Chapter 3. Cuppa and a Chat

St. Michael’s Cove

Chapter 3.  Cuppa and a Chat 

Returning from their morning walk, Bernie made a pot of Irish Breakfast tea in her mother’s Belleek teapot, and after it had steeped for five minutes, poured it into the matching tea cup.  She took one of Mrs. Davies’ village-famous lemon-blueberry scones out of the plastic bag, placed it on a plate and set the tea and scone down on the table in the study between the matching green leather wing chairs. 

Before opening her prayer book, she started her devotion time with the Brother Lawrence prayer she prayed every day: “Lord, make me according to thy heart.”  She took a couple of minutes to breathe deeply, relax, and to let the prayer sink deeply into the depths of her soul.  Only then did she open the worn leather-bound prayer book and continue her morning prayers. “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever. Amen

Departing from the word on the page, she opened her heart and prayed: “God of Light and Grace, let your light shine through me today on everyone that I meet, so that they see only you.  Give me the words of assistance and encouragement I need to help Liz and others with the challenges they are facing. Amen”

She then launched into the psalm for the day and the other readings—ending with the Song of Zechariah, and the Lord’s prayer.  

Cradling the teacup in her hands, Bernie cherished the memories it held.  Born in Ireland and orphaned at the age of twelve by the tragic automobile accident that claimed the lives of her parents, Bernadette Farrell and her younger sister, Patricia, had been brought to America by their Aunt Maureen to live with her in Brooklyn.

 Maureen Donnelly was their mother’s only sibling.  She was a Catholic who lived her faith. She was devoted to Bernie and Patty and she worked hard as a nurse at St. Luke’s, a Lutheran hospital in Brooklyn, to support the three of them.  There were many problems to overcome in those early years after they arrived in New York, but when confronted with a problem, her aunt would put the kettle on and sit down with her at the kitchen table.  She always said that any problem could be solved with a cuppa and a chat.  Over the years, Bernie had thrashed over many troubles with Aunt Maureen over a cuppa at her kitchen table.

In Ireland, a cuppa always meant a cup of tea, usually enjoyed with a family member or friend with biscuits or small cakes.  The Belleek tea pot, two teacups and saucers, and a mug, were all she had left of her mother’s things; they were very precious to her.  She loved the shamrocks scattered over the china pieces; they reminded her of home. And sitting down with her cup of tea every morning brought back wonderful memories of her mother and her aunt. What great talks she had with the two of them over tea when her aunt visited them in their hometown village of Portlaoise in County Laois—and then later after she and Patty moved to Brooklyn to live with Aunt Maureen. 

A few years after Bernie and Patty arrived in Brooklyn, Aunt Maureen began seeing a widowed Lutheran chaplain, Nils Swenson, from St. Luke’s.   Aunt Maureen, a lifelong Catholic, and Pastor Swenson, a lifelong Lutheran, courted for three years before he finally proposed to Maureen upon receiving a call to pastor a church in Ohio.  

The pair were married by a Lutheran pastor and a Catholic priest at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and went on a short honeymoon to the Poconos before heading to Ohio.  Pastor Swenson adopted Bernadette and Patricia Farrell, and the girls took his last name.  The new family moved to Perrysburg, Ohio where they lived in a parsonage on the Maumee River. The three-bedroom house with a yard was a castle compared to their small Brooklyn apartment.  Bernie and her sister spent several wonderful years in Perrysburg with the Swensons before heading off to college. 

The roar of the neighbor’s eight-cylinder sports car speeding down the road jolted Bernie out of her reverie. Monday was her day off, and she was spending the morning with Liz. It would be an exciting morning.  She reached down to pet Molly before taking the dishes into the kitchen to tidy up. 


Liz checked the weather again.  The weatherman was predicting a 30% chance of rain, but really??!!  This was Southern California.  Liz was sure the dark clouds would pass.  Southern California weather forecasters were always predicting the possibility of rain in drought years.  If they were lucky, they would get a few sprinkles. But then, this was the end of February—one of the wettest months of the year.

Filled with anticipation about the coming day’s events, she rinsed off the breakfast dishes, loaded them in the dishwasher, and finished in the kitchen before heading upstairs to get cleaned up. She took a shower, took care with her make-up, donned her black wool gaberdine slacks, a pink cashmere sweater, short black suede all-weather boots, and grabbed her pale pink raincoat with black topstitching—She would be ready on the off chance that it rained. 

Awakening her laptop, Liz re-checked the emails she had received and re-read the paperwork. And she checked on the status of the flight. Again.  Satisfied, she shut down her laptop after hearing the doorbell ring.

When she opened the door, Bernie smiled and said “Today’s the big day—are you ready?”

“I think so. . . “ 

Just then the sky opened and it starting raining. 


A few minutes later, they were in Liz’s silver Suburban traveling south on El Camino Real, the King’s Highway, that followed the coastline down to San Diego.  Consulting her phone in its holder on her dashboard, Liz saw the red zones on the map, indicating slow traffic.

“The traffic is snarled! People just don’t know how to drive in the rain,” she complained. 

“Well, rain or shine, I’m glad that Monday is my day off and that I could come with you! Let’s celebrate with tea and cake in the cottage when we return to the village.  I want Molly to meet him, and we need some down time on our mutual day off. I’ll make you a good Irish cuppa, start a fire, and we’ll have a nice fireside chat.” 

Liz laughed, “You can take the girl out of Ireland, but not Ireland out of the girl.  I would love that! I just need to pick up the kids at The King at 2:30.”  Bernie a good friend, and she radiated God’s love. 

Liz added, “Thanks again for coming with me this morning.” 

“Wouldn’t have missed it.  By the way, how was Kevin this morning?”  Bernie asked. 

Liz frowned as she checked her rearview mirror. “Not feeling well, but he wanted to go to school anyway . . .  He has a math test today. “   

She paused, then continued, “You know he’s been sick on and off for several years.  I would take him to the doctor, who examined him briefly and didn’t find anything wrong. He would ask if Kevin had a test that day, intimating that he just didn’t want to go to school.  Or he said that “something is going around” and that Kevin would be okay.    

The UCLA doc was the first person to finally realize that he was sick, and it wasn’t ‘what was going around.’  She noticed that he lost 15 lbs. in three months—and Kevin admitted to her that he has a lot of diarrhea recently—something he hadn’t told us. I guess he was too embarrassed. We thought he was a bit thinner, but then, he’d grown an inch or two, so we didn’t think anything of it. Anyway, the tests so far have come back negative, but we are hopeful for a diagnosis soon. 

Our family pediatrician is coordinating the tests and appointments with specialists.  She suggested that we take him out of sports and cut back on his other activities to give him more down time.  He is not happy about having to give up so many things. He was heartsick about having to give up flag football.”

Then, remembering, she added with a laugh, “but he didn’t mind giving up his piano lessons!”  

After a moment, she said, “We’re hoping to get the test results soon.”

Bernie responded sympathetically, “It’s difficult for anyone to understand suffering, much less kids. You and Brian are suffering with Kevin. It’s important that children see that parents are with them in their suffering..  When Kevin sees that you are willing to suffer along with him, he will slowly learn to accept it, as you and Brian are learning to accept his illness—whatever they determine it is.”

Liz glanced at Bernie: “It’s just difficult for a child to come to grips with everyday pain and with all of the attendant struggles. He’s always saying, ‘Why me?’”

“We studied the ‘why me’ syndrome in seminary,” Bernie replied.  “It’s especially hard for a kid to understand—being surrounded by healthy kids who are playing sports and doing many activities that he would like to do.  It’s difficult enough to suggest to an adult that the better question is ‘Why not me?’ but almost impossible for a kid to understand. 

As adults, we know that life is full of struggles—of tests.  Many of our struggles are of our own making—stemming from love of material things, self-love, a thirst for power, or giving into substance abuse or other addictions. The story is as old as Adam and Eve. But wham–when a child gets hit with an illness—well, that’s not easy to deal with and harder to explain.”  

“Tell me about it,” Liz muttered. 

“I tried to tell him that even though he may not know it, many of his classmates are suffering with problems that are not apparent to outsiders.  Some of his friends’ parents are divorced, which creates a whole set of problems for the kids.  Other parents may be abusive, neglectful, or in a bad marriage.  Some have financial problems, or a parent or other family member who is seriously ill or has legal problems. 

We can’t see these problems on the surface, but every family has its share of struggles. It’s just hard for a kid to see that—especially when he is the person suffering.  I told him that other kids can hide their problems from the world, but Kevin can’t because it’s an obvious problem–a physical illness. 

They fell into a comfortable silence.  Good friends for several years, they had no need to fill the air with empty words. 

After a few minutes, Bernie said, “Liz, keep your eyes open and on the road, but I want to pray for Kevin and for your family before we arrive.” Liz glanced at Bernie and nodded, gratefully. 

Lord, you know the needs of the O’Connell family, especially Kevin’s needs. Put your healing hands on Kevin today, and keep the family strengthened and assured of your loving care. We pray that they may receive a diagnosis soon, and that Kevin’s illness, whatever it is, can be cured or managed successfully. Amen.”

“Amen,” Liz echoed.” 


“Did you check to see if the flight was on time?” Bernie asked a few minutes later as they transitioned onto the southbound San Diego Freeway—the dreaded 405. 

“Yes, the flight was scheduled to arrive on time, and I confirmed that we need to go to the cargo pick-up area.”  

“What’s up with the traffic? We’re going like 5 miles an hour.” 

Liz glanced down at the map on her cell phone. “There’s an accident up ahead that’s slowing traffic. So what’s new?  Elon Musk said the other day that it’s easier getting a rocket into space than navigating the 405 between his home and the Space X headquarters in Hawthorne,” she said with a chuckle.

I think Ms. Google is trying to route me around it.  She has me getting off at Imperial and turning onto La Cienega.

Liz put on her right turn signal, preparing to exit the freeway. She waved at the drivers in the cars in the lane to her right, and asked them if she could move over. A few cars passed before she was able to move to the next lane.

“You realize that they can’t hear you, right?” joked Bernie. It was a standing joke with Liz’s family and friends that Liz was always waving and talking to drivers in other cars.

A few minutes later they pulled up in front of the airline cargo pick up area and parked on the street.  The uniformed man behind the counter took their information, checked his clipboard, and motioned them to the chairs in the waiting area. 

Today felt like Christmas morning to Liz.  She couldn’t wait for her kids to see the surprise she had in store for them. She couldn’t wait to see their faces—and Brian’s, though he was in on it. This had been such a long time coming.  She had spent several months convincing her husband, and a few months more months working out all of the details.