Hurricanes do terrible things. And wonderful things. We know about the bad stuff. Floods. Electrical failure. Destruction. Homelessness. And, of course, stranded airplanes.
My hurricane adventure fell into this last category. I was in Chicago for a family reunion, of sorts. Some of it happy. Some tinged with sadness because, on that last day together, we were getting ready for a long drive to the cemetery for a little ceremony to unveil the plaque over my mother’s grave.
We had come from all parts of North America to meet at the DeWitt Place, a charming hotel near Lake Michigan. There was my sister Linda from Ottawa, Canada. My brother Chuck from Albuquerque. My sister Selma from Pasadena. And me, from New York.
After a day of museums, shopping, and partying, we met on Sunday morning in the warm and friendly day room just a door away from a big coffee urn in the lobby, within whispering distance of the check-in desk. Cups in hand, we clustered around a large table and started to discuss our itinerary for the day.
My brother Chuck and his beautiful girlfriend Jennifer had wisely befriended a Chicago woman named Bonnie, who not only has a generous heart, but also had a huge van. That day, she volunteered to drive us, our luggage, our chaos, and our commotion from the DeWitt Place in Chicago to the cemetery in Arlington Heights. Afterwards, she was even going to take us to the airport where, like dandelion seeds in the wind, we would go our separate ways.
The Reubens, happy souls capable of getting drunk on caffeine, were feeling infinitely grateful to Chucky and Jennifer for their cleverness in picking friends, and in a burst of enthusiasm inappropriate to the lobby of a classy hotel, we started to sing a song to Bonnie that our father had sung to us as children – one we cherished almost as much as we did the memory of our dad.
In bad voice, with joyful hearts, and feeling effusive about our chauffeur cum shepherd, we crooned:
My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
My Bonnie lies over the sea,
My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
O bring back my Bonnie to me.
Think drunken sailors … but not drunk and not sailors. Just respectable middleclass people of a certain age, binging on gratitude and sentiment.
I admit that when we got to the chorus, I began to wonder about such things as noise, propriety, and hotel management. Nonetheless, we sang on:
Bring back, bring back, O bring back my Bonnie to me, to me:
Bring back, bring back, O bring back my Bonnie to me.
Another few refrains, and … damn. I was right.
There she was, standing in the doorway to the day room – Bonnie Green, the beautiful, stylish, impeccably coiffeured manager of the DeWitt Place Hotel. She had come, I was certain, to admonish us sternly. To tell us to button our lips. End the refrain. Shut up, and go home.
But… no. Maybe not. There was no scorn on her face. Instead, her face shone with tenderness, empathy, and sweet recollection.
We stopped singing and looked up.
Bonnie Green – the hotel’s Bonnie – walked toward our table. Her eyes were filled with tears and her heart was filled with words. She said, “My mother sang that song to me when I was a child. I always thought that she made it up just for me… that it was my song. I haven’t heard it since I was a little girl. She died when I was six years old.”
Bonnie told us about her mother. We told her about our father. She cried. We cried. Then one of us (not me. I wasn’t smart enough), said, “Let’s sing it again for Bonnie.”
And so we did. For Bonnie Green. For Bonnie’s mother. For our father. For all of the Bonnies everywhere who ever lied over the ocean. Who ever lied over the sea.
Bring back. Bring back.
O bring back my bonnie to me.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben