Lead Me Gently Home

"You've Got a Mighty Fine Woman, Claude Frollo"

Back Home in Indiana, Summer 1997
It's great to be back with my family and friends, in my time that is . . . All my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my parents, my sisters . . . And the Darceys, the Terrells, and the Grigsbys. Well, they're almost like family . . . I'm so glad Claude is here . . . Now that the rest of the family will get a chance to meet him, I wonder if . . . But if Uncle Jim goes into his, "When?" routine, and Daddy decides to egg it on, I'll sic Miss Perle on them . . .

Claude Frollo's eyes assessed the suburban landscape of Pike Township with its neat, upscale subdivisions, shopping areas, and the remains of farmland that seemed out of place in this bustling piece of suburbia. He seemed truly amazed when I recounted a piece of family history, when my father's family was one of the first settlers of this area.
"That's the house where Daddy was born," I said, pointing out a modest frame farmhouse that stuck out conspicuously amongst the modern suburban homes.
"My father worked on that farm before he went off to Tennessee State University, then he returned to begin his career as a teacher."

Claude glanced at the house and commented, "What a sweet little house." He smiled as he began to recount the names of my relatives.
"Hmm . . . I've already met your parents, and your sisters. Now, Vernice is the middle child, and the only married daughter."
"That's right, sugar."
"Vernice's husband's name is Fred, and they have two--no, three--children."
Claude narrowed his eyes as we sped toward the park. He smiled again as he snapped his fingers upon remembering the names of my nephews and niece.
"Dante is nine, and the oldest; Annie is four; then there's . . . er . . . 'Tubber'? My love . . . The youngest is three, but the name . . . "
Claude laughed when I explained that 'Tubber' was a nickname for Amari, Vernie and Fred's youngest. "Claude, once you meet Tubber, and perhaps try to pick him up, you'll know exactly why Vernie put that nickname on him."

Claude smiled again when he commented on, "Dante . . . Your sister gave her eldest an Italian name . . . "

As I drove up to the park's gate, Claude asked a small favor of me. I thought nothing of it at the time, but noting his cheerful mood, I couldn't bear to refuse him a little detour through Meridian Hills.
What can I say? I love that area too . . . This time of year the homes and gardens are especially gorgeous . . . I'll wind along Spring Mill Road, then drive down Meridian . . . Claude likes the old Governor's Mansion . . .

"Danisha? Danisha? Aren't you supposed to turn here? My love, I'm looking at this map . . . " Claude's hearty laughter reverberated throughout the car; he knew my mind was a million miles away. "I guess I was daydreaming again," I replied as I guided the car up Old Reed Road.

This was the site of the first reunion I can remember; 'cause Aunt Lucille hosted it that summer. I was only six . . .

"Yes, my dearest?"
"I know you'll have a good time; once you meet everyone, you'll treasure this day forever."

Claude smiled pleasantly as I parked the car then took the basket of goodies from the backseat. The meal was to be catered, but everyone was to bring desserts.
Claude was especially pleased that I made my special pecan shortbread cookies -- the same cookies I baked for him that summer.
"Claude, do you remember the time I invited you in for cake and lemonade?"
"How can I forget such a pleasant repast? I remember the treats you made especially for me; I still have that pretty tin . . . "

He saved that tin in which to keep my letters to him . . . He does these things . . . But . . .
When he confessed to burning that medieval history manuscript, I was too shocked for words. But he did it because he said it brought nothing but misery . . . I should never doubt his feelings for me, but . . . I wished he hadn't burned that . . . He made me promise never to tell anyone . . .

"Danisha?" Claude wrapped his arm around my waist then proceeded to silently identify my many relatives. He laughed then said, "My love, I needed this. I needed to . . . 'get out from under' . . . so to speak, and you always manage to make my day that much brighter. I feel that I can actually allow myself to have some fun. Why is it when I'm with you, I can 'let it loose', release the tensions and pressures of my time?"

I could only smile and kiss his delicious lips. "Sugarbritches, you've always had that fun-loving side; only it's seldom seen light of day for so many years . . . "
Claude laughed heartily as we were greeted by my parents and my Aunt Lucille.

...Claude, I hope you have a wonderful time today. I see Vernie and the kids . . .
Dante, Annie, Tubber . . . Work your magic on a 15th Century city magistrate--And on me.


"Yum! Look at the goodies!" Those words came from my Uncle Herb as he surveyed the table laden with a variety of tempting pies, cakes, and cookies. I had to laugh when Aunt Perle informed Claude that, "I made the peach cobbler, Your Honor, because Nisha told me how much you liked peaches."
Hmm . . . I made Claude a peach pie a few summers back . . . Only I didn't get around to baking it until three in the morning . . . We were otherwise . . . ahem . . . occupied . . .

Anyway, I introduced Claude to all my relatives: my father's brothers and sister, as well as my many cousins. Claude was highly impressed with my Cousin Leroy's accounts of his days as a Tuskeegee Airman, and my Uncle Herb, the real cut up of the family, kept Claude laughing with tales of MY childhood antics.
"Your Honor, for as long as I can remember, Danisha always loved to sing and perform. She was always standing in front of the mirror, wearing her momma's high heels, holding a wooden spoon in her hand like a microphone, and pretending she's Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin."
Upon hearing all this, and other similar tales, Claude just looked at me, grinned broadly and said, "Well, my love, that's one little secret you have yet to reveal!"
All I could do was to reply, much to his amusement, "Well, sugarbritches, now you know."

As much as Claude was impressed with meeting all my relatives, Vernice's children really won him over. He was especially taken with Dante, a chubby, round-faced fourth-grader who, after learning Claude was from France, immediately related to Claude a little history lesson he learned in school.
"I wrote a book report about Paris, Your Honor. I learned all about Notre Dame--That's a big church! Have you ever been in there? What's it like for real?"
I tried not to appear exasperated, because I knew Dante and his knack for asking question after question. The man who once professed, "I was never that patient with young people," proved me wrong as he cheerfully answered each and every question Dante posed. Of course, Claude, as a 15th Century man, could tell Dante only so much, but I was pleased that he took the time to converse with the boy.

Annie, a fresh-faced, bubbly four-year-old dressed in a colorful sundress and her hair tied in a single pigtail, charmed Claude with her wide eyes, cute little girl voice and her winning smile. Annie was a bright child, a naturally happy child, just like her mother.
When I introduced Annie to Claude, he was immediately struck by Annie's natural bounce and spunk.
"Aunt Nisha said you helped her get better." Indeed, I had told the kids that Claude was instrumental in saving my life, and Claude was extremely enchanted by Annie's show of concern mixed with gratitude. "She's a wonderful, delightful child," was what Claude said after Annie hugged him for "Helping Aunt Nisha get well."
"All the kids are like that, honey. They're all loved and cherished . . . " My voice trailed off as my mind wandered back to the day I lost our child. What could have been . . .

Claude put his arm around me and silently comforted me; he didn't have to say a word. Oh Claude . . . All these kids around me . . . I know I may never have my own child, but for now, these kids are my babies . . .

"OK, Claude, I feel better now," I said as I wiped the tear from my eyes. This was a happy day and no place for tears. Besides, another of Vernie's brood tugged the hem of my long dress and was in need of a hug. Tubber!

"Claude," I said as I hoisted this hefty toddler in my arms, "this is Amari -- Now you know why we call him 'Tubber'." I then called over to Vernie and said, "Dang, girl! What're feeding this boy? I can barely lift him!"
Vernice replied in her usual hilarity, "Everything he can get his hands on!"

Once again, Claude laughed as Tubber studied Claude's ruby ring. "Danisha, you have so much love to give, no wonder the children adore you so. My love, it's more evident to me that you draw your strength and compassion from this warm, loving family."

That said, I could no longer dwell on the fact that I may never have kids of my own. And he was right again--as always--that I draw my strength from a loving family.

I leaned over to kiss his lips then said, "Sugarbritches, what you just said was so wonderful. And Del was right--I may draw my strength from my family, but I pass it onto you, just as you pass yours onto me."


It was an afternoon to remember as we shared good food, good company, and a lot of laughs.

After a hearty dinner of fried chicken, Hoosier-style fried biscuits with homemade apple butter, potato salad, mixed green salad, rolls, and all those home-baked goodies, my Uncle Clarence, Daddy's eldest brother, got up and recounted the family history. It was my cousin Dot who pointed out to Claude the locations of long-gone houses and buildings.
"The milk house used to be here," explained Dot as we strolled along old Reed Road.
"This was the site of the original Mt. Pleasant Church," said Daddy, as he pointed to a plaque showing a long-lost landmark.

Claude was truly impressed with this historic journey, but he surprised me all over again when he allowed his sharp sense of humor shine through. This time, however, he aimed his barbs at Vernice.


"Now," asked Daddy, "I know we have more than just family here, but they might as well be family because these people have made such a profound impact on my immediate family, especially on my eldest daughter."

Claude Frollo beamed proudly as Daddy recounted Claude's timely and swift response when life threatened to leave me. Everyone gushed forth their thanks for "Saving this special young lady"; even Uncle Herb, with his down-home, laid-back demeanor, loftily said to Claude, "You've got a mighty fine woman, Claude Frollo. She's always been my favorite niece, and I know she's done right by you, just I know you've done right by her."

Claude would repeat these words afterwards, but not before he sprang the biggest surprise. Well, he said he'd . . . He's by far the most determined man I've ever known. Once Claude Frollo fixes to do something, he sees it through to the end.

When it came time for us to tell how everyone was related, I told Claude to watch out for Vernie, "She's a notorious cut up; she did something similar last year."
So we all took our turns, and when it was Vernie's turn to say something, Claude fell out laughing when Vernice said, "Well, you see. I'm the adopted one . . . My Momma found me under a stump . . . "
To this smart remark, Claude immediately asked my mother, "My dear Geraldine, from which stump . . . ?"
Momma, who's no slouch in the humor department, slyly looked Claude in the eye, then waved her arm and replied to the raucous laughter of everyone, "Oh, one of these out here. I had a tough time getting those splinters out of her hair."
Claude laughed then took the game further, saying, "Ah, so that explains her penchant for wooden jewelry." Claude noticed Vernice's chunky wooden bracelets with matching earrings, then made the remark. "It obviously reminds her of her birthplace."

Vernie only had this to say, and with marked amusement: "Claude, all I can say is . . . Uh . . . Welcome to the family! You're all right in my book." Then she leaned over to me and said, "He's mighty good to you, Nisha. Treat him right."


Claude and I enjoyed a quiet walk through the woods, stopping momentarily to admire a patch of colorful wildflowers or to watch a scurrying rabbit. The weather proved to be so pleasant, but I knew the mild late-June weather wouldn't last. By the end of the week, the temperature and humidity would return and usher in a long stretch of oppressive, uncomfortable weather that was so characteristic of the Midwest.
Claude had opted to stay with me during that week, since Kyle and Shelli's wedding was coming up the following Saturday. Of course, Claude told me that there was no way he would leave me, not right now at least.

I was more than slightly intrigued. "What did you mean by that, Claude Frollo? Sugarbritches, you can go home anytime you want; you don't have to stay with me."
Claude stooped to pluck a red clover from its patch; he placed it in my hair and said, "My love, I am rather weary, and you did promise that little detour..."
"But, Claude, you never answered my question. Don't you have responsibilities at home? I mean, don't you have work piling up and..." My words were silenced by his tender kiss.

"Danisha, I asked that favor of you for a very valid reason. My dear, do not deprive me of this; I've always wanted to do this."

"Do WHAT Claude Frollo?" What Claude had up his sleeve was about to be revealed, and was I surprisingly and pleasantly shocked.


During our scenic journey through Meridian Hills and its environs, Claude and I engaged in lively conversation which ranged from the reunion to the stately homes we passed along the way. I was now driving along Spring Mill road with its sharp, almost dangerous curves. Claude was quite amused when I told him, "Let's pray that we don't run into a truck or a bus..."
Claude laughed and said, "Darling, you are such a good driver; I'm sure you won't..." He then turned serious then said, "Danisha, when you reach Meridian Street, I want you to turn south, then slow down once you pass 56th Street."
I glanced at him with curious eyes, then back at the road. "Honey, why do you want me to slowdown? I mean...Oh I get it! You want to get a good look at those houses..."
It was all I could do to humor him; after all, he'd always professed wanting to buy one of those gorgeous mansions for me.
So I let him dream on...It pleases him...I know he'll never do that, buy one of these homes for me because I've told him I love my sweet little house...
But I can dream, too. I've always wondered what it would be like to live in a Meridian Street mansion, in the same neighborhood as the Governor...

"Danisha, slow down, my love. Stop right here."
I stopped the car as requested then Claude directed my attention to French country-style mansion that was situated just ten blocks north of the Governor's Mansion. It was a beautiful, impressive home that was reminiscent of those fine chateaux Claude and I visited in and around Paris. The exterior was of fine stone, and the grounds sported a lovely flower-lined walk; old oaks and maples towered overhead. It was gorgeous, but I didn't quite comprehend until he handed over the keys.

"My love, I told you I had my reasons for that little detour. Danisha, welcome to your new home." Claude handed me the keys as I sat there totally flabbergasted. How could he do this? I told him I...Oh, Claude!

Instead of chastising him, I immediately embraced him, kissed him., and told him "Thank you!" so many times I lost count. How sweet of him to do this.

"But Claude", I said as I wheeled into the driveway, "this house must've set you back quite a bit. I mean, you didn't have to do this, but..." I couldn't say any more; I was that shocked, and pleasantly surprised.

Claude, walked me to the front door and, just as soon as we were inside, Claude swept me into his arms and kissed me with such abandon, passion, and relief. I do believe he was crying.

"Danisha", he wept as he repeatedly kissed my mouth, , my cheeks, my hair, my hands. "I thought I'd never get to do this. I wanted you to have this, as a token of my love."
Claude revealed that he had bought the house before he and I had that big blow up that nearly resulted in a permanently broken relationship. It was also revealed that Claude had secretly contacted Alpha Blackburn to assist with the furnishing and decor. Claude wanted this to be a surprise gift, but things began to happen--like BC re-entering my life--and threatened to break the strong bond and shake the firm foundation of our special relationship. It was also revealed that Claude told my father about the house and that Daddy suggested renting my Blue Ridge Road house to Kyle and Shelli. "After all", reasoned Daddy, "they need a place to live and Nisha can use the extra income." Daddy convinced me a long time ago to invest in rental property. Claude told me what Daddy said about the investment property, "How did you think I could afford all those music lessons and party dresses and finishing schools and..."

I laughed long and hard after Claude told me all this, then I finally said, "Claude Frollo, you and my father had this all cooked up from the 'git-go'! My father knew you wanted to buy me such a house--You told him! Oh my God!" I reeled from pleasant shock as my eyes took in the expansive marble entry, the graceful staircase, the huge living and dining rooms. I was dazzled by the newly remodeled gourmet kitchen with everything, from the gas grill to the microwave, brand new and very state-of-the-art. There was a beautiful fenced-in garden and swimming pool. "For those lovely late night swims, my love." Claude remembered that certain summer when we took many a late night dip in a friend's backyard pool.

Then it finally hit me! "Claude, what am I going to with all this house? I mean, I love it; I truly do, but...", I said as we took a tour of the upstairs. "What am I going to do with six bedrooms and five and a half bathrooms?"

Claude Frollo took me into his arms, kissed me, then ever-so-gently said, "Fill these rooms with love, Danisha, and love only. It is, after all, what makes a house a home."


©Copyright FrolloFreak FSM #14, 1998.

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