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Secrets of the Old Ladies' ClubA Novel
By Nan Tubre
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Nan Tubre
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWelcome to the Old Ladies Club
Every person in the room watched as Regina entered on the arm of her son, Dr. Lawrence Whitmore, Jr. It wasn't her beauty that attracted their attention, although she was very lovely in a regal sort of way. She was wore a powder blue dress with matching jacket and navy blue pumps. Her short white hair was perfectly styled and she walked slowly with her head held high. In her left hand was a box of chocolates, assorted varieties. Her son was a handsome middle-aged man, very similar in appearance to herself, and he guided her gently by her right elbow through the room. His commanding presence had a way of mesmerizing the residents of Heritage Memories Retirement Village. He was tall and his gray pin-stripped suit perfectly complimented his wavy, prematurely silver hair. These old folks seldom had the opportunity to see the owner and proprietor of their residence in person. Yet, here he was in the flesh with his mother beside him, as well. Now, that was a sight and everybody already knew how it would end. Dr. Whitmore would show his mother to her apartment, pay a visit to the administrative offices to deliver a how-great-the-staff-is pep talk, and then he would disappear until the next time. The next time, whenever that would be. Afterwards, Regina would hold court in the dining room and recount the day's events. A few of the Village's residents would sit in attendance, feigning interest, while everyone else in the common dining room went about the business of selecting their supper entrees and sides dishes. She put on airs, everyone thought, just because her son owned the place. She's snooty, some said, especially after her boy takes her out for the day, which, they sympathized, doesn't happen very often.
Later, when she was in her own apartment, Regina sat at her petite Queen Anne lady's desk, opened her journal to a blank page, and made an entry.
"June 1st, 2008
Larry Jr. picked me up today and brought me to see my new great-granddaughter, Penny. I didn't even know Taylor was pregnant. I haven't seen them since last Christmas. The baby looks like me. I miss her already."
The door to Regina's apartment opened and Stella Morgenstern-Taub crossed the threshold, followed by the strong scent of her newest rose scented perfume and her tiny Yorkshire terrier, Camille. The orange and black African print caftan she wore swirled around her full figured body and settled with a poof of air as Stella plopped into the armchair next to Regina's antique writing desk. Camille jumped on Stella's lap and crawled around in circles until he found just the right spot on which to lie.
"Don't you ever knock?" Regina looked over the top of her reading glasses at her uninvited guest.
"Hell no, why would I do that?" Stella asked, smoothing her shoulder length salt and pepper hair. Regina and Stella had a long history together beginning over 30 years earlier when both ladies worked at Southeastern Bell. Regina was a long distance operator and Stella filled the role of information operator. Oh, she was sassy that one, Regina remembered. A person could hear Stella laughing and joking with customers from any point in the long room crowded with switchboards and buzzing voices.
"It's not like I don't know what you're doing. So how did it go today?" Stella began. "Did he take you out to eat? Did he part with any of his precious money to buy you a gift?" She ran her right ring finger along the garishly red line bordering her thin lips. For years, Regina tried to convince Stella that lining her lips with that bright color did not make her mouth look plump and youthful. "Who needs plump lips at our age?" she argued time and time again. Eventually, Stella's resistance convinced her to give up the effort.
Regina's eyes glanced at the journal on her desk. She closed the book softly and faced her friend with a sedate smile.
"It was fine, just fine. Yes, we went out to eat. He took me to the Piccadilly. Then, he took me to the hospital to introduce me to my new great-granddaughter. After that, he took me to Dillard's at the mall and bought me some new underwear. Do you need to see them?" Regina answered in a sweetly sarcastic manner. "What'd you eat?" Stella asked as she picked through the box of chocolates sitting next to Regina's journal.
"What?" Regina furrowed her white brow, annoyed that Stella was helping herself to her candy.
"What'd you eat at the Piccadilly? Did you have the liver and onions? I love the liver and onions. Did you get one of those big cathead biscuits? I love those too. Oh, the carrot soufflé, yesss! And I always get a dessert when I go to the Piccadilly, which by the way, never happens unless I can bribe Cicely to take me," Stella rattled.
"Didn't you hear me? I told you I have a great granddaughter. Taylor had a baby. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Of course, I heard you and I know what it means. It means we are getting old. I never thought that would happen, did you? Just look at us. Here we are living the grand life in a fancy-shmancy old folks home. It means that the years have just flown by." Stella waved her hand as though she was casually dismissing her life.
"You don't get it. I said I have a new great grandchild and I didn't even know my own granddaughter was pregnant! How could they not tell me something like that? Sometimes my son acts as if I don't exist!" Tears welled up in Regina's eyes.
"Is she married?"
"What? She's just a baby!"
"Is Taylor married? Maybe he didn't tell you because she isn't married." Stella reasoned.
While considering the possibility, Regina looked down at her seventy-six year old hands and pretended not to see the age spots dotting them.
"I don't know if she is married. Nobody said anything one way or the other. All they wanted to do was take generation photos, you know, my son, his niece and her baby, and me. Four generations." Regina felt somewhat relieved. The possibility of Stella's explanation seemed valid enough. Maybe that was why Larry Jr. didn't tell that she was going to be a great grandmother. Taylor must not be married. Good grief, what did they imagine she was going to say? Did they think she was going to disapprove or have a stroke? Regina was beginning to lose the numbness that stunned her heart with this sudden surprise.
"What'd you tell 'em?" Stella asked with a mouth full of candy.
"What?" Regina directed her attention back to her friend.
"What'd you tell 'em? Dammit, are you deaf?"
"I didn't tell them a thing, smarty. I just pretended to know all about it. And by the way, Estelle, it's not an old folk's home." She was beginning to loose her patience.
"Don't get your new panties in a knot, Gina. Now your whole family is going to think you've gone senile because they know they didn't tell you about the new baby! Just for your information, Missy, we live here and we are old. It's an old folk's home!" She dropped a half eaten chocolate back into the box. "Why do you let Junior give you this crappy candy anyway? Didn't I tell you they give me the fudgie shits?"
"PLEASE do not let your dog lift his leg on the way out," Regina ordered.
She wrinkled her nose at the still suffocating, undeniable scent of roses lingering in Stella's wake. Now that her friend was gone, she could get back to the business of feeling sorry for herself. Her thoughts turned toward her daughter and her heart ached. They were close, she and Renee, as close as a mother was and daughter could be. It wasn't right that Renee had to grow up never knowing her father. Fortunately, her daughter was resilient and inordinately sensitive. Even as a child, the youngster was able to sense her mother's struggle with sadness and regret. Assuming the role of comforter became second nature for the girl. Her unexpected death was a monumental shock to everyone. It happened shortly after she gave birth to her daughter. The whole family gathered for the joyous occasion, congratulating the new father in front of the nursery window while on the other side of the glass, baby Taylor stretched her little arms and legs and pouted with a cherry red mouth. She had just returned to the nursery from her mother's breast and her tiny lips were still smacking for more. When the ecstatic family headed back to the new mother's room, they were met with a startling commotion. Emergency carts were being pushed into Renee's room by frantic nurses. Several professional looking personnel were rushing in and out, and then finally, a distraught doctor delivered the news. A blood clot had lodged in Renee's heart and took her life.
To an outside observer, it would appear that Reneewas the glue that bonded the family together. After she died, the family ties seemed to go to the grave with her. At least, for a time anyway, Regina had baby Taylor to buffer her grief. She did everything she could, as the child grew older, to help her son-in-law provide a warm loving home. Tragically, he too, died young. After a fatal car accident robbed Taylor of her only surviving parent, the fourteen year old went to live with Larry Jr. and his family. Her uncle was kind enough to help raise her, stepping in for father-daughter dances, graduations and so forth. If he ever resented having another mouth to feed, he never mentioned it. Although grateful for everything her son did, Regina was lonely for her family and she was sure that if her daughter were alive, she would not have to worry about such things. Larry Jr. and his family rarely had time for her. A person would think his wife would be thoughtful enough to schedule visits more frequently, especially with two children and a niece to consider, but as always, there seemed to be some sort of strain between them preventing that. The elder Mrs. Whitmore had no idea why; it just was. The real problem for her was that Taylor became just as inaccessible as the rest of Larry Jr.'s family.
Refusing to let those old memories depress her, Regina shook off the morose cloak beginning to settle across her shoulders. She took stock of her surroundings and counted her blessings. She had a nice apartment; two fair sized bedrooms, one bath, a decent sized living room with a flat screen TV, and an adjoining kitchenette, essentially, a small refrigerator, apartment size electric stove, and microwave. The kitchen design was charming, although not as large as she was used to. The oak cabinetry was adequate and was topped with gorgeous black granite that, in the right light, sparkled with nearly transparent flecks of silver. This executive suite had an independent phone line and cable, as well, and the décor was of her choosing. She surrounded herself with antiques and favorite pieces of quality furniture she collected over the years. Some pieces had been in her family for too many years to remember. Many of these treasures were too precious to part with; the family Bible, the well-aged likeness of her grandparents on their wedding day, her mother's silver jewelry box, and her father's old tobacco pipes still faintly smelling of the rich scent of aromatic imported tobacco forever embedded within walnut and mahogany bowls.
Heritage Memories Retirement Village was a great place to live. Because Larry Jr. and his best friend, Chad Sanders, built it, their mothers had the biggest apartments in the whole complex. These executive suites were more than accommodating and the remaining apartments were several notches above ordinary, as well. The Village, one could say, provided independent, as well as dependent, living at its finest. Residents could keep a cat or a small dog as long as they were able to care for the animal. If their apartment did not come with laundry hookups, community laundry facilities were available close by. They could join others for meals in the dining room, or choose to cook in their own apartment, provided their appliances didn't violate the health and safety policies of the Village. "Yeah, like a slow cooker would set off the fire alarm," Chad's mother Donna snickered after seeing her apartment for the first time.
The memory of Chad Thompson surfaced for a moment. Regina thought of him often and considered her best friend blessed to have a son like him. Donna's boy was a most charming fellow, redheaded like his dad, and very tender hearted. In fact, his sweet, innocent heart was the incentive behind building the retirement home. He and Larry Jr. were only eight years old when they came up with the idea. Back in those days, Regina, Donna, and their husbands, Big Larry and Tom, were the best of friends. The similarities between the two families were remarkable and celebrated. Both had sons the same age. Donna had a year old baby girl, Belinda, and the little tyke was just as comfortable at Regina's house as she was in her own crib. Some years later, Regina gave birth to Renee, and her joyful presence filled the ragged hole torn in their heats when Big Larry's jet went down in Viet Nam. After Donna and Tom divorced, the two women remained best friends and continued to stay close as though they were sisters. Their children would always view each other as family. The boys were especially close. Wherever one was, the other would be as well. They were practically inseparable.
Regina let herself get lost in the memories of that time in her life. She recalled when Larry Jr. and Chad first decided to build a home for their parents as they aged. The scenario was as clear in her mind's eye as it had been that very day. Both families had gathered around Donna's dining room table to look at the dozens of family photographs covering the lace tablecloth. Everyone was sharing their favorites with the group; especially the pictures that made them laugh, cry, or hide their faces behind their hands in embarrassment.
Regina remembered everyone looking at Chad as his freckled face reddened and the corners of his mouth drooped.
"Baby, what's the matter?" his mother asked, alarmed.
"I'm going to miss you, Mama," the boy told her, unable to hold back the tears.
"Well, darlin', where are you going?" Donna asked her son.
"I'm going to get married and move awayyy," he wailed. "Can we move in with you?" He threw his body into her lap and buried his face in her neck.
Donna tried not to laugh and managed to tell him, "Sure you can, baby, but I've got a feeling that once you get married, you won't want to live with your old mama."
Regina noticed blonde-headed Larry Jr. listening intently to the exchanged and could see his young heart hurt for his friend. Her son slung his scrawny arm around Chad's shoulders and told him "Don't worry. When we grow up, me and you will build an old folks home for our parents and we can visit them anytime we want to!"
Chad's face brightened and he exclaimed, "That's a great idea! Let's start saving for it now. Here's a quarter!"
"Whoa now! I'm not planning to get old any time soon!" Regina laughed along with everyone else at the table.
Surprisingly, the two boys never forgot their promise. They joked about it now and then over time, but deep down inside, everyone knew that one day, the old folk's home would become a reality. Even after the boys grew up and left their friendship behind, they still managed to make the dream come true. Larry Jr., the doctor, handled the money end and Chad, the contractor, provided the labor, both offering an equal investment of time, money, and other resources to the endeavor. It turned out to be far better than anyone else could have imagined. To their credit, the partnership they formed to complete the plan yielded a highly sought after, efficiently run, quality retirement village. Regina and Donna could not help but be proud of their sons' accomplishment. During the ribbon cutting ceremony, the mayor made a speech about what an asset the Village would be for the town of Ocean View, Florida. Larry Jr. and Chad were both present accepting accolades, but that was the last time anyone saw them in the same room together. Their mothers knew it would be. The men's history dictated it. The two women clung to the memory of their sons standing side by side just as they did when they were inseparable children. Framed eight by ten photos of the grown men shaking hands hung in their respective mother's apartment, a reminder of a time when their friendship was solid and enduring.
Excerpted from Secrets of the Old Ladies' Club by Nan Tubre Copyright © 2013 by Nan Tubre. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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