Chattahoochee Child


PART TWO

The headlines in the newspaper caught my attention. Bibb Manufacturing Company becomes a ghost town. I stared at the caption with a tight bewildered look on my face, reading it again, picturing the desolate hope filled community of Bibb City, Georgia, the destitute textile community of my youth. Bibb City was the small cotton mill town where my footprints were imprinted within the clay riverbeds. Bibb City was the only place I had roots established. Bibb City was Home to me.

The richness of life in a mill town is disappearing now while the little town called Bibb slowly becomes extinct. Bibb Manufacturing Company abandoned the area in 1998, closing the mill, leaving a graveyard of homes, failing businesses, broken families and memories behind. The hunger for better jobs, civil rights, and the race for modern technology prevailed, leaving the Town of Bibb City devastated.

I poured another cup of coffee, reading the article again. The years of working as a reporter filled my mind with curiosities and questions about the dying communities of mill workers. I scribbled notes on a pad. My mind rushed back to my youth, playing a mental continuous loop video of memories from the small town of Bibb City, Georgia.

Why was the little town  called Bibb City distressing me? Years ago, I drove away from the Village without looking back, embarrassed to be associated with people who judged others by the colors of skin, religion, sexual preference, or political choice. Sipping a hot cup of coffee, I realized my perspective about Bibb City was changing.

Reading the article again, my body was shaking. If the mill is no longer in business, what will the residents of this precious mill village do for survival? Bibb Mill provided housing and when the Mill decided to sell those homes to mill workers, many of the hard working employees took their first steps to independence and the American dream — a home — a brick and mortar foundation where roots could remain.  My grandparents became homeowners, buying a tiny brick home on Walnut Street. Grammy  insisted on buying a home so Mom could have a place to live.

After Grammy’s death, Mom had other ideas. She sold the house, wasting away all of the money. What about the historical value of the Bibb Mill? Couldn’t the politicians see the potential for historical recording? Was everything in the corporate world about the potential for a profit? What about the families who lived in the Village?

A whirlpool of mixed emotions churned inside me. As I read the article about the abolishment of the town I knew so well, I discovered childhood feelings resurfacing. I debated my anger for a few moments, realizing I could do nothing to stop the bureaucracy of developers, who had no comprehension of the premise of life in a mill town. The one thing I could do was to write about the rise and fall of Bibb Manufacturing Company. As my grandfather reminded me, “You work for the Mill, you’ll always have a job.” Papa died before the Mill closed.

I called my editor, leaving a voice mail, expressing interest in a story about mill workers. Bibb City would be the focal point. When he returned my call, I pitched the idea.

“We have to do this story,” I said. “It isn’t just about life in a mill town. It’s a story about relationships, civil rights, bigotry, and so much more. It’s a feature, maybe even a series. We’ll start with The Rise and Fall of The Bibb Manufacturing Company.”

I waited for his response.

“Let me think about it.”

“I need a commitment now,” I pushed aggressively. “I’m packing my bags. There’s a story there and I’m going to get it,” I said. “My mother lives there. She’s had a stroke.”

“Sounds like you have some issues,” Garrett groaned.

“A few. If you’re not interested in the story, I’ll find someone else.”

Garrett laughed. “That’s what I like about you, Rebecca. You always push to the limit.”

“I’ll call you later,” Garrett breathed into the phone.

I hung up.

 

 

A Toast To The Little Things In Life…


Dearest Readers:

I suppose today is a day to reminisce, in hopes I might convince myself it is time to break away from social media, interruptions, along with the intense doubts I have about the ability to write. Below is another award-winning story I wrote a few months after losing my father. Hope you enjoy!

Arriving in Greensboro, I met Joan at Friendly Shopping Center. I parked the car in the first available spot and headed towards Hecht’s Department Store. I rushed across the congested parking lot waving to Joan standing by the door. The after Thanksgiving sale crowd was anxious for the doors to open, pushing, and shoving to get closer to the entrance. Joan and I moved aside to let an elderly woman in a wheel chair take our spot in line. This year, holiday sales and life in general meant nothing to me. I’d experienced the worst year in my life, watching my father melting away from the toxic poisons of esophageal cancer and chemo-radiation therapy.

“Crowds bother me,” I said. “I hate the rudeness of women when they’re searching for a bargain.” Joan nodded. I turned my back to the street, noticing the trees decorated with bright lights. With exception of today, I’d forgotten Christmas was less than a month away.

“How are you doing now,” Joan asked.

“Okay,” I said, a little too quickly. “The trees are beautiful this year.”

I blinked several times, my eyes glaring at the spruce trees, melting snow on the ground.

“Just okay, huh,” Joan said. “It’s been six months since he died. If you need to talk, I’m here.”

Tears danced in my eyes. I looked away from her stare.

When the doors opened, I looked over my shoulder. Something caught my eye. Perhaps the uniqueness of the moment, the after effects of stress, combined with my desire to disconnect from life, forced me to see things in a different perspective. Something was lying in the road. Someone probably dropped a jacket, I thought, ignoring my discovery.

“Joan,” I said. “I’ll meet you in ladies wear.”

Curiosity of the image in the road captivated me, so I stepped aside.

An inner voice whispered to me. ‘Go check to see what’s in the road.’

I didn’t hear Joan answer me. By now, there were hundreds of shoppers pushing and shoving into Hecht’s.

While shoppers rushed for the early morning bargains, my eyes refused to leave the road. As I moved closer, I recognized the item by the curb wasn’t a jacket, but an elderly gentleman.

“He must be drunk,” I mumbled, moving closer to him. What if he’s dead? I can’t do this. Not again. I dialed 9-1-1 on my cell phone.

My mind rewound, stopping at the memories and heartache of July, 1999. That Tuesday evening in July I was late arriving at Sandpiper Convalescent Center. When I placed my hand on the door of my father’s room, a nurse intercepted me. Nurses were rushing around Dad’s bed.

“Can you get a pulse?” I heard someone say.

“His daughter is here. What should we do?”

Nurse Angie joined me at the doorway. Her eyes locked into mine.

“No, I screamed. No! Please God, No!”

Nurse Angie sat me down. She didn’t need to tell me what was going on. I knew the day had arrived, and although oncologist specialists told me in 1997 that I needed to prepare myself, I wasn’t ready to let Dad go. I still needed him in my life. He couldn’t leave me now. Not now.

Just how does one prepare for death? When I spoke with medical professionals, asking that question, no one could give me a defiant answer. Financial, I was prepared. Arrangements were made, but emotionally – I would never be prepared to lose my father.

Nurse Angie whispered. “He’s a DNR. Do you want us to do anything?”

I knew the definition of DNR, and I did not want to disobey my Dad’s orders of do not resuscitate. “I- uh – I can’t override his decision. Not even if it means—.” I couldn’t finish the words. Since childhood, Dad was my lifeline. Always ready to cheer me up. Always ready to teach me things. He and my grandmother taught me about God and prayer. Dad was the provider who taught me to stand up for myself and to speak my mind – but gently. Dad was the one who beamed with a golden halo when I sang in the choir. Dad was the one who encouraged me to reach for the stars. Now, my shining star was getting brighter, only at the cost of losing my helping hand. My lifeline.

“Dear God, give me strength,” I prayed. “Take care of my dad. Use his talents. Let him know I love him.”

A screaming horn brought me back to reality. I stared into the eyes of a driver. “Get the hell out of the way,” the burgundy haired woman shrieked. “I need to turn.”

I walked over to her. She had body piercings in her eyebrow and nose. “I’m sorry to inconvenience you,” I said. “There’s a gentleman unconscious in the road. I’m not moving him until EMS gets here.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she mouthed. “I’m in a hurry.”

“Aren’t we all?”

I kneeled down, touching the elderly gentleman’s forehead, feeling beads of cold sweat. His hair was thin, salt and pepper gray. His face was weathered, hands wrinkled but firm. “Dear God please. Don’t let him die. Not today.” My face lifted to the skyline.

His hands felt like ice. His body was thin. A gray beard covered his face. He wore a gold wedding band. By now, curious shoppers were moving closer to us. Removing my coat, I covered him. Although it was freezing cold outside, I could not allow this man to freeze under my watch. A young man with spiked hair removed his leather coat, bundled it into a ball, lifting the gentleman’s head.

“Does he have a pulse?” He asked.

“I didn’t check.”

“It’s okay. I’m a medical student.” He checked for a pulse, nodding yes to me.

The gentleman coughed.

“Sir, what happened?”

“I fell. I’m sick. My wife wanted to be here early for the sale.”

“Where’s your wife?”

“I don’t know. I drove her here. I let her out by the door. I parked the car. I had chemo this week.”

I warmed his freezing hands with mine. “Chemo,” I muttered, understanding his weakness.

Joan stood next to me, touching my shoulder. “You okay?”

I nodded.

“Cancer,” I said. “You go shopping. I’ll stay with him.”

“Sirens,” someone said. “They’re coming.”

The man squeezed my hand. “Don’t leave me,” he said.

“Your wife. Where’s your wife?”

“She wanted to shop. She’s buying me some fishing tackle.”

“You must like to fish,” I said, hoping he’d remain alert. “Is there someone else we can call?”

“My grandson. His number’s in my wallet.”

The medical student found his wallet, dialed the number.

When EMS arrived, the man grabbed my hand. “Bless you for helping me,” he said. Moments later, EMS rushed away. I lifted my head to look at the gray skyline. “Please God, don’t let him die. Not today. Touch him. Keep him safe.”

At lunch, I found myself able to talk. A sudden burst of adrenalin had me chatting non-stop about Dad’s terminal illness, forgiveness and death.

“When I was little, I was hit by a car. My Grammy said I was spared for a reason,” I said to Joan, sipping a steaming cup of coffee. “Until today, I never understood what she meant.”

“You really have a way with old people,” she said.

I laughed. “Not until Dad’s illness. I’ve never told you this, but my relationship with my parents wasn’t good. When they divorced, I was angry. Until Dad got sick, I couldn’t forgive them.”

I looked around the crowded restaurant. “Life is so short. So unfair. I guess I never took life and death seriously until Dad died. Now, I try to make the most of each day. I’ve started praying every night. That’s something I didn’t do for many years. I was living in a spinning wheel headed nowhere, until Dad’s illness.”

Biting my lip, I continued. “I suppose I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life. Those special moments. Laughter – something I haven’t done in a long time. Smiles. Reading to a child. Listening to music. Watching a classic movie, and reading good books. Funny. Now, I cherish those moments.”

Joan smiled, nodding her head. “When I met you, I thought you were so special and I knew I wanted us to be friends.”

“I remember. You encouraged me while I pulled away. All of my life I’ve had friends I couldn’t trust and I realized I needed a good friend. I’m so thankful we are friends.”

Joan sighed. “I don’t mean this to be critical. You were amazing with that man today. You put your needs aside while you held his hand. You wouldn’t leave him. I watched you.”

“Life is so short,” I said, biting my lip. “I didn’t do anything you wouldn’t do.”

“Yes, you did. People were rushing by you. You stood your ground, holding that frail man’s hand. You probably saved his life today.”

“No. I did what I had to do.”

“Maybe it’s time you did something for you! Losing your dad changed you. You must move on while remembering your dad and those special moments you shared. He wouldn’t want you to be so depressed, or to shut yourself and your life away. We’re all worried about you.”

Still in denial, I nodded, attempting a smile.

“Do you know Dad came to me one night in a vision? You do know I’ve had visions all of my life, but this one was different. I was tossing and turning in bed. I saw a ghostly white figure at the foot of the bed, and then I heard his voice. He pinched my toe and told me, and I quote, “You need to move on with your life. I’m fine. Stop worrying about me and grieving me. I’m all right!”

I glanced out the window. “As quickly as the vision came, it left, and I knew Dad was telling me I needed to move on. People think I’m crazy when I tell them I have visions, but I do. It’s a gift my grandmother gave to me when she died. I know Dad is all right. It’s just hard to let him go.”

“You have to continue living your life. You were there for him every day of his illness. You were the perfect daughter to him.”

I laughed. “Perfect? Hardly. But when the time came, I was there, and I know I have to live again. I have to make each day a good day while enjoying the sunshine and all of the little things. I think I finally understand. Perhaps this year, my Christmas tree will have a theme of ‘Little Things.”

Joan smiled. “Here’s to the little things in life, and the friendship we cherish.”

Wiping tears from my eyes, I smiled at Joan. “Maybe we should order two glasses of wine – just to celebrate the little things, Christmas and new beginnings.”

 

 

 

 


Dearest Readers:

While cleaning files on my computer, I discovered this story written years ago. I do hope you will enjoy! Perhaps the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, reminds me of simpler times with my dad. Enjoy!

Perhaps a portion of “Chattahoochee Child”

Footsteps: Taking the Back Roads to Alabama

by

Barbie Perkins-Cooper
Copyright Barbie Perkins-Cooper

Dad looks dashing today, so unlike other residents at the nursing home. The green shirt and tie match the hazel-green of his eyes. The khaki pants swallow his emaciated frame. Nevertheless, he walks with his shoulders erect, head held high. A friendly smile frames his face. A hat protects his shiny bald head from the sun. “Hello-ooo, Barbara. It’s good to see you today.” His once boisterous voice no longer rings with a tone similar to Winston Churchill.

With my arm outstretched to brace his slow, shuffling movements, I walk alongside my father. His legs are so weak they remind me of spaghetti. My mind ponders the moment, picturing a small child using a walker to take her first steps, while her daddy’s arms open wide to hold her in case she falls. I feel those same heartfelt emotions now, only I am the daughter holding my arms nearby. My father uses the walker. I’ll be the one to catch him, if he falls.

Today has been a good day for Dad. He laughs, managing to tease me occasionally, by telling me stories I’ve heard a thousand times before.

Sometimes when I visit, no words are spoken between us. His memory is trapped in a timepiece of years past, remembering the bitter divorce and the disappointments in his lifetime. He points his finger in my direction, accusing me of betraying him. He says women cannot be trusted, and since I’m a woman, I fall into that category. On those days, I escape quickly, visiting for just a few minutes. I refuse to respond to his rage, afraid of upsetting him. I know by watching his signals he is angry at this dreadful monster of cancer. He does not want to be around anyone because we might see his pain and suffering. He is detaching.

Today is a different story. The love radiating from his eyes touches me. I make a mental note to cherish this moment for the rest of my life. He moves his hand from the walker to touch my hand. “You’re a wonderful daughter. My precious star.”

Tears rush down my face. I turn my head away so he will not see me crying. He tightens his hands on the walker, shifting his footsteps he moves carefully. “Today’s been a good day,” he repeats. “I kept my food down and I was able to walk a bit. I think we could travel to Georgia and Alabama with Lewis. He loved Georgia, you know,” he says. “Lewis and I planned to take the back roads to Georgia, so we could see the simple things in life.” Dad wets his lips, stares at the tile floor, and speaks carefully. “I never made it to all the places Lewis and I wanted to go, but on a day like this one, I could take the back roads to anywhere.”

“So let’s take the back roads, Dad. You can describe our voyage when we get back to your room. I’ll be the pilot. You‘re the navigator. While I drive, you can describe all the colors and sounds of life along with the scenery.”

He stops for a moment. His eyes glimpse at a delicate, silver-haired lady with a blue bow in her hair. Dad nods to her. She smiles a flirtatious smile at him. I step back, watching the graceful woman my dad has a crush on, and I smile. She’s the first woman I’ve seen my dad take an interest since my parents’ divorce. Such a tiny lady, with a gigantic heart of gold. Her silver hair is neatly combed, swept into a bun. She smells of Chloe cologne. She wears a pretty bow in her hair to match her outfit. Cultured pearls flatter her youthful neck. Diamond and pearl earrings sparkle in her ears.
Today she wears a blue silk dress. Blue pumps with white buckles accent her feet. Her legs are clothed in silk nylons. “I love to look my best. I’ll be ninety years old next month, she says. “I feel fifteen, until I look around.” Tucked by her wheelchair is a white lace crocheted afghan. Her fingers are long, manicured nails painted pink. She wears one cultured pearl ring and a beautiful diamond watch. The nurses say she was a well-known pianist, before her body was attacked with Parkinson’s Disease. Her hands move the wheelchair in his direction. Dad stands taller as she moves closer. “Good afternoon, Ms. Bee,” he says. “It’s good to see you again. Do you remember my daughter?”

Ms. Bee stops the wheelchair. Her hands quiver as she shakes my hand. “Of course I do. Not a day goes by without speaking to her. It’s so nice to see you, dear.”

Ms. Bee has a beautiful smile. Her iridescent blue eyes shimmer like sapphires as she looks at my dad. “Seeing your dad every day makes my day complete,” she says to me. “He’s such a charming gentleman. He likes to kiss me on the cheek. Sometimes I get him to join me in my room for dinner. I offer him a cocktail but he refuses to drink.”

“I’m a teetotaler,” he says, reaching for her hand. The childlike grin on his face expresses a side of Dad I’ve missed.

“Ms. Bee, would you like to take a journey with us?”

She cast a perplexing look at me, smiles and says, Where are we going?”

“Dad’s taking me on a mental journey to Georgia and Alabama. I’ll meet Uncle Lewis.”

“Lewis and I have an engagement for the annual church Family Day, 1941.”

“I’ve always wanted to meet Lewis, Ms. Bee says.

Ms. Bee follows us to the lobby. Dad parks the walker near a chair. Dad speaks eloquently telling us the story of his trip with Lewis in early 1941.

“Today Lewis and Barbara will take turns, driving a 1938 Buick Special sedan. We start our trip on Highway 17 leaving Charleston, driving to Georgia. We’ll spend the night in Savannah. Lewis’ car is a finely tuned automobile, burgundy with black interior. Chrome decorates the front bumper, four new white wall tires. The Buick has an engine that purrs like a kitten as we drive along the road, headed to the First Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama where Lewis and I will preach and sing the gospel. Afterwards, a church picnic will be served, complete with fried chicken, homemade biscuits, iced tea and desserts made for a king.”

The roads to Georgia and Alabama are narrow in 1941, traffic isn’t bad. Lewis and Dad are in the back seat, snoring. I cruise on the roads, not worried about rushing to get somewhere in a hurry. These are simpler times. I see green pastures, lots of farm land. Deer, cattle, horses, and other animals paint a picture of times past I never knew. While traveling through Georgia, I notice lots of red clay, the Chattahoochee River, cotton fields, barns, and people walking on the roadside. The air smells fresh as it brushes my face. When I get tired, Lewis will awaken me by singing in my ears. The luxury of a radio is not necessary while Dad and the Uncle I never knew entertain me with harmonies equal to a barber shop quartet.

Listening to Dad entertaining us with stories from his past, I long to step back in time, to meet Uncle Lewis, the identical twin brother of my father, the uncle who died in September 1941.

Watching my dad come to life again by sharing his stories encourages me to continue the journey, learning from his wisdom. I have no control over his disease. I cherish every moment we share, but I know soon the sunset will disappear. Dad will be gone, traveling into a promised, eternal life with his brother and family members.

Dad’s always been there for me, holding my hand, teaching me to walk, telling me about the beauty of life, the sunrises, and sunsets. When he’s gone, who will teach me? Will I still see life the way he does, or will I grow bitter? Will someone reach out steadying my footsteps as I travel to my sunset? Will my memory record the pleasant days of life like my father’s memory, or will I be a wilted vegetable?

Later, as I leave the nursing home, I look back at Dad. He stands at the doorway, waving goodbye. A welcomed smile fills his face. I will cherish that wave forever. As I open the exit door to leave Sandpiper Convalescent Center, I see Ms. Bee again. Her words describing Dad as a charming man ring in my ears. I suppose its true — with age comes wisdom. My dad shows me with his kindness and tranquility how people grow, prosper, and improve after adversity. When he’s gone, I’ll remember these irreplaceable contributions of his life. I’ll break away from the rat race of life, taking tiny steps, recording the memories of these special days together.

THE WAKE UP CALL


First North American Rights Only
Total Word Count –1491 words
Barbie Perkins-Cooper
E-mail: barbiepc@bellsouth.net

Arriving in Greensboro, North Carolina, I met Joan at Friendly Shopping Center. I parked the car in the first available spot and headed towards Hecht’s Department Store. Rushing across the parking lot, I waved to Joan. Stopping for only a moment, I admired the Christmas decorations. Early morning bargain hunters were anxious for the doors to open, pushing, and shoving to get to the entrance. Joan and I stepped aside letting an elderly woman in a wheel chair take our spot. Holiday sales meant nothing to me. I’d experienced the worst year in my life, watching my father melting away from the toxic poisons of esophageal cancer and chemo-radiation therapy.

“Crowds bother me,” I said to Joan. “Will I ever laugh again?”

Joan nodded. I turned my back to the street, noticing the trees decorated with bright lights. I’d almost forgotten Christmas was less than a month away.

“How are you doing?” Joan asked.

“Okay. The trees are beautiful this year.”

“Just okay, huh,” Joan said. “It’s been six months. If you need to talk, I’m here.”

Grief is an emotional I do not tolerate well. Normally a boisterous woman, full of laughter and fun, especially at the holidays, my present demeanor was a weakened shell of a woman, bursting into tears at the slightest gesture, especially when someone struggled to move in a wheel chair, or a walker. Too many memories surfaced and I crumbled like a child. I missed my dad more than words could express. My actions revealed how despondent I was, and I truly hated myself for being such a weakling.

When the doors opened, I looked over my shoulder. Something caught my eye. An object was lying in the road. Someone probably dropped a jacket I thought as I moved closer.

“Joan,” I said. “I’ll meet you in ladies wear.”

I didn’t hear Joan answer me. By now, there were hundreds of shoppers pushing and shoving into Hecht’s.
Striding towards the road, I recognized the item by the curb wasn’t a jacket, but an elderly gentleman.
“He must be drunk,” I mumbled, moving closer to him. What if he’s dead? I dialed 9-1-1 on my cell phone.

My mind rewound, stopping at the memories and heartache of July, 1999. That humid Tuesday evening in South Carolina, I was late arriving at Sandpiper Convalescent Center. When I placed my hand on the door of my father’s room, a nurse intercepted me. Nurses were rushing around Dad’s bed.

“Can you get a pulse?” I heard someone say.

“His daughter is here. What should we do?”

Nurse Angie joined me at the doorway. Her eyes locked into mine.

“No, “I screamed. “No! Please God, No!”

Nurse Angie sat me down. She didn’t need to tell me what was going on. I knew the day had arrived, and although Dr. Williams told me I needed to prepare myself, I wasn’t ready to let Dad go. I still needed him in my life. For two years he’d fought and survived. For two years, we’d buried the past, building a newfound respect, love and forgiveness. He couldn’t leave me now.

Nurse Angie whispered. “He’s a DNR. Do you want us to do anything?”

The acronym for do not resuscitate rang in my ears. “I can’t override his decision. Not even if it means—.” I couldn’t finish the words. Since childhood, Dad was my helping hand. Always ready to cheer me up. He and my grandmother taught me about God and prayer. Dad was the provider who encouraged me to stand up for myself and to speak my mind. Dad was the one who glowed with pride when I sang in the choir. Dad was the one who encouraged me to reach for the stars.

“Dear God, give me strength,” I prayed. “Take care of my dad. Let him know I love him.”

A screaming horn brought me back to reality. I stared into the eyes of a driver. “Get the hell out-of-the-way,” the burgundy haired woman shrieked. “I need to turn.”

I walked over to her. She had body piercings in her eyebrow and nose. “I’m sorry to inconvenience you,” I said. “There’s a gentleman unconscious in the road. I’m not moving him until EMS gets here.”

“Yeah, whatever,” she mouthed. “I’m in a hurry.”

“Aren’t we all?”

I kneeled down, touching the elderly gentleman’s forehead, feeling beads of cold sweat. His hair was thin, salt and pepper gray. His face was weathered, hands wrinkled from years of the roadblocks and detours of life. “Dear God please. Don’t let him die. Not today.”

His hands felt like ice. His body was thin. A gray beard covered his face. He wore a gold wedding band.

Inquisitive shoppers moved closer. Removing my coat, I covered him. A young man with spiked hair removed his leather coat, bundled it into a ball, lifting the gentleman’s head.

“Does he have a pulse?” He asked.

“I didn’t check.” My lips quivered.

“It’s okay. I’m a medical student.” He checked for a pulse, nodding yes.

The gentleman coughed.

“Sir, can you tell me what day it is?”

“Saturday. And if you ask me who the President is, I’m gonna scream.”

The medical student laughed. “You’ve heard these questions a lot, huh?”

“Doctors think I’m out of my mind, but I’m not. I’ve been in the hospital a lot. I got weak crossing the road. I must’ve blacked out. Bernice wanted to get here early for the sale.”

“Where’s your wife?” I said.

“Parking the car. I had chemo this week.”

I warmed his freezing hands with mine. “Chemo,” I muttered, understanding his weakness.

Joan joined me, touching my shoulder. “You okay?”

I nodded.

“Cancer,” I said. “You go shopping. I’ll stay with him.”

“Sirens,” someone said. “They’re coming.”

The man squeezed my hand. “Don’t leave me,” he said.

“I’ll be here until we find Bernice.”

“She’s buying me some fishing tackle.”

“You must like to fish,” I said, hoping he’d remain alert. “Is there someone else we can call?”

“My grandson, Hank. His number’s in my wallet.”

The medical student found his wallet, dialed the number.

When EMS arrived, a pretty older woman joined us. She smiled at me and thanked me. “I’m Bernice. His wife. Thanks for helping him,” she said.

While sitting inside Ruby Tuesday’s for lunch, I found myself able to talk. A sudden burst of adrenalin had me chatting non-stop about Dad’s terminal illness, forgiveness and death.

“When I was little, I was hit by a car. My Grammy said I was spared for a reason,” I said to Joan, sipping a steaming French vanilla coffee. “Until today, I never understood what she meant. I couldn’t leave that man in the road.”

“You really have a way with old people,” she said.

I laughed. “Thanks to cancer. I’ve never told you this, but my relationship with my parents wasn’t good. Until Dad got sick, I couldn’t forgive them.”

I looked around the crowded restaurant. “Life is so short. So unfair. I’ve always taken life a bit too seriously… Now, I try to find the rainbows… I’ve started praying every night. That’s something I didn’t do for many years. I was racing on an endless spinning wheel.” I paused.

“Dad’s illness was a wake up call. His faith taught me to step out of that rat race and reach out to others. Two days before he died, I visited him like I always did. I didn’t want him to die without me there. On July 4th he was sitting in his rocking chair, reading the Bible. When he saw me arrive, he raised his voice, asking me what I was doing there. I thought he was angry, so I only stayed a few minutes. I didn’t visit the next day. Now that he’s gone, I realized he was detaching. He knew his days on earth were numbered. Maybe God spoke to him.”

“You were remarkable,” Joan said. The daily visits, the letters you wrote to his family and friends every month. The care you gave him. He was blessed.”

“I was blessed. People come into our lives for a purpose, and God brought Dad back into my life, forcing me to wake up. Rebuilding that relationship gave me the courage I need to live the rest of my life and to make a few changes. Just when we think the door has closed, God opens a window. What more can I ask for?”

My cell phone rang. The medical student shared an updated report about the gentleman in the road. He was stable. Bernice was by his side.

The experience of stopping to help a total stranger during that holiday season opened my eyes and heart to our purpose in life. Each life has a reason for existence. My grandmother always told me to look for rainbows when life gives us detours. As a child, I didn’t understand her wisdom. Now, older and much wiser, I appreciated her words.

When life brings rain, look for the rainbow. Grammy’s wisdom about God, along with my dad’s, was instilled forever inside my heart.

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Born in Columbus, Georgia, Barbie Perkins-Cooper is a talented, award-winning writer of screenplays, fiction, non-fiction, plays, and numerous articles for regional and trade publications. She began her writing career as a child, publishing a science fiction story during third grade in Atlanta, Georgia. Her areas of writing expertise include fiction, non-fiction, articles, plays and screenplays. In 2001, she published a complex memoir based on her father’s battle with esophageal cancer. The non-fiction memoir is titled, “Condition of Limbo.”

As a writer of accomplishment, she works diligently to achieve her goals as a professional screenwriter and playwright. She was selected as a finalist in the teleplay category with her screenplay, the Commish…The Signature Rapist. Additional screenplays were selected as finalist for the Chesterfield Writers’ Film Project and the Goldie Film Awards, Fade In competition, The Writers Network, and America’s Best, The Writers Foundation. In February 2004, she was awarded the Grand Goldie Film Award for her screenplay, Not My Papa.

Barbie Perkins-Cooper is a member of The Society of Professional Journalists and North Carolina Writers Network. SIn her spare time, she likes to kick off her shoes, and relax on the beaches of South Carolina. Writing is her passion.

Antique Shopping — Melissa’s First Shoes


Last week while running errands, my husband wanted to know if I had additional errands in mind. Occasionally I enjoy walking through antique shops. A few years ago, one of my favorite shops was Hungry Neck Antique Mall, but it closed and now is Trader Joe’s. Driving along Coleman Blvd. in Mt. Pleasant, I’ve noticed a sign for Six Mile Antique Shop. I dropped by once, noticing many, and I do mean many, venues of antiques, trinkets and interesting items. Since I have a birthday this summer, I suggested dropping by Six Mile Antiques, just to see what they had. I’m interested in an antique mantel clock, one that chimes.

Years ago, I considered shopping in an antique mall a form of shopping for junk. Not anymore. Walking along the booths, my mind grew curious. To many people, antiques are simply junk that no one wanted anymore; however, to someone who appreciates treasures from years past, ‘junk’ and antiques are a silent story form that writers cherish. I glanced at tiny trinkets, glassware, silver, plates, cups, pictures and art. One person’s junk is another person’s treasure. How I wish I had the room, or the financial freedom to purchase so many of these treasures.

Shopping at an antique mall takes me back to the history of my grandparents, maternal and paternal. My mother’s parents I knew well, since I lived with them as a teenager. Grandma had many trinkets I loved, especially her ‘what not’ shelves, placed gently in the corner by the front door. Every Saturday, I polished it, removing the ceramic ladies, dressed in antebellum Southern attire, shining them with a toothbrush to keep them clean. Then, I polished the wood, hoping that someday I would have the what not shelves in my home — in memory of Grandma. Never did I get them, after her death.

My paternal grandmother had many antiques. Tiffany lamps, statues, porcelain vases, china, depression glass and silver. I did not have the pleasure to get to know my Dad’s mother well, since our family situation was dreadful. After her death, I managed to smuggle three pieces of depression glass, and a few pieces of silverware, dating back to the 1800’s. My mother busied herself with placing these inherited items into boxes, in route to the pawn and antique shops. When she turned to answer the phone, I found several items and rushed to my bedroom with them. Today, I still have those items. After my dad died, I kept his secretary desk that has been in his family since the early 1900’s and a beautiful wooden library table. These cherishable pieces have taught me to appreciate antiques.

Leaving my IPhone in the car, I walked along more booths, following the entrances to additional interesting areas. Glancing at china, cherishable depression glass, which I collect, dolls, jewelry, trinkets, or ‘what nots’ — stopping to look at an interesting pair of baby shoes.

Remembering when my son was little, there was a scuffed, well used white pair of baby shoes. The price was $18.00. I still had my son’s first baby shoes, somewhere, boxed up for preservation. I picked up the scuffed shoes. The leather was soft from little baby steps moving, bumping, falling, stumbling, and finally, walking, taking that first little baby step to independence. I turned the shoes over. Written in blue ink were the words, “Melissa’s First Shoes.”

The wheels of my curiosity began to race. Who is Melissa? Is she someone local? And why did someone give the shoes away? Why didn’t Melissa keep the shoes? Her first shoes. Melissa. Just who is Melissa?

My husband’s voice broke my trance. “I found a clock.”

“I’ll be there in a moment,” I said. “Look at these shoes.”

“Baby shoes. Who cares!”

“They’re Melissa’s baby shoes.”

“Whatever. Are you interested in seeing the clock?”

Hastily, I followed my husband. The clock is a steeple clock that chimes at the hour. It is beautiful. We tested it to make certain it worked and after a few minutes of bartering, we purchased the clock, for my birthday.

While boxing the clock, I went back to look at Melissa’s Baby Shoes once more. I showed them to the clerk. “Do you know anything about these shoes?” I asked.

“No…but look how scuffed they are.”

“Yes. Melissa obviously took her first steps to independence in these precious shoes. Someone actually took the time to write on the back of them, ‘Melissa’s Baby Shoes.’ Her first shoes. Why would someone give them away?”

The attractive, mature woman glanced at the back of the shoes, smiled and nodded.

“Poor Melissa.”

Thinking about those shoes and the name, Melissa, this week my curiosity continues. Someone actually cared enough to scribble, “Melissa’s Baby Shoes,” in blue ink on the bottom of the shoes. Now, those historical shoes rest on a shelf, in an antique shop. Where is Melissa? What happened to her, and why didn’t she, or a family member, keep those shoes, in her memory? Why would someone take the time to scribble her name on the bottom of her shoes — in memory of ‘Melissa’s first steps,’ only to have the shoes end up on a shelf, in an antique store?

Perhaps the title, “Melissa’s Baby Shoes,” is a metaphor for me, teaching me that to many shoppers, items in an antique shop are junk; but for me, these items are historical trinkets, taken from the life and memory of someone. Perhaps a clock, such as the steeple clock now sitting on my mantel, was a clock that a family had in their home for many years. Now, it will reside in my home, chiming on the hour, and I will cherish this clock for the rest of my life.

Still, the inscription, “Melissa’s Baby Shoes,” plays in my mind. Perhaps today Melissa is grown, with a family of her own. The shoes did not have a date, so my imagination can create a story about Melissa. Maybe she’s a dancer. Maybe she is someone, like me, who had precious items from her childhood tossed away, because no one cared. But for Melissa, I believe that someone did care enough to write “Melissa’s Baby Shoes” on the bottom, perhaps to remember Melissa and her first baby steps. Her first, unstable, but steady steps into the future. Maybe today, someone suffers from Alzheimer’s, forgetting the significance of Melissa’s first steps. I’d like to believe that Melissa was cherished enough to have the significant first steps of her childhood recorded in history, for others to know. Those tiny white shoes, with all the scuff marks and indentations of a child’s first steps will remain for someone to treasure. Melissa’s Baby Steps. So precious. So significant. Baby steps, leading to independence and freedom. Someone loved Melissa enough to preserve these moments. I hope Melissa’s Baby Shoes find a proper home. Melissa, if you are looking for your first shoes, contact me and I will be happy to share, “Melissa’s First Baby Shoes.”