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Authors: Lurlene McDaniel

Tags: #Fiction

Garden of Angels

BOOK: Garden of Angels
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At the house, I saw our car in the driveway and ran up the walk ahead of Adel. In the kitchen, Mama was sitting at the table and her eyes looked as if she’d been crying. Papa was sitting beside her, but he stood when we came into the room. “Hold up, girls.”

“What’s wrong?” Adel asked.

He and Mama exchanged glances.

I went all cold and clammy. “You all right, Mama?”

She shook her head. “I have to go back to Emory, girls . . . on Wednesday,” she said, her voice a bit hoarse from crying. “I—I have to have an operation.”

Dear Reader,

When we hear the word “cancer,’’ it’s a word
that frightens. We know that cancer does not distinguish between rich and poor, fat and thin, good
and bad people. Cancer can just appear, and the
individual who becomes ill, as well as the family
and friends of the patient, must cope. I have written many books about people who have become
victims of cancer. You may have read some of them

This book is a departure in many ways
from other books I’ve written. I have chosen to
place the story in 1974 and ’75, a time before
many of you, my readers, were born. The setting is
the Deep South, the place of my roots—the place
so dear to my heart. Although this is fiction, I’ve
included many actual events from those two years
that helped shape and define the world we live in

During this time, our country was struggling to escape from a very unpopular war that
we were fighting in Vietnam. The President of
the United States, Richard Nixon, had to face the
reality of his actions in connection to a number of
scandals and voluntarily stepped down from his
office. Gerald Ford was inaugurated as the new

President. Bill Gates, who was twenty years old,
had just founded Microsoft, but at that time
technological resources and products were still
years away from everyday items that people now
use e fortlessly. There was no e-mail. The Inter-net was seen as futuristic, as were home computers, cell phones and pagers. Most homes had a
color television set but few had VCRs. Music
was recorded on hard plastic records or on large
eight-track tapes. CDs and DVDs were yet to

The first McDonald’s “drive-thru’’ with its
golden arches was opened. Disposable razors appeared in stores for the first time. Middle schools
were gaining in popularity, but many kids still attended junior highs—seventh, eighth and ninth
grades. Across the country, high school began
with the tenth grade.

The popular TV shows were
All in the Family, Good Times, Maude
The Waltons.
What had previously been the most popular show,
The Brady Bunch,
went off the air in August
1974. October of ’75 was the excitingly innovative premiere of
Saturday Night Live.
Rock star
Bruce Springsteen was just starting out. Musical
celebrities of those years were Elton John, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Eric Clapton. The pop
song “I Honestly Love You,’’ sung by Olivia
Newton-John, was named 1974’s Record of the
Year. The United States was changing, and social
issues were being more openly discussed and were
being dealt with in society and in the courts.

In medicine, cancer research was at the forefront, which it still is today. Although cancer was
a major health concern, breast cancer was not discussed as openly in society. Most of today’s network of support groups didn’t exist yet. There
were no Breast Cancer Awareness Week, no pink
ribbons to symbolize the ongoing battle, no
walkathons or general fund-raising e forts to
eradicate the disease. Breast-saving surgeries were
just beginning to be seen as a viable alternative
to the more invasive and body-scarring radical

The treatment of breast cancer has changed
dramatically in the years since 1974–1975. What
has not changed is the emotional complexity of
dealing with losing someone you love. Happily,
today many women can “beat’’ breast cancer because of early detection and new treatments. The
story you will read is about the love of a family—
about how universal love is never set at a certain
time: it is forever.

I hope the information in this note helps you
better understand the time and the world in which
this story is set. When you’ve finished the last
page of this novel, I have added an endnote—I will
tell you why I wrote this.




When I was fourteen years old, four things happened that shaped the course of my life. If you’ve ever felt that things were under control, in the blink of an eye, the world can change. Here’s what happened to change my world:

American troops were pulled out of Saigon in South Vietnam, half a world away from the United States.

My sister, Adel, met Barry Sorenson, a soldier and a Yankee from New York City.

Jason Polwalski, a hunky seventeen-year-old, live-in-the-flesh juvenile deliquent from Chicago, came to live with his sister, our Baptist pastor’s wife, in our town—Conners, Georgia.

And my mother, Joy Leigh Donaldson Quinlin, was diagnosed with a malignancy called breast cancer that ate her up cell by cell while we all stood around wringing our hands and praying prayers for healing that fell on God’s deaf ears and we visited doctors and hospitals, always hoping.

All I knew in those days was that the protective walls of my childhood were crumbling. At fourteen you can’t be expected to have the strength or the wisdom to shore them up.

I was born Darcy Rebecca Quinlin and raised in Conners, population 2,900. The town had one school that shepherded kids from the first through the twelfth grade, four Baptist churches—three for the whites and one for the blacks—plus a Roman Catholic chapel, and a main street defined on either end by traffic lights. As the locals liked to say, “If you blink, you’ll miss it.” Conners was a place I loved, with a history that stretched all the way back to the early 1800s, when the Creek Indians ceded portions of north Georgia to the United States and settlers built log cabins in the pine forest.

Our family home was built in 1860, right before the start of the Civil War, or as the elderly ladies in Mama’s garden club called it, the War of Northern Aggression. My great-grandmother Rebecca, whom I was named after, became a local legend when, like the fictional Scarlett O’Hara, she hid the family silver and shot herself a Yankee as Sherman was burning his way through Georgia. That happened in late 1864. The war ended seven months later.

We had farmland before the war, but most of it was sold off afterward to keep life and limb together. The house and a generous yard are all that remain of the original homestead. The house is large and rambling. My mother was born in an upstairs bedroom. Papa moved in directly after their wedding and Adel and I both were brought home from the hospital as infants to live there. My grandmother lived with us until she died, when I was still a child.

I was raised Southern, which is to say, with the idea that a belief in God is the basis for existence. That serving one’s country is noble and a just and worthy cause. And that loyalty to one’s family is the foundation of civilized life. These tenets are, as Mama used to say, “the Southern gospel.”

When I think back to that time, I see it as through a kaleidoscope of colors, some violent like flash fires, some soft and watercolored. Yet it isn’t right to begin a history lesson in the middle of an event; instead it should be seen from a starting place of safety and security. And so this is how I first remember my history, not from scenes of chaos, upheaval and unbearable heartache, but from my place of contentment, from before my endings began. So I will go back to 1974. I had just started ninth grade with my best friend, Becky Sue Johnson.

BOOK: Garden of Angels
12.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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