Shore Lights: Reader Letter
SHORE LIGHTS is an absolute wonder of creative writing that comes right from Barbara Bretton's heart into the reader's. It flows with realism and features characters that are so well drawn that you may recognize the same personalities in people you know - "A Perfect Ten" --Carol Carter, Romance Reviews Today
Filled with exceptional, multi-dimensional characters and a real-life, easy to believe storyline, you can't go wrong with SHORE LIGHTS. --Thea Candee, The Romance Readers Connection
USA Today bestselling author Barbara Bretton has been hailed as a "monumental
talent" (Affaire de Coeur) - now she delves deeply into the hearts of mothers
and daughters and finds that even the most independent woman is still a daughter
My mother's last words to me the day before she died were, "I love you."
My last words to her were, "I love you, too."
I think about that sometimes, about how lucky I am to have that memory to hold onto now that she's gone. 2001 was a difficult year for my family. My father's six-year battle with cancer was nearing the end when life threw a nasty surprise our way. My mother, my healthy happy mother, was diagnosed out of nowhere with rapidly-progressing terminal cancer and our lives changed in an instant. We had forty-six days to say everything that needed to be said, forty-six days to store up enough memories to see us through.
I was with her when she died. I held her hand and felt the birdlike flutter of distant wings that was her fading pulse beat. Five months later I sat beside my father when it was his turn to say goodbye. A moment before he drew his last breath, his eyes opened and a smile - such a wonderful smile! - lit up his face. His gaze was fixed on a point somewhere over my left shoulder. He opened his arms wide and he cried out, "Visy! Visy!" (his pet name for my mother) and he died before the sound faded from the room.
I like to believe she came for him, that his last moment was one filled with the joy of seeing her again. I can't prove it. I can't offer facts or figures or photographic evidence. All I know is what I saw and heard and felt in that room, a sense of deep joy, of something so much greater than anything I had ever known before that I'll carry that knowledge with me for the rest of my life.
When I think about my mother, I see her in the kitchen. I grew up in a two-family house in Queens. I was an only child with a vivid imagination and a mother who didn't fit the June Cleaver mold. She wore Capri pants and ballet flats. She had modeled professionally when I was a baby. She believed the kitchen was truly the heart of the home and her oil painting supplies shared counter space with her spice rack and blender. I thought every little girl in town had to push aside a tube of thalo green when she sat down to her lunch of PBJ and a glass of milk. She taught me that the paint brush was mightier than the broom and that if given the choice between reading a good book or polishing the furniture, the book won out every time.
Maybe that's why she's always in the kitchen in my dreams.
She is healthy -- always healthy -- and smiling and overflowing with life. We don't hug or touch but I can feel her presence like an embrace.
I see her at the old range from my childhood, the big one with the grill in the middle, in the apartment where I grew up and it feels so right, it seems so normal, that I am shocked to realize this can't possibly be. She's dead. She is gone. I was with her when she left us. She can't be here. But my eyes can't deny the proof standing there, glowing with life and love, in front of me. I don't know what to say to her. She has been some place I can't even imagine. I fumble for words. "So," I say at last, "have you bumped into anyone you know?" And she looks at me and laughs that wonderful laugh and says, "Only our old pets! Isn't that =wonderful=?" And if there was any doubt at all that this was my fey and spirited mother, they vanish in that moment.
She was an instinctive cook who loved cookbooks and recipes but never paid much attention to them. She added pinches and dollops and smidgens and she never tasted while she cooked. Can you imagine! Never once. And yet she turned out delicious meals night after night, year after year.
Your macaroni and cheese, Ma. Where did you get the idea to toss in chili sauce?
And the Spanish Rice -- what's the secret? Is it the sprinkling of cayenne? Write it down, please, right now before it's too late.
I could have asked her for her recipes any time. Over a cup of tea, maybe, or while chatting on the phone. But I waited too long. Wouldn't you know it? I waited too long to ask for her secrets. Once the doctors had peered deep into her core, once the pronouncement had been made, I couldn't do it. Asking her for the secret to the recipes she cooked especially for me, to make my life easier, to fill my freezer, to give me more time to write, was like admitting the doctors might be right, that she was sick terribly sick and that before too long there would be no more "CARE packages" from her house to ours.
The day after she died, my father handed me her jewelry box. "It's yours," he said, pushing it toward me. "You know she wanted you to have everything." Your Inheritance, she used to call it with a wicked smile on her face. The lovely pieces she came to later on in her life and cherished because now she had something to leave to me when she died.
But you know what? She was wrong. Those rings and bracelets, pretty as they are, can't hold a candle to her pots and pans, her slotted spoon and potato masher. I found a box filled with recipes and clippings and scraps of paper and my heart soared! No diamond could make me half as happy.
Everything I know about making a home a haven I learned from her. Everything I know about loving well I learned from her. Everything I know about the wonder of daily life, the miracle of the everyday, I learned from her.
She also taught me to believe in the world that exists just beyond the reach of our five senses. I believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny (although I'll admit I had a bit of trouble with the rabbit) for longer than I'm willing to admit, and I knew, like my mother and her grandmother before her, that there is much more to life than we'll ever know while we're here living it.
Maybe that explains our fascination with the samovar that had belonged to her stepmother Margie. Margie was the second of my grandfather's five wives and the love of his life. She was a successful decorator in the 1930s, a time when high-flying careers for women were a rarity, a woman who lived in a Fifth Avenue penthouse and rode around in her own limousine, and somehow met and fell in love with one of NYPD's finest: my grandfather. Of course that's another story for another time.
The samovar held the place of honor on Margie's credenza and my mother spent many happy hours playing with it while she daydreamed about fairy princesses and a genie who couldn't wait to grant a few wishes for a deserving little girl.
Like mother, like daughter, I guess. That same samovar held the place of honor on our credenza when I was growing up in Queens years later and I can't begin to count the hours I spent waiting for that reluctant genie to finally make his appearance and whisk me off to Disneyland so I could set up housekeeping with Spin and Marty.
I'm looking at that samovar right now as I write this. It sits on a glass table top not ten feet away from where I'm sitting. The samovar must be well over one hundred years old by now and it's beginning to show its age. I don't have a daughter of my own to inherit Margie's magic lamp, but one of the best parts of being a writer is that words make all things possible. After years of waiting for the samovar to pop out a genie, it popped out a story instead. One about mothers and daughters, about love and sorrow and the unexpected blessings that sometimes come our way when we need them most.
Some books practically write themselves. Others come kicking and screaming into the world. I began SHORE LIGHTS in sorrow and ended it in joy. We've all heard that famous bit of advice given to writers from the beginning of time: Write what you know. Well, this time I listened and wrote about the most puzzling and beautiful and mysterious topic of them all. SHORE LIGHTS is a love story, but it's one that begins the moment a woman hears those magic words, "You're going to have a baby."
Somewhere I think my mother is smiling.