Chapter 2. The O’Connells

St. Michael’s Cove

Chapter 2. The O’Connells

Lying in bed, Liz looked out her bedroom window at the dark clouds almost touching the mountains less than a mile away, and prayed her morning prayer taken from Psalm 118: 24 “Lord, this is the day that you have made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!” 

 It had been great to sleep in.  She figured that she had actually gotten seven hours of sleep—maybe more! And even though rain was forecast, it was going to be a great day. 

Her husband had already left for the gym, and would go to the office directly from there. She just needed to get the kids off to school, and she would be free to do what she needed to do.

Liz dressed quickly, putting on a pair of jeans and a turquoise blue checked flannel shirt.  She stepped into a pair of sandals and prepared to make her rounds.  At 5’5”, Liz was still carrying an extra ten pounds from her last pregnancy, mostly around her hips. Her once long honey-blond hair now just skimmed her collar.  She walked by each of the kids’ rooms, knocking, saying “Rise and Shine,” and waiting until she heard each kid mumble that he or she was awake before heading downstairs to start breakfast. 

 Knowing that she would have the rare pleasure of breakfast with her children on a weekday morning, Liz had set the kitchen table the night before. It was the end of February, and the red placemats were the last holdover from her Valentine’s Day decorations.  Liz loved the holidays and with the help of Marta, her loyal housekeeper of 12 years, switched out seasonal placemats, flowers and plants, quilts, sofa pillows, and other decorations to reflect the current season.  

A few minutes later, the aroma of bacon frying in her grandmother’s black cast iron skillet was wafting upstairs and having its intended effect on the O’Connell children; Liz could hear them moving about and getting dressed.  

As she pulled the ingredients for the family’s favorite pancakes from the refrigerator and the pantry, and caught a whiff of the sizzling bacon, she was transported back to waking up in her grandmother’s feather bed, to the aroma of bacon cooking in Grandma’s kitchen. 

Liz always slept with Grandma Anna in the feather bed in her tiny bedroom when they drove to Ohio to visit the relatives every summer.  Grandma’s wedding picture hung in an oval wood frame above the bed.  Anna Schmidt had arrived with her bridegroom from Prussia in the port of Baltimore in 1911.  Her husband, Albert, died of cancer in 1935. 

 Liz would open one eye early in the morning when Grandma got out of bed in the early morning darkness.  Grandma usually wore a light blue floral print house dress to cook in the morning. She brushed out her long white hair, parted it down the middle of her head and braided each section quickly.  She crossed the braids over the top of her head and pinned them neatly into place with grey bobby pins, and noiselessly shuffled off to the kitchen. 

Liz reached above the little kitchen desk for the spiral book of recipes on the cookbook shelf, to refresh her memory as to the exact proportions, and flipped to a well-worn page. Her mother had written the pancake recipe in the book when she was still in college. The writing had become obscured by drops of oil and milk with the passage of time, so Liz had written over her mother’s original handwriting and covered the page with clear contact paper to preserve it.  The crepe-like egg pancake recipe had been in the family for generations.  Liz’s kids called them “Grandma’s pancakes,” because Liz’s mother made them frequently for them, but when Liz was growing up, she and her brothers and sisters just called them “egg pancakes.”  

As she added the ingredients to the blender, prepared the batter, and poured it into the hot skillet to cook the pancakes, Liz thought about the challenges they would be facing in the coming days and weeks, and then stopped herself.  What was it that Jesus said?  “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”  No sense worrying about something that hadn’t even happened. Hadn’t Jesus said that God is aware when a sparrow falls to the ground? If God is concerned about a sparrow, he certainly cares about my problems, she mused.  

Wiping her hands on a dish towel, she dismissed her concerns, and removed the sack lunches from the refrigerator she had packed the night before, setting them down on the counter for the kids to grab on their way out.

The open kitchen overlooked a great room—a family room and dining area.  Within a few minutes, the kids started trooping downstairs, tossing their backpacks on the family room floor, and heading into the kitchen. They came downstairs in reverse birth order: six-year old Sean was first, then twelve-and-a half-year-old Kevin, followed by fourteen-year old Liam, and last but not least, sixteen-year old Anna.  

Hungry but not conversational, three of the kids forked a few pancakes from the center plate onto their plates and tucked in.  Kevin held back, picking at a small piece of a pancake he put on his plate. 

“How about a piece of toast, Kevin?  I have some of that gluten free bread that the doctor suggested we try.”  Kevin just nodded, and Liz retrieved a slice from the freezer and put it in the toaster. Kevin was frequently nauseous these days and had digestive problems.  He had lost so much weight in recent weeks; they were hoping that the docs would be able to give them a diagnosis soon based on the last round of tests. 

 “Are you feeling well enough to go to school?” she asked.  Kevin didn’t know it yet, but the principal, Sr. Kathleen, had already approached her about the possibility of having Kevin homeschooled for the rest of the year because he had already missed so many days due to illness.  Liz had asked her to hold off on making a formal recommendation until they had a definitive diagnosis and course of treatment.

Sean had finished breakfast, washed his hands, and was on his way to the music room to practice his piano piece when Kevin, replied, “Yeah, I have to go—I have a math test today.” 

Strains of Sean’s current tune, “Christopher Columbus,” floated into the kitchen from the music room.  Liz was surprised when Sean started bugging her at age 5 to take piano lessons like his older siblings. Their piano teacher told her that five years of age was really too young; his hands weren’t large enough. They compromised on a 15-minute lesson with a musical coloring book to learn the notes and basic scales. That had satisfied him until this year, when he turned six and was allowed to learn some simple tunes.  He was the only one in the family who Liz and Brian didn’t have to remind to practice piano for 15 minutes before school every day.

“OK. But I’m home today, and only a phone call away if you need me,” Liz said, as she lightly buttered Kevin’s toast and put it on his plate.  Home or not, she and Brian had received many calls during the day to pick Kevin up from school to take him home or to a doctor’s office.  

Liz offered one of many silent prayers she would make that day. Lord, place your healing hands on Kevin today so that he can get through this day without getting sick.  Keep all of our children safe and in your loving hands. Amen

Aloud, she asked, “What do you kids want for dinner—lasagna or tacos? 

“Lasagna!” Sean shouted from the music room.  

No one else voiced an opinion, so Liz said “Lasagna it is.”  She walked out to the garage to fetch the frozen home-cooked lasagna from the freezer, and put it on the kitchen counter to defrost.  

While browsing through a used book sale at their local Carnegie Library a few years ago, Liz came across a book detailing how to cook a whole month of meals for a family in one day.  She was hooked, and she and Brian had been a monthly cooking team since then. 

With two working parents and a desire to put home-cooked meals on the table every night, it was the only way they could do it.  The first week-end of the month was the designated marketing and cooking week-end.  They cooked big batches of ground beef for tacos, casseroles, and for bolognaise sauce to make spaghetti and lasagna.  They also cooked chickens for chicken tetrazzini and other casseroles. They had about ten family-friendly recipes that they used for the 20 weekdays during the month.  By dinner time on the Sunday cooking day, they had marked and packed 20 family size meals in aluminum pans and freezer bags and stacked them neatly in the freezer—enough for 4 weeks.

On Saturday nights Brian always barbequed burgers, steak, or chicken.  He enjoyed being outside by the barbeque, sipping a beer and watching the kids shoot hoops. On Sundays, the aroma of Liz’s signature roast chicken with vegetables or pot roast filled the house.  They always added a salad, or celery and carrots. Simple but healthy fare.

“Bye, Mom.”  Anna pulled her school sweatshirt on, picked up her backpack, and started for the door.  Liz caught up with her and gave her a hug before she left.  A high school sophomore, Anna was now driving herself and a younger neighbor girl to their all-girl Catholic high school.  

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At 7:44 a.m. Liz glanced back in the Suburban to make sure the three boys had their seatbelts fastened before starting to back out of the garage.  It was a treat to drive her kids to school in the morning—usually she only picked them up.  

She loved that her kids were all going to Catholic schools.  There weren’t any Lutheran schools nearby, and Catholics were also recognized for their dedication to education.  Christ the King parish and elementary school was only a mile and a half away.  The boys could even walk home if she or Brian couldn’t pick them up. Kevin and Liam were old enough to keep their little brother safe.

But the main reason that Liz loved taking the kids to Christ the King was just that fact—that they were going to Christ, or at least his representatives, every day. They spent time with Christ every day. And Anna’s school, St. Mary’s, had the added bonus of being a blue-ribbon recognized high school. 

She had just turned onto Main Street when Liam popped the question: 

“Why are you taking the whole week off, Mom? We aren’t leaving for Mammoth until Thursday, right?” 

Isn’t it reason enough to spend more time with you guys?  I love being able to take you to school.   And I thought I would get a start on some spring cleaning.”

“But it isn’t spring!” 

“I know, but we’re getting ready for it, and when it’s here, there is never enough time, with spring breaks and all.”

Liz sighed. She couldn’t tell them the real reason she was taking extra time off. What if something went wrong? 

She changed the subject.  “You have a report due today, right?  Do you have it?”   

Knowing that he would probably give a non-verbal answer, she glanced in the rearview mirror and saw him give a barely perceptible nod. 

She pulled up in front of the school, and stopped to let them out. “Ok. I’ll pick you guys up after school this afternoon.  Have a great day–I love you!”

Liam ignored her, Kevin looked worried, while Sean smiled and said, “Bye, Mom.”

As Kevin slammed the van door shut, Liz breathed a sigh of relief.  She had plenty of time to do what she needed to do.

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