On the road of life, sometimes you have to shift gears and slow down for those rough patches, but in the end, if you drive carefully, you'll end up home at last...
After twenty years of marriage, Charlene's husband, Joey, has left her and their three children. Now, with an Oklahoma ranch house, a Chevy Suburban that's seen better days, and an uncertain road ahead, Charlene finds herself taking a journey she never wanted or planned. But she can't turn around and go back. All she can do is move forward.
Sometimes, though, the most unexpected way is the best. Because if you're brave and grip the wheel tightly, you can find yourself in an extraordinary new place: like in the arms of a man who understands lost dreams and, with a little luck, on the birnk of discovering new directions.
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The City Hall thermometer reads 101°
Charlene had made tomato pudding for this Sunday's dinner. Normally that was considered more of a fall and winter dish, but she had made it this hot day anyway for her husband Joey, in case he got home in time. Joey loved her tomato pudding so much that he might just smell it up there in Missouri and come home faster.
She burned her fingers getting it out of the oven. Plunking the dish on the counter beside the ham, she rushed, shaking her fingers, to the sink and stuck them in the stream of cold water. She wondered why people shook burnt fingers. Maybe it was about the same as blowing on them. She did not think either action helped all that much.
It was the every other Sunday when Charlene had dinner at her house for the familyher husband and three children, and her father and his two boarders were the regulars. Sometimes one of the kids had a friend over, and every once in a while her sister and brother-in-law, Rainey and Harry, drove down from Oklahoma City to join them. On very rare occasions her brother Freddy and his wife Helen bent themselves to show up, although not in the months since Freddy had suffered his breakdown and pulled a gun on the IRS agent and wound up in the hospital.
"Mama ..." Danny J. sauntered into the kitchen and went straight to sniffing over the food "... is Dad comin' home today?" He got to the chocolate cake and scooped a fingertip in the icing.
"Quit that!" She smacked at his hand and kissed his head at thesame time. He pulled away; he was thirteen now.
"When's Dad comin' home?"
"Tonight sometime, I think."
"Then why'd you make tomato puddin'? No one else likes it." His eyes focused on her.
"I like it," Charlene said. She stuck her fingers back under the water. She didn't want Danny J. to see her hands shaking. She felt her whole body shaking. "Now, take the trash out for me."
He frowned and slumped his shoulders all over but did what she asked. As he went out the back door, Charlene reminded him to put the lids tight on the trash cans so the raccoons wouldn't get in them. Joey kept saying he was going to have to shoot those raccoons, which upset Jojo considerably. Charlene had to take her aside and tell her, "You know your daddy isn't goin' to shoot those raccoons. For one thing, he doesn't have a gun." Joey wasn't a man who could kill anything. He made sure the barn doors were open so birds could fly in to their nests. Joey was like that.
She was patting her hands dry with her apron, when she heard the sound of a vehicle. She raced to the window.
But no, it wasn't Joey.
She stared at the car coming like gangbustersher daddy's maroon Oldsmobile. Daddy and his girlsthat was what everyone had started calling Charlene's father and his elderly women boarders. For the past four months there had only been two, but he'd had as many as four at times the past year.
The big Oldsmobile rolled up the concrete drive and came to an immediate and jerky halt, enough to throw them all through the window had they not been wearing seat belts. Her father was awfully proud to still be driving at his age. Charlene was a little worried.
She stood there holding her fingers in her apron and watching as Rainey and Larry Joe went out to greet the new arrivals. Rainey escorted the elderly ladies toward the house, and Larry Joe stood beside his grandfather to chat. Daddy liked to stand out there and smoke a Camel before coming inside.
Charlene turned back to the stove and then just stood there, head cocked, the babble of feminine voices floating to her from the living room.
Someone said her name. Footsteps were coming toward the kitchen.
Snatching up a Tupperware bowl, she hurried out the back door, closing it softly behind her.
On the back step, she put her arm up against the glare of the bright sun. Good-golly it was hot. She looked around for Danny J., only just then remembering him. The trash can lids were firmly in place, showing that he had made quick work of his job and scooted away before he could be assigned another.
As she went down the path to her little garden, grasshoppers jumped here and there, startled by her movements. Her garden was pretty much burnt right up. She had tried to keep it watered, but morning and night, day after day, had just gotten too much.
This summer was one of the hottest and driest on record. There had been no rain since the first of June, and temperatures had soared over a hundred for days on end. Creeks and ponds were going dry, pasture grass was withering and concrete cracking. It had been reported in the Valentine Voice that there was a doubling in county-wide arrests because of people all over the place getting into fights over portable air conditioners and yard sprinklers. Some evenings lately Charlene had begun to feel that if it did not rain, she was going to go crazy.
In the garden, cucumbers were barely hanging on. She found one that was not too shriveled, and a handful of cherry tomatoes. The tomato plants were pretty much giving up the ghost. She bent and rooted "around in the weeds for the thin salad onions. Her daddy and the kids liked to put salt in a saucer and dip slices of cucumber and the salad onions in it and eat them. Daddy had taught, the kids that.
She came up with three pitiful-looking onions and slowly walked back toward the house. Her burned fingers had begun to throb, and the skin was getting quite red, starting to bubble up, too. Inside at the sink, she stuck them under cold water again as she washed the vegetables. Voices high and low floated from the living room.
Rainey came in and over to Charlene's shoulder. "Do you know Mildred brought her own margarine? Country Crock in those little singles. She pulled it out of her purse. Does she always do that?"
"Uh-huh." Charlene nodded. "She carries all sorts of stuff in her purse. Once she brought out Hellmann's mayonnaise."
"Good grief. She might get food poisoning. Did you burn your fingers?"
"Just a bit." Charlene was wrapping them in a wet paper towel. "Joey didn't come in, did he?" She thought it possible she had missed him. Maybe he was parked over by, the barn, where he had to unload the horses.
"No. Let me see your fingers."
"Oh, don't be silly, Charlene. Let me look at your fingers."
"Leave me be, Rainey."
Rainey stared at her. Charlene told Rainey to please go get the cloth napkins from the buffet drawer. "It's a special dinner," she said, giving a smile to try to make up.
Rainey studied her.
Charlene turned quickly to get a frying pan from the cupboard. "And use Mama's good silver. There's eight settings."
She heard Rainey leave. Pushing stray hair from her face with the back of her hand, she went to the refrigerator for flour and milk to make gravy. The biscuits would be out of the oven in five minutes. There was a big ham with pineapple slices over it, cornbread dressing and gravy, fresh green beans, corn on the cob, a gelatin salad, the tomato pudding and a chocolate cake. She had managed to turn out a really good meal.
Jojo came in. "Maa-maa?" she said, dragging it out in the way children seemed to enjoy saying the name just to be saying it. After a minute, she repeated with a definite tone, "Mama?"
"Aunt Rainey's gonna tell everyone about her baby at dinner, isn't she?"
Charlene looked down into her daughter's upturned face and cupped her small chin. "Yes. Don't let out the secret."
"I won't," Jojo said, as if wounded. Then her blue eyes searched Charlene's face in the worried fashion that had become her habit in the last months.
"Take that plate of garden veggies in to the table for me, won't you, sweetie," Charlene said.
"Okay, Mama." She very carefully took the plate.
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CHARLENE, THE VERY BELIEVABLE WOMEN WHO GOES THROUGH SOME MAJOR DISSAPOINTMENTS, MADE THE STORY VERY INTERESTING. TO SEE HER MOVING AHEAD IN LIFE ON HER OWN AFTER FEELING THAT HER LIFE WOULD NEVER HOLD HAPPINESS AGAIN. IT GOES TO SHOW THAT HAPPINESS CAN AND WILL HAPPEN IN THE LEAST LIKELY WAYS.MASON, A GUY WHO HELD HIS ATTRACTION FOR HER INSIDE FOR YEARS, IS A MAN ALL WOMEN WOULD LOVE TO KNOW AND SHOWS US THAT YES, DREAMS AND ROMANCE ARE STILL ATTAINABLE.
After twenty-one years of marriage, Joey Darnell fails to return to his home from a business trip. Instead, he moves into a trailer owned by Sheila Arnett. His wife Charlene and two children are devastated and the townsfolk of Valentine, Oklahoma thinks he is nuts. Everyone advises Charlene that Joey is suffering a mid-life crisis, will come to his senses, and should never have hurt her like this. Slowly, Charlene begins to gather herself together. She drives for the first in six years and takes a job at the beauty parlor. Mason MacCoy begins to court her. Unbeknownst to Charlene, Mason has loved her ever since he first met her a decade ago. In her forties, Charlene begins to regain her self-respect and buried hopes even as she starts to fall in love with her suitor. DRIVING LESSONS is an interesting character piece that demonstrates the width of talent that best-selling author Curtiss Ann Matlock possesses. The story line centers on the actions and reactions of various players to Joey, who is not an evil person, leaving his family. This tale is a thought-provoking novel because the author avoids the pitfalls of turning Joey into pure evil and Charlene into pure goodness. Instead these are real people coping with a crisis and the way the author handles that will bring much acclaim to Ms. Matlock. Harriet Klausner