Excerpts from Linda Seidel's THE BELINDA CHRONICLES
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- Published: Sunday, 15 November 2020 01:21
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
1 Belinda’s search for a genre
Women and Mothers:
2 Memorial Day
3 Trudi’s parents
5 Death of Helen
6 Trudi feels oppressed
7 Trudi in the hospital
8 Marty the nurse
9 Trudi’s journey home
10 Wasting time: love and class
11 Missing Trudi
12 The Gap Year
Men and fathers:
13 Imaginary men
15 Leonard in a decline
16 The Reinherz men
17 Death of Lyle
18 Singing to Leonard
19 Leonard the storyteller
20 Staving off dementia
22 Belinda’s knee
23 The Rooster Comb
25 Surprised by death
26 Late summer
27 Living with the dead
28 Creating safety
29 Talking to the dead
30 The Wedding Photo
31 Christmas Eve with the Reinherzes
32 Vicky and her twins
33 Lyle the war medic
34 Lyle vs. Nora
35 Alice D
36 Moments of delight
Weddings and funerals:
38 The Wedding
40 Safe at home
41 Burning the house down
42 Dinner at Lucky Stroke
43 The Secret Past
44 The Movies
45 The Ingenue
46 Jack Benny
47 Cult classic
5 Death of Helen
When Ladue tried to wake Helen at 6:30 am (in time for the 7:30 breakfast), she found the old woman unrousable. She called Helen’s name loudly and tried to find a pulse, but clearly Helen was gone. She had died in her sleep some time after the 4:00 am check. It was the perfect death, really, thought Ladue, who nonetheless wished it had not happened on this particular day, Ladue’s birthday, which was reminder enough of her own mortality.
Soon everyone in the nursing home became aware of Helen’s passing, and several people accosted Belinda with the news when she arrived to feed Leonard his lunch. Belinda started crying immediately—the tears she had not shed for Trudi two months before, the tears that really were for Trudi. She dabbed at her eyes surreptitiously, and commiserated with Ladue that her birthday had been spoiled.
Helen had been Trudi’s quiet, introverted roommate, a harmless old lady who liked to read when her physical condition allowed her to do so. Belinda could weep for her easily because she had nothing to regret or feel guilty for. Her slight acquaintance with Helen was not fraught with ambivalence. Besides, there were Belinda’s irrational fears that if only she had done X, Y, or Z, Trudi, who was 98 at the time of her death, would still be alive. There was no power struggle between Belinda and Helen, who was just a nice old lady.
Belinda had to remind herself that that is how most people had seen Trudi—as just a nice old lady—not a person with whom one could possibly be locked in a contest of wills.
10 Wasting time: love and class
One day, not long before Trudi died, they were looking at her old photo album, the one she kept before she got married, the one that recorded the glamour of her young womanhood. Belinda marveled at the jodhpurs and the little pointy-toed boots Trudi used to wear to go horseback-riding. She must have paid for these luxuries out of the wages she earned as an unattached working girl, with no husband whose income needed to be supplemented or babies to help support. Looking at these pictures, Belinda thought that Trudi looked shy and pretty and hopeful, her whole life ahead of her.
Trudi put her finger on a tiny photo little bigger than a postage stamp. It was of a good-looking, seemingly self-confident young fellow, his wavy hair combed straight back and probably Bryl-creamed into place. “I can’t remember his name,” said Trudi, “but I was in love with him.”
Belinda was silent. She had first heard about the one that got away many years before, when she was still a child, young enough to ask, innocently, “Why didn’t you marry him, then?”
“He didn’t ask me,” Trudi had admitted. Case closed. Belinda did not want to force Trudi to say those words again, but her mind was full of questions: Had the young man merely been amusing himself by dating Trudi? Was she too poor or her family not respectable enough (with the father in the insane asylum, after all) to make a good match? Had Trudi been “in love” with either of her husbands? (That she came to love them, Belinda had no doubt.) When the young man in the picture disappeared out of Trudi’s life, did she feel that he had wasted her time, preventing her from closing the deal with some more serious contender? By the time she did get married, to Leonard, she was already 27, a rather advanced age in the marriage market, especially for such a pretty girl.
Belinda remembered a severe lecture Trudi had administered, like a nasty dose of bitters, to her when she was a mere 18, having an innocent summer romance with a good-looking young truck driver who frequented the truck-stop diner where she worked. Trudi’s point was not that the boy would take advantage of Belinda (one of Trudi’s usual lines of attack), but just the reverse: that she was taking advantage of him. He was several years older, he might be looking for a wife, and he seemed serious about Belinda, but Belinda, for all her romantic pining, would never be a suitable mate for him. She was wasting his time, maybe even breaking his heart.
Belinda had been bewildered and angry. Of course she was not thinking about marriage; she was too young. She wasn’t thinking about the future at all. She could scarcely get through the week. She did not foresee that Trudi would be proved right: that she would go back to school and forget all about her handsome truck driver, despite his pitiful letters.
30 The Wedding Photo
They are just two young kids, frozen in time, posing for their wedding photo, taken by the best professional photographer in Brewer, the husband of one of Lyle’s many cousins. Still only 21, Leonard appears as a skinny youth, thinner than Belinda ever saw him in life, improbably dressed up in tails. He has a full head of hair, which he would gradually lose, and the full lips he would keep until death. Trudi, at 27, looks no older, as if her features were still taking shape, to form her greatest beauty in middle age. The train of her elegant gown is arranged in folds in front of her.
The bride in her white dress is a beacon of light in the classic black-and-white photo, the two tentatively happy people (their smiles cautious) surrounded by darkness in the old German Lutheran church to which Trudi belonged (and where Belinda herself would, one day, be married). A white altar, shining with ornate carvings, a large bouquet of flowers on top, stands behind them, the steps on which they stand invisible.
Seventy-one years later, Belinda would say to Trudi, “It’s June 1st. Do you remember what happened on that day?”
“I got married,” said Trudi without hesitation. “It’s my anniversary.” They were in the Lucky Stroke dining room, where Leonard sat with his eyes closed, waiting for someone to bring him his food.
But in 1947, Trudi and Leonard were still immortal, beautiful young people who would never grow old, despite having just got married and, therefore, achieving that then-obligatory gateway into full adulthood. Leonard had to get serious about earning money, now that he had a wife to support. Trudi never gave up her earning power; nonetheless, she put away her jodhpurs and settled into being a wife, warning Leonard that there must be no baby for the first year. (Leonard’s big wild collie was bad enough.)
Belinda remembered that they were still passionate about each other in her early childhood. One day, she caught them in a romantic clutch and had to squirm her way between them so as to be included. A few years later, Trudi would be ironing late in the evening and Leonard would call plaintively from their room, “Come to bed, Trudi! Come to bed!” Trudi would ignore him and go on ironing while Belinda wondered innocently what he wanted.
Now that Trudi and Leonard were both gone and Belinda seemed bent on turning them into works of art, she thought she would get the wedding photo framed and let the two young people it portrayed, strangers in a way, speak to her as they would.
33 Lyle the War Medic
The car ahead of them skidded off the wet road and crashed into a ditch. Lyle assessed the situation quickly: he could devote his energy to helping the crash victim now emerging shakily from her car, blood spurting from her forehead, or waste time preventing Vicky from going into a dead faint. “Leonard,” he ordered, “take your mother to that farmhouse just ahead and tell the people there to call an ambulance. I’m going to help this lady.”
Lyle made the woman sit down, gave her his clean handkerchief, and told her to press it against her wound. Then he retrieved the first aid kit he always had in his car and bound up her gash with the calm expertise he had acquired as a war medic fifteen years before. “You’re going to need stitches,” he told her.
“I was going too fast,” she admitted. “I didn’t realize the road was still so slick from the rain.” Lyle said nothing, but made a mental note not to let Vicky take up driving.
“Oh, God, there’s my husband—he’ll be mad,” she said as a sedan pulled up with a worried-looking man at the wheel and Leonard and Vicky sitting next to him.
“Your wife needs stitches, the sooner the better,” said Lyle. “Take her to the Brewer Hospital and let them look her over.” Lyle adopted the authoritative tone that made most people do what he said.
“Pop,” said Leonard when they were safe back at home in West Brewer, “why didn’t you become a doctor like my grandfather? Accidents and blood don’t bother you.”
“Oh, I fixed up enough bloody people in the war to last me a lifetime. When I got back from France, all I wanted to do was marry your mother and get a job, not spend years in medical school.” Lyle returned to reading the newspaper, an indication that the conversation was closed. He never discussed his war experiences with anyone, let alone a sensitive boy like Leonard or a tender-hearted woman like Vicky.
A few years back, his war trauma had caught up with him, and he walked about with visions of horror frequently before his eyes, until old Doctor Reinherz, intuiting what was wrong, prescribed a rest cure at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, where Lyle spent three of the most boring weeks of his entire life. He understood that unless he could suppress his demons and model normality, he would never be allowed to return to Vicky and Leonard, so he did his best to appear what he was supposed to be. He came back to his family apparently cured, his insecurities so deeply buried that they would never overwhelm him again until many years later when dementia set in and he would ask Belinda, “Have you seen my parents? I can’t find them. I don’t know where my parents are.”