White lie laced with romanticism
We sat there at her kitchen table, pink and off white china cups and saucers before us, all complimented by a larger china plate that held leftover Danish cookies she had gotten from a blue tin.
The tin had never been opened, and though I knew they had more than likely been in the cupboard for months, I accepted a golden brown, round cookie that was topped with jumbo sized sugar crystals. She filled my cup with boiling water and tossed in a Red Rose tea bag, motioning to the small carton filled with cream and the sugar packets that surrounded it. I smiled at the irony of the scene before me. Stunning china in the midst of stale cookies, cream still in the carton, and various brands of sugar packets. To me, it was perfect.
Part of my job involves meeting with various people, and this morning it was my pleasure to be in her home. We began talking immediately, pausing only long enough to sip the scalding tea. Our attempts at cooling the hot liquid with little puffs of breath resulted in miniature clouds of steam that drifted gently upward and away. We nibbled on our dry cookies in dainty, ladylike style.
As is customary, she asked me questions about my life. Was I married? Did I have children? Were my parents still alive, and what were their names? “Perhaps I know them,” she said. I told her my mother’s name first, including her maiden name and the name of some of her siblings. “It doesn’t ring a bell,” she said.
“Perhaps you knew my father,” I said. I spoke his full name, including his middle name and she put her cup down quite abruptly. She swept back her ivory hair and leaned toward me. “Did your father have red hair? Like yours?”
I smiled and nodded my head. “I have to be honest,” I told her. “My hair remains this color with just a little help.” She did not return my smile, but rather rose to her feet and turned her back to me. She stood there for a long time and I tried to decide if I should take another sip of tea or break the sudden silence by asking her if everything was all right.
“I think I knew your dad,” she finally said. “I always wondered what happened to him. We were young when we met and we lived in Fort Fairfield. Your father was a foster child and he lived in a big farm house just down the road from my house. Do I have the right man?” She turned toward me then, her expression inquisitive and anxious.
I nodded my head once again, unsure of just what to say. I could see that the memory of my father stirred something within her. Her face softened suddenly and she sat back down in her seat, her eyes never leaving mine. “We were sweethearts. We were both seventeen. He was there one day and just gone the next. Years later, I heard that he went off to Korea. And I knew that he must have gotten married. “
“I am surprised you couldn’t find him,” I said. “I am quite sure he stayed in the area. He met my mother in Caribou and they were married when he turned 21. Shortly after that, he was drafted and went to Korea for two years. He was back just about two years before I was born. Did you try to locate him?”
She laughed, and shook her head. “Things were different then, my dear. I had no way to go look for him and when I asked about him, I was told it was not my business. At seventeen, he was considered a child with no stable home. I was young and naive and not very smart. I just accepted that he was gone. I never forgot him. I can’t help but wonder if he thought about me.” She hesitated. “Tell me, did he ever mention me?”
On that day and in that warm kitchen, my dad had been gone for nearly twenty-seven years. To my knowledge, the only woman he had ever loved was my mother. Of course, there were some things I am sure he did not share with my mother or with me and my sister, and that was his right. I must say, though, I was quite intrigued by this woman and her account of knowing my dad.
It seemed as though my father had been her first love. I took another drink of my tea and finished my cookie, my thoughts reeling. I am impulsive and I am also a great romantic. I said a quick and silent prayer before I spoke.
“You know, now that I think of it, there was someone my father mentioned a few times. He would often talk about his childhood and the foster homes he lived in while growing up. Specifically, he talked about a young woman he met while living on that farm in Fort Fairfield. “ She leaned forward, listening intently as I continued my tale. “I remember he told me once that it was possible to fall in love more than once. Not long after that, he mentioned the young woman again in Fort Fairfield. I always thought that maybe there had been someone else in his life……”
“Go on,” she said. “Did he ever mention a name?”
I paused, as if in deep thought. “Not really,” I said. “Just that she was very, very pretty. Small world, isn’t it?” I gulped down more tea, unable to look into her eyes.
She beamed at me from across the table. “Would you like more tea, Honey?”
“I am all set, “ I said. “I need to get back to my office, actually. I will be in touch with you once we get everything in place.” She handed me my coat and I held out my hand. She pulled me to her and hugged me tight and when she pulled away, her eyes were glistening. Without another word, I walked out to my car and drove away. I saw her several times after that before she went to live with one of her children in southern Maine.
According to the dictionary, a white lie is described as: “A lie that is told in order to be polite or to stop someone from being upset by the truth.” Well, my friends, I am most definitely guilty of telling a few white lies in the course of my lifetime. I will never forget the glow that surrounded that very sweet lady when I told her that I recalled my father mentioning something about his love for a certain young woman many years ago; a woman fitting her description. It was an impulsive response laced with romanticism.
I have an old pillowcase filled with letters my father wrote to my mother when he was in Korea. They are all written in pencil with a flourish that challenges Emily Dickinson, Keats and Lord Byron. (Well, perhaps that extreme comparison is in itself a white lie.) Will I be forgiven for that white lie so easily spoken to someone who cherished her sweetheart of so long ago? I would certainly like to think so.
Belinda Ouellette lives in Caribou with her Goldendoodle, Barney. You may email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org