Cleo's Oak, novel by Pearle Munn Bishop

Cleo’s Oak, novel by Pearle Munn Bishop

Cleo, a psychic midwife from the 1800s channels her life story through Willow, an egotistical, contemporary sixteen-year-old girl.
x Does a mystical Celtic spirit live in Cleo’s oak?
x Are there really magic circles?
x Can a butterfly lead you out of deep despair?
x Can the dead tell their story through channelers?
Cleo’s Oak contains answers to all of these questions plus sex, birth, death, marriage, war, religion, adultery and perhaps murder.
Everyone that ever had a grandmother should read this book. You will agree that across time, human values have not changed.
—Pearle Munn Bishop


I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I could write I hate it five hundred times and I would still hate it.
Cleo has forced me to spend my whole sixteenth summer telling her story. If I had wanted to tell a story it would be about myself. I am, first of all, beautiful. Everyone says so and I know it is true. I look like a young edition of the models you see on television and in magazines. I am five feet ten inches tall, weigh one hundred and twenty pounds. I have thick hair and long legs. My background is German-Lutheran, but my family on my mother’s side has been American for at least six generations. I have had everything money and prestige can give a girl in sixteen years—private schools, tutors, dance, music, tennis, golf, and skiing. Maybe I am vain but I have lots of friends and I was happy until one day everything changed.
While playing Frisbee with my younger brother, I fell and hit the back of my head on a rock. The blow knocked me unconscious for less than a minute. My mother was frantic. Doctor Johnson told her I seemed to just have a lump on the back of my head, for her to watch me for nausea, slurred speech, unresponsiveness, and for me to get some rest. Sleep came easy. My dreams were about people, mostly women in old-fashioned clothes. My mother must have called everyone she knew. Although I was at home, I received flowers from ten people and cards and email from people I hardly knew.
One thing I have always done is to write thank you notes as quickly as possible. When I started to write my first note, the words were not mine. They were about canning peaches, back porches, cows, pigs, then something about playing baseball. This was the beginning of the story you are reading. I had become a channeler for Cleo. My sixteenth summer was spent at my computer. I pray that Cleo is the only spirit that will use me to tell her story. I am not a part of her story—or perhaps I am.

Cleo’s Oak   Chapter 1: To Willow

Willow, I am Cleo. I want you to write my story.
My father Alexander Lamb came to America in the year 1844 at age sixteen working his way across the Atlantic on a sailing ship. His Scottish family was large and poor. His mother had second sight and predicted great things for the new country, America, although she never told Alexander if his future was revealed to her. In New York, Alexander found other people from the Isle of Bute and got a job with the city, building roads. He was restless. For a while he helped build sailing ships, then went to work in stables caring for horses.
A local policeman’s daughter, Rosa MacRay, kept her horse in this stable. My mother’s father was a hard-boiled, ambitious, angry Irishman that did not want his only daughter to become involved with a ne’er-do-well Scott who couldn’t hold a job and worked at a horse stable. Somehow, the young lovers found a way to be together. Sometimes they met on a rooftop, and as my father told me later, “they were married in the sight of God,” on a rooftop. My mother convinced friends to help them elope, and he married Rosa MacRay, the policeman’s daughter. I was born seven and a half months after the marriage. My mother must have been a romantic to name me Cleopatra. I have no memory of that period, of course, only what my father told me later. When I was about two years old, my mother died in childbirth. The stillborn baby boy was buried with her. After my mother’s death, my grandparents wanted to take me to raise. My father was afraid if he refused, he would wind up dead. Since my grandfather was a New York policeman, my father was sure he could find a way to kill him and suffer no repercussions.

Then started our period of wandering. My father’s feet were made for leaving, but he never left me but once. I was always a big, big part of who he was. He was a large, quiet, handsome man, a nice shy smile and he was always loving and protecting me. He was a listener—spoke only when he had something important to say. He read stories to me until I learned to read. Then I read to him. We sat for hours. I would sit on his lap or at his feet, wherever the light was better. He would hug me, touch my face or arms, and play with my hair. His jobs were varied. Sometimes we would live in town, sometimes in the country, nice houses or shacks. Early during the time my father was working, I would stay with different families. When he was off work, we were together. I went to so many different schools I lost count.
At my first school on the first school day I talked a lot. No one, not even father, had ever told me to shut up. Other children were talking as much as I. We got through one day, then the teacher took charge. Rule one, stay in your seat. Rule two, talk only when asked to by the teacher. Rule three, if you must speak, hold up your right hand. She had to teach most of us which was our right hand and what the other one was called. On the playground at recess, the teacher came over to the swing I was using, caught the rope, took hold of my shoulders with both hands, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You are a challenge.”
Challenge was a new word for me. I quit talking for the rest of the day. Later, Father listened to my stories of the day, smiled and said very little until I got to the word, “challenge.”
Then he told me about his childhood. He had been sent to a Catholic boarding school before he was two, had become a ward of the Church and cared for in a group of other children by two Greek nuns.His mother requested he be given lessons in swimming. If she gave the Priest a reason, my father was never told. He wondered if she had known he would cross the Atlantic as a sailor. He became a strong swimmer and loved the water. The Priest taught him English and Latin. The sisters taught him Greek. He also took classes in Hebrew, theology, rhetoric, composition, mathematics, public speaking, chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, history and law. He retained most everything he was taught. The whole school considered him a “challenge,” he was such a good student. When father was sixteen, the nuns went back to Greece and he knew he did not want to become a priest. The Father gave him new clothes and a small amount of money. His mother gave him a scarf she had woven from wool she had gathered on the farm where they lived. She also gave him a small green stone. He visited his family, said good-bye and went to sea. Until then, I had not realized the medical books I was taught to read were Latin and the beautiful book about the Greek Gods was Greek. The Bible was English. I made up my mind to always be a “challenge.”

Butterfly influence in novel by Pearle Munn Bishop, "Cleo's Oak"

Butterfly influence in novel by Pearle Munn Bishop, “Cleo’s Oak”

Father and I fished, swam and rode horses together. We ran instead of walked. We had runs down miles and miles of country roads. He loved me; I could not wait to spend time with him. As I became older I hung around his place of work. I rode horses, learned to care for them, drove the buggies, whatever I could do to be close to him. We always had a good horse and wagon. Talk—my mouth ran all my waking hours. If no one was around, I talked to the trees. “The moss on your north side is really thick this year. Does that mean a cold winter is coming?” The beauty of talking to the trees is they talk back. This I would do with rocks, chicks, people, dolls—whatever or whoever was around. Not only would I talk, I would listen. I knew secrets, some I was told, some I just knew. Sometimes knowing made me happy. Other times I would rather not know.
When I was about six, I told a woman I hardly knew that her three-year-old son would be washed away in the river and when his body was found, it would be eaten away by fish and turtles. This I had seen in a vision. I had not only seen it, I heard it, I smelled it—the water in the river was cold. What an uproar that caused. When three weeks later what I had told the mother came true, even I was frightened. How did I know this? Were all the things that filtered through my brain true? That ship wreck I “saw,” did it really happen? I knew that old lady Pridgen was going to die on Sunday, but most anyone else could figure that out. Maybe not see her as I did in her death bed and hear her last gasp of air, but surely everybody knew her time was near. After the death of the three-year-old boy, some people wanted me to tell them “things.” Other people would cross the road and hide when I was near. No one would look me in the eye.
Soon after that, one Friday, Father said it was time to move on. We packed our covered wagon with food, clothes, pots, pans, books, saddles and hay. Sometimes when we moved the people would give us a party. Not this time. The only gift I received was an all-black, five-week-old kitten. The five-year-old brother of the boy that drowned met our wagon about two miles down the road. Without a word, he handed her to me. I took her.No one spoke. I did not learn if she was a gift from the mother or the boy. I named her Friday. From then on, Friday and I seemed attached to each other. I had heard tales of witches and black cats but I knew I was not a witch. Witches were old crones with big noses, warts and hunched backs. They boiled things in pots. The things I boiled in pots were good to eat or maybe the kettle would hold our clothes boiled to get clean.

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