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Magic and Miracles

Theresa J. Elders
656 Pend Oreille Loop
Colville, WA 99114




By Terri Elders


Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” – C. S. Lewis


Why we called it the rag bag I’ll never know, because it certainly never held rags. My sister and I believed it contained magic and miracles. The white muslin bag itself was sprinkled with a sprightly pattern of blue wicker baskets overflowing with pink and yellow posies. It resided on the back porch, an alcove off the kitchen, right next to Auntie Luella’s wringer washing machine. Excuse me. I mean Mama’s wringer washing machine.


Even now, sixty-five years later, I still think of my adoptive mom as Auntie Luella when I recall those WWII days when we all moved into the house on Hildreth Avenue, right across the street from the South Gate Park. We weren’t quite adopted yet, but Auntie Luella and Uncle Paul kept promising us a trip to court. They would be our parents after that, they said.


My big sister, Patti, and Sharon, the girl next door, would set off every morning for their first grade class. I, the five year old who didn’t go to school yet, would mope around all morning with my Mickey Mouse coloring books and Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Rose paper dolls, eager for them to return so we could take up our afternoon adventure, which always involved rummaging through the contents of that singular sack, the rag bag.


Playing dress-up was our favorite pastime. We could become gypsy princesses, brides, nurses, ballerinas, or even Wonder Woman, through the artful draping of a lace curtain, or the donning of a pair of Mama’s frayed satin step-ins. There was even an old feather duster that we could transform into a scepter or a wand.


One rainy afternoon while we sorted through the discards and remnants, I asked Patti and Sharon about court and what that meant. They exchanged wise and knowing glances, and mentioned that kings and queens lived in castles. I knew that. I had a fairy tale book of my own. But what was court? 


Patti plucked a beaded necklace from the rag bag and draped it around her forehead. “Well, I’ll show you,” she said, “I am the queen, and you all are my ladies-in-waiting, my court.”  She swept her arm about imperiously, as if the miniscule niche were a huge hall packed with her minions. “Now curtsy.”


I looked expectantly at Sharon, who plucked up the corners of her skirt, lowered her curly blond head, crooked her right ankle behind her left, and bowed. When I imitated her I overdid the forward tilt and smacked the linoleum with my forehead.


Auntie Luella bustled back from the kitchen when she heard my yowls. She knelt beside me, wiped my tears with a corner of her apron, and frowned at my sister.


“We were teaching her to curtsy. We’re just getting ready for court,” Patti explained.


 “Yes,” Sharon chimed in. “So she won’t be embarrassed.”


“Why would she be embarrassed?” Auntie Luella seemed perplexed.


“Well, she’s just a little girl. She doesn’t know much yet, since she hasn’t been to school,” Patti explained. Sharon nodded assent.


“She doesn’t need to know much more than to tell the judge her name.”


“What’s a judge?” I asked. “I thought I was going to court to see a queen.”


Auntie Luella sighed. “No queens at adoption court, but there will be a judge who will ask if you want to stay here with us.”


Our day in court arrived soon. On her pedal sewing machine Grandma ran up a pair of sheer dotted swiss dresses with wide ribbon belts, mine pale pink and Patti’s baby blue. When Patti helped me tie the bow she said we looked like princesses. I wondered if the judge would wear a crown like a king.


The court itself didn’t look at all like the pictures of palace interiors I had seen in my story books. It looked more like church, with rows of dark wooden benches.


I tugged at Auntie Luella’s hand. “Where’s the king?” I whispered. “It’s a judge and here he comes,” she whispered back, pointing towards a door in the front of the room.


He didn’t look much like Old King Cole, I thought. He wore a robe, but it was black, not red, and there was no fur around the lapels. And he wore glasses, just like Grandpa’s, and no crown covered his bald head. Tears of disappointment welled up in my eyes, and I instinctively thrust my thumb into my mouth to keep from sobbing aloud.


“Will Paul and Luella French come forward and bring their new daughters, Patti and Terri?” the judge asked in a deep sonorous voice. He sounded just like the announcer on the radio show, The Shadow, who said, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” When I would hear those introductory words I always ran from the room to escape the blood-curdling laugh that followed.


I started to shiver, but we all shuffled forward, an awkward quartet, me clinging to Auntie Luella’s skirt. She reached down and gently tugged my thumb from my mouth. I looked up and then remembered that I had to curtsy. Patti rolled her eyes when I dipped, but the judge smiled.


“I see you have very good manners,” he said. Then he talked for a while with Auntie Luella and Uncle Paul before turning his attention back to us. Finally, he told my sister that now that she was adopted she had to promise to practice her piano scales every day.


Then he turned to me. “Terri, I understand that you are afraid of water running in the bathtub and sink,” he said. That was the truth so I decided he must be able to read my mind. “You have to promise to wash behind your ears every day.” The tears I had been holding back came gushing forward.


The rest of the afternoon remains a blur. I remember coming home to find Sharon from next door waiting on the front porch. Patti and I traded our party dresses for our usual shirts and shorts, and we all rushed to the rag bag to reenact the day. Patti found an old overcoat to turn herself into the judge. Sharon played Auntie Luella, tottering about in a pair of high heeled sandals. I played myself, curtsying and sniffling.


Towards evening, after Sharon returned home, Auntie Luella joined us on the back porch with a tray of lemonade and ginger snaps. As we munched, she asked us what we remembered about the day.


“I have to practice scales,” Patti responded.


“Oh, Auntie Luella,” I moaned, “I have to wash behind my ears.


She smiled and shook her head. “Girls, you forgot the most important thing that the judge said today.”


We stared at her blankly. I couldn’t think of anything other than that he knew about how running water triggered alarms.


“It’s that you have to call us Mama and Daddy from now on. No more Auntie Luella or Uncle Paul.”


She reached into the rag bag and pulled out the feather duster. “This is my magic wand,” she said, flourishing it before us. “Now you’re my daughters and I’m your mother.”


Patti nodded. I curtsied.


It’s been a while since I’ve seen my big sister. I hope we’ll get together soon. I plan to ask her if, after all these decades, she still follows her edict and practices her scales. I will reassure her that I still wash behind my ears. And I’ll inquire if she still remembers that white muslin rag bag, crammed with magic and miracles.


Owner of originalTheresa J. Elders
Linked toLuella Alma Burgess; Theresa Jeanne Burgess

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