Sitting Twelve

Eloise

Charrleen stared at the green, gooey, half-frozen mess in her cup. She wondered when the fad of drinking these healthy smoothies would finally pass and she could return to sausage gravy and biscuits.

But this morning, she faithfully put spinach, blueberries, pieces of carrot, apple juice and two small clumps of kale into a blender with some whey, protein powder, two squirts of honey and ice cubes, let the blender whirl it around, and now found herself reluctantly pouring it into her mouth.

It was a price of fame. For after all, a young singer in her twenties would not dare embrace the breakfast of her southern upbringing in a climate of low-calorie options. She was in the middle of her fifth gulp when there was a knock at the door.

Strange. No one ever knocked on her door. There were door bells. There was even a door man downstairs, who usually rang to inform her of the arrival of a guest.

Charrleen was spooked. She carefully made her way to the door and whispered, “Who’s there?”

“It’s me, dear child of God,” came the voice from the other side.

Even though it was the last voice she expected, she knew exactly who it was.

It was her Grand-mama on her father’s side—Eloise Chezvant.

She was a character. She had maintained her Cajun accent and her inclination to suddenly burst into profanity in fluent Creole–and was completely out of step with al trends of the world around her.

Charrleen, completely freed of any fear of an intruder, flung the door open, and in a gasp, released, “Grand-mama Eloise! What are you doing here?’

Eloise stepped into the room and began to survey the surroundings without any invitation.

“I’m here to see my granddaughter, who apparently has forgotten how to write a letter.”

“A letter?” questioned Charrleen, closing the door and giving a quick hug to her Grand-mama

“Yes,” said Eloise. “You know what a letter is. Pen put to paper with personal thoughts, sent through the mail and arriving at your home.”

“I’m sorry,” said Charrleen nervously, motioning to a chair for her Grand-mama to sit. “I don’t get my letters. They go to my fan club.”

“Your fan club,” said Eloise. She took her cane and brushed it against the chair to remove invisible dirt. “I’m not your fan, dear girl. I’m your Grand-mama”

She eased herself down onto the seat.

“I know that,” said Charrleen, sitting down next to her and hugging her again. “Why didn’t you text me?”

Eloise continued to look about the room with an air of disapproval. “Even if I knew what that was, I probably wouldn’t do it. I am a letter writer, as you well know.”

“You could have called,” suggested Chaarleen.

“I can’t figure out the new phones,” explained Eloise. “And my old phone has a broken cord and I can’t get anybody to replace it.”

Eloise peered at the green clump of fluid in the cup on the table. “And what is that, my dear?” she asked, using her cane as a pointer.

“That, Grand-mama, is called a smoothie,” said Chaarleen, grabbing the cup and rushing to pour it down the sink.

“Is it?” asked Eloise.

“Is it what?” queried Chaarleen, heading back to sit down next to Grand-mama

“Is it smooth?”

Chaarleen laughed. “Well, no. Matter of fact, smooth would be the last word I would use for it.”

“I see,” said Eloise. She leaned back in her chair and tilted her head back as if readying for a nap.

“So, Grand-mama,” said Chaarleen, “how did you get here?”

“I took a bus,” said Eloise.

“A bus?” Chaarleen was shocked. “Why didn’t you fly?”

“Well, my dear,” said Eloise, “I don’t have wings, and I don’t particularly favor those metal tubes they insist can take you from place to place.”

“You’ve never been on a plane?” said Chaarleen.

“I have,” shared Eloise. “And I don’t plan on repeating it. The only time I want to get that high in the sky is when I’m on my way to heaven.”

Chaarleen had to giggle. “So how long did it take you to get here on a bus?”

Grand-mama Eloise gave it some thought. “Well, my sweet, I don’t think about the passage of time. I got on the bus, and enjoyed conversations with people so much that all I can tell you is that it was two candy bars, three cups of coffee, four trips to the potty, a terrible egg salad sandwich, a meal of meat loaf and a bag of potato chips before I arrived at your bus station.”

Chaarleen hugged her again. She loved her Grand-mama very much, even though the old lady was opinionated and not exactly her greatest proponent.

When Chaarleen decided to move to Los Angeles to work on her music career, Grand-mama called the local priest and invited him to the house, insisting that Chaarleen was infested by some sort of demonic force that was calling her away to be tempted by the spirits of darkness. (Fortunately, the priest was intelligent enough to realize that the old lady was just sad about the departure, and opted to forgo a full-fledged exorcism.)

But Chaarleen respected the old woman immensely. Her Grand-mama Eloise had lived in New Orleans all her adult life, marrying a Greek Orthodox man who had once owned a business consortium in Istanbul. He had moved to the States, where he fell madly in love with Eloise, who was the proprietor of what was referred to as “The Salon.”

The nice folks of the town knew it to be a place of relaxation and a good location to receive a massage. But the more critical members of the community deemed it a den of iniquity, where more than the massaging of egos was frequently performed.

Eloise was a character–an enigma wrapped up in a paradox, with a huge question mark affixed to the top.

Chaarleen decided to take it nice and slow and let her Grand-mama provide the insight for the visit.

Eloise requested a little bit of brandy, which Chaarleen did not have, and instead offered her some red wine. The old lady sat patiently, waiting for her refreshment, and when it was delivered, she took two sips, set it on the table, drew a deep breath and began.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted to see you.”

Chaarleen nodded, knowing there was a speech forthcoming which didn’t require her interruption.

“I’ve been following your career,” said Eloise. “You make very beautiful music.”

Chaarleen beamed. Praise was hard to come by from the lips of her Cajun relative.

“But I must tell you that I am a bit concerned about your latest song.”

Grand-mama Eloise peered at Chaarleen as if looking into her deepest soul, as only the aged woman could. “I believe it’s called… something about jubilation.”

Great Jubilation,” said Chaarleen quietly.

“I am concerned,” said Eloise.

“What concerns you, Grand-mama?” asked Chaarleen tenderly.

“Did I ever tell you about my life as a girl–a child in the old country?”

“I don’t believe so,” said Chaarleen, taking her Grand-mama’s hands in her own.

“I was a Catholic girl, living in a Protestant world, surrounded by intellectuals. We celebrated Christmas. We did it in our own way. But gradually, because there were so many different interpretations of the season, disagreements ensued. Someone came up with the bright idea that Christmas was the problem–that if there were no Christmas, we all could peacefully get along like we did the rest of the year. Do you hear what I’m saying?”

Chaarleen nodded her head.

“But it went further than that,” continued Eloise. “During the September meeting of the town council, they voted that this particular year, in our little town, there would be no celebration of Christmas. No recognition of a Savior born. No decorations. And no pretty candles.”

“Really?” said Chaarleen.

“Yes, really, my dear. Everything is made possible by human will. So we can will to celebrate, or we can will to deny one another the celebration.”

She continued. “I was just a small lady. At first I didn’t think much about losing Christmas. I enjoyed the holiday, but it had become predictable. Same songs. Same decorations. Same story.”

“So I joined with the other children in ignoring the season, with a plan for our village to live through a year without Christmas. When December arrived, a fresh snow fell from the heavens as it often did, foretelling of the coming of the Yuletide. But instead of responding to the chill in the air by bringing in the evergreen and displaying the holly, each one, in his or her own way, denied the cold and the snow and tried to live on, pretending there was little reason for the season.”

She smiled at her own cleverness.

“It was the worst month of my life. The earth did not swallow us up, nor did the sky speak disapproval. No. What we lacked is what we, ourselves, decided to do without. The possibility of kindness, the giving of a gift, the sharing of a meal…”

Chaarleen interrupted. “Grand-mama, I’m not trying to get rid of Christmas…”

“Please, let me finish,” Eloise said sternly.

Chaarleen assented.

“The day before Christmas, such a sadness hung over the town that one of the local churches broke rank and had their organist softly play Christmas carols, while opening the doors of the church so the town could hear. I have never felt such a healing in my soul, provided by a simple melody.”

She shook her head, remembering. “People sat in their homes and wept as the organist played one hour–two hours. Or was it three? And even though we did not celebrate Christmas that year, on the afternoon of December 25th, the City Council met together and voted down the injunction against Christmas.”

She looked deeply into Chaarleen’s eyes.

“The following message was printed and placed on the doorstep of each household: ‘We are sorry we lost Christmas. We will not do it again. Christmas is not a holiday. It is a way of life.'”

As Eloise finished, her eyes filled with tears. She squeezed Chaarleen’s hands and said, “The song is beautiful, my sweet. But Christmas is not an option. It is the food that is required for our souls.”

Chaarleen welled up with tears. She didn’t know how to explain to this well-traveled woman the nature of the music business, the emotions of the country, nor the promotion that was garnering her great finance.

So the two of them embraced, crying softly, letting love have its moment.