Pat Erickson, author of Stifle Yourself Edith, her excellent memoir is not only my student, friend, but this year has become my right arm by volunteering to be my assistant for our second annual Women Inspiring Women Conference (January 21, 2012). She is an amazing woman and I am so glad she came to my first workshop nearly three years ago! What she has written is a short story based on her real life experience last summer with her brother. She is experimenting with transforming real-life episodes into fiction. Thank you Pat for sharing with us!
THE HOUSE ON THE CAPE
What Dina learned in that rickety cottage on the Cape was how to die. But more important, she learned how to live. She learned these things from her older brother, Joe, who had received a grim prognosis. During the phone call, he said he would not need her, but immediately changed his mind. It was an epic admission from a macho guy. He couldn’t get through the dying without her help. Like Woody Allen, Joe didn’t really mind death; he just didn’t want to be there when it happened. Like Woody Allen, Joe had a sense of humor.
He was one of the smartest men Dina ever knew. He was a savant about numbers and birthdays and anniversaries and historical events. He teased her that she was “in training” as a domestic. She learned to do chores without a dishwasher, or a garbage disposal, or clothes dryer. She used the computer at the library because there was no internet connection. Dina’s niece said that the house on the Cape was like living in “the village”, a primitive and remote outpost.
Dina lived in the “the village” and became Joe’s cook, caretaker, driver and housekeeper. In exchange for her domestic bondage, she received an unexpected gift. She enjoyed a freedom she had never known. As she practiced selflessness, she learned what an honorable and self-sufficient person she was. She learned that she was someone to lean on.
When Joe napped in the afternoon, she drove to the local beach with a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and a powdered lemon donut. She devoured the Boston Globe along with the sticky treat and rinsed it down with the robust brew. Her waistline could ill-afford such an indulgence, but in matters of life and death, the lemon goo was a godsend.
She took in the changing tide, the panoply of colors, the clouds racing across the sun, the erratic gusts of wind, and the aeronautical skills of the seagulls. She walked on the beach like there was no beginning and no end. In these moments of bliss, she learned how to be still.
Joe died with his family at his side. Admittedly, he was afraid to die but with his sister’s help, he faced the end with dignity and humor. That final smile on his face was the knowledge that he had taught his little sister how to live.