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. 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.
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Glad you’re here.
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.
“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 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?”
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