By Ruth Z. Deming
Under the chandelier in my dining room is a cover from Life magazine. It has held up well over the years. The price is ten cents. A yearly subscription costs $4.50, and I am not foolish enough to say, $20 in today’s times.
The girl on the cover is wearing two short braids that rest on her shoulders. Her legs remain in a yoga-like position, both off to the side. The cover is in black and white.
It is July 19, 1943.
This is all we know.
But the author of this story, Ruth Z. Deming, has an imagination and she plans to use it.
From hereon in, everything is fiction.
The former Carolyn Connolly has just celebrated her seventy-ninth birthday. She and her husband, Lenny, are eating breakfast at their table in the Paris suburbs.
They speak both in English and in French. La Tour Eiffel is visible from their ninth-floor apartment. As is the vast blue sky and automobiles and trolleys on the streets.
A scattering of French flags – red and green – flash like a canvas below them.
“The syrup please, mon cherie,” says CC, her nickname.
Lenny holds his arm, which is shaking, and passes the blueberry syrup across the table.
He has promised his wife to get it looked at. Who knows? It may be Parkinson’s or epilepsy or Bell’s Palsy. CC has researched all these frightening diseases on the Internet.
“Len, what would I do without you?”
“Babe, ain’t nothing the matter with me. What a worrier you are!”
They eat in silence. CC has made waffles in the black waffler maker using fresh brown eggs they bought at the market, butter, cinnamon, and a touch of nutmeg she grated with her special nutmeg grater.
Coffee is off-limits. Though they both remember it fondly – and what Parisian café doesn’t have spectacular coffee – chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut – it makes Lenny’s hands shake.
After World War II, Carolyn made up her mind she would move to Paris. The war had changed her. Although as a female she was not allowed to be in combat – she had met hundreds, thousands, of individuals – men, women, Lesbians, male homosexuals, – she realized the world was larger than her hometown of Parma, Ohio, where her family lived.
A graduate of Flora Mather College in Philadelphia, she had taken up literature. Her professor, Vernon Abrams, told her she had “talent.” She wrote this in her diary. In particular she remembered a poem they had studied by Rilke, “The Bust of Apollo” with its shocking last lines: You must change your life.
Would Carolyn be able to move from the sedate suburb of Parma, Ohio, with its lovely nature?
Nay, spectacular nature. She would walk alone, in silence, along paths, made by deer, staring and trailing the deep green verdure, in her hands, then looking high in the sky and saying, “Thank you Lord for allowing me to be here.”
Her Catholic faith comforted her.
She came from a large Catholic family. Sure, she would be missed, she thought, but the others – Katy, Peter, MaryLouise, Jenny (short for Genevieve), Thomas (called “Sport”) would pick up the slack.
After earning money at Higbee’s Department Store in downtown Cleveland, she wondered if she should tell her family about her potential move.
“Nah,” she thought. They would attempt to dissuade her. A postcard or two would do the trick.
She met Leonard (Lenny for short) on one of the fast trains heading into the suburbs of Paris.
“Was it love at first sight?” they both wondered.
And why not? Paris was a city famous for romance. Romain Rolland’s mystical poetry and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
This Lenny of hers was an heir to an apparel company. They made coats of beaver and mink. He was very generous, but it was not his funds she sought, it was his health.
“Darling,” she continued at the breakfast table.
“Je sais, je sais,” he spoke.
As they wiped their mouths with linen napkins, Carolyn kissed the top of his head, with its faint balding spot.
“Today is the day,” she shouted. “The day we make an appointment with the doctor.”
“Si tu insiste,” he said.
We all fear what the doctor will tell us, whether we live in Ohio or North Carolina or Seoul or Barbados.
Surgery was scheduled in a month.
A tumor in the pituitary gland was detected.
The doctor’s name was Madame Grossman.
She had told them she had done hundred of operations. She asked if they wanted more information or a CD to look at.
They shook their heads, no.
“My Lenny will be able to drink coffee after the operation?” asked Carolyn.
Madame Grossman laughed.
“For sure,” she answered. “For sure.”
And so, only a month later, Lenny and CC found a new café “Hailynn’s Coffee and Croissants.”
He lifted up the dainty blue and red cup – the colors of the French flag – and they toasted one another.
“Good, very very good,” said Lenny.
“Better than good,” said CC.
“Perfecto!” said her life companion.