Not your Norman Rockwell family gathering

As years created distance, during the many sleepless nights tossed and turned since that day, Marge had plenty of time to wonder about the unfortunate turn of events and how radically relationships can change in the space of a few minutes.

The day, a Sunday, was clear and bright. Marge and her husband, Danny, went to church as they did every Sunday. There they were joined by their daughter, Gina, her husband, Rick, and their two children, Marge’s precious grandchildren, Sophie and Sonya. After church, they made their way to the house that Marge and Danny built before Gina was born. They planned to enjoy their usual Sunday afternoon of visiting, games, an occasional spill (toddler Sonya was as clumsy as she was cute) and maybe a movie after supper.

Marge readily recalled the details of the time spent with Sophie, in a print dress, worn with a prim fastidiousness similar to her mother’s and Sonya, always disheveled, in a jumper she’d nearly outgrown. The memories of her grandchildren were bittersweet.

The house was filled with the smell of chicken and dumplings, simmering on the stove in her largest pot. With a quick peak under the lid she confirmed that dinner could be left unattended while she played with her grandbabies. Danny was upstairs watching TV, or more likely napping. Rick and Gina were at the kitchen table discussing the finer points of the sermon they’d heard earlier in the day. The scene was as close to idyllic as Marge ever hoped to achieve.

The details of the next hour or so were irrelevant, although Marge would never forget them. She chatted with Sophie, asking about pre-school, talking about classmates and art and meals and all manner of important topics such as those. Sonya occasionally joined the conversation, offering babble and sincere gestures, then wandering off to the toys scattered inelegantly around the room.

When the timer dinged Marge broke away to check on dinner. She noted that the dumplings needed a few more minutes, although her comment wasn’t directed at anyone and no one replied. She hummed tunelessly as she cleared the counter. The tune took form as she scraped vegetable remains into the compost, and she began to sing softly. As she put the cutting board and knife into the dishwasher, she let her voice grow louder. Her joy was complete; nothing could be more rewarding than this family time.

On the second verse, Gina joined in. They sang together, their voices lifting. Then Rick joined with his rich baritone adding resonance, balancing Marge’s alto and Gina’s soprano. In Marge’s view, those moments of celebration represented one of the finest experiences of her adult life.

Then, by way of stumbled words and stuttered phrases, Marge and her children diverged in their concluding refrains. She started, stopped, started, then sang her last awkward note as Rick and Gina’s harmony wound gracefully down.

“You did it wrong, Mom,” Gina said.

“I know, but I got it back, right?”

“Not really.”

“You were definitely off,” Rick threw in.

“Well, that’s not helpful,” Marge said. “It was fun.”

“Not if you’re off. You messed up the last verse.”

“We’re not professionals, you know. I was just singing. It felt good.”

Rick smirked and Marge wanted to slap him. Even now, when the darkness of night gave way to the gray light of morning, her palm itched with that desire. In the silence, the sound and scent of the bubbling chicken and dumplings filled the space, competing with the sudden tension. It was in that precise moment that the world swung on its axis, shifting from its upward swing of joy and gladness to a downward spiral into the abyss of hurt feelings and separation.

“Get out,” Marge said.

“Mom!” Gina’s eyes were wide.

“You heard me, get out! I don’t need this criticism in my own home. Pack your things and go.”

Which is exactly what they did.

Whether he’d been watching TV or napping, Marge never knew, but by the time Danny came downstairs they were gone. And in the twenty some odd years since that day, she’d yet to come up with an explanation for what happened.


For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Laura challenged me with “Turn a recent memorable dream into a coherent story” and I challenged Tara R with “What would happen if corporate competitiveness were eliminated, and individual/commercial performance (equalized by a benevolent benefactor) no longer influence personal gain?”.

About Fran Hart

Disciple of Christ, earning a living as the director of US-based operations for a Taiwanese company, managing an engineering organization while carving out time to write. Wife, Mother, Grandmother.
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4 Responses to Not your Norman Rockwell family gathering

  1. Tara R. says:

    I can understand how easily a break like this could happen. You captured that regret and frustration very well.

  2. Karla says:

    First of all, the title is perfect! 🙂 Second, you did a wonderful job of spinning this idyllic tale into one of heartbreak and hurt feelings. These moments often do just happen in one instant and then nobody can really explain why or how… except nothing is quite the same afterwards. I think you captured that sentiment brilliantly. Nice job.
    – Karla