Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Three, part one

In chapter one, American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States.  In chapter two, an early snowstorm hits on Hallowe'en night, and Tory is surprised that the car that goes off the road near her house (what a coincidence!) contains Max van den Nie, and the two enjoy a snowy day together.

For installment one, look here.  Installment two is right here, installment three here, and installment four here; installment five is here.

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Chapter Three, part 1:

Sunday morning showed the New Hampshire scenery at its finest, with pure white snow frosting the evergreens under a brilliant blue sky.  The sun brought enough warmth to make an early-morning walk tempting, so Tory pulled on her fleece-lined snow boots and set out, with the dogs pushing along with her.  They trudged down to the lake, which had a thin coating of ice that cracked and shifted under Hal and Jennet’s investigations.  That early in the day, almost no one else was about.  The minister drove past on his way to take early service, and Tory saw another walker in the distance, but otherwise she had the beautiful scene to herself.  She’d brought a camera along, with vague thoughts of turning a picture into her Christmas card in another month or two, and snapped a few photos of some of the more picturesque trees framing the lake.  In the muffled quiet of the dripping day, she let her mind wander.
Peace and quiet, a serene morning, a lovely, lonely scene – they were all important elements of her happy life.  Still, the lonely part sometimes felt too prominent a part of her days.  Even when her parents were home, Tory sometimes felt an almost-overwhelming yearning for company; for someone who shared her interests and respected her views.  ‘Not that Mom and Dad don’t respect me,’ she thought, then shouted to the gamboling dogs, “but you know it’s not the same!”  She laughed aloud, reveling in the feeling of independence and abandon that comes with stomping the first set of footprints into a fresh snow.  She scooped a handful of snow from a convenient branch and formed a ball, throwing it hard toward the dogs, who chased after it delightedly.  They charged back toward Tory, undismayed that their toy vanished on impact with the ground, and the three of them continued to play their abortive game of fetch as they broke ground through the pines toward the town.
She noticed her fellow walker drawing closer around the lake’s edge, and felt a pleasant bubble of excitement on recognizing the tall, smiling Dutchman.  Thinking he may have had quite enough of her company, she hesitated about continuing toward him until his welcoming wave drew her forward.
“You’re a morning person,” he greeted her, as the dogs accosted him with wriggles and head butts.
“Not always,” Tory admitted.  “Though with these two around, sleeping in just isn’t an option.  It’s such a beautiful morning, though, and this snow won’t last, so I thought I should get out and enjoy it.  We’ll be ankle-deep in mud by Tuesday, I expect.”
“Isn’t this early for a snowstorm, even in New Hampshire?  Not that I prefer mud.”
“It’s early for this much snow, certainly.  We usually get a few days in November, though, and December through February should be pretty snowy.  Of course, it’s not like it was when my parents were kids!” Tory joked.  She felt an instant’s surprise that she could talk so easily with this accomplished, impressive man.
“It never is, is it?  My parents grew up skating on the canals of Amsterdam as a regular recreation; these days the ice only gets thick enough every five years or so.”
“Oh, I love ice skating!” Tory exclaimed impulsively.  “But I’ve never felt comfortable doing it at an indoor rink.  It has to be a pond or lake for me.  I’d love to skate along the Amsterdam canals.  It’s such a beautiful city.”
“I will say, I think we celebrate the ice quite well in my hometown,” Max answered.  “We put up impromptu caf├ęs on the ice, and serve erwtensoep – the richest, most warming pea stew you can imagine.”
“We have to bring our own supplies – usually just cocoa in a thermos.”  Noticing a particularly graceful tree limb, Tory raised her camera, aimed and shot a few images.
“You’re a photographer?” Max asked.
“Very much an amateur,” she answered.  “I thought I might find a pretty scene to use for my Christmas cards, though.”
“I expect my efforts would be amateurish at the very best, but if you’d like me to take a photo of you for consideration for the card, I’d be happy to do so.”
Tory gave it some thought.  She hadn’t ever included her own photo in her annual Christmas mailing, but far-flung family and friends often did so, and she appreciated seeing those visual updates.  “That might be nice, actually,” she said.  “With the dogs, maybe – otherwise it feels conceited.  Or are the dogs too twee?”
“Certainly not,” Max said, after coughing awkwardly, twice.  His lids were lowered, a fact that barely registered as Tory looked around for a good backdrop for a picture.  Feeling self-conscious, she tried to strike a natural pose, wondering how the doctor would get dogs, snow-covered pine branches, and her into the frame.  Maybe it was a silly idea – and he hadn’t even had to talk her into it.  Posing was just not her style.
But Dr. Van den Nie had the camera up and pointed so she grinned in his direction while pushing Jennet’s head away from her knees and toward the camera.  “That’s lovely,” he called.  “I’m not much of a photographer, but I do not believe anyone could fail, with such a beautiful scene for a subject.”  A few more clicks, Tory desperately trying to think of some way to start a conversation, and wondering what he’d meant by ‘a beautiful scene.’  The pine trees, surely?  Before she could come up with anything to say, he asked, “Would you want to kneel, to be closer to the dogs?”
“Sure, yes, right,” she said – and was suddenly desperate not to talk.  And then, as he kneeled also, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t... you wouldn’t... I mean, you’ll get wet.  In the snow.”
“I’m dressed for it today,” he replied.  “And I’m having fun.  How about getting the dogs’ attention with a snowball?”  Tory did as he suggested, but after a few more clicks, insisted on stopping the photo session.  “Thank you so much,” she said.  “I’ll sort through them at home.”
“It was a pleasure,” Max answered.  “You, Hal and Jennet are all excellent models, though I’m afraid, ‘Work it, baby,’ aren’t words that come easily to me.”  He choked a bit with laughter as he pronounced the incongruous phrase.
“Okay, this might sound a little stupid, but I’d probably just get confused if you said something like that.  I don’t watch a lot of TV, or even movies, so I’m not up on slang and things as much as I should be.  We get teenagers at the office of course, but it’s mostly old people, so I hear ‘groovy’ and ‘hip’ a lot more than ‘work it, baby.’”
“Two peas,” Max answered.  “I suspect you’re a book lover, like me.”
“Mostly, yes,” Tory confessed.  “I love music, too – Gregorian chants to hip hop – and I like movies, but I can’t stand commercials so I can only watch pay movies online, or on disc.”
“Have you seen any you enjoyed especially recently?” he inquired, and they were off.  Comedies, mysteries, classics.  The doctor matched Tory’s reservations about supernatural dramas with a dislike of most superhero films – “I admit I enjoyed The Avengers.” – and they shared an enthusiasm for Bollywood.  Movies quickly yielded to books, with recommendations, disputes and a strong connection over the excellence of Cry, the Beloved Country.
“My brother found a list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century somewhere, and that wasn’t on it.  It was the Modern Languages Association or something, and I couldn’t believe it.  That may be the best book I’ve ever read,” Tory proclaimed.
“Absolutely,” the doctor agreed.  “The language is so vivid, and the story such an honest mix of tragedy and hope and ordinary human life, and the period he’s describing is such an important one in the history of modern civilization, I’m not just surprised by how overlooked it is, I’m close to appalled.”  They both went quiet, Tory brooding on unrewarded excellence as she listened to the shush of her boots through the snow.  The doctor spoke after a moment.  “Let me guess what was on that list your brother found – Joyce, right?”
“Oh, of course.  I’ve never tried Finnegan’s Wake; have you?”
“At university.  I was glad to have my tutor as a guide through its mysteries.”
The peace and tranquility she’d felt in the early part of her walk was transforming, becoming something shared.  She and Max talked as easily as she did with her sisters and brother; as easily as she did with her closest friends in college days, cross-legged on dorm room beds surrounded by nutrition and anatomy textbooks.  He wasn’t an intrusion into the serenity of the morning, but an enhancement of the beauty of the day and the joy of an invigorating walk with the dogs gamboling through the morning.  Tory noticed the comfort and happiness she felt, but chose not to examine it too closely.  One quick thought flitted through the part of her mind that was detached from the conversation:  it’s easy enough to have a pleasant chat about books, especially when you’re trying to be agreeable.
The pleasure was undeniable, though, and Tory regretted arriving at the fork in the path that would take her back to the house.  “Here’s where I turn,” she told Max, who had been politely waiting for her to try to dredge an author’s name from her memory.  “Thanks for your company.  I hope you enjoyed getting to see a bit of Bristol’s scenery.”
“I enjoyed it very much, indeed,” Max answered with grave courtesy.  “You’ve been generous in sharing your time with me.  I wonder if I could trespass further on your kindness, and ask you to introduce me to some of the shops in the town.  My friend Jaap will be coming over in a few days to keep house for me, but until then I need to stock up on a few necessities.”
“Sure, of course,” Tory said.  “I’ve got a few errands to run after church, so I could meet you on Beech Street, by Dr. Bachman’s office.”
“Would it be an imposition to join you at church?” he enquired.
“Whatever the opposite of imposition is,” Tory assured.  “I’m planning to drive, though, given the weather and the Sunday shoes issue.”
“If you’re willing to trust me after yesterday’s mishap,” Max said, smiling, “I’d be happy to pick you up in my car.”
“Oh, of course.  If you’re sure.  Um, I’m, I guess I’ll go home, then, and change, and I’ll be ready in about...” she checked her watch, “let’s say 45 minutes.  That will give us a few extra minutes for the roads, and still early enough to get in the front third of the pews.  Mr. Rourke’s voice is getting a bit reedy.”
Max’s laugh boomed into the snowy morning.  “Lovely,” he said.  “I’ll be with you in 45 minutes.  Suits and ties?” he queried, one eyebrow quirked.
“If you like,” Tory reassured, “though plenty of people wear slacks and sweaters, and some come in jeans.”  She collected Hal and Jennet with a whistle, and set off, kicking puffs of snow ahead of her with the delight of a small child.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Two, part three

In chapter one, American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States.  In chapter two, an early snowstorm hits on Hallowe'en night, and Tory is surprised that the car that goes off the road near her house (what a coincidence!) contains Max van den Nie.

For installment one, look here.  Installment two is right here, installment three here, and installment four here.

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Chapter Two, part 3

His lavish compliment set Tory to stammering and blushing again.  Before she became hopelessly entangled in counter-thanks and disclaimers, Max had leaned down from his great height and kissed her, very lightly, on each cheek.  “The continental style,” he’d explained, and swung around, sliding gracefully into the powerful Mercedes before putting the car into gear.  Thankfully, Tory had had – just barely – the presence of mind to reply in kind to his farewell wave before pressing her mittened hands against her cheeks.  “Oh, my,” she breathed, watching her breath fog in the cold air.  “Oh, my.”
The sudden hum of the refrigerator, leaping back to life, brought her back to the here-and-now.  “A kiss on the cheek and I’m mooning around like a Victorian maiden!” she exclaimed to the puzzled dogs.  “It’s already dark out and I haven’t gotten a thing done all day!”  It was a silly thing to say, she realized, given the work she had done.  “Anyway,” she thought, “what needs to be done on a snowy Saturday?  I should bake some bread, or knit something, or, or, I don’t know – clone cartilage or something.”
She stood in the center of the comfortable kitchen, suddenly itching for a more dramatic, more active life.  After the quiet company of Max van den Nie, her empty home seemed emptier than usual, and her busy, chore-filled life seemed prosaic and even dull.  As she stood wondering what to do with her sudden burst of energy, the telephone’s loud bell burst into her discontent.
“Hey, kiddo,” her brother’s deep voice caroled through the phone.  “We tried to call earlier, but you must have been out.  Did you lose power?  How are you holding up?  Are those goofy dogs doing anything useful?”
“Neil,” Tory acknowledged with pleasure.  “Everything’s fine.  What on earth would you expect the dogs to do?”
“I’d expect nothing of those useless hounds.  You and Mother ought to have picked out a St. Bernard, then at least you could rescue stranded travelers.”
“But we did,” Tory reported.  “Someone went off the road right at the bend, and the dogs brought him in.  He’s an orthopedist, by the way, and he’s taking on some of Dr. Brown’s work, and his house, I guess.”
“Oh, yes,” said Neil.  “A Dutch guy, right?  He’s been working with Josh and Carrie Frieder at the university on sports medicine rehab techniques.  They published some of their early results in the New England Journal of Medicine, I think.  It’s very promising.  Hey, Emma,” he called to his twin sister, and Tory heard mumbling in the background.  Returning to the receiver, Neil told Tory, “Emma’s going to a lecture demo he’s doing week after next.  It should be really interesting, especially with ski season just starting.”
The topic dearest to Neil’s heart having been introduced, Tory got caught up on all of her brother’s plans for winter training, his recent trip to one of Canada’s best ski resorts at Whistler and some news of the latest gear to come his way.  Both Neil and Emma excelled at skiing and snowboarding, competing internationally and even receiving some sponsorship offers that paid for equipment.  To tease her speed-demon brother, Tory said, “I may do some snowshoeing tomorrow if the cold and snow stick around.”
“Well,” Neil said dubiously, “I suppose that’s good conditioning if you can’t get up here for some real runs.  But wouldn’t you rather take your board out?”
Tory burst out laughing at his perfectly predictable response.  “Neil, you’re too easy!  The dogs will like a walk, and I’ll have plenty of chances to ski and snowboard if this is any indication of what kind of winter we’ll get.”
“I’ll hold you to it,” Neil promised.  “You can’t spend all your time knitting and collecting cats, you know.  Everyone needs a little extreme, a little rock ‘n’ roll, a little mirrored shades and fuchsia spandex, right?  You know I’m right!  Here’s Emma.”
“Is Neil wearing fuchsia spandex?” Tory demanded of the older twin as Emma came to the phone.  “Fuchsia?!”
“Not quite fuchsia,” Emma reported.  “A kind of off-purple with burnt orange.  It sounds loud, but they’ve dulled the colors enough that it doesn’t give you a headache.  And the other choice was crimson and lime green, so it’s not as bad as it might have been.  How are you?  Why were you asking about Maximillan van den Nie?”  Tory explained about the Dutchman’s unanticipated visit, and their earlier meeting in the Netherlands.
“Well, goodness sake, child, you’ve encountered greatness.  He’s really been leading the work Dr. Brown and this woman at the university are doing, and they’re getting impressive results.  How’s his English?  We had a Ukrainian lecturer here this spring and I couldn’t make out one word in ten.”
“You’ll get every syllable,” Tory promised.  “He speaks better than we do.”
“And how’s the attitude?  Arrogant?  Impatient?”
“Absolutely lovely,” Tory contradicted.  “He’s told me a couple of times how important nurses are, and he shoveled like a pro all morning, then laughed his way through a P.G. Wodehouse until the tow truck arrived.”
“What are you getting up to down there?” her sister demanded.  “It sounds like you’ve set up housekeeping with the guy.  Is he cute?  Young or old?  Ready to rumble?”
Feeling her cheeks warm, Tory gave thanks that the phone allowed her to blush without anyone’s knowing.  “He’s tall and fit enough to throw snow around for hours, and he’s probably about Jane’s age,” she answered.  “He gave Jane and me concert tickets when we were in Amsterdam.”  She immediately wished she hadn’t divulged that detail when she heard Emma call out, “Neil!  Tory’s got a boyfriend!  She’s been playing house with a handsome doctor!”
“Emma, cut it out,” Tory insisted.  “He drives a Rolls Royce in the Netherlands, and he’s got a Mercedes for his rental here, and he’s staying at Josh and Sheila Brown’s house while they go to Maryland or wherever.  And if you tease me, I’ll ask him to kick you out of his class,” she added.  “Especially since there’s nothing to tease about – I just bumped into him twice, and he’s way older than I am.”
“Oooh, you’re fierce,” Emma replied.  “Actually, if I get to talk with him I’ll be sure to say we’re sisters.  Maybe I’ll get points-by-association for some of your do-gooder sweetness and kindness.  Are you sure you’ve got everything you need, and you can survive a snowstorm all by yourself, and you’re not going to starve and burn down the house and get lost in the blizzard on the way to the barn?  Neil wants to rush down and rescue you.  He’s been feeling macho and big-brotherish all day, which sounds kind of pathetic but it’s sweet, too – in a kind of pathetic way.”
“I’m totally fine,” Tory reassured her sister.  “It’s only about three or four inches, and we’re supposed to get warmer weather by mid-week, and I’m a lot better at keeping myself warm, fed and safe than Neil ever will be.  Any chance you guys will visit before Thanksgiving, though?  I wouldn’t say no to some company.”
“You know we will, little sis.  Our schedules are way out of sync this week, but we should both be off work the second weekend in November, and we can come down then.  Or you could come up for a few runs.  We can talk about who’s doing what for Thanksgiving while we’re there, too – and Neil will make you snowboard!”
Tory hung up laughing, looking forward to the twins’ visit, and just a little bit more impressed, and maybe intimidated, by the internationally-known Dr. Max van den Nie.  She hoped she had alleviated any ideas of romance Emma might harbor, though.  While the Dutchman was certainly attractive, she didn’t see him as boyfriend material – with his looks, smarts, age and money, he was out of her class for sure.  Then, too, no one ever wanted the face the full force of the twins in sibling-teasing mode; Tory loved them, but had to admit they could be relentless if given the chance.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Betty in the Wild: Namibia

Home again, home again, jiggety jig:

It was almost Hallowe'en when I got back from my trip 'round the USA, so Cobweb Morning seemed appropriate.

And then we're off to Africa!  Just like Hugo!  Except the minor difference that where he spent months establishing a feeding center for starving children, I spent two weeks at a 20-year old preserve feeding well-cared for cheetahs.  It's the Cheetah Conservation Fund, should you be interested, and gets five stars for food (plenty of stodge!), accommodation (shared rondavel, check for snakes before heading down the gravel path to the bathroom), fun activities (dog walking, donkey care (okay, they were dead and I was feeding them to cheetahs, but they're still donkeys), brisk walks, peering through microscopes, etc.).

Plus:  TWO DUTCH INTERNS!!  Both definite charming younger sister types; no snooty Juffrouws here.

Every home has its big water tank - well, every white person's home - fed by a well.  The rainy seasons have been slack just lately.

Mariske goes to university in Friesland, though is not Fries.  Note hungry cheetahs feeding in background.

Marianne (MAH ree ahn ah) also at univ in Friesland; also not Fries.  I would tweeze hairs from cheetah poo for her, and she would peer at them through her microscope to determine what the cheetah had been eating.

Thorn bush with yummy little orange fruits.
Beautiful and industrious weaver bird building its Christmas-ornament-like nest.

And with this focus you can actually see the bird and nest.

Daisy did not join me when I spent a half-day, or 12 hours, in a tiny brick blind with a handsome English intern.  I am only about 30 years older than he, but still felt no need of competition.

Tom, looking for warthogs.

Our visitors at the waterhole included:

Lots of zebra

Many eland

two giraffes and dozens of warthogs.
a few guinea fowl
Lots of kudu (female; males have horns).
Several oryx
Seriously, enough warthogs that I was starting to have uncharitable thoughts about them, expressed in a hiss thusly to Tom:  "Can't we just start shooting them?"  And a single red hartebeest.
I went on safari, for less than 48 hours, and no time for messing about with books.  I had a mind to be blown and photos to take!

Blue wildebeest, or gnu.
Ostriches in quantity.

Elephants, including this charming family

A charming lion family.
And a charming couple intent on beginning a family, if you know what I mean.  Knowing this is a Brighton-free zone, I chose one of the less-racy photos for you.
Herds of springbok, and oh so much more.  Etosha National Park, and I can get you the name of the guide and guide service if you like.

Back at the ranch,

The male hornbill was still feeding his mate, still in her nest.
The logistics of trying to rescue these guys befuddled me incalculably.  Calling Dr. van Zeust!
Also, must confess I love the kitties, and the kitties appreciate a bit of dark-red meat.

That's why the CCF trains livestock-guarding dogs like Taya, who lives amongst goats to protect them from predators.  American Ben and Mariske are cleaning up goat poo, while I down rake for a moment to record the scene.
Of course, if a poor little steenbok wanders past a cheetah...

Unless it's one of these 'human-habituated' cubs, who just like to wrestle each other.

Good bye, Namibia.  Thank you!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Two, part two.

In chapter one, American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend that includes meeting the doctor's mother at the Concergebouw thanks to tickets provided by the doctor, Tory returns home to the United States.  In chapter two, an early snowstorm hits on Hallowe'en night, and Tory is surprised that the car that goes off the road near her house (what a coincidence!) contains Max van den Nie.

For installment one, look here.  Installment two is right here, and installment three here.

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Chapter Two, part 2

A thick, oversized sweater over her flannel pajamas, sturdy, fleece-lined boots on her feet, and her brother’s battered old ski parka topping the lot, Tory tromped to the front door.  Just a few yards down the street, she saw a shiny new Mercedes – a big one – angled awkwardly into the ditch that bordered the street.  Covered in snow, the sharp drop-off was impossible to see.  With Jennet and Hal floundering happily ahead of her, she made her way to the car to offer assistance.  The driver had already emerged to inspect the situation, and with a shock she recognized the blond giant she had met weeks before in Amsterdam!
Before she could call a greeting, the dogs began their own, barking and leaping clumsily through the foot-deep snow.  “Good mor – Hal!  Jennet!  Quiet!” Tory shouted.  “Come back here!”  But her ill-mannered companions had already reached their target.
“Not to worry, please,” Dr. van den Nie called.  “I like dogs.”  As he fondled first one and then the other, rubbing behind their ears in the magical dog spot, the animals showed they clearly liked him, too.  Jennet leaned bonelessly against him, enjoying the patting, while the impatient Hal butted his new friend’s legs, flattened himself in the snow with tail wagging, turned a quick circle, and barked encouragingly for attention.
“I am so sorry,” Tory said, catching up.  “You would think they’d never been out in public before.  And I’m sorry you’ve run into trouble with your car.  The road drops off sharply at the edges.  I’ll try to help you get it out if you like, but those are rear-wheel drive, aren’t they?  I bet it will need towing.  If you’d like to phone from my house, you’re very welcome to stop here until a truck can make it out.  Oh,” she paused, suddenly self-conscious.  “I don’t know if you’ll remember me.  I was in Amsterdam earlier in the month, when you helped an English tourist with a broken leg.”
“Indeed I do remember you,” the doctor answered, “and I’m delighted to see you here.  Miss Bird, isn’t it?  Or Nurse Bird.  You make a regular habit of turning up just in the hour of need, it seems.”
“Oh, yes.  Right.  I mean, not really.  And it was last month, since today’s November.”  Tory stopped her dithering speech and took a deliberate breath, then started over.  “Please, do call me Tory.  We’re much less formal with names here than people in the Netherlands.”
“Then I shall be Max,” he answered, holding out an elegantly gloved hand.  “Max van den Nie is the full-length version.  I do think you’re very right that recovering my car will require more than you and I can accomplish together.  If you’re quite sure, I’m pleased to accept your invitation for shelter.  It will be very welcome.”
Tory felt her cheeks warm as they shook hands, and hoped to goodness she wasn’t blushing – but knew she probably was.  She could only hope Max would put her reddened cheeks down to the cold air, and turned to lead the way back to the house.  He followed, having grabbed a small case from the abandoned vehicle.  “Well, here’s the house, and of course I’m sure you’re welcome.  We New Englanders are proud of our hospitality, you know.  And you’re hardly dressed for a tromp through the snow.”
“I’m not equipped for a drive through the snow, either,” he responded.  “I ought to have pulled off when I encountered it, but the highway was well cleared, and after a long flight the thought of getting to a comfortable home was too tempting.  If I had known of the conditions when I arrived in Boston, I might have stayed there.”
“My sister’s in Boston, and they hardly ever get snow when we do,” Tory commiserated.  “Have you just come from Amsterdam?  And are you staying here in Bristol?  We’re not really on the way to much of anywhere.”
Max laughed.  “Do you know an orthopedist named Josh Brown?  I’m to stay at his house for a few weeks and take on some of his practice while he recovers from a complex ankle break.”
“Oh, yes, I know Josh.  He lives just a few miles from us, and since I work for the local family doctor, I get to know pretty much everyone in town.  It’s a small place, anyway, and I have a brother and sister who’ve needed orthopedic assistance more than a few times.  But how do you know him?”
“We met at a medical conference several years ago, and have stayed in touch.  I’m working with him and a few others at the hospital here on some ideas to help athletes return to full participation in sport after accidents.  As much as we get done via e-mail and file sharing, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to spend some time at the research center here.  Poor Josh’s accident offered an excuse.”
“I saw Sheila – his wife – a week or so ago,” Tory offered, pushing open the front door and gesturing a welcome, “and she told me he’s been a miserable patient, but everyone at the clinic is too afraid of him to make him behave.  Apparently he’s so embarrassed about crashing his bike that he’s trying to make a super-fast recovery.”
“Yes, that sounds quite right.  In fact, he was trying to jump rope on his one good leg recently, and set his recovery back quite a bit jostling his cast.  So Sheila is forcibly removing him from the center and taking him to a facility in Maryland, where the staff can treat him like any other patient.  It is humbling sometimes to see how very imprudent many in my profession can be when we’re in our patients’ place.  I often see colleagues doing things in recovery that they would condemn in the people they care for.”
“The surgeon’s god complex carrying over from the operating room,” Tory laughed, then stopped abruptly.  “I’m sorry, I hope that didn’t sound rude.  I always think you do so much good, and sometimes so dramatically, that you have a right to a complex – especially with open heart and organ transplants and that kind of thing.”  She stammered to a halt.
“Goodness, Tory, you’re welcome to say what you like.  I expect you were joking, and in any case, you should, indeed, speak up if you see someone suffering delusions of grandeur.  That can be plain dangerous in operating theater or examining room.  But how solemn I am!  Please extend some more of your New England generosity and believe I’m not deliberately being pompous!”
“Of course not,” she chuckled.  “You set a great example of generosity.  Here, let me take your coat.  I can hang it by the stove so it drips onto the hearth, and I guess you’d better take off your shoes.  Do you have a change in your bag?”
“My track shoes – or runners?  No, what do you call athletic shoes?”
“Sneakers, sometimes, or running shoes, tennis shoes, that kind of thing.  You’ve got a bit of an accent that seems more English than Dutch to me.  Did you learn to speak English in England?”
“Partly that,” he answered, “but I learned your language in Holland from the time I was quite young, with the help of my English grandmother and that lovely, old-fashioned tradition, an English nanny.  My native languages are Dutch and Fries – and both of those are so difficult that few people outside our country learn them.  So, as you probably know, most of us learn at least one or two other languages from childhood.”
“What’s Fries?” Tory asked, adding quickly, “Wait, don’t explain yet.  Come through to the kitchen and we can call for a tow truck, and I’ll start some breakfast.  Have you eaten?”
“Breakfast would be very welcome,” Max replied.  “What a delightful house this is.  It has great warmth and character.  Have you lived here long?  Forgive me if the question is too personal, please.”
“Not at all.  If that’s what you consider a personal question, you are in for some culture shock here!  Believe it or not, my mother’s great-grandparents built the place when they married about 150 years ago, and it’s passed down to sons and daughters ever since.  Though I suppose 150 years doesn’t sound that long to you, does it?”
Max chuckled, a deep, warm sound in the stone-floored kitchen.  “I’m afraid my family home in Amsterdam is about 400 years old,” he admitted.  “What’s more, I’m not aware of any case where a daughter got to inherit.  Still, I’m a strong proponent of a family headquarters that spans the generations.”
Tory, having found the number for the local repair shop, got back to business.  “The phone’s right on the wall,” she said.  “I’m afraid it’s likely there won’t be anyone there yet, but you can leave a message and have them call you back here.  The power’s out, but the phone’s usually very reliable in bad weather, and that will help save your cell phone battery.”  After checking with his car-rental agency, Max put through a call to the local mechanic while Tory began scrambling eggs on the old gas stove.
Many hours later, having waved her unexpected guest goodbye, she padded back into her kitchen to slump at the well-scrubbed wooden table and reflect on an extraordinary – yet very ordinary – day.  Max had settled into the old farmhouse like he’d been born there.  After getting through four eggs, a mound of hash browns and copious amounts of toast, he had pitched in on the dishwashing like an expert.  That chore finished, he volunteered to help with the shoveling.  Dressed in oddments from his carry-on and Tory’s brother’s wardrobe, finished off with her father’s hip waders, he’d done yeoman work on the front walk and driveway.  Then, while Tory made soup and sandwiches for lunch, he’d tackled some of the ancillary pathways.
Over lunch, he’d filled Tory in on the history of Frieseland, a part of the Netherlands with its own unique language and culture.  She had to do some guessing, since Max kept his narrative largely impersonal and always modest, but she inferred that his family was ancient, close-knit and prominent.  The conversation did give her a chance to thank him again for the symphony tickets he’d kindly provided in Amsterdam.  “I’m delighted you were able to use them,” he said.  “My mother sang your praises, as well.  She thought you deftig, and you should know there’s no better compliment my mother can bestow.”
Deftig,” Tory mused.  “That’s one of those words that doesn’t translate well, isn’t it?  I think someone told me it means elegant or chic or distinguished, which doesn’t seem like me, actually.  Anyway, it’s a lovely compliment.”
She hadn’t meant to be funny, but Max’s chuckle rumbled out.  “But the graciousness with which you’ve welcomed me here, and your ease and self-possession, are the kind of elegance the word encapsulates.  Mother has a fine eye for those qualities.”
She was blushing again, and jumped up quickly, gathering dishes.  “How very nice of you to say, and of her, too,” she said quickly.  “I’m sure she’s very deftig, much more than I.  At least, I think I’m sure she is!”
After their morning’s hard work, Tory recommended a restful afternoon, and they had alternated reading from the Bird family’s extensive bookshelves with a few hands of gin rummy until the sound of a booming engine broke into the living room.  The plow had finally arrived, and the two of them headed out to meet it.
“Hey, Patrick,” Tory called, waving to the local man driving the truck.  He pulled to a halt in front of the house, and pointed toward the Mercedes.  “Colin will be along to help your friend out of the ditch,” he promised.  “We tried to phone but didn’t get an answer.”
“We were out shoveling all morning,” Tory explained.  “And with the power out, the answering machine wouldn’t have picked up.  It doesn’t have a battery; I should have thought of that.”  Patrick grunted a reply in typically laconic New Hampshire style.  “Give a holler if you need anything,” he added, and maneuvered the plow carefully past the stuck car.
Colin had been equally economical with both words and motions.  With a bit of help from Max, his truck had the Mercedes back on the road quickly, where they could see the damage had been minimal.  One tire change later, her surprise visitor was bidding Tory good-bye.  “I’m sure we’ll meet around the town over the next few weeks,” he said as they shook hands.  “I look forward to getting to know all my new neighbors, if I may go by the standard you set for consideration and welcome.”
His lavish compliment set Tory to stammering and blushing again.  Before she became hopelessly entangled in counter-thanks and disclaimers, Max had leaned down from his great height and kissed her, very lightly, on each cheek.  “The continental style,” he’d explained, and swung around, sliding gracefully into the powerful Mercedes before putting the car into gear.  Thankfully, Tory had had – just barely – the presence of mind to reply in kind to his farewell wave before pressing her mittened hands against her cheeks.  “Oh, my,” she breathed, watching her breath fog in the cold air.  “Oh, my.”