Today is the day! The time has come! Voting is now open on Clairemont’s Creative Challenge. We hope you will read the three stories that are in the running for the grand prize.
To vote for Sarah, please type the word “vote” into the comments section of the post that contains her story.
To vote for Tracy, please type the word “vote” into the comments section of the post that contains her story.
To vote for Cherith, please type the word “vote” into the comments section of the post that contains her story.
As a reminder, only one vote per person per story counts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask all your friends to vote for your favorite story. By all means, share the one you want to win on your social media channels! Voting will close on Thursday, June 17 at midnight.
The Fifth Woman
“You told her we were married!?”
Ben’s sharp silence was the only answer Andrew needed. Without pause, Andrew cocked his arm and socked his younger brother square on the jaw.
“You didn’t hold up your end of the bargain!” Ben cradled his cheek. “What else was I supposed to do?”
“A white lie, Ben. White. Small. Some gentle shade of reality. Not this boldfaced monstrosity that will ruin us…unless you have a wife stowed in the carriage house I don’t know about.” Andrew massaged his knuckles while he paced.
“But the money,” Ben pleaded. “So help me God, the British PM isn’t swiping Mother’s fortune, too. And if I had to spin a small yarn to meet her stipulations then shoot me.”
Andrew tipped his hat to a pair of petticoats that tittered down the path before leveling a cold gaze at Ben. “Don’t tempt me.”
There was nothing genteel, or even fair, about Mother’s stipulations. But the daughter of a British earl couldn’t afford to pass her inheritance—with all of its pomp and press—to anyone but established progeny. And now, on her deathbed (bedecked with only the finest jacquard linens), Countess Elinor was ensuring her demands were satisfied before her quill flourished her Last Will and Testament.
Her sons had to be married to remain in the will. No exceptions, even if they were busy building a railroad empire “across the pond.”
Ben peeped between fingers. “She wants proof by the end of the month. A picture of our blushing brides.”
The other two brothers were no less livid when Brainless Ben shared his “small white lie.” A demanding partnership in accounting had halted Pete and Loman’s romantic endeavors as well. Of the five siblings, only George proved nonchalant, naturally, because Abigail, his bride of three years, was already pregnant. No sweat off his brow.
Three tense days slinked by as Mother’s deadline loomed.
And then Ben reappeared. This time with a cast.
“Utter that suggestion again, and I’ll personally torch your trousers,” bellowed Andrew. “And send them home!” He jabbed a shaking finger in the general direction of the photographer who was setting up in the drawing room, accompanied by the grocer’s daughter. The young girl suspiciously sported formal portrait attire.
“It’s foolproof, Andy,” Ben was giddy at his own ingenuity. “Sit Abigail in the portrait with a few of ladies from the town, like the grocer’s daughter, and Mother will never know the difference. Besides, she’ll be long gone before the news reaches England that we’re actually still bachelors.” Ben was practically giggling.
Despite the plan’s brazen absurdity, Andrew felt his stomach lurch; the loss of Mother’s wealth would cripple the entire family.
The front door banged open to admit a breathless Pete, followed by a rather red-faced young lady in crinoline.
“I found Belinda!” he panted. “And she’s in!”
The confused young lady smiled nervously. “Always happy to model my broaches for photographers.” She referenced the hideous gold vine nestled precariously near her neckline.
Andrew spun on Ben. “You dragged Pete into this debacle?”
“Hey, brother, our inheritance is at stake.” Logan’s matter-of-fact tone announced his arrival on the scene. And, not surprisingly, the arrival of Daniella, the butcher’s dopey-eyed teenager, whose plum dress looked two sizes too big on her boyish frame.
Andrew slumped onto the ottoman.
The photographer’s polite cough broke the silence. “My apologies, gentlemen, but I have a firm appointment with the congressman’s wife at 2 p.m., which is in exactly 28 minutes. If you can’t gather your party, I’ll have to reschedule for late next month.”
Panic ensued as Ben dispatched the other three brothers to locate just one more willing lady, preferably with a pressed formal day suit in tow.
The clock ticked loudly against the drawing room wallpaper…1:41 p.m. 1:48 p.m. 1:54 p.m.
As the clock struck 2:04 p.m., the four brothers stumbled through the front door, empty-handed and defeated, envisioning their inheritance trickling into the hands of the greedy British PM.
Andrew, now alone, whistled cheerfully while straightening the settee. Wordlessly, he turned to his four siblings and handed them a single object: the completed portrait of not four, but five ladies taken just minutes ago in his drawing room.
The brothers gaped at the photograph.
“But…” Ben grasped for words. “There wasn’t a single woman to be found anywhere in this neighborhood! Who was the fifth woman?”
Andrew simply smiled and strode from the room, tossing what appeared to be (Was it? Yes, it was!) a woman’s wig on the settee.
The brothers’ eyes widened as they recognized the face of the fifth lady in the back of the portrait. Thin, masculine cheekbones bore an unmistakable resemblance to their own facial structures.
Let Andrew keep his dignity, shall we? I won’t tell if you won’t.
A Simpler Time
We are all just too darn busy. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately, so the timing of this assignment seems a bit serendipitous. What struck me when I first looked at this photo was how significantly life has changed in the past 100 years, and what a crazy world we live in today. How complicated things have become!
It’s hard to remember a time where there were no cell phones, no Facebook pages and no text messages. Today we read books on electronic devices, keep our to-do lists on iPhone apps and shop for groceries online. And while I can’t imagine living in a world without some of these modern conveniences, I long for a time where people actually spoke to one and other, wrote letters and enjoyed nice long meals with fine wine and good conversation (as opposed to eating hunched over the kitchen counter before dashing out the door.)
I am a wife, mother of two young children, part-time employee, board member, volunteer, friend, sister, cook, CEO of my home… you get the picture. And what it feels like lately is that our family is overscheduled – running from point A to point B but not really appreciating the moment. This photo reminds us of what life used to be like…it was a simpler time.
It is spring 1918, the flowers are starting to bloom and the days are getting longer. Woodrow Wilson is president, and the Spanish Flu is reaching pandemic status. The Adams family is one of the most prominent in Boston. Henry and Elizabeth Adams have five daughters, Louise, Margaret, Catherine, Mary and Cecelia.
At 20 years old, Louise is the eldest daughter. She is a smart young woman and spends most of her days reading. There is a lot of pressure for her to marry, although no suitor has come along yet that she has found to be an intellectual match. Margaret is the second eldest and is the true beauty in the family. At 18 she will have her pick when it comes to her future husband. She has a sweet spirit but can also come across as a bit arrogant. Catherine is 15 and has a true adventurous nature. She is happiest riding her horses or exploring the estate. Mary, who is 13, has always been a wild card and gives Henry and Elizabeth the most worry. Although she does not have a devious heart, she often winds up in a great deal of trouble. And then there is sweet Cecelia, the baby in the family at age 10. She looks up to her big sisters and is struggling to find where she fits in the family dynamic.
Life for the Adams girls is quite charmed. They attend school, visit with their friends and enjoy spending time on their beautiful estate. But they also have many of the same concerns and worries as modern day young women. They feel societal pressure and burdens from family. They are trying to find their identity and where they fit in the world, as well as in their home. They are trying to find love. They feel they must keep up appearances. They are learning that money and status will not solve all problems.
Any of this sound familiar? So, although in 1918 it was a different time without as many obligations and commitments, and with a little less transparency, we realize that not that much has really changed in terms of the pressures and demands on women today.
The take away is this…we might think we long for the old days when people sat on porches, drank iced tea and watched the storms roll in from the horizon. But what really makes good sense is to embrace the technology and tools we have available today, but try not to be a slave to them. And learn to say no! Just like the Adams sisters, we are all trying to find our purpose and our voice. But we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. Women are incredibly strong creatures and we can learn a lot from those who have gone before us.
Taking a Closer Look
Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a phrase we have all heard at one time or another as a way of being told we shouldn’t base our opinions solely on what we see on the surface. Quite often, after we take a closer look, we find the person or object to be very different than we expected.
The above photo is a great example of why you should not “judge a book by its cover.” At first glance you might look at the photograph and assume the ladies are sisters and that it was taken at the turn of the 20th century. None of them look particularly happy, which might lead you to believe it’s because they were growing up and living in a time period much different than today.
Yes, you might draw any number of conclusions based on what you see in the photograph, but none of them are likely close to the truth. The picture was taken just last summer, and the ladies in it had not met until minutes before the image was captured. This picture exists because a mother, named Erin, was looking to pass along a bit of family history.
It all began when Erin’s young daughter, Charlotte, came home one day talking about how much fun she had looking at old family pictures and videos at her friend’s house. It might sound odd, but Erin was heartbroken. From the moment she found out she was pregnant with Charlotte, she knew that one day she would have to tell her child that she did not know anything about her family history. That’s because when Erin was only a couple of days old, she was found on the doorstep of an elderly couple’s home. She arrived with nothing more than a blanket, a bottle and a mystery.
Thirty-two years later, as Erin sat at the foot of Charlotte’s bed and listened to the excitement in her voice about her friend’s family, Erin knew that the time had come to start the conversation about her mysterious past with her four-year-old daughter.
Charlotte asked, “What did my great-grandmother look like?”
Instead of answering, Erin asked Charlotte, “What do you think she looked like?”
Charlotte immediately responded with “‘Grammy’ had brown hair like me. She was smart and funny. Oh, and she was very pretty!” From there, Charlotte’s imagination ran wild. “She had a large family and was the youngest of five girls. They all lived on a farm and Grammy’s best friend was a pig named Huckleberry!”
Charlotte’s story continued on this way for 20 solid minutes. When she finished, Erin told her that was the way she imagined “Grammy” too. She went on to explain that she never had the chance to meet her mother and therefore did not know anything about her great-grandmother.
Charlotte asked, “What about Nana and Papa?”
Erin explained that the Nana and Papa Charlotte had heard stories about was a kind couple who had taken her Erin into their home and loved her like their own. Charlotte listened and seemed to understand what Erin was telling her, but it did not seem to upset her.
Later that day, Erin found herself thinking about Charlotte’s “Grammy” tale and smiling; so she decided to create a photograph to go along with the story. Erin turned to her friends, colleagues and social media, and in a matter of a few hours had found a woman and four girls to play the roles of Grammy and her four sisters. The following weekend Erin met the ladies at Flashback, a store that specializes in creating photographs that look antique. She was thrilled with how it turned out and could not wait to give it to Charlotte.
Charlotte unwrapped the box, and as soon as she saw the photograph, she squealed with delight and pointed to the young girl at the bottom of the picture. She said, “Ah, it’s Grammy.” Charlotte placed the photograph on her bedside table where it remained for many years. It then went to college with Charlotte and on to her first apartment and eventually her first home. Not only does it now hang in her hallway alongside a large collection of family photos, but it also is the photo she most often points out to people saying, “Have I ever told you the story of my Grammy?”
So the next time you look at someone and find yourself making assumptions, remember the photograph of the five ladies. Let it serve as a reminder to you that things are not what they seem at first glance, and you should never judge a book by its cover.