Jane Ingram

An Excerpt from Christa: There’s Always a Tomorrow


Chapter One

“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the valedictorian of The Shipley School, class of 1968, Miss Caterina Aitken.”

Three women stood shouting out “bravo,” as they applauded the thirteen year old girl they all had a hand in raising. Then all three women hugged each other, their eyes were wet with tears.

Caterina Helen Aitken was named for the two women most important in her mother’s life: Mother Superior Caterina, a nun who took in an eight year old girl, in 1943, at the height of the Second World War, and Helen Schroeder, Christa’s mother.

Katie inherited her father’s blue eyes, straight brown hair, and his height. She was almost five feet five inches tall; eye to eye with her mother, and still growing. Unfortunately, she had no recollection of her father, the man who saved her from being trampled on by a wild stallion when she was only ten months old.

But she never lacked being loved by the three women who were most important in her life. Her mother, Christa, doted on her, the flesh and blood of the man she loved; Liz O’Brien, a partner in the successful horse breeding farm in Devon, Pennsylvania, loved Katie in a grandmotherly way, and Mildred Hawkins, the Negro woman who was originally brought in as Katie’s nanny, lovingly took care of the young child while her mother and Liz worked at the office near the stable.

Katie’s gown billowed out as she walked to the podium. She had a most dignified walk for such a young woman. At that moment seeing her in the blue gown reminded Christa of Mother Superior.

Katie looked out over the audience and looked at her mother and smiled. Even though she had her notes for her speech, she knew it by heart, rehearsing over and over in her bedroom out of earshot of her mother.

“I stand before you today knowing how fortunate I am. Not only to be graduating from this great school, but because three women encouraged me. Because of their love and unadulterated support and guidance, they paved a way for me to avoid the obstacles they themselves had in their lives. Thanking them will never be enough. Loving them with all my heart is my payback.”

The audience clapped. The three women beamed.

“We live in troubled times . . .” Katie went on to talk about the conflict in Viet Nam, the state of the nation and the important issues affecting all the students. “It is because of wars that we all are here, living in a country that is free from tyranny, free from dictatorship, free from experiencing the hardship of a war on our soil. No doubt alumni from Shipley have sacrificed their lives so that our lives are richer, safer, and more meaningful. We owe them a debt. Hopefully we can show our appreciation for that debt by going forward, working in provocative ways to preserve the freedom that all of us here share, and to make a difference in our world. To all my fellow graduates, we deserve to congratulate ourselves with a pat on the back.

“As we go on to high school, our challenges await us, and we will meet those challenges with awe and inspiration. William Penn, the founder of our great state said ‘Be moderate in your expectation, count on labor before a crop gain.’ Thank you.”

A loud roar of applause accompanied Katie as she walked off the stage. After several speakers, the students were called up to the stage to accept their diplomas. Caterina Helen Aitken accepted hers. She was later called back to the podium to accept an Award of Excellence for maintaining an A grade during all her years at Shipley.

After the graduation ceremony was over, Christa, Liz and Mildred made their way to where Katie was standing with several of her friends. As soon as Katie saw her family approach, she stepped away from them and went to her mother first. While hugging her, her mother said, “My heart is bursting I’m so proud of you.”

Katie smiled. “We worked hard together for this, Mom,” Katie whispered in her mother’s ear. “Thank you,” then hugged her mother tighter. Looking around she asked, “Where’s Christopher?”

“He was getting fidgety. He’s with his father.”

Katie went to Liz, who was also bursting with pride. “It was you who gave me the love of books, and the desire to learn, Aunt Liz.”

“We couldn’t let all those books in our library just sit on the shelves. Those authors spent hours writing all those words. What good are they if no one reads them?”

Katie kissed Aunt Liz’s cheek.

Mildred wore her church hat, made of black straw covered with artificial red roses. Katie hugged the woman who took care of her, fed her, changed her diapers, bathed her, and dressed her when she was an infant and still watched over her into her young adult years. It was Mildred who taught Katie about segregation, slavery, the Underground railway, and growing up without prejudice. And it was Mildred who sat with Katie in the library watching the six-part epic series, “Roots,” by Alex Haley.