The Gardens of Covington joyously celebrates women and friendships, families and love, laughing through the tears, thinking with the head and the heart. The ladies, so real and inspiring, will make you wish they were your neighbors.
If this is your first visit to the small town of Covington, you'll feel comfortably at home in the white farmhouse with the yellow shutters on Cove road that once again teems with warmth and fresh hope for today and tomorrow. If it's your second visit, you'll be thrilled to sit on the front porch once again and catch up with old friends and neighbors.
Hannah, cool-headed and calm, battles to save their beloved hills from the rapacious development that has already ruined Loring Valley, only five minutes form Cove Road. Amelia, giddy with a newfound love, abandons the ladies and her photography to please her dashing new beau. And Grace is driven to prove she has an eye for business when she and her steady companion, Bob Richardson, open the Cottage Tearoom.
New friends and neighbors are introduced. Eccentric Lurina Masterson, an eighty-one-year-old bride, brings tears of joy to all when, wearing her childhood dream of white satin, she married "Old Man," who is ninety-one. And George Maxwell, the ladies' closest neighbor, provides an inspired solution to preserving Covington's lush hills and valleys.
Joan Medlicott writes lovingly about the complexity and tenderness of women. she writes with honesty about relationships, about love and passion, about commitment and friendship, as well as about the intricate bonds between parents and their children.
As you join the ladies of Covington through their highs and their lows, their joys and their sorrows, you will not want the book to end, nor will you wish to leave their world behind you.
About the Author
Joan Medlicott lives in Barnardsville, North Carolina.
Joan Medlicott lives with her husband in Barnardsville, North Carolina. She is the author of The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love, The Gardens of Covington, and From the Heart of Covington.
Read an Excerpt
The Gardens of Covington
By Joan Medlicott
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Joan Medlicott
All rights reserved.
The Ladies of Covington Take Tea on the Porch
Carrying a silver platter brimming with dainty tea sandwiches, and another piled high with her famous, especially thin sugar cookies, Grace Singleton shoved open the screen door with her hip and stepped out onto the front porch of the farmhouse. "Hannah, Amelia," she called lightly over her shoulder, "the ladybugs are back in droves." Orange ladybugs with black dots hugged the porch wall and had begun to stipple the ceiling. Grace set the platters on a low wicker table in front of three rocking chairs.
The door swung wide again. Nearly six feet tall with short, thick, salt-and-pepper hair, Hannah steadied the heavy silver tea tray and service against her middle. She paused as Amelia stepped ahead of her to hold open the door.
"Ugh! ladybugs. Je les deteste." Amelia grimaced as she helped set the tea tray on the table. "They leave such a foul smell on my hands."
"Amelia Declose, don't be so squeamish. Just don't touch them. Harmless creatures. They come for warmth. Few weeks they'll be gone. Good example of a sound environmental concept gone sour." Hannah settled into her rocking chair. "Now, let's have tea."
Every afternoon at four-thirty, weather and schedules permitting, Hannah, Grace, and Amelia came together to sit in their white wicker rockers on the front porch of their farmhouse at 70 Cove Road, to enjoy a genuine old-fashioned English tea, and to share the happenings of their day.
This was their second summer in Covington, and September of 1998 was delivering a record punch of high temperatures. This afternoon, the sun-blasted blacktop of Cove Road shimmered with waves of translucent heat. Across the road, lining the long driveway into Maxwell's Dairy Farm, the leaves on the dogwoods were beginning to tinge a color that Hannah termed maroon, Amelia described as burgundy, and Grace regarded as plum. Whatever the color, it signaled autumn.
Grace's round, smooth face and warm, brown eyes were serene as she poured their tea. As was their wont, other than the clink of a spoon, and the light touch of a cup returned to its saucer, they finished their first cup in companionable silence. "You know the old Masterson place off of Elk Road that we pass every day?" Grace said. "Well, Lurina Masterson, she's eighty-one, fell in her parlor, and Wayne Reynolds and his grandfather, Old Man, found her lying on the floor when they stopped there this morning to visit her. Wayne came dashing over, and asked me to go back with him to check her out. I went, of course."
"Is she all right?" Hannah asked.
"A bit shaken, but nothing broken."
"What's she like?" Amelia asked, leaning forward. Earlier in the summer, Amelia had cut her snow white hair, having decided that she no longer wanted to wear it pulled back in a bun or French twist. Now, soft waves curled about her pale face, setting off her amazingly blue eyes, and she brushed back her hair and reached for yet another cucumber sandwich.
"Well, she's short and thin, and has lots of wrinkles. When I got there, she was lying on her couch propped up by pillows. Her hair's white, and she braids it and winds it about her head like a crown." Grace laughed lightly. "She looked as if she were holding court with Old Man in attendance, bringing her tea, adjusting pillows. She's quite a character. She'd been canning beans in the kitchen, thought she heard a noise out front, and in her haste to get to the front door, she fell over what must be the oldest, most threadbare Oriental rug I've ever seen. In fact everything in that farmhouse is old."
"Antiques?" Amelia asked.
"Some of it, probably. She was born in that house. Never married, took care of her father. Wayne told me that her father, Grover Masterson, left all that property to the state for a park, after Lurina dies, that is." Grace gave her rocking chair a shove. "Oh, and you'll never guess what Old Man's real name is. Go ahead, guess." Her eyes danced. Guessing was a game Amelia had devised for fun.
"Ebenezer," Amelia said.
"Nope. You guess, Hannah."
"Abraham? No, Ezekiel."
Grace shook her head. "Joseph Elisha Reynolds. What do you think of that?"
"See why they call him Old Man." Hannah chuckled.
Grace continued. "Lurina's as concerned about what's happened to Loring Valley as we are." Grace's brow furrowed. "She sat there and watched it all happen. I think she's lonely. I'm going to take her over some sugar cookies."
"Speaking of Loring Valley," Amelia said. "Brenda Tate called. There's a meeting tonight about that. She insisted we come to the church hall by seven this evening."
Loring Valley was on everyone's mind these days. It lay but a five-minute drive from their farmhouse, off of Elk Road. It had been a lovely valley. People had picnicked there, men and boys had hunted rabbits there, and some had even foraged, illegally, for ginseng on its forested hillsides. No more. Developers from Georgia had moved in on the pristine river valley. Even before the snow melted on the high mountains, construction had begun. All through spring and into summer trucks roared along Elk Road, until the floodplain of Little River, which ran through the valley, had been gobbled up by villas. Hastily constructed condominiums scrambled up mountainsides stripped of vegetation. It had happened so fast, while the people of Covington stood helpless, stunned, and heavyhearted.
Grace slowed her rocker with the toes of her shoes and leaned forward. Distracted, she pinched a dead bloom off of a purple verbena plant that trailed from one of the planter boxes secured to the porch railing. In June, she and Hannah prepared and planted the flower boxes with Day-Glo orange zinnias and bright purple verbenas. "Thank God we live on Cove Road," Grace said. "It's so peaceful here, and so beautiful."
Amelia set her rocker moving. "Indeed, and how lucky we are that Cousin Arthur left me this property, and we had the gumption to move here together. It seems as if we've always lived in Covington, doesn't it? And here it is only a year and five months since we came."
"Indeed it does," Hannah said.
"You'd hardly think that at sixty-nine I'd consider this past year the best year of my life, but I do," Grace said. "I've had more energy than I've had in years. I feel younger. It's been great."
Grace looked across the road at the Maxwells' well-kept, traditional two-story farmhouse, and beyond their hay barn, their red dairy barn, their weathered tobacco barn, and past the windmill and rolling acres of pastureland to the hills, some as round as loaves of bread, and others, mountains, towers of stone cloaked in moss, stretched and thrust upward to crest at the four-thousand-foot peak known as Snowman's Cap. Grace could count eight ridges of mountains this afternoon. Then she said, "Every day, I thank God for good health, for your friendship, for Bob." She waved her hand to indicate the sky and land. "And this incredible view."
But for the creak of their chairs, and the intermittent warbling of a bird and its mate, they rocked in silence.
Grace then spoke. "I've been thinking, let's have a buffet luncheon, perhaps on a Sunday and invite the six other families on Cove Road, and Pastor Johnson."
"Why?" Amelia asked.
"It seems the neighborly thing to do," Grace replied.
"If they'll come," Amelia said.
"Why wouldn't they come?"
"Everyone's friendly, but haven't you noticed they keep you at a distance?" Amelia asked.
Hannah agreed. "They don't take to newcomers easily."
"They visited when you had your hip replacement surgery just after we moved here," Grace reminded Hannah.
"Ever occur to you that courtesy or maybe curiosity prompted an initial visit?"
"You really think that's why they came?" Grace asked.
"Certainly. It was the right thing to do."
"The neighborly thing," Grace said as if suddenly understanding. "They're cautious about newcomers. But we're not newcomers any longer. The Tates are our friends. We've been to their home; they've come here."
"Want to be everybody's bosom buddy?" Hannah asked.
"No, just neighborly." You catch more flies with honey had been a favorite saying of her mother's. It applied now, Grace thought.
"Think about it, Grace," Amelia said. "Harold and Brenda Tate were Cousin Arthur's friends. Remember when we first came to inspect the place, Harold told us how he missed Arthur, how they used to go fishing together, and they'd sit on the porch and swap stories?" Her chin tilted up. "Well, I think, with me being Arthur's cousin and inheriting the place, they simply took us in."
They were unanimous in their gratitude to the Tates. The old farmhouse had seemed hostile in its weatherworn, dilapidated condition, and their hearts hung low that morning when Harold Tate met them on Cove Road and welcomed them to Covington. Ushering them across buckling floorboards, he identified the odd rustling noises as intruding possums, and cautioned them about the broken fifth step on the staircase. He had supplied them with the names of reliable carpenters, painters, plumbers, and electricians; introduced them to his wife, Brenda; and generally watched over them like a protective relative. Grace and Hannah now volunteered at the elementary school where Brenda was the principal.
"I think our neighbors will come, most of them, anyway," Grace responded. "Let's at least ask them."
"Okay." Amelia nodded. "I like a party. How about you, Hannah?"
"What's to lose? They come, fine. They don't come, fine," Hannah said. "We'll freeze leftovers. What date did you have in mind?"
"October eleventh after church."
"You're a cool one asking us," Hannah teased. "You were going to do it anyway no matter what we said."
"I, well." Grace's face flushed. "It just seems right, that's all."
"We'll help." Amelia stopped rocking long enough to reach for another cucumber finger sandwich.
Grace was off and running. "I'll make things I think they'll like: a big pot of pumpkin soup, ham, fried chicken, collard greens, squash casserole, and my special Vienna cake for dessert." Grace ticked off each item on her fingers.
"The one with the colored layers? Oh, that's good cake," Hannah said.
"It'll keep you busy cooking for a week. Mon Dieu," Amelia quipped. "I'd simply die if I had to be in the kitchen that long."
"Given a choice, Amelia, you wouldn't go into the kitchen at all," Hannah said with good humor.
"Bob will help me clean up."
Hannah tapped the arm of Grace's chair. "We'll all help."
A cooling wind stirred. Leaves skittered across the front lawn and halted, caught in the thorny stems of rosebushes planted by Hannah along the driveway from their house to Cove Road. Yesterday, Hannah had filled a vase with fragrant, tall-stemmed Chrysler Imperial red roses snipped from those bushes — the last roses before winter. In the stillness, they could hear the muffled sound of a car going by on Elk Road.
"What are you thinking, Hannah Parrish? You look so pensive all of a sudden," Grace asked.
"About how I fretted and worried that you'd marry Bob Richardson and move out of our farmhouse."
Grace chuckled. Bob Richardson had indeed wanted marriage. Back in Dentry, Ohio, her hometown, she had been surrogate grandmother to neighbors' and friends' children, supplying them with cookies and cakes and generally being cautious, conventional, compliant, and eager to satisfy the expectations of others. Without exposure to the more worldly Hannah and Amelia, she would never have envisioned an alternative to remarriage. Having discovered the pleasure and ease of sharing a home with friends, Grace had vacillated for months before deciding against it — not easy, given her background. Expecting a traditional response to his proposal, Bob had been flabbergasted when she said no. "Remember the night I told you we'd done it?" Grace asked her friends.
"And I asked you, when's the wedding?" Hannah said. "And you said, 'No wedding. We don't have to be married or live together to have a relationship.' I never expected that."
Grace brought her rocker to a halt and reached for her teacup. "It's worked out well, hasn't it? I mean with Bob and me." She sipped her tea, then set the cup down and started the rocker.
"Bob loves you, and he's wonderfully helpful and kind to all of us," Hannah said.
"I love the way we live together," Amelia said, "coming and going with our own lives, yet being supportive of one another. There's always a listening ear, a helping hand."
The low autumn sun ceased splashing the front porch of the farmhouse with its fierce dazzle and slipped behind the hills. The ladies rocked in comfortable silence and watched the heavens turn flame and gold above a line of pale green sky that reminded Grace of lime sherbet. She licked her lips, tasting the sweetness, feeling the coolness, thinking how the brilliance excited and the green soothed. Day tiptoed into evening, and dusk shuffled across the mountains and slid down into the valley.
Finally, Amelia said, "Something smells great in the kitchen."
Grace nodded. "An old recipe I forgot I had. Baked chicken smothered in apricot sauce."
"Think you still have room for dinner before we go to the meeting?"
"Just try us," Hannah said.CHAPTER 2
The Meeting at Cove Road Church Hall
The social hall at the church was plain, its walls painted white, its only ornament a simple wooden cross that filled the space on the back wall between two windows. Men and women wedged shoulder to shoulder on chairs that stretched from a center aisle to both walls. Men of all ages wore their Sunday best, as did the women: older women with deeply lined faces, middle-aged women, most of them round about the middle, and young women, a few carrying babies.
Sitting on the aisle near the door was Velma Herrill, mother of Roger Herrill, known as "Buddy," the young fellow who managed the general store and single-pump gas station on Elk Road, the only road into Covington.
"How you doing?" Velma asked, reaching for Amelia's hand. "That's a right nice picture of the church you made for Pastor Johnson. I saw it in his office just the other day."
Amelia turned her full attention to Velma, a pleasant, plump woman in her mid-fifties. "Glad you like that picture. If you want, I'll come on down and take one of your house," she said. "With all those roses still blooming along the railing of your porch, it would make a lovely color photograph."
"Well." Velma's face turned ruddy with pleasure. "I sure would like that."
"Consider it done. I'll come on Saturday if that suits you, weather permitting."
"Saturday'd be just fine."
"Two o'clock okay with you?" Velma asked.
"I'll be there," Amelia said, touching the other woman's shoulder lightly. Then she moved on to join the others.
Halfway down the aisle, Brenda Tate half rose from her chair and beckoned them to join her. It had been while tutoring the then seven-year-old Tyler Richardson at Brenda's Caster Elementary School that Grace had met Tyler's father, Russell, and his grandfather Bob Richardson. Not only had she and Bob become friends, and she blushed to think of it, they had become lovers, and soon they would be business partners in a tearoom that they were having built on leased land on Elk Road.
"Sorry. Excuse me. Sorry," Grace, Hannah, and Amelia murmured as they squeezed past knees and avoided stepping on the toes of those already seated in the row where Brenda held chairs open for them. People nodded and said hello.
Moments later, Harold Tate walked with a sure stride to the unadorned oak podium that stood to one side of the cross. "Many thanks to Pastor Johnson for openin' the hall tonight for this meetin'."
From the front row, the tall, round-shouldered, gray-haired pastor raised a hand in acknowledgment.
The room grew still. Harold's deeply lined face flushed. He ran his palms across the top of his brush cut, cleared his throat, and looked at his wife. Brenda smiled encouragement at him. Harold began. "Well, y'all know there's not a darned thing we coulda done to stop all that rippin' and tearin' and bulldozin' and buildin' over yonder in Loring Valley."
"They've destroyed that right pretty valley," a woman said softly.
A refrain of "Destroyed it" echoed through the room. Feet shuffled. A man called, "What we gonna do, Harold?"
"Nothin' we can do about what's already been done, but we can stop it happenin' on Cove Road."
Excerpted from The Gardens of Covington by Joan Medlicott. Copyright © 2001 Joan Medlicott. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
The ladies return with new friends and neighbors in this enchanting second chapter of their lives in Covington. While Hannah battles to save Loring Valley from developers and Grace proves she has a head for business by opening the Cottage Tearoom, Amelia embarks on the frightening and exciting journey of newfound love.
1. Medlicott sees Grace, Hannah, and Amelia as heroines, taking risks and forging new lives. Do you agree with her? What is your concept of a heroine?
2. What does sitting on a porch having tea symbolize to you?
3. Amelia puts her beau Lance before everyone else. Do you find that this is a familiar pattern with your women friends? Do you believe that older men throw everything over for a woman?
4. How did you feel about the marriage of Lurina and Old Man? Were you surprised, at their advanced ages, that they would want to wed?
5. Grace loves both her son Roger and his steady companion, Charles. Do you admire Grace for this? How would you react if one of your children were gay or lesbian?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
love reading this book, it made me laugh & cry. I can relate to this ladies in so many ways. See if you can.
Wonderful continuation of the Covington series. Very believeable characters.
I SUGGEST YOU START WITH BOOK NO. 1 OF THE SERIES..."THE LADIES OF COVINGTON SEND THEIR LOVE." This is a lovely series...well written...touching and entertaining. I believe women over 50 will enjoy this series the most, they can relate to the "ladies" experiences! JulyFly
This newest book picks up the lives of our 'Ladies' without missing a beat. It not only entertains us with their day to day activities and interests, but also adds some colorful new characters as well. There is eccentric, eighty-one-year-old Lurina Masterson who brings a grin to everyone's face when she dons a white satin wedding gown and marries 'Old Man', her ninety-one-year-old boy friend. Then there is the frail yet unforgettable lady whom Hannah met and befriended who was to play a most important part in their lives and the lives of everyone in the Covington area. These new friends and neighbors are woven into the lives of our ladies in a masterful and entertaining way.
Precious, gentle Amelia, who carries burn scars on her neck from an automobile accident that claimed the life of her husband, finds herself swept up in an unexpected romance. My heart ached for her while she was under the spell of this charming yet demanding man, and at the same time I wanted to scream at her to WAKE UP! I found myself hoping that she would keep a firm hold on the independence that she had so recently found.
Grace, who makes cookies and mothers everyone, continues her loving relationship with her friend Bob and together they open the Cottage Tearoom on Elk Road. I was enchanted with the idea of their Cottage Tearoom, but it would prove to be quite an undertaking and too much hard work for the two of them. The awesome wedding reception for Bob's son and his new bride, planned and presented by Grace's son and his partner, was an event that kept Covington talking for months. WAY TO GO, GUYS!
Then there is our strong and steady Hannah, the boldest of the ladies. It was Hannah who became embroiled in attempting to save their valley from developers who would strip the land without regard for anything except profit. I cheered for her indomitable spirit as she persisted with her plans for stopping them before they wrecked her beautiful valley. Help for Hannah's cause finally came from an unexpected source.
***** Wow! I loved this book, and so will everyone else who got to know Amelia, Hannah and Grace in 'The Ladies of Covington Send Their Love.' Please, please let there be a sequel to this book! *****