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Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Epilogue

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.

A month after the community had pulled together to landscape Martin Gardens, I received an invitation in the mail to come to a special dedication ceremony. Skye, MJ, Honora, EveLynn, Poppy, and Sid told me they’d gotten similar notes. And so, on a Sunday afternoon, we gathered in the atrium of Martin Gardens. As I looked around, I saw many faces I recognized from our long day of work. Cooper Rivers came over and pecked me on the cheek, despite the dirty look from my sister, Jodi. Detective Lou Murray was there with his big boss, the Chief of Police, Aaron Reiss. Promptly at two, Greta approached the microphone.

“Words cannot express how much you’ve done for all our residents. As you’ll see, the grounds are fantastic, and in a minute, I’ll invite you to stroll outside and enjoy them. But first, I want to introduce a man I’m very proud of, my son Freddie,” and with that, she stepped away from the podium.

Freddy looked fantastic in his blue tie and navy suit. Although sometimes it was hard to understand him, he spoke with a great deal of confidence. “My mom has always told me that love is the most important super-power any hero can have. She is my super-hero, so I believe that must be true. When I come to visit her here, I see other people who are struggling. I struggle sometimes. But when we struggle with friends, all of us do better than when we are alone. The day we worked outside I made a new friend, James Boehner.”

As Freddy gave the CEO a hug, the crowd began to clap, but Jay used his hands to signal for quiet. “I was younger than Freddy when my grandmother came to live with us. My father’s mother had always been an active woman who enjoyed playing canasta, going to church, singing in the choir, and knitting. But after she took a tumble, it was decided that she shouldn’t live alone. My two sisters and I did all we could to make Mimi welcome, but she was angry and bitter. Mostly she took it out on my mother, in secret ways so that my father didn’t know. Mimi also sowed the seeds of distrust between my parents. In two short years, she managed to turn our happy home upside down. My sisters and I no longer felt comfortable bringing home our friends. My mother and father quarreled bitterly. Mimi complained of various ailments. Looking back, I can see how frustrated she was with all she’d lost, but at the time, all I could do was watch my parents’ marriage dissolve. I vowed that one day I would find a place where people like Mimi could live and enjoy their lives once more. That’s how I came to start the Boehner Group.”

By now, most people’s mouths were open, as I know mine was. I never expected to hear anything so personal or so heartfelt. Skye reached over and grabbed my hand. I grabbed Honora, and so on until we were a united front.

“Greta Morgan understands what I’ve been trying to achieve. She took initiative and risks–and when a woman named Helen Berger reached out to her friends, they responded by reaching out to all of you. Even though Helen is no longer with us physically, she’ll always be here in spirit. With that in mind, I dedicate this garden to Helen Berger. And I’ve erected a panel that I ask all of you to sign. We’ll frame it once you’ve finished so it’s a permanent part of this residence, a reminder to all of what love can do.”

Thank goodness they served lots of punch, because I must have wept a gallon. The lump in my throat was impossible to swallow. As we wandered outside, my jaw dropped for the second time that afternoon. Yes, most of the landscaping was exactly as we’d left it, but there had been additions. Notably, the flight cages were filled with small parrots who chirped and called. A large tortoise had been added, and he crawled around happily munching the greens put out for him. By the gardens was a rabbit cage. Two of the seniors who lived at Martin Gardens introduced us to Hip and Hop. Painted on the crossbeam of the gazebo was Helen Berger’s name, with a framed photo of Helen in her younger days.

While Skye and Lou wandered off to see how the garden was doing, MJ waved to Pete, her friend, the veterinarian. He came over and asked, “How is Kookie doing?”

“MJ didn’t tell you?” I looked from her to him.

“I’ve been afraid to ask. I heard about her owner dying. When I saw that cockatoo, it was almost on its last legs,” said Pete. “So go ahead, I’m ready to hear what happened next.”

I smiled. “Jay came up with an idea. He had recorded Helen talking to Kookie. He gave the recording and Helen’s favorite sweater to Skye. She wore the sweater and played the recording, endlessly. We all took turns feeding him figs, grapes, and peanuts. It took a long time, but Kookie made it. He’s back at my store right now. Sitting on his perch.”

“Did I hear my name taken in vain?” Jay appeared at my elbow. “Were you talking about Kookie?”

Pete grinned. “That’s wonderful news.”

 MJ winked at me, and I blushed. The other news was that Jay and I were dating.

Yes, I had a lot of reasons to be glad that Helen Berger had come into my life.

~ The End ~

A Note from Joanna: Thanks so much for taking this journey with me. If you’ve enjoyed it, let me know. I’ll decide whether and how to do it again with another serialized piece of work!

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Conclusion (Part 18)

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.

Two days after the community had pulled together to landscape the grounds of Martin Gardens, my cell phone rang. 
“It’s Helen. She’s not going to make it through the day,” said Greta in a voice thick with emotion. “I’ve already called Honora.”
After asking MJ to watch the store, Skye and I drove to the assisted living facility. EveLynn and Honora pulled up as we were leaving my car. Together the four of us walked into the place, spoke to the receptionist, and headed toward Helen’s room. The door was slightly ajar when we arrived. Feeling a bit like an unofficial leader of an expedition, I tapped and walked in.
Kookie was sitting on his perch in a corner. He was totally still. If I hadn’t known better, I would have taken him for a stuffed bird rather than a live one.
A male form was sitting next to Helen’s bed, holding her hand and speaking to her softly. He lifted his head at our approach. Jay Boehner’s damp eyes followed our progress as we all filed in. Helen gasped and shuddered. He said to all of us and none of us in particular, “That irregular breathing pattern you’ll hear is Cheyne-Stokes. It’s normal when someone is approaching the last moments of life.”
We pulled up chairs and sat around the bed. Greta joined us. Her eyes were red. “I checked. Helen has no family.”
“That’s not true,” said Skye. “She has us.”
“It’s all right to let go. Follow the light,” said Jay, as he patted Helen’s hand. Soon, she heeded his suggestion. The silences between each breath had become longer and longer, so that when she took the last one, it didn’t dawn on me that she’d left us. Not for a while.
Helen, who had come so suddenly into our lives, slipped away so peacefully that we scarcely noticed she was gone.
I thought I’d be more upset, but I wasn’t. Not really. I felt like I’d seen something through to its natural conclusion. As Jay arranged Helen’s hands over her chest, I got up and walked to the window. The plants had begun to take root. The sprinkler system turned on, leaving rainbows in the path of the water. The flight cages waited for new birds to come and bring life to the garden. I could almost hear the gurgle of the fountain. Closing my eyes, I imagined the koi that would soon take up residence. On my lips, I tasted a fig from the new fig trees. If not for Helen, I would be looking at a sea of mud. If not for Helen, I would not have met Greta, Freddie, and Jay Boehner. If not for Helen, I would have missed out on watching our community pull together.
So while I would always regret her passing, how could I be sad? Helen had brought me gifts I’d never known I was missing! Her presence had been full of a blessed spirit. And although she, physically, was gone from us, that spirit lingered. And yes, we cried, but we felt her good wishes, the way you do when you stand on a train platform and wave goodbye to a fellow traveler. Helen had gone on ahead. That was all. Where she went, we soon would follow. I had to believe we would meet again. And until we did, I would hold her memory close. I would guard it and find it precious. Helen had come into our lives, asking a favor, not for herself, but for someone she loved, Kookie. But Helen had granted all of us a bigger boon, because she’d given us an experience that warmed our hearts and reminded all of us that we are only temporary. This is fleeting. But the good we can do will linger, even after we are gone.
And that brought a smile to my face.
~ On Monday, I’ll write an epilogue. Until then, have a wonderful Mother’s Day. And if your mother has passed, remember: She’s just gone on ahead. That’s all. You’ll catch up with her, someday.

Your friend — j

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 17

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.

Before he took off, Salazar made one last attempt to save his bacon. “Mr. Boehner, I was only trying to–“

“To squash the human spirit? To make sure that a woman who took initiative was punished for her ingenuity? For her concern for our customers? Or maybe you were trying to set up your nephew in Ms. Morgan’s job? Whatever you were trying to do, I’m not interested in you doing it on my dime. Now please leave, Jose. I don’t want to have to tell you again.” With that, Jay Boehner put a hand on Freddie’s shoulder and asked, “Are you ready to get back to fixing that palm tree? We have a lot more to do before the sun goes down.”

At five, a food truck showed up. It was white with lettering that announced, “TACOS,” and a zesty, colorful image on one side that beckoned our hungry crew. Later I would learn that Boehner had mysteriously located the owner and asked him to come and serve all the volunteers dinner. Mr. Boehner picked up the tag, but we didn’t know that until we got ready to pay. The fragrant mixture of cumin, peppers, and onions made my mouth water. The tacos and burritos proved themselves as good as their smell had promised. Greta and Freddie made a drinks run and came back with cold cans of soda, lemonade, and bottles of water.

When the sun finally started sinking around seven-thirty, there wasn’t much left to finish. Where once mud stretched on and on, the residents now looked out at a gazebo. In the far right hand corner sat tiny marked rows of a vegetable garden. Fig trees formed a backdrop, as did a few lime, lemon, and orange trees. To the left trickled a water feature that emptied into a shallow basin. If you traced a triangle around the gazebo, you could pinpoint the locations of three huge bird cages. Flight cages, I think they’re called. Kookie’s cage was snuggled up against the window of Helen’s room. Once or twice during the long work day, I saw a pale face rise and stare out at us, as Helen took notice of our efforts. Kookie had been surprisingly quiet throughout the hustle and bustle. Skye went to his cage several times, offering him grapes and tidbits. He took them and promptly dropped them to the floor of his home.

I had to hand it to Cooper, because he’d worked with his landscaping buddies to insure that the majority of the plants were heat, fungus, white fly,and mold resistant. Although a sprinkler system had been installed, most of the plants would be fine without help once they’d put down roots. Cooper had also worked with his people to keep the walkways accessible for those whose mobility was impaired. He’d thoughtfully installed lights along the edges so the space could be enjoyed in the evening.

Our customers had played their part, too. Because Sid had checked with Cooper early on, we’d asked that they bring plants that would flourish such as penta, periwinkles, hibiscus, Mexican heather, and bougainvillea. While I’d given out a healthy number of discount vouchers, I figured that I’d break even because a lot of people were introduced to my store because of our good works. 

James “Jay” Boehner walked up to people, shook their hands, and personally thanked them for their help. He was deep in conversation with Cooper when my employees and I decided we’d had enough for one day. I went to find Greta to tell her we were leaving. She was ready to go home, too. The assistant administrator promised to make sure the grounds were vacated, and all the volunteers were thanked and sent home. Since he’d come in at three, he was still energetic. Greta looked as exhausted as I felt. 

Freddie had proved himself to be a charming young man. He was lavish with his affection for his mother. By the time we were ready to call it a day, he’d worked his backside off–as had we all. “I’m going to drive him back to his residence,” said Greta, giving me a hug. “I can’t thank you and your friends enough for all you’ve done. I’d like to have a public open house next month so I can properly honor you and all the volunteers. Will you promise to attend?”

“Of course. But we want you and Freddie to stand over here, please.” After I arranged them next to us and grabbed a passer-by, we all posed for a photo. Once the mother and son left, MJ, Skye, Poppy, Sid, Honora, EveLynn, and I posed for a selfie that I planned to add to our website. I was sending the picture to my email account when Greta came trotting back. “I forgot to tell you that Helen seems better. It can’t possibly last, but I think her spirits were much cheered by the activity.”

While I was grateful to hear the good news, I was so tired I could barely stand up. So I gave Greta another filthy hug. My friends and I fairly wobbled to our cars. 

~ To Be Continued ~

Well, dear hearts. We’re almost done. But wait…I know you want to hear what happens next. And I want to know too, so there’s ONE more installment. I’m saving it for Mother’s Day! Hugs and kisses– j

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 16

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.
When Salazar lit into Greta, her son Freddie was working alongside a tall man wearing a baseball cap. At the sound of Salazar’s ranting, both men froze. They’d been hammering wooden supports to a palm tree. In their statue-like positions, they could have been images from one of those Old Florida postcards. Freddie reacted first, setting down his hammer carefully and coming to Greta’s aid.
“Furthermore,” said Salazar, turning to jab that fat little finger at Freddie. “See this? I don’t know where he wandered in from, but he should never have been allowed on these grounds. You’ve endangered our entire organization by encouraging this handicapped man to work in a dangerous environment. He could have had an accident and sued us! Not only are you fired, but I’ll make sure you never get a job in the assisted living community ever again.”
The man who’d been working alongside Freddie stepped quietly to the side of the young man. Freddie’s face was very round, guileless, but his eyes proved the threats weren’t lost on him. “Ma? I can go. I can call a resident advisor and get a ride.”
I put an arm around Greta. She trembled against me. “Mr. Salazar? Please…if you look at the plans, we’ve kept to them. There have been minor modifications, but those were because we were able to make small improvements–“
“You aren’t qualified to make those judgments. You know nothing of architecture or of landscaping. Undoing the harm you’ve done here will cost this company thousands upon thousands of dollars,” he started, but this time he was interrupted by Cooper Rivers, my old boyfriend.
“That’s patently wrong. I am a registered architect. I personally have supervised this work. There’s nothing here that wouldn’t be considered within an appropriate–” But Cooper didn’t get to finish, because Salazar got up in his face.
“See that? That bird cage? And that one? You added those. Birds carry disease. They are a liability issue. We cannot put our residents in danger like that. And the so-called water feature? It’s an attractive nuisance. That’s means it might look good but it could potentially endanger our clients. No, you can’t buffalo me. I’m here to represent the Boehner Group, and this is on my watch. I’m telling you that I want every bit of this scrapped, immediately. And I want the name of each and every volunteer, because I’m sure our corporate counsel will–“
This time it was Salazar who was interrupted. The tall man in the baseball cap tapped Greta’s furious boss on the shoulder. “Jose?”
Salazar whirled around. His jaw dropped. “Uh, Jay, what are you..?”
The other man nodded.
“I’ve got this under control,” said Salazar. “This woman has exceeded her authority. I’m having all this cleared out.”
“No,” said Jay in a quiet voice. “No, you don’t have this under control. And yes, she did exceed her authority, but she didn’t exceed her mandate. I’m relieving you of your duties, immediately. I’ll have our corporate attorney discuss your severance package with you. Please go.”
Salazar sputtered. “You don’t understand.”
“That’s where you’ve got it all wrong. I do understand. I understand entirely. Now I suggest you leave before I have you thrown off my property.” Suddenly the gray eyes that had been shielded by the baseball cap turned cold. Boehner had a nicely chiseled face and broad shoulders. His stance changed, and I had the impression he was ex-military. And he was definitely not happy.
After Salazar stormed off, Greta wiped her eyes and turned toward the man who’d come to her rescue. “Sir? I’m Greta Morgan.”
“And I’m James Boehner,” he said, shaking with her offered hand solemnly. “CEO of the Boehner Group. Allow me to introduce my good friend, Freddie. Who is an incredibly hard worker. He’s been telling me how much his mother loves her job and her new chums here at Martin Gardens. That’s the word he used, chums. Seems he loves watching Call the Midwife. I do, too.”
“Then, you’re the man who owns this place?” I wanted to be sure I understood what was happening. “And you’ve been working here all day, haven’t you? You showed up with donuts at eight.”
His chuckle was melodic. “My dad was a great believer in the power of a well-timed bribe. Unfortunately, I miscalculated the number of people I’d be feeding. Now let’s get back to work, shall we?”
~ To Be Continued ~
Yes, I know this is hard to read because you have to scroll through other posts. Trust me, I’m going to see what I can do about it. But thank you for taking this journey with me. I wasn’t sure how to write this scene–and then I woke up this morning and it popped into my head. Sometimes writing is like that. It’s this awesome sort of magic. You do your bit, you let it go, and then the best parts are sent to you via e-mail of the brain! Lots of love– j

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 15


Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 14

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 scroll to the bottom of the blog where it says OLDER POSTS.

Sid had been on the sidelines for most of this adventure, tapping away at his keyboard and quietly marshalling resources. On Saturday, when we had our final planning meeting at Martin Gardens, he had announced that a variety of media would be joining us on the appointed day to watch the installation. Greta had invited all the mucky-mucks of her parent company, but none had responded. Her immediate boss had given her a lukewarm okay to the idea of planting a few flowers and generally sprucing up the landscape.

“I wasn’t entirely honest with him,” she admitted to me over a glass of wine. We’d become pretty good friends. I had learned that she, too, was a single mother. Her husband had abandoned her shortly after they learned their son had Down Syndrome. Freddie had struggled through life, but recently found a place at halfway house (I guess that’s what you’d call it) for adults with disabilities. He bagged groceries and loved his freedom. However, he still had a wide variety of medical needs that drained Greta’s resources.

“Why didn’t you brag to Mr. Salazar? This has turned into a really, really big deal!” Skye tucked her legs under her bottom and curled up on her futon. Admittedly, her apartment had become our gathering spot. She’d done such a fantastic job of turning trash into treasure with her decor that I never failed to get inspired after a visit.

“He’s prickly at best. Doesn’t like me. Doesn’t think I’m qualified. Doesn’t think I show him the proper deference.” She paused. “A bit of gossip. His nephew applied for the same job that I did, but I got it and he didn’t. Rumor has it that Mr. Salazar wants me out so he can bring Paul in and crow about my failure.”

Each visit began with the “How Is Helen?” report. This had been no exception.

“She’s fading fast. Manages a bite of food now and again. Extremely cachetic. Um, that means she’s wasting away and ‘extremely’ is redundant to be precise.” Greta was usually precise except in matters of the heart. I found her an odd juxtaposition of rigid and soft, almost as if both sides warred within her.

“Will she make it through tomorrow?” I was worried. Kookie had been installed in his new cage. Poppy had concocted a sort of small sized hurricane shutters that could be lowered when the sun was too bright or the wind too fearsome. We didn’t find any more of his feathers on the ground, so the plucking seemed to have stopped. He wasn’t eating much, but now instead of shrieking Helen’s name, he cooed and sang lullabies.

“Almost as if that durn bird knows she’s on her way to eternal rest,” Poppy had observed.

Skye took all this a bit hard. She’d always wanted a bird. Then along came Kookie. And she’d willingly given Kookie back to Helen. But I could see the sad light in her eyes each time we visited. However, Skye was no stranger to loss. I had a hunch that in her mind, she chalked this up to yet another disappointment that life had thrown her way.

~To Be Continued~

Author’s Note: Oh my gosh! I asked you to “talk” to me–and I was bowled over by your response! I’m taking a series of online classes right now. One teacher says that Facebook is a TOTAL waste of time for authors. That we’re only fooling ourselves. But I think we’ve found a wonderful way to share with each other–and because I feel closer to all of you, I get tremendous energy. So here’s a big HUG from me to you. Have a great day! — j  

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 13

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 12

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 11

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next

Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 10


Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next

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