Monday, May 1, 2017

Joey & Claire

1947 was a watershed year.  World War II was over. The healing was beginning and construction of much needed housing had begun.  Joey was a ten year old boy and his newest friend was an eight year old girl named Claire. The government was pushing ahead with a form of manufactured housing.  Hundreds of homes were being built with 3 bedrooms or two bedrooms. The designs were basic. The floor plans altered only to have the basic rooms shifted some but square feet remaining the same.  In other words, it was a cookie cutter approach. It was this setting that brought together the returning vets and others who were getting their footing after a terrible war.  Because the homes were close quarters, neighbors were friendlier and friendships were formed.  Well, Joey and Claire lived two doors away from each other and it seemed Claire was the sister Joey never had. Thinking of Claire as his sister to Joey just seemed so natural. Joey had friends who were of his own age but none more important to Joey than Claire. She had moved in almost the same week that Joey’s folks moved into the area. Things were going well. Joey found Claire to be so full of life. She was an only child and not the least bit spoiled. She was generous and willing to give up things for the good of others.

Months had gone by and Joey noticed Claire was not herself.  She finally told him that she had a form of cancer which was life threatening.   Joey had the typical reaction.  Surprise followed by disbelief and then determination to fight back. So it was that the painful journey of cancer started to take hold.  Joey was visiting Claire regularly with an eye toward being of help. Claire began to tell him of her dream of being a ballet dancer and the newest gift of ballet shoes from her parents. The doctors and medical people did what they could for her but she was losing the battle in spite of treatments.  She had come home to finish her life within the walls of her home.   All that could be done for her was done as it would be until that final day came. Claire was now having difficulty getting around.  Joey kept thinking of things to help her when he was walking home from school. He could take ballet lessons and report back to Claire after each lesson. He soon was registered at the cost of $1.50 for each lesson.  Once a week it was required to attend and take part.  The money would come from his paper route where he earned $10.00 a month.

Each week Joey came back and told Claire all about it. She was so thrilled and pestered him with questions about what he had learned.  Joey had a good sense of humor and was a bit of a comic, so when he talked about his big feet and how they got in the way, he gave a demonstration of posturing and grace that had Claire in stitches. She was struggling with her cancer and that meant Joey had to work out a routine each time to make Claire laugh and also to give her the details that she longed to know.

The ballet instructors knew something was up for Joey did not fit the bill for a student of ballet. He behaved himself but had the rest of the students in hysterics with his awareness as he went about making the movements that were part of his classes. Time after time he bumbled along in his classes looking so foolish but struggling on to report back to Claire. Here is how he described one class:  “I took my position, which was standing still with one foot just barely touching the floor and the other turned   slightly to balance with my left-hand raised and the right hand moving with a flourish which capsized the whole movement to the floor.”

Claire laughed hard when he displayed the antics of position and proper style that one had to learn. 

To make the proper movement  Joey had one hand on his hip, leg arched, head tipped back, his eyes focused to turn on a dime, but in his case a quarter. Then Joey added that his performance will go down in history – way down.

The program continued with Joey’s ballet lessons and Claire’s excitement keeping them both staring into another world.  Claire wanted to live the dream of dancing and performing and Joey’s concern was to make her happy in his own way.  Joey found out putting the body in unnatural positions was necessary for body work and is also designed to warm up the body and stretch muscles to prepare for strains and muscles being exercised to avoid injury. He thought he would tell Claire about the rigors of staying fit as he made fun of his attempts to use the wooden bar along the studio wall.

The word had spread by now and the dancing instructors understood.  The mothers in the neighborhood understood and the school leaders understood. Claire was failing and chose to stay at home during her trial. Joey was feeling the pain in his heart and the absence of Claire in his life.  So when Claire said to him on a particular hard day for both of them:   “Joey, is Heaven close?  I mean, is it close enough that I can watch you grow up and tell God that you’re my brother?  Would He understand and allow me to be part of you and love you as much as you love me?” Joey sat back with tears in his eyes and said:  “God could do anything but it’s a lot easier when He has somebody like you to work with.”   Then it happened.   She leaned forward and said:   “I won’t be here tomorrow.”  That did it as Claire kissed him.  Joey wept like only a child can and then said his good-bye. Claire, through  eyes full of tears, said with some difficulty:  “Brother Joey, I love you.” 

Joey did not want tomorrow to come but it did.   Claire’s folks called Joey’s parents and to tell them Claire died after a few hours when Joey said goodbye.

Joey’s heart was melted and he found himself rushing into his mother’s arms.  She held him tight as his father said, “Joey,  you were a wonderful brother to Claire and we are so proud of you. You spent your paper money to make Claire happy. You suffered ridicule when practicing Ballet. You made Claire happy in her last days and God will not forget what you did, son.”

The funeral was held and the ballet class was also there. The school let everyone who wanted to go to the funeral attend.  People from the community were there and it seemed the angels were singing as  there was a feeling that hushed us all.  Joey thought he could hear Claire saying:  “I’m up here Joey! Just look up. I’m OK.”

Claire’s family placed a pair of ballet slippers on a homemade stand with the inscription “For Claire our ballerina.” Joey looked around and said in a hushed tone:  “Claire, I’ll miss you when the ballet lessons end and my visits don’t take place.  I will find you again when spring comes as your golden hair shines in the sunlight and you smile ever so shyly.”  Joey looked away from Claire’s grave, searching his mind and heart.  His heart was weighed down as though the ache he felt would never go away.  His mind thought of Claire, who was an only child, and her folks feeling the loss as they looked totally devastated.  He then remembered what Claire had said:  “Heaven has room for me Joey.  I know it and God won’t forget me.”  Joey smiled and then closed his eyes, whispering:  “Good bye for now, Claire.”   He felt his mother’s embrace and the tears just flowed.  Joey knew in his very being he would see Claire again.  Joey visited Claire’s grave for few years and noticed the ballet shoes were still there, somewhat weathered but undisturbed which spoke volumes for peoples’ respect. He took careful note of that and in future years would remember to tell Claire she was even more special.

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