Yet there are consequences that the couple must face. Will Chaz love and protect his wife? Will Naomi learn to trust Chaz?
Find out in the first novel of Paula Rose Michelson’s four-book saga, The Naomi Chronicles.
This is far more than just the romantic story of two star-crossed newlyweds. Set in 1967 New York, there is a backdrop of religious and political intensity that accompanies the lives of Naomi, Chaz, and their friends. Some of what is going on in the world flavors their relationships, to the point of rending or mending the ties of friendship.
Chaz and Naomi have just revealed their religious affiliation to the world in which they live, and now find it a challenge to go about their daily lives. While their love and understanding grow for each other, secrets long-held by others threaten their relationships with people who had been their friends for years. It is their faith, and their ties to new allies, that help to carve out the life they will learn to live in the years to come.
This story picks up where “Casa de Naomi: The House of Blessings” left off. By itself, “Beginning Anew” is a wonderful story. However, I would recommend reading the former book first, to catch the nuances in this offering.
It was an eye-opener for me, to read of the hardships and tribulations that Messianic Jews have had to go through. An embracing of both Jewish rites and rituals, and the beliefs of Christianity, one would think that believers would be accepted by both. But in the 1960s, with the tensions of both the Vietnam War and the Six Day War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six-Day_War) swirling like noxious gas through their barrio, such a belief system is shunned by both Jews and Christians alike. I found it fascinating how Ms. Michelson was able to merge the fictional with the non-fictional, and came up with such a masterpiece of both romance and non-fiction.
Naomi heard the first bird-song of the day. “Chaz,” she murmured before she was fully awake. Opening her eyes, she realized she had dreamed of him and smiled. About to close her eyes and pick up where her fantasy ended, she recognized the Yellow Warbler’s song and was happy her French doors were open so she could hear it more clearly. Hoping to catch a glimpse of the bird, she jumped out of bed and hurried towards the patio. Here I am thinking about one bird when I should be getting…Her tirade might have continued had she not stopped short when she crossed the threshold, for an arbor that had not been there before was now the focal point of the upper patio. Her gaze swept the yard, and she noticed many changes. Standing on tiptoe, she looked at the lower patio where the old grandmother’s house was and discovered that nothing was as she had left it. The once dilapidated bungalow, where Lola had stayed until the semesters who needed help could take her off their hands, was now a two-floor structure. What an amazing turn of events, Naomi thought as she allowed this blessing to push her memory of the girl coming on to Chaz away as far as the east is from the west.
Entering the garden for a better look, she found herself under the arbor that was quickly becoming a sanctuary for birds. Startled by changes she had not ordered or paid for, she smiled. She knew Chaz would not have done this before his love had claimed her a second time. She paused to drink in the coolness of the dappled shade, and knew, this is why the breeze was so sweet. She turned away from the lovely seclusion of the arbor and saw a lilac bush where none had been before. Her smile broadened when she heard the cooing of a dove. As she hurried down the path eager to see the changes to the old house, she told herself, Chaz could not have done this or he would have told me, since we agreed to keep no secrets. I wonder who spent the time to plan and execute this, and where did the money come from? She reached the terraced steps flanked by plantings and took them two at a time, unable to breathe until she could see everything that had been done to the place she had always wished was her home. When she reached the new door to the old house, she mounted the wide firm stairs where the old rickety ones had been, and her smile became a grin.
Seeing a note with her name on it, she pulled it free from the tape and read,
Now that you and Chaz are married again, it is time for you to have a place of your own. You told me that you would like to live here. I asked Bobby to design and build this for the two of you. Living here will mean there will be no more problems like the one you had when Lola tried to come between you, Chaz, and all who of us who love you by revealing to everyone that you were a hidden Jewess when they had assumed you were like them. You need a place to be alone together where there are no prying eyes. Why not turn the large house over to your work and live here?
All Our Love,
Bobby and Justine
Humming a few bars of ‘Until the Twelfth of Never’, which was the song Chaz had gifted her to show her his love when they first married; she glanced at the upper patio where he had taught her to dance. What a happy memory. Feeling above the door jam, she found the new key in the same place she had kept the old one. She unlocked the door and looked in. Her eyes danced while her grin broadened, for the massive stone fireplace, which took up the entire wall facing the garden, was as inviting as before but the rest of structure had changed.
Upon entering, she discovered that where a small bedroom, a serviceable but uninviting bathroom, and a laundry area had been, there was now a large expansive room large enough to accommodate seating for twelve. A small well-appointed bathroom was on the left and an open kitchen in the back. The large Spanish tiles in colors reminiscent of the warm sun of her homeland that covered the fireplace were now on the floor as well. The walls painted in corresponding hues caused her to hug herself. The casa reminded Naomi of her heritage as a daughter of Spain, the land of the great Jewish Rabbi, physician, and scholar, Moses Maimonides, where the Golden Age of Judaism flourished before the crown issued The Decree of Alhambra, and the horror of the Inquisition became a fearful reality.
Taking the stairs to the second floor addition, Naomi found herself in a loft. It featured a large bedroom at one end and a bathroom at the other with a walk in closet. At the back of the closet, she found a washer and dryer, and around the corner, out of sight, a small office. Naomi ran her hands over the polished oak desk, picked up a note from Bobby, smiled at the couple’s thoughtfulness and read:
At Justine’s insistence, I added this office, so you would not need to go to your office in the big house when something needs your attention. Take my advice and do yourself and Chaz a favor, if you must use the desk, use it for folding laundry.
That note sounds just like Justine’s husband, Naomi thought as she hurried downstairs. Ready to leave, she turned around slowly, intent on viewing the large living room from every angle. For so many years, I envisioned being out here where I could have some time to myself. I never thought to ask anyone to make this dream a reality. Now that it has happened, I am very grateful.
Walking back to Vida’s house, she thought, the big house has always been Casa de Vida to me. In my heart, it has always belonged to my American Madre. But this, that Bobby built, this is mine! If I tell Chaz how I feel, I know he will agree to call it Casa de Naomi. I wonder if Chaz will understand me when I tell him that Casa de Naomi when translated from Spanish and Hebrew implies House of Blessing because casa means house and the name Naomi taken from the book of Ruth implies a blessing.
With tears of joy running down her face, she retraced her steps, intent on explaining to her husband that finally she had a place for them, a place made from a wish unspoken but answered. The same wish that was reflected in her family’s real last name—Baruch—the Hebrew word for blessed. A word no Jew in Spain had uttered for centuries for fear that others would realize they were not Catholic.
Instead of ruminating on things that were not, Naomi chose to remember her papá naming her Naomi because at the end of the Book of Ruth, Naomi received a double portion of joy. She could almost hear him say as he had many times, “Remember, mi hija, my sweet daughter, today we hide in plain sight. However, a day will come, maybe even in your lifetime, when you can tell those who know you who you really are. I pray it will be so.”
“Padre,” Naomi said to her father, who was far away from her but with her in spirit, “today, what you prayed for is coming true!” for she wanted to share this part of herself with her husband.
Eyes aglow with the promise of things to come, Naomi glanced up and saw Chaz emerge from the shadow of the arbor. “Chaz,” she called while pointing to the lower level of the garden, “come see what has happened to the grandmother’s house.”
Smiling at his bride, Chaz asked, “Why did you go down there? There is nothing but bad memories in that place.”
“Not so.” Hurrying to him, she grabbed his hand and pulled him down the path as she tried to explain the transformation.
“All right.” Chaz entwined his fingers in hers, and together, as one, they reached the lower patio. “I did not give instructions for this work to be done. Naomi, who did this?”
“Bobby.” She handed him the note, but before he could glance at it, she pulled him inside. “It seems I told Justine that I wanted to live here because it reminded me of Spain. While we were gone, she asked Bobby to fix it up for us, so we could have a place where we could be alone.”
Chaz glanced at the note then back at his wife. He smiled in an attempt to hide his feelings as he pulled Naomi to him and held her tight. “I am glad you got your heart’s desire. I wish I had been the one to give it to you. But you never told me that you wanted to live out here.”
Tipping her head back to look at him with a mixture of longing and joy, she smiled. “Chaz, mon bien-aimé…my beloved, this was a fantasy of mine. I never thought that Justine would remember such things. What does it matter? You wanted a place you could call Casa de Naomi. I needed a place where I felt that title fit, and God has given us this. The other house—the one I shared with my American Madre—has always been Casa de Vida to me. Here…this feels like home. Please bring me the sign you had made for me and put hers above the front door.”
His feeling of frustration now replaced with joy, Chaz exclaimed, “I will!” He smiled to himself as he headed back to the main house, aware that God had answered one of his unspoken prayers, for he was certain it would never work out, them being married and living together in one house with the teenage girls his wife rescued from deportation.
Upon reaching the arbor, Chaz turned and smiled at his bride. As if meeting her request with action was itself an act of love, he exclaimed, “I will call Nicco’s uncle and have him bring some men to help me move the signs!” Aware that God had done what he could not, Chaz silently rejoiced thank you, HaShem, Messiah, for giving us a place where we can be together without the interruptions of our work. Teach me to be grateful for this unexpected place that I did not provide. A broad smile on his face, he looked back longingly at his wife. “However, this does not change our Sunday plans. We will still spend our first night together this Sunday as a married couple in the grand suite as you intended…sí.”
A few moments later, Chaz joined his bride under the arbor with two glasses of iced tea. “Uncle Luis is on his way over.”
Naomi took the glass he offered her. “Did you contact him about the misspelled sign? Is that why he is coming?”
“I forgot to mention that. I called Nicco’s Uncle Ricky. Since he is gone for the week, Tío Luis is staying at the house to take care of the pets and water the plants. When I told him we wanted to move the sign, he got excited and said he would be right over.”
“Oh, his house is only a few blocks away. We must hurry because he will be here shortly!” Naomi hurried to her bedroom. “We better get dressed.”
Chaz’s gaze followed his wife. He noticed the transformation her room had undergone and whistled his approval. The once stark white walls now had beautiful swirls of soft hues through which the artist had interwoven both sentences and drawings in a pleasing arrangement. “What is all of this about?”
Aware that had Bobby painted the lyrics to Lady of Spain on her wall because Chaz had asked him to; she hurried over and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thank you for finding a wonderful way to let me know that you still loved and wanted me.”
“I know what I did. I mean what I asked Bobby to do. But, Naomi what else is written on your wall?”
“Not now, Chaz! We need to get ready! We do not want to receive Tío Luis in our night clothes.” Naomi hurried into her room.
“You are right, but later you will tell me what happened to your white-washed room.”
“Yes mi marido…my husband, of course.” She closed the drapes. Thinking of Chaz’s request, Naomi wondered, how can I tell you what these messages meant to me? I came back to the casa expecting to hear ridicule and hateful remarks about my faith and discovered this instead.
While hurrying to her wardrobe, she thought, only when I gave up my rights and did as God asked of me, only now am I able to own the life mi mamá tried to prepare me for…This is the life Madre Vida told me I would have once I bloomed! Was I preparing for the promise of this life while doing as my adopted mother taught? Is that why I am now able to own what might have passed me by? As if in answer to her unvoiced thoughts, her heart whispered, when you are ready, you will bloom…echoing her American Madre’s words to her the first day she came to live in her house.
Thinking that today was the perfect day to for her to wear her ‘happy outfit’, she remembered calling the skirt and blouse ‘happy’ because it looked like something she would have worn in Spain, but with an American twist. A smile on her lips, she found it quickly, threw it on, and twirled while looking in the full-length mirror. Layers of multicolored fabric fanned out around her, offsetting the simplicity of her buttercup yellow peasant blouse and she smiled. Had she known the combination illuminated her olive complexion to perfection, Naomi might have worn something else, for her mamá had taught her to blend in. Before she could look at the choice with Chaz in mind, she glanced down, saw a white envelope, and picked it up. Knowing that it was from her husband, she quickly opened and read the missive, enjoying the tender emotions each word revealed, for her heart echoed them as well. Then, eyes moist with tender tears, she looked at the clock and quickly put the letter in its envelope. Years of loneliness seemed to flee as she placed it in the box in her wardrobe alongside her uncle’s prized missive, which she had taken from her parents’ home before she left them in the dark of night to begin the journey she was on.
“Naomi,” Chaz called as he entered the kitchen, “Estás listo?”
“Uno momento!” Pulling her hair into a ponytail at the nape of her neck, she slipped on her high-heeled huaraches and exited her bedroom humming a happy tune.
Upon entering the kitchen, she realized how different this morning was from their first morning, a morning of anger and confrontation. It is as it should be between a husband and wife! So happy was she that her eyes danced as she pulled out the cutting board.
“What are you doing?”
“Fixing breakfast for the three of us since it is very early, and Tío Luis has probably not eaten.”
“I have heard it said that most old people get up very early. Uncle Luis has probably eaten already.”
“Perhaps, but we cannot eat in front of him and, mi amado, I am hungry.
“How is it possible that you can call me beloved while I starve, yet insist I wait until Nicco’s tío abuelo is here to eat with us, and I still find myself smiling at you?”
Naomi blushed. “You said we are to begin on Madre Vida’s room. We need to eat, speak with Uncle Luis, and set the room up for Sunday evening. Today, we can shop for the things we want and then pack up Madre Vida’s things.”
Chaz kissed her. “Whatever makes you happy, my sweet.”
Naomi’s color heightened. “Chaz, behave!”
“Perhaps the things we buy can be used in the casita out back or in some of the other rooms in this house if the need arises.”
“Whatever we get for that room will remain there. We will get things with a Spanish feel for our little casita. As for this house, we will see to it once we know how the rooms will be used.”
“Oh Chaz, it is as if you are somehow able to read my mind.”
“Sometimes I am able to do that.” He smiled and bent down to kiss her lips. The doorbell rang. Chaz looked at Naomi longingly, and hurried away, as he said, “I will get it.”
“Good…only please remember where we left off.”
“As if I could ever forget.”
Naomi placed the sliced fruit, yogurt, nuts, and honey on a tray. She carried it to the table under the arbor. Returning to the kitchen, she filled a pitcher with iced tea and brought it out to the patio along with a glass for Uncle Luis. She smiled at Chaz and their guest as she rushed back into the kitchen, placed some bread in a basket, and brought it outside. “We are having breakfast, Uncle Luis. You must join us.”
“All right,” the old man agreed, his voice soft with years yet mellifluous to the ear. “I don’t mind if I do. It gets lonely eating by myself.” Luis’s gaze lingered on the fountain for a moment then wandered to the flowerbeds and the casita below. He smiled. “Though some things are as I left them, much has changed since I was last here.”
“Uncle Luis, please sit here,” Naomi motioned to the chair that would give him the best view of the garden.
“Were you here many times?” Chaz asked as they sat down.
“More than a few…Yes many more than a few times, but that was a long time ago.”
“What was it that kept you coming back?”
“It was my concern for and admiration of Vieda.”
Naomi filled the old man’s glass. “I understand that. After all, she had a respected position in the community.”
“I am not talking about the woman she became. I am speaking of the girl, I mean teenager she was, who came to live here with Tía Esperanza…She continued to draw me here.”
“I would be interested—”
“This looks good!” Chaz took Naomi’s hands in his. Together, they bowed their heads and prayed.
“Now, Uncle Luis, Naomi and I plan to move to the casita,” Chaz said once they had finished their meal. “This house is to be for the girls my wife will continue to work with. Since she will not live here, Naomi wants us to put the Casa de Vida sign above the front door as sort of a tribute to her. However, she tells me that the name is misspelled. Would you make a new sign for us with the correct spelling?”
“Chaz, Naomi,” Uncle Luis said while patting his full belly, “if there is one thing I know, it is the correct spelling of Vieda’s name. I remember it as if it was yesterday…the moment she discovered she was not who she thought she was.”
Naomi furrowed her brow. “What do you mean…not who she thought she was?”
“That is a long, sad, hard story. Perhaps you should wait until the two of you are more settled before you delve into this thing.”
“No!” Naomi leaned towards the old man. “I need to know at least some of what you are talking about. I want her name on the house, but now I do not know what name to use!”
“Believe me,” Chaz said as he began to clear the table, “she will not rest until you tell her what you know.”
“Is that the way you are?” Uncle Luis asked as he looked at the girl Vieda had loved.
“I am afraid so.”
The old man smiled. “You are more like her than you realize.”
“Let me see.” The old man leaned back in his chair. He focused his mind on his memories of the teenager Vieda had been. “Ah…the only way I know how to tell it is to simply tell you the things as they happened. If my memory serves me…Esperanza had a dry goods store where the market now stands. My best recollection is that the year would be…nineteen seventeen. Yes, that seems right. The community built the store for her several years before Vieda and her papá came here. Esperanza was our first Tía, and she needed to have an income to help her with the work she did at immigration because once a girl came to live here, there were additional expenses.” The old man looked at Naomi. “Forgive me for telling you what is of no importance to you.”
“What goes on at immigration and here is very important to me.”
“Yes.” Uncle Luis looked at her and smiled knowingly as if reliving a fond memory. “I remember the first time I saw her. She was maybe thirteen or fourteen years old. She and her papá had come from England to this country. I am not sure how they got through immigration, but the old man wanted to set up his bakery here in Spanish Harlem. While looking for a place, he saw Esperanza’s dry goods store. He noticed that everyone stopped in, even if they were not going to buy anything. We all did that because we knew she would never tell us if she needed anything, so we had to check on her. Well…seeing there was room and that many people went in and out, he asked if he could rent the back from her. Tía Esperanza was surprised that a European Jew who did not speak Spanish wanted to put his business in our community. When she asked, he explained, ‘We have relatives in Spain. None of them speaks English. I want my daughter to learn to speak Spanish in case any of them visit us. Putting my bakery in your store will allow her to hear the language spoken. I understand this is the best way to learn a new language.’ Esperanza let him rent the back of her store. Vieda’s papá was a wonderful baker. Everyone wanted to buy his cookies, cakes, and breads. The bakery got so busy; he could not manage by himself. So when Vieda was not at school, she worked behind the counter. Since her looks were strikingly Spanish, all who saw her spoke to her in Spanish, and she answered them as if our language were her own. When asked if she was from Spain, she would say she was from England, and that is how the trouble began.”
“Vieda’s trouble was her inability to reconcile who she was with who she had been,” the old man said as he stood to leave. “That is all I can tell you today. My mind grows weary of remembering and needs to rest.”
“But…what about the sign?”
“I will ask Vieda about that and make another one for you if she directs.” The old man waved goodbye and headed to the side yard.
“Tío Luis, what do you mean?”
“You will see,” Uncle Luis called back. Opening the gate, he let himself out. They heard the gate shut and him singing, “Only make believe la la la …” as he walked away.
“What do you make of that?” Chaz asked.
“I have no idea. The song, asking Vida…I hoped he could tell me some things about Madre Vida. Though it was easy to understand what he said, his words sounded like gibberish.”
“I suppose. Yet if his faculties are befuddled, how can we account for the lovely, detailed workmanship on the signs he made for our casa and the fact that he remembers this house, knows how to get here, and where the side gate is?”
“Maybe some memories last longer than others.”
“That must be the case with the old man. His carving is the best I have ever seen. Perhaps the mind forgets but the hands remember.”
“Perhaps,” Naomi agreed, withholding her thoughts until she could speak with the old man again.
Paula Rose Michelson is not only an author but also a mother of two married daughters, and the grandmother of seven. She authored the Casa de Naomi Series.
Today, February 1, 2014 The Naomi Chronicles, Book One, Beginning Anew will release on Amazon.
In 1988, she founded LAMB Ministries which teaches women recovering from trauma and abuse.
While awaiting the copyright for the first LAMB recovery book titled, “Why Did We Become Angry?”
She wrote a series of politically incorrect articles that will be published under the title, “The Purple Pitch Seduction of America.” These will release in 2014.
For this release blast Paula has decided to do a giveaway.