The Book Club Reflection: The Goodbye Summer by Patricia Gaffney
Essence is the product of existence
Not all pleasure is desirable and not all pain is undesirable
WISDOM TO BE FOUND IN THE ACCEPTANCE
“I live on my own,”
says Caddie Winger of her long-time home
each night to help her wind down
she sits in front of her piano
when she goes to sleep
she tends to see a grand music hall
an audience listening
with extraordinary intensity
to a beautiful piece of music
if she can only see
who does it play,
everything will be ok,
which of course it is.
In her dreams,
she is the one
performing it on the stage.
She wakes up
a music teacher turns 33.
Another of her students
with a boring expression
on a face
plays few false notes,
she asks him or her to repeat.
“But it’s hard,
I find myself tripping up all the time.”
The child sighs,
pushing an instrument aside.
Caddie Winger closes her eyes
and repeats to herself:
“Be calm but firm and confident,
set limits and stick to them,
fair and consistent boundaries
help children to feel safe.”
“You are a capable musician,
right now you just need to practice
and you will be fine.”
She finally says.
The child hands the instrument to her:
Suddenly she is tense and needs to run away.
“The lesson is over today.”
“It is time to visit our wacky Grandmother,”
she pats a little ball of fur,
he looks at her with a mischief in his eyes.
She pointed at him crossly:
“No Finney, you are not going to chase old folks around,
come here, at once.”
Caddie follows him down the road
towards the ‘Wake House’.
“What would Christopher, our dog trainer, say,
he loved you more than me.”
She stops exhausted watching his tail
Her boyfriend’s words,
who dumped her just few days back,
rings in her ears
and makes her feeling sick:
“An animal is such a pure thing,
it’s get no motivation except to be with you,
and you know it.
It breaks through.”
Christopher would lecture her constantly:
“ Bring him to your Nana’s home,
and you will see,
old folks start talking,
first to Finney,
then to each other.
The dog unlocks memories.
Everybody has a story – all of a sudden,
there is a community.”
She patts her tummy bitterly:
“I have the story to tell, Christopher Fox,
but this one you don’t want to hear.”
She approached a Maryland home
for the elderly.
Its peeling walls reflect the remembrance of things past.
Nan and her friends there
have aches and pains
and problem with short-term memory
she sees them struggling with old age
against the fading of the light.
This house illuminates life.
Caddie prepares her blank paper and pen,
are the sums of their history.
As we grow older
so much of experience
It is as though,
we were walking on stilts,
that grew even longer.
It becomes hard
to keep our balance on top.
we can no longer hold…
Caddie enters the empty hall,
she can hear Finney’s bark and someone’s laughter
in a further corridor.
Three photographs on the wall
near the entrance door
were of Thea Barnes,
over 60 years old.
She was much younger
on the first shot,
and middle-aged in the second.
The shape of the face
has changed only slightly
but the sense of the person
has evolved profoundly.
From the gaze of a girl,
who does not quite know,
what life will bring,
to the woman’s wry smile,
who already has answers to questions about life.
In the third photograph,
it is hard
not to feel
that the woman in her old age
had a rather gaunt and brittle air
and strangely faraway gaze
as though beholding
the approach of death.
Thea appears in front of her,
in a colorful blouse,
with outstretched arms,
a kind and beautiful smile
playing on her lips:
“Come on my lost daughter,
give me a kiss.”
hugging her tightly:
“I wish you be my mum.”
Thea winks at her
“We can still pretend, follow me
I show you something.”
She gets hold of Caddie’s hand
pulling her behind up the stairs.
“That’s the thing with today’s retirees,
you don’t always look and act your age.”
Caddie says out of breath.
“Just because I’ve retired from work,
doesn’t mean I’ve retired from life,
my precious girl.”
Thea pushes her up front
on a secret porch
on a roof of the house.
A gentle summer rain
falls out of sky.
They take their top off
while the outline
of the town
from their view
in an approaching dusk.
“You won’t hear me deny,
that life is scary.”
“But so is avoiding it.
You can set yourself free
anytime you like.”
At the end of that week,
“We are born, we exist and we cease to be,”
Her Nan patted her cheek
with her hands smelling of paint and clay
she continued to work on life size Thea’s figurine.
“Is she naked?”
She asks alarmingly,
“Life is short, you only get one,
and if you waste it worrying what other people think,
you are idiot, Caddie Winger.”
Her Nan shouts angrily.
Then she just adds, sadly
looking at her own frail, blue-veined hands:
“We are concerned with trying to find eternal youth,
our beauty after death is longer lasting,
because we get rid of all the things we don’t need,
I will call this piece: ‘Purity’.”
Caddie doesn’t know what to say.
Finally she hugs her frail hunched frame
and whispers to her ear: “I love you Nan.”
She wants to leave
when Nan suddenly
get hold of her sleeve:
“Thea was born in this house,
she was the last member of the Wake family,
did you know?”
listening to her croaky voice
and nods sadly:
“It was me who told you, my dear Nan,
yesterday and the day before,
you just forget,
again and again.”
Nan shook her head,
“My humble beginning
and approaching end,
my childhood years,
aging and dying,
what a strange combination
of commonplace and extraordinarity.”
97 years old Mr. Lorton
waves at her from his room,
she lays down her paper and pen
as he starts about his history:
“I like being alive. I love it more, not less,
the older I get.
I am still a dashing young man
under all these wrinkles,
I am still burning bright
and everything is still a mystery,
Caddie thinks about Christopher,
their last night together,
they had just made love and she felt so tender inside,
he just pulled he into his arms and soon after
he’d fallen asleep,
that’s when she’d said it:
“What about love Mr. Lorton?”
a croaky and dry laugh:
“I always thought I would end up a bachelor,
I never meet a girl, who could put up with me,
or else me with her. Well, I had to wait for long,
but one day it changed. I met someone down to earth,
and kind of heart who was thinking a little bit better
of me than I deserved…”
Caddie watched him expectantly:
“She is dead, my girl, I lost everything, my old world,
the world righted itself and all I had to do was learn
to life in it without her.”
She had cried a little and Mr. Lorton had seen her tears,
but he’d only smiles his toothless smile:
“Once you will, again,
like all of us before,
fall in love,
look for someone with soft nature and heart…
true love is a fragile, rare thing.”
“You didn’t have to be alone to be lonesome.”
Henry Magill the youngest resident,
just about her age said to her,
when they smoke pot
in her backyard.
“I know how it feels to be invisible…”
He interrupted her:
“My limbs are broken, I can barely walk,
I have friends,
one is aphasic and profoundly deaf,
another one is autistic.
They have accepted, just like me,
that we may sit in a room of people,
but we are not part.
We have learnt to have patience,
until one of these people
will face us and speak clearly,
ask us what we think,
they may never fully understand our problems
but we wish they would accept us as we are…”
86 years old Colonel patted Magill on his knees:
“I am not longer able to hear with clarity and ease,
I too slowly drift away from the rest,
accepting their chatter,
but knowing that,
were I to attempt to be part of it,
I would be a self conscious burden.
What empathy does our community have with the disabled, with the elderly?”
Caddie thought for herself:
How it must be to live with disability
with terminal illness
how being old must be?
You try to go on what you have,
but you can never really forget.
The dire nature of your condition
lay on top of everything
like a heavy wet trap.
She looked up at the sky.
Does it feel like things are changing?
The wind picked up,
smelling of rain and earth.
It blew a lock of Caddie’s hair
in her face.
Magill stroke it away
with his fingers.
In the same smooth move
she slipped her arm
around Magill’s broken waist:
“Getting late, should we go?”
He shook his head:
“Half of what ails us comes from keeping a secret.”
Caddie took his hand and led him inside.
They stretched comfortably on her bed.
She loved lying beside all those nocks and crooks,
pointy corners of his broken body.
She felt like a lucky little boat,
safe and snug in a calm, peaceful bay.
Caddie has found her home port.
“Time is right to tell me the story of your accident.”
She said in a soft exhale of breath.
“You can’t hear anything but wind during free fall,
but once you open your canopy,
everything is dead quiet.
It was a perfect day.
Blue sky and white clouds.
Waiting for your turn to jump is always the hardest.
There were nineteen of us
packed like sardines
on the twin-engine.
We were second to last.
Me and my girlfriend,
who didn’t survived.
Then we jumped.”
Their faces were very close,
she could see specks
of her own reflection
in the blue of his eyes.
His lashes came down.
Her image disappeared.
“ I wish I could heal you,”
she said with a sigh.
“Thea told me, that I can never be forgiven,
I can only forgive myself.
Tonight I did.”
This story speaks directly to us,
to our lives, to our situations,
while at the same time
to belong to a distant
to our future…
This story evokes
the toll that time
takes on our bodies
and on youthful
part of us,
but it is not all about
There is also
in the continuation
of the cycle of life
beyond our own
to be found
in that acceptance.
we all end up
in a Wake House,
Patricia Gaffney : The Goodbye Summer
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