Everyone seems to be in a state of flux in Carding these days. What with high school and college graduations, weddings, the advent of summer, and vacations, everyone seems to be coming or going.
But underneath all the bustle, there are threads of anxiety, especially in Harry Brown’s family.
Especially for Harry Brown.
This is the fourth part of a family saga, a family evolving into tomorrow. Here’s where you can go to catch up: one, two and three.
We’ll wind it all up after the 4th of July. Wow, that’s next week!! How did we get here so fast?
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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When you gaze at the calendar, there’s arguably no month that’s more pregnant with change than June.
It’s the month of graduations from high school and college. It’s the most popular month for weddings. The heat of summer settles in, dissipating the anxiety that accompanies the cold-weather months.
One one level, the changes rippling through Carding are normal for this time of years. Wil Bennett and his friend Dave Muzzy are struggling to master their impatience at the slow pace that high schools consider necessary for Pomp and Circumstance while wondering why it’s so important.
They’re not the only ones sleepwalking through Carding High’s graduation exercises. Nothing has turned out the way their erstwhile friend, Brian Lambert, had hoped. The Carding girlfriend that he dropped (Wil’s sister Faye) continues to ignore him and the former girlfriend from Martha’s Vineyard whose acquaintance he renewed won’t return his calls. He’s so embarrassed by the way he treated Faye that he can’t look Wil or Dave in the eye.
Worst of all, his father cornered him into accepting a basketball scholarship from a college he’s sure he’ll despise. He hates playing basketball.
So it wouldn’t be out of line to say that Brian Lambert is one big ball of hurt, resentment, and pain.
For that matter, so is Harry Brown.
To his surprise, none of Harry’s standard emotional manipulating strategies have worked since his stroke. The fact that they are based on an out-of-date image of himself as a tough guy has never occurred to Harry. In his mind, he’s still the same ruthless businessman and lover that he’s always been.
“Love ’em and leave ’em, I always say,” he used to brag to his golfing buddies. “There’s always another chump or woman around the next corner.”
Until there isn’t.
His first wife—Edie Wolfe—came to despise Harry and his attitude, eventually running away from him in the middle of the night.
But Edie’s faithlessness was nothing in comparison to wife-number-two’s duplicity.
It all started when Louisa took control of his personal and business affairs while Harry was incapacitated with his stroke. Then she divided their home in two while he was in rehab, building a wall right through the middle of the house with her on one side and him on the other. Then she deserted him entirely, moving into a dinky modular home put together by their traitorous sons.
But her latest breach of trust was the worst. Louisa had had the audacity to file for a divorce, demanding half of the value of their house and half the value of his trucking business, Brown & Sons.
“A man works his whole life for his family and what thanks does he get?” Harry grumped every morning over the breakfast table.
His new cook and housekeeper, Connie Lindfors, didn’t bother to comment because she knew that Harry preferred to answer his own questions.
“Would you like bacon or sausage with your eggs this morning?” she asked as she watched a pat of butter transform itself from solid to liquid in the bottom of her frying pan. Harry preferred his three scrambled eggs cooked in butter.
“Have we got any more of that thick-sliced bacon?” he asked. “That’s the way bacon’s supposed to be, not that thin namby-pamby stuff.”
When Connie leaned into the open refrigerator to take a look, Harry took a moment to appreciate the fact that her middle-age girth was not as ample as he had at first assumed. When she emerged triumphantly with a package in her hand, she ignored his ogle.
He’s nothing but an old codger with a dinky ticker, she told herself. Who does he think he is?
“This is the last of it,” she said as she slid the bacon into the pan beside the eggs. “I’ll have to get over to Cooper’s to get some more.”
Harry turned to look out the window. The morning clouds were dissipating fast. “I’ll think I’ll go with you, maybe sit on a bench on the green with a coffee, watch the world go by a little bit while you do the shopping,” he said. “Would that be all right?”
Ever since Harry discovered that Connie would cook him whatever he asked for without lecturing him about diet, he figured he’d better be nice to her so she’d stay.
“I think that would be a lovely idea,” Connie said. “It’s a gorgeous day. And maybe tonight we can catch some of the baseball game over at the high school. It’s the last game of the season.”
Harry actually grinned. “Sure. I haven’t been to a game all year.”
Even though she’d been taking care of Harry for only a couple of weeks, Connie was already quite proficient when it came to handling the grumpy old man. Louisa had been very thorough in her description of Harry when she hired Connie, which had helped. But after a lifetime spent as a cook in difficult households, Connie had learned a thing or two about finessing the fusspots of the world.
In her opinion, men were easier to cajole than women, especially those of a certain age. You just needed to pretend to cater to their every whim. After that, they became quite pliable.
“Which side of the green would you prefer to sit on?” she asked as they drove down Meetinghouse Road.
He pointed toward the southeast corner of Carding’s common. “You can see a lot of what’s going on in town from there.”
Connie pulled up close to a bench. “Does this one suit?”
Harry had the car door open before she got around to the passenger side and was already rising to his feet. Across the green, his oldest son, Gideon, watched his father’s arrival with an unexpected tug of guilt. He’d been avoiding Harry because he knew the divorce would make any conversation between them very difficult
To his son, Harry looked smaller than normal, his white hair thinner and more whispy, his shoulders stooped. His clothes hung loose on his body. Connie was obviously quite competent, assisting Harry to the sidewalk and the few steps to the bench.
When Harry sat down, he turned his face toward the sun with obvious pleasure.
“Are you going to talk to him?” Edie Wolfe’s voice made Gideon jump.
He sighed. “I should. I know I should. But I don’t know what to say.”
“He’s looking mighty frail,” Edie observed.
“Yeah. He’s changed a lot since the stroke. It’s just that…he’s going to ask me about the divorce, about selling the business…”
“So you haven’t made up your mind about whether you’re going to leave or not. I thought that might be the case.”
Gideon looked at her, sharpish. “How do you do that? Understand what people are thinking without them saying anything?”
Edie shrugged. “I just put myself in their place and try to figure out how I would feel. For example, you’ve always taken your responsibilities to Brown & Sons seriously. In fact, you’ve been the bedrock of that business for quite a while, guiding it into the future. That’s hard to walk away from.”
Gideon nodded. “Yeah, it is. But Harry won’t sell unless I go, and Mom wants to be shut of him and everything about him.”
Edie laid a hand on his arm. “And what, pray tell, does Gideon want? Travel? A permanent life in Carding? Something in between or something entirely different?”
“To be truthful, I have no idea, Edie. If I was still married to Chloe, I’d tell you that I wanted nothing more than to take over Brown & Sons and run it the way I see fit. Dad has no idea about what’s changing in our industry, the new regulations coming down the pike or how to adapt to them. If he talks about running the business at all, he talks about stuff that happened ten, twenty years ago.”
“What about your brothers?”
Gideon smiled, the first expression with real pleasure in it that Edie had seen on his face in a long time. “They’re amazing, really good at what they do. Jacob’s an absolute whiz at the newer machines. All that digital stuff just baffles me but he plunges right in up to his elbows. And Noah takes after Mom. He’s not only a great accountant, he’s a good strategic thinker. He was up here last weekend with a whole five-year plan for Brown & Sons all mapped out for us.”
Then Gideon stopped cold. “It’s too bad we’ll never get to see how it turns out.”
They stood in companionable silence, gazing across the green to where Harry sat, the sun creeping up on him, the expression on his face less grumpy than usual. Every so often, he’d raise the coffee cup in his hand at a passing car or in the direction of someone on the sidewalk across the street. Edie and Gideon noticed that no one raised a hand in response.
“It’s hard to forgive him until you see him like this,” Edie said softly.
“Yeah.” Gideon smiled down at Edie. Harry had raised him to hate this woman but Gideon never had understood the sense in that. Edie had always held her hand out in friendship to him.
“I think I’d better go and say hello to Harry while I have the chance,” Gideon said with a sigh. “Thanks for listening to me, Edie.”
She watched the young man go in silence, his walk betraying the sadness he carried. Ordinarily, their conversation would have sparked an idea, a glimpse of a way forward. But for some strange reason, Edie knew that standing still was her wisest choice at the moment.
The air felt as charged as it did in those moments before a thunderstorm breaks. Gideon had nearly reached the bench where his father sat alone.
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.