded it and slipped it into her pocket.

 

The clock struck eleven.  Helen sat by the window, looking

out of the window.  It was a beautiful night.  The moon cast its

light on the courtyard below.  Was he still out there in the

gazebo or had he retired?  What was he doing?

Should she have gone for the walk?  She knew why

she didn’t dare be alone with him.  The last time they

were alone together, they almost got carried away.

She had to practically run away.  After that she

vowed never to be alone with him again.

 

A knock on the door brought her out of her

reverie.  She turned to see her aunt in the

doorway.  “Aunt Cora.” She moved away from

the window.

 

“I hope I am not disturbing you, Dear.”

Helen shook her head.  “No, you’re not.  I

couldn’t sleep.  I have been sitting at the

window watching the moon.”

 

“I have something that belongs to you.”  She

handed Helen the poem.

 

Helen blushed as she took it, feeling embarrassed.

 

Aunt Cora motioned for them to sit by

the window.  “I think it’s about time that

I told you the truth about your father,”

she said.

 

Helen was startled.  “My father?”

 

“Yes.  My brother John was not your

father, Helen.  Your real father was

a close friend of John’s.  Your mother

died in childbirth and your father

raised you.  When you were three

he died in a riding accident.  When

John learned this unfortunate news

he brought you home as you had no

other living relatives.  He raised you

as his own daughter and he adored

you.  You were his life.”

 

Helen was crying now.  “I adored

him too,” she said.  “I miss him.  There’s so

much I want to talk to him about.”

 

Aunt Cora patted her hands.  “Yes, I imagine there is.”

 

“What were my parents like?”

 

“They were very good people.  I met your

father.  He was a delightful man.  He

doted on you.”

 

There was a pregnant pause as Helen tried

to digest the news she had just received.  “So

this means that Jonathan and I aren’t cousins.”

 

Aunt Cora nodded.  “That’s right.  And that’s why

I had to tell you the truth about your background.

I had noticed the way you and my son behaved

around each other.  And seeing you together

tonight convinced me that you are in love with

each other.  So, my Dear, there’s nothing to stop

you and he from being together.”

 

“Are you going to tell him?”

 

Aunt Cora shook her head.  “I will leave you to it.”

 

“Do I still call you Aunt Cora?”

 

“Oh yes, you do.”  The older woman hugged

her tightly.  “Now, try to get some sleep.”

 

Helen smiled, “Goodnight, Aunt Cora.”

 

“Goodnight, Dear.”

 

Helen turned to look out the window.  The

truth about her parentage turned out

to be her greatest blessing.  Now she and

Jonathan were free to love each other

without feeling guilty and ashamed.  Tomorrow

she would tell him.  Tomorrow couldn’t come

soon enough.

 

Girl on piano

Lily

Although Lily was small in stature,

Ordinary and poor, she did radiate

Confidence and faith that she

Was the perfect choice for the

Job of governess.  Like her heroine

Jane Eyre she was not to going to

Be Intimidated by Mr. Thornber.

 

He may be big, boisterous and brusque

But she could match his demeanour

With sense and not sensibility.  She

Could let wisdom be her teacher

And guide in how to deal with an

Imposing man like her employer.

 

She would treat him with the utmost

respect and not do anything to cause

friction or disagreement between them.

She was there to be governess to his niece

Not to be his friend or companion.  It was

Strictly business between them and was

Likely to remain that way.  After all, it was

Foolish to think that he would ever look

Upon her with a romantic interest.

Besides, he was the steady companion

Of the beautiful Kate Renshaw.  Oh yes,

She was beautiful and rich.  She was an

Accomplished piano player and singer.

She was everything Lily was not.

 

Lily sighed and set aside her book.

She got up and walked over to the

Fireplace.   “I should be thankful,”

She mused as she watched the flickering

Flames burn the embers.  “I have a job I

Love, a pupil I adore and I have my faith.

Yet…I feel that I should go mad if I have to

endure one more night without seeing him.”

 

She didn’t know what it was that alerted her

That someone else was in the room.  She

Turned around and her heart leapt to her

Throat when she saw the tall and familiar

Figure of Mr. Thornber.

 

JaneEyre.crop_324x243_0,0.preview

 

Precious Lord

Today I learned who wrote the beautiful hymn, Precious Lord, the one we hear playing in the background when we see images of starving children in poverty stricken countries.  Here is the story of how this hymn was born: 

Back in 1932, I was a fairly new husband.

My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s south side. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go; Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child, but a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis .  I kissed Nettie goodbye, clattered downstairs to our Model A and, in a fresh Lake Michigan breeze, chugged out of Chicago on Route 66.

However, outside the city, I discovered that in my anxiety at leaving, I had forgotten my music case. I wheeled around and headed back.

I found Nettie sleeping peacefully. I hesitated by her bed; something was strongly telling me to stay. But eager to get on my way, and not wanting to disturb Nettie, I shrugged off the feeling and quietly slipped out of the room with my music.

The next night, in the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union  telegram. I ripped open the envelope….Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words:YOUR WIFE JUST DIED.

People were happily singing and clapping around me, but I could hardly keep from crying out. I rushed to a phone and called home. All I could hear on the other end was “Nettie is dead. Nettie is dead.'”

When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that same night, the baby died.

I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart.  For days I closeted myself.

I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well. But then, as I hunched alone in that dark apartment those first sad days, I thought back to the afternoon I went to  St. Louis . Something kept telling me to stay with Nettie.  Was that something God? Oh, if I had paid more attention to Him that day, I would have stayed and been with Nettie when she died.

From that moment on I vowed to listen more closely to Him.  But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially one friend. The following Saturday evening he took me up to Maloney’s Poro College , a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows.

I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys. Something happened to me then. I felt at peace. I felt as though I could reach out and touch God. I found myself playing a melody. Once in my head they just seemed to fall into place:  ‘Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand, I am tired,

I am weak, I am worn, through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light, take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.’

The Lord gave me these words and melody, He also healed my spirit. I learned that when we are in our deepest grief, when we feel farthest from God, this is when He is closest, and when we are most open to His restoring power.

And so I go on living for God willingly and joyfully, until that day comes when He will take me and gently lead me home.

—-Tommy Dorsey

This story is a reminder that during the times when we are hurting and we are angry with God, He is right there.  He never left!  He speaks to our hearts and there are times when we  ought to listen but we don’t.  We let the cares or distractions of the world occupy our thoughts.  God knows and sees everything.  When He speaks to your heart–listen.  If like, Tommy, God tells you to stay close to a loved one, do it.  You may never get another opportunity to be with that person.  And, whenever you are hurting and you feel alone, remember this promise, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Tommy was not alone–he had God and his and Nettie’s son–a reminder of the love they shared.