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    BWS Stories - Contest Winners

    Contest Winners - Never Too Late

    Cheryl Caruolo, MFA - Blending her formal education with years of healing arts training, Cheryl specializes in writing about holistic therapies & psychic phenomena for such publications as Reiki News, Science & Spirit, Commonthought, and Thereby Hangs a Tale. She recently won an honorable mention in a national literary writing contest, is currently collaborating on a book with a New Zealand author and completing a memoir about reconciling her psychic gifts.

    Never Too Late

            I am Italian - born and raised Catholic. Since massive quantities of food and beverage are staples to Italians, holidays were always about breaking bread in my maternal grandmother's house surrounded by my mom's seven siblings and the thirty grand and great-grand children. There was salad and lasagna; turkey and ham; fruit-filled cookies and hot, mulled cider. It was noisy. Every adult drank too much. Every kid had at least one fight with a cousin. It was fun.

            Then my grandmother died.

            When the matriarch of our family died, we scattered. And for my parents, the loss of family netting twisted social drinking into alcoholism. The licorice smell of anise cookies baking in my grandmother's kitchen was replaced with the cardboard dust of store-bought frozen pies. Wine from a box substituted for the home-pressed grapes handpicked from my grandfather's imported grapevines. Snow-building in the gardens behind my grandparents' house and then warming up with hot milk cocoa before the older grandkids took us all to a movie was replaced with an awkward dinner for four followed, with the exception of cheering TV football crowds, by deafening silence.

            The joyous memories of the time with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins sustained me for a long time. Then one Christmas Eve on the way back from a party at our neighbor's house, my parents had a huge argument on our front lawn in the early hours of the morning. The tranquil magic of the holidays in our working class suburban neighborhood was shattered by two drunken figures fist fighting in the snow. They pushed at each other with animal rage, each trying to dominate the other. They looked like those Rock'em Sock'em Robots that punch spastically until a lucky shot knocks off one of their heads. Their rambling and irrational words penetrated the crisp December air as their unsteady feet disturbed the pristine layers of fluffy snow piled up along the fence lines of the identical ranch-style homes.

            For several minutes my sister Suzanna, my only sibling, and I stared motionless through the living room window, unsure of what to do. I don't recall ever seeing my sister's face that stern, the yellowish moonlight revealing only half of her to me. She felt the embarrassment, I felt the desperation. Each of us knowing the painful mask of denial that 1972 society required and wondering how the wave of destruction would crest this time.

            When we finally managed to usher my parents into the house, my father went to bed and my sister slapped a cup of coffee down in front of my mother and told her to sober up.  My sister was normally very quiet and reserved, but the years of alcoholic abuse had unleashed surprising venom in her voice. Pushing the coffee aside my mother announced that she and my father were getting a divorce. But their moment of fury passed and neither of them ever mentioned it again.  For next couple of years, every time my parents fought I hoped divorce would follow.  That never happened.

            In the decade after that fateful night, holidays were vacant affairs offering only anxiety and depression. While families gathered across the country, sharing stories of past merriment and ceremoniously placing special ornaments on trees, my sister and I did our best to shelter each other from the harshness delivered by liquor bottles. Eventually, though still in our teens, Suzanna and I left suburban hush and sought separate roads. Mine was often lonely, but more peaceful; hers led to marriage and the establishment of new holiday traditions with a family of her own.

            I spent the next several years hiding from holidays, always trying to rescue the recollections of the time at my grandmother's, always trying to erase the thoughts that swallowed the precious memories in the years after her death. And then one day, a casual friend, Maura, asked me where I was going for Thanksgiving. Ever-braced for the over-asked question, I was prepared with, "Nowhere." But this time I said,

            "I don't know."

            She lightly touched my arm and asked, "Won't you consider joining us?"

            And for some inexplicable reason I accepted.

            Maura's home was filled with relatives, friends, and children. There was salad and lasagna; turkey and ham; fruit-filled cookies and hot, mulled cider. It was noisy. Every adult drank too much. Every kid had at least one fight with a cousin. It was fun.

            When I was leaving, as I turned to thank Maura she pulled me to her and, in her grand embrace, whispered,

            "It is never too late."

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