Operation Harry Brown: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Purple irisPoor Harry Brown. Between his health issues and the fact that his wife Louisa has left him, life seems…well…a little out of control.

It’s time to reassert himself, take charge like the man he is.

Right?

Well…maybe not so much.

Last week, Louisa finally decided to file for divorce. And with the help of her friend Edie Wolfe, she’s got plans for Harry as well.

Let’s check in to see how it’s going, shall we?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

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Nowadays, Harry Brown couldn’t decide whether it was worthwhile to open his eyes in the morning or not so he’d worked out a compromise, slitting them open the merest fraction just to ascertain whether the sun had decided to come up or not.

You can never tell about these things.

He heard a rattle in the kitchen and his heart gave an involuntary flutter before he remembered that Louisa—his wife—no longer lived in her proper home. She had abandoned him. Just like their three sons.

Harry pressed his eyelids together, straining to remember the name of the aide that was with him now. He dredged up a vague image of her—brown hair fading to gray, watery blue eyes, more waist than hips. In other words, she looked like all the other aides that the agency sent to his house.

The last aide had lasted two weeks, something of a record in Harry’s new life as he coped with the results of his near-fatal stroke. If Louisa would just come home where she belonged, Harry wouldn’t have to put up with strangers in his kitchen.

But Louisa had stopped answering his phone calls and she wouldn’t return his messages. He’d even resorted to begging her to come back, something that Harry now regretted.

He groaned, rolled over on his back and then pushed himself upright. As he did, his bedroom door popped open.

“Do we need help with the toilet?” the aide asked.

Harry felt his tongue sharpen for a reply but then thought better of it. “No, that’s all right,” he said. “My canes are here. I can manage, thank you.”

“Would you like eggs for breakfast this morning?”

“Yes, scrambled with some toast. Is there any sausage in the freezer?”

“I’ll look.” The aide, whose name was Connie by the way, bit back her admonishment about eating a healthier diet. Let the old codger eat whatever he wanted, that was her attitude. He hadn’t got much time left, did he? Might as well enjoy it. “How many would you like if there are any?”

“Three,” Harry said and added a please because she didn’t lecture him. She was the first aide who hadn’t done that.

Connie, as it turned out, was a good cook. Breakfast was nothing fancy but her eggs were tasty and the sausage were cooked perfectly—nice and brown—and she didn’t skimp on the butter when it came to his toast.

“More coffee, hon?” A steaming pot hovered over his cup.

Harry smiled. “Sure. Why not? And could I have another piece of toast?” He let his smile extend further. “Please?”

The two of them existed in companionable silence while Connie cleaned up and Harry sipped and chewed. She would do, he thought. She would do well enough until Louisa came back.

“I was planning to do some grocery shopping this morning,” Connie said as she wiped down the stove. “Anything in particular you want for supper?”

“Hmm, will you be here as well?”

“Oh yes, I’m scheduled for the next three days and nights,” Connie said.

“Well, how would you feel about a pork roast? You do eat pork, right? So many people have different ways of eating nowadays.”

“Huh, don’t I know it. I’ve got a granddaughter who won’t touch meat at all. Claims that killing animals for eating is wrong. When she makes a BLT, she only uses lettuce and tomato. What kind of a sandwich is that?” Connie complained. 

“Hmph, no bacon?”

Connie turned to face him, a sponge in her hand. “No bacon. No steak. No burgers. I tell ya, where would this country be without meat?”

This time, Harry’s smile was genuine. Yes, this one would do nicely. “Would you mind if I went with you?” he asked.

“To the grocery store?”

“Yeah. I don’t get out much and I could do with a change of scenery.” He smiled again. One of his many lady friends had told him he had a charming smile so Harry figured he could always get what he wanted if he just turned up the wattage.

Harry knew that aides from the agency were not supposed to drive their clients in their personal vehicles but Connie had been given a lot of leeway in her care of this patient. “Sure thing,” she said. “Why not? Probably do you some good. And with everything in bloom right now, we could even take a bit of a scenic ride.” 

Harry couldn’t believe his luck. “I know a road where you can see the whole valley.”

“Sounds lovely,” Connie reached behind to untie her apron. “I should be ready in about half an hour.”

In Vermont, the hills and trees and flowers and gardens spend so much time in the deep freeze of winter that spring isn’t so much a season as it is an explosion. Change is rapid, as if the natural world is afraid that the warming sun will be taken away if it doesn’t hurry up. If you’d been spending a lot of time indoors—like Harry Brown—the speed of the outdoor transformation could catch you unawares.

The old crabapple in his front yard was the first thing to catch his eye. Most years, it bore only a vague sprinkling of white blossoms. This year, it was covered with a veritable snow of fragrant petals and it hummed with bees. When Harry stopped to take it in, Connie heard a muted “wow” escape his lips.

Next he looked down the street toward his neighbors’ yard. Mr. and Mrs. Cummings had been puttering about their “heavenly acre” (as they liked to call it) ever since they’d moved to Carding many years ago. Harry considered gardens as nothing more than obstacles to a mowing machine so he paid little attention to the Cummings’ efforts. Connie saw his jaw drop as he took in the purples and reds and yellows in his neighbors’ yard. He could barely see their house.

“It’s been quite a spring,” Connie commented as she stowed Harry’s canes in the back seat of her SUV. “A lot of rain and clouds and cool weather and the flowers are just loving it.”

“So I see,” Harry murmured as he examined a hedge of purple iris. Their petals were so dark, they were almost black. Unnatural, that was.

“Where would you like to go?” Connie asked.

“Up Belmont Hill, toward the Tennyson place.” Harry smiled again even though his face was starting to hurt from the effort and indicated the binoculars he’d looped around his neck. “It’s amazing what you can see from up there.”

“Okay, just give me directions.”

Harry began to relax as they drove along. Connie took directions well and listened as he pointed out the roads built by Brown & Sons and explained how the company worked with the state after Hurricane Irene on Carding’s bridge and culverts.

“You sound proud of the business you built,” Connie observed as they started up Belmont Hill. 

Harry’s chest puffed out a bit. He couldn’t help it. A man was his work, after all.

Harry leaned forward eagerly the higher they climbed and Connie caught his involuntary gasp of breath when he spotted a small new house sunning itself in the middle of an emerald field. She pointed out the structure.

“That looks like a modular to me,” she said. “My brother and sister-in-law live downstate in one that’s similar to that.”

Harry merely grunted, his eyes fixed on the structure he knew his sons had built for their mother. “Could you pull in just up there? And then turn around so we can see the valley?”

Harry trained his binoculars on the structure, sucking up every detail. It was sided with cedar shingles. Its doorway and window frames were painted a dark sapphire blue and there were solar panels on the roof. Under other circumstances, he would have been proud of his sons’ work.

But instead, he searched for something to criticize. “Hmph, solar panels,” he huffed aloud. “Bet the roof leaks under ’em in winter.”

Connie said nothing. Edie Wolfe had told her who lived in the new house.

Harry grew still as a pickup truck turned into the yard and his youngest son, Jacob, hopped out.

He had a big grin on his face as the front door opened and a black-and-white border collie launched itself into the front yard. Then Louisa stepped into the sunlight, a huge smile on her own face and a squirming puppy in her arms.

“Dogs.” Harry’s voice was weighted down with his disgust. Louisa would have to get rid of them when she came home. He hated dogs. A waste of time and money, in his opinion. 

“This is going to end right now,” he muttered as he pulled his phone from his pocket and angrily stabbed the speed-dial button for Louisa’s number.

Louisa jumped at the sound of her ring tone. Still chattering to Jacob, she gently placed the pup on the grass in order to pull her phone from her jacket pocket. As Harry watched, Louisa glanced at her screen then clicked the phone off. At the same time, Jacob looked up the hill at the car where his father sat with Connie.

He waved. Louisa turned around to see what had caught her son’s attention. When she saw Harry, she pointedly plunged her phone back into her pocket.

Harry shrank in his seat. “Take me home,” he growled. “Now.”

Connie did as he wished. Operation Harry Brown had begun and so far, it was all going according to plan.


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Operation Harry Brown

Poor Harry Brown. Between his health issues and the fact that his wife Louisa has left him, life seems…well…a little out of control.

It’s time to reassert himself, take charge like the man he is.

Right?

Well…maybe not so much.

Last week, Louisa finally decided to file for divorce. And with the help of her friend Edie Wolfe, she’s made plans for Harry as well.

Let’s check in tomorrow to see how it’s going, shall we? In the meantime, here’s a wee sample of what’s to come.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

SH-Purple iris

Two Phone Calls: A Carding Chronicle

SH-Two phone callsIt seems to me that people always talk about change as though it takes no more effort than flipping a light switch.

But if there’s one thing humans resist with all their soul, it’s change.

The Brown family—father Harry, mother Louisa, and sons Gideon, Noah and Jacob—have been in the midst of wrenching change for a while now. This week is the beginning of a multi-part story about how they handle this new phase of their lives.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

Glad you’re here.

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For Gideon Brown, Thursday was just another Thursday. With his father Harry sidelined by a stroke—maybe permanently—from the family trucking business, all of the day-to-day responsibilities of scheduling, estimating, hiring, payroll and maintenance now fell on his shoulders.

Not that he had to handle everything by himself. His two younger brothers, Noah and Jacob, both pitched in, Noah with his accounting wizardry and Jacob with his uncanny ability to direct a construction crew on-site.

But still, the bulk of the responsibility for Brown & Sons was Gideon’s.

Not that he would have it any other way. The busy-ness helped mask the emptiness he dragged around with him, an emptiness that often threatened to drown him in grief over his dissolved marriage. His estranged wife’s departure had left an outsized hole in his life, a space filled with regret and self-recrimination.

Of course, Gideon’s obvious sadness worried his mother.

“What about the girl who was the secretary in the school office?” Louisa asked as she dished out pasta for her oldest son. “What was her name? Linda?”

“Lydia,” Jacob corrected as he walked in the door. “And she’s hardly a girl, Mom. She’s almost Gideon’s age.” He winked at his older brother then wished he hadn’t made the joke when he saw Gideon wince.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “That wasn’t funny.”

“Lydia doesn’t live around here any more, Mom,” Gideon said. “Besides, she wasn’t my type.”

He leaned over to fish a thick envelope out of his jacket pocket. “These are the final divorce papers,” he said, laying the document in the middle of the table.

Louisa’s eyes filled with tears. She’d adored Gideon’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Chloe, and missed the young woman’s presence in her otherwise all-male family.

“I understand she’s going to be in Carding this week,” Gideon said, “moving the last of her stuff out of the rooms she rented in Edie Wolfe’s house.”

Gideon’s news removed any motive the three of them had to initiate dinner conversation and the pasta disappeared in silence.

Later, as Gideon collected his belongings before heading home, Louisa cornered him. “Have you talked to Chloe at all since she left for England?” she asked.

“Yeah, once.”

“Did she…is there…?”

“There’s somebody else in her life now, Ma.” Gideon kissed her on the cheek. “Chloe’s not coming back. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

Later, Jacob found Louisa standing immobile in her darkened kitchen.

“Ma? You all right?”

Louisa jumped and when she turned, Jacob realized she’d been crying…again.

“Oh Mom,” he sighed as he wrapped his arms around her. 

“We have turned out to be such as sad family,” she sniffled into his shoulder.

Jacob let her sniffle a bit more before he said: “But we don’t have to stay that way, do we?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like such an effort to get out of bed in the morning. Your father…”

“Dad? What about him?”

“He called again today,” Louisa admitted. Her sons had pleaded with her not to interact with Harry because it took such an emotional toll on her.

“Please tell me you didn’t answer the phone,” Jacob said.

“You’ll be proud of me. I didn’t,” Louisa said, tapping her eyes with a soggy tissue.

“Well, that’s a step forward,” Jacob said. “Though I assume he left a message.”

“Oh you know he did.” She lifted her head so she could look her son straight in the eye. “He wants me to come back. He says he wants to reconcile, that he’s changed…”

Jacob raised a hand to stop her. “Please don’t tell me you believe him.”

“No, of course I don’t. He’s just alone and scared and realizes there’s no one there to take care of him except the people he hires,” Louisa said. 

“And that he fires just as quickly,” Jacob said. “Please don’t tell me you called him back.”

“Well, I did think about it. Old habits die hard, you know.” But then she stood up straight. “The truth is, I made two calls, neither of them to Harry. The first was to my lawyer.”

“You’re finally going to go through with it.” Jacob could barely keep the excitement out of his voice. He adored his mother and was determined that the remaining years of her life—no matter the number—be devoted to her own interests.

“Yes, yes I am.” She looked so sad and wistful that Jacob’s eyes teared up in response. 

“So what finally tipped you over the edge?”

“You know I meet Edie and Ruth and Agnes for coffee at the bakery every Wednesday morning, right?” Louisa asked.

Jacob nodded. He’d always found it peculiar that one of his mother’s best friends, Edie Wolfe, was Harry’s first wife. Though when he thought about it, who would understand Louisa’s problems better than Edie?

“I try not to talk about Harry because they’ve all heard it before, too many times. But I know they’re concerned about me. Ruth brought me something.” Louisa opened a drawer and withdrew a well-thumbed booklet about border collies. One of Louisa’s incentives for building a small house on the outskirts of Carding was the possibility of starting a kennel, a longtime aspiration of hers, one that Harry had actively squelched as “too expensive and ridiculous.”

So far, Louisa’s sole move in the direction of her dream was the purchase of a border collie pup that she’d named Pippin after her favorite hobbit. Since then, she’d made no other effort at all.

Jacob smiled but stayed silent, willing his mother to speak. This had to be her move or it wasn’t going to work.

After a few more heartbeats, Louisa said with a small, shaky laugh, “Boy, this change stuff is hard. How do you move forward if you can’t see which path to take?”

“But…?”

“But then I made a second call, to this kennel in Maine. I made an appointment to visit them, to look into buying another pup as a mate for Pippin,” Louisa said. “Ruth’s going to come with me.”

Jacob laughed. “And if I know Ruth, she’ll be sure you keep that appointment.”

Louisa nodded, letting a small smile temporarily push her melancholy to one side. “That’s why I asked her. And Edie’s going to the lawyer with me.” 

She looked up quickly. “I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t ask you to go with me.”

In response, Jacob wrapped his arms around his mother, lifted her feet off the floor and hugged her so hard, Louisa was left gasping for breath.

“Are you kidding? When do you want me to get started on that dog run you’ve been talking about?”


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Two Phone Calls

It seems to me that people always talk about change as though it takes no more effort than flipping a light switch.

But if there’s one thing humans resist with all their soul, it’s change.

The Brown family—father Harry, mother Louisa, and sons Gideon, Noah and Jacob—have been in the midst of wrenching change for a while now. Tomorrow is the beginning of a multi-part story about how they handle this new phase of their lives.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. You can find the little town that no one can seem to find on a map right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

Thanks for visiting.

SH-Two phone calls

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.