Lately, the Carding Chronicles have been documenting changes about town but especially in the family of Harry and Louisa Brown.
As Chronicles go, this one has wallowed in the telling before getting to this point. If you need to catch up, you can read each of the segments individually here: one, two, three, four and five or you are welcome to read all the segments together here: The Uncertainty Principle.
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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Louisa sat in her car long after she’d turned off the engine, staring at the house where she’d spent her married life with Harry Brown, where she’d raised their three sons. To her eyes, it seemed faded.
She shook her head and looked again, taking time to inspect the building for neglected maintenance or the need for a new paint job.
But everything was fine.
It must be the mist of memory, she told herself as she gathered her bag and the leashes for her two dogs. She had to grin as she thought about how Harry would have complained about canines in his house and then she frowned.
I don’t need to care about Harry’s opinion any more, she reminded herself, aware of the sense of relief that accompanied that thought. Does that make me one of those widows who dances home from her husband’s funeral?
Judging by the sounds coming from the way-back of her car, the puppy was now awake and doing his best to roust the female that Louisa had named Gracie. She opened the car door and headed toward the hatchback. It was time to face the wrap-up of Harry Brown’s life.
Connie Lindfors, the woman hired to be Harry’s cook and housekeeper, was in the kitchen washing lettuce when Louisa came through with the dogs.
“I checked the fencing around the old play yard,” Connie said. “There was one place where the little one could have gotten out but Jacob was here earlier this morning with some wire mesh to patch things up so I think we’ll be all right.”
Louisa resisted the urge to hug Connie. The woman had been a steadying hand over the past bewildering week, taking care of the house, the food, and all the plans for the reception after Harry’s funeral. But once the funeral was over, Connie would have to move on to another client so Louisa didn’t feel hugs were appropriate under the circumstances.
There was something too familiar about that gesture.
But she could be honest. “You have been just amazing,” she told Connie. “I honestly don’t know what I would have done without you.”
Connie waved her hand about the kitchen. “This probably feels weird to you, halfway through a divorce, no longer living here, and yet you’re burying a husband from this house. Life can take some pretty strange twists, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I do. None of this seems real to me. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and Harry will be arguing with me.” Louisa sighed. “Toward the end, that’s all we had in common.”
Connie picked up a towel to dry her hands. “I don’t know if this is a good time to bring this up or not but local realtors have been by to ask what’s going to happen to the house. With the market so tight and all, it would be a good time to sell. It’s a great location and a really nice house.”
“To tell the truth, I don’t know. I don’t want to come back here. It’s too big for me to handle on my own and there are way too many bad memories in these walls.” Her face tightened up with pain. “Too many angry words and too few apologies.”
“What about your sons? Would they be interested?”
Louisa shook her head. “Gideon definitely isn’t. Jacob seems content with his apartment up at the Tennyson farm and Noah loves Boston. He likes to visit Carding but he doesn’t want to live here.”
“Then would you consider selling it to me?” Connie asked. “I like Carding.”
Louisa’s eyes flicked around the house. “I’m not trying to be nosy but why would you want such a big house? Between mowing the lawn and the gardens and keeping up with repairs, this place can be overwhelming. Not to mention expensive.”
“Hmm, yeah. But I’ve been thinking. There are three bedrooms and two baths on this side of the divide and lots of common spaces like the living room and den.”
“You’re thinking about renting out the rooms, aren’t you?”
“Well, I overheard a couple of women in the Coop the other day talking about the Carding Inn,” Connie said.
“Hmph, that place doesn’t exactly have the best reputation and the owner is not the most pleasant man on the planet,” Louisa conceded. “Were the women here to take classes at Carding Academy?”
“They were. Quilters, both of them. And that got me to thinking that I could team up with the Academy to supply some housing for their students.” Connie spread her hands toward the kitchen table. It was covered by casserole dishes and plates of cookies, brownies and deviled eggs that would be consumed after Harry’s funeral. “I’m used to cooking for other folks and I’ve been a housekeeper for years. I can hire people to do the lawn and clear snow and any repairs that come up.”
Louisa started to nod. “I have no idea what the sale price should be on this.”
“I’ve been putting away money for a long time,” Connie said. “When you’re a live-in cook, you don’t have many expenses.” She stuck out her hand. “Can we agree to at least talk about it?”
That was the last quiet moment of a very long day for Louisa Brown. When her sons—Gideon, Noah and Jacob—arrived, their attention to her was robust in all respects and she was glad of that.
The four of them traveled to the service together and sat together in the front pew of the Episcopal Church while Reverend Lloyd struggled to deliver a eulogy that was both truthful and compassionate. After all, everyone in town knew that Harry had been a difficult man.
Harry’s first wife, Edie Wolfe, was the last to arrive. She was accompanied by her daughter Diana and granddaughter Faye. They sat quietly in the most obscure corner of the church but heads still turned in their direction and a light whisper remarking their presence wafted through the air like smoke from a dying cigarette.
What was she doing here?
In fact, Edie had come to support her friend Louisa, Diana had come to support her mother and Faye had come out of morbid curiosity. She still didn’t understand why Harry’s last words had been directed toward her and why she felt this strange bond with a man she barely knew.
Later on, back at the house where Louisa no longer lived, Faye circulated among the adults, most of them strangers to her, feeling ill at ease. But then she discovered Louisa’s two dogs in the backyard. As soon as she sat on the edge of the deck, the puppy made itself at home in her lap, trying to chew on her finger as Faye stroked his ears.
“You look just like your grandmother when she was your age,” a voice said.
As Faye watched, a very old man leaned forward in one of the wooden chairs tucked deep in the shade.
“You knew my grandmother when she was young?”
“Oh, I knew them all—your grandmother, Harry Brown, Andy and Charlie Cooper, Ruth Goodwin, Robert Owen. They were all in high school together,” the man said.
“Were you a teacher there?”
“What was she like back then, my grandmother?”
“Pretty, just like you. Smart as a whip but kind of uncertain about herself.” He emitted a wheezy laugh. “But then most teenagers are kind of uncertain about themselves, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. Most of the time I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.”
“That’s how Harry got her to marry him, I’m sure of it,” the old man said. “Harry was one of the few kids who was always certain. It’s what got him so disliked. He never understood that other people had feelings and limits. I think he bullied your grandmother into saying yes to him but she came to her senses pretty quick. I knew she would.”
“It’s weird to think of Grandma being married to Harry Brown,” Faye said. “There’s so much about her that I don’t know. To me she’s always had gray hair and run the Carding Academy.”
“Oh there was a time when her hair blazed in the sun just like yours,” the old man said.
Suddenly this strange feeling came over Faye and she clutched at her hair.
“Is something wrong?” the old man asked.
“My hair. That’s what Harry saw.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I was with my brother and a friend across the street from where Harry was sitting when he…he…”
“Died,” the old man finished the sentence for her. “It’s okay to say the word in front of an old guy like me.”
“Yeah. Okay. Anyway, I called 9-1-1 when I saw him fall over and then we ran across the street.” She shook her head. “That must be it. He’d been watching me and he thought I was Grandma way back when.”
Just then, footsteps disturbed their conversation. “So this is where you’ve been hiding out,” Edie said, bending over to stroke the puppy in her granddaughter’s lap.
“Why Jack, Jack Knowlton, I had no idea you were here. How are you?”
“Not bad for an extremely old man. Can’t complain.” He nodded toward Faye. “Tell me, does she have as many opinions as you did at that age?”
“Oh probably more.” Edie looked at her granddaughter with obvious affection. Just then, the sun touched Faye’s hair, turning it from brown to a coppery amber and Edie touched it with a fingertip. “You know, my hair was that color when I was your age.”
“Funny thing,” Jack said, leaning back in his chair. “We were just talking about that.”
Thanks for stopping by.