Saturday, July 20th, 2024

B Book Excerpts by Jean Loxley-Barnard
The Hope Trap -- Nellie


Excerpt from Chapter One- Many of our readers following the excerpts from Jean Loxley-Barnard's upcoming book had not read the first few excerpts. This first one, centered around the holidays, begins with a glimpse of a happy vignette.

Sitting on a little antique chair on the stair landing was Nellie, my antique doll. I picked her up as I passed, not knowing why, and I continued to the second floor. I stopped at the door of the blue room, still clutching Nellie.

Nellie had been a Christmas gift from Rob just a year earlier. Nellie was the best present he had ever given me, and that was saying something. Rob's gifts were legendary.

Each Christmas, Rob turned into Santa. The kids and I kidded about Christmas dust falling over him every December. We could tell when it happened. Rob's general mood was not ho-ho-ho. But he became rather jolly each December, going about his shopping like a man on a mission. The kids and I would smile at one another, eyebrows lifted in anticipation. "Santa," we'd say, "is back!"

Rob outdid himself, year after year. He had given me all the photographic equipment any amateur photographer could dream of having, plus romantic cassettes with our "special" songs. Rob never asked for a list. Surprise, he believed, was a prerequisite of a great gift.

The big, beautifully wrapped box under the tree on the previous Christmas had been the best surprise ever. It was an unusual size, and I couldn't even guess what was in it. I knew when Rob handed it to me that Christmas morning that it was something really special. I could see the anticipation in his eyes. Opening the gift, I saw Nellie.

I had come across Nellie's china head in an antique store two autumns ago. Rob and I were taking our annual fall vacation. I had grown up in New England and missed the gorgeous autumn colors, so we drove through New Hampshire and Vermont each fall. I loved antiquing, and Rob was considerate enough to stop wherever I wanted.

Our fall vacation was one of several we took every year, but the only one we spent alone. Each year I would hear Rob say that fall vacation had been "the best vacation ever." He had not said that last fall, I recalled. But he had said it enthusiastically the fall when I found Nellie.

Rob had come with me into the barn-like structure that had beckoned us from the road. He was, however, in another part of the store when I found Nellie's head.

I had never known what really happened to my childhood doll. I only remembered my father saying, "Nellie is at the doll hospital."

I picked up Nellie's head ever so gently and carried her to the counter. I couldn't speak, and tears were welling up inside. I put $10 on the counter and began rummaging for change to pay the tax. The old gentleman behind the counter waved his hand and shook his head, saying kindly, "Tax is included."

 I found Rob in the store and held out the doll's head. "Nellie," I said simply. We walked outside to our RV. Tears were meandering down my cheeks, a mature woman crying over a doll's head.

 When we drove away, I said, "He didn't laugh at me," referring to the antique dealer. Rob looked at me with compassion and said gently, "No one would laugh at you once they saw your face." Those few kind words from Rob stuck with me. I realized that he understood how I felt and that he cared. I had not felt that from Rob often, but I felt it that day.

 The Nellie in Rob's Christmas box was no longer just a doll's head. Nellie had a body from the era of my childhood, dressed in a beautiful outfit.

 "I found someone who restores dolls," Rob explained proudly. "She attached the body that Nellie would have had," adding, "I have a patient who makes doll's clothes who made this especially for Nellie."   

 "Oh, Rob, she is so beautiful," I cried as I hugged him. This one gift was worth all the others put together. All Rob's gifts were spectacular, but Rob giving me Nellie meant to me that he loved me, knew me, and valued me.

 Nellie marked the high point in our marriage for me. The year and a half after our marriage therapy was not an easy year, but it was a time when it seemed we would finally get to live happily ever after. Nellie was not just the symbol of my childhood; Nellie was the symbol of true love.

 I opened the door to the vacant blue room and flung Nellie into the darkness.

No Roses

Valentine's Day, the day for celebrating true love, was just hours behind me, but it seemed a lifetime ago. There had been a gift of sorts, but no roses.

No roses. Valentine's Day, and there had been no roses. Rob was a romantic, always a romantic, and would give me roses for no particular reason. But, yesterday was Valentine's Day, and there were no roses.

He handed me a little box with his sentimental card. In it was a bracelet of tiny gold hearts. I turned it around and around before realizing Rob was looking at me, waiting for me to say something.

"It's beautiful, Rob, just beautiful. Thank you." Then, without thinking, I added, "Let me see if it will be big enough." The bracelet was so tiny that I pictured it on our five-year-old granddaughter. Rob seemed not to notice my comment.

That evening we had our usual Friday night outing, dinner and a movie. We met Quent, our former son-in-law and Jennifer's daddy, for dinner and a movie. Rob was paged twice during the movie and stepped out into the lobby to return his calls. When he left the theater the second time, I realized how odd it was for him to receive even one call during a movie. Rob's surgical practice was well-established, and he took as few emergency room calls as possible. It was not an emergency, apparently, as he did not leave.

Quent was 44 now, almost our age. Our daughter, Rebecca, had married him over our protests when she was 20 and Quent 36. He was a nice man, educated and a real gentleman, but everyone could see the mismatch- except them. Their marriage lasted just two years, ending as Rebecca was expecting Jennifer. We joked that, in the settlement, Quent got us.