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Authors: Jackina Stark

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BOOK: Things Worth Remembering
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Marcus has never met Clay and Rebecca, though he’s been here five or six times in the last two years. Miller tells him that Clay retired in June, and Marcus seems to be genuinely impressed that Clay served one school district for forty years, over twenty of them as superintendent of schools. When Marcus asks him the secret to such a long tenure, Clay gives his standard answer: “Good teachers.” Marcus says it must be good administrating too, and after a rather thorough question-and-answer session, Marcus congratulates him on his years of service and his retirement.

I can’t help myself. I lean over and hug Marcus.

“What accounts for your impeccable manners in a day marked by so much crudeness and self-absorption?” I ask, more of a compliment than a question.

“That’s easy,” he says, “a drill sergeant disguised as my mother.”

Maisey, disinterested in the lively conversation Marcus has been having with Clay, has pulled up a chair behind and between Anne and Rebecca. She asks Rebecca about her job. There are always stories, remarkable stories.

Rebecca, the most reserved of the Laswell clan, has been the director of a shelter for battered women for the last nineteen or twenty years. Most people would say Clay is dedicated to his job; those who know Rebecca, however, would say she is fiercely committed. Clay always said it was too bad she was salaried, because she’d be rich if she had been paid by the hour. Rebecca, focused and no-nonsense, would respond that they were already rich by anyone’s standards, whereas the people she worked to help were needy in every way.

“So,” Maisey says, “are you retiring too?”

“As a matter of fact,” she says, “Friday is my last day—as director anyway.”

“I can’t imagine that, Rebecca,” I say.

“I know. It was a hard decision, very hard. But I’ll be assisting the new director part-time next year. And after that I may volunteer some. We’ll see,” she says, patting Maisey’s bare leg.

At one time, until she was in middle school and her friends became preeminent, Maisey had been as much Clay and Rebecca’s girl as she was Miller and Anne’s. Before we put the pool in, Maisey spent most summer days in their pool. Clay had the whole month of July off, and it was he who taught Maisey to swim, turning her into an expert at every stroke except the butterfly, which she hated, as did Clay. She wasn’t in the first grade before she jumped from the diving board and swam into his safe arms. And Rebecca, though often at work when we were there, equipped the pool with any kind of apparatus she thought Maisey would enjoy. For years Maisey was the sole Laswell grandchild, and Clay and Rebecca agreed with Luke: Maize was a-

Jackie doesn’t call her Spoiley Girl for nothing. I doubt anyone on this earth has been loved more than my daughter.

Clay and Rebecca take off soon after the cobbler has been eaten and properly appreciated, and not long after that, Miller and Anne get up, stretch, and say they have to be going too. “We’ve stayed up
past our bedtime and still have a drive ahead of us,” Miller says, glancing at his watch.

Luke and I walk his parents to their car, but as soon as Miller turns on the ignition, Luke heads back to the patio to be with the kids. I stay and wave my in-laws out of the long drive and onto the highway until their car becomes only the two tiny red dots of their taillights. As I turn, intending to join the others on the patio, the wide stairs of the front porch seem to call my name, inviting me to stay awhile.

So I plop here and stare at the lawn stretching luxuriously to the highway lying beyond it in the darkness. I almost always sit out back, but this is nice too. I have chosen steps over the chairs that Luke and I sat in last night, waiting for the kids. A chair would be too intentional, like I needed to be alone, needed to step away from
, even if for just a moment.

I didn’t dream Miller and Anne would stay until eleven. They probably wouldn’t have if Clay and Rebecca hadn’t stopped by.


Well, one thing has not changed: I will never stop being thankful to him for introducing me to his handsome nephew. But I have more than Luke to thank him for. Six or seven months before that introduction, I had welled up with gratitude when he gave me my first teaching job. I actually sent him a thank-you note, although Paula had said that was over the top. To her thinking, my verbal thank-you had been very nearly effusive.

I couldn’t help it. I’ve always loved this area of Indiana, one county over from where Paula grew up, and I couldn’t believe it when Dr. Clayton Laswell offered me a fourth-grade classroom, the desire of my heart. Nor could I believe he hired Paula as well to teach another fourth-grade class in the same elementary school.

Paula and I were impressed with Clay Laswell from the moment we met him. After our interviews with the building principal and the hiring committee, I waited in his secretary’s office while Paula had her interview. When she came out of Dr. Laswell’s office, she waved a folded sheet of paper in front of her like she needed to cool off and said, “Whoa.” Passing her on the way to his office for my interview, I laughed.

But when I walked in and he stepped around his impressive mahogany desk to shake my hand, I understood what she meant. Clayton Laswell was Robert Redford handsome. Well, that’s what he is now. Then he was Brad Pitt handsome. He was the thirty-eight-year-old brand-new superintendent of schools, offered the position, according to the scuttlebutt, because of his excellent record as assistant superintendent and his ability to work amicably with everyone: teachers, staff, students, and parents.

But what impressed us besides his relative youth and his good looks was his enthusiasm and philosophy of leadership. He believed in giving classroom teachers as much autonomy as possible, but at the same time, he didn’t leave them, especially new teachers, to live “lives of quiet desperation.” His teachers could count on guidance and impressive resources. Listening to him talk that day, I felt like jumping up and waving pompons.

Clay Laswell was also a good listener. He seemed to want to know everything about me as a person, as well as a potential teacher. He thought it was quite interesting that I left St. Louis to come to Indiana to college and that I wanted to stay here and teach, preferring the countryside to the glories of the city. He seemed even more interested in my thoughts on teaching, nodding with approval when I explained, among other things, my desire to provide a “positive zone” in my classroom. Some people would have laughed, calling such a thing the idealism of a teacher who has never taught, but Clay Laswell seemed to believe it was an exciting possibility.

I hoped he wasn’t just being nice until he could get the crazy girl out of his office. “He’s with it!” Paula said as we drove out of the parking lot that afternoon. “How cool would it be if we got those two openings?” she asked.

The fact that we didn’t make it into the same sorority four years earlier flashed into my mind, but I didn’t mention it to Paula. No jinx thinking. I didn’t doubt we’d get jobs for the fall, but I wanted so much for us to get

Two days later, while eating cereal in our apartment before heading off to practice teach (a week left and counting), we got a call from Dr. Laswell’s ancient but efficient secretary. She was pleased to inform both of us that we had received board approval and asked if we could come by that afternoon to sign our contracts. We gave each other high fives and danced a boogie in the living room before we threw on our clothes and ran out the door, planning to meet back home at three-thirty for the forty-five-minute drive to sign on the blessed dotted line. Our future had arrived.

And now, twenty-five years of that future have unfolded—a quarter of a century. They have been good years, but sitting here tonight, I’m acutely aware they could have been better. Wounds have marred my world, some of them self-inflicted. I have found those hardest to bear.

I stand up, brush off the seat of my shorts, and walk back to the patio, back to those who might be waiting for me there.



“Kennedy, you look tired,” Marcus says when Mother returns to the patio.

“You know, Marcus, I do believe I am.”

Dad pushes back his chair and says, “Well, it’s late. I think we should all hit the hay.” He stands up and stretches. “What time are the girls coming tomorrow?”

“Around ten. And, Dad, don’t fix a big breakfast.”

“Fine. We’ll fend for ourselves in the morning. Marcus, you know where the cereal is.”

“I do, sir.”

Mother comes up behind Dad, slips her arms around his waist, and leans her head against his shoulder. Marcus is right; she does look tired.

“Are you asleep?” Dad asks her.

“Just about,” she says.

They go inside then, saying they’ll see us in the morning. And just when I think we’ll have some time alone, Marcus decides we should turn in too.

“You don’t want to watch a movie or something?” I ask.

“It’s midnight, Maize. Let’s call it a night.”

“I’m pretty wired,” I say. “Are you sure you don’t want to at least get in the hot tub before we go to bed?”

“No way. I’m waterlogged already. And beat.”

“Okay,” I say. “Let’s go, then, party pooper.”

On the way to our rooms, he says how much he enjoyed my grandparents and how nice it was to meet Clay and Rebecca.

great-uncle is pretty impressive, isn’t he?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, working for the same district for forty years and becoming the superintendent of schools before he was forty— that’s something.”

“Rebecca has run a homeless shelter for years. It’s a really hard job.”

“I’m sure. You know, I don’t remember you ever mentioning them.”

“Maybe not. We don’t see them all that much anymore.”

“It sounds like they live close.”

“A few miles from here.”

“Any kids?”

“Three. They were quite a bit younger than Dad.”

Suddenly I am as anxious as Marcus and my parents to turn in. The family tree is not my favorite subject. I kiss Marcus good-night at the top of the stairs. “I cannot wait until Saturday night,” I say. “I want you with me tonight. I’m questioning my values.”

He smiles sympathetically. “Four more nights, babe, and I’ll love you and hold you all night long.”

“I don’t know if the Queen of Self-Control can wait.” I kiss him again.

“You’ll be asleep in no time.”

’ll be asleep in no time!” I kiss him one last time, a quick giving-up kiss, and drag myself to my room. “Good night,” I say before clicking the door shut behind me.

I make it to bed in record time, but here I am, wide awake. I hate that. My mind won’t shut up. I wish we kept sleep aids in this house. Honestly, I’m getting some tomorrow.

If he hadn’t been so tired, I could have told Marcus a lot of things he might have found interesting—like why Dr. Clayton Laswell disgusts me.

But of course I wouldn’t go there.

There are quite a few other things I haven’t told Marcus that wouldn’t make me sick to discuss. Have I ever completely explained to him that if you live in this county, it’s a big deal to be a Laswell? My great-grandfather once farmed thousands of acres around here. When he realized Grandpa and Clay didn’t want to farm, he sold off most of his land and gave a ton of his money to missions and charities. He called it feeding the hungry in a different way. I never met him, but I have loved him for that.

Jackie has always said I’m more than lucky to be a Laswell. I think that had as much to do with Clay Laswell’s reputation and influence and infectious personality as my great-grandfather’s acres and money. It’s generally agreed that Clay is the very definition of leader. Everyone knows him. Or thinks they do. And based on what they know, everyone admires him. And he loves it, I’m sure.

But he isn’t the only respected Laswell.

One day a policeman stopped me for speeding, took one look at my driver’s license, and said, “Laswell, huh.” I thought good ol’ Uncle Clay might get me out of a ticket, but it turned out Dad did. “He’s a fine man, your dad,” the police officer said. “He’s taken good care of a lot of people around here, including my folks.”

“He’s great,” I said, and I meant it.

Maybe the officer could see that. Maybe that’s why he let me off with a warning. Jackie sat in the passenger seat, accumulating more data for her favorite assertion. She shook her head, stuck my insurance card back in the glove compartment, and said, “It’s a perk! How many times have I told you that being a Laswell is a stinking perk?”

“Being a Laswell isn’t problem free,” I said.

This, she ignored.

“Do you think my folks will let me change my last name to Laswell?” she asked. “Really, it just makes sense.”

“We’ll ask them,” I said.

Dad was made a partner in a national accounting firm based in Indianapolis before he turned forty. I should tell Marcus that. Dad’s the impressive one, not his uncle. After Dad became a partner, he had more say about things, and the fall I started eighth grade, he began working from his office at home, only going in to the Indy office once or twice a week. That was so nice.

What would I have done otherwise?


Finished with my nightly routine, I walk into the bedroom and slip between the crisp white sheets. Luke marks his book and puts it on his bedside table.

As he switches off his lamp, I get a look at the clock. “Oh my, it’s almost

“It’s late,” he says, “but it was a nice evening. I’m glad Clay and Rebecca stopped by. Dad and Mom enjoyed visiting with them.”

“Everything went very well. I’m quite relieved.”

I roll over and face the wall, and Luke snuggles up behind me. I love it when he does this. Nothing makes me feel better than lying here with his arm thrown across me, claiming me. I back farther into him so he’ll know how glad I am he’s there, and in response his arm draws me even closer to him. We do this on nights we don’t make love, and I can’t say which is more pleasurable.

BOOK: Things Worth Remembering
5.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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