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Goodwin's straight-forward writing style captures the innocence and simplicity of days gone by. We marvel at his hero's cleverness in shaping events so that a positive outcome is assured. We follow not only his story but also the story of a young boy whose life is forever changed by his friendship with our hero. This boy gains the confidence to conquer his poor upbringing and becomes a successful politician and ultimately a state senator. This is a story that you will want to read in one sitting and your heart will sing for days after you've finished!
I first met Bay Lee when I bought a house to remodel. The house had been the main house on a large tobacco plantation in North Carolina and was in horrible shape. I bought a trailer to live in while I remodeled the house. The first day on the job, I had stopped for lunch. I didn't have any electricity, so was having peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and milk to drink. My first visitor was like an apparition. A young kid about nine years old, filthy dirty, long hair, ragged clothes and I thought to myself, this kid has no parents.
I asked him if he had lunch and he said "no". So I made him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Evidently he hadn't eaten for days. He jammed the whole sandwich in his mouth, without chewing. I asked if he would like another sandwich and he said "yes". I made him another and told him he had to eat this one slowly and take time to chew it. He then asked if he could have two sandwiches for his brother and sister. I said, "Why don't you go get your brother and sister. They may want more than one sandwich." The kid went next door to a house almost as bad as mine and shortly came out with his brother and sister who were younger than he. They were just as dirty and unkempt as he was also ashungry. They finished the bread and the milk.
But I am way ahead of my story. Let me begin at the beginning. Although the story centers about Bay Lee, I must tell you how I got there.
I met my wife, Lucy, when we were in high school. We were sweethearts from the time we first met, although we didn't get married until we graduated from college. We were always very close and never dated anyone else. Our relations were always platonic, even though we did everything together. Our families always expected us to get married.
My father had a home construction company and I had always worked for him during my spare time. My college curriculum was design and business aspects of running this business so we could expand. Since my father had always been successful, this was easy, when I joined the company full time.
After graduation from college, Lucy and I were planning our wedding. We bought a small house and Lucy spent her time furnishing and decorating the house. Finally the big day arrived. We were married in the church and all our friends and family were there. The first part of our dreams was finally coming true.
Since we were very busy in the business of building houses, we planned just a few days for the honeymoon. We would go to New York City, see the sights, eat at some famous restaurants, see a couple of shows and get acquainted with married life. We saw the Statue of Liberty, viewed New York City from atop the Empire State Building. We went to Mama Leone's for a good spaghetti dinner and had Chinese food in Chinatown. The thing that impressed us most was how busy everyone was, and how much of a hurry everyone appeared to be. I don't remember the names of the shows because we didn't really enjoy them that much. Although we enjoyed the trip, it was a relief to be on the plane for the trip back home and to get settled into family life.
Lucy applied for and got a substitute teaching job at the local grammar school. She had majored in this in college, but didn't want to be tied down to a full time job. The construction business was doing well, so finances were not important. We quickly settled into married life, and doing things with family and friends.
We had always planned to have three children. After about a year, Lucy told me she thought she was pregnant, so we selected a good doctor. The pregnancy went without any problems, with of course, the worry that everything wouldn't be all right. We had a sonogram to be sure and to verify the sex of the child. The first child would be a girl, and we decided to call her Emily, which had been her great grandmother's name. All the grandparents were ecstatic and could hardly wait until she was born. In the meantime we were swamped with baby furniture and clothes. Our friends had a baby shower and we received more baby clothes and diapers. I thought we would have enough diapers for six babies. Little did I know, we ran out in a couple of months.
Emily was a wonderful baby, good disposition, slept all night long, most nights and was never sick, except an occasional colic. We spoiled her terribly and both grandparents were even worse. We now knew what it was like to be a family. Lucy quit her job so she could stay home and take care of Emily.
When Emily was two, Lucy told me she thought she was pregnant again. Since Emily was still seeing the same doctor, Lucy had no trouble getting an appointment and we started the same process again.
Lucy had more trouble with this pregnancy, more morning sickness and sleepless nights. Finally the sonogram. This one was to be a boy and everything appeared to be all right, but Lucy continued with morning sickness and aches in her back. She gained more weight this time and was generally more uncomfortable. We decided we would need more room in the house, so we decided to add two more rooms and a bath to the house. This was not a problem, as I just diverted a crew and in a short time it was completed. Emily still slept in the crib, so we had to buy her a bed and dresser. Emily was walking and talking quite well and used to pat Lucy's belly and say "Baby". We decided to call him Dan. In due time, Dan was born. There was not as much excitement this time. Lucy was happy to have this pregnancy over as she had had so much discomfort. When we got Dan home, he was far different than Emily. He always seemed to have colic and almost always woke up at night and cried. Even though he got the same treatment as Emily, he always seemed to be uncomfortable. Having the children brought Lucy and I even closer. We still did everything together and really enjoyed our life together.
When Dan was about a year and a half old, my father complained of not feeling well. The family doctor's diagnosis was a slight stroke, so he was sent to a cardiologist for testing. The tests confirmed heart problems, and the doctor ordered operations to repair leaky valves. The operations were a success, but Dad never returned to work full time. We arranged a financial settlement, so Dad and Mom would never have to worry about money. This left me in complete charge of the business and it continued to be successful.
In the meantime Lucy became pregnant again. This one turned to be more like the first pregnancy, not so much morning sickness, sleepless nights or back aches. Dan had finally got over his colic and could sleep all night. And finally came the sonogram, another girl, we decided to call her Sarah.
Emily had started pre-school, so we became active in school activities. As soon as Sarah was born, it became evident that we had three different personalities, Emily was reserved, Dan was studious, and Sarah was always laughing. We realized that with three growing children, we really needed a bigger house. We selected a site in the suburbs and built a new house, taking into account what the kids would need to play, both inside and out, as they grew up and had friends visiting. It seems like only yesterday that we moved into the new house, but the kids are all in school. We go to school meetings, little league, dance recitals and all the other activities of kids in school. Lucy has taught the kids how to study, so they are all good students. Both Emily and Dan always study and have excellent grades, but Sarah is laughing and is light hearted and really doesn't care about her grades. Lucy has her hands full, driving the kids to all their appointments, and I keep busy with the business. It has its ups and downs, but is still very successful. Finances have never been a factor in our lives. Lucy and I still spend a lot of time together and we depend on each other. The next few years pass very quickly.
Emily is a senior in high school; she is planning on going to college and wants to be a teacher. Dan is a sophomore and wants to go into pre-med. We have always planned on the kids going to college. Both Emily and Dan have high grade averages and may get scholarships. But Sarah is another story. She laughs her way through life; her grades are usually C's with an occasional B. About this time, Lucy's father develops cancer. It develops rapidly and within a year he is gone. My parents have been spending winters in Florida, and they decide to move there year round. Both Lucy and I are still busy with school activities. We are so proud of Emily. She is valedictorian of her class and has received a scholarship to college that will pay much of her expenses. Before we realize it, Dan is graduating high school. He is also valedictorian and gets a small scholarship that will help with his pre-med. While all this is happening, Sarah is still laughing her way through grade school.
By the time she is in tenth grade, she suddenly develops an interest in the building industry. She is interested both kitchen and bathroom design. She is constantly pouring over literature and wants to attend all the trade shows to meet the designers and manufacturers to see if they will build what she wants. Usually she calls Mr. Childs, whose factory is in a large city about one hundred miles away. When the innovation was made, it became an item she could always order. Sarah had become a wonderful addition to our company and people would choose our company just to get her designs. Sarah had built a wonderful reputation. About a week before Sarah's graduation, I got a phone call from Mr. Childs. Could we have lunch? Since Sarah had always handled the business with Mr. Childs, I wondered what this could be about. A bomb shell was about to drop. He suggested that we meet at a very nice restaurant and I bring Lucy and Sarah with me. He would make the arrangements. We arrived at the restaurant and Mr. Childs was waiting for us. He had brought Mrs. Childs and his son Derrick with him. Derrick was a couple of years older than Sarah and was in college, and worked part time. I had met Derrick before. He had been in charge of the installations of the fancy kitchens, but I did not know he was Mr. Childs' son. The seating arrangement was simple. I sat next to Mr. Childs and Sarah sat next to Derrick. Sarah had never had much interest in boys and it soon became obvious why.
Sarah's and Derrick's conversation was very animated and such a glow on their faces. It reminded me of when Lucy and I were young. I looked at Lucy and she nodded; she was thinking the same thing. The lunch was excellent, and we talked a little about business. After dessert, Mr. Childs asked Sarah if she planned to go to college. When she said "Yes", Mr. Childs made a suggestion. Why didn't she attend the State college in their city. He had made a large contribution to the college to set up a course for design of houses and he could get her a scholarship. She could also work part time at the factory working with special customers on sales and design of kitchens. He even mentioned salary, which would be about three times what I had paid Sarah for working part time. He asked Sarah what she thought of this arrangement, and she said, "Fantastic!" He then went on to say that they owned a small apartment house near both the factory and the college. They just happened to have a small studio apartment that was empty and she could stay there. Mrs. Childs could check on her to make sure she was all right. Now it became obvious what the meeting was about.
Sarah would get a college education, a job for life and a proposal of marriage all in the same day. Mrs. Childs turned to me and Lucy and asked what we thought. I said I was overwhelmed, and all this was so sudden and Lucy agreed. Sarah was enthusiastic and could hardly wait to get started. We agreed that she could move and start on the job the first of the month after graduation. It would be hard with no children in the house and missing Sarah always laughing. But times do change, Sarah moved, and Lucy and I were enjoying our time together. The summer quickly passed, Emily graduated, got a job teaching second grade about thirty miles away. Dan was still in pre-med and Sarah was quickly settling into her new routine.
December comes and everyone will be home for Christmas. As usual Lucy is planning a big celebration and buying presents for everyone. On December 20th Lucy is still shopping for Christmas and on the way home, she was in a head on collision with a drunken driver. She is killed instantly. The drunken driver crossed over the center line on a curve and struck Lucy's car head on. He was also speeding and it was his third DWI arrest. I was devastated. I constantly thought how I would kill the SOB.
The funeral was a very trying affair. We had always planned on growing old together. The kids were able to cope better than I could. They had other parts to their lives, college, their studies, their friends and everything going on around them. But I had lost part of me. I would wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat, and couldn't go back to sleep. I was a wreck and was getting worse. Finally I sought the help of a psychiatrist. I saw him three days a week for six months.
In the meantime, the drunk was convicted of Vehicular Manslaughter and sentenced to three years in prison. I still planned to kill him when he was released.
After six months with the psychiatrist, he gave me his opinion. He could not help me. Sell my business and my house and go somewhere else and start a new life. I didn't like his assessment, but I was desperate. The transition took several months. I had always driven a pickup truck, so I was going to use the truck to travel in.
I said goodbye to the kids and decided I would go to Florida to visit my parents. After a few days, I decided to travel around Florida to look for a place to live. Nothing appealed to me and I went into Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and was finally getting discouraged that I would ever find the right place. In December, three years after the accident I was in North Carolina. I stopped at a small motel on the shore of a lake. Tomorrow would be the anniversary of Lucy's death and I felt really terrible. I spent a very restless night, but woke up feeling calm and rested. I went next door to a little restaurant and had my usual breakfast. I walked outside to go to my truck and felt Lucy's spirit walking beside me. Lucy always had a large pocketbook and she would always place it on the seat between us. I could always feel it in my back when I drove. Today I could feel it more than I could remember. I felt so calm and peaceful with Lucy's spirit next to me, I decided I would drive slowly around the lake and enjoy the scenery. After about one hour, we came to a sign. It was so old you could not make out the name of the town. The only thing you could still read was population 9,400. I wanted to go look at the lake, but the town had been built away from the lake. We came to an old road that seemed to go toward the lake.
We passed a house that was very rundown, no paint, ready to fall down, when we came to a large sign. This old tobacco plantation "House and 30 acres for sale $10,000. See 1st national Bank." Talk about a wreck., windows broken, doors off the hinges, roof leaked, no electricity, no running water and a dump directly across the road. Of course, the 30 acres included the dump. I could see old tires, refrigerators, stoves, and even a couple of old davenports. It didn't smell bad, so I surmised no garbage. We looked at the back of the house and there was a huge outcropping of stone with a huge cave. The cave was large, probably 100 feet deep. The old driveway led down to the lake.
As we were walking down the driveway to the lake, Lucy turned to me and said, "Buy this place, you will be happy here." Lucy had never been wrong on major decisions. We walked on down to the lake and there were the remains of an old dock. Lucy walked out onto the dock and disappeared. I walked back to the truck, feeling calmer than I had felt in years. It didn't take long to find the bank, locate the president and sit down to make the deal. I told him I didn't want the portion with the dump, so we added a paragraph to the sale contract to that effect. He told me that all the papers were in order and we could close in three days. I called my bank and told them to transfer $50,000 to my account in this bank.
Excerpted from THE BOY ASKS AND THE LAKE REPLIED by George Goodwin Copyright © 2009 by George Goodwin. Excerpted by permission.
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