CONNECTIONS (68,295 words 371 pages)
is the story of an eclectic group of people's intertwined personal journeys; their relationships, hopes, pains, rituals.
A celebration of the richness of life and its diversities, it portrays the rites of passage as those individuals struggle
against ageism, loneliness, separation and social boundaries to generate new definitions of self, identity, worth, and
Anna Britton and Freida Shusterman are quite the pair. Freida is stout and brusque, filled with the wonder of
learning to manage a boarding house of her own. Her house is her connection to memories of Oma and Opa and
all the ancestral spirits she was forced to leave behind when she escaped from Germany. Anna is small and shy,
and after sixty six years of living, just discovering a confidence in herself.
Together they are the heart and soul of the beloved old Victorian house. Its veranda hangs with summer
pretensions, baskets of lush Boston ferns alternating with fuchsias blazing bright, intertwined with gingerbread lace
of the past. More than a boarding house, it is a home whose spirit is created out of the lives of those who live and
Anna is no longer haunted by her dream in which she whirls and spins and laughs in a gentle mist. Night after
night she had been dream drawn to the Sweet Sixteen Ball she could never have because of the searing birthmark
on her face. The pain of the dream has eased, replaced with the sense of belonging she found with Freida, but
when Freida's singing is abruptly absent, the soul seems gone from their home. Freida has not deserted her old
friend but cannot bear telling her that the home they love is lost to a landlord attracted to high profits.
The newest boarder, Virginia McNeil, is a twenty two year old college student bereft of a sense of belonging, the
offspring of sterile apartments and disrupted relationships. Her life of disconnection from her family, including her
grandparents, leaves her with concern about living "in a retirement home with old people." She uses that concern
and her impending final exams to help put off facing the reality that she may be pregnant. Anna takes her to the
"plunder room," a large garret where the air is charged with the cedar and lemon oil and dust of stored memories.
From among the fine old furniture stored there, Virginia selects furnishings for her room and discovers connections
to Anna that leads to a greater discovery mutual support from the strangers who become her new family.
Bill Hines, too, becomes her friend and finds unexpected pleasure in filling the role of Virginia's father figure. But
all his feelings are not parental; his frustrated sexual passion centers on Lillian Crotteau, a buxom grande dame of
"Why, Lillie," says Bill, "I'm surprised you're the type to kiss and tell."
"Of course Ah'm not," Lillian replies as she smooths her simple cotton dinner napkin onto her lap with a graceful
sweep that transforms it to linen. "Ah'm pleased to report no direct knowledge. You have no romance in your soul,
Sir. Brute animal lust simply doesn't appeal to a decent woman."
All the boarders enjoy their banter, though Dexter and Helen Woolridge are too enraptured with their own
passions to pay close attention. They feel safe here, their secret secure.
Ria Owens has little time for anything but complaining. Rebecca Dutton, her sister, came to Santa Rosa to
escape Ria, but Ria followed her from North Carolina.
Harry Sanderson prefers to remain in the background to deal with his own problems imminent forced retirement
from the U. S. Postal Service and the subsequent loss of daily habit and ritual on which he has based his life.
The news that their home is lost sends them all into crisis. Out of the crisis they discover new transitions to forge
new relationships: candor, hope, humor, challenge, pain, grappling. Like a venting volcano, the stresses burst free
in unexpected ways.
In the context of an extended game played over the Christmas holidays in which the object is to discover each's
most admired historical and/or famous person, secrets build pressure and blow: Rebecca reveals her long term
affair with Sam Owens, Ria's late husband; Dexter and Helen confess they are unmarried because marriage would
result in a loss of income from Social Security; Bill blurts out that he spied Lillian clerking in a porno shop, framed
with an assortment of anatomy out of a wet dream; Lillian reveals most of her life was spent in the exclusive bawdy
houses of New Orleans; Harry discloses his homosexuality.
After New Year's Day Anna can no longer conceal her serious illness, news which shocks the household into
abandoning individual concerns. When they learn Anna has developed a quiet, deep, caring relationship with each
of them, they band together to care for her and in the caring become a family who work together, who take control
of their own destinies. They correspond with Anna's hundreds of pen pals, who are flooding the daily mails with
inquiries because Anna has not written them even for Christmas. They discover the thread of Anna's life and
weave it into the fabric of the new family they are creating together.
Even Anna's death cannot destroy the new bonds they have forged. The need for a burial dress sends Virginia
and Lillian to the plunder room for the white ball gown Virginia saw in Anna's hope chest. One look around and
Lillian is off on mysterious errands. She even misses the media rally the boarders stage to delay eviction. After the
rally Lillian brings dealer bids for the antiques in the plunder room, more than enough to save their house as a
permanent shelter for themselves and Anna's spirit.
They deal with their grief over Anna's death by inviting all of Anna's pen pals for the ball she always wanted, but
never had. The house is vibrant as all of Anna's friends dance, hot with laughter and life. Tendrils of mist spiral
outward, linking each to the other. There, in the center of the parlor and library now opened into a ballroom,
radiant in her white gown, swirling, spinning, laughing, Anna's spirit joins the sparkling light where it streams
together into whirling rainbows.