By Gloria MacKay
I still hope: for sunny days; for my other pearl earring to be in the drawer; for my doctor to say see you next year; for my hair to perk up. I know how to hope, but never with the abandon I would have allowed myself if I had not grown up with that woman looking down on my head.
Hope hung in the living room over the couch for so many years she made her mark on the wall, framed with burnished wood finished to look like metal she was an eerie sight: a woman draped in sepia, olive drab and slate gray, head in her hands and legs sprawled over a big, equally sepia ball. I would glance up every time I walked into the room.
I watched when my mother lifted Hope off the hook and set her on the floor, leaving a clean rectangle on the wall as exposed as a patch of skin after you rip off the band aid. I crouched on the carpet as she turned the picture over and pointed to a sticker embossed with fancy gold letters. Hope On Top of the World she read as she turned to me. “This is what Hope looks like.”
I jumped up and ran to my room, my mother’s voice following me. “Don’t be silly, She’s not real. She’s just a picture.”
I was the age when Santa Claus lived within me in the comfortable limbo between real and make believe but I could not be this accommodating with Hope even when she lay face down on the carpet with her sticker showing. Credentials or not, I kept one foot in my room and peeked out the door until I saw her back on the wall where she belonged.
My second encounter with hope happened on one of my early birthdays when I was called upon to blow out my birthday candles all by myself with no help. I felt a circle of tense faces coming down on me as I took a big breath and let go.
I don’t remember how many candles were on the cake but I blew them all out and everyone clapped. “Don’t tell what you wished for or it won’t come true,” someone hollered. Right then all my hope went up with the smoke. I had been so eager to do a good job I had forgotten to wish.
I still don’t like people staring at me. I don’t like it when I sit in the corner of my doctor’s office, for instance, engrossed in a magazine and the nurse blurts out my name so loudly I jump.
All eyes are looking at me as I gather my belongings, straighten the magazines, stand up, sweater dragging, purse unzipped, and head for the open door. I get so rattled that I forget to hope for the best.
Wishing on a star was my next experience with hope. My mother and I would chant “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might get the wish I wish tonight.”
She reminded me, every time, to look sharply because it had to be made on the very first star. I must have wished as many times as stars have twinkles but I can’t remember for sure if any of my wishes came true.
In time I replaced this childhood chant with a more sophisticated song. It begins “When you wish upon a star” and ends, “your dreams come true.” In between it gives us permission to wish on all stars, any stars, any time, any place.
I don't have to strain my eyes in the twilight searching for the very first flicker - any old star will do. And I don’t have to blow hard and not tell to make my birthday wishes come true. And even if I forget to whisper the wish to myself, it is in my head and that just might be enough.
These days when I find one of those touristy little wells sitting in a patch of grass collecting money and wishes I am always surprised at the carpet of coins at the bottom.
If no one is watching I might drop in a coin and make a wish of my own, as though I were Hope on top of the world and the face in the ripples is someone I’ve never met.
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