by R Ross Johnston
Sandro met Hannah O’Dell at Lake Chautauqua during one of the summer programs there that consisted of presentations by several authors and explorers. He soon came to love the name Hannah and only later did he acquire the habit of calling her O’Dell.
Sandro was attracted by Hannah from the first time he saw her standing on the front porch of Lakeside Lodge where she was talking with several older women. Not one to be satisfied with mediocrity, he was drawn to her confident persona, as well as to her apparent youth, as if he were a hungry man who had never experienced exquisite French culinary delights.
“A very old soul embodied within a lovely, warm and vibrant famine form.” Sandro has come to know this but could never relate to any person how he achieved this awareness. He just knows. He dedicates many of his artistic creations to Hannah. She is the love of his life and his consent inspiration.
What Hannah Means to Sandro
The temptation to tell the whole truth has never been greater than it is with Hannah. His goal has always been to find a mate that enjoys being with him and that wants only to share life with him.
She brings to him a perfect realization of his ideal mate. Even though he is 12 years older than she, they both feel that they have the basis for a perfect relationship between two people.
Their first years together were a truly blessed experience. They loved and shared in a way that that seemed uniquely theirs. The only cause of turmoil was his great temptation to share with her all about his true nature and his frustration over having to hide that part of himself.
They would walk through parks and down busy streets as if they were alone. Sandro would look over to her to appreciate the sharp focus in her bright green eyes. He gathered so much strength and purpose from her eyes, her smile and her soft manner. He was the perfect audience for her wit as well as for her charm. Her confident sense of herself was clearly portrayed upon her face as she would look into his eyes. She has become familiar with the occasional and unpredictable odd vision that would appear as if out of a mist. She believes that she knows what she sees in Sandor eyes at those times but she cannot describe what she sees to him.
He smiles to her and he asks, “It seemed that you just caught a nasty view through my eyes. What could be the matter?”
“I really don’t understand, Sandro. It must be like those shapes I can see in the clouds. I can tell you what I see and by the time I have they have disappeared to be replaced by other shapes.”
It is has been Sandro’s understanding that it is not a property of souls to have a memory. Souls are what they are and don’t seek any connection with time or place. Deep within his soul he feels a sense of dissonance between his experiences and these long held beliefs. “Maybe my soul, my very being, represents the development of some type of variation. I am visited by visions and memories that my conscious mind knows quite well have not happened within my natural lifetime. I even see events that seem to be happening in the future.” These newly experienced memories have arrived and they are visiting more frequently as weeks go by. These apparitions are often wonderful and they can be horrific.
Not seeming like any history of events with dates or even names, they arise like an aura that becomes more clear in some moments. Immense rhythms of the universe ebb and flow with an ocean of knowledge that extends far beyond human ontology and just splashes randomly into Sandro’s awareness.
He doesn’t feel that he is unique. He suspects that there are others in this world that are having the visions and the thoughts just like him. He has not heard of them in any factual way and has never had contact with any person that gave him the least hint that they were living anything but what is considered to be the usual human experience. There must be some out there. The whole experience gives Sandro the impression that he may have lived other lives. It is logical to conclude that a person experiencing such phenomena would be reluctant to tell others. How would you approach someone about this subject? “I hope you don’t question my sanity but I can see events in other places and even in other times. And if you think that’s fantastic, recently I’ve acquired the belief that I’ve lived other lives.”
Those who do not experience what he has experienced, and that is most people, will not allocate one ounce of credibility to his story. Perhaps it should be viewed not so much as his story but as his cry for help and for understanding. “They’ll immediately pigeon hole me as suffering from a chronic mental condition or possibly a transient psychosis. They may think I’m under the influence of some narcotic.”
Having held such a long term fear that others might discover his secret make Sandro extra cautious and thoughtful around Hannah. It also lends additional weight to his desire to share everything with her. “I believe she will believe in me. Yet, I must consider what I could lose if she cannot accept what I would tell her.” Sandro has one more invented theory that brings him solace. “Perhaps all other people experience life just as I do and they are much better at keeping this a secret than I can ever imagine.”
Great fires to all sides, near and as far as can be seen. People speaking in tongues. It’s a language he does not understand. Perhaps it is German. Fire in the sky above. He has no reference. All that he knew is no more. His side is full with pain. His knees crack deeply with each step he attempts as he strives to flee to safety.
Crosses in the sky. They roar like a freight train, so high above. He is there and he is here wondering how all that is happening to him could be possible. It is not! He has been banished to Hell. His lungs struggle to breathe through thick, hot and coal black smoke.
Trains above dropping fire onto this entire city and all of the people who were living there and he hears the high pitched whistle that is so loud and unrelenting. “Stop! Please just stop.”
He hurts as a person hurts when trying to reconcile how such unimaginable pain and torment could exist in this world. Somehow, he knows that other people are responsible for those flying crosses. These people are not so different from himself.
He hurts in his soul as he strains to imagine how people could intentionally hurt other people in the way that he is witnessing. The darkness, the train whistle is shrill and white hot. Stop!
His eyes open to sunlight streaming across their bedroom.
A Pleasant Morning
The impression of an early morning rain can still be felt in the freshened air as Hannah and Sandro walk side by side past the stately mansions with tiny yards set back from the busy street only by the width of the walkways. Their high iron fences and ornate gates stand tall as they frame the view down the avenue in either direction.
A fire wagon is out for a morning ride around the neighborhood. The two great stallions step high with a lively gait that is throwing great cascades of mud and water onto the sidewalk. People farther up the street are backing far against the iron bars in attempts to avoid a muddy shower when the horses walk over the many places where the street has been dug and cobblestones are missing. As the wagon approaches their position they nearly jump toward one of the iron gates as the dull thuds and squishing sounds of the horses pass behind them. A light splattering is all that they suffer and they feel fortunate for being spared a mud shower.
Some years the spring season blows only cold and colder like February revisited. Yet this year early April brings a pleasant climate to Manhattan. So far, it has been a rather pleasant month for weather and Sandro has reason to feel grateful for his life just as it is. The Manhattan skyline rises tall around him and the newer building are spectacular at twenty or more stories tall.
His mind most always shifts to the anticipation of his daily work about the time they round the corner of 8th Avenue and W. 29th Street. The time is 650 AM and Hannah and Sandro part company here. She has recently taken work at the candy factory on 9th Avenue. He will now walk up toward midtown several more blocks to arrive at his place of work. When he arrives at his office it will be 90 minutes until his scheduled start of work. The additional time doesn’t matter to him because he wants to accompany Hannah to her work and also because it usually allows him to leave at 430, time enough to meet her at the factory gate at the end of her workday. There is also the truth that he has more to do at his office than at home.
Sandro’s attitude is that Hannah’s employment is unnecessary. Hannah wants to contribute. The recent economic depression has affected almost everyone. In any case, Hannah has been restless since the recent marriage of their only child, Ruth. Their house is home to only the two of them for the first time in 18 years. They are passing into the “community” stage of life as no child is there to warm their days or to be sent off to school.
The Candy Factory
At 440 PM Sandro arrives outside the candy factory gate to wait for Hannah to meet him at 5 o’clock. He leans against one wall and smokes his pipe while watching the other workers, mostly women, in their activities at the gate. Some are arriving for their 10 hour shift and others are leaving. A variety of accents and languages can be heard as they talk to each other or to the person they are meeting or parting from outside the gate. “Please don’t lean on the walls around here. This place is filthy.” Hannah walks up to Sandro with a wide smile and a look that says his behavior has been bad.
With the summer season comes more opportunities to socialize and to participate in activities out of the city. A favorite summertime event for some affluent New Yorkers is to travel the 400 miles to Chautauqua Lake by rail. The lake offers water sports and a lovely setting for relaxing under a shade tree with a lake view. For many the biggest attractions are the various educational seminars and other presentations by world travelers, authors and other noted personalities of the day.
“What so ever you do against another you do against me. I stand not as a member of a dumb herd waiting for the predator to finish his work and leave the remainder to live another day. Rather, I know that I am no better or less blessed than any other person.
My fate is set by the degree to which fortune does afford to me my safety and my health at any given time. I must protect others as I would myself and those that are most precious to me. I can only hope that others will learn the value and the wisdom of doing the same for me. “
— Sandro speaks at a Lake Chautauqua seminar – August, 1891
At this stage in their lives Sandro and Hannah are fortunate to have most of their evenings and weekends to spend together at home. When they have the choice they would rather be at home together. Hannah likes to discuss the future often as it is her nature to plan. She likes to know that things have been made ready for when they are needed.
She also enjoys speaking of a future that puts herself and Sandro together at their summer cottage on Oyster Bay. Hannah and Sandro imagine living again as the children they were when they first met. A time when Sandro was 30 and Hannah was 18 and the world was theirs to conquer.
“I don’t know, it must have been a reflection from the gaslight, I saw a flame, I think”
“But it was …”
Sandro replies softly but curtly. “Well, the gas light is out now so it may have been a reflection from the street.”
Hannah avoids Sandro’s gaze and asks him something about “… do you know what is to come?”
Sandro pretends to have fallen asleep and shortly he is truly sleeping.
Sandro awakens to the sounds of Hannah, downstairs in the kitchen, heating bath water.
He turns to find that he is alone in the warm bed. Hannah has also put on the kettle for their morning tea. The pleasantly shrill note of “tea coming up” from the kettle tells him that Hannah has been working at their breakfast of tea and toast for about fifteen minutes. Judging by the mix of aromas with odors, she is attending to a bit of laundry as well. She continues her long established schedule.
Sandro’s sense of satisfaction is complete as he leans back into the warm sheets and begins to pull the heavy quilts back over himself. But no, he realizes that it’s Saturday which is a half day of work for him. He feels rather ambitious today and is looking forward to the walk to work.
He enters the bath to complete his preparations to go out. Sandro speaks down the stair well to Hannah, “O’Dell, I require the bath. Yes, my dearest”, is Hannah’s response. “Will you assist please?” Sandro informs her that he will be, “Just one moment.”
They are playing their favorite game which is a one act play that is performed solely for the entertainment and satisfaction of the actors. They engage in this routine on days when they are feeling most relaxed and are enjoying the fact that they have each other as friends as well as for spouses. There is no real plot and the outcome is different for each enactment. Their play is an unscripted impromptu expression of impulsive whimsy that usually involves Sandro’s best rendition of a somber male-dominant attitude and Hannah’s equally fictitious submission to Sandro’s every demand.
For this morning the play lasts for only ten minutes and following their brief self-entertainment there is no pretending as Hannah attends to Sandro with loving attention while she assists him to complete his preparations to go out in public.
Hannah must also attend to herself and as she chooses her clothes for the day. She slides the wooden hangers apart to reveal the unworn ‘afternoon dress’ that she had bought last year for her special presentation at Lake Chautauqua that was never to be as her father died the Sunday before they were to leave for the seminar.
As she notices that dress she’s taken back a year in her thoughts to a very different time. Her gaze is frozen on an unseen distance as she looks upon this dress and recalls her joyful anticipation the events that were planned to occur the very next week. It was a rare honor for her to be invited to be one the main presenters for the week. The Roosevelt’s and the Tafts were expected to be there as well as a large number of reporters from New York and even a few from England. The dress has never been seen by Sandro. It is made with a pearl-gray patterned satin with a black and white feather motif. Chantilly lace and chiffon trim set the dress apart from some of the plainer designs of current fashion. Multistrand jet swag is applied on back of the bodice to complete the perfect look for Hannah. “I’ll have to put this dress to use in spite of the memories. I may just donate it.”
“The founding Americans were fond of the Chinoiserie style which was familiar to many of them from their European homelands. In fact, travelers during the medieval period were known to have spread this Chinese-influenced style throughout most regions from the Mediterranean to the North Sea. By 1690 the ceramic designs of Dutch artisans clearly reflected Chinoiserie influence as expressed upon elegant blue-and-white porcelains.
In the colonies, well before 1760, it was common to find American homes of every economic class that contained furniture, cloth and other interior elements that were decorated with wild birds, landscapes, flowered motifs and even human figures showing the Chinese influence.
As a result of some brief research I have determined that this lodge was constructed during 1859. Even so, the very wallpaper of the Burch Room on the second floor, where we met yesterday for our review of the works of Mr. Oscar Wilde, is nearly dominated by its Chinoiserie designs. I have enjoyed a recent focus of my interests upon the mixture of Chinoiserie with Rococo that first developed in France.”
— Hannah speaks at a Lake Chautauqua seminar – June, 1893
“The thoughtful person will always view progress with great skepticism. Those of us who believe that we have chosen and developed our values with due consideration for sincerity and personal growth will mourn, even confront, the waves of progress that threaten to engulf our intellectual shores and which are accepted with such unquestioning ease by the masses. It is my contention that our values, especially those regarding individualism and intellectual freedom, now stand as mere islands that are in danger of being overwhelmed by a sea of untested ideas targeted toward increased convenience, instant communication of little meaning, and improvement of health that has the potential to increase the number of years of one’s life but does not address the quality of that life.”
“My favorite European author, Oscar Wilde, made his opinion of modern art most clear in his work ‘The Critic as Artist’. He described modern works as being, ‘. . . delightful to look at . . .’ in many cases, but as, ‘quite impossible to live with’.”
“He thought them to be, ‘… too clever, too assertive, too intellectual…’, with their message being obvious and their technique closely prescribed, ‘One exhausts what they have to say in a very short time, and then they become as tedious as one’s relations.’ And so it is that progress may be of benefit to the human condition, however, it comes at the price of great loss of an individual’s intellectual freedom to dream.”
— Sandro speaks at the World’s Colombian Exposition – Chicago, August, 1893
“O’Dell, how was your day at the candy factory?”
“It was fine. I met my quota by 2:30 and made good money for the day”
“I was feeling well and while I was chatting with Ruth and Margaret a sparrow flew into the wrapping area from the outside. I was drawn to the plight of that sparrow for the rest of the day. I thought it so odd and unnatural for that bird to be in the noisy factory with us and I just wanted the bird to find his way back out as soon as possible.”
“As quitting time approached I looked to see the sparrow. Just moments earlier it was perched high in the rafters, bewildered and frightened, I thought. But, the sparrow was nowhere to be seen and I don’t know what happened to him.”
“Dear, I have no work tomorrow and will be over to my sister’s for the day. I will appreciate you waiting at the station on your way home as I will plan to arrive about 5:30” Sandro was somewhat disturbed by Hannah’s sparrow story. Somehow he was receiving an ominous message that was not intended to be conveyed by her.
The next day at 5:30 he was waiting for Hannah but no train arrived with Hannah. Sandro lost Hannah to a train wreck on the 9th Avenue El, November 23, 1906. Several of the cars left the rails on the bend at 53rd Street which is the connector between the Sixth and Ninth Avenue Els. She was dead at the scene of the mishap and 11 others were killed as well.
Sandro was lost to a deep sense of shock and loss for nearly the entire year that followed. At that point he was able to recover his composure enough to continue living for the sake of their daughter and in the spirit of what he imagined would be Hannah’s wishes for him.
Sandro’s last day was October 23, 1913. That morning his heart gave out and he passed away at 5:45 AM at age 68. He always passes away at 5:45 AM on that date. Somewhere it is written that it will always be that way. He has written several pages of notes to himself regarding what to do or not do on the next pass hoping he will be able to improve the flow of events. He has placed those pages in a heavy metal box and has buried the box in the basement of their townhouse. He hired masons to cover those notes with several layers of concrete. On the next pass he may not remember those buried notes. He imagined what could happen if he does have a dream that reminds him to look for them. Will they be there? He can only hope that he can change certain critical events from his life as he knows it. He can only hope and pray that he can he protect Hannah with that information.