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Nadine Scott, a high-powered attorney from Manhattan, returns to her childhood home in the small town of Maxon to settle her great aunt Molly's estate. Aunt Molly was her only relative and had lived in the same home for her entire 105 years. Nadine knows that the task of preparing the property to be sold, after disbursing all of its contents, is going to be an emotional task requiring at least a month or two of her time. As she shops for groceries for her extended stay, she discovers that David Maxon, her high school sweetheart, has also suffered a recent loss, his father, and has permanently moved back to town to take over the family business.
David is eager to renew his connection with Nadine and the two explore their feelings and help each other come to terms with their grief as they spend evenings together reading the extensive collection of journals that Aunt Molly has left. Detailing her life beginning in 1929, the extraordinary story of Aunt Molly unfolds as Nadine and David share their thoughts and responses to each new event. Their love blooms in current day, played out against the background of Aunt Molly's loves, losses, and new loves. An indomitable woman who became the sole parent for her orphaned great niece at the age of 80, her journal entries convey the mixture of love, tragedy, joy and family that shaped the remarkable person who told her great niece that she was loved enough for ten people.
Nadine was very sad as she inserted the key in the lock. She didn’t want to go inside the old house, but she had no choice. Aunt Molly was at peace now, and as her only living relative, it fell to her to sort through Aunt Molly’s personal belongings and carry out the terms of the will, as well as all the little notes Aunt Molly left for her to follow. Her great aunt Molly had lived a very long life, and Nadine knew it was going to take all of her accumulated vacation and personal leave from the last three years to clean out the house and ready it to be put on the market. Nadine knew that Aunt Molly had wanted her to live in the house and keep it in the family, as it had been for the last two hundred years – ever since it was built by Aunt Molly’s grandfather, Abraham Nelson – but Nadine’s life was in Manhattan now, and the idea of coming home to the small town to live didn’t really appeal to her. She said a small prayer and hoped that her sweet aunt understood.
Nadine slowly opened the door and stepped inside the house. It was so quiet, and tears welled in her large brown eyes. One of the things she loved best was how Aunt Molly always came running as fast as her legs would carry her to greet her “favorite” great niece each and every time she came home, whether it was from school, college, or from her job in the city. Nadine missed that, and she missed Aunt Molly’s serene smile and the hugs and words of comfort she gave so spontaneously. This house was always filled with love, and now it was just an empty, quiet shell.
Nadine carried her suitcases upstairs to her bedroom and decided she would unpack later. Aunt Molly always insisted that they share a cup of tea when she arrived, and for some reason, Nadine felt a pressing need to go to the kitchen and put the teapot on the old gas stove. How many times had Aunt Molly filled this very same kettle from the kitchen faucet while chatting with her and making her feel as if she were home? The kitchen just didn’t seem the same without Molly’s laughter. Nadine poured the hot water over the tea bag and let it steep as she carried her cup upstairs. She would tend to what she could handle first, unpacking her bags.
Nadine unlocked her suitcase, and then pulled open a drawer in which to place her panties and bras. To her surprise, the drawer contained a lot of books! There was a white envelope lying on top with Nadine written in her aunt’s flowing style. Nadine was a bit stunned to realize that this was probably the first place her aunt knew she would look when she came home, and confirmed that her aunt realized her time was near. Nadine took the envelope and sat on the bed to open it with shaking fingers.
My dearest Deeny,
Please smile right now, and no more tears. I am on the Other Side with God, and with others I have loved throughout my life. I want you to be happy for me, okay? As you go through my things, you will find many notes. There are many treasures for you, of course, starting with my journals in your drawer. They are very personal, my dear, and 100% true. As you well know, I do not believe in lying to anyone, but most especially to one’s self. I trust you will read through them with my blessing. I would like to share my life with you who are my most cherished treasure in this world. Do not be sad for me, Deeny. I have lived and loved with all my heart and I wish you the same kind of love. Do not be fooled into thinking your career can make you happy. When you are old and alone as I have been for the last twenty-five years, it will not be memories of work that will warm your heart; it will be the cherished memories of those you have loved and who have loved you in return that will keep you company.
I love you, Deeny. You are the granddaughter I never had, and I will carry you in my heart and soul always. I will see you again on the Other Side, but until then, fill your heart with love, child.
Love and Blessings,
Nadine swiped at the tears running freely down her cheeks. Trust Aunt Molly to know exactly what she needed to hear to make her feel better. She said another prayer for her aunt, and then put a smile on her face as she removed the journals from the drawer. Aunt Molly used Post-it notes on each volume to number them. Nadine carefully put them in order on the nightstand beside her bed, and decided she would begin reading later that day. She unpacked her suitcase, wondering each time she opened a drawer if she would find something else tucked away. And, she did, more often than not. There was a pair of earrings, a necklace, and a shawl in one drawer, along with a note; These were my gifts from Winston. Nadine didn’t have the first clue who Winston was, and knew that she was going to have to read the journals to find out. It was kind of funny to think of her Aunt Molly as a woman of mystery, but there were obviously many things she didn’t know about her.
Nadine ran a quick dust cloth over her bedroom, and the downstairs, and then used a dust mop on the hardwood floors. Next it was time for a trip to the grocery to bring in supplies for the month or two she would be here fulfilling her aunt’s will and giving away her belongings in preparation to selling the house. Aunt Molly didn’t want the house sold, but she trusted Nadine to make the decision that was best for her. Nadine’s life was now in Manhattan, and she couldn’t bear the thought of renting out the old house and letting strangers live in it. No, she would have to sell it to just the right person. But not just yet. She didn’t really need the money, and she could pay the taxes without a problem.
The town of Maxon was pretty small, and there was only one grocery store, simply called Maxon’s Grocery. The owners were the descendants of the founder of the small community, and Nadine had known them all of her life. Still, it was a bit of a shock to walk inside the store and see David Maxon sitting behind his father’s desk. The last she’d heard, David was living in Seattle, a hotshot executive in an advertising firm.
David looked up and spotted her immediately, and a smile came to his face as he rose, came around the desk, and stepped down off of the raised platform area that made up the office of the store. “Nadine, it’s good to see you.” He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “I’m so sorry about Aunt Molly,” he said with a sincerity that could not be denied.
“Thank you, David,” Nadine said over the lump in her throat. “She left me a note telling me to smile and be happy for her. I’m trying really hard to do that, but it isn’t easy. I miss her so much.”
“I understand. Did you hear that we lost Dad a few weeks earlier?” he asked, his dark eyes full of pain.
“Oh no! Oh, David, I’m so sorry! I hadn’t heard. I wonder why Aunt Molly didn’t tell me? Oh, it must have happened when I was out of town for a few weeks working on a merger, and our client picked a place with no cell phone access. I had to beg the client to plug in a landline telephone so I could call Aunt Molly on her birthday! And we lost her the same day I got back. This is such sad news! How did it happen?” she asked as she took his hand and held it.
“A heart attack. He hadn’t been sick, and he collapsed right here at his desk. He was gone a couple of hours later. I didn’t get home in time,” he said, and his voice told her how much that bothered him.
“I’m so sorry, David.” Nadine offered her sympathy.
“Thanks, Deeny.” He called her by her childhood nickname. “Will you be staying long?” he asked.
“For at least a month, maybe two. Aunt Molly’s house is full of things that I need to sort through and give to those she wanted to have them.”
“Any chance that you will be staying on permanently?” he asked hopefully.
“No. My life is in Manhattan,” Nadine replied. “You know how it is; you’ve made a life for yourself in Seattle.”
“I did, but I am home for good now,” he admitted. “Mom’s health is bad, and my sister has a special needs child to care for. If I didn’t come home and take over the store, it would either have to be sold, or closed, and all these people wouldn’t have jobs, and Maxon would be without a grocery store. Dad would expect me to step up. And to be honest, there’s no place like home; I’m happy to be back.” Nadine nodded in understanding, but looked at David in surprise when he asked, “Would it be okay if I call you and ask you out to dinner sometime while you’re home, Deeny?”
“Are you asking me out on an actual date, David?” She smiled shyly.
“Yes, I believe I am. Is that okay?” He smiled, and his eyes were a warm brown.
“Sure it’s okay. I haven’t been on an honest to goodness date in a long time,” she admitted. “I would love to spend some time with you.”
“I’ll call you,” he promised, and then excused himself to answer the ringing telephone on his desk.
Nadine smiled as she took a cart and started selecting her groceries, but she was truly puzzled as to why she hadn’t heard about David’s father’s death. Of course, the connection on Aunt Molly’s birthday had been really bad, so they didn’t talk too long that day. And by the time she was home again, it was to the news that Aunt Molly had died. That still didn’t explain why Jim and Carrie Ann didn’t mention it to her. Of course, she was grieving for Aunt Molly, and maybe they'd thought enough was enough? Or, perhaps they just assumed that Aunt Molly had told her? It was one of those mysteries that might never be answered, but Nadine felt terrible about David’s father. He was a good man, and she’d seen him fairly often over the years when she came home for a visit. Of course, she’d seen even more of him when she was younger.
She and David had dated in high school, until he went off to college and their lives went separate ways. It was funny that she hadn’t dated all that much since high school, but she simply didn’t want to waste her time with men who cared only about themselves. She hadn’t permitted herself to become too serious about any one man, and once she made it clear to those few that she actually dated more than a few times that she did not practice casual sex, she didn’t hear from most of them again. One exception to that was Alan, and they had a strong friendship that permitted them to use each other as a convenience date when they couldn’t go to a function alone. Neither of them was romantically interested in anyone else, and certainly not in each other. It was amazing that she’d come home to find David here, and she was as giddy as a teenager at the prospect of going out on a date with him!
As Nadine was checking out, it was obvious to her that David was dealing with a problem. He had two young kids in his office, and he was wearing his stern face. She’d seen that expression a time or two herself, and her face turned pink with embarrassment as the memory of the last time came flooding back.
“There you are, Deeny,” David said as he marched over to the table beside the swimming pool where she sat with a group of her friends. “Come on now. I’m taking you home.”
“Get lost, creep!” one of her friends drunkenly slurred, and the others laughed in support.
“I’m not talking to you,” David said curtly, reaching out and pulling Nadine to her feet.
“I don’t want to go, David. Leave me alone,” she argued, trying to pull her arm free.
“Aunt Molly sent me to find you,” he replied. “Of course she thought you were at Karen’s house studying.”
“She wouldn’t have let me come here on a school night,” Nadine argued. “I’m seventeen, and she acts like I’m a baby!”
“You aren’t old enough to be drinking, and you shouldn’t be riding in a car with these people when they’ve been drinking, either,” he stated in a scolding tone of voice.
“Oh get real!” Nadine had been drinking, too, and her words were slurred.
“I intend to get very real,” David whispered for her ears alone. “No more arguing. You aren’t hanging out with this crowd, Deeny. They’re drinking and doing drugs, and you don’t fit in here. Come on.”
“I said I don’t want to go!” Nadine slapped at his hands as he tried to pull her along.
“She ain’t goin’ nowhere with you, buddy!” One of her friends jumped up to confront David, which was a huge mistake. Buzz was drunk; David wasn’t. When Buzz lunged at David, all David did was step aside and Buzz ended up in the pool. He resurfaced immediately, and all of the others gathered around and laughed uproariously.
“Are you ready to leave now, Deeny?” David asked quietly.
“No, you aren’t the boss of me!” She refused to back down, and just that quickly David bent down and hoisted her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Nadine hollered and pounded on his back with her fists while kicking her legs. David promptly reached up and gave her bottom a hard swat.
“Settle down, Deeny, or I just might take you over my knee for a real spanking.”
Nadine was hugely embarrassed as her friends laughed, but no one came to her aid as David carried her off. “Put me down, David,” she pleaded, but he ignored her and continued on to his father’s car. He opened the passenger side door, put her on the seat, and then shut the door. Nadine was furious with him, and she promptly locked her door, and then she leaned over to lock the driver’s door as well.
“Real cute, Deeny. Unlock the door,” David demanded.
She shook her head no, the alcohol making her giggle.
“Deeny, you are asking for trouble,” David warned. “One last chance to unlock the door.”
She giggled and shook her head no, defiance in her every move. She stopped giggling as David shook his head in disgust before bending down to take the spare key from the magnetic box underneath the car. He had the door open in record time, and before she realized what he intended, he pulled her out, dragged her to the rear of the car, flipped her over the side of the trunk, and started paddling the seat of her jeans. It hurt. A lot. But Nadine was too conscious of all the other kids hanging around nearby, and she didn’t want to draw their attention. She was forced to lie there and silently take the spanking, while tears ran down her cheeks. “Please, David, stop!” Nadine finally begged him. “I’m sorry!”
“Are you sober now, Nadine?” he asked quietly.
“Good, let’s get you home. Aunt Molly is worried about you.” The drive home was spent sitting on a stinging bottom, listening to David scold her. Every word he said was true, and by the time they arrived at the old house, Nadine was feeling very contrite.
She went inside with David, and she apologized to her aunt for worrying her, and told her it wouldn’t happen again. Molly had looked from her to David, and smiled knowingly. She’d given Nadine a big hug, kissed her, and sent her on to bed. Aunt Molly never once mentioned the incident, and Nadine was true to her word, even after David left to go back to college. She realized that he was right about her so-called friends, and that he was right about her. She didn’t want to fit in with that crowd. David didn’t tease her about that spanking, either, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d forgotten all about it.
The cashier drew Nadine’s attention back to the present, and she used her debit card to pay for her purchases. David was still speaking to the teens, and both of them were looking at their feet. Yes, David was scolding, and she hoped the boys realized how lucky they were that he cared enough to do that.
With her groceries put away, and evening upon her, Nadine decided she would wait until morning to start going through things and sorting them. She fixed herself a sandwich and a pot of tea, then ran upstairs to get the first of the diaries. She would put on some music and read, since it was obviously what Aunt Molly wanted her to do. She put the journal on the table beside her favorite rocking chair, and went to the stereo system she’d given her Aunt Molly several years ago for Christmas. Aunt Molly loved music, and Nadine saw there was a CD already inserted. Nadine hit the button and smiled when she heard the familiar voice of Perry Como singing “Someone to Watch Over Me.” It was Aunt Molly’s favorite song, and Nadine had downloaded every version of it she could find and put all of them on a CD. It made her eyes fill with tears, even as she smiled, to know that Aunt Molly loved the CD.
She turned the music on low, settled into the rocking chair and opened the first diary. Nadine looked at the date and did some calculations to realize that her elderly Aunt Molly was not yet twenty years old when she started the journal in 1929, and it was hard for Nadine to picture her as young. Aunt Molly was seventy-eight years old when Nadine was born, and had taken her to raise at the age of eighty when Nadine’s mama and grandma were killed in an automobile accident. Nadine was with Aunt Molly when the tragedy occurred, and since there were no other living relatives, the elderly woman had taken the small toddler as her own and became a ‘mother’ for the first time at eighty years old! Nadine didn’t know what it was like to have regular parents and grandparents, but her energetic Aunt Molly made sure she knew she was loved and wanted.
When Nadine had asked about her father, it was Aunt Molly who had to explain that her daddy was a very nice man who loved her mama very much, but died fighting a fire before she was born. He was raised in an orphanage, and had no family. Nadine had nodded, and said, “We don’t need anyone do we, Aunt Molly?” The elderly woman had smiled and hugged her tightly. “We all need people to love us, honey, but I swear I love you enough for ten people put together!”
Nadine smiled at the memory, and looked down at the first entry, wondering what secrets she would learn about the woman she loved enough for ten people.
April 5, 1929
Daddy gave me this journal at breakfast this morning and said that he thought I might enjoy writing my thoughts about my life. I am not so sure my life is all that interesting. Most people think I am an old maid now that I am nearly twenty years old. I made the mistake of saying that in an attempt at humor in front of our houseguest, Winston Pope, and Winston whispered across the table that I was far from being an old maid. Daddy pretended not to hear.
I wonder how long Winston will be staying here. Daddy hired him to do research of some sort, but one would think he would get a place of his own. It is rather annoying to have to worry about my hair and dress so early in the morning.
April 10, 1929
Winston asked me to attend the church social with him on Saturday night. I agreed to go, but I do not have high expectations. I am certain that Daddy hinted enough to make it clear to Winston that asking to escort me to the social is the expected thing to do if he wants to keep his job. The only reason I am going to attend is because I do have a new lavender dress and Doris will be envious. She is constantly calling me an old maid now that she is engaged to Albert Wilson, and I have to remind myself constantly that yanking her hair from her head would not be considered lady-like, and Daddy would probably not think me too old for a spanking if I made a scene. However, I will not tolerate any foolishness from Winston. He may walk me there and home, and have at least one dance. I make no promises beyond that.
April 13, 1929
Oh, what a wonderful evening! Winston treated me like a true princess. We laughed a lot, and danced together almost every dance. He was polite, and when Doris said something mean, he quickly turned the tables on her and referred to her as a ‘little girl’. Oh, she did not like that at all! Winston held my hand all the way home, and we talked of many things. He asked if I would mind if he walked to church with the family in the morning, and I said I would like that. It really is too bad that Daddy is putting him up to courting me. I could never be serious with him, of course, but for tonight, it was fun to pretend he was my beau.
May 21, 1929
I am so furious I simply do not know what to do! I am mortified and humiliated. I am ashamed to admit this, but Winston lost his temper with me this evening. It started out as a normal evening. Mama fixed a nice dinner, and after we did the dishes, Winston asked me if I would like to go for a walk with him. I agreed, thinking the house was stuffy, and it was much too nice an evening to stay indoors. Winston took my arm and led me away from the house. We walked and talked, and then he stopped and to my surprise, he tried to kiss me. I wouldn’t let him do that, of course, and he wanted to know why. He asked me if I didn’t like him for some reason, or if I didn’t realize he was courting me. I told him that I think he is a very nice man, but that I knew Daddy was putting him up to paying attention to me, and I wasn’t about to kiss anyone who was only trying to keep my daddy happy. Winston appeared shocked that I would think such a thing, and then his shock turned to anger. He scolded me, and before I realized what he was about, he sat down on the rock wall in front of the Morris’ house, and turned me over his lap and started spanking me really hard. I wanted to die! My bottom is so sore, and it is really red, too. I looked in the mirror when I got home. Of course I am not ever going to speak to him again, and if it wouldn’t be so embarrassing, I would tell Daddy what happened. I hate Winston Pope!
Nadine couldn’t help smiling. She went back and reread the entry again, and was still smiling as she put the diary aside to go and refill her teacup. Her Aunt Molly was always pretty feisty, but it was hard to picture anyone daring to spank her. And, she didn’t think that Molly really hated Winston Pope. Still, it was strange she never mentioned him to her. Nadine had heard plenty of stories about Doris, however, and she had grown up watching Doris and Aunt Molly bicker with each other until Doris died five years ago at the age of one hundred. Aunt Molly had never mentioned Winston Pope, however, and Nadine couldn’t wait to read more of the journal. Just as she picked it up again, the telephone rang, and she got up to answer it. Only a few people had the house number here, and she wondered who could be calling. Aunt Molly didn’t have Caller ID. “Hello?” she said softly.
“Hi, Deeny. Are you busy?”
It was David. She smiled. “No, not busy, just reading an old journal of Aunt Molly’s,” she said.
“Is it pretty old?” he asked curiously. Aunt Molly was one hundred and five years old when she died.
“Yes; she started it when she was only nineteen, which would be eighty-five years ago. She was telling about a man named Winston Pope, and for the life of me, David, I can’t recall her ever mentioning someone by that name.”