Little Town, Great Big Life

( 3 )

Overview

So what if Winston Valentine is ninety-two years old? He isn't dead yet! And he's out to prove it. His exuberant show of life—coming to you live from radio dial 1550—revitalizes Valentine, Oklahoma, for its centennial celebration. The townsfolk are determined to make this an anniversary to remember.

Except Belinda Blaine, who, at thirty-eight, doesn't feel like celebrating. Suddenly she's carrying a child—and the guilt of an earlier pregnancy nearly twenty years ago. No one in ...

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Overview

So what if Winston Valentine is ninety-two years old? He isn't dead yet! And he's out to prove it. His exuberant show of life—coming to you live from radio dial 1550—revitalizes Valentine, Oklahoma, for its centennial celebration. The townsfolk are determined to make this an anniversary to remember.

Except Belinda Blaine, who, at thirty-eight, doesn't feel like celebrating. Suddenly she's carrying a child—and the guilt of an earlier pregnancy nearly twenty years ago. No one in her close-knit community knows of either, including her sweet-mannered husband, Lyle. But disclosing this pregnancy will mean revealing her past and opening her heart. And Belinda's not quite ready for that.

As Belinda struggles over what to do, she finds comfort in unexpected places. After all, in Valentine, neighbors are family and strangers are friends. And this small town holds secrets and mysteries, and takes care of its own.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Valentine, Okla., is the kind of town where everybody knows or wants everybody else's secrets; a handicapped boy is appreciated for his deep wisdom; an old man and a dog get featured on a radio show; and when a stranger comes to town and stays, he's likely to be running from something. In the latest entry in Matlock's bighearted Valentine series (Chin Up, Honey), births, deaths, and the town's centennial celebration form the framework for insightful humor and a sense of close-knit community. Belinda Blaine at the drugstore might be pregnant and is wondering what to do. Seventeen-year-old Paris Miller keeps piling on makeup to hide the bruises inflicted by her grandfather, whom she nevertheless can't bear to lose. Fayrene Gardener, who owns the cafe, is falling for the stranger in town, but is he just another man who'll let her down? And then there's beloved 92-year-old Winston Valentine, who holds everyone together but might finally have to let go of life. Readers should hold on to their hearts; losing them to these unforgettable characters is a real possibility. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780778327882
  • Publisher: Mira
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 1,414,407
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Winston Wakes Up the World

In the early dark hour just before dawn, a lone figure—a man in slacks and wool sport coat, lapels pulled against the cold, carrying a duffel bag—walked along the black-topped ribbon of highway toward a town with a water tower lit up like a beacon.

Just then a sound brought him looking around behind him. Headlights approached.

The man hurried into the tall weeds and brush of the ditch. Crouching, he gazed at the darkness where his loafers were planted and hoped he did not get bit by something. A delivery truck of some sort went blowing past. As the red taillights grew small, the man returned to the highway. He brushed himself off and headed on toward the town.

Another fifteen minutes of walking and he could make out writing on the water tower: the word Valentine, with a bright red heart. Farther along, he came to a welcome sign, all neatly landscaped and also lit with lights. He stopped, staring at the sign for some minutes.

Welcome to Valentine, a Darn Good Place to Live!

Underneath this was:

Flag Town, U.S.A., Population 5,510 Friendly People and One Old Grump, 1995 Girls State Softball Championship, and Home of Brother Winston's Home Folks Show at 1550 on the Radio Dial

Looking ahead, the man walked on with a bit of hope in his step.

The man would not be disappointed. The welcome sign pretty much said it all. Like a thousand other small towns across the country, Valentine was a friendly town that was right proud of itself and had reason to be. It was a place where the red-white-and-blue flew on many a home all year through and not just on the Fourth of July (as well as lots of University of Oklahoma flags and Oklahoma State flags, the Confederate flag, the Oklahoma flag and various seasonal flags). Prayer continued to be offered up at the beginning of rodeos, high-school football games and commencements, and nobody had yet brought a lawsuit, nor feared one, either. Mail could still be delivered with simply a name, city and state on the envelope. It was a place where people knew one another, many since birth, and everyone helped his neighbor. Even most of those who might fuss and fight with one another could be counted on in an emergency. The few poor souls who could not be counted on eventually ended up moving away. It was safe to say that most of the real crime was committed by people passing through. This exempted crimes of passion, which did happen on a more or less infrequent basis and seemed connected with the hot-weather months.

In the main, Valentine was the sort of small town about which a lot of sentimental stories are written and about which a lot of people who live in big cities dream, having the fantasy that once you moved there, all of your problems disappeared. This was not true, of course. As Winston Valentine, the self-appointed town oracle, often said, the problems of life—all the fear, greed, lust and jealousy, sickness and poverty—are connected to people, and are part of life on earth the world over.

It was true, however, that in a place like Valentine getting through life's problems often was a little easier.

In Valentine, a person could walk most everywhere he needed to go, or find someone willing to drive him, or have things come to him. The IGA grocery, Blaine's Drugstore, the Pizza Hut, the Main Street Café and even the Burger Barn provided delivery service, and for free to seniors or anyone with impaired health. Feeling blue could be counted as impaired health. When you needed to leave your car at the Texaco to have the oil changed or new tires put on, the manager, Larry Joe Darnell, or one of his helpers, would drive you home, or to work, and would even stop for you to pick up breakfast, lunch or your sister. When Margaret Wyatt's husband ran off and left her the sole support of her teenage son, people made certain to go to her for alterations, whether they needed them or not, and for a number of years every bride in town had Miss Margaret make her wedding and bridesmaids' dresses. It was a normal course of events in Valentine for neighbors to drop groceries on the front steps of those on hard times, and for extra to go into the church collection plates for certain families; small-town people knew about tax deductions. Yards got mowed, repairs made and overdue bills paid, often by that fellow Anonymous.

And in Valentine, when an elderly man no longer had legs strong enough to walk the sidewalk, and got his driver's license revoked and his car taken away because of impudent daughters and meddlesome friends, he could still drive a riding lawn mower to get where he wanted to go.

This good idea came to Winston Valentine after a fitful night's sleep in which he had dreamed of his long-dead wife, Coweta, and been left both yearning for her and relieved that her presence had only been a dream. Their marriage had been such a contrast, too.

Now in his tenth decade, Winston was a man with enough experience to understand that life itself was constant contrasts. He lay with his head cradled in his hands on the pillow, studying this matter as he stared at the faint pattern caused by the shine of the streetlight on the wall, while from the other side of it came muffled sounds—creak of the bed, a laugh and then a moan.

In the next room, the couple with whom he shared his house—Tate and Marilee Holloway—were doing what Winston had once enjoyed with his Coweta early of a morning.

Remembering, Winston's spirits did a nosedive. He was long washed-up in that department. In fact, he was just about washed-up, period, as Coweta had put forth in the dream. He was ninety-two years old, and each morning he was a little surprised to wake up. That was his entire future: being surprised each morning to wake up.

It was at that particular moment, when his spirits were so low as to be in the bottom of the rut, an idea came upon him with such delightful force that his eyes popped wide. A grin swept his face.

"I'll show 'em. I ain't dead yet."

His feet hit the cold floor with purpose. Holding to the bedpost, he straightened and stepped out quietly. Then, moving more quickly, he washed up and dressed smartly, as was his habit, in starched jeans and shirt, and an Irish sweater. Winston Valentine did not go around dressed "old," as he called it.

After a minute's rest in the chair beside the bedroom door, he picked up his polished boots, stepped into the hall in sock feet and soundlessly closed the door behind him.

He had forgotten his cane but would not turn back.

The hallway was dimly lit by a small light. The only bedroom door open was that of Willie Lee. Winston automatically glanced inside, saw that the boy had thrown off the blankets.

The little dog who lay at the foot of the bed lifted his head as Winston tiptoed into the room and gently pulled the blankets over the child, who slept the deep sleep of the pure in heart. When Winston left the room, the dog jumped down and followed soundlessly.

Gnarled hand holding tight to the handrail, Winston descended the stairs, knowing where to step to avoid the worst creaks. He located the small key that hung on the old rolltop desk in the alcove.

Then he went to the bench in the hall and tugged on his boots. Seeing the dog watching, he whispered, "Go on back up."

The dog remained sitting, regarding him with a definite air of disapproval.

"Mr. Munro, you just keep your opinions to yourself." Winston slipped into his coat and settled his felt Resistol on his head.

The dog still sat looking at him.

Winston went out into the crisp morning, closing the door on the dog, who turned and raced back down the hall and up the stairs, hopped onto the boy's bed and over to peer through the window. His wet canine nose smeared fog on the glass. The old man came into view on the walkway, then disappeared through the small door of the garage.

Munro's amber eyes remained fastened on the garage. His ears pricked at the faint sound of an engine. The small collie who lived next door came racing to the fence, barking his head off. Munro regarded such stupid action with disdain.

Moments later, a familiar green-and-yellow lawn mower came into view on the street, with the old man in the seat. Munro watched until machine and old man passed out of sight behind the big cedar tree in the neighbor's yard. The sound faded, the stupid collie lay down and Munro reluctantly lay down on the bed. All was quiet.

Winston headed the lawn tractor along the street. The cold wind stung his nostrils, bit his bare hands, but his spirits soared. He imagined people in the houses hearing the mower engine and coming to their windows to look out.

Halfway along the street, it came to him, as he noted the limbs of a redbud tree that had just begun to sprout, that only the calendar said spring. The morning was yet cold and everyone's house shut up tight. No one was going to hear him racing along the street.

Crossing the intersection with Porter Street, he hit a bump and had to grasp the steering wheel to keep from bouncing off the seat. He saw the newspaper headlines: Elderly Man Ends Life Plowing Mower into Telephone Pole.

But he was not about to downshift like some old candy-ass.

He kept his foot on the pedal and tightened his grip on the steering wheel. He wished he had thought of gloves.

He did slow when he came alongside the sheriff's office at the corner of Church and Main streets. Maybe Sheriff Oakes was in this morning.

No one came to the door, though.

Driving down the middle of the empty highway, he was forced to slow a little. His hands were growing weak on the wheel, the old arthritis getting the best of him. He turned onto graveled Radio Lane and bounced along until he finally came to a stop outside the door of the concrete-block building beside Jim Rainwater's black lowrider Chevrolet.

He had made it. And in all the distance traveled, nearly two miles, he had encountered no other person or vehicle. It was a deep disappointment.

He got himself off the mower, and was glad to have no witnesses. He moved like the rusted-up Tin Man. Inside the building, he might have leaned back against the door, but just then Jim Rainwater, coffee mug in hand, appeared from the sound booth. Winston brought himself up straight.

Jim Rainwater's eyes widened. "Well, hey, Mr. Winston. Whatta ya' doin' here so early?" Jim Rainwater was a tall, slim young man in his twenties, a full-blood Chickasaw, and of a solemn nature. In a worried manner, as if he had missed something important, he checked his watch. "You know it isn't even six?"

"Hey, yourself. I may be old, but I can still tell time. I got up early…what's your excuse?" He sailed his hat toward the rack, but it missed.

Jim Rainwater picked up the hat, saying, "I always get here by now."

"You need a life, young man." Winston shrugged out of his heavy coat. "I thought I'd start us an early-mornin' wake-up show."

"Now, Mr. Winston, no one has said anything to me about that. Have you worked it out with Everett or Tate?"

Winston's response to this was, "Why do you always call me mister?"

"Uh…I don't know."

"You don't call any of those other fellas mister."

Jim Rainwater gave a resigned sigh. "Mr.…Winston, what is it you want to do?"

"Aw, boy, don't get your shorts in a wad. I'm not gonna step on Everett's toes. He can have his show at seven, but we need somethin' before that. A lot of those city stations start mornin' shows at five. We're losin' audience share."

"This is Valentine, Mr. Winston."

"So it is, and it is time for a change. There's folks here that need wakin' up. I'll thank you kindly for a cup of coffee," he added as he made his way stiffly into the sound studio and dropped with some relief into his large swivel chair.

Jim Rainwater returned with the coffee. Winston sipped from the steaming mug that bore his name, stared at the microphone hanging over his desk and felt himself warm and his heart settle down.

"We'll start up on the hour," he told the young man.

***

Jim Rainwater shoved the weather forecast and a playlist in front of Winston. Slipping on his headphones, Winston positioned himself and adjusted the height of the microphone. He spoke in a moderate tone. "Testing…one, three, six, pick up sticks." Retaining his own front teeth helped Winston to come over clear, and Jim Rainwater corrected a lot of the graveling of his voice with electronics.

The hour hand hit straight up. The young man pointed a finger at him.

Winston put his lips to the microphone and came out with, "GET UP, GET UP, YOU SLEEPY-HEAD. GET UP AND GET YOUR BODY FED!"

Jim Rainwater jumped and grabbed his earphones. Dumbfounded, he stared at Winston.

For his part, Winston, imagining his voice going out over the airwaves and entering radios in thousands of homes of people just waiting breathlessly for him, continued happily: "It's six o'clock, 'n' day is knockin'. GET UP, GET UP, YOU SLEEPY-HEAD! GET UP AND GET YOUR BODY FED!"

1550 on the Radio Dial Joy in the Morning!

In actuality, Winston's assumption as to the number of listeners was quite overblown. There were perhaps only two-dozen people with their radios tuned to the small local station. In the main, these were those whose cheap radios could not pick up the far-off stations, and mothers and schoolteachers who listened while they drank strong coffee and waited for Jim Rainwater to provide the weather forecast and school lunch menu, followed by an hour of uninterrupted guitar in-strumentals and alternative folk tunes of the sort that hardly any radio station played at any time, but which made a pleasant change from their little ones' Disney radio or teenagers' MTV At Winston's shout, at least two people raced to turn off their radios, and three to turn up the volume, wondering if they had heard correctly.

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Customer Reviews

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