Hanks had a best friend. Her name was Mary Sue and her mom’s name was Mrs. Dalson. Hanks liked Mrs. Dalson.
After school sometimes Hanks would get invited over to Mary Sue’s house to play until dinner time. Hanks’ mom made really good chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter cookies and ice box cookies. On baking day Hanks’ mom made gobs and gobs of all three kinds of cookies and put them into three great big 3 gallon jars. They stood on a shelf in the cupboard side by side for a few weeks, slowly and sometimes not really very slowly being eaten away. First all the chocolate chips were eaten, then the peanut butter, and last the ice box cookies. Hanks and Snort both thought it would be fine to have two bottles of chocolate chip and skip the ice box, but that was the way mom did it, every time.
Mrs. Dalson made brownies and sometimes chocolate cake with white frosting with chocolate sprinkles. Hanks thought they were almost like magic. They tasted so good. Melt in your mouth didn’t even say it right. More like sparkled in your mouth, or burst wide open, or, exploded. They were really marvellous. Hanks had to be careful to eat slowly and to not look too longingly for a second piece. Sometimes Mrs. Dalson offered a second piece, but Hanks knew it wasn’t polite to ask, or to even have longing eyes.
There wasn’t a Mr. Dalson. Mary Sue never ever talked about him and there were no pictures of him anywhere. Hanks looked several times when she visited, because Hanks’ dad was a photographer and he took his own pictures and had a dark room up in the attic where he developed them himself. Hanks could never help him because she might cause there to be a mistake. But she saw his red light on from time to time and saw pictures hanging to dry on a line dad stretched across the attic room. Sometimes she and Bradshaw snuck in making themselves tiny and invisible, when dad was at work, and looked at the pictures he had left in the water. They were very careful to never touch the pictures or the red light. Hanks liked seeing her own picture wriggling around in dad’s pans filled with water, but she never saw a picture of Bradshaw.
Dad and mom had pictures of their family in the living room and in an album that they put together on rainy Sundays sometimes. There weren’t any pictures or albums in Mary Sue’s house. But there was a Christmas tree all decorated and lit up every day from before Christmas to after Valentine’s Day! ‘We just like it and don’t want to take it down,’ Mary Sue explained. ‘It makes us feel happy.’ Hanks looked at it with very big eyes and an embarrassingly wide open mouth. She wondered if the Christmas tree was like Bradshaw: a way to keep sadness out of the house.
One day when Hanks was visiting with her friend, after their snack and when Mary Sue left the room and Hanks and Mrs. Dalson were alone together, Hanks got very quiet and felt shy and didn’t know what to say. She thought Mrs. Dalson must be sad to not have picture’s of Mary Sue’s dad around and she wondered why Christmas lights made her friend and her mother happy so long after Christmas. She wondered if they turned the lights on at night when they felt lonely, or if they ever had music when the tree was lit, or if they ever had a picnic sitting under the tree like she and Bradshaw did sometimes at Christmas time. Especially breakfast. Mom would make cinnamon toast and hot chocolate and fix 2 plates and 2 cups and Bradshaw and Hanks would sit cross legged under the Christmas tree and tell stories and play pretend.
Hanks’ didn’t think much pretending happened in Mary Sue’s house. Mrs. Dalson asked Hanks what she was thinking about and Hanks looked at her for a long time and then she said ‘I’m not thinking of much of anything.’ Mrs. Dalson looked deeply into Hanks’ beautiful brown eyes, brushed Hanks’ dark bangs off her forehead and said, ‘still waters run deep, don’t they Hanks?’ Then she patted Hanks’ check and walked toward the kitchen as she took a tissue out of her apron pocket and blew her nose.
Hanks thought about a stream in the forest, bubbling over rocks, and the sun shining through trees and making lacy shadows on big boulders. Then she saw in her mind an almost round pool deep in the middle of tall green pine trees that smelled like Christmas, way past the meadow that was filled with lilies of the valley every spring. The pool had white and pink pond lilies floating on the top and shiny dark ducks were eating green algae over in one corner. In her mind she looked into the pool and saw a wobbly moving sort of faded picture of herself. Bradshaw, she said, this house is sad that Mr. Dalson doesn’t live here anymore.
Yes, Bradshaw agreed. And grown-ups don’t want to talk about hard things, but Mrs. Dalson wants to talk, because she cries and asks for someone to help her. The Christmas tree helps her forget and she looks at it when she cries so hard she almost can’t stop. Before Mary Ellen gets home from school.
Hanks wondered what Mrs. Dalson cried about. She knew grown- ups cried sometimes and she thought it was probably a good idea. It must help them feel stronger. And she also wondered what Mary Sue’s mother meant by still waters run deep.
All her growing up life she thought about what Mrs. Dalson said to her and tried to understand if it was important for still waters to run deep. And if the stillness in her could run deep…maybe deep inside her she would be able to understand why people were made. Or maybe understand why Snort had to go away so often and for long and when he came back sometimes he hardly even knew what the family was like anymore. And it took her a long time to know how to play with him again. Was there even a place in the family for both of them? Maybe this family could only take one at a time.
Maybe Mrs. Dalson meant Hanks understood deep feelings and knew that there was quiet and sadness and hurt in the world. That everyone had those feelings from time to time but not everyone had Bradshaw to talk with about those feelings. Some people had to look at a Christmas tree on Valentine’s Day to find happiness. When Hanks got older she found deep beauty in stones and rocks and flowers. She loved the huge still expansiveness of the desert and the fierce ocean waves and the majestic white and green mountains.
One time mom said that mountains made her feel small and insignificant. But Hanks thought mountains made her feel huge and brave and safe and very much in awe of the magnificence of life. It took Hanks a really long time to grow up and be an adult. But when she finally got there she knew Bradshaw taught her so very much. Now as a grown up she feels blessed to have had Bradshaw to help her over difficult times throughout her life. She is able to set Bradshaw in the back of her mind and step forward into her own self and know that she knows how to make the world safe for herself. She often times understands why some people have to face very difficult challenges and when she doesn’t understand why, she just understands that there is always learning and meaning in what life asks all of us to do.
As a grown up Hanks is learning that when people die that leaves an empty space for the people who didn’t die to learn how to live and be happy. Sometimes dead people talk to the people they love and are still here on this earth. That is what Hanks was told, but she doesn’t know for sure, because no one who died has ever talked to her. She listens very carefully, though. And often in her head and in her heart she feels like she knows something very important. Often times it feels important to tell other people about what she knows. Mostly however, she likes to hear other people tell her what they know. That way she can learn and understand much better why the world is the way it is: happy, sad, scary, magnificent, amazing, beautiful, wondrous, magical, hurtful, mean….lots more, but Hanks can’t think of any other words right now.