On a busy neighborhood street in Pittsburgh in the early part of the twentieth century, two separate dramas play out in houses across from one another. Emily, rich by birth, is a spiritual, kind-hearted woman while Gracie has always known poverty and bitterness. Life presents opportunities for each to act out her basic nature, and in the process, the two lock horns on more than one occasion. Emily secretly opens a home for women while Gracie follows a dark path in search of success. Lies and secrets destroy any chance of an open friendship between the two. Later, fortunes turn, revealing one secret to be the biggest of all.
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Tea and Chocolates
On a busy neighborhood street in Pittsburgh
in the early part of the twentieth century, two separate dramas play out
in houses across from one another. Emily, rich by birth, is a spiritual,
kind-hearted woman while Gracie has always known poverty and bitterness.
Life presents opportunities for each to act out her basic nature, and in
the process, the two lock horns on more than one occasion. Emily secretly
opens a home for women while Gracie follows a dark path in search of success.
Lies and secrets destroy any chance of an open friendship between the two.
Later, fortunes turn, revealing one secret to be the biggest of all.
The next day was a full day of school and time to get to work. Emily found
it desirable to stay away from the trouble-making Gracie Rooney. After her
mother dropped her off at the door to First Grade, she rushed to a seat as
far away from Gracie as possible. Gracie, as well, was totally unconcerned
about the goings and comings of Emily McNamara. Emily worked at her desk,
pencil in hand, attempting to form the first letter of the alphabet with
great care. Gracie, on the other hand, surreptitiously shot tiny spit wads
around the room, frightening her classmates.
In the after-school hours each of the girls found the other one's life fascinating.
As Gracie played with her brothers in the yard, Emily sat perched on the
window seat, watching them longingly. On the other hand, as Emily practiced
her piano or sat in the kitchen with the housekeeper, Gracie swung on the
porch swing and studied McNamara House with intense interest. As the chilly
winter approached, she spent her daily vigil tugging up her coat collar and
pulling her gloves on tighter as she scrutinized the McNamara House.
On a cold day in November, Emily made a startling discovery. Each student
brought a small meal to eat at noon in the community room in the church basement.
From the start, Emily had avoided having to sit near Gracie at one of the
long tables. On this particular Thursday, Emily's luck ran out. Sister held
her back at the schoolhouse, and when she arrived at the basement, the only
chair left was across from Gracie. She approached it as the other girl looked
"Looks like the rich kid needs a seat," Gracie commented.
Emily started to back away, and Gracie stopped her.
"Go ahead! Sit here. It's okay," she muttered.
Emily slipped onto the seat, being as careful as possible to remain unobtrusive.
She opened her packet of food. Wrapped inside the brown paper was a roast
beef sandwich. The luscious meat was layered an inch thick with a red sauce
dripping from it. Gracie's eyes widened in amazement when she saw the meaty
sandwich. Emily saw her reaction and noticed in horror the crusty piece of
plain bread in Gracie's hand, which served as her lunch. Emily's cheeks flushed
in embarrassment at the richness of her own meal.
"I'm sorry," she stammered, although she knew it was a ridiculous thing to
say. Gracie didn't reply; she was staring at Emily's sandwich. Emily shoved
it toward her.
"Why don't you take this? I'm not hungry," she stated. As Gracie reached
for it, Emily excused herself and walked back to the schoolhouse. The episode
made her avoid Gracie even more from that day forward.
Christmas Day at McNamara House was always a quiet and well-ordered affair.
Having no relatives nearby, the mother and daughter attended Mass at St.
Margaret's together, then home to open presents, and finally a large and
elaborate dinner, just the two of them. As the housekeeper stuffed the turkey
and peeled potatoes, she usually complained, muttering to herself about making
such an extravagant meal for only two people.
Reinforced by what the housekeeper said, Emily considered as she nibbled
her food that they certainly had more than they could eat. The table was
laid with every treat imaginable from turkey and stuffing, to two kinds of
potato, vegetables, cranberry sauce and pie for dessert. Emily studied the
platters as she ate.
When the Rooney family woke on the morning after Christmas, they found an
angel had brought them a wonderful meal. Mrs. Rooney found a turkey on her
doorstep and after looking up and down the street in wonder, found no clue
from whence it came. She decided it was too precious to worry about giving
it back to a mystery donor. Gathering the food in her arms, she took it into
her kitchen to feed her hungry family.
They never knew who gave them the turkey, except for Gracie who was watching
the snowfall from her bedroom window that morning and saw its delivery, and
she never told.
On a snowy day in January, Gracie had an idea. She and one of her brothers,
Tom, had trudged through the snow dragging their sleds to a big hill not
far from the back door of McNamara House. As she stood atop the hill looking
toward Emily's home, Gracie thought it might be nice to ask her friend to
join them. Sledding was fun, and she wanted to share it with Emily.
She shivered in the cold wind as she stood considering whether to walk to
Emily's house or not. Who wouldn't love sledding, flying down the hill with
snow misting on your face as you go. It was such fun to go fast, and stopping
was part of the game. Sometimes a failed stop slammed the sled into the side
of the path, and the occupant might roll off and into the soft, white snow.
It was wonderful fun! A lot of children sat on their sleds, but Gracie wanted
to be like her brothers. She lay on her belly and took the hill headfirst.
Thrilling! Yes, she would invite Emily to come.
"I'll be back," she yelled to her brother. She started toward the McNamara
House with determined steps. Emily saw her coming and ran to get the door.
She opened it, smiling.
"Hi, uh, I was just wondering if you would like to go sledding," Gracie said.
"We're right up there," she said as she pointed to the top of the hill. Emily
looked up in wonder.
"I don't have a sled," she replied.
"I'll share mine with you."
"Emily, whom are you talking to?" Mrs. McNamara appeared in the doorway.
"It is Gracie Rooney, Momma. She wants me to go sledding," Emily stated.
"Sledding! I think not," Mrs. McNamara retorted. "Really, Emily, young ladies
do not roughneck like that!" She left the room with an air of authority.
Emily looked at Gracie and shrugged her shoulders. Gracie studied the doorway
through which Mrs. McNamara had disappeared. She dragged her gaze to Emily.
"Just thought I'd ask," she said.
Emily smiled and closed the door. Gracie climbed back up the hill to her
brother. Her heart was heavy.
"I don't feel like sledding anymore, " she said. She picked up her sled and
That evening at dinner, Mrs. Rooney was angry again. Her husband was missing
from the table, no doubt curled up on a bar stool at the local pub. Her frustration
was palpable in the small kitchen.
"Look at this paltry meal we got! And on such a cold winter day! A nice,
nourishing soup is what I'd like to be serving. If damned rich people didn't
have it all, we could have some!"
"Maybe sometimes they share," Gracie murmured.
"SHARE! They never share! Even if you think they are, it's probably a trick!"
Mrs. Rooney leaned close to her daughter's face. "I don't want to hear no
such nonsense around here. Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Mum!" Probably Emily McNamara was as bad as all the others.
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