Former Disney monorail operator and character performer Suzanne Rowe Ogren, co-author of the popular Walt Disney World memoir, Together in the Dream, pens her first novel, not about pixie dust, but about the ribbons that guide us.
How does a professional actress and aspiring writer, big-city born & bred, handle her third move in five years? Each change in her lifestyle has been the result of a family tragedy, and Samantha Borden Garrett questions whether she can do it again.
This time, her move takes her to a small town in Virginia. Once settled, helping her mother run a bed-and-breakfast inn, Samantha begins to discover fresh paths: with both new and established friends, an unexpected romance, and an opportunity for another career. All these paths twist and intertwine, like ribbons weaving through Samantha’s life.
During an extended trip to England, to further her writing career, Samantha’s ribbons continue to guide her, and spark changes in her. Through times of both great happiness and enormous sadness, she will ultimately understand that the ribbons of her life combine to show her the right paths to pursue.
Suzanne Rowe Ogren has been a published writer of articles and essays since 1995; among those is a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Gift of Christmas. She recently co-authored Together in the Dream, with husband, R.J., about their careers in the early days of Walt Disney World. Ribbons is her first novel. Suzanne and R.J. reside in suburban Chicago.
Samantha prepares to leave her New York apartment&and her New York life&to help her mother run a bed-and-breakfast in Lexington, Virginia.
At all the best and worst moments of her life, Samantha Borden Garrett played Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”. And she played it loud. When questioned about why she played it so often, she would say, “Something about that melody takes me to a better place whenever I hear it.” This afternoon, it blared from the stereo speakers in the living room of the comfortable New York City apartment she shared with her friend and former college roommate, Candace Hall.
Samantha entered the room at a brisk pace, her arms full of folded shirts. She made a quick stop at the heavy oak cabinet that held her sound equipment, to crank the volume up another notch. Turning back to the room, she tucked an unruly lock of thick, blonde hair behind her ear, and wondered, for the third time today, if this shorter haircut to chin length was such a good idea.
The last rays of afternoon sun, streaming in the front windows, prompted her check of the antique clock on the mantel. The revelation of how late it was caused her to take a long look at the boxes that stood open around the room, filled with her clothes and possessions. As she stared at them, a sigh escaped her. Maybe the sudden decision to pack up everything and leave wasn’t such a good idea. But her mother’s phone call three days ago had made her do everything on instinct. She felt she had to help her mom, no matter what.
From another room, Candace yelled, “Should I pack all your winter clothes now, or do you want me to send them on to you later?”
She didn’t answer, but continued to stare at the disarray. Candace entered the room, walked over and turned down Glenn Miller’s melancholy trombone. She appreciated the music Samantha constantly played, but not the volume. She smiled at her friend’s daunted expression.
“You know, I’ve always said you’ll be the first person to go deaf listening to Big Band music. Most people succumb from heavy metal, you know.”
Samantha looked up and stared at her, only now aware that she had entered the room.
“Sorry—did you say something?”
“Never mind,” said Candace. “Are you surviving okay? You’ve been prowling around this apartment like a jungle animal all day.” Getting no response, she continued, “You’re not thinking about your mother again, are you? I told you, when I talked to her a little while ago, she seemed to be handling your aunt’s death pretty well.”
Samantha said nothing for a second, then, “Yeah, I know.” She walked to a window, tossing the shirts that were still in her arms into an open box nearby. She took a moment to look out at the skyline of New York City. It was only mid-August, but she was imagining how beautiful the view would be when it snowed. She loved this view, overlooking the brick buildings, the bustle of the city, even Central Park in the distance, and she never failed to feel lucky that she and Candace could afford this apartment. Even so, New York had never seemed like home to her, so she was all the more puzzled by how difficult it seemed to contemplate leaving.
“Actually, I was thinking about Don.” Saying her husband’s name still hurt, even though he’d been dead almost five years.
Candace instinctively knew that Samantha’s mood and manner involved more than being overwhelmed with packing details. She waited for her friend to continue.
“I was remembering when I packed up our apartment after he was killed. I came in here a minute ago and suddenly felt exactly as I did then.” She turned from the window and sat down, folding her long legs under her. “That apartment in D.C. was the only home we ever knew. Though we weren’t in it long, it was so difficult to take everything out of it—start my life over with my folks in St. Louis.
“When my mother called yesterday to tell me about my aunt’s heart attack, it was as if somebody hit me in the stomach with their fist. I felt sick. All I could think of was that day the army officer came to my door to tell me about Don. I know this sounds melodramatic, but I wonder if God’s playing some cruel joke on me. First Don, then my dad, and now Aunt Rose—all in five years’ time.”
Candace sat beside her. “Don was a special man; I miss him, too. Yes, you’ve been through a lot—but you haven’t been through it alone, don’t forget.”
Samantha winced. “I am being a drag, aren’t I? Sorry. Maybe I’m just not ready to handle another major change in my life.”
“Well, I don’t understand why you agreed to do this in the first place. I mean, who wants to leave New York to move to a small town in Virginia and live in some old barn of a house?”
Samantha laughed at the comparison. “You know, you really should have been the actress instead of me. Your flair for the dramatic is something else. My mother runs a bed and breakfast in an historic home, not an ‘old barn of a house’. And she loves Lexington.” Samantha paused a moment, then added, “Besides, I think it might be kind of fun to live in a small town for a change.” She grabbed a roll of tape off the coffee table and began sealing the boxes.
It was evident by the disdainful look on Candace’s face that, not only had they been over this subject before, but she still wasn’t convinced.
“But you’re a big city girl.”
“Yes, born in St. Louis, which makes my mother—who was there at the time, by the way—a big city girl, too.” Candace smiled at Samantha’s obvious sarcasm; a trait they shared. “Besides, you know I’ve never felt at home in New York City. Everyone’s always in too much of a hurry. I don’t know how you stand it, coming from the country like you do.”
Candace closed her eyes and shook her head. “Please, I’ve told you; don’t ever remind me of my past.” Her early life on a farm had not been happy. “Now, to get back on the subject. You’re still young, and look at your opportunities for work here.” She was pleading now. “What about that play you just auditioned for? You told me you were almost certain to be cast—that you wanted the chance to work with that director. You’re becoming noticed in the theater, your last reviews were great…”
“You’ll dig up any excuses to keep me here, won’t you?”
Candace smiled and nodded.
“You have to be the strong one here, old friend,” Samantha said. “You’ve known me too many years and seen me through too many crises—as you reminded me a moment ago. You know how easy it would be for me to just say, ‘The hell with it, I’m not leaving.’”
Candace knew she was really angry at herself because she didn’t want her friend to leave, but she couldn’t think of any new arguments to keep her there. She loved their living arrangement. She would have no trouble financially keeping the apartment on her own, but felt lost at the prospect of coming home alone to it every night. They’d shared so much since their college days. No one understood her like Samantha. She smiled as she remembered their first conversation together. An instant bond was formed that day when she learned Samantha shared her dislike of people who tried to shorten her name.
“My dad chose my name from one of his favorite Cole Porter songs, ‘I Love You, Samantha’ from High Society. I love that connection. Never understand why anyone would want to shorten it to ‘Sam’.”
“I know what you mean. My mom named me after a character in a book she read, and I think it’s beautiful. People who call me ‘Candy’ get the evil eye.”
“Are you there?” Samantha asked, jolting Candace back to the present.
“Oh … yeah, sorry. I couldn’t help thinking about that first day we met at Princeton. Remember?”
“Of course I do. I remember thinking as I looked at the mess in that dorm room, How can I live with this girl? She’s a slob! She smiled. “Now, as I was saying, you know me well enough to know that my sense of duty and guilt won’t let me stay here. I just can’t leave my mother down there to cope with that business all alone. She’s dealt with a lot these past couple of years. First, my dad’s death, then moving, starting her own business—now my Aunt Rose dying so suddenly.”
“Hey, martyr, you’ve had a similar road to travel. I know how much your dad meant to you. And you did lose a husband, remember? We were just talking about that.”
“Yes, and I remember you saying something to me about getting on with my life.” Samantha raised her eyebrows at Candace, her green eyes twinkled, and a mischievous smile lit up her face. “That was you, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, but, damn it, couldn’t you just try an extended visit? I mean, why can’t your mom just hire somebody to help her with the inn? And you never answered my question about your career here. Are you just going to forget all the hard work you’ve done these past couple of years?”
“Well, first of all, I suppose she probably could hire someone to help her. But I offered to do this. It was a spur of the moment decision, I admit—which I was kind of regretting a few minutes ago. But my best decisions have always been ones I made on the spot.”
She saw Candace’s dark eyes fill with tears and stopped her packing chores to put an arm around her.
“Come on, you have to agree my mom sounds lost. I thought it would help her to have family there. As for my career—there are theatres in Virginia, too. No, not like Broadway, but the closest I’ve ever come is off-off Broadway. Besides, who knows, if I don’t act, I might work on my novel. Here, I just threaten to. I mean, I ought to get something out of that Princeton lit degree my folks paid for, don’t you think?”
Candace wiped away her tears as a weak smile began to curl up the corners of her mouth. “Well, you make a good argument. But I still don’t want you to go.” She looked around. “What will I do all alone in this apartment?”
“Well,” said Samantha, affecting a Southern accent, “I hope you entertain some gentleman callers and fall madly in love.”
“Don’t give me your take on the mother in Glass Menagerie; you’re not old enough to play that part yet!” She started toward the bedroom. The faded Princeton sweatshirt and jeans she wore could not hide the graceful way her tall body moved. Coupled with her classic facial features and silken dark hair, she was often mistaken for a model; a comparison she disliked.
Samantha followed her, stopping to turn the sound system up several decibel levels, and laughing when Candace flinched. “Just think, you won’t have to listen to my blaring music any longer.”
There was a momentary silence as the CD changer switched disks. “Yes, I know, but why is it that you seldom play anything else? I know you appreciate other kinds of music.”
Samantha thought for a second. “Some of my favorite memories of my dad are when he would dance with me in our living room—to the sounds of Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey or Glenn Miller. The music helps bring him back, in a way.” The upbeat strains of “In The Mood” began to play, giving her a rhythm to resume her frenetic packing.
Candace raised her voice over the orchestra. “Well, to go back to your previous remark about ‘gentlemen callers’—you know as well as I do that I’m never going to meet Mr. Right in New York. I’ll just get old and gray and bitchy! Practically everybody I meet in the advertising business is deadly dull.”
Samantha reached over and pushed the bedroom door closed to muffle the music a bit, then replied, “Don’t knock the advertising business—it’s made you very successful. And you’re hardly old enough to talk about being a spinster.”
Sidestepping the packing dynamo, Candace said, “Well, I don’t want you living out your days as the grieving widow, so promise me you’ll try and find a man down there.”
Samantha picked up on her sarcastic tone. “I just told you; I’m going to be too busy writing an award-winning novel to worry about a social life.” Pausing a moment, she looked around at the clutter in her room. This was her haven, the walls sporting vintage movie and play posters; her furniture antique, but comfortable. They agreed she’d leave the furniture here, taking only clothing, her computer, her music collection and books to her new home. She forced her voice to be cheerful, as she chided, “Now, could we have a little less talking and more packing? I’m leaving in less than twenty-four hours, and we still have a lot to do.”
Candace was not to be dissuaded easily. “Don’t you need a social life to get material for your award-winning novel?” Samantha gave her a reproving stare, and Candace wrinkled up her nose. “Couldn’t you just make this career change right here?”
“Would you give up, please? I am moving! Get used to it!”
Tears appeared in Candace’s eyes once again. “I’m sorry. I’m just really going to miss you,” she said, sniffing and wiping her eyes on the corner of the handmade quilt. Samantha handed her a tissue she pulled from her jeans pocket.
“I know—but you’re gonna visit me real soon, right?”
“Yes, but it won’t be the same. I mean—well—who’s going to eat my gourmet experiments now?” She began crying once more.
Samantha laughed, but tears ran down her cheeks as well. They hugged each other tightly for a long minute, allowing tears and mascara to stain each other’s sweatshirts.
In an attempt to lighten the moment, Candace said, “I can see right now our cell phone bills are going to get really expensive!”
Samantha laughed. She turned back to packing, but found herself pondering: if she was really so positive about this situation, why did she suddenly feel as if she was about to make a monumental mistake?
Continued in "Ribbons"!
Samantha settles in and begins to realize that her mother might not have needed her help so badly after all.
After hundreds of miles of interstate, the landscape became a fused impression of green and gray. It was early afternoon. Samantha had been behind the wheel of the rental van for several hours and, though she and Candace had been up late the night before, drinking wine and talking, she didn’t feel tired. She was eager to reach Lexington.
Crossing into Virginia, she stopped briefly to call her mother and let her know she was getting close. Back on the highway, a directional sign for the D.C. interstate roused thoughts of her married life there. Would there ever be a time when she didn’t notice things that reminded her of her late husband? “Memory is a beaten path to the brain,” she quoted out loud, though she couldn’t remember who coined the phrase.
She’d met Don only six months before graduation from Princeton, but when he proposed, she had no doubts about saying ‘yes’. He’d accepted a commission in the army after receiving his degree in political science, and was to be stationed in Washington, D.C., as a diplomatic attaché. He wanted Samantha beside him as soon as possible; they were married in late June.
Her parents accepted Don at first meeting, and gave their blessing. His parents weren’t as agreeable. His Connecticut family lines were impressive and wealthy, and Samantha was deemed unsuitable, but Don ignored their attempts to influence him. He convinced them to attend the ceremony in St. Louis, but, during their brief marriage, relations had been strained, to say the least.
A road sign, indicating the turn-off to Lexington, brought Samantha back to the present. She couldn’t wait to be with her mother again, and recognized that visits with her mother brought out the little girl in her. Just now, she liked the idea of handing over her adult life to this woman who never failed to help her sort things out. All her recent musings about moving, careers, and her personal life were certain to be discussed at length.
Because of theatre commitments, Samantha had been unable to visit her mother since she’d moved nearly two years ago to pursue this bed-and-breakfast business in Virginia with Aunt Rose, but Samantha sensed it was a good decision for her. Not that this move hadn’t surprised Samantha. She didn’t think her mother would ever leave her home in St. Louis. But, Rose had convinced her sister that she needed a new outlet.
As Samantha pulled into the driveway, her mother hurried out the front door, waving and calling to her. Helen Borden was a young-looking fifty-two. She dyed her gray roots to retain her light brown hair, and her petite body was in great shape.
Samantha felt a lump in her throat as she got out of the van and ran to hug her mother.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Helen whispered. “Just sorry it took a tragedy to get you to Lexington.”
“Oh, Mother, don’t be maudlin!”
“Maudlin? What kind of a word is that to describe your mother?”
“Sorry—blame Princeton.” She kissed her mother, wiped the tears from her cheeks, and her own, and then hugged her again for a long minute. “Aunt Rose is probably looking down saying, ‘Okay, you two, enough blubbering.’”
Helen laughed. “You’re probably right. Every time I’ve cried in the last few days, I think about how she would scold me if she could. She loved life so much; always wanted everyone to be happy.”
“Well, I’ll try if you will.” Helen nodded, and wiped away more tears from her eyelids.
“All right, then, let me look at my new home,” Samantha said, standing back and taking her first look at Candlewyck Inn.
The imposing two-story structure was painted in the same tones of gray-blue and white as their old house in St. Louis. Samantha liked that. In fact, she liked everything about the inn, from the wraparound porch to the navy-blue shutters on the windows, to the inviting front entry door with its grapevine wreath and wooden sign: “Welcome to Candlewyck”. Clean, formal landscaping bordered the yard, with hedges and flower gardens now declining in the late summer sun. Juniper bushes framed the front walk and a picket fence closed in the back yard. It was all so inviting.
Helen watched her as she took it all in. “Well?”
“The pictures you sent didn’t do it justice. It’s perfect.”
She grabbed Samantha’s hand and continued to hold it as she began talking.
“I can’t wait for you to see the inside. Leave your luggage for now.” As her mother opened the front door, a large dog of questionable parentage ambled down the front steps and rubbed up against Samantha’s legs.
“Riley, my favorite furry person.” Samantha bent down to pet him. “He remembers me!”
“Of course he does.”
Riley was mostly black, with white fur on his chest and feet. They had decided long ago that he had some Labrador in him and possibly some hound. But his breeding really didn’t matter to either of them. Samantha had insisted her mother adopt him for company after her dad’s death.
“See, you already have a friend here,” said Helen as she led the way into the house. Riley followed, tail wagging.
“I must say, the town impressed me. It’s charming.”
“I promise you’ll get the complete sightseeing tour as soon as you’re settled.”
A dark wood staircase dominated the entryway. Doors to the parlor and dining room were to her immediate right and left, and French doors farther down on the left allowed a glimpse into the kitchen. As she stepped into the parlor, sunlight bathed Samantha from the high windows, which were draped in white lace and blue damask. The entire décor of the room was done in shades of blue and cream; the furniture Victorian. A large fireplace with an ornate wood mantel was the focal point of the room. The varnished wood floor set off a Persian rug.
“You and Aunt Rose did a beautiful job!”
Moving across to the formal dining room, Samantha admired the bay window that looked out on a rose garden.
“We serve breakfast between seven and nine. I make all the baked goods.”
“Is this my first lesson in running the inn?” Samantha teased.
Her mother blushed. “I guess so.”
They spent the next few minutes completing the tour of the inn, and Samantha was impressed with the results of all the hard work.
“Had serious doubts it’d ever look like anything when we first bought it. Learned a lot about plumbing, wiring, paint stripping and wallpaper hanging,” her mother said with a chuckle. “Think I could construct my own house from scratch now. Of course, Rose already knew a lot about construction…” Her mother’s face darkened.
Samantha quickly changed the subject. “So, where’s my room?”
Helen led her to a door at the rear of the front hall, and Riley followed them into the room, jumping onto the couch with no invitation. “Thinks he owns the place,” her mother said. “Gave up trying to keep him off the furniture. Anyway,” she continued, “this is our private sitting room—away from the guests.”
The spacious room felt instantly comfortable because Samantha recognized items from their St. Louis home: the chintz-covered couch, paintings she’d looked at since she was a small girl, even the old record player her dad had loved so much. Helen smiled as Samantha circled the room, touching surfaces and nodding. “This is your room, which I’ve not finished decorating, but I hope you like it,” her mother explained as she opened another door.
Glancing in, Samantha said, “My favorite colors. That quilt—didn’t Aunt Rose make that?”
Helen nodded, then indicated, “Bathroom’s there. We share that, and my room’s on the other side of it.” After peeking into her mother’s room, Samantha walked back into the sitting room, and collapsed onto a love seat beneath the window.
“Can I raid the refrigerator now?”
“Heavens, you must be starved! Let’s go to the kitchen. Have to check with Sandra anyway—she’s my part-time help—see how she’s doing. Come and meet her.”
The next morning, when they attended Aunt Rose’s funeral, Samantha was pleased to see that her mother had acquired some very caring friends in her new hometown. The service was held in an historic church, complete with tall steeple and dark wood pews. Bouquets and wreaths of late summer flowers filled the altar area. She kept an eye on her mother throughout the service and thought she held up well, though they both shed tears. In the car, on the way back to the inn, Helen said nothing; Samantha left her alone with her thoughts.
Back in her room, Samantha threw her hat on the bed and settled into her rocking chair. Riley came and shoved his head under her hand to be petted. She obliged. Glancing at the black cloche hat, she smiled, remembering how her mother had always bought her hats as a kid, for Easter and to wear to church, and she still loved wearing them. She wished that more women did. Her Aunt Rose had always worn a hat and gloves, whenever the occasion allowed, and she recalled a particular blue velvet hat Rose had sported frequently which highlighted her light blue eyes. Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on her door. “Come in.”
Helen stuck her head in, still dressed in the black suit she’d worn to the funeral. “Would you rather be alone?”
“Well, as you can see, I’m not alone. My canine brother is with me.” She smiled at her mother, who shook her head at Riley.
“Told you, he hasn’t improved with age.”
“How old is he now?”
“Only four, but it seems sometimes like I’ve had him forever. He’s so much company—and entertaining as you can see. Riley, leave that alone,” she scolded him, as he attempted to make a bed of a throw rug. He gave up and lay down at Samantha’s feet, heaving a big sigh as he did so.
She giggled, then turned to her mother who seemed lost in thought again as she had in the car. “The service was lovely—like a sweet goodbye.”
In a quiet voice, Helen replied, “Rose was always looking out for me, from the time we were both very little. I wanted the last thing I did for her to show how special she was.”
“You two were friends as well as sisters, weren’t you?”
“Yes, as close as you and Candace.” Samantha nodded. “Candace has been a good and loyal friend. You’re lucky to have her. I still remember your telling me how she sat and cried with you the night you got the news about Don.”
“Yes, also when Dad died.” She noticed tears sliding down her mother’s cheeks. “You still miss him very much, don’t you?”
Helen wiped the tears with the back of her hand. “You don’t love someone as long as I loved your dad, and not miss him every day. There’s so much going on in my life now that I wish he were here to share. Even talk to him sometimes when I’m alone.” She smiled. “Think your old mother is losing it?”
“No. Sometimes, just for an instant, I imagine that Don is coming home in the evening and I’ll be able to tell him about something that’s happened that day.” She turned to the window, lost in the memories of the nights when they’d done just that. She felt her mother watching her, and turning in her direction, she whispered, “We used to have such special conversations.”
Unable to deal with her daughter’s unhappiness, even after all these years, Helen chose to change the subject rather than prolong the awkward pause. “Well, any men in your life in New York you can talk to?”
“No—but then I haven’t really been looking,” she chuckled.
“I could introduce you to some eligible men here in Lexington…”
“Don’t you dare!”
“I’m kidding; know you’d never let me do that.”
She smiled, knowing her mother meant well. “That’s for sure.”
With no wish to continue the subject of her lack of a love life, Samantha changed topics. “Before you came in here, I was remembering when I was a little girl, and you used to hold me in your lap when I was sad, and tell me silly, happy stories.”
“Well, I think you’ve outgrown the ‘sitting in the lap’ routine, but I think with you here now, we can help each other find that happy road. Yes?”
Samantha nodded. “That is why I’m here.”
“Good. Now I think we’d better help Sandra with setting up the dining room. There will be a raft of people here from the church any minute, all bringing food.”
Two hours later, Samantha, her mother, and Sandra were in the kitchen, putting away leftovers and cleaning up. It was then that Samantha realized how exhausted she was, and knew her mother had to be feeling the strain of the day as well. All the guests had been solicitous and kind, there was laughter mixed with tears, and she’d been made to feel an intimate part of her new home. But now, all she wanted was to get her mother to bed and do the same as soon as possible. Sandra was happy to oblige when asked if she could finish up.
Later, lying in her bed, enjoying the quiet, Samantha said a silent prayer for her Aunt Rose, as tears wet her lashes and fell onto her pillow.
Continued in "Ribbons"!