Table of Contents
More Praise for Lisa Wingate’s
“You can’t put it down without . . . taking a good look at your own life and how misplaced priorities might have led to missed opportunities.
is an excellent read for any season, a celebration of the power of love.”
El Paso Times
“This novel’s strength is its believable characters. . . . Many readers will see themselves in Kate, who is so wrapped up in her own problems that she fails to see the worries of others.”
American Profiles Weekly Magazine
“Get your tissues or handkerchief ready. You’re going to need them when you read Lisa Wingate’s book
. Your emotions will run the gamut from laughing loudly to shedding tears as you read the story.”
McAlester News Capital & Democrat
Written by today’s freshest new talents and selected by New American Library, NAL Accent novels touch on subjects close to a woman’s heart, from friendship to family to finding our place in the world. The Conversation Guides included in each book are intended to enrich the individual reading experience, as well as encourage us to explore these topics together—because books, and life, are meant for sharing.
Published by New American Library, a division of
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Published by NAL Accent, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Previously published in an NAL Accent trade paperback edition.
First NAL Accent Mass Market Printing, February 2003
Copyright © Wingate Media, LLC, 2001
Conversation Guide copyright © Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2001 All rights reserved
ISBN : 978-1-101-57591-8
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To my grandmothers,
for tilling the soil in which we grew
and for watering our roots
with stories of all the old things
When you sit caged in some lonely corner slowly tapping out the pages of a novel, one of the things you dream about is who you will acknowledge when the book is finally published—sort of the way actors dream of their Oscar speech. So here is my Oscar speech. I will try not to leave out anyone.
My heartfelt thanks go out to all of the friends who suffered through editing and reediting countless versions of the manuscript. You are the saving grace of a lousy typist. Thank you also, Amanda Carter, for your incredible proofreading, for your valuable input, and for the little jokes written in the margin. Yes, my spelling is laughable, but you’re the best.
Thank you, Mom, for suffering through each and every rewrite of this book, and all my others through the years. Thank you, Sam, for always having so much faith that I could do this and for making the children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all of those times dinner was nowhere in sight. You are just what every writer needs: a supportive, patient spouse with a good eye for plot lines.
Gratitude beyond measure goes to my wonderful agent, Lisa Hagan, for showing this project such devotion, for always being positive and determined, and for giving me affirmations when I needed them. You are exactly what every writer dreams of in an agent and a friend.
Thank you to everyone at NAL, but especially to my incredible editor, Ellen Edwards, for knowing exactly what
needed. You have an amazing sense of things, and you have been a dream to work with. Without you, the book would still be missing something.
Last, my thanks go to my grandmother, who, at eighty-five years old, came for a visit after my first son was born and sat with me in the long evening shadows, telling the stories that were the genesis of this book. Thank you, Grandma, for showing me how to rock a colicky baby, how to plant iris bulbs, and how to prune roses. Thank you for helping me to see the value of where I was and for telling me about the times when the roses grew wild. . . .
NDIAN wisdom says our lives are rivers. We are born somewhere small and quiet and we move toward a place we cannot see, but only imagine. Along our journey, people and events flow into us, and we are created of everywhere and everyone we have passed. Each event, each person, changes us in some way. Even in times of drought we are still moving and growing, but it is during seasons of rain that we expand the most—when water flows from all directions, sweeping at terrifying speed, chasing against rocks, spilling over boundaries. These are painful times, but they enable us to carry burdens we could never have thought possible.
This I learned from my grandmother, when my life was rushing with torrential speed and hers was slowly ebbing into the sea. I think it was God’s plan that we came together at this time. To carry each other’s burden. To remind ourselves of what we had been and would someday become.
Floods are painful, but they are necessary. They keep us clear and strong. They move our lives onto new paths.
A winter rain was falling the day we drove the potholed gravel drive to the Missouri farmhouse my great-grandparents had built on a bluff above Mulberry Creek. As straight as one of the grand porch pillars, and as much a part of the house, Grandma watched as we wound through the rivers of muddy water flowing down the hill. She frowned and wrung her hands as the car tires spun, throwing gravel against the ancient trees along the drive. No doubt she was worried that we would damage her prized silver maples.
A sick feeling started in my throat and fell to my stomach like a swallowed ice cube. I looked at Ben in the driver’s seat and the baby asleep in the car seat behind us. This would probably be the longest December and the worst Christmas of our lives.
It would only be a matter of time before Grandma figured out why we had come and war broke out. Even now, she was looking at us with mild suspicion, no doubt calculating why we were arriving three weeks early for Christmas. She wouldn’t be fooled for long into thinking this was just a casual visit. That was the wishful thinking of a bunch of relatives hoping to postpone the problem of Grandma Rose until they were off work for the Christmas holiday.
In a perfect world, all of them would have been rushing to Grandma’s side, whether it was convenient or not. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have been looking at my grandmother with a sense of dread, and I wouldn’t have been looking at my baby and wondering if the trip was too much for him and if it was wise to take him so far from his doctors. In a perfect world, babies are born healthy, and medical bills don’t snowball into the tens of thousands of dollars, and grandmothers don’t almost burn down their houses, and family members don’t go years without speaking to one another, and Christmas is a time to look forward to. . . .
But those of us who aren’t perfect do the best we can. With me on maternity leave and Ben able to do most of his work in structural design anywhere there was a computer and a phone line, we were the logical choice to stay at the farm the next few weeks and make sure Grandma Rose didn’t burn down the rest of the house before the family could figure out what to do about her.
But I never imagined how I would
when we turned the corner to the house. I never thought the sight of my grandmother, ramrod straight on the porch, would turn me into that six-year-old girl who hated to enter that house. It wasn’t
I hated. It was the house: the constant fuss about scuffing the floors, and scraping the walls, and tracking mud on the rugs—as if the house were more important than the children in it.
From the porch, Grandma flailed her arms and yelled something we couldn’t understand.
“She’s”—Ben squinted through the rain—“telling me how to park.”
“If it weren’t raining, she’d be climbing into the driver’s seat.” I was joking, of course—mostly. I wondered if Ben had any inkling of how difficult she could be. He hadn’t been around her much in the ten years we’d been married. He’d never seen her standing at the door inspecting people’s shoes for mud like a drill sergeant, or putting coasters under people’s drinks, or listening to the plumbing to make sure no one was flushing too much toilet paper. He didn’t know that food was forbidden in the living room and that you were not allowed to step from the bath until every ounce of water was drained from the tub and toweled from your body. And that the towels then had to be folded in triplicate and hung on the bar immediately so they would not mildew. . . .
He didn’t have a clue what I was thinking. He grinned as he put the car in park, stretched his neck, and combed his fingers through the dark curls of his hair. “We made it. I’m ready for a rest. Then I need to get the computer plugged in and see if there’s any more word on that Randolph stores job.”
The undercurrent of worry about money was unmistakable. Since Joshua’s birth, it was the unspoken nuance of every conversation we had. It was all Ben thought about. He didn’t have time to consider how we were going to get along with our new landlady. Besides, he always got along with everybody. It was one of the things I loved and hated about him.