Two old pictures tell quite a story
It had been a hectic day at the Pemberton House. Even though it was a short walk across the courtyard from the little Bed and Breakfast, Christine was glad to be in her own home. Entering through the back door, she could not help but notice the stack of mail on the counter in the kitchen. Her mother would have already sorted through it, so she knew it was mostly bills for the business. Tossing her purse and keys on the counter, she managed to knock over the stack and sent it fluttering to the floor. Sighing with annoyance at the mess she made, she bent down to pick up the mail.
As she gathered up the wayward letters, a small cream-colored envelope caught her attention. It was addressed to her grandmother, Lila Hanley. Surprised, and forgetting how close she was to the counter, she stood up quickly and in the process whacked her head. Hard. She let loose a rather unladylike stream of cussing and rubbed the back of her head. The tears in her eyes were not just from the bump she felt growing there. Lila had passed away at the end of December. It was only a few weeks removed from the funeral. The pain of her loss was still fresh.
At ninety years of age, Lila had been a hoot. True, she had been cantankerous from time to time. She known what she wanted from life and did not hesitate to demand it. She had been an independent woman and did her damnedest to make sure that her granddaughter would be just like her. She helped to raise Christine when she was young. As a consequence, the two of them had been very close. Christine’s mother, Emily, referred to them as partners in crime. Despite her tears, Christine smiled. She really missed the old broad she thought. It would have pleased Lila to be remembered that way. That was exactly what she called herself when she had turned ninety: one tough old broad.
Scanning the upper left corner of the envelope Christine saw a familiar address.
“Oh, Rosalind! You just missed her,” she whispered. Taking the letter with her, she walked into the dining room to get one of Lila’s special wine glasses from the old oak breakfront. Choosing a Lismore patterned balloon goblet, she poured herself a hefty dose of Chambourcin. Goblet in one hand, and letter in the other, she headed for her favorite seat in the den. She settled herself in Lila’s favorite wing backed chair near the windows overlooking the courtyard gardens.
Comfortably settled, she opened Rosalind’s letter. Unfolding the note, she saw handwriting she did not recognize and two grainy black and white photographs clipped to the side. I know these pictures Christine thought. Putting them on the table next to her wine glass, she turned her attention to the note.
Dear Mrs. Hanley,
I am sorry to have to be sending this to you, but I need to let you know that my mother has passed away. The day before she died, she pulled these photos out of an old album and gave them to me. She asked me to send them to you and to tell you that she was sorry that she had hurt you so long ago.
I hesitated thinking that these may open old wounds, but she was so insistent. Please accept them and her apology. Please accept mine too for having to send you this sad news.
Annalise Banford Keller
Setting the note aside, Christine took a sip of wind and studied the two pictures. One was a shot of Rehoboth Beach and the aftermath of a winter nor’easter that had decimated the seaside resort town. There was a date of December 1914 on the back. The other picture was of four young people enjoying a sunny day on the boardwalk and mugging for the camera. At least the young women were. The young man seemed bothered by the sunlight in his eyes. Turning over the photograph she saw the date of July 1911 and the names of the four: Carter, Me, Amelie and Lila. Me was obviously Rosalind.
Christine had found a copy of this photograph in Lila’s things and had asked her grandmother about it. The usually talkative Lila would only tell her that they had all been friends in high school, but drifted apart once they all went to college. When she pressed Lila for more details, all she got was a cryptic response.
“Maybe I will tell you about it someday, my dear.”
“Well, Lila, I guess I am finally going to find out the story about the pictures,” she said hoping that her grandmother could hear her wherever she was now. Christine was aware that Lila kept diaries over the years. Now she just had to find them.
She headed for Lila’s bedroom. Christine and her mother had not mustered up the heart to go through her things yet and pack them away. She felt bad rummaging through her grandmothers desk, but it was as good a place as any to start. Not finding anything there, she went over to the nightstand by the bed. In the bottom drawer she found a bunch of journals, but it was the three leather bound volumes in the bottom of the drawer that caught her attention. The covers were cracked and the edges of the pages were quite yellow with age. The first one she opened she saw a date of June 1911 on the first page with a message of congratulations to Lila on her graduation and a wish for luck in college. The signature was too faded to make out a name.
Gathering up the three books, she headed back to the den. She scanned through the books looking for the dates that would correspond with the December 1914 picture. Christine was certain that month would hold the explanation as to why Lila Hanley, a woman who loved being by the ocean, refused to set foot on the sands of Rehoboth Beach. Whenever Emily and Christine would plead with her to join them for a day, Lila refused.
“Too much damage during the storm,” was all she would say. “So much was ruined.” Whatever had happened between them all, it had happened during that storm in the winter of 1914.
Christine found what she was looking for towards the end of the second leather volume. Most of the entries for the early part of December were brief descriptions of preparations for exams at the end of the fall semester. Lila had attended Beaver College in Pennsylvania to pursue a teaching degree. She noted that her student teaching would start in January. From the entries, it seemed that Lila was excited to start. It was also apparent that Lila was looking forward to Christmas vacation with her friends. They would spend it as they had every other year, in the old house on the corner of Surf and the Boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach.
The group had all attended colleges in the area surrounding Philadelphia. Rosalind and Amelie attended Bryn Mawr and Carter went to Drexel. Since this was their senior year, they had all decided on a long Christmas get together. The plans were for them to meet up on the 26th of December and stay until after the New Year.
Christine found an entry dated December 26. After a few brief lines about Christmas with her parents, Lila wrote that she was looking forward to seeing Carter. She expressed hope that even though the four were together, she and Carter might find some time to get away by themselves for a date or two. She wrote she had not seen him since before the final exams earlier in the month and really missed him.
Wow! Didn’t see that coming Christine thought. The next entry was dated December 31. The ink on the page was blotchy, as if someone had splashed something on the page. Christine read on.
I will be glad to finally be able to leave this place today. The blizzard has come to an end. My view from my bedroom window shows snowdrifts on the beach and the splintered boardwalk scattered up and down Surf Avenue. The old amusement pier is gone. Snow and ice are everywhere. Frozen sea foam is hanging from the remains of the piers and the boardwalk. I think some of that frozen foam covers my heart now too.
Christine looked at the page, running her fingers softly over the splotches. She realized that whatever had happened, Lila must have been crying when she wrote that entry.
The neighbors are saying that it will take years to rebuild everything. I really don’t care, as I will never come back here. There is no way to get over the damage that Carter has caused. I feel like such a fool! All this time he was just using me. Only coming to Beaver when Amelie was too busy to be with him. And Rosalind! My best friend! She knew. I do not believe here when she says she did not know. She could have warned me that Carter and Amelie were engaged and will be married in June.
It all boiled down to money and connections, two things my family lacks. Amelie’s family is very well to do and her father has connections with the business community in Philadelphia. He offered to help Carter with introductions to some of the architectural design firms when he finishes up his studies at Drexel.
They all left before the storm hit. Amelie and Carter were to uncomfortable with the situation and Rosalind got the brunt of my anger and shame. She did want to leave me here alone with the weather getting bad, but I told her to go. Looking at the aftermath of the storm, I am lucky the house was not damaged more than it is. The roof will need repairs and some of the shutters are missing.
Father is coming for me today. I am sure he is worried and I suppose I will be getting a very stern lecture. Perhaps he will understand when I tell him my story. This lovely old house will be fixed but I cannot say the same thing for the friendship we all shared. There’s just too much damage. So much ruined.
The last entry in the journal was dated the middle of January l915 and only discussed the elementary school class where she was doing her student teaching.
Putting the book down on her lap, Christine looked out of the window. No wonder Lila never wanted to return to Rehoboth. The damage she always referred to was the damage to her heart. Picking up the picture of the aftermath of that coastal storm, she wondered what it must have been like riding out the fury of that storm alone with her grief and anger.
Rereading the letter from Annalise, she concluded that Rosalind probably wanted to come clean. She had been the first to try to reach out and heal the breach in their friendship. Lila took a long time to respond. It was not until Lila learned that Carter and Amelie had died in a plane crash. It was then that she sent a note of condolence to Rosalind. That gesture opened a door for the two of them to start talking again after all those years. Christine had once asked Rosalind privately what had happened between the two of them.
“Lila doesn’t want to talk about it , my dear. I am just glad that we are talking again. I guess I just have to live with the ghosts between us.” Christine thought she was referring to the ghosts of Carter and Amelie. But there was a third ghost there too, the ghost of betrayal. A ghost that haunted Rosalind to the end of her days.
Picking up the picture of the four young friends, Christine whispered a brief prayer for all of them. A prayer that they were all together again and as happy now as they all looked then.