They say everyone has a novel in them. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do think everyone has several good stories.
But getting those stories out isn’t always so easy. Imagine someone asked you what the most interesting story of your life was?
Some people have an immediate answer. Most do not.
The burden is on me to somehow draw the stories out. Sometimes it’s a strange question that elicits the response I am looking for.
I had sat down with Sylvia one afternoon. I learned a lot about her life but no stories that bubbled to the surface. After two hours we decided to call it quits with an understanding that I’d come back the following week to see if anything came to Sylvia’s mind.
The following week I sat down with Sylvia and her daughter Carole. Again we struggled to find a story that Sylvia wanted to tell. Another hour went by.
None of my normal questions were working so finally I said, “Have you ever gone hungry?”
“My mother would never go hungry or allow anyone in her family to go hungry.” Sylvia’s daughter Carole chimed in immediately. “No matter what she needed to do she’d do it. In fact, my mother once had full blown agoraphobia, but she was able to overcome it when the family needed her most.”
And just like that another Goose Chronicles story was born.
I hope you enjoy.
Sylvia’s heart beat loudly as she stood in the foyer of her house. The front door was closed but she could still hear the sounds of buses and cars coursing down Bell Boulevard. She wanted to lock the door, turn around and walk back into the house – but that wasn’t an option. Her husband Dick and her daughter Carole were already waiting in the car.
One more minute, Sylvia thought to herself, one more minute and I’ll be ready to go.
It was her first day of work in fifteen years.
Sylvia hadn’t always had a problem going to work, she’d been working from a young age to support the family. She grew up in the Bronx as the youngest of six girls. When she was a child, Sylvia’s sisters would enter her into beauty contests and split the earnings. When Sylvia was old enough to work she wanted to be a model or an actress but her mother suggested she pursue a career in office management. After her father died Sylvia’s office management job helped subsidize the family, but they were still so poor they had to move locations every six months when the free rent concession period ended.
There was a gentle knock at the door.
“You coming?” Dick rasped, his voice barely audible over the drone of cars outside.
“Be right out!” Sylvia yelled back.
She knew that all the recent events had been hardest on Dick. How things had changed since she’d met him… When she was twenty-four she went to the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. When the band was on break Sylvia walked over to the man who had been playing the trumpet.
“Can you hold my pocket book?”
“How am I supposed to hold your bag if I'm playing the trumpet?”
“You’ll figure it out.” Sylvia said as she placed the purse in front of him and walked off to dance the jitterbug.
That night when Sylvia left the ballroom the man playing the trumpet was standing on the street corner next to his car.
“I never got to introduce myself.” He said, leaning against his car. “My name is Dick.”
“Need a ride home?”
Six months later they were married.
Sylvia didn’t know it at the time but Dick was a famous trumpet player who’d played with Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. Years after they had gotten married, when he was no longer able to play the trumpet because of throat cancer, Dick opened his own catering service. At first business was good and Sylvia was able to become a stay-at-home mom and raise their three children in their home in Bayside.
Sylvia pressed up onto the tips of her toes and peered out the window at the top of the door. She could see Dick and Carole patiently waiting in the family’s kelly green Chevy station wagon with wood paneling. The plan was that Sylvia would take the Q13 bus to work and Dick and Carole would drive alongside so Sylvia would feel more comfortable. Sylvia knew it was silly to have them escort her to work, but the anxiety that had been percolating for several years had worsened in recent weeks.
For the past few years Dick had been gone at night, either playing the trumpet or catering events, and Sylvia was left alone with the three kids and Sylvia’s anxious mother in law. The confluence of raising three children alone and her mother-in-law’s nervousness seeped into Sylvia’s consciousness and after fifteen years she’d developed severe agoraphobia.
The agoraphobia reared its ugly head again and Sylvia felt a nervous clutch in her chest when she placed her hand on the door knob. There is no other choice, she thought to herself, the whole family depends on you now.
Dick had to get a laryngectomy when he was fifty two. There was something poetically cruel about silencing the voice of a man that had made beautiful music for so many. The operation meant that Dick could never play the trumpet again, but it had also affected his catering business – people were reluctant to eat food that had been prepared by a man with a hole in his throat. The pressure was now on Sylvia to become the family’s breadwinner.
Sylvia’s hand was still on the doorknob when she heard the air brakes of the Q13 bus outside their house. She gripped the knob tightly, opened the door and marched to the bus. In a few weeks Sylvia overcame her fears, and for the following twenty-five years she commuted to work every single day as she supported her family.