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Chapter One: Dust Thou Art
The wind moaned as it skirted the white clapboard wall of Cove Road Church and snaked between the headstones in the small cemetery, tweaking women's coats and burrowing with stealthy fingers between men's gloves and wrists.
December, with its biting wind and gray, dreary days, is the most depressing time for a funeral, Amelia Declose thought, as she hugged her ankle-length coat more tightly about her slender body. Without the cashmere coat and the wool scarf draped about her head and wound about her neck, she could not have stood here under this cheerless sky as old Pastor Johnson droned on.
Finally she heard the words "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return." Fitting that he would use those words, since Charles, as he'd wished, had been cremated, and a small marble urn had been consigned to the earth.
Amelia felt Grace slip her arm through hers, felt her friend's body shiver through the thickness of their coats. Grace was crying, and why not? Grace had loved Charles, her son Roger's longtime companion. Charles had been kind and generous, sensitive and caring of Grace. Amelia looked across the grave at Roger. Tall and somber, eyes shaded by dark glasses, Roger's handsome face was pained, his lips compressed.
Standing slightly apart from Roger, their housemate, Hannah Parrish, stoic as ever, stared into the distance. At seventy-five, the salt in her salt-and-pepper hair had superceded the pepper, resulting not in the white of freshly fallen snow, like Amelia's hair, but the time-worn white much like the patches of week-old snow that clung to the hillside beyond.
It was over now. The small party of mourners moved silently, slowly across the road and toward the ladies' farmhouse. Most of their friends and neighbors had not known Charles but had come out of respect for Grace.
Grace tucked one arm into that of her companion, Bob Richardson, and the other into Roger's. She could feel the heaviness, the sadness deep within her son, could feel his loss. Her legs, columns of ice, resisted her will to reach the farmhouse before the others, to remove covers from the platters of food she had prepared with the help of Laura, Hannah's pregnant daughter. Laura hadn't asked if she were needed. She had simply walked into the farmhouse kitchen, studied Grace for a moment, and rolled up her sleeves. Grace was grateful, and she looked with affection at the young woman who strode ahead of the others, pressing close to her husband, Hank Brinkley. Grace stopped trying to force herself to move faster. Laura and Hank could handle everything.
On a steamy August night more than a year ago, the ladies' farmhouse and two other homes on the east side of Cove Road had burned to the ground. This disaster had ultimately proved to be a blessing, for in rebuilding the ladies gained a new, modern kitchen, an additional bedroom, and two bathrooms, which left the living room and dining room smaller but, as Amelia said, "cozier." On this day, as the mourners crowded into the living room, Laura, Amelia, and Hank passed platters of food and cups of spiced cider.
Grace sat quietly on the couch next to Roger, who seemed uncomfortable among the crush of people, accepting condolences. Grace was tired, bone tired, from the last few weeks of supporting Roger and from the pain of watching Charles fade and die. She craved privacy and wished she could sneak upstairs to lie down and rest, but she couldn't leave her son. Instead, she smiled politely for what seemed like hours, and joined Roger in thanking the neighbors for coming.
Hannah separated herself from a group and walked over to Grace. "You all right?" she asked. "You look exhausted. Shall I shoo everyone off?"
"No. Thanks. It wouldn't be right. The Herrills and Craines didn't even know Roger and Charles, and they were kind enough to come."
Three weeks ago Roger, devastated and sobbing, had phoned her with the news of Charles's rapidly deteriorating condition. Grace placed her life on hold. With her heart in her mouth, for she had sworn never to fly again, she flew to Branston, Pennsylvania, to take her place beside the hospice team involved in Charles's care. Her contribution had been emotional support, and she had given Charles every ounce of love and energy she possessed.
When she had arrived and appeared in the doorway of his room, he smiled and his eyes lit with pleasure. "Mother Singleton, bless you for coming."
Tears had streamed down her cheeks as she moved toward him and took the chair alongside his bed.
Grace closed her eyes for a moment, remembering how she had held Charles's hand and listened to his regrets and the guilt he felt for the one infidelity that had brought AIDS into his life. As ever, his concern was for Roger.
"What will Roger do when I'm gone? He's really much softer than he lets on, Mother Singleton," Charles said in a barely audible voice.
"I know, Charles, dear, I know." But did she really? There were times when she felt she hardly knew her son. She leaned closer to Charles and recognized the look and smell of death. It had been like this with her husband, Ted. "We'll all be there for Roger."
"I know you will. We bought that condo in Covington when I began to get sick. We used to say we'd retire there." His clenched fist hit the bedcovers. "I was daft to think I could beat this horrible disease."
He lifted an arm so thin and frail she refrained from holding him for fear of hurting him. She took his hand, all bone and blue and black with contusions from the needles in the hospital. "We all make mistakes. We do the best we can."
"I'm not afraid of dying now that the pain's under control," he said. "I can't help wondering if I'll see a light. I remember when I read War and Peace — Did you read it?"
"When Prince Andre died, he saw light and felt peace, remember?"
"Yes, I do."
"I couldn't finish the novel after Prince Andre died," Charles said. "Didn't much care what happened to the rest of them. Will I see the light, or angels, or my granny, do you think? Will Granny be there waiting for me?"
"I think she will be."
"You really think so?"
"I do," Grace replied.
His face grew calmer. "I do, too." He slept then.
The following day, when they were alone, Charles had asked, "Do you forgive me?"
"Forgive you? There's nothing to forgive. Life is life," Grace said. "We have our share of joys and sorrows. I love you, Charles. You're like a son to me. I'll miss you more than you can imagine."
"You've been more a mum to me than my own mum."
He closed his lids over sunken eyes. Under hollow cheeks, a wisp of a smile hovered about his lips. His body was shutting down. His shoulders and elbows were all bone, his chest concave. He was eating less each day. No one, she thought, should suffer as he had suffered before hospice took charge and medicated him to keep the pain at bay.
Bob, who had assumed the role of host, tapped her shoulder, pulling her from her memories. "Grace, the Herrills are leaving. Come say good-bye."
Grace rose to her feet. Bob offered his arm, and they walked with Charlie and Velma Herrill to the door. "We're here if you need us, Grace," Velma said.
"Thank you so very much for coming. It was a great comfort," Grace replied.
She meant it. She and Hannah and Amelia had not always been welcome in this rural area of the world, until the fire that had destroyed their home and those of the Herrills and the Craines had linked them all.
Bob shut the door behind their guests.
"I haven't even offered anyone a drink," Grace said, passing her hand across her forehead.
"Laura and Hank handled it all splendidly," Bob said.
"I'm so sorry to have burdened Laura. She's six months into her pregnancy."
"Molly, Brenda, Amelia, Tyler — they all pitched in."
"I feel as if I haven't slept in weeks," Grace said. When she did sleep, she dreamed of Charles, his eyes huge in the sockets of his pale, sunken face. She would awaken feeling the grip of his fingers, stripped of flesh, on her arm. "No more dreams like this," she prayed. "I want to remember Charles as the smiling, optimistic man he was."
Long ago, when Roger had first told her that he was gay, confirming long-held, unspoken suspicions, and when he had brought Charles home to meet her and his father, how upset and grieved she had been — upset because of what people might think and grieved because Roger was her only child and she would have no grandchildren. But Charles was a fine man, and she had come to love him dearly. Now he was gone. Grace shook her head, shook away the memory of his dying, and heard again the chatter of voices in the living room.
"Bob," she said, turning to look up at him.
Never far from her side today, Bob leaned forward, his lips brushing her cheek, his hands gently resting on her shoulders. "I'm here, Grace. I'm right here."
She reached up to touch his large, gentle hands. Her fingers played with the hair on his knuckles. It was one of the first things she had noticed about him, his gentle hands, and his eyes, brown as chestnuts and kind.
Bob's son Russell moved toward them with his son, Tyler, tagging along beside him. Tyler was almost fourteen and still fighting that ornery cowlick that topped his red hair. Grace leaned forward, clasped him to her, and held him hard until he murmured in her ear, "I can't breathe, Granny Grace."
She laughed then and released him. In loving Bob she had gained a whole new surrogate family and a grandson.
"You look like you feel icky, Granny Grace," Tyler said.
"I'm hot, but it will pass. Everyone will be gone soon, and I'll take a nice, cool shower."
"I could get you a cold cloth for your head," Tyler said.
The Craines — Alma, Frank, and one of their sons, Timmie — strode toward them. "Thanks for the eatin's. You take care now. Anything we can do, y'all just call us," Alma said.
Alma, the Cove Road gossip, the one who had most snubbed them, was eager now to be friends.
"Thank you all for coming," Grace said, clasping Alma's outstretched hand.
Copyright © 2004 by Joan Medlicott
Posted January 16, 2012
This is the 5th in a series by Miss Medlicott. I have enjoyed every one of them. She lives in my area and all of the landmarks she writes about I recognize, which makes it very personal. Her writing style is great, she tells a good story, and the ladies of Covington come to life. After reading these books, you almost want to get older and share a house with some good friends!! Almost...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 13, 2011
Posted October 14, 2004
Joy upon joy! They are here again! I cannot even begin to explain how happy I was to see this book. Grace, Hannah, and Amelia step gracefully back into our lives with this fifth installment of the Covington series. Our Ladies are now aging a bit, but that is part of what makes the Covington stories so realistic. It allows us to identify with The Ladies more as old friends than as characters in a novel. Amelia, the youngest of the trio, is now 70-years old. Grace, our loving grandmother figure, is 71-years old, and Hannah, the most robust of the three, is 75-years old. If you read the first book of this series, you will surely remember that they ran away from a nursing home to establish a life with each other in Covington. Hey, that is true intestinal fortitude! ............................... As the story begins, Charles (Grace¿s son Roger's longtime companion) has recently died from AIDS. The graveside funeral service is being held in December with the Ladies and a small party of mourners in attendance. Although most of their friends and neighbors had not really known Charles, they gathered at the graveside out of love and respect for Grace. ........................ Joan Medlicott¿s descriptive first lines set the scene: ........................ 'The wind moaned as it skirted the white clapboard wall of Cove Road Church and snaked between the headstones in the small cemetery, tweaking women's coats and burrowing with stealthy fingers between men's gloves and wrists.' ...................... Hannah Parrish¿s friend, Max, is pressing her to set a wedding date. This would be a marriage between friends for convenience only, and something about that rubs our Hannah the wrong way. Then, unexpectedly, Hannah received a mysterious diary from her past in the mail. This diary¿s contents have the power to turn Hannah¿s life upside down. It was written by a woman whose husband had been madly in love with Hannah many years ago, and with whom Hannah had a lengthy affair. Hannah had not realized that the wife even knew about the long ago affair, and her heart is tortured by the woman¿s entries in that diary. ........................... Amelia senses unease among the Ladies, and suggests that they all take an exotic Caribbean cruise to raise their spirits. She has brochures at the ready, and the Ladies finally agree. What an amazing time the three ladies had on their cruise can best be explained by saying that it was everything they had dreamed it would be, and more, as each of our Ladies indulged in her favorite shipboard pastime ¿ dancing, gambling, and introspection. ...................... Upon returning from their cruise, the Ladies have wonderful adventures to tell, but there is a conflict brewing between Amelia and Hannah that has the ability to dissolve their living arrangements and disrupt their long-standing friendships. ..................... This book is filled with everyday life, as it weaves itself around family members and the problems that are faced by young and old alike. For instance, Grace learns more than she wants to know about modern dangers, as her young protégé, Lucy, becomes the victim of an Internet predator at her middle school. Of course, our Ladies and their friends all rally to Lucy¿s rescue. When Grace continues to ignore her diet, she lands in the hospital and comes to realize that she must accept the reality of her diabetes and face that problem head on. Then we have Amelia, who must contend with jealousy as Roger begins to monopolize the time of her young photography companion. Finally, new happiness enters the Ladies¿ lives when Hannah's pregnant daughter has a beautiful baby boy, giving them all cause to rejoice as this child becomes part of their extended family. Then, when Hannah learns to accept her past for what it was, she is able to set a wedding date with Max. ................... Joan Medlicott is masterful with the art of creative writing. Her timely use of metaphors, similes, and persWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 22, 2004
Roger Singleton sadly calls his mother Grace to inform her that his long time companion Charles is dying. Grace always liked the kind Charles and immediately flies up from North Carolina to Pennsylvania to help her son cope and to say her good byes to his nice soul mate. He tells Mother Singleton to watch over her son, as he is worried about how Roger will be once he is gone.<P> When Charles dies, Grace¿s companion Bob Richardson and her two pals Amelia DeClose and Hannah Parrish arrive for the funeral. Grace has her own health problems as she suffers from diabetes, but as a southerner who loves sweet tea, only sugar counts. Hannah receives an old diary that provides her information about her deceased beloved Dan. Amelia suggests they need to get away and recommends a cruise to the Virgin Islands, which they do and enjoy. Now they must return to their home to get on with their lives.<P> The latest entry in the Covington series is a fine tale starring wonderful protagonists struggling with mortality that hits home to the three geriatric friends, but especially Grace. The story line reads like a gentle summer breeze in spite of the final days of the pleasant loving Charles. Fans of the series will enjoy this comforting tale that provides solace for those who do not need any action inside a placid story line.<P> Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 5, 2008
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Posted May 8, 2010
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Posted October 12, 2011
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