What I read
Every so often a book comes along that meets you right where you are, one that stares straight into your heart as you sit nose-to-page. This week, that book was All the Children Are Home by Patry Francis.
Dahlia and Louie Moscatelli have a houseful of foster children. Their rag tag family has already expanded and contracted several times when arrival of an ‘Emergency’ one afternoon changes their lives profoundly. Agnes Juniper is a tiny six-year-old Native American girl who knows nothing of her mother or her heritage. She arrives traumatized by abuse in her last foster care placement where she was kept in the attic and beaten. When she arrives at 100 Sanderson Street, Agnes knows nothing of toys or the outdoors and she speaks like a two-year-old.
Dahia and Louie are unlikely parents: she, haunted by trauma of her own and crippled by agoraphobia; he, a quiet giant of a man who eschews emotion and is most comfortable under the hood of the cars that he services at Louie’s Texaco. But as improbable as these parents might be, Agnes is transformed in their care. She immediately attaches herself to eight-year-old Zaidie’s side–Zaidie, who perhaps mothers the little girl better than Dahlia herself is capable. Foster brother Jimmy, just thirteen, is the first to fall in love with Agnes and it’s his “I love you” a few weeks after her arrival that cracks open her heart–and his. The Moscatelli children are all too familiar with loss and abuse–and it’s their unconditional love for Agnes that causes her to thrive.
As might be expected, their life is not easy. Money is scarce and there are no extras. (Truth be told even the basics are hard to come by.) Dahlia’s dark secret makes the family a target of harassment in their small town. Social Services interferes, moving children around like checkers on a board, never mind the damage that results. Substance abuse. Assault. Incarceration. It would be cliche for me to to call the children resilient or to claim that it’s love that changes everything. Except that it does.
I wonder, sometimes, at the praise books receive. Last week I read Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, which was “a literary miracle” according to NPR. Now don’t get me wrong–it was a fantastical romp of a story that moved from the studios of Hollywood to Oregon and Italy. It was a great read: well-written with some significant insights into the human condition.
But All the Children Are Home? It touched me.
And that’s the best literary miracle right there.
What I lived
I’m slowly getting used to my new reality. Sometimes grief over Mom’s death sweeps over me and I lose an afternoon or an evening to tears and doubts. Did we do enough to make her comfortable at the end? Did she truly know I loved her? Was there something I could have said or done to ease her mind? Sometimes I worry and fuss about house repairs and yard work now that I’m on my own. Who do I call to skim coat the damage to the living room wall? When will the tree guy grind the willow stump? How will I ever keep up with the yard work?
But you know what? At the day’s end, life is a miracle.
Last week I cared for my grandson when he was sick with strep, even managing a trip to the pediatrician for the first time in over twenty years. He stitched and painted and lego-ed all day. This week my daughter and I took the Littlest to story hour at the Gardens. I’ve put in hours of work clearing out borders and beds and the yard looks pretty darn good if I don’t say so myself. I ordered two polywood Adirondack chairs for the deck–and put them together without a hitch. My morning coffee never tasted so good as when I sit on the deck watching the orioles feed. Today Friend Mary and I had lunch in Grand Haven and walked along the channel. And the cherry on top of it all? The weather has been a delight: blue skies, gentle breeze, and eighty degrees. (I think it’s finally safe to say that winter is a distant memory.)
Maybe Ma Moscatelli said it best when she thought about the murky future: “What could I do but put on my shoes, start down the street, and see where the day might lead?”
What else, indeed?