Charles Baran - storyteller
Follow your heart in all your life decisions. The end result may not be money or fame but it will be happiness.
Lorraine gripped the railing as she headed up the gangplank to the ferry grateful she had worn the right shoes. A fine mist from the overcast sky painted her face and, while she thought it would be, it wasn’t at all unpleasant. At least she was finally going.
“Oh look. There it is.”
Ken, her husband of forty-three years, placed a gentle hand on her right shoulder. She turned her head in the direction he indicated with his burly chin and bulbous nose. Against the barnacle encrusted pier a crab was deftly making its sideways-way across the protruding obstacles and gelatinous seaweed, getting bumped here and there by an errant paper cup floating along with the incoming tide. Two college age females behind them noticed the acrobatic performance and giggled.
“Starbucks is everywhere,” one of them said.
Lorraine squeezed Ken’s hand and guided him towards the back of the boat. There were few empty seats and although the morning was a dull grey she wanted a window. A forty-three year wait was not going to be clouded by clouds.
“Did you notice the name of the boat?” Ken asked.
“No. What was it?’
Lorraine smiled. Her mother would have been happy. She had only wanted the best for the newlyweds, her only daughter and the handsome Ken. An unselfish woman, she was devastated not so much by her prognosis, but by the cancellation of their honeymoon. She pleaded with them to go, that she would be fine, but Lorraine would have none of it. She was there for her mother’s every treatment, every hospital stay and finally every condolence. While her disappointment was great, Ken’s positive outlook had steered her through her mother’s long illness. We’ll visit Nantucket one day he told her over and over again.
Now, four decades later they walked hand in hand off the ferry. It was only for a day, this uneventful day in July, but they had finally made it. After three children, countless report cards and ice skating lessons, a bulldog named Buddy, two failed marriages, six grandchildren, christenings, graduations, a suicide, high-school trophies, first loves, vegetable gardens, unemployment, ice cream cakes and broken toy trucks, they had finally made it.
“It’s different than I expected. More people.”
Her husband, sensitive to the moment, kept silent about the hedge fund managers, the music producers, the upscale shops and the Junama baby strollers that had slowly depleted the quaintness over the past forty years.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s always been like this. Let’s find a nice place for lunch. I’ll treat you to a lobster roll.”
They walked the streets, peering into shop windows, marveling at the price of homes listed on real estate advertisements, and speculating what it would be like to live there. The waiter, a hip twenty-year-old redhead named Miles, told them he was born on the island. Lorraine asked what it was like in the winter. Quiet was all he said as he laid the check on the table.
They spent the last hour sitting on a bench overlooking the water. A majestic radiance had broken through the earlier thickness erasing any memory of the foggy ride over.
“What a lovely day,” Lorraine said, resting her head on Ken’s shoulder.
“See, I told you we would make it.”
Lorraine, looking at the photo Miles had taken in the restaurant, the photo that Lorraine would looked at often in the years after Ken’s passing, pulled closer to her husband as the Lady Martha appeared on the horizon.
Charles Baran - July 7, 2023
Mitchell looked at the lake remembering the time he almost drowned. He was eleven and his father was teaching him how to bait a hook. See, here’s what you do Mitch, watch me. Leaning over the plastic bucket of earthworms, he stepped on his father’s fishing pole and fell backward. He saw the dock slip away. And the growing sky. Callused hands waved over him. Then he was standing, slipping, the steadiness of his father’s anchored face holding him. His hair was not even wet. So, no, he didn’t really almost drown. But it was a good story. And the way he told it to his 6th grade classmates. And the year after that.
He turned and unlocked the door. The fragrance of must and old country welcomed him. Summer upon summer the breath of it made him happy, but now, after many years waiting, it had intensified, asking where have you been? He stood in the porch, hesitantly looking past the archway into the living room. He softened, listening for old melodies. His mother’s radio. His father’s saw. He walked the meager rooms seeing fragments, the unfinished business of living. Recipes cut from a magazine. Twenty cent stamps. Crochet hooks laid neatly. Games. 1,000 pieces. Clue. Monopoly. He considered them. Something for his son maybe. When Noah was old enough he would tell him. Of the magnificence and the maple trees. The placid breezes and the hummingbirds.
Mitchell Hurley. Mitchell. Hurley. In her surprise she said it twice. Is that you? Helen searched for traces of the doughy boy in the firm man. Yes, yes it is me Helen. He offered the same smile and she was satisfied. He scanned the short wall of boxes looking for 628. The postoffice hasn’t changed much he said. Much she repeated. Here and there. Computers mainly. Well, this is my last year thank god. He held out his hand. She chuckled and shook her head. You didn’t have to bring them back you know but she took them anyway. What box was it? 628 he said. 628 she nodded. Boxes get reassigned. Many times. Summer people. They come and go. She gazed over his shoulder to the parking lot dreamily looking for other prodigals. Realizing her mistake she reddened. Well, you didn’t have to trouble yourself bringing them back but thank you anyway placing them in a drawer. They spoke of the lake, the house, his parents. Yes, this is my last year thank god. Each word grew heavier. Her eyes moistened. He checked his watch. Well, Helen, goodby. You take care Mitch. He walked to the car, looking up at everything and nothing, the sky, the trees, electric wires. He inhaled the fallen leaves and cut grass. He opened the car door and pulling away he glanced at the box of 1,000 pieces on the seat beside him.
Summer is when I think of my father most. Memories of my dad mingle effortlessly with memories of crisp sun-filled Long Island mornings, sweet music from a goldfinch perched on a backyard branch and the smell of burning oak leaves in my dad’s homemade brick fire-pit behind our house. When I remember afternoons at the beach, my dad is there; fishing off the pier or blowing up the black rubber inner tube so my ten-year-old frame could drift above, and be protected from, the many broken shells, snails and tiny crabs that inhabited the scary world below me.
His love for his family was never spoken in words, but shown by his actions. Always present, never complaining, generous, and welcoming to the friends I would bring home after school. Not a religious man but a man who lived by belief; honesty, kindness, equality. His many friends came from every ethnicity and religious persuasion. His mother, who we called Babcia, a Polish word for Grandmother, adored him. Her spirit in life was echoed by him. A love of music, a vitality for living and the enjoyment of every day were the gifts she gave him.
I have a painting of a sand dune beach that my dad painted in our Queens basement. It is dated July 1974. In the painting there is a row boat, painted not with skill but purpose, each wooden beam delineated clearly. The boat is white, trimmed in red. It is a boat that lived only in my father’s imagination. On the bow, lettered in black paint by his aging hand is the name Leah, his first born granddaughter. His love was omnipotent.