I write this not for who we are today, but rather who we were. We were destiny at her best; we would have united no matter what adversity had crossed our paths. We believed that sometime long ago we were one; separated, fated to wander the earth searching until that day came when we were reunited.
We melted into each other like the pairing of a fine wine and the sweetest grapes. It was safe, warm, comfortable, passionate, fire and intoxicating. We were us, no one else could understand or even try.
This is who we were...
The Garden of Two
It was 1916 and the world was spinning and changing with each day. Europe was involved in the largest war in its history, a world war. The automobile had taken over the streets and Woodrow Wilson had been reelected to the Presidency. Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives and the phonograph graced the homes of the cities upper class families. Norman Rockwell began his illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post and James Duke, the tobacco baron, ordered the design of the first private Pullman rail car.
The Whitman's resided in a prominent neighborhood in Long Island, New York. James was the family patriarch and president of Whitman Construction. His family had started the business two generations ago when his grandfather migrated from Surrey, England. Although the business had awarded them with great wealth and a privileged life style, James never forgot the meager means his family had started from. He remained a humble man who was loved by the community and an active participant in local charities.
His only daughter, Lillie had just turned eighteen years old. She had a delicate frame with long dark hair and soft hazel eyes. With a warm smile that could melt even the coldest room, she was a constant light in the Whitman home. When Lillie was eleven, her mother Elizabeth became stricken with influenza. James did everything he could to save his wife but the illness was too strong for her to fight. Elizabeth passed away, leaving James a shadow of the man he once was. They had been so much in love. After fourteen years of marriage their affection for each other was obvious in everything they did. He would do anything for her happiness.
James had a large Victorian style home built for her, complete with a wrap around porch and stained glass windows and a picket fence. He had the back of the property turned into a beautiful garden with bright flowers and lush green grass. There were plants and trees brought in from all over the world. Cobble stone pathways carved out separate pathways and wooden benches were throughout, so Elizabeth could sit and hear the birds sing while she enjoyed her garden. As a gesture for his his deep love and commitment to her, James had everything planted in pairs. There were two of every tree, flower and plant placed in the garden, side-by-side growing together. He told Elizabeth they were parts of each other, separate but together at the same time, forever for eternity. Elizabeth would sit in her garden often; it was her place for reflection and solace.
They were happy and Lillie had always felt so lucky growing up, their house was filled with so much fun. Her parents enjoyed hosting parties for their friends and family and there was always some new event to look forward to. When Elizabeth passed, the parties stopped, James couldn’t bear to have anyone in the house and it became a quiet place filled with distant memories.
But the garden remained. James had gardeners come every week to keep it alive and vibrant. Elizabeth would always have her garden; this he could do.
Lillie did very well in school; she was at the head of her class and had plans to go off to college. She felt that maybe it would be a good idea to get away and explore the world a little, maybe Princeton, away from home but not too far.
It was a warm June morning and Lillie was awaken by some commotion that seemed to be coming from the backyard. She quickly put on her robe and went down stairs to see what the noise was. As she walked out onto the back porch she could see her father with the gardener at the furthest wall in the yard. They were planting some kind of shrub and the gardener was having difficulty pushing the shovel through the ground. It seemed he kept hitting a large rock of some kind. “Dad. What are you doing out here so early in the morning?” Lillie shouted out.
“Early? Daughter you had better get a good look at the clock it’s 10am. Almost early afternoon”. He peeked out from his very large brimmed straw hat. He used this hat whenever he would work in the garden. Her mother had bought it for him and although it had seen better days he wouldn’t dare think of wearing another. Lillie had been so tired she had lay awake last night reading Emma from Jane Austin. It was such a good book she couldn’t put it down and had stayed up quite late; she hadn’t realized how long she had slept.
She walked out toward where her dad was planting and as she got closer, realized the shrub had some sort of vines growing from it. They were filled with tiny green leaves and
were covered in thorns. The gardener had placed one of each at the opposite end of the property and was fastening the vines to the wall with wire. “Dad what are you planting? They’re covered in prickly thorns.”
“In the late fall these vines will be covered with beautiful red berries and the thorns will protect them from the birds. See, there are two of them and each year they will grow until some day they will meet in the middle and join, becoming one. They will be intertwined; together forever.” James gazed out at the two plants, “Fire thorns, they’re called fire thorns,” James said softly.
“That’s beautiful dad. Mom would have loved them.” Lillie gave her dad a hug and a kiss on the cheek and went in to have breakfast.
Charlie Murphy grew up in a very different part of the neighborhood than Lillie Whitman. His mother and father had come to America from Dublin shortly after they were married. They had Charlie a year later. His dad worked hard delivering blocks of ice to support his family and his mom took in odd jobs sewing. Despite their long work days, his parents made sure they always had time for Charlie. They taught him the values of what was really important in a persons life; their family. And at 6”1 with black wavy hair, deep green eyes, a well-chiseled face and a strong jaw line, Charlie was quite handsome. He could have very easily used this to his benefit. But Charlie had a warm soul. He was an honest, caring person that could ease even the most cautious of hearts.
When he was barely seven, Charlies father died suddenly. Ellen, his mother, went to work two jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. When she came home exhausted, Charlie would try to help with dinner and clean up. He managed to do his homework and take care of his clothes and other needs by himself. It was the only way he could help.
When he turned twelve, he started working odd jobs to help his mother with the monthly bills.And when he turned fifteen, a job opened up at the local grocery store. Charlie worked there after school and on weekends. Being very skilled with his hands, a dream of his was to get a job in construction after graduation. He enjoyed taking boards of wood and molding it until there was a perfect piece of something that had been formed from nothing. Charlie also loved the smell of the new wood and the feel of running his hands over a newly sanded surface. It was much easier to think when he was building, his head was quiet and the thoughts could just flow through his mind with ease. Often when a day was particularly difficult he would go in the garage for hours working on a piece of furniture. He would make side tables and rocking chairs when he could and sell them for extra income. His work was precise and beautiful, with great character; Charlie had pride in each piece that was created.
Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to make a living.Working construction would give him the benefit of a comfortable income and the ability to build with wood. Mr. Johnson, the owner of the grocery store helped Charlie get a meeting with Mr. Whitman. They had been friends since they were boys and had gone to school together. If Mr. Johnson had recommended Charlie then James Whitman would take the time to meet with him. Mr. Johnson liked Charlie and knew he was a good kid, and hated to see him leave. But he knew Charlie needed to earn more money, he was growing up and would meet someone and have a family someday and that couldn’t be accomplished on the salary Mr. Johnson could afford to pay him. This would be the opportunity for Charlie to have a good paying job for his future. He had arranged for Charlie to go and speak with James Whitman after church on Sunday.
Charlie had gotten up early that Sunday, he was so nervous. The whole time at church with his mom he kept thinking about his meeting with Mr. Whitman. They had passed the Whitman house many times when he was a kid and he had mowed the lawn for some of the neighbors. But the Whitman had gardeners so he had never been any closer than the sidewalk. He often wondered what it might be like inside. It must be grand; it was the nicest house in the neighborhood.
After church was over he escorted his mother home and started over to the Whitman house. While walking, he thought...Remembering times when he was just a boy and his mother would come home so tired from work. He would try to help her with dinner and clean the dishes so she could rest. Thinking that someday he would be able to pay her back for all she had done for him; someday he would take care of her so she wouldn’t have to work any more. If he gets this job, this would be the day to finally give his mom some well deserved rest.
The closer Charlie got to the house the more nervous he became, was his suit too tattered, he thought. Wishing his shoes could have been in better condition, they were shined with a kit Mr. Johnson had given to him last Christmas, but they were old. Nonsense he thought, Mr. Whitman isn’t going to hire me for my suit, it will be my ability and I know I can do a good job. Charlie arrived at the house walked up to the porch and knocked on the door; adjusting his tie to be sure it wasn't crooked. A gentleman opened the door and led him into the study. There was a huge wooden desk with a Tiffany lamp on it and a silver letter opener that had carving all along the handle. The chair was plush and large as well with brown leather and carving in the legs and along the back. There were bookcases that stretched from floor to ceiling filled with books from what seemed to be every subject you could think of. The windows had heavy dark drapes with a pattern of gold and brown paisley and a lighter more airy beige colored panel underneath them. All the wood trim was meticulously hand carved and very intricate. It was so beautiful, Charlie wanted to run his hands over the wood, but he stayed seated. After several minutes, Mr. Whitman strolled in with the confidence of a true gentleman.
“Charlie. Mr. Johnson tells me wonderful things about you and your work ethics. He tells me I’d be crazy not to hire you.”
“Mr. Whitman I know I can do a great job. I love working with wood and construction and I will do the best job you’ve ever seen.” Charlie spoke with excitement. He pulled a small wooden box from his pocket. He had carved the lid with a design of roses. “I brought this piece I made so I could show you the kind of work I am capable of doing.”
James took the box from Charlie and examined it closely. He was impressed with the intricacy of each rose petal. “This is very skilled work Charlie.Well we can’t have my friend thinking I’m crazy, how about you start 6a.m. sharp on Monday morning?“ James rose from his chair and went over to Charlie and shook his hand. Charlie thanked him several times and gathered himself to leave; he couldn’t wait to get home and tell his mother.
As he walked to the front door he heard someone call him. “Mr. Murphy.“ Charlie turned and saw a girl running down the hall towards him. As she came closer he realized it was Lillie Whitman. Charlie had been attending school with Lillie since they were both in the first grade, but he could never get the courage up to actually speak to her. And now here she was coming towards him and shouting his name. Just answer her, he thought to himself, she’s gonna think your lame or something.
“Yes. Miss Whitman did you need something? “ Charlie was barely audible squeaking out his response. She is so beautiful, Charlie thought as Lillie came closer, the prettiest girl in class.
“Mr. Murphy, my father forgot to tell you to make sure you see the foreman Tommy Monahan. He’ll be able to get you started on Monday.”
There she stood Lillie Whitman. She smelled so good. He could barely get the courage to answer her. “Okay, I will, thank you.”
“ So you’re going to be working for my father? He’s a good man. I think you’ll like working with the other guys too, they’re a great bunch.” Charlie wanted to speak; he could hear the words rolling around his brain. But every time he looked into her warm hazel eyes he would get lost and nothing came out.
“Mr. Murphy, Mr. Murphy, Charlie are you alright?” Lillie was tugging at his arm.
“Uh...Yes... yes I am. Thank you again. Good day.” Charlie quickly grabbed the front door and exited to the porch. That was the dumbest thing you’ve ever done Charlie Murphy. Lillie Whitman talks to you and you can’t even answer her; now she thinks your lame for sure.
Lillie went back and told her father she had caught Charlie before he’d left and gave him the information. “He was a bit silly. I was talking to him but he didn’t answer me, just sort of looked right through me.” Lillie handed her dad the morning paper.
“Lillie he was just overwhelmed with all the beauty that was in the room.” James winked at his daughter.
“Oh dad. Now your being silly. I’m going over to Claire’s house; we’re going to go over our plans for graduation. I’ll be home around 4:30 in time for supper.” Lillie kissed her father and gathered some swatches to show Claire. Graduation ceremony was fast approaching and she needed to get working on her dress.
Claire Dumont was Lillie’s best friend; they had been close ever since the third grade. Claire had been with Lillie the day her mom passed away and Lillie was there for Claire too. When Claire was ten, a motorcar hit her dad on his way home from work. Lillie stayed with Claire and went with her to the hospital every day until he came home. The
girls shared a friendship and a bond that few people had in their life. They were so different even James wondered how they seemed to get along so well. Claire was rough around the edges. A pretty girl who liked the natural loo, she very rarely wore make up. She always spoke her mind and in the day where women had long hair and wore dresses, Claire wore pants and kept her hair rather short. She rallied for women in congress and thought men were often goofy and simple minded. She felt someday women would gain their rightful place in society and government and the world would a better place. But for all her brass, Claire was a good person and would help anyone who needed it. This was the person Lillie knew and loved.
Lillie arrived at Claire’s house and the two girls quickly ran up to the bedroom laughing and whispering all the way up the stairs. “Hey do you remember that boy in our class, Charlie Murphy?” Lillie grabbed a swatch of material and laid it out on Claire’s bed.
“Vaguely. Why?” Claire seemed uninterested in this subject.
“No reason. He came by our house today. He’s going to be working for my dad starting Monday. He was cute, but sort of odd.” Lillie grabbed another swatch.
“They’re all odd, boys I mean. If you ask me, you never know what they’re up to.” Claire walked over to her desk and grabbed an article she had clipped from the newspaper.
“Have you’ve seen this add for woman's undergarments, it’s down right criminal. Must have been written by some man. No self respecting woman would think up an add campaign like this.” Claire threw the paper down on the floor.
“Honestly Claire sometimes you get so worked up. It’s just an advertisement. Now come over here and help me pick out some material for my graduation dress.”