Seasons of Her Lifeby Fern Michaels
Ruby is determined to have a better life when she leaves her bitter childhood behind for post-World War II Washington, D.C. A job as a Navy secretary soon blossoms into love and marriage. The life of a military wife turns out to be harsher and lonelier than Ruby bargained for, but though it destroys her illusions, it cannot overcome her determination to succeed and find happiness. She raises two children, creates a home, and begins baking cookies in hope of starting a business. After years of struggle, her cookies start to bring in more money than she ever dreamed of. But closest to her heart is the memory of the man she longs for in her soul, a man no cookie can replace . . .
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Read an Excerpt
Seasons Of Her Life
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1994 Fern Michaels
All rights reserved.
Almost free. Almost.
Ruby Connors looked around her room for the last time. She was really leaving this house, this room, and if she had anything to say about it, she'd never come back. Her eyes fell on the white curtains hanging stiffly at the window, starched in sugar water and stretched on curtain stretchers. No more of that, Ruby thought gleefully. No more pinpricks. And no more white iron bed with its crazy quilt made by her mother with patches from her older sister's dresses. She hated the quilt, just as she hated Amber.
Someday she was going to have a pretty bedroom like the pictures in the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. She'd have a dressing table with a white organdy ruffle with curtains to match—and not the kind that had to be stretched, either. She'd have a meadow-green carpet and a real bedspread. Every table and corner would have plants and flowers, mostly daisies. On her dressing table would be silver frames with pictures, maybe of her dog or cat. Everything would be alive. Maybe she'd even put her picture of Johnny Ray in it, the one she'd sneaked out of a Photoplay magazine.
Ruby sat down on the edge of the bed, and the springs squeaked under her ninety pounds. The room was sweltering hot, even though it was only June. In the summer she baked alive, and in the winter she froze with cold drafts from the attic.
Almost free. Almost. "I'm leaving and I'm never coming back, nevemevemevemevemever," Ruby singsonged quietly.
Her suitcases were packed; she was wearing her sodality medal and the scapular that her mother always insisted on. Her dress wasn't new, but it wasn't as faded as her others and a ruffle had been added to cover the let-down hem. Her hairstyle, if it could be called a style, was a dutch boy with bangs. As soon as she could, she was going to get a permanent and some colored barrettes, maybe a ribbon or two if that's what the girls wore in Washington, D.C.
Ruby scuffed at the braided rug with her polished saddle shoe. The shoes were almost new, and so were her socks, but they smelled like No Worry. So did her underwear. If only she weren't so skinny and plain-looking. She was starting to worry now and have doubts. She was doing the right thing. There was no way she wanted to stay home and work in the shirt factory. She'd seen girls that graduated a year or two ahead of her getting off the bus at the railroad tracks with threads all over their clothes. They always looked so tired and listless. Her mother called the shirt factory a sweat box. Living with her older sister, Amber, was not going to be divinely wonderful, either. Amber was prissy and meticulous, and she was a liar. But it would be better than living here and working in the factory.
Ruby carried her suitcases out to the hall. Two hours to go. She put the rag rug back in place at the side of the bed. Two quick swipes and the quilt was wrinkle-free. She backed out of the room. Her hand stretched toward the door. If she closed it, she would no longer exist, she thought. Her parents would walk right past it and never think of her. If she left it open, they just might think, this is Ruby's room. Maybe ... could be ... dumb thought, Ruby. She pushed the door shut, a defiant look on her face.
The house was so quiet, Ruby thought as her saddle shoes snicked at the rubber treads on the stairs. Her mother, Irma, was probably on the back porch, shelling peas for dinner. Her father had gone uptown for the mail and to shop at the A&P because he said Irma didn't know how to shop and look for bargains. Opal was at catechism class. She was going to miss Opal. Out of necessity she and Opal had banded together against their parents and Amber. She'd promised to write to Opal, but to send the letters to her grandmother's house. Opal had promised never to show the letters to their parents. Opal was going to have a tough time with her gone.
In the wide center hallway, Ruby listened for any sound that might mean her father had returned. The screen door squeaked when she opened it and squeaked again when she closed it. She waited a moment on the front porch to see if she would be called back into the house. A bee buzzed about her knees. Ruby swatted it and killed it with her bare hand. Amber would have squeaked and gone white in the face the same way she'd always gotten white in the face when it was her turn to scrub the porch floor. Because of Amber's regular weekend illnesses, Ruby scrubbed this porch every Saturday for as long as she could remember. She would never again have to do it. Now it was Opal's turn.
Ruby ran, careful not to scuff her shoes, down the street, past the lumber mill, over the railroad tracks, past Riley's Monument Works, where her father worked. She raced past her uncle's garage, over the bridge and up the hill. The smell of stale beer from Bender's beer joint made her hold her breath as she careened around the comer that led to her grandmother's house.
A smile tugged at the comer of Ruby's mouth. She'd said good-bye to Bubba every day for the past two weeks, but when you weren't ever planning on coming back, you couldn't say good-bye often enough. Besides, she needed this last visit, this last good-bye.
Almost free. Almost.
Ruby took a moment to drink in the sight of her grandmother's house, to commit it to memory. It was a squat little house made from fieldstone with a matching wall. She'd never sit on that wall again, never lie under the old chestnut tree in the front yard. She loved the old chestnut and the way its branches hung down and covered her like a grand umbrella. She would forget the house she grew up in, but she would never forget this house. Never.
Inside, the kitchen was big and square with cabbage-rose wallpaper that sometimes made her dizzy, but her grandmother loved bright things. The windowsills and shelves held glossy green plants in colorful clay pots, and the room always smelled of cinnamon and orange. The curtains, as cheerful as the wallpaper, were made from linen and trimmed with inch-wide red rickrack, handsewn by her grandmother. They were changed twice a year, when the mullioned windows were washed. The crazy quilt linoleum on the floor was blinding. What she loved most, though, were the old-fashioned coal stove and the pots that constantly simmered with orange peels. It was a kitchen of pure love. This house was similar to her parents', having been built by the same lumber company, but love had made it into something very different. Love was something she was never going to be without again.
"Ruby, is that you?" her grandmother called from the back porch.
"It's me, Bubba," Ruby trilled as she made her way past the snowball bush, which was in full bloom. Once she'd picked a bouquet from it for her room, and her mother had thrown it out, saying she didn't want any bugs in the house. Later Ruby had pulled the wasted bouquet from the trash.
Ruby planted a noisy kiss on top of her grandmother's head. "Apple pie tonight, huh?" Her uncle John loved apple pie. Uncle Hank liked rhubarb. Ruby knew there would be two kinds of pie tonight. "I came to say good-bye again." Ruby laughed.
"I knew you'd come this morning." The old lady smiled in return. "You look pretty, Ruby. Did you have breakfast?" Ruby nodded. "Are you nervous about going on the train all the way to Washington?"
"No. Well, maybe a little. About Amber mostly. She's supposed to meet me, and she won't like that. But I bought a present for her last week at the company store, so she'll have to be nice to me. I'm going to do my best to get along with her." She could tell by the anxiety in her grandmother's eyes that she wasn't convincing her.
"You know, Bubba," Ruby went on, "I feel different ... inside ... I'm changing or else I already changed ... it's not just me going away, either. It's something else, something I can't explain. Maybe it's because I'm turning eighteen next month. But whatever it is, I think it means you don't have to worry about Amber and me. It's going to work out, it really is."
"I hope so," Mary Cozinsky mumbled under her breath. "You stand your ground with your sister, Ruby, and don't let her push you around."
"You're not going to worry about me, are you, Bubba?"
"Every single day until I know there's nothing to worry about. But I'm happy for you, too. Do you remember when we talked about the seasons in a woman's life? You're in the spring of your life, Ruby, the best time of all. Everything is still before you. It's your time to grow, to spread your wings, to turn into the wonderful woman I know you will become. By the time you reach the summer of your life, you'll be married with children of your own. I think by then you'll understand how the cycle works. Right now your head is so full of anticipation and excitement, it's hard for you to think about things like seasons."
Ruby wanted to tell her she understood perfectly, but then she would have to admit that she knew her beloved grandmother was at the end of the winter of her life. The thought, the words, were unbearable. Better to pretend she was excited. Better just to change the subject.
"I'm going to write to Opal and send the letters to your box number," she said. "Opal will read them to you. She's going to scrub your kitchen floor on Fridays, and on Wednesdays she'll go to the farm for your pot cheese. She'll pick the blueberries and help you make jelly whenever you're ready. She can iron real good, Bubba. She can do the Sunday shirts if you want her to. You can depend on Opal, Bubba, and I think you should keep her money the way you did for me. Pop will make her put it in the collection if you give it to her." Ruby's eyes snapped angrily. "Pop gave me my bill this morning. It's so much money. I have to pay rent, buy food, buy tokens for the bus, and a bunch of other stuff. I'll be an old woman before I pay it off. Your parents are supposed to give you a present when you graduate from high school. I didn't get a present. I got a bill for my keep and for all the money I put in the collection basket on Sunday. Eighteen years' worth! I figured it out, Bubba, it's ten cents for every Sunday Mass." Ruby cried heartbrokenly.
"How much does it all come to?" Mary asked quietly as she stroked Ruby's dark hair.
"Church is $93.60. The bill for my keep is six thousand." Ruby felt the tremor in her grandmother's body.
"I have a present for you, Ruby," the old lady crooned. "You have to stop crying now, or your eyes will be red and swollen when you get on the train. Smile for me, Ruby," she said in a quivering voice. Ruby wiped her eyes on the hem of the sweet-smelling apron her grandmother wore.
"A present?" Ruby's moist eyes glistened. "How big is it?"
"Very small, sweetie. I'm glad you have a pocket in your dress. This ... present has to be a secret. You must promise me that you'll never tell Amber, even if she makes you so angry, you want to shout about it. And you must not tell your father. Not now anyway. Someday, perhaps, when you're secure and happy. Will you promise me, Ruby?"
"Oh, Bubba, you know I will. I never broke a promise. Not a peep. Amber is the last person I'd spill my guts to, you know that."
Mary fumbled in the pocket of her apron and withdrew a rumpled-up ball of linen. Ruby knew what it was the moment she saw it. She gasped and the old lady's eyes twinkled. Ruby held her breath. It was years since her grandmother had shown her the prize that was wrapped so carefully in cotton and then again in the white handkerchief.
"The czarina's ring! Oh, oh, oh, it's more beautiful than the last time I saw it. Truly, you're giving it to me? I know you promised, but I thought you ... you just wanted to make me feel good. What if someone steals it?" Ruby said, holding out her hand.
"It's your responsibility now, Ruby. It's up to you to make sure it's kept safe."
It was so heavy, but it felt good in the palm of her hand. The band was wide, reaching almost to her knuckle, where it crested into a cone-shaped pyramid of diamonds and rubies. Ruby sucked in her breath as she struggled to count the stones in the ring. "How many stones are there, Bubba?"
"Lord, child, I don't know."
"Do you think it's worth two hundred dollars?" Ruby asked naively. The old lady smiled secretly and nodded.
"I'll keep it safe, I swear I will. I won't ever wear it, I promise."
"You'd look kind of silly if you did." The old lady chuckled. 'This ring is fit only for royalty. The president's wife doesn't have anything half as grand. Only you, Ruby."
When Ruby's grandfather had been alive, he would regale her with stories of the ring every Sunday after Mass. The more beer he drank, the wilder the stories became. To this day, neither Ruby nor her grandmother knew for certain if the czarina had bestowed the ring on her grandfather for a deed well done or if he stole it, like he said, as he was falling into his beer stupor that was permitted only on Sunday.
"I think she gave it to Grandpop because he was so young and dashing, a true cossack. Don't you, Bubba?"
Mary did not answer, but instead gave her a mysterious little smile, then handed over a small square of white paper. "There's a man's name here who lives in Washington, D.C. He will buy the ring if you ever want to sell it. Your grandfather was going to sell it before he died to make sure I was taken care of, but I wouldn't let him. He was so proud of that ring. Your uncle John and uncle Hank take care of me. Besides," she chuckled, "my fingers are all crooked. What do I need with a ring? It's yours, child. Although there's going to be a war around here when I die and your father finds out the ring is missing."
Ruby's eyes filled. She bundled up the ring and stuffed it into her pocket. "I can't wait till I'm eighteen," she said.
Mary smiled. "Hand me that apple bowl and don't go wishing your life away."
"Do you think anyone will ever love me besides you?" Ruby blurted out.
Mary pretended to think. "What I think is you're going to have beaux standing in line, waiting to take you to the picture shows."
Ruby giggled. "I'm so plain and ordinary. Maybe if I get a permanent. I'm going to get a tube of lipstick, too, and maybe some pearl earrings. I have thirty-four dollars I put away. Pop doesn't know I have it. I think it's enough for maybe two new dresses, shoes for work, and a brassiere," she said impishly. "I'll grow breasts, too, you wait and see. My hormones are just slow right now." The old lady laughed in delight at her granddaughter's gamine face.
"You better start home, Ruby, before George comes looking for you. Be a good girl now. I mean a proper young lady."
"I won't shame you, Bubba. Don't worry about me. Opal is going to take care of you, but I'm not coming back here, ever, even when ... you know ... I'm not!" Ruby said adamantly.
"Ruby, I know that. I don't want you coming back. I want you to remember me like this, not the way I'll look when I'm laid out in those purple dresses the undertakers put on you. That's why I gave you the ring now. There's nothing for you here, Ruby, so you stay away. Send me pictures. Amber sent me a postcard and said she had a camera."
"Boy, was Pop mad about that!" Ruby giggled. "She paid off her bill, so he could only holler at Mom. She sent pictures and Pop threw them in the stove. Said they were the devil's handiwork. It was a nice picture of Amber, too. She was sitting under the cherry blossom tree and had her legs crossed. Her skirt was up to here," she said, pointing to the middle of her thighs.
Ruby dropped to her knees. She looked earnestly into her grandmother's face. "I don't think I'll ever love anyone as much as I love you. You've never said a cross word to me even if I deserved it. I'll think of you every day. I'll keep all my promises, and you'll never have to be ashamed of me. I'll remember you sitting here like this. When I'm old I'm going to peel apples just the way you do, all in one curl."
Ruby leaned closer and hugged her grandmother. "Are you sure," she said huskily, "that you don't mind if I don't come to your funeral?"
"I'll mind if you do come. If you do, you'll have to see your father. Make up your mind, Ruby."
"I'm not coming," Ruby said in a jittery-sounding voice.
"That's good. Now, get along," Mary said firmly.
Ruby kissed her grandmother one last time and raced off the porch and down the walkway to the street. She didn't want to think about the tears on her grandmother's cheeks.
Almost free. Almost.
Mary Cozinsky slumped back on the old wicker rocker. The dearest piece of her life was gone now. So many pieces were gone. She set the apple bowl on the floor and withdrew her rosary from her apron pocket. She raised her eyes upward and prayed, simple words from the heart. "Protect my little Ruby," she pleaded. "And, God, if you decide to send her father, my son George, to hell, I won't question your decision."
She'd known this day was coming; still, she wasn't prepared for the empty feeling, the devastating sense of loss. She'd given birth to seven children, and she loved them dearly, with the exception of George, but none of her own children touched her heart the way Ruby did. When Ruby was seven and permitted to cross the road and the railroad tracks, the child had begun visiting daily, sometimes twice. By the time Ruby was eight, she was tightly ensconced in the hearts of both her grandparents. When George objected, her husband had straightened him out in the blink of an eye. The handsome cossack had stepped on George the way he would have stepped on a pissant, telling him that Ruby was to visit whenever she wanted. George recognized the threat: either he allowed Ruby to visit or he would forfeit his share of any inheritance.
Excerpted from Seasons Of Her Life by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 1994 Fern Michaels. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Fern Michaels, the pen name for Mary Ruth Kuczkir, is the bestselling author of numerous contemporary romance and romantic suspense series including the Sisterhood, Men of the Sisterhood, Texas, and the Godmothers series. She has written over 140 books and novellas and there are 75 million copies of her books in print. Some of her top titles include Kiss and Tell, Forget Me Not, and No Safe Secret.
- Summerville, South Carolina
- Place of Birth:
- Hastings, Pennsylvania
- High School
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I love this book....can't put it down. She keeps your interest throughout the story. Great plot. Great characters. Wonderful attention to detail. I have been hooked on the Sisterhood series but this beats them any day. You'll love it too.
I've read and reread Fern Michaels' books for years and finally got around to this one. I kept skipping over it because of the time line of the story, it covers the adulthood of the heroine and I tend to get bored with those kinds of books. This one however is a keeper. The characters will remain with you long after the book is done. Excellent!
Wow, this is one of my favorite book's ever ! I remember i'd get in trouble at night for staying up until like 5 in the morning just because i was reading it. I admit, I cried a bit, here and there, Season's Of her life is Awesome !
I am only 16, but this book is one of the best books I have ever read. I couldnt put it down. I didnt want it to end and when it did end I just want to start from the beginning again. Fern Michaels is amazing.
One of her best!
Not worth the time. Exasperating characters.
I tried, I really did! Couldn't get past page 45.
Barnes and noble pay heed stop the kiddie chatter
He followed behind her.
Not the genre I normally read. I really enjoyed this book, and will have to look into more books by Fern Michaels.
What a great book. I loved it! Its the life story of a woman named Ruby, and what a life she had! Read it and you won't be disappointed. Makes me want more Fern Michaels!
I felt this book was a wonderful stretch for Ms. Michaels; and it is another direction she shows she subperbly excels at! I am constantly amazed at the depth she is continually able to come up with in not only book after book; but in character after character. And then just when you think you have grasped the characters and the plot;
Thought this was one of her best-well written-story kept you going!
One of Fern Michaels best reads!