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Authors: Jay Gilbertson

Back to Madeline Island

BOOK: Back to Madeline Island
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Back to Madeline Island

Also by Jay Gilbertson

Moon Over Madeline Island

Back to Madeline Island


To Eric and Donna Lou Gilbertson

(the parental units)

Darling…don't just stand there,

tie on an apron,

pour the wine and

let's get cracking!

—Ruby Prévost


elen Williams carefully sets her china teacup in its matching saucer, pours hot water over the Earl Grey tea bag and then sighs. Refolding the worn note again, she heads over toward her stylish CD player and selects a favorite. Suddenly her tasteful condo is awash in the passionate Handel piece
Water Music

The orchestration is powerful, tragic, with just the right amount of hope. “My God, what should I do?” she says out loud, shaking her head. Helen turns down the volume, takes up her tea and deposits herself in the window seat overlooking Lake Superior. Known around the University of Minnesota Duluth as Professor Williams, who would guess her dilemma?

She kicks off her pumps, crosses her perfectly creased Ann Taylor slacks and retrieves the note again. Unfolding it, she rereads the lively handwritten letter.

Dear Helen,

I'm getting used to your name, I had originally named you Amy, but Helen's nice, too. Had an aunt by that name…Anyway, to get to the point of this note, on October sixth, nineteen-seventy-five, I had you—gave birth to you—I mean. You were such a cute little thing, but I was all of seventeen and it just wasn't in the cards for me to raise you. Trust me on this, what the hell do you know when you're seventeen?

So I gave you up for adoption. They assured me that you'd have a mom and a dad—home stuff—that you'd get a really good stab at life, a life I myself was trying to figure out. I only held you the one time, but I'll always remember how you hung on to my finger, the nun had to pry you away. God, that was hard.

Every year—even still—I think of you on your birthday, wonder is more like it. I wonder if you got placed into a happy home. If you had birthday cakes with candles and got lots of presents, if your Christmas tree was small or big. I imagined you with a dog, a bouncy brown one, wagging tail and all. I'd picture this stuff with the hope that I'd done the right thing. I'd cry sometimes, too.

I've never wanted to leap into your life in hopes of becoming your long lost mom or anything like that. I still don't want to intrude, only—I'm dying to know that you're okay, that your life has been a good one. God, I hope so. A friend of mine (her name is Mary Jo) runs this business where she helps mothers find their kids and well, she's been on me to do this and after thinking about it
I agreed.

Look, I promise I'm not going to like stalk you or anything, I only thought that maybe you'd have some questions. Medical stuff. Aren't you the least bit curious? I'd be glad to meet you somewhere. Scared to death, to be honest, but to finally meet you, in person, I can't tell you how great that'd be.

Okay, so I don't go mad with wonder, would you at least let me know that you got this note? You can contact Mary Jo and she'll let me know, she suggested I offer that so as to not be so intrusive. Or, you can e-mail me: [email protected] or you can write directly to Eve Moss, Steamboat Point, Madeline Island, Wisconsin.


P.S. Sure hope to hear from you!

Helen lets the note float to her lap, wiping away a lone tear. She makes up her mind and heads over to her computer


itting in my kitchen, I'm humming along with a favorite old bluesy Pearl Bailey tune, “Easy Street,” while Ruby fixes my roots by applying the color I've whipped up.

“Hold still, darling,” Ruby instructs me. “Good heavens, no
you used to charge your clients an arm and a leg to do this. Applying hair color is such a bloody mess!” Only a true Brit could put it that way.

I chuckle. “Until Howard puts the finishing touches on our in-cottage salon, this is all we have. Now did you get the nape of my neck?” I ask and bend lower on the rickety stool.

“You'd better be planning on a big tip for me,” she threatens. “I can't
e how gray you are, poor dear.”

“Me!” I move to the sink in order to slide the shutters open. Warm sunshine pours in. “Do you have any idea how gray
roots are?” We put our cigarettes out in the fish-shaped ashtray.

“No, darling, and
let's keep it that way. Now, how long until we can rinse—Rocky and I have laundry to attend to.” Ruby has slung Rocky, our fluffy gray cat, over her arm and is heading down the stairs.

“Not too long.” I follow her.

The wooden steps creak like mad; cool, damp basement air sends a shiver down my spine as we head down. I click on lights to illuminate the enormous room as we move over to our trusty Maytag that's busy making a major racket. Spin cycle needs some adjusting, I think.

“I simply can't get
,” Ruby says, while sorting through our clothes, “how quickly that Mary Jo of yours found her. Such a marvel.”

“No kidding.” I scoot Rocky over and join him on top of the dryer. “I wonder if she'll call or write or…” I haven't been sleeping since I popped my letter to her in the mail; what if she's gotten it and ripped it into a thousand…I'm going crazy here. I know, I know—short trip, Eve!

she will, darling. Why—when I was a little girl in England, I used to
of a princess-mother coming to my rescue.”

“Rescue? From what? I thought you lived a perfect life in that little fishing village. Thatched-roof cottage, grew your own food…” She is a real storyteller, but I have to admit, I get such a kick out of her ramblings.

“Oh, I think everyone fantasizes of being rescued—don't you, darling? I mean not that what's in front of you is horrible, hopefully not, but to imagine something different is all. Something being a bit more magical than trotting off to elementary school.”

“I guess, sure, but I'm not doing that to Amy—I mean Helen.” I think for a moment. “I'm filling in the blanks, I guess. Not just for
either. Let's be honest here—she's never tried to find me, so maybe she doesn't…”

“Eve—you've done all you can and now we've got to hope that perhaps she'll ring you. It's possible she simply wasn't able to
the looking. We've…”

Just then, the wine cellar door swings open and out steps—Johnny. In his tight jeans and torn-just-so sweatshirt, he's the picture of health. Howard's a lucky fellow. Together they live in the cottage right next door to us. They're among our very dearest friends, not to mention business partners, too.

“Eve!” he blurts out, panting. He hands me a piece of paper. “This just came in from your website's e-mail. I thought it was another order for more aprons but—read it!”

I read out loud, “Thank you for your recent Borders book order, enclosed please find the—”

side!” We recycle
I'm a book junkie.

I should explain a few things first, though. Ruby and I live in this huge rambling log cottage on ten acres of land on Madeline Island, which sits off the shore from a smart little port town in Northern Wisconsin, called Bayfield. Ruby's my best,
friend. Her age is this major secret but the gal's gotta be around seventy—she'd swear she's not a day over fifty-eight, maybe fifty-nine, it depends. Me, I'm forty-seven, single and NOT looking.

I do as I'm told and read aloud, “‘Dear Eve, I've had your note for some time now and…'” I slide down, off the dryer, and continue—my heart is pounding. “‘After reading it about a hundred times, I came to the conclusion it would be so much simpler to respond via e-mail. I love Ruby's Aprons website, by the way. You may find this as unbelievable as I did, but I live close by, in Duluth, to be exact. I honestly would love to meet you. Could we get together for lunch? I have to admit that I'm a little nervous, too. Okay, a lot. But I think it would be great to finally meet you, face-to-face. Maybe you could suggest a restaurant in Bayfield, as I've not had the opportunity to get over there in a long time. Hope to hear from you soon. Your daughter, Helen Williams.'”

!” Ruby proclaims and throws her arms around me. Then so does Johnny.

Rocky meows from inside the dryer and I let him out. Must have kicked the door closed when I hopped off it.

“Oh man,” I say as tears slide down my cheek. “We were just talking about my note to—”

“Just,” Ruby mutters. “It's all we've
talking about for…oh darling, there there.” Ruby pats my eyes with a tissue she always has tucked in her sleeve.

“Listen,” Johnny butts in. “Would you mind if I read this to Howard? This is big news—you know.” He snatches the note from me and scoots upstairs before I can reply.

Seconds later we hear them both whooping it up and head upstairs, back into the kitchen, to investigate. Rocky follows, fussing all the way about shutting him into the dryer. “Meow” this and “Meow” that.

“Eve—you must be so
!” Howard, who stands at least six-two, grabs me with his strong arms and twirls me around in the kitchen.

He eventually plops me down in one of the wicker bar stools that surround our enormous kitchen table, which is actually a gigantic white pine tree stump—it must weigh a ton, or two. It's varnished to an amber luster. There's a metal pot-and-pan holder suspended above it, packed solid since Ruby is a
chef. I'm the official pot-scrubber and stir-this queen.

“I don't know what…” I give my head a good scratching and then look at my finger. “Oh hell—I forgot about the color—Ruby and I need to go and rinse the cat out of our—I mean wash the cat so our hair color—God—I'm a mess.” Ruby and I head upstairs to rinse out our hair. “Put the coffee on, we'll be right back,” I say over my shoulder.

Hair color left on too long can make you many shades too dark and I just want my, ahem,
red color to be, well, natural
. My bedroom is at the top of the stairs and Ruby's is a ways down the hallway. The living room, I guess you could call it a great room; it's open to the second floor, which looks down into it since one side of the hallway up here is just a banister. I love coming out of my bedroom in the morning and looking out the huge windows to Lake Superior. It's really something up here.

Rocky zooms in and hops onto my bed just as I'm zinging the door closed. Before you can say “Helen lives!” I'm tossing my clothes at Rocky and pulling the shower curtains around my claw-foot tub. The curtains are see-through plastic with lady-bugs plastered all over.

As the dye washes down the drain, I suds up my newly revived “naturally colored” red curls. Even though I
overweight (and
endowed), I'd say I'm voluptuous. I've even been referred to as “beautiful.” What does
look like? I look down at my nakedness, rinse off, and quickly wrap my body in a huge, soft towel. Sure hope she doesn't have my—heft. I slather on lavender-scented lotion and, after that, powder on some foundation, a touch of lipstick, and a few strokes of mascara. I sigh, and then regard my reflection in the cracked mirror; Rocky's meowing, so I let him in. He jumps up on the toilet seat, regarding me with his perfectly eye-lined green eyes.

“What'd ya think there, Rocky—will she take one look and run?”

I spray some lemon-grass-smelling stuff on my hair, give my damp curls a pat, and wonder. Why can't I kick the habit of wearing makeup way up here? Does make me feel—well—
, more feminine, I guess. Why not? I need to repair the nails, though; I look at them and shrug. We head back into the bedroom. Rummaging around in my enormous wardrobe, which takes up practically one entire wall, I finally come up with a decent “let's talk about Helen—some more” outfit. Tan slacks, a frilly yellow top, and green Keds. “Smashing,” as Ruby would say. I fling open my door and lean over the banister to see what's going on down in the living room.

“Look at you.” Johnny waves up toward me.

He and Howard are snuggled together on the red sofa, which is grouped with the eclectic furniture collection positioned
just so
facing the river-rock fireplace. Its chimney soars two stories up the wall and then disappears into the rafters.

“What took you so long, darling?” Ruby asks as I slowly descend the staircase. It's made of pine logs that were split in half, then polished to a sheen—you have to be careful in order not to slip.

Ruby's carrying in a round serving tray loaded with filled coffee mugs, a plate of some gooey goodies, and a vase of daisies. How does she manage?

“Thought you'd fallen in up there.” She's dressed in one of her stylish “walking” outfits, a burst of gems spray across the front. I'm sure it cost a fortune. Her newly amber-brown-colored bob looks wonderful; I
a pro.

“Who has the…” Before I can finish, Howard is shaking a sheet of paper in the air. I snatch it from him and reread it.

“I printed it on fresh paper,” Johnny says. “Thought we could splurge, just this once, and NO, we haven't called Sam and Lilly. You can tell them tomorrow—of course, Sam probably

I thump down into a cushy chair and put my feet up on the sparkly green coffee table. “Sam can't help being a psychic, she calls it her gift, and besides, she promised not to help—too much. I really wanted to do this on my own. I
can't get over it.” I hold the note up for proof. My God, my life will never be the same. Is it ever, though? I mean, some changes come along and WHAM—everything shifts a bit.

“Here, darling, drink this.” Ruby hands me a steaming mug.

I take a whiff and smile, coffee laden with chocolate—yum! Lifting my mug, I say, “To my family.”

“Helen's your family now, too, darling,” Ruby adds. “I mean she's blood-family and we're—”

“All the family a girl needs,” I reply. We clink our mugs—for good measure.


Howard and Johnny have gone home, to their fancy “cabin” next door. Their place is much more state-of-the-art. It's ultratasteful, done up in a modern craftsman style with all the trimmings. You know: woodwork galore, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, stuff like that.

Ruby and I are back in the kitchen, which is a favorite hang of ours—isn't it everyone's? She's busy ladling a sesame-wasabi-maple glaze onto a beautiful salmon fillet that's headed into the yellow and chrome fifties stove of ours. It matches the yellow muscle-fridge, as I refer to it. It's one of those that's curved on the top and has a big chrome circle with the handle in the center—talk about energy unefficient.

I hip the fridge door closed and plunk a chilled bottle of wine down on the waist-high stump table. There's no label 'cause Ruby and her late husband made it; the wine cellar downstairs is just full of it. Opening the cupboard door to the left of the sink, I marvel at the amazing collection of mismatched wine goblets on the top shelf. Since I'm barely five feet tall and Ruby's a good two inches shorter, I drag over our all-purpose wooden stool and take down several stems.

“This wine is so…” I pause.

aged—much like myself—now hurry up and pour.” Ruby grabs the stool as I get down, drags it over to the stump table, climbs up a step, and selects a small pot from the rack that's suspended above. She takes her cooking very seriously. “What say I whip up a nice lemon Parmesan sauce for the steamed broccoli?”

“Sounds, amazing.” I'm in awe of this gal's cooking skills. “But first…” I hand her a crystal goblet covered with engraved moon and stars—we clink. My goblet's purple with huge bubbles suspended forever in its sides. “To Helen!”

“We've certainly been clinking up a storm, as of late, haven't we, darling?”

“So many things to be ‘clinky' about,” I say, then plop down onto a stool and spin around a bit. “God—what will I wear? What do birth moms
like, I mean, should I go for the Chanel suit thing or casual yacht wear—'course I don't own anything like that so…maybe a black number. Black is so slimming, you know?”

“Good heavens, not something else for you to worry—to
about. Look.” Ruby points her spatula at me for emphasis. “You're a lovely woman and you dress—with
—and you mustn't fuss and fume yourself into a dither over what you
like. Trust me, darling, she's not going to be focusing on your appearance. It's YOU she's interested in.”

I consider this. “I guess. I want to look nice, though—it's too late for surgery and I can't imagine a diet that works in less than—”

too late for surgery, but diets are fads, and fads come and go. I have a thought.” Ruby clicks the stove off, pops the salmon into the fridge, and unties her apron in one swift move. It swirls onto the cupboard in a mass of bright pink flowers. “Let's have a decent chat out on the dock and enjoy the sunset properly.”

BOOK: Back to Madeline Island
12.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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