Restoration

Another short story:

Mary Rose Bell was a curious child, interested in everything. With her long blonde hair and sparkling blue eyes even at ten-years-old she was the center of attention. The fifth child in a large and growing family Mary Rose had no idea she was exceptional in any way.

When her father developed an interest in genealogy Mary Rose stood at his shoulder, watching the screen as he searched for clues to find their family. Where had they originated? How and when did they come to America? There were very few leads. John Bell’s father died when John was a young man; his grandfather died before he was born. His search began at a very basic level. Not being a trained genealogist he spent hours googling the Bell Family name. Of course he got all kinds of hits from Wedding bells to Bell helicopters. Slowly he learned to limit his searches, adding John Bell, then searching for Angus Bell. Next he added his grandfather’s birthdate—1892, and finally he added ‘genealogy”. Incredibly this combination took him to an Angus Bell, born in 1858 who turned out to be his grandfather’s father. He had a great grandfather born in Ohio and from there he was able to trace the Bell family back to Virginia where they arrived in the 1692 from Ireland.

John Bell was ecstatic; he had a new sense of himself. Men and women—his family–had braved the Atlantic to escape religious restrictions in Ireland. Their courage resonated inside him. His mind clung to that brave family who stepped into the unknown bringing his line to America.

His wife listened to his enthusiastic reconstructions of his long dead ancestors, she saw the light that came into is eyes and she suggested, “John, why don’t we take a trip to Ireland. Let’s go see the homeland.”

John laughed. He and Rosalin were schoolteachers. They couldn’t afford a trip to Ireland. But Roslin searched for package prices, cut-rate tours and found a trip she thought they could almost afford. It would run onto the credit cards, but they were paying the infernal cards every month anyway. The money might as well be spent for something memorable.

And now here they were standing in St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin. Of course they chose the summer when the interior dome was being restored. Scaffolding filled the front of the church. Men moved back and forth, carrying supplies to men who lay on their backs cleaning and refinishing the beautiful figures of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John supporting the high dome on the north, south, east and west.

All the children were out in the churchyard playing among the tombstones and enjoying the sunlight. Only Mary Rose stood beside her parents craning her neck upward, awestruck. The construction foreman noticed the girl, her hair glowing like a halo and walked over on impulse to speak to the family.

“Excuse me, would you like to climb up and take a closer look?”

John looked at the man in front of him. It was impossible. Who would allow tourists to climb up the scaffolding four or five stories to watch workmen during an active restoration. But he found his voice and asked if the foreman was serious.

“Only if you stay with me,” the man replied.

John, Roslin and Mary Rose found themselves climbing up and up until they reached the plywood base under the dome. There they watched a man gild the robes of the apostles, using a soft brush and impossibly thin sheets of gold. “How does the gold stay where you brush it?” Mary Rose asked softly.

I paint the area with a vegetable glue. Then I pick up the gold with my brush– see, it’s static electricity that holds it to the brush and it’s the static that pulls it toward the prepared surface. “ He lifted his brush and the gold leaf seemed to move into place by itself.

“It’s like magic, better even,” Mary Rose whispered. The master craftsman smiled, picked up another sheet of gold, leaned down moving the brush within millimeters of the pretty child’s cheek. A swish of gold adhered to her skin, glowing even in the half-light.

The master surveyed his work. “La figlia d’oro,” he commented. Then he laughed, “La figlia adorata.” Mary Rose blushed but her mother smiled.

“You’re from Italy?”

Yes. I learned restoration in Rome. They chatted for a few minutes before the Master turned back to his work and the foreman suggested they climb back down.

Back on the stone floor Mary Rose asked what the man had said to her. The foreman leaned down. “He called you ‘the daughter of gold’, but then he changed it to the ‘Golden Child’ or the ‘Adored Child’. You won’t be able to wash your face ever again.”

Mary Rose nodded, filled with wonder.

Outside her parents gathered her siblings but Mary Rose leaned back against a carved doorpost in the shade of the entryway. Something moved behind her and she turned. A carved face looked at her with blank eyes. Its hair and beard were made of leaves, its face had the texture of bark. She reached out and touched an eye.

“Don’t do that,” a voice spoke clearly. She pulled her hand back.

“Mary Rose, child of the garden, tell your father that in the town of Sion Mills, east of Belfast he may find the Bells in the cemetery of the old Presbyterian Church.”

Mary Rose found nothing strange about talking to the stone forest man. She leaned forward and kissed him on his rough cheek before running to find her father.

The family traveled to Sion Mills where John found many generations of his family. Mary Rose spent many happy hours reading tombstones until she came to the grave of Mary Rose Bell, born 1237, died 1299. She sat down next to her namesake and fell asleep sinking slowly into the soft, loamy grass.

It was many hours before her family found her. When she awoke she was in a daze. Looking from one family member to another, happy to be back, sorry to have left her earlier home, her final resting place, so soon.

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About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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