Vignettes and Petit Fleurs. Stories of Chances and Change

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Louise Caiola’s short stories in Vignettes and Petit Fleurs are as lovely as the covers of these sister books. The author deals delicately with subjects such as loneliness, change, relationships, and the loss of loved ones, each story with a theme of its own. And while Vignettes focuses more on “tales of choice and change,” and Petit Fleurs concerns “first tries and second chances,” the two intertwine and complement each other.

My favorite story is “Twin” from Petit Fleurs, which deals with dreams fulfilled, but perhaps too good to be true. I felt drawn into the story of Tori and Jenna, two cousins close in age as well as spirit. Keeping in touch even when Jenna moves from New York     to Tampa, Florida, they share their happiness with each other when they both end up   with the men of their dreams. But will it last? The story kept me guessing until the end.

“The Chameleon Dance” from Vignettes is about self-discovery and living the lives which are right for us. As little Ileana spins and twirls for approval in New York, so far from her home in South Africa, she never stops to wonder whether or not she wants to be a prima ballerina–until later in her life.  Why is she there?  Is it because her parents and others  tell her how graceful and poised she is, or because it’s what she wants?

“Unbridled Hope of Eighteen,” Petit Fleurs, is where past meets future, helping us look      at life in a different light and wonder. When Gwendolyn Sykes takes a bus toward her home in Pennsylvania after a ten-year stint of trying out her acting skills in New York,    she feels discouraged. But when the bus makes a stop, a bubbly, eager eighteen-year-old climbs aboard, reminding Gwendolyn of herself at that age, but a mystery prevails.  This story reminds us that sometimes our goals and dreams are still out there and it’s not too late. We might just need to revisit the familiar to be recharged.

Hearts can’t help but be touched by the depth of Louise Caiola’s stories, and her descrip-   tive language well-expresses the thoughts and feelings of the characters, making both Vignettes and Petit Fleurs enjoyable reads.

Available now!

Petit Fleurs                                 Vignettes

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Mysterious Visitor

Batesburg, old cabin in fog 001

I haven’t been to many Halloween parties, especially in recent years, but there’s one that really sticks in my mind. Held in a basement, it went as most do, with the exception of someone’s child crying until my husband took off the clown mask he was wearing.  We  then had refreshments, played games, and admired or made fun of each other’s costumes.

Toward the end of the evening, however, the door opened and in came someone dressed  in a chipmunk costume from head to toe. He wandered into and around the room, even- tually taking a seat next to a back wall.  Conversations immediately became, “Who is that?” and “I don’t know–why don’t you ask him?”

The stranger said nothing, but simply sat in a folding chair with his hands on his knees, refusing to answer any questions.  Much to the chagrin of parents, the kids became enamored with Mr. Chipmunk, hanging around him as if he were a great pal. Some of     the mothers were upset or even angry at the intruder, who dared to not make his identity known for their peace of mind.

“It’s Huey,” some said, just to have his wife answer, “No, Huey’s in the mountains.”

Then, just as unexpectedly as he appeared, Mr. Chipmunk rose from his chair and hurried out the door, followed by many of the older children. Was he a pied piper, a kidnapper, or even a murderer?  Whatever he was, the kids weren’t afraid, and they filed out the door into the cold darkness. Mr. Chipmunk meandered toward a graveyard with his entourage close behind, yipping and yowling with glee.  Last seen, he was ambling and weaving around the ancient tombstones, finally disappearing into the woods.

Batesburg cemetery in fog 001

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Black and stark                                                                                                                                  Was the bark                                                                                                                                          Of a newly-moistened tree.

On velvet grass                                                                                                                                           I passed,                                                                                                                                                  Its splendor to better see.

How calm–how green!                                                                                                                            Did e’er such a scene                                                                                                                      Come from anyone but He?

A gift of love,                                                                                                                                           A taste from above,                                                                                                                             To lighten the heart of me.

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Times Have Changed

Many things in society have changed since I was younger–some good, and some not so good. I was reminded of this recently when I bought a wedding present at a store where the couple was registered. I have pleasant memories from my early twenties, when many people I knew were getting married, and I had the privilege of getting gifts for them.

The department store we used to shop at had nice music, carpeting, and a white desk   just for wedding endeavors. What an enjoyable experience it was to sit with a clerk and browse through the special white book filled with the couple’s selections. After getting   an idea    of what they still needed, we went over to their very own display of china, crystal, and silverware. It was so easy and fun to decide what to give them.  Next, the wrapping department would box the gift and cover it with lovely paper and bows unlike anything   we had at home. It was a comfortable, satisfying experience, and we felt good about the presents we purchased for our friends or relatives.

Since my husband and I now live hundreds of miles from our hometown, we had not bought a wedding gift in several years. How things have changed! We entered the same store chain to cold air and hard floors, passing three unoccupied employees just before reaching a computerized system. We had become accustomed to searching for gifts this way, but this one took things a step farther.

So many items are being registered now, it’s difficult to decide what to do. Sheets, towels, bowls–almost anything a couple could want–in addition to the usual china, silverware, and crystal. Weary of scrolling down the list, we decided to print it so we could better compare. The machine made quite a ruckus for a couple of minutes, then–nothing. We asked one of the nearby clerks for assistance, and she eventually found the printout on the back of the computer. The printed list (which was longer than any Santa’s list I’ve seen on TV) was actually more difficult to read than the computer screen, but we finally found a piece of their silverware we wanted to buy.  The store didn’t have it.  We could order it, but it wouldn’t arrive in time for the shower.

It was bad enough that there were no displays of the selections, but we also learned that many were not in stock.  The couple resides an hour and a half away, but we live in the bride’s hometown, where many are purchasing gifts for her. We finally told the sales lady how much we wanted to spend, and she located a clear glass bowl with a design around the rim. “Sure,” we said, without any enthusiasm. We were just relieved to find some- thing they wanted, and we couldn’t get excited about it. Then came the wrapping.  The clerk pulled paper from under the checkout counter, and I noticed dents in it as she searched for the official seal to place on top. There was no real bow, and the package didn’t have the finesse I remember seeing in the past.

I miss the days when buying a wedding present was warm, easy, and personal. After all,   it is a personal occasion.

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The Deer

The forest was dense and beautiful.                                                                                                    A lone deer wandered toward our cabin                                                                                            And drank from the trough at our windowsill.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The deer laughed, and all the forest with her.                                                                                    They knew what all of mankind should know:                                                                                  That all of creation belongs to God,                                                                                                      And our joy comes from Him.

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Grand Cayman Island

It had seemed like a good idea–going to Grand Cayman for a vacation. My cousin had been there twice. But there we were, driving around aimlessly, not sure which way to go after an officer forced us to take a detour. We tried to explain to him that we didn’t know the island, but he insisted we take a country road leading to . . . we didn’t know where.

It took a while, but we finally found our way back to civilization. It was my first trip out of the country, and it all seemed so strange. From arriving on the island, to finding the right van to the hotel in the pouring rain and riding through a mostly industrial area       to our small inn, I wasn’t sold on the place.

But the next morning the rain had subsided and the sky began to clear. My first moment of “Wow” on Grand Cayman came when we went to a large hotel to rent a car.  On the blue ocean just outside the lobby towered a huge white cruise ship. We entered the pool area to Calypso music, passing a gorgeous pool with a swim-up bar.  Continuing on to    the bleached white sand beach, we needed darker sunglasses to observe the crystal water which changed to aqua, then deep blue. It was my Caribbean dream come true.

Hyatt, Grand Cayman 001

Grand Cayman Beach Suites

I began to see the true beauty of the island as we explored more–driving a short distance to a public parking area right next to Seven Mile Beach. Casuarina trees shaded our car, and we only had to walk a few feet, right past the Governor’s house, to smooth sand and clear water.  Not only was the ocean more beautiful than any I’d ever seen, but there was less wave action. It was easy to swim in the calm water, and a snorkeling mask made it possible to view colorful fish nearby. There was very little moistened sand, so strolling along the shore was different than it is on South Carolina beaches, where we usually go.

Beach, Grand Cayman Island 001

Another difference on Grand Cayman is less sea breeze. I’m sure it varies, but I was    used to a constant breeze cooling me. And even though it was only 87 degrees most        of our time on the island, I really felt the sun. But the lack of wind also made dining outdoors more enjoyable. Usually I have to hold my hair away from my face and weigh down napkins in order to combat the wind while I’m eating, but outdoor dining was a pleasure. We ate outside more than inside, and insects weren’t a problem.

Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman 001

One of my favorite activities in Grand Cayman was a submarine ride.  I was a little hesitant about being in an enclosed space with a group of people, but I didn’t know if     I’d ever get another opportunity.  We boarded a boat which took us into the darkest, bluest water I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a submarine anywhere, but we were assured      it would appear at any moment. And appear it did–rising to the surface as a light green blob, then exploding on top of the water and changing to a dull gray. It was truly exciting, then a little scary as we followed a gang plank between the two vessels and descended metal steps into the belly of the beast.

After we found seats on a bench facing portholes I relaxed more, waiting for the journey 101 feet down to begin. A winding sound indicated we were sinking, and soon the water seemed gray. The lack of sunlight caused this, but we soon observed underwater moun-tains with many sea creatures swimming above them:  Sea turtles, stingrays, and fish I couldn’t even identify. Everything was in slow motion, and we started back to the surface all too soon.

Indigo Inn, Grand Cayman 001

Indies Suites

I’m really glad we made the trip, and the differences and inconveniences were definitely worth it. It’s a place I’d love to visit again.

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What happened to the crickets’ song                                                                                                We listened to all summer long?                                                                                                    Has man with knowledge, machine and might,                                                                    Turned these creatures from the night?

What happened to the crickets’ song?                                                                                          Must we wait all winter long?                                                                                                          And hope that when the time is near,                                                                                              On an evening warm and clear,

Once again we will hear                                                                                                    Harmonious melodies from the trees,                                                                                  Floating on the gentle breeze,                                                                                        Surrounding us with summer ease.

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