by KD Miller
After being adopted, the O'Connor children visit their great grandfather.(Catrina - 1904)
St. Paul’s Sanatorium
27 December 1904
“This place looks like a castle!” Millen squealed as he leaped from Catrina’s arms and out the open car door.
“It’s a sanatorium, honey,” Catrina said, as she slipped out beside him, followed by Francis and Dylan. At the front, Frank stepped down from their new automobile bringing Anna. “I wish for the four of you to meet my grandpa before we board the train to Brooklyn.”
Catrina watched Millen excitedly climb the tall hospital steps as they followed close behind. Her children needed to see Grandpa Alex. The poor man didn’t even know what Christmas was about anymore. He sat in his rocking chair, day after day, a hand-woven Mexican shawl wrapped over his body, as his eyes followed every movement and sound in blankness. He didn’t know where he was, or who his own family members were.
But, he remembered names. Oh, yes. Occasionally he would yell out Jasper’s name. It was if his damaged brain knew the importance of the name, but couldn’t piece together the connection. Catrina hoped and prayed her children’s presence would help him.
Frank opened the door and together they walked onto the marble floor of the immaculate lobby. Nuns in crisp, white dresses and starched caps scurried around pushing trolleys filled with food and medicine. The sharp stench of disinfectant cleaner pierced her nose and Catrina swiftly removed her lace-covered handkerchief and gave three lady-like sneezes.
“Goodness,” she giggled, causing the children to smile.
“Ah, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Mueller,” a man’s voice swept over the lobby. Catrina rolled her eyes at the greeting and title. “Mr. Woodrow is awake and has eaten breakfast. I informed him that his granddaughter’s husband and his family will be arriving quite soon. “
“Wouldn’t it be easier to say Frank and Catrina Mueller are visiting with their children,” Anna whispered, causing Catrina to press her handkerchief to her lips to hide the giggles. How she loved her daughter! Hopefully, she would join her at the Women’s Suffrage Meetings.
“Err,” the man turned in their direction. “I’m sorry.” Thankfully, he hadn’t understood Anna’s remark. The sly look on Frank’s amused face told him that her husband had. Catrina stepped forward.
“My daughter is looking forward to meeting her great grandfather.”
“Of course,” the man clasped his hands. “Follow me.”
They walked across the floor, the heels of their boots clicking against the smooth surface. Catrina loved this place. Despite the rooms full of sick patients, some of them dying in the secret, sealed tuberculosis ward, the nuns ran the hospital like clockwork. She once witnessed an elderly nun pinch a young nurses’ arm because her skirt was two inches above the ankle! Despite the cruel punishment, she knew the nun meant well. St. Paul’s was a last resort for many residents, and the hospital had an impeccable reputation to uphold.
Upon reaching the elevator, the man ushered them in, and inserted a key for the private rooms upstairs. The patients housed in these rooms were quite wealthy and secluded from the others. Catrina believed it to be silly, but her father paid the two-hundred-dollar a month bill for his own father to be treated like royalty.
“Thank you, Mr. Simon,” Frank nodded at the man. Catrina frowned. The man must be new to the ward.
“How did you know his name,” she asked, as she felt Millen reach out to hold her hand.
Frank shrugged. “He came into the nursery a while back to order poinsettias for the residents. He’s a nice man, dear.”
Catrina pressed her lips together and raised an eyebrow.
“Fine,” Frank shook his head, as the elevator came to a smooth stop. “I’ll inform him that my wife wishes to be addressed by Mrs. Catrina Mueller and not, Mrs. Frank Mueller.”
A bright smile flashed across her face, as the doors opened revealing a plush lobby. She hoped her children noticed the way the two of them acted. “Little sponges. Children are like little, sponges.” Her professor in college used to drill in her head.
They stepped into the warm lobby. An enormous fireplace heated the room and hallways, enveloping all in comfort. Glancing down, she saw that the usual fur rugs had been removed for the winter, and replaced with ones with snowflake patterns.
As they waited for the ward nurse to escort them to her Grandpa Alex’s private quarters, Catrina peeked out the window. The tiny corridor atop the hospital was so secluded that not a lot of people knew of its existence. From the ground floor outside, all that could be seen was the tiny circular window that Catrina was using. The construction of the alcove and moldings gave the illusion that it was an attic of sorts, and not a luxury hospital apartment.
“Welcome, Frank and Catrina Mueller,” the young nurse called out. “Alex Woodrow is awake and sitting in his favorite chair by the fireplace.”
With a nod, and ‘thank-you,’ Catrina and the children followed Frank down the long hallway to a pair of double doors. A swarm of butterflies nestled in her stomach. What if the man threw a temper tantrum like he had in the past? What if he stayed silent and mumbled strange words like he had on one occasion? How God could do this to her grandfather filled her with rage. What past event led to this cruel punishment?
“Well, here we go.” Frank reached up to grasp hold of the glass door knob. “Let’s hope he’s in a welcoming mood.”
The first thing Catrina noticed was the large arrangement of red roses in a vase sitting on the bedside table. Red roses in the wintertime! This must have cost father a fortune to ship from California. She knew her Grandpa Alex loved his former rose gardens and her father paid the large price to have them sent from a warmer climate hoping they would jog the man’s memory.
“Food?” a fragile voice asked, causing a small gasp to escape Catrina’s throat. Her grandfather sat hunched in his rocking chair, his hand-woven blanket wrapped around his body. A copy of War and Peace clutched in his gnarled hands. The man couldn’t read, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Or, perhaps he could understand? He couldn’t communicate properly to let them know.
“No, Mr. Woodrow,” Frank answered as he cautiously stepped away from the group. “It’s Frank Mueller, remember? I married your granddaughter, Catrina Woodrow.”
The blank stare on her grandfather’s pale face punched Catrina in the stomach. She watched the man flutter his eyelashes and keep silent.
“We married the year you were admitted to the hospital,” Frank said in a steady tone. “Remember?”
Grandpa Alex kept silent, as Frank continued. One of the doctors suggested they talk to him as if he were senile. He said the soft baby tone would be helpful for the man. Catrina called the doctor an idiot. She refused to talk to her own grandfather in such a degrading way.
“Well,” Frank continued. “We have some wonderful news. A few days ago, my wife and I were blessed to adopt four beautiful children from Brooklyn, New York, and we wanted you to meet them. They are your great-grandchildren.”
Catrina looked deeply into her grandfather’s eyes, as her children hid behind her, waiting to be introduced. Grandpa Alex responded by picking-up his book, reaching beside him and dropping it at the foot of the bed in bewilderment
“I have children?” He asked, turning back around. A tiny frown appeared on his wrinkled forehead. “Who are they? Why are they allowing me to live here?”
“You have two sons, remember?” Frank pulled out a chair from a small table and sat beside the man. “Cleo Woodrow is your youngest son, and he is Catrina’s father. Your oldest son is named, Jasper and he is away on business.”
A smile appeared on Catrina’s face as she listened to her husband talk to her grandfather as if they were just meeting, even though they’ve seen one another once a week for almost two years. As to not further confuse and anger her grandfather, they mentioned Jasper as “away on business.”
“Would you like to meet our children?” Frank asked with a smile. “They’re right over there beside your granddaughter.”
Both her husband and her grandfather turned to stare. She felt Millen’s tiny hands burrowing into her backside. The poor boy was quite upset! As if her husband sensed the child’s discomfort, he gestured towards the other three.
“Alex, may I introduce Francis, Anna and Dylan. They’re fourteen, sixteen, and ten.”
Her three children nervously began to walk to the strange man. Grandpa Alex tilted his head as if he were remembering.
“Sixteen-sixteen,” he mumbled, as he chewed on his lower lip. “Dancing in the barn with-Jasper- sixteen-Cleo wanted riding boots…”
Catrina’s eyes flew wide. In all the years the man had been imprisoned in his mind, he had never mentioned her father’s name.
“What about him?” She asked. Frank reached out to take a hold of her grandfather’s hands. Perhaps being around the children was a good idea. The three of them currently stood by Frank for protection. Grandpa Alex shook his head. His eyelashes fluttered, as he continued to lick his dry lips.
“Cleo wanted riding boots and I said, ‘no,” Grandpa Alex spat, as he kicked his bare feet. “Jasper saw a jade ring in Mr. Charles’s shop window. I bought for him, fifty-dollars. Jasper gloated to Cleo. I told Cleo no new boots because his feet were not finished growing. Jasper’s fingers would not grow. I bought him a ring.”
“Oh, my gosh!” Catrina felt light-headed, as she reached out for the bedpost to keep her balance. Her grandfather was remembering the jade ring. The horrible ring her father lied and said Thomas stole. In her state of nervousness, Catrina absentmindedly collapsed at the foot of her grandfather’s bed, exposing Millen to the old man. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him make contact with the child. His eyes enlarged.
“Jasper!” His voice boomed over the room, causing everyone to jump. The man tried to stand from his chair, but her husband was swift in holding him down. He kept staring wildly at Millen, and to her disbelief, began to cry.
“Jasper,” his voice cracked, as he forcefully removed one of his hands from Frank’s grip and pointed towards Millen. “You came back! I thought—William at Crystal Springs! Remember. You’re safe.”
Millen’s own face grew pale as his siblings rushed over to him.
“Get him out of the room,” Catrina yelled, as she stood from the bed and followed them. Behind her, she could hear her husband trying to calm her grandfather down. The man kept yelling and insisting Millen was his long-lost son, Jasper Woodrow. Her heart grew heavy and tears of her own formed in her eyes as his voice followed them down the hall.
“Don’t go! I waited for you! I’m sorry!”
Nurses were appearing like ghosts. As they heard the sounds of their most wealthy patient screaming, they raced towards his room.
“Find me a tranquilizer,” the young nurse, Bridget, yelled to her staff. “He needs to be sedated.”
Catrina guided her children to the elevator as they waited for Frank. Grasping a hold of Millen, she drew the trembling child into her arms. The sounds of her husband’s boot heels could be heard as he walked briskly down the hallway. As he came into view, she could see a flash of anger in his usual calm eyes.
“I am so incredibly sorry for what happened,” his fingers shook as he turned the key for the ground floor. “Grandpa Alex has thrown harmless tempers before, but never has he mistaken someone for Jasper.”
The doors opened with a chime. The children scampered in ready to escape the horrible place, and return to Brooklyn for the New Year. Catrina followed her family into the elevator holding Millen. Her heart beat wildly as her child wrapped his arms around her neck in a tight embrace.
“I guess we won’t be taking the children back,” Frank sighed, and closed his eyes, as the elevator made its descent.
“Why did Grandpa Alex yell at Millen?” Dylan asked, as he took a hold of his brother’s hand.
Catrina let out a sigh of her own, as she rubbed circles in the tiny boy’s back. “Honey,” she said. “He didn’t mean to yell. His mind mistook Millen for his son, Jasper. Remember Jasper?”
Anna gathered Dylan and Francis to her. Catrina could see the protective nature in the girl’s eyes.
“Jasper is grandfather’s brother who disappeared a long time ago,” she answered.
“Oh,” Dylan frowned. “That’s a good thing because he is remembering. His brain might be good after all.”
Anna snorted. “Tell that to Millen. I can see his body shaking in fear.”
Catrina looked down at the child, and patted his head in reassurance. “It will be alright. When you’re ready, if you ever are, we will return. Grandpa Alex will probably have no recollection of the events.”
Millen let out a trembling sigh against her neck. She felt his warm breath hit her throat.
“I wanna go to Brooklyn,” he whimpered. “Mr. Tuscano...”
Catrina patted his back, as the elevator stopped and Frank reached out to open the doors.
“I know dear,” she cooed.
The children followed her out. Anna kept her grip firm on Dylan’s hand, while Francis took a hold of Frank’s. As they left the hospital and returned to their car, Catrina couldn’t help but fear that this wasn’t over. Millen’s appearance caused her grandfather to conjure up awful memories about his son. The way he screamed at the poor child, while frantically trying to pull his grip from Frank’s. What on Earth happened in the attic so many decades ago that caused this? Her father wasn’t in the room when Jasper was locked-up, and judging by her grandfather’s mental state she believed he would never recover to tell them. The sad fate of Jasper Woodrow might be lost forever.