Dwelling Place

Dwelling Place

by Elizabeth Musser


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780764229268
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: 04/01/2005
Pages: 411
Product dimensions: 5.58(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.05(d)

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The Dwelling Place

By Elizabeth Musser

Bethany House Publishers

Copyright © 2005

Elizabeth Musser

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7642-2926-5

Chapter One

Atlanta, Georgia

June 2001

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too-"

While barrèd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue ...

And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly


From somewhere in my groggy subconscious I heard a
persistent ringing. Without opening my eyes, I
felt along the bedside table until I located the
phone. "Yeah, what is it?"

"Ellie Bartholomew! Are you still asleep? You
promised to go to the hospital to be with Mom."

"Chill a little, Abbie," I mumbled. I almost
chastised my sister for waking me in the middle of
the night, until I realized the sun was shining
brightly and my alarm clock proclaimed it to be
9:27. "I didn't get in till after two. You know
how it is at Jeremy's."

"It's not exactly the kind of restaurant I
frequent." Abbie paused, and I maintained a stony
silence. "Well, for heaven's sake, please don't be
late. I'm counting on you. So is Dad. I'd go if I

"I know, I know. Bobby's got a fever and you don't
want to leave him. You explained it all last

With the cordless phone in one hand, I was already
out of bed, in the kitchen, opening thefridge,
and retrieving a can of Coke. I lifted the tab and
took a long sip.

"Don't forget the sketch pads."

"They're right here," I grunted. In truth, I would
have forgotten them without Abbie's reminder.

"Call me this afternoon and let me know how it
goes, okay?"

"Whatever. Depends on when I get home. I have to
work at four."

"Okay, Ellie," she sighed. "Thanks."

Abbie was twenty-eight. She lived in Grant Park
with her husband, Bill, and one-year-old Bobby. I
imagined her standing by the phone with Bobby on
her hip, her hand going quickly to his forehead.
She'd have worry lines on her perfectly chiseled
face. Worry for Mom, for Bobby, and for the baby
she was carrying inside.

Abbie was having an awful pregnancy. She couldn't
keep food down and had actually lost two pounds by
the time she reached her sixth month. She looked
like a skeleton holding a soccer ball at her
tummy. I suddenly wished I hadn't spoken so

My other sister, Nan, was twenty-five and
spunky-cute, with short brown hair. She lived in
Chattanooga, about an hour and a half from
Atlanta. Her husband, Stockton, had just completed
his law degree at the University of Virginia and
was working with a fairly well known firm. Nan,
who taught sixth grade at a girls' school, had
recently found out she was pregnant. Big surprise.
Nan didn't want kids until she was at least

And then there was me, Ellie. Twenty and single.

I splashed cold water on my face, swept my hands
through my tangled hair, and pulled on a pair of
jeans. My cat, Hindsight, wrapped herself around
my legs and meowed.

"Oh, hush up!" I said. "You know good and well
that I want to go to the hospital about as much as
I want an extra hole in my head." I went back to
the fridge, took out an opened can of cat food,
and spooned the contents into her bowl.

Then, my mind slowly clearing, I rummaged through
a drawer for an appropriate T-shirt. Though she
hadn't said it aloud, Abbie's unspoken admonition
rang in my ears. And for heaven's sake, don't
embarrass Mom. Try to dress decently.

Don't worry, Abbie, I answered back. I'll be a
dutiful daughter. I won't disgrace you, and I
won't let anyone down....

* * *

The sky was already a fierce blue with the sun
promising to cast its torrid spell on the city. I
glanced down at my watch smugly as my little
hatchback Hyundai zipped along Peachtree Road
toward the hospital. 10:03. Even with my late
start, I was running ahead of schedule. Ha, Abbie!
She said not to arrive before ten-thirty. The
chemo wouldn't be administered until eleven. One
thing was sure: I didn't want to be there early.
At a red light I let my eyes rest on the two large
spiral sketch pads sitting in the passenger's

On impulse, I didn't pull into the hospital
parking lot but continued my drive down Peachtree.
I looked out on the impressive skyline with its
modern skyscrapers, the beautiful multitiered IBM
building appearing first in the distance as I
rounded the bend past Collier Drive. Atlanta! I
passed the spot where a little bar called the Beer
Bottle used to stand. It was torn down years ago,
and now the newest trend in Atlanta
apartments-what real estate agents called
lofts-lined one side of this section of Peachtree.
I rolled down my window and let the June breeze
permeate the car as I drove over Interstate 85.
The street narrowed and split, the buildings grew
taller, the perpendicular street names became
numbers. Eighteenth Street, Seventeenth.... I
pulled into a curbside parking place on Sixteenth
and hopped out of the car.

On my right stood the High Museum, a pristine
white circular building. Richard Meier had
received the world's most prestigious
architectural honor, the Pritzker Prize, for its

"It's a work of art in itself, something to study
and admire, like a sculpture,"
Mom had often

I walked in the entrance.

"Why, Ellie," said the volunteer selling tickets,
"how nice to see you after all this time."

"Hi, Mrs. Wade."

She leaned over the desk and whispered, "How's
your mother doing?"

"Okay. She's at Piedmont this morning. I'm going
over in a little while to be with her. You know,
during the chemo."

Mrs. Wade smiled sympathetically. "You give her my
best. Tell her my ladies' circle at St. Philip's
is praying for her."

"I'll do that," I mumbled, my throat suddenly dry.

I walked into the open, airy atrium with the
skylight that let in the sun and started up the
winding ramp to the second floor, where paintings
by both my mother and my grandmother hung. I
stared at a self-portrait by my grandmother,
Sheila Middleton. She was dressed in a red satin
gown, showing off her slender figure at the age of
thirty-eight. She held a palette in one hand, and
her jade green eyes were somber behind their thick
dark lashes. Her auburn hair was swept up in a
French chignon. A smile played on her face, but it
didn't seem genuine. She looked more aloof or
disturbed than happy.

"Your grandmother painted that during the last
year of her life, after she'd discovered some
things about herself," Mom had told me once. What
did that mean?

Beside Grandmom's portrait was a plaque: Sheila
McKenzie Middleton (1924-1962)
and below that were
the following framed paragraphs:

Sheila McKenzie Middleton, well-known Atlanta
portrait painter, perished in the tragic Orly
plane crash June 3, 1962. The three paintings
displayed here reflect the great diversity of
style for which Mrs. Middleton became known

Mrs. Middleton was one of the first Georgian
artists to experiment with the concept of art
therapy as a way to help in mental illness.
Other paintings by the artist may be viewed at a
private gallery at Resthaven, a sanitarium in
the North Georgia mountains, and at Mt. Carmel
Church in the Grant Park section of Atlanta.

I examined the painting called Joie de Vivre. It
was a landscape painting of an Italian-inspired
villa, the Swan House, which was now a famous
historical site, located right next door to my
grandparents' home and part of the Atlanta History
Center. The next painting, Spring Bouquet, showed
the stately old redbrick mansion called Resthaven.
My grandmother had spent quite a bit of time there
as a patient.

The last painting was one I have always loved. It
showed my mother, Mary Swan, when she was just
four or five, swinging on a tree swing behind my
grandparents' house. Mom's naked toes are thrust
forward in a way that makes it seem they will
punch through the canvas as she leans back in the
swing. She looks delighted.

Next was my mother's collection: Mary Swan
Middleton (1946-)
. Mom kept her maiden name
professionally, though she'd been married to Daddy
for almost thirty years.

Daughter of artist Sheila Middleton, Mary Swan
Middleton graduated from Hollins College in 1968
with a degree in Fine Arts. She is best known
for her bright provincial colors and her habit
of painting symbolism into everyday scenes.

The first painting displayed here, Mai '68, was
painted during the student uprising in France in
May 1968....

I was not an artist. At all. There wasn't an ounce
of creativity in my bones.

The painting I wanted to examine was the one
called The Dwelling Place. I was supposed to go
with Mom to the field where it was painted, in
Scotland, later in the summer. I'd heard a few
bits and pieces about Mom's 1968 European trip,
the one she never really finished. Something about
riots in Paris and drugs in Amsterdam and
self-discovery in Scotland, but a feeling inside
told me I hadn't heard the entire story.

The Dwelling Place was a bit strange as paintings
go. I guess you'd call it a landscape. It showed
grassy, rolling hills in the background and a deep
blue sky, and you could tell it was late fall by
the leaves on the ground. The main subject of the
painting was a low stone wall that ran from the
upper left of the canvas down to the center right
edge. Mom could explain the whole technique of the
way the stones were stacked, with no plaster or
cement or whatever, but that didn't interest me.

What I liked best about the painting was the lamb
in the far right-hand top corner. Its head was
cocked, like a spaniel's, looking toward something
in the foreground. The lamb was small in
comparison with the whole painting, but Mom
painted it in detail, with its legs stiff and
braced outward and a surprised or maybe frightened
expression on its tiny face; I couldn't tell. It
was looking in the direction of the bottom
left-hand corner of the painting, where there was
part of what seemed to be a brown-and-white ear.
It could have belonged to a dog or a cow or
another sheep. As I said, it was a strange
painting. Still, it intrigued me.

I guess I should have asked Mom to tell me the
story behind it, but the truth was I didn't want
to know. And of all the people in the world I
could go to Europe with, my mother was absolutely
the last one I would choose.

* * *

I found myself speeding back down Peachtree at
10:28, determined to keep my promise to Abbie. I
reached Mom's room by 10:36, out of breath, and
hurried inside. Mom was in one bed, and a woman
who looked about sixty was in the other.

"Well, here they are, Mom," I said, placing the
sketch pads on her lap.

She took the sketch pads and looked at them. No,
she caressed them, lovingly, her eyes filling with
tears. "What a nice way to pass the next few
hours, since I've got to be here anyway."

"Here" was in room number 532 in the cancer ward
of Piedmont Hospital. She'd already had seven
rounds of chemo. Her hair all fell out after the
second. Now a stylish wig, blunt cut, brown with
red highlights, sat on a stand by her bed. I had
to admit that it looked a lot like Mom's real

But she didn't like to wear the wig, especially
when it was muggy outside, so Abbie had bought her
a beautiful green scarf made specifically for
cancer patients. The green almost matched her jade
eyes. She looked dignified, almost, sitting up in
the hospital bed with her scarf on. She was
wearing a pair of white Capri pants and a hot pink
summer sweater. Day patients didn't have to wear
the white gowns. Except for the dark circles under
her eyes and her weight loss, she looked pretty
great, considering what she'd been through.

Mom had breast cancer. It was discovered in a
routine mammogram, and she'd had a double
mastectomy six months ago.

Her eyes were twinkling. "So nice of you to come,
sweetie. You look good. I believe you've lost a
few pounds since the last time I saw you."

"Wishful thinking, Mom, but thanks." The words
came out more harshly than I intended.

Her smile never faltered. "Well, let's get on with
it, then. Start with the first one-your grandmom

This was how Abbie had decided I should get
through the last round of chemo with Mom-planning
our trip to Europe by going through my
grandmother's sketch pad from her trip to Europe
in 1962 and Mom's sketch pad from her journey in

A nurse came in, and we exchanged greetings.

When the nurse inserted the needle, Mom winced a
little, smiled, and kept her eyes on me. "Thank
goodness your father isn't here now. He'd faint."

We had a dozen family stories about my
six-foot-tall father, who often fainted at the
sight of a needle. Like the time when Mom was
eight months pregnant with me and the obstetrician
stuck her ear to see how her blood coagulated.
Suddenly the doctor looked past her and said, "Do
you need to lie down?"

Mom turned to see Daddy sink to the ground, head
in his hands. Then, as she told it, she had to get
off the examining table, which was no small feat,
and stand there half naked while Daddy lay down.

"I told him not to come today. The last time his
face turned an awful greenish yellow while he was
sitting right next to me, just as you are, and
patting my hand." She smiled. "I told him to play
nine holes of golf with Uncle Jimmy after he
finishes at the office. I should be home by then."

There was a knock on the door. "Come in," Mom sang
out as if she were getting a manicure at the day

The door opened and Rachel Abrams swept into the

"Rachel!" Mom exclaimed. "What in the world are
you doing here?"

"I wasn't about to miss the party," Rachel
replied, her blue-gray eyes flashing mischief.
Rachel was Mom's best friend and had been for her
whole life. But she lived in New York.

"You have enough things going on without hopping
down to Atlanta for my chemo," Mom chided, but I
could tell she was thrilled.

Rachel picked up a sketch pad. "I see you brought
your work with you. Planning on staying awhile?"

Mom stuck out her tongue, and I suppressed a
smile. They acted like teenagers when they were
together, these two fifty-six-year-old women.
Rachel was still downright beautiful, with soft
gray highlights in her shoulder-length blond hair.
She wore a pale blue summer suit that showed off
her slim figure.

"Ready for treats? I made a quick stop by Publix
on the way over." She opened a big Saks Fifth
Avenue paper bag, the kind with handles, and
plucked out a pint-sized carton of Midnight
Cookies and Cream, Mom's favorite flavor.

"Rachel! You shouldn't have wasted the money on
it. You know everything tastes like tin to me."

Rachel was undeterred. Producing a plastic spoon,
she instructed, "Try it. You'll like it!" Just as
Mom was about to take the spoon from her, Rachel
shook her head. "Un-uh! You have to answer a
question first."

Mom's eyes lit up. "Fire away!"

"Very well, my dear, who said this? 'I love you
with so much of my heart that none is left to

"Who could ever forget that line? Beatrice to
Benedick in Much Ado."

It was part of their friendship, throwing out
obscure quotes from poems and plays they had
memorized in high school. I was only twenty, and I
couldn't remember a thing I learned in high

"Okay, you've earned it," Rachel acquiesced. She
perched on the edge of Mom's bed, removed the top
of the carton, and began to feed my mother ice

"Delicious," Mom moaned, closing her eyes. "I can
actually taste it. Of course, I'll need to try
some more in a few days just to compare how my
taste buds work during and after chemo."

Once again Rachel's hand went into the bag from
Saks. This time she pulled out a flute case. She
opened it and put together her shining sterling
silver open-holed Haynes flute. She played a few
quick scales before the nurse, looking
uncomfortable, whispered, "I'm afraid you can't do
that. It may disturb the other patient."


Excerpted from The Dwelling Place
by Elizabeth Musser
Copyright © 2005 by Elizabeth Musser.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Dwelling Place 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
PamT2u More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the story. I think the author does a good job portraying what it is like to be the black sheep in a family as well as the complicated relationship between a mother and a daughter. I think the author is detailed and I could picture various scenes in the book! I recommend this story!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a great book. Calling it a 'romance' is a bit far fetched, as that does not come into play until close to the end. All in all, it was a moving, although light and easy read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book from start to finish. Don't write it off as a romance since there is so much more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the second book in a series, and I loved this one better than the first.  It covers the life of the daughter of the main character in Book 1, and gives details on the continuance of the lives of all those  beloved characters whom we got to know so well.  These books are so true to life and how one would  feel and how he would look at the lives of those with whom he/she could not relate.  I loved getting questions answered that I wondered about after completing Book 1, "Swan House".  You could read this book as a stand alone, because the author did fill in a summary of the details of the people that carried over from Book 1 to Book 2.  This book did a great job of providing scriptural guidance for the  occurrences of life for "Ellie", who was going through life in great inner despair.   I highly recommend this book.  It has something for everyone....love, mystery, family jealousy, illness, and then, victory!  Get this book.  You won't regret it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like this author!