As Caroline grows up watching her mother have "accident" after "accident," she knows that she will never let a man treat her the way her father treats her mother. But when tragedy strikes, Charlotte and Caroline must pick up the pieces and put their lives back together. As Caroline moves on to college, life continues as she blossoms into womanhood.
Follow this mother and daughter through all seasons of life-from birth and death to love and loss and dark family secrets over a period of fifty-two years, and learn how one family tries to make the best out of a tragic situation in A Season for Living.
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Read an Excerpt
A Season for LivingA Novel
By Susan Willis Updegraff
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Susan Willis Updegraff
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCharlotte sat in the comfortable chair on the veranda of her Ansley Park home in Atlanta enjoying the early fall afternoon sun. The tall oak trees were beginning to turn shades of red and gold, and the formal gardens at the back of their home displayed the exquisite rhododendron and hibiscus blossoms. The scarlet crepe myrtles swayed in the gentle breeze. The smells in the back yard reminded her of her childhood in Roswell, a rural farm community north of Atlanta. She spent long summer days and fall afternoons after school outside romping through the woods, climbing trees, and having outdoor tea parties with her younger sisters, Anne and Nancy. Those days seemed two lifetimes away. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the memories and the warmth that the sun so generously shared.
She had married John Wellington, the only son of Grant and Elizabeth Wellington, on October 30, 1945. Grant was the founder of Georgia Life Insurance Company in 1930. Their wealth and influence in Atlanta were well known, and the status had thrust Charlotte into unfamiliar territory when they were married three years earlier. Charlotte and John were both thirty-two years old when they married, and now at thirty-five she was expecting their first child. Grant and Elizabeth were thrilled to be finally having a grandchild. For a long time, they did not believe that blessing would be theirs to enjoy.
Charlotte sipped her iced tea and thought about what Belle would make for dinner. Belle was her childhood nanny, and Charlotte had insisted that she move in with them when she and John married.
Belle ran the household with an iron hand, managing the butler and the gardener while taking perfect care of Charlotte, as she always had. Belle was in her late forties and had worked for the Reed family since she was eighteen. She was slightly built with dark skin and dark brown eyes. Charlotte rarely saw her when the nanny wasn't dressed in a flowered shirtwaist dress and a white apron. Belle and the butler, Robert, lived on the lower level of their home in simple but comfortable quarters. Robert was Belle's nephew, her brother's son. Belle kept him on the straight and narrow and reminded him often how fortunate he was to be working in such a wonderful home. Robert was a handsome young black man who needed guidance, and Belle was just the person for the job.
It was 1948, and blacks were not accepted into society except in some type of service role. Belle's brother, Tom, had been arrested more than once protesting the treatment he and his friends received while doing something as simple as getting in line at a lunch counter in downtown Atlanta. Belle knew that Robert would be in the same kind of trouble if she didn't keep him in line. Belle had long ago accepted her place and just worked to do the best job she could for the Wellingtons. She often told Robert that if he ever expected to get anywhere in his life, he needed to work hard and accept things the way they were. Robert never really did, but he knew that he had a good job in a good home, and he loved his aunt Belle and wanted to please her. He knew the sacrifices she had made for him and the sadness she had endured in her life.
Charlotte was feeling especially tired and achy today. The baby was due anytime, and it was getting more and more difficult to sleep. As she stood to go into the house to find Belle, the pain radiated from her back all the way around her body. She knew it was time.
"Belle, where are you?"
Belle appeared in the doorway from the kitchen where she had been preparing dinner. "What is it, baby? Are you all right?"
"Would you call John? It's time for the baby to come," Charlotte whispered.
"He's on his way home now, baby," Belle said as she comforted Charlotte. "Your bags are packed. I'll get them, and John will be here any minute. I'm calling Dr. Daniel to let him know you are coming."
"Belle, what would I ever do without you?" Charlotte said as she walked into the small den at the rear of the house. She sat in the Queen Anne chair facing the fireplace and looked around the room, thinking how different her life was now compared to her life in Roswell. She was so in love with John and felt lucky to be able to give her child all the things she never had when she was growing up.
As with everything in the Wellingtons' lives, John and Charlotte's home was grand and elegant, and they entertained clients and prospects who were wealthy business owners from New York to Miami. Their Georgian Revival home was on almost an acre and was the location of many of the business parties the young Wellingtons hosted. The portico was protected by a handmade iron gate that, when opened, led to the side entry into the kitchen. The front of their home welcomed guests with a driveway flanked by dogwood trees. The front yard boasted a hundred-year-old magnolia tree and azaleas of every color. Manicured boxwoods across the front of the house completed the stylish appeal.
Within ten minutes, John walked up the front steps through the Georgian column-covered entry. He entered the wide foyer with its high ceilings and black-and-white floor tiles that echoed the elegance found throughout the home. The curved staircase with mahogany stairs and handrails, white risers, and beautifully carved white balusters confirmed the affluence of its occupants.
Belle met John in the foyer. "Mr. Wellington, it's time for the baby to come. Miss Charlotte is in the den. I'm getting her bag now, and I called Dr. Daniel to let him know you're coming."
John dropped his briefcase and rushed into the den where Charlotte was sitting. "Darling, let me help you. Oh my God, our baby is coming!" John slid his right arm around Charlotte and lifted her. He guided her to the portico at the side entry into the kitchen and gently helped her into the Bentley's front seat.
Belle appeared at the door with Charlotte's bags. As she put them into the back seat, she said, "Miss Charlotte, everything's gonna be all right. You know Belle is going to take care of everything here."
"I know you are, Belle. You always do," Charlotte said with a loving note in her voice as she softly touched Belle's hand. She looked up at Belle and saw tears in her eyes.
When the car pulled out of the driveway, Belle walked back into the house to find Robert. She walked into the foyer and could not see him. She looked in the living room to the right. It had a beautiful hand-carved alabaster fireplace and mantle and was rather formal, with two antique Chippendale sofas and two cherry Louis XV armchairs on each side of the fireplace. An antique Chinese tea cabinet was on the wall to the right as you entered the room. Belle walked into the dining room that was to the left of the foyer. It comfortably sat twelve guests under a nineteenth-century Regency-style chandelier. Chippendale dining chairs with embroidered fabric complemented the large mahogany, double-pedestal dining table. Robert was in the dining room washing the windows, a task Belle had given him three days earlier.
"Robert," Belle began urgently, "Miss Charlotte and Mr. Wellington have gone to the hospital. She's having the baby. We need to get all these windows washed before she gets home. You know there will be lots of company when that baby gets home."
"I know, I know, Aunt Belle," Robert said, already tired of the job he had just begun.
"Now when you are finished in the living room and dining room, get the library windows washed." Belle continued her instructions.
"Yes, ma'am, Aunt Belle." He sighed and went back to his work.
The library was behind the living room and had mahogany judges paneling with built-in bookcases on each side of the marble fireplace and down the back wall. The coffered ceiling gave the room a warmth and elegance with the dark brown leather tufted-back sofa and leather chairs and ottomans that matched. An antique English secretary stood on the wall across from the marble fireplace, and a Louis XV desk was in front of the three palladium windows that brought the morning light into the room. With the exception of the library, Charlotte had decorated the entire house herself.
As they pulled out of the driveway, Charlotte's mind wandered back to when she met John. In 1935, after college, she took the only job she could find, assistant to the president of Georgia Life Insurance Company. Charlotte Reed was independent and resourceful and had a very nice life. She lived in a small house that she rented near Peachtree Street just off of Fourteenth Street and drove a 1929 Ford sedan that she bought for $900. It gave her a sense of satisfaction to be making her own money and her own choices. Charlotte had managed to save $10,000 and she had a feeling of security that she rarely had growing up.
Her father, Jack, worked odd jobs and was a very ill-tempered alcoholic. It was her mother, Irene, who gave Charlotte and her two younger sisters, Anne and Nancy, their values and work ethic. Irene worked at the Roswell Mill when the girls were very young. Later she was the assistant to the president of the Bank of Roswell. Irene was smart and resourceful, and Charlotte always gave her mother credit for those qualities in herself. After her father's death in 1930, Charlotte and her sisters seemed to blossom along with Irene. She set her sights on college and did not stop until she graduated and had a job in Atlanta.
The day she met John, she was at her desk outside of his father's office. It was January 15, 1945. She knew about his appointment with Mr. Wellington. John had attended Harvard for his undergraduate and law degrees. He had joined a large law firm in Boston after graduation and was very successful in corporate law for the firm, but Charlotte overheard his dad talking about wanting him to come home and work at Georgia Life. John was very handsome, with dark brown hair and striking green eyes. His chiseled features, six-foot, broad-shouldered frame, intellect, and confidence made him an asset to the law firm in Boston. Charlotte knew that Mr. Wellington talked often about how brilliant John was and how much he wanted him to join the firm.
Charlotte announced his arrival, and John walked into his dad's office, tripping on the door as he walked in looking back at Charlotte.
"My God, Dad, who is that beautiful woman?" John exclaimed as he closed the door and sat down in the chair in front of his father's desk in the mahogany-paneled office in the Candler Building in downtown Atlanta.
"Why, that's Charlotte Reed, Son, my secretary," Mr. Wellington replied matter-of-factly. "She's been my secretary for ten years."
"Where have I been?" John joked to his dad.
"You've been in Boston, John. You haven't made many trips home since you left," Grant replied with a smile.
"She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen!" John continued in his astonished tone.
After the meeting, Charlotte learned that John would be joining their firm as "in-house counsel." It never crossed her mind that he was smitten with her. She never thought of herself that way, even though she had many male suitors who courted her frequently. Her slender 5'7" frame, fair Irish skin, walnut-brown shoulder-length hair, and large brown eyes did make heads turn. Charlotte had beautiful lips, and she wore just the right color of red lipstick to accentuate that attractive feature. Her choice of stylish suits always looked polished and professional with a generous splash of class. But she was not interested in marriage at this point in her life. She might never be interested. Charlotte was enjoying her life in Atlanta. Gentlemen offered to take her to parties in New York and Washington. But she chose her associations very carefully and was very private about her personal life, never discussing it at work.
John graduated from Harvard undergraduate magna cum laude and from Harvard Law with distinction. He made a name for himself quickly with the Rich May law firm in Boston. He was very valuable to clients in their corporate litigation group. By 1944, John was a partner in the firm and could write his own ticket. He was a master with relationships and commandeered at least a dozen large clients from other law firms during his time with the firm. He was the "fair-haired boy" in the truest sense. But his father's offer and his irresistible attraction to Charlotte caused him to agree to join his father's firm.
Three weeks later, John moved in to the office next to his father's and Charlotte became the firm's secretary to the president and in-house counsel. Charlotte was accustomed to Mr. Wellington; he seemed very pleased with her performance and told her so often. However, John was a different story. When he walked by her desk, he would stop to speak with her but rarely said a word. Most of her instructions from him came in the form of handwritten notes. She never understood why until later.
Charlotte became a very valuable employee to Mr. Wellington. She handled everything from his correspondence and appointments to travel arrangements and event planning for the firm. She rarely traveled with him, but occasionally he would ask that she accompany him to Sea Island to handle arrangements for meetings with important clients and salesmen for the company.
Three months after he arrived, John asked her to join him for dinner. She accepted, and they went to Aunt Fannie's Cabin in Smyrna, which was frequented by politicians, dignitaries, and movie stars. Over a dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and turnip greens, Charlotte fell hopelessly in love with John Wellington. She was very surprised by her reaction to him. Their wedding six months later was the social event of the season in Atlanta; guests included the mayor, the governor, and their state senator. The Robinson family hosted an engagement party for the couple, with several hundred people attending. It was truly a Cinderella story for Charlotte. After the wedding, John insisted that she give up her job at Georgia Life. Reluctantly, she did.
During the first year of their marriage, Charlotte found herself entertaining clients and prospects at their home regularly. She planned private dinners and large meetings for the firm. She and John often had garden parties during the spring and summer months. The formal gardens were always an elegant backdrop for these occasions. Charlotte was a meticulous planner, and no detail ever escaped her attention. She quickly became a valuable part of Georgia Life in a different role.
Charlotte's thoughts returned to the present when the next pain hit her as John was pulling into the emergency entrance to Crawford Long Hospital. She realized that she had not heard a word he said on their trip to the hospital. Dr. Daniel's medical staff was waiting to take Charlotte to the labor-and-delivery area of the hospital. John followed beside the wheelchair as the attendant parked their car. A soft-spoken nurse said, "This is as far as you can go, Mr. Wellington. We will take very good care of both of them."
John kissed Charlotte for a long time on the lips and whispered, "I love you, beautiful." Charlotte looked up at him, smiled lovingly, and then grimaced with the next pain.
John went to the father's waiting room and called his father to tell him the news. Grant was still in his office, but it was only four blocks from the hospital. Within fifteen minutes, John had his father and his best friend, Geoff Robinson, waiting with him.
Grant was very distinguished, with prematurely white hair. He had piercing green eyes and wore rimless glasses. His expensive custom-made suits, wing-tip shoes, and silk ties added to his commanding and often intimidating presence.
Geoff and John were best friends in high school and remained in touch while John was in Boston. Geoff's grandfather and father owned stakes in one of the largest railroads in the country, and Geoff enjoyed the wealth and privilege that went with their success. He had married Camilla Candler, the granddaughter of one the original Coca-Cola bottlers. Life was good.
The hours passed, and John began to count the minutes. He paced, sat, and paced again. "John," Geoff said to him at four o'clock the following morning, trying to distract him, "let's get some coffee."
Excerpted from A Season for Living by Susan Willis Updegraff Copyright © 2011 by Susan Willis Updegraff. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love the way Ms. Updegraff has incorporated her Atlanta background to create this story about four very strong women living through 5 decades and how they deal with loss, love, and life's experiences. I cried and laughed with these women. I couldn't put this book down! A definite must read!