By Paul W. Barada
Greensburg Daily News
...And somewhere beyond time and space the sweet distant sound of a meadowlark seemed to awaken him from a very deep sleep; a sleep filled with strange vivid dreams – dreams of remembered people and experiences – the grip of panic a drowning swimmer feels struggling for air, the aseptic smell of an unfamiliar hospital operating room, the touch of a beautiful blond girl – a girl he had loved – but whose name he couldn’t quite remember, but mostly he dreamed of singing which brought him feelings of great joy – and yet – of terrible sadness, too. He dreamed of trying to sing again and again, but never being able to do so – and he dreamed of the darkness of a far away war.
Bright light seemed to be everywhere. As he gradually awakened he slowly turned his head toward the brightness and opened his eyes. The smell of freshly ironed sheets against the side of his face was familiar. The softness of the bed gave him a sense of blissful comfort and security he hadn’t known for a very long time. He slowly reached up and rubbed his eyes. The room came slowly into sharper focus. He knew this room – and yet he couldn’t recall exactly how he knew it.
The morning sunlight was streaming in from the two tall windows over to his left. Both windows were about halfway up and he felt a warm gentle breeze on his face as he continued looking toward the light. The sheers at the two tall windows gently swayed as the air continued to drift into the room. The morning sunshine made it difficult for him to pick out the objects in the room. Slowly, he raised himself on his elbows and squinted to see the room more clearly. Gradually, his eyes were becoming used to the warm sunlight.
He routinely looked for the bottles of medicine he kept on the nightstand. They were not there! In their place was a brass lamp with an adjustable dark green satin shade; it reminded him of another lamp, very much like this one, that used to sit on a marble stand by his bed when he was a boy.
Gradually, the dreams that had seemed so terribly real began to fade from his memory. Though he still remembered the dialysis machine he had gotten used to using every night. It was a fair-sized piece of equipment he kept next to his bed. There was no sign of it! Worried now, he fumbled with the covers to find the nose clip for the oxygen tube that led to the heavy metal oxygen tank that had helped him breath ever since that terrible viral infection robbed him of much of his lung capacity. It, too, was nowhere to be seen! Now he felt fear! What had become of his life-sustaining medical equipment and medications?
His eyes were now fully adjusted to the bright rays of the morning sun. Slowly, he pulled the covers back and swung his feet out of the bed and sat up. He knew this room! This was his bedroom! The bedroom from his youth!
On the far wall, next to the tall bedroom door, was a chest of drawers with an attached oval mirror on top that was familiar. Between the large windows he saw the oak bookcase he once knew so well; next to it, in the far corner, was the cozy overstuffed chair where he used to read on rainy afternoons when he was a boy.
At the other end of the room was the large sturdy desk where he had practiced writing short stories and poems. Loose sheets of paper on top rustled slightly in the soft breeze from the windows. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. There was no pain, no struggle for air. It had been years since he had been able to do that! The memories of those days of illness were slowly but inexorably drifting from his mind. He felt good this morning!
Gingerly, he put his bare feet on the cool hardwood floor. Easily, he bent down for one last look for his dialysis and oxygen equipment under the quilt-covered bed. There was nothing there but a pair of bedroom slippers…
Tentatively at first, but with increasing confidence he walked easily over to one of the windows. Carefully pushing back the sheers, he leaned on the window frame and looked out. He recognized this scene. Just outside the window was a tulip tree about to bloom – very much like the one that used to grow outside his bedroom window. Perhaps, he thought, it was the same one. High up on one of the topmost limbs, trilling its joyous melody, he saw the meadowlark that had first awakened him. He knew this place. He wondered if he was still dreaming.
More confidently now, he walked over to the desk and looked at the papers resting on it. There was the draft of a short story he had been working on just a few days ago, or so it now seemed. Quietly, he said, “Well, I’ll be damned.”
Then, suddenly, swirling all around him, within him, throughout the room, drifting in on the warm breeze he heard and felt a voice say, “You are forgiven.” Suddenly, he understood. He walked easily to the mirror over the chest of drawers and looked at the image looking back at him; it startled him, but there was no time to process what he saw.
He had suddenly heard a voice he knew coming from downstairs. “John Michael! Your breakfast’s ready!” It was his mother’s voice! Instinctively, he answered, “Coming mother!” He hurried over to his bed and easily bent over to grab the slippers underneath, putting them on as he opened the door to the hallway. He looked around. His mind was perfectly clear now; this was his home, the majestic two-story Italianate brick farm house in which he had lived as a boy! He knew the doors across the wide hallway belonged to his sisters and that the single door at the far end of the hall belonged to his parents.
He grabbed the rail and hurried down the stairs, the memories of the dreams now faded from his mind like early morning mist hanging over some distant field. He knew this house! It was as familiar to him as yesterday. As was his habit, he jumped easily from the third step down to the floor that led to the entryway. A quick turn to the left and he was in the dining room. There, peacefully sipping coffee and reading the Greensburg Daily News, was his father, Jim McLaughlin! At the far end of the table he saw his mother, who everyone called Sheppi, putting a heaping portion of scrambled eggs on his plate. “Well, about time,” she said with that sweet smile he loved so much. “It wouldn’t be right to sleep the morning away on a day like this, sweetie,” she said. Looking over the top of his newspaper, his father said, “It’s not every day a boy turns twelve years old.”
This is my birthday? He looked at the calendar that hung near the door to the kitchen. The date was circled in red. Today was May 16, 1958! Thinking he heard giggling coming from the front porch, he asked, “Where are Betsy and Nan?” Without looking up, his father said, “Oh, they’ll be along later.”
He sat at his usual place at the table. He scooted back on the chair and noticed that his feet didn’t quite touch the carpeted floor. As his mother placed a plate of eggs, bacon, and buttered toast in front of him, he took in the wonderful aroma of it all with a clear deep breath. As he reached for his napkin, his father asked, “So, what would like to do first on your special day?”
He thought for a minute as he shoveled in a mouthful of eggs and bacon. The taste was wonderful and filled him with special warmth. “Dad, could you and I play baseball?”
After breakfast, his father got a baseball, a bat, and a couple of baseball gloves from the back porch. “We need to do this more often,” his father said to him with a broad smile as the two of them walked down the front steps on to the newly green grass in the large front yard that stretched all the way down to the road, the special fragrance of the grass drifting up meet him. He saw yellow dandelions scattered here and there across the lawn. The sky was a brilliant blue with a few fleecy white clouds hovering overhead. There were new pale green leaves on every tree, and golden daffodils were swaying gently on either side of the front porch. It was a perfect spring day. He looked up at his father and smiled as they walked together.
This was his first morning of eternity…
Editor’s note: John Michael McLaughlin, 67, died Friday, Aug. 10, 2012, in Charleston, S.C. Michael was born May 16, 1945, in Greensburg, to the late James Charles and Mary Elizabeth Link McLaughlin.
A successful freelance writer and author, he was the co-author of 12 editions of The Insider’s Guide to Charleston (with Lee Davis Perry), It Happened in South Carolina and South Carolina Curiosities (also with Lee Davis Perry), South Carolina Off the Beaten Path (with William Price Fox), Reference Checking for Everyone and The Lullaby Lost (with fraternity brother and long-time friend Paul W. Barada of Rushville).
Mike was a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran and a recipient of the Bronze Star.