short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Friend's Good Fortune

The flight from Munich to New York had never seemed so long or so uncomfortable. Usually there was just enough time for all that one should do on a flight: have a meal at beginning and end, view a top-rated movie, and get a normal amount of sleep. On this trip, however, Laura, who had developed the envied skill of being able to sleep on planes since she had become an international news reporter and analyst eight years earlier, found herself counting the slow-moving minutes and hours until arrival. Although she was always assigned to some large city somewhere in the world, several times a month she was on a plane to cover some event in a smaller town. Her frequent flyer miles added up on all three airlines in whose extensive travel programs she participated, and she usually ended up giving away her free tickets to friends, so that they could come visit her in whatever corner of the world she happened to be at the time.

For the last three years, she had been working out of Munich, easily one of the most beautiful and historic cities to which she had been assigned. Munich was a quiet city, as far as news goes, so Laura had been doing much more analysis than reporting. The train system in Europe was very convenient, and the Eurailpass made traveling throughout the region quite affordable. Beginning with Bavaria and its interesting brand of German, which did not always match up with the Hochdeutsch that she had learned in school, Laura explored the people and customs of the greater region to which she had been assigned. Munich itself, the heart of Bavaria for Laura and the location of her apartment, typical in size for Europeans but small by American standards, had seemed like home almost immediately.

Laura traveled around town on the bus and Unterbahn (subway) system — so much more convenient than in New York — and much safer. She never did like to drive. Besides, riding the bus and Unterbahn gave her a chance to interact with people and get to know the region better. If she needed to make a foray into the countryside, she could rent a car or better yet, go with local friends who were planning such a trip.
Her travels allowed her to make friends in a number of places surrounding Munich and to continue her hobby of writing books that presented typical people in unusual situations and analyzing them against the background of the place in which they lived and its history. She had even won a Pulitzer Prize for her first book of this type in which she analyzed the leaders of the European Union at that time.

Laura closed her eyes and tried to sleep. She wanted to arrive at least half awake. The images and events in her head, however, would not go away. It seemed impossible that she was on the Munich-New York flight so soon. Just four days ago she had flown to New York from Munich for the funeral of Leroy, the editor of the Fort Sanford Times in Fort Sanford, New York, which lay partway between Rochester and New York City, a city, it seems that few had heard of but one that she had come to think of as her own when she had worked there for five years before getting her big chance with the New York Times. She had been devastated by Leroy’s funeral; he was only 60 and his heart attack had been so unexpected.

She had just returned yesterday and checked her e-mail to learn that Sarah, a reporter for the Fort Sanford Times, had been killed in a car accident returning home from Leroy’s funeral. So, now she was making the same sad trip again.

Images of Sarah kept running through Laura’s mind, denying her the sleep that she knew she needed. They had been friends, the very best kind of friends, or so Laura considered her relationship with Sarah until the day of her greatest happiness, the announcement of her assignment to the New York Times international bureau.

They had met when Laura became assistant editor of the Fort Sanford News. For several years after she got her journalism degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, Laura had worked at one or another small-town paper in and around the Rochester, New York area as a columnist for international news. She really would have liked to have been sent abroad for a major newspaper. She could certainly have reported much better on international news from abroad, but the papers she worked for were too small to afford a staffer abroad. In fact, she felt lucky that they considered a local journalist for writing the weekly columns that analyzed international events, since they could just have easily purchased a syndicated columnist’s report.

By writing for several newspapers at the same time, she was able to eke out a living, and she had moved into a small house that she rented in one of the nondescript towns nearby. To her, it really did not matter in which town she lived. They all seemed to be the same: a little hilly — after all, geologically speaking, they were not all that far from the Atlantic Ocean, verdant in a northern way — many trees, but she missed the living ivy carpet that covered large portions of her native Alabama, very Yankee — the language sometimes seemed a little foreign to her in spite of having lived nearly seven years now in the North and the pace of life was certainly much brisker in spite of being a small town, and very small — a confining feeling compared to Rochester and Birmingham. Still, she was working in journalism, and not all her friends with journalism degrees had been able to find jobs in their field. In fact, she was even working in the area that had attracted her into journalism: international news. Still, she longed to be able to report the news from the sites in which it was occurring.

The town she had chosen to rent in, Division, had a bit of a strange name, but nothing else about the town was unusual. She chose to rent a house, not purchase one, because she was still hoping to move on, to find that position out there that would allow her to work abroad. For now, though, Division was a good choice. The editor of the Division Weekly Recorder was easy to work with, internationally oriented—an unusual trait for someone in that position, and particularly liked Laura. They became close colleagues, although they did not develop a personal relationship outside work, and when Laura needed a break from her Internet research, the public library being too small and poorly stocked to offer much in the way of research resources, she would stop into the Recorder to chat with the editor and often found herself helping out with paste-up, layout, darkroom work, copyediting, or wherever the editor was short-handed that day. Laura learned quickly, and through her daily visits soon understood nearly every element of newspaper production. At one point, to supplement her income, she even sold advertisements and then helped prepare the graphics for the ads that she had sold.

When the not-very-distant Fort Sanford Times lost its assistant editor, Laura’s boss heard about it, made a phone call recommending Laura, and suggested that Laura apply for the position. After all, her fill-in work, paid and volunteer, had prepared her to handle such a position, and, given the small distribution of the Recorder, the need for an assistant editor there was not likely to occur.

Moving to Fort Sanford would bring Laura into a cosmopolitan milieu, more in keeping with her interests. The Recorder editor saw it as a step up for Laura, but Laura herself was not so sure. What she really wanted was a job as an international news reporter, stationed in some foreign city, preferably Paris or Berlin since she had studied both French and German, but just about anywhere would be fine.

Still, when the Fort Sanford Times editor contacted her, she decided that an interview could not hurt and drove the 50 miles to Fort Sanford. She did not know the city well, mainly going there only when she had a visitor. There were more opportunities for entertaining a guest there than in Division.

Fort Sanford was not exceptionally large, either, but there were about 300,000 residents, several theaters, a philharmonic orchestra, and other accouterments that one found in cities but rarely in towns. Of course, there was some interesting architecture since Fort Sanford, like other early-settled towns in the Northeast, had originally been built as a fortress. Architecture of a military nature still remained, as did a few remnants of life-styles from three centuries earlier. Other than that, though, there was little in the city that attracted Laura, whose emotions more readily responded to pictures of truly historic places such as Karluv most (Karl’s Bridge) in Prague, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the old town square in Munich.

The interview went well, and the editor of the Fort Sanford Times soon after offered Laura the position of assistant editor. Laura accepted it, telling herself that perhaps being in a city, she would find the opportunity (or make it) to get into the kind of journalism that she really wanted to do.

Laura’s relationship with Leroy, the editor of the Fort Sanford Times, resembled the relationship she had had with the editor of the Recorder: professional but close. Laura enjoyed the work at the Fort Sanford Times more and more as time passed. Leroy, her boss, was a true mentor and friend. From him, she learned much about writing, editing, and the business of running a newspaper. She admired the way he could instantly rephrase an awkwardly constructed sentence and turn it into a quotable quote, and she appreciated the attention he showered on his staff. No opportunity for praise, encouragement, or celebration was overlooked. Weddings and births were announced with jubilation and flowers. A well-written article brought a personal note of congratulations, and criticism from the outside brought a note of support. The Times was clearly Leroy’s life and the people who worked there his family.

He had had a family of his own once. In fact, his wife, Liza, had been the international news reporter and assistant editor, as Laura was now. More than 15 years ago, Liza took her and Leroy’s only child, their ten-year-old son, Nicholas, on a trip to Rio de Janeiro to cover Carnaval. She looked forward to experiencing the intense fun and near madness of Carnaval together with Nicholas. They never returned.

No one ever found out what happened to them. Liza had sent Leroy a cable from the hotel, announcing their safe arrival, and one of the bellboys remembered seeing her and Nicholas leaving for Carnaval, dressed in traditional costumes and masks and laden with camera and recording equipment. When the two failed to check out as planned, the hotel administrator contacted Leroy, who was listed as the emergency contact on the hotel registration card.

Leroy flew immediately to Rio. By the time he arrived, the hotel management had already alerted the police, but they had no clues. No one, it seems, except the one bellboy, had spotted an American journalist and her small son in the frenzy of Carnaval.

Leroy stayed three weeks. Every day he walked the streets of Rio and combed the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, desperate to find anything that would explain the disappearance of the two people to whom he had long ago dedicated his life. And there was always that unfounded hope that one day he would find them walking toward him on the wide Copacabana sidewalk that edged the beach. But no, there were only the locals on their way to and from business and the tourists lying umbrella-to-umbrella under the hot summer sun.

Every day he checked with the police, but there was never any news. He also talked to the bellboy and to the hotel administrator, as well as to the storeowners near the hotel. He even asked Varig, Vasp, and other local airlines to check their manifests, in the event that Liza and Nicholas had left town by air for some unknown reason. He knew that the police had already done all that, but doing it again somehow comforted him.

In the end, however, he had to leave. As March drew to a close, it became clear that the trail — not that there ever had been much of one — was growing stale, and the paper needed him. So, Leroy returned to his other family and immersed himself in their lives.

Leroy never remarried, but he enjoyed the life of a family man. Every holiday one or another staff member would invite him to their home festivities. Leroy knew and loved all their children and was the Santa Claus of choice at Christmas parties. Not only did he dress up and play the role with great gusto—and being a bit portly, he fit the part—but he always brought each child of every employee a personal and appropriate gift from “Santa.” When possible, he helped out when a down payment was needed, went to high school football and baseball games to cheer on the children of his staff who played on the teams, and visited the hospital rooms of his staff and their family members when things went wrong.

The community also benefited from Leroy’s kindness and involvement. Annually, the paper supported a drive to raise funds for a number of causes. A number of uninsured children were able to receive health care, thanks to the newspaper’s efforts. Two new shelters were built for the homeless, and the Food Bank, a warehouse of food items for the indigent, was always kept well-stocked. If a good cause arose, Leroy donated his time and money—and the voice of the Times.

Thus, the Times enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the community, from which Laura immediately benefited. Within days of her arrival as assistant editor, she was a known name in town. Thanks to a couple of Times fund-raising campaigns that she led (who could turn down a request from Leroy?), her face became well-known, too.

When Leroy received awards for his service to the community or that of the newspaper, he would ask Laura to accompany him. Soon, by association, she was respected and welcomed everywhere by the citizens of Fort Sanford.

Following Leroy’s example, all the staffers at the Times welcomed Laura, all, that is, except Sarah. Funny, how her thoughts had wandered from Leroy to Sarah. The two relationships were, indeed, a study in opposites. Memories of Leroy brought feelings of warmth and a great sense of personal and professional loss. Leroy had been more than mentor and boss; he had been her professional father.

The memories of Sarah, however, were quite different and very mixed. A coffee break here and a lunch together there introduced her to Sarah’s personality, experiences, and, eventually, daughter, Susan. Sometimes Sarah would bring Susan to lunch, and the rapportĂ©e was lively and fun. Susan adored Laura, whom she soon took to calling “Aunt Laura,” and Laura loved her. Although Laura was too busy and goal-focused to give any thought to a family of her own, she thought that her warm relationship with Sarah and Susan must be the best of what having a family would be like.

Truth be told, she loved Sarah, too. Sarah had an earthy, fun-loving side that balanced her intellectualism and brought her a sense of playfulness that she would otherwise not have experienced. Sarah’s descriptions of the weekend outings she and Susan took to nearby amusement parks, zoos, natural museums, and other outdoor arenas in and around Fort Sanford inspired Laura to undertake her own physical regimen—but in her own way: membership at a health club where she forced herself to work out every day after work until she actually began to look forward to her exercise hour and felt at odds with herself if a work commitment caused her to miss it.

There were the moments of intense caring, an intimacy that only the very best of friends could have—and then a feeling of chilling cold when Laura moved on from the Fort Sanford Times to her current position. Laura thought that she knew Sarah better than she knew anyone else, but Sarah’s angry and cold reaction to Laura’s big break made her realize that perhaps she did not know Sarah at all and never really had. Yet, she continued to love her as a sister and a friend and hoped that some kindness of fate would put the relationship back on its previous track. The accident eliminated that possibility, and Laura struggled with a cascade of changing emotions.

Laura had not become immediate friends with Sarah when she came to the Fort Sanford Times. Actually, there was a short period of quite the opposite relationship. Laura never forgot the first time she encountered Sarah one-on-one. Without greeting her or calling her by name, Sara spit out, “We don’t need you here. Leroy has been working for a long time without an assistant, and we don’t want anyone between him and us.” Before the startled Laura could respond, Sarah marched off.

Laura heard from the other staffers that this was Sarah’s way. She could not seem to get social conventions quite right, and her colleagues had learned to overlook her occasional caustic remarks and sometimes deliberate meanness because she pulled her weight, would fill in or help with anything needed, and when in a good mood, was fun to be around. Laura was relieved to find out that when Sarah referred to the opinions of the entire staff, in actuality, the opinion was often only her own. So, Laura learned to translate the words, “No one wants you here,” along with a dozen similar comments, to the more accurate, “I don’t like the fact that Leroy hired an assistant.”

Laura’s initial relationship with Sarah, however, turned from bad to worst when she discovered that Sarah was not a very good writer. Sarah had good ideas, and she had a sense of story, that was true. However, she did not take the time to spell check or proofread her work, which made Laura’s job of copyediting more difficult, and she refused to follow the format that the others used: topic sentence, followed by important information, and ending with supporting details. Sarah insisted that this was not a proper way to write and that doing so impaired her writing style, which, she insisted, readers really liked. The format used by the newspaper was a reasonable one; it allowed Laura to shorten stories quickly and logically when they did not fit into the space allotted. As for reader preference, there was no way to know: no survey had ever been taken. Sarah’s comment about readers was along the same lines as all the other emphatic generalizations she made—without basis in fact.
Most of the other writers were quite good, and that made Laura wonder how Sarah had ended up in that position. The story, as it turned out, was pretty much what Laura had anticipated from the Fort Sanford side. Sarah had graduated from Fort Sanford High School in the same class as Leroy’s wife, Liza, and had been fortunate to obtain a stringer job for the New York Times, where she worked along with her ex-husband, now a nationally respected reporter on Wall Street. For some reason, after her divorce, Sarah had been fired from the New York Times, and with her small daughter but sans husband, she moved back to Fort Sanford, assuming that Liza would talk Leroy into giving her a job. Leroy did. At first, the only opening was for the gardening column, but that worked out fine because Sarah, it turned out, had a green thumb. Her own garden, the source of much pride to her, was the talk of the town. Later, when the business columnist left, she put on that hat, as well. Now, for as long as most of the new staffers could remember, she had been the odd combination of gardening and business reporter.

The rest of the story was more unusual, and some details were not available. Other staffers did not know, and Sarah herself was not sharing. What happened at the New York Times and how Sarah got there in the first place was unclear. Why her marriage ended was also unclear, although a comment that Sarah once made about mothers-in-law made Laura think that there was some conflict between Sarah and her mother-in-law that contributed to the demise of her marriage.

As it turned out, when Laura went to work for the New York Times, she did get a few more pieces of information. Several reporters who remembered Sarah said that she had a querulous personality that created friction with the editors and other reporters. In fact, Sarah was fairly well remembered and fairly strongly disliked, and Laura, when she first arrived from the Fort Sanford Times, was treated to quite a litany of Sarah’s sins. Concerned that such animosity could harm Sarah or her reputation in some way and thinking that perhaps Sarah could do something about it or at least should know about it, Laura wrote to her. The note she received in return was vintage Sarah. The letter was terse, and the tone was angry and distrustful
I would need to know who told you this set of lies in order to be able to respond. Send me the names and what they said, and I will check to see if you are telling me the truth about your conversations with these people.

Laura did not bother to reply. In fact, that was the last communication she ever had with Sarah. Still, she did not forget Sarah, and for years, in the middle of some other conversation, reading a book, or watching a television show, something would remind her of Sarah, and she would be caught in reverie for several minutes, almost always remembering only the good times: their leisure time together in Fort Sanford. The bad things associated with their early days at Fort Sanford Times were long ago forgiven and forgotten. The bad things that came later were too painful for reflection.

With Leroy’s help, Laura was able to get Sarah to make some small changes to her writing, enough to make her copyediting job much easier, and after that the relationship began to improve. The growing personal friendship helped their professional relationship, and, in time, Sarah’s sense of playfulness sometimes crept in at the Fort Sanford Times when they were working together on an article. When the article was finished—usually not until there had been at least a brief exchange of slightly acrimonious words—and both Sarah and Laura were satisfied with it, Sarah would lean over in a moment of intimacy and kiss Laura on the nose. Sarah never said thank-you for the help with her writing, and, if she ever expressed anything publicly, it was resentment of Laura’s rewriting of her work and even, upon more than one occasion, outright derision of Laura’s writing skills. Laura overlooked these moments, though. Others knew Sarah and interpreted Sarah’s comments as a manifestation of her “difficult personality.” If Laura were to experience any anger over this treatment, that emotion was quickly replaced with a softer one, prompted by the memory of the kiss on the nose and the gentler relationship they had outside the office.

Laura’s friendship with Leroy grew concurrently. Laura had never worked for – or even known — someone like Leroy. He had no ego that needed fueling. He simply wanted the paper to go out on time, be well written, and contain useful news. And he wanted the employees to be happy. When they received good news, he rejoiced; when they received bad news, he empathized — and helped. Laura understood from others that she was very much like Liza. That probably explained the comfort level that she felt with Leroy and he with her. For many years, though, he never told her about Liza. When he did, Laura could tell that he was still grieving.

The day he told her was the day that she was offered the position at the New York Times. It was a position that Laura had prepared for, seemingly forever, through her work in reporting the international news for the Fort Sanford Times. It was a position that she had been anticipating subconsciously from the very beginning. When she had moved to Fort Sanford, she had not rented an apartment or bought a house; rather, she had moved into a trailer and remained there for the 15 years she worked at the Fort Sanford Times. A gypsy at heart, she did not feel the need for a traditional home and all its trappings.

The day Leroy told her about Liza, Laura finally understood the depth of his loss and how she had filled part of the void for him. Now, he was losing another friend — to a different kind of disappearance. While Laura assured him that she would return frequently, they both knew that this would be difficult. After all, she had no blood family in Fort Sanford; she had no property there; and she had no professional reasons to report on anything from there.

Five years passed, and while the memories of Fort Sanford remained dear, they did dim. From time to time, Laura considered writing to Leroy, or calling him to see how he was doing, but day eroded into day with an ever increasing load of reporting responsibilities, and she just did not have the time. So, she did what everyone else does: she subordinated her personal life to her professional one, assuming that she could always see Leroy the next chance she had to go to Fort Sanford.

Then, the unexpected happened. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her analytic book on European Union leaders. The Fort Sanford Times staff went wild, and they invited her back to a huge party. The fifteen years she had spent reporting for the Fort Sanford Times were enough that the townspeople felt that she was still a member of the town. Nearly the whole town turned out — except for Sarah. Laura was not surprised. When one or another staff member would receive a local or regional writing award, Sarah would always criticize that person’s writing and the sagacity of the awards committee. The greatest hurt, though, and the one that caused the long-lasting breach in Laura’s friendship with Sarah, was Sarah’s response to Laura being offered the position at the New York Times: she wrote Laura a note, listing all the reasons why she thought that Laura did not deserve the job—and many of those reasons she shared publicly with anyone who would listen. Laura could have forgiven her for that. After all, she had become used to these kinds of quirky, and seemingly mean, deeds from Sarah. What Laura found difficult to deal with was the fact that Sarah simply stopped speaking to her and avoided her in every way possible. So, the friendship ended in silence the day that Laura left on her new assignment.

Leroy had been helpful to Laura at this painful juncture. Laura could not understand Sarah’s rejection of her; she had done nothing to deserve derision or animosity. Leroy explained it very simply: “Sarah does not understand that a friend’s good fortune is a blessing.”

Be it envy, jealousy, or something else, Sarah simply was not capable of being happy for Laura and interpreted Laura’s gain as her own loss. Remembering Leroy’s words was helpful, and Laura did not comment on Sarah’s absence at the town party for her Pulitzer award. She, in fact, began to understand it — almost.

Another three years passed. After her big party, Laura had planned, promised, and expected to return to Fort Sanford, but once again work took priority and time stole past without notice. Unfortunately, she put off her return too long. Three years to the day after leaving Fort Sanford following the Pulitzer Prize party, she received an email note from one of the staff at the Fort Sanford Times, informing her that Leroy had died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

At first, she just looked at the computer screen not comprehending. Leroy had not been sick. She had planned to visit; she still wanted to visit. How could he be gone? Her professional mentor was no longer. Her closest friend for fifteen years was no longer. When she had said good-bye the last time she was in Fort Sanford, she had not dreamt that she was saying good-bye forever and not just “until we meet again.”

Laura flew back to Fort Sanford for the funeral. Sarah was at the funeral, too. Laura was relieved to see her — hopeful and fearful at the same time. At last, perhaps they could mend the breach between them. Ironically, once again, Leroy was bringing them together. However, when Laura walked up to Sarah after the funeral, Sarah tossed her head and strode away without a word. Susan was not at the funeral, and Laura wanted to ask Sarah where she was, but, of course, that was not possible. Some of the townspeople told her that Susan could not get off work from her job as a waitress at one of the local cafes, but when Laura went looking for her, she could not find her. So, she returned to Munich somewhat despondent for the first two days.

Then, just as she began to look forward, rather than backward, she received the email that Sarah had died in a car accident on the way home from Leroy’s funeral. Of course, she immediately booked return tickets to Sarah’s funeral. Even though the long period of no communication between them, during which Sarah forbade Susan from communicating with Laura, continued to hurt, Laura still loved both Sarah and Susan and longed to say good-bye to the one and hello to other.

After Sarah had ceased communicating with her, Laura could not stop thinking about her and Susan. A blonde on the street, a phrase at a staff meeting, a picture in the newspaper — all kinds of small details would set her mind drifting to the days when she had shared and given love that she thought was sacred, eternal, indestructible. To accomplish any work at all, she would have to tell herself each morning, "Don't think about Sarah today." Whenever the image of Sarah popped into her mind, she would say "No!" Sometimes, without realizing it, she would say it aloud, and then people would stare at her, causing her some embarrassment. Still, she knew that this was the advice that psychologists gave to people who were obsessed with unhelpful thoughts, and Sarah had certainly become an unhelpful obsession. It took nearly two years for Laura to stop thinking about Sarah all the time, and she never stopped completely. Nor did she stop loving her. She had wondered if Sarah would ever be able to see past her own scars to notice how often she scarred others, and she had dreamed of a spring thaw that would melt Sarah's heart and bring them back together. Clearly, now that dream would not come true. Sarah had died during a winter of discontent, and spring for her would have to await another lifetime. Laura hoped that the next life would be easier for her. She envisioned Sarah dancing through a field of wildflowers, her blonde hair flowing behind her, cushioned by a gentle breeze, and she smiled—then realized that people were watching. Well, better a smile than a tear! At least, that's the way she wanted to imagine people at her own funeral—remembering the good times. Still smiling, she finally fell asleep.


The funeral was simple. Most of the staff at the Fort Sanford Times came, still red-eyed from Leroy’s funeral. None had been very close to Sarah, but still they came. Leroy would have expected it.

At the end of the funeral service, a tall, tanned, beautiful blonde stood next to the coffin for a very long time. Laura walked up beside her and saw that it was Susan. She put her arm around her, and the two stood together for an even longer time, saying a silent goodbye to Sarah, each in her own way.

After the interment, Laura accompanied Susan home. The house had not changed from the days when Laura used to visit Sarah and Susan, but the joy she had felt there was now absent.

“I know many people found Mother to be a difficult person,” said Susan, “but I loved her.”

“I did, too,” replied Laura softly, then turned to more pragmatic matters, “Susan, what are you going to do now?”

“Well, I have nothing holding me to Fort Sanford now, except for my job at the cafĂ©, and that is no great shakes, but, on the other hand, I don’t have any reason for going anywhere else or doing anything else.”

“So, you like what you do?” Laura queried.

“I don’t hate it,” said Susan, “but it is certainly not what I would hope to be doing ten years from now.”

“So, what is your dream?” Laura asked.

“My dream? Well, I am a little embarrassed to say. You might laugh, or you might not believe me.”

“Try me!”

“I want to be an international journalist like you, Aunt Laura.”

Laura was stunned. How long had Susan been afraid to let Sarah know that she would like to follow in Laura’s footsteps? How angry would Sarah have been had she known? Sarah liked having Susan near her, and international journalism would have taken her away. Had Susan been able to realize her dream, would Sarah not have thought that her own daughter’s good fortune was a blessing? “Just as likely not,” thought Laura.


During the next four years, Laura took on responsibility for Susan although Susan was fully grown and certainly capable of self-care. Laura guided Susan into selecting a college (she decided on Fordham University), paid her tuition, and advised her in her course selections. Susan majored in journalism, worked on the school newspaper staff, and with Laura’s encouragement and help, graduated summa cum laude.

Laura flew back to New York City — this time from Sao Paolo (she wondered what Leroy would have thought, if he were alive, if he knew she was covering international news from Brazil) — to attend Susan’s graduation. She could not have been more proud had Susan been her natural daughter. She had already lined up an entry-level position for Susan with the New York Times. This girl was going to start out her professional career partway up the ladder of success, and, if Laura had anything to do or say about it, the career would quickly blossom and flourish. She thought about the kinds of things Susan could cover, and the people to whom she could introduce her. She arrived at the graduation with a heart full of pride and a head full of plans.

Both the pride and the plans grew, as she watched Susan, who now looked startlingly like Sarah at the time that Laura had first met her, walk across the stage to be handed her diploma. Finally, she understood, at least a little, Sarah’s emotions in wanting to guide, advise, and direct Susan. The directing part was, of course, in Laura’s value system, not right, not fair. At the same time, there was the desire to make everything perfect for Susan according to her own plan.

Laura had planned to take Susan to an upscale restaurant after graduation to celebrate. They so rarely saw each other that this would be a chance for some intimate girl-and-family talk. They had both looked forward to this day for four years. So, Laura was quite surprised when Susan approached her hand-in-hand with a handsome, sharply dressed, middle-aged gentleman.

“Aunt Laura, I want you to meet Henri Jancquard.” Jancquard! One of the most eligible bachelors in the world! Laura looked closer and recognized the face from many pictures she had seen of this multimillionaire from Switzerland.

“How is it that you know my Susan?” she asked Pierre.

He smiled. “She interviewed me for an article for the school paper, and I interviewed her back. I asked her out that evening, and we have been dating since.”

“Well, not just dating,” Susan explained. “Aunt Laura, we are engaged!”

“Engaged? Well, congratulations! So, Henri, are you prepared to follow this newly minted international journalist around the world?”

Henri looked at Susan with a confused expression, then turned to Laura, “I have enough money that Susan does not need to work. She will travel with me around the world, as my wife, entertaining and being entertained.”

Laura began to feel information overload and suggested that all three go to the restaurant and talk about all of their futures. After three hours of conversation and a meal that would have satiated the hunger of the biggest wrangler, Laura had to leave to catch her flight back. She considered postponing her return trip, given the momentous news she had just received but thought better of it. There was really nothing to be gained by lingering in New York City.

“Thank you for coming, Aunt Laura,” Susan said, as they parted outside the restaurant.

“I would not have missed it for the world,” Laura replied.

“I hope you are not disappointed that I have decided to follow Henri and not continue with my career as an international reporter.” Susan’s tentativeness and look of guilt surprised Laura. “I will pay you back every penny you spent on my education. I promise.”

“You will not,” Laura replied. “I paid for your education because I loved your mother, and I love you. I am very happy for you, even though I will miss having you for a colleague. You will now be in a position to help others. So, don’t pay me back. Pass it on to as many others as you can.”

“Aunt Laura,” Susan smiled. “I love you.”

“Always remember: a friend’s good fortune is a blessing,” responded Laura, and with that, she leaned over and kissed Susan on the nose, as she knew Sarah would have.

Until now, here at Mahlou Musings, I have shared only my published works and the published works of friends. I thought that perhaps some folks might find some of my work in progress interesting, and that work will certainly benefit from reader critique. So, here is the first entry, a short story I wrote some time ago that is awaiting both redaction and companions to form a volume a short stories.


  1. Elizabeth:
    A very interesting story of loving someone in spite of the circumstances surrounding those involved.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read it, Quiet Spirit. And thanks for your comment.


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.