A First Good Day

Some of the new swings are seen. A total of 11 new swings have been installed. SWINGPARK - The new swing park near the corner of East Brady and North Water Streets beneath the N. Holton St. Bridge on Wendesday, July 23, 2014, included newly designed swings that are a collaboration between the City of Milwaukee, the Brady Street BID #11, and the grassroots organization beintween (Òin betweenÓ). Beintween installed swings at the site in Fall 2012. When the swings fell into disrepair, they were removed by DPW in Fall 2013 as a safety precaution. The agencies worked together to redesign and rebuild the swings using recycled materials including rubber tires, metals and wood. A total of 11 new swings have been installed, including a set of baby swings and a metal swing that is ADA accessible. The cushioned ground beneath the swings has also been replaced with shredded rubber tires, and new lighting has been installed for a safer experience. Photo by Mike De Sisti / MDESISTI@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

Angie sits on a swing, swaying gently and trying not to catch her skirt in the chains. Her flats are placed firmly on the shredded rubber mulch, the new favorite material to cushion falls at the playground. All around her children laugh and squeal, running from swings to slides, rock wall to climbing rope, sand box to wooden fort. Mothers cluster on benches in the shade of meager trees, some pushing a stroller with a drowsy baby back and forth, back and forth. A trickle of sweat slides between Angie’s shoulder blades.

She’s not sure where she fits in. Part of her identifies with the little girls playing house, carrying their baby dolls by the neck in the crook of their arms. They sequester themselves in the tower of the fort until the little boys invade wielding invisible lights sabers and threats of feeding the dolls to the Sarlacc. Angie has experience disrupting homes. As for the prom princess mall mavens, the only thing they have in common with Angie is the fact that they, too, have given birth.  She is smart enough to know that this alone does not make her a mother. There’s more to it. A lot more. Probably what these women sitting around the perimeter are doing. But she cannot tell what that something is.

Her eyes burn and drop to the toes of her scuffed black flats. Heat reddens her face as she imagines what these women would think if they knew how many miles she walked to wear the soles of her shoes thin, or how short her skirts were in comparison to her long navy blue one sweeping the surface of the playground. Fireworks of yellow, red, and orange flash behind Angie’s closed eyes. Sunlight caresses her cheeks with the warmth of a mother’s hands as she tilts her face upward. A woodpecker’s tap on her shoulder interrupts her solitude.

“Angie?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Gloria Freshley stands to Angie’s right, clasping a briefcase handle in both hands. The social worker nods and gives her a head-to-toe once over.

“Very good. Remember what the judge said, okay?”

“This is not a reward for my good behavior, and the Mendenhalls are being generous by letting me see Chloe.”

“Exactly. Keep that in mind, and this will go smoothly.”

No mincing words with Gloria. Angie takes a breath to speak. Questions contort her face, but Gloria blinks slowly once in lieu of shaking her head. All the queries, arguments, and debates drift toward the thick clouds stacked across the sky.

“Here they come.”

Angie watches her three year-old daughter toddle between a man and a woman, her chubby hands held in one of their own. Their approach slows when the little girl navigates the concrete curb surrounding the playground, stops to watch the children play, and grabs a handful of sand to work between her palms. Mr. Mendenhall shares a smile with Chloe as he wipes her tiny hands with a handkerchief pulled from his back pocket. There’s something reassuring to Angie that her daughter lives with a man who still uses handkerchiefs. From beneath locks of long, brown hair, Mrs. Mendenhall’s eyes scan the playground. She’s a soldier on point acknowledging the enemy without giving herself away.

Indecision about the next twenty minutes muddles Angie’s thoughts. All she knows is that she doesn’t want to waste time thinking about her feelings. Analyzation comes later. For the next twenty minutes, earned by nineteen cocaine-free months, she will talk to Chloe and watch her play without touching her. She must remember to thank the Mendenhalls for taking care of Chloe and allowing this meeting. She must also remember to leave first. The last is her own stipulation, an old habit from her days on the streets to hide her true emotions.

Chloe staggers toward Angie who smiles at her daughter’s defiance to hold the Mendenhalls’ hands the last few yards. There are no words or expressions when Chloe totters past to explore the swings behind her mother. A bitten lip brings the taste of salt and rust; Angie’s mind scrambles to pin down a reaction to her daughter’s lack of recognition.

“Swings are her favorite,” Ted Mendenhall says to soften the blow.

“I should know that,” Angie replies.

“You do now,” Karen Mendenhall says.

The four adults sit at a picnic table. Their conversation contains praise for Chloe. No promises are given, no condemnation expressed. The offer to meet again in six months lightens the tension etched in the lines around everyone’s eyes except Chloe’s. She blows kisses over Ted Mendenhall’s shoulder as he carries her back to the car; his free hand holds his wife’s.

“That went well,” Gloria says. “I’ll call you a week before the next meeting to see where we are.”

Angie stands in the center of the playground trembling, unable to contain the smile aching her face. Suddenly, she realizes that she is the last to leave . Laughter and tears flow freely from the eighteen year-old as she enjoys the first good day she’s had in a long, long time.

To Struggle With Forgiveness

31holocaust-xlarge

In a previous blog post involving my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, and his two Jewish friends, Reuben and Hannah Wise, I mentioned that the three were divided on the issue of forgiveness as it related to the Holocaust. For reasons that I’ll save for the publication of my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, each of them comes to the table with a different perspective on how the situation should be handled.

When I first wrote the storyline involving the Wises and Dr. Welles, everyone ended up forgiving everyone else with hugs and smiles all around. I admit that I wrote these scenes fast and furiously for NaNoWriMo without having done my research and because I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted the storyline to take.

Then two of my aunts attended a program on women Holocaust survivors and brought me some information on the subject. After reading the materials they gave me, I knew the scenes I wrote concerning the Wises and Dr. Welles were completely inaccurate, and therefore, unbelievable. I had to step back for a moment to analyze where my perspective of forgiveness came from and examine my knowledge of the Holocaust.

Everything I learned about the Holocaust came during my school years, and I can tell you that for the purposes of writing a novel, the knowledge was slim compared to what I found when I conducted my research. I realized I was too far removed from the facts because I was too young to have experienced it firsthand and didn’t have a relative who either perished or survived the concentration camps. My original scenes were trashed, and I set about rewriting the story.

Once the details of time and place were corrected, I worked on an aspect of my story that took me by surprise: the concept of forgiveness as understood by Jewish people who practice Judaism. My experience with forgiveness as I was taught might have influenced Dr. Welles but would seem ridiculous to Reuben and Hannah Wise. By applying my faith based instruction to the overall story, I denied my Jewish characters a single ounce of reality.

The questions that kept going through my head, those that drove my characters, included 1) Do we forgive but not forget? 2) Can only God truly forgive? 3) Must the perpetrators of the crime repent and ask for forgiveness before it can be bestowed? 4) If the criminals are dead, can forgiveness take place? 5) Should we forgive no matter what for every offense committed against us?

There are many articles on the internet about forgiveness written from many different perspectives. I chose to draw on those based in Christianity and Judaism when writing my novel and peppered the views found there with heavy dashes of my characters’ own attitudes and viewpoints.

The following article, “Can You Forgive Hitler?” written by Stewart Ain, September 22, 2006, for The Jewish Week, is the article that helped me the most when deciding how to have my characters react to the difficult questions and trying situation with which they struggled.

It’s easy to say what I would do until faced with the death of my loved ones at the hands of evil people. Still, I wonder about Holocaust survivors who do forgive and maintain their faith regardless of the hell they endured versus those who refuse to forgive and lose their faith because of the hell they endured. It scares me to know that because of the condition of our world today, many are challenged with these same questions.

By Bread Alone

1433270193628Forgiveness is a tricky concept. It is easily applied to a situation when the transgression is minor. A forgotten birthday, a word misspoken in haste, a misunderstanding of perceptions; forgiveness is willingly doled out in each of these instances.

But what about the attempted genocide of an entire people? Or searching one’s own soul in an effort to release a lifetime of guilt? Who is responsible to bestow forgiveness to the offenders when these are the circumstances? Man and/or God?

These are the questions that trouble the minds of Reuben and Hannah Wise and Dr. John Welles after they dine together one January evening in 1955. All three are divided in their opinions concerning the particular events that generated their questions. While they remain polite toward each other, a wedge has been driven into their friendship, especially between Hannah and John.

I chose to have Reuben serve challah bread during the Shabbat meal to which he and Hannah invited John for two reasons. For one, challah is traditionally served during the observation of Shabbat. More importantly, though, the presence of bread during this significant meal drew attention to the many references of bread in the Bible as well as underscored the differences between the Wises and Dr. Welles.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the challah Reuben made in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I hope you will enjoy this lightly sweet, rich, and delicious bread with your meals.

Reuben Wise’s Challah Bread

1 ½ cups warm water

2 tablespoon yeast

½ cup olive oil

½ cup sugar (or honey) (I used raw sugar)

3 eggs (2 for the recipe and 1 for the wash)

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 cups flour (slightly packed)

In a Kitchen Aid mixer add 1 ½ cups lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons yeast. Mix gently and allow the yeast to foam.

Add ½ cup sugar (or honey), ½ cup olive oil, 2 eggs, and ½ teaspoon salt. Mix well, approximately one minute or so. Add the six cups of flour one at a time and mix thoroughly with a bread hook. You may need to add ½ cup of flour if the dough is very sticky.

Remove from the mixing bowl and divide the dough into two halves. Divide each half into four pieces and roll each piece to about 12 – 14 inches in length. Braid the pieces of dough. (You can find instructions for braiding challah on the internet. I chose a four-strand braid for my bread.)

Brush each braided loaf with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little water to thin it). Place the braided loaves on a non-stick cookie sheet with parchment paper or a cooking mat on it and sprinkle liberally with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or slivered almonds. Let the loaves rise until about 1/3 larger in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the loaves for 23 – 25 minutes. Loaves should be golden and firm when finished.

This recipe can also be mixed and kneaded by hand.

1433270494920

The traditional blessing over the bread as spoken by Reuben Wise:

HAMOTZI – Blessing Over the Bread

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, Ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.

hamotzi_0

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe,

who brings forth bread from the earth.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: