Anna Kimmel took Kayla and Gretchen to Bellingham during Spring break. They stayed two nights at the home of her sister, Katherine, and together they went to visit Anna’s mother, Lillian, at the care facility.
“I think you’re right, Katie,” Anna agreed. “I believe Kayla and Gretchen should remember Mom the way she was before the stroke. She’s not the same person any longer. I’m sure it’s hard for the girls to see their grandma lying there, drooling with her mouth open, unable to respond to them. I don’t think I’ll take them to see her from now on. They should be left with memories of going out to the garden with her or baking cookies together. There’s nothing to be gained by having them see her like this.”
Anna sighed deeply and reached for another tissue. Katie gave Anna a hug and stroked her back.
“I’ve got to admire you, Sis. I don’t know if I could deal with all this if Robert was cheating on me the way Mike’s cheating on you. You’ve got enough hard luck for three people but you’re sure hanging in there. You’re one tough cookie, just like Mom. I know you’re going to make it through all this.”
“You give me credit for a lot more confidence than I really have, Katie. Sometimes I think I just can’t take it anymore until I think about the girls. I guess I’ve got to be strong for them. Besides, I know people who have it worse than me. There’s a family in Arlington dealing with a burden much greater than me. Compared to them I don’t have it so bad at all.”
“But the bottom line is that you’ve got more courage than I’d have in the same situation.”
“Thanks for your confidence in me, Katie. I guess if I could step back and take a look at things from a different perspective, I might be a bit more self-assured than I am now. I appreciate your kind words.”
“What are sisters for?” Katie asked as she hugged her again before continuing her thoughts. “So do you have any word about the divorce?”
“It’s not going to happen any time soon, Katie. The lawyers have to figure out how to arrange all the finances, the child support, who visits when, and so on. My lawyer said it could take as long as a year.”
“Well, it doesn’t mean you can’t start playing the field.”
“Oh, Katie, I don’t have time for nonsense like that. I’ve got more important things to do and beside that I’m turning forty in May. Do you know the odds against a woman my age finding another guy? I hate attending social functions anyway and I’m most definitely not going to start bar hopping.”
“You don’t need to go bar hopping, Sis. There are plenty of available men everywhere.”
“Not around Arlington,” Anna insisted. “I don’t know but two or three unmarried men, and I wouldn’t want to marry any one of them. They all come with excess baggage and I’ll probably never get married again.”
“Never say, never, Anna,” Katie warned. “Mr. Right could step into your life at any time.”
Anna immediately thought of that guy in the blue coveralls who had stepped onto her porch in that dream. If she could ever find a man like that, then perhaps her sister might be on to something. Anna had no idea who that stranger was, nor if he even existed. After all that was only a dream. He had just been an apparition, only a product of her own imagination. There was no man like that who could declare he would watch over the girls. If there was, he was probably already happily married to someone else, like Tom Churchill from school. Tom was a handsome and likeable person who had always been a good listener but she would never to go after him and become a home wrecker.
“I don’t have time to go chasing after men, Katie. I’ve got enough to keep me busy what with work and the girls. I’m not sure I need a man to complete my life anyway. I might just be asking for more trouble. No, Mom managed all right on her own and so can I.”
“Just promise me you’ll keep your eyes open, Sis,” Katie laughed. “You never know.”
The two nights they stayed at Katie’s house was like a breath of fresh air for Anna. It was a chance to talk things out with her sister and a chance for Kayla and Gretchen to socialize with their teenaged cousins Will and Emily. Kayla naturally spent more time with Will, who patiently played catch and taught her how to shoot baskets out in the driveway while Gretchen had always been drawn to Emily, who always had the time to read a story to her little cousin at the drop of a hat. Anna and the girls drove back home Thursday afternoon refreshed and ready to get back to school the following week.
At church that Sunday morning the ladies had set up a table during coffee hour to sign up for taking meals over to the Davidson house. Word was that young Taylor Davidson would be returning home and Susan Taylor, the grandmother, would be there caring for the girl each day while her father was away at work. The ladies from church would be bringing the meals to the Davidson house and leaving them with Mrs. Taylor.
Anna wanted to get to know the grandmother a bit better. Mrs. Taylor was a widow and now had just lost a daughter and grandson as well, yet she remained remarkably steadfast and faithful, a woman of great courage. Mrs. Taylor had been a church member long before Anna had begun attending two years ago. Anna had not really known Susan Taylor that well but had probably said hello or had made small talk with her at coffee hour. It was time to find out what it was that allowed this woman the peace of mind in the midst of all this unspeakable tragedy. Mrs. Taylor was a good friend of Gwen Clayton, Anna’s babysitter. It would likely take very little effort to befriend this poor lady as well. Like all the other women of the church, Anna found an opportunity to wish Mrs. Taylor well and let her know she would be praying for her. The lady gave Anna a big hug. Anna hoped she could somehow absorb not only a portion of this woman’s grief but also some of her courage and confidence as well.
“I want you to know how sorry I was to hear about your daughter and grandson, Mrs. Taylor. I can’t imagine a more devastating blow to any family. You’ve certainly been in my thoughts and prayers these past few weeks.”
“Everyone has been so kind and helpful,” Susan replied. “I’ve always called this my church home and I’ve always been surrounded in love by my church family now any time things get tough.”
“How is your granddaughter doing?”
“Taylor is in casts from head to toe but we’re just so thankful she’s home again. It’s going to be a long haul before she gets back on her feet again.”
Susan was such a strong woman. She was under a much more severe test than a divorce. Anna had much to admire about this lady.
“Now, let’s see if I remember correctly. Isn’t your name Ann?” Susan asked.
“Yes, that’s close enough. It’s Anna Kimmel. I’m sorry. I should have introduced myself. Gwen Clayton babysits my girls every now and then.”
“Oh, yes, Gwen is such a sweet lady. I am so thankful she is arranging all these meals. It’s one less thing for Kent and me to worry about.”
“Did your daughter’s family attend church here?” Anna asked.
“No, they didn’t attend church, sweetheart. I would bring my grandkids here a couple times a year but it was so seldom. Kent and Cindy weren’t interested in bringing the kids to church and I didn’t feel it was my place to impose on them.”
“You’re granddaughter’s name is Taylor, isn’t it?” Anna asked.
“Yes, Taylor, just like my last name. Kent and Cindy wanted pass along the family name.”
“Please be sure to tell Taylor and her father that they are in my prayers too, Mrs. Taylor.”
“I’ll certainly do that, Anna. Thank you for your kind thoughts.”
It was Anna’s turn to move along. There were other ladies waiting to talk to Susan Taylor and she didn’t need to monopolize the woman’s time. Anna moved along to the table where Gwen was scheduling people to bring meals. Mrs. Taylor was right Anna thought to herself. This was a church family. She could always rely on Pastor Don just like a father, one she never had. His door was always open and he’d always been there to counsel her after each heated argument she’d had with Mike. The other ladies at church had all assured her they would be praying for her as well. This church family supported each other and carried each other’s burdens. Anna was pleased she had decided to come here. By the time she had signed up to bring a hot dish to the Davidson house, Anna was ready to stop by Pastor Don’s office to let him know how her week had been. Her problems weren’t as crucial as the Davidson family but Pastor Don was always willing to give her advice. He listened patiently to her report about her time in Bellingham with her sister and the decision she’d made to keep Kayla and Gretchen from seeing their grandmother. The pastor wished her well, saying a little prayer with her, assuring her everything would turn out for good as long as she kept faith in the Lord.
Anna went back out to the fellowship hall where she found her girls listening as George Clayton told jokes at a table surrounded by half a dozen other children.
“Time to go, girls,” she announced.
“Ah, Mom,” Kayla protested.
“Hey, Mommy, do you know why ducks don’t fly upside down?” Gretchen asked.
“No, I don’t. Why don’t ducks fly upside down?”
“Because if they did, then they’d quack up,” Gretchen responded with a gleam in her eye.
George gave Anna a wink and a knowing smile.
“Oh, you!” she said as she smiled back at the gentleman.
If only the girls had a grandfather like George Clayton. The man could keep any number of children entertained for hours on end. Anna’s father had already passed away and Mike’s father lived down in Oregon where the girls saw him only on rare occasions.
“I think that kid of yours learned that joke in Sunday school this morning, Anna” the old fellow said. “Isn’t that what you told me, Snickerdoodle?”
“No, I didn’t. You just told us that joke, Mr. Clayton, and my name isn’t Snickerdoodle!” Gretchen laughed.
“I guess it isn’t Snickerdoodle after all. You told me your name was some other cookie. Maybe it was Ginger Snap?”
Of course that line had the kids all laughing again. Now here was the kind of man to have around, one who loved to spend time with children. George was a grandfather who everyone acknowledged would give the shirt off his back if anyone needed it. A retired maintenance supervisor, he was acknowledged as the unofficial church carpenter and was called on by any number of people in the church family. He and Gwen had been married for more than forty years and were devoted to one another. He was a wonderful man but only gold diggers like Tara Janus would go after older men who were already married.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on the girls, George. I needed to take care of a couple things before we headed home.”
“No problem at all, Anna. These kids have been keeping me entertained. I wish I had half their energy.”
Mike called Tuesday evening announcing he would be dropping by to pick up the girls on Saturday morning. On hearing the edict, Kayla stomped her foot and said she would not be going with him.
“Ex-squeeze me, Kayla? I know you don’t want to go see him. I felt the same way about having to go visit my Dad when I was your age but, let me tell you. If you don’t, you’ll regret it when you’re older. He’s the only father you’ll ever have. I wish I could go back and spend more time with Grandpa Manchester but it’s too late now. I regret I still don’t know that much about him and I have some guilt in not taking time to be with him. Do yourself a favor. Grit your teeth and go visit him with a smile on your face. You’ll thank yourself later on in life.”
“But he doesn’t love me. He says he does but I know he doesn’t mean it.”
“Yes he does mean it, Kayla. He loves you more than you know. Some day he will walk you down the aisle and give you away to your husband.”
“Yuck, I don’t like boys.”
“You’ll be changing your tune soon enough. In the meantime you still have a father who loves you.”
“I don’t know how you can say that, Mom. I’ve heard those awful names he calls you.”
“That’s just it, Kayla. He said it to me, not to you. Your father loves you and you need to spend some time with him. You are a lucky girl. I never had that kind of time with Grandpa Manchester but you still have that opportunity with Daddy.”
Anna couldn’t believe she was defending Mike but it was her responsibility to do so. It was imperative that avenue of communication remained open between father and daughter. Mike needed quality time ... no, make that any kind of time, to be with his daughters. Anna could not stand in his way when it came to their father-daughter relationship. It was something she had been deprived of and had rebelled against to her own regret.
As it turned out, the girls had spent all day with Mike that Saturday. He had brought them back home that same evening without having the two spend the night. It was just as well. Kayla and Gretchen didn’t need to see their father going into the same bedroom as his young girlfriend. The girls didn’t need to miss Sunday school either. The important thing was that they had their quality time with Mike.
After school on Wednesday Anna Kimmel gathered the girls, leaving school a little early with the principal’s permission. She had Kayla read the directions to the Davidson house as she drove the short distance to its location in Old Town Arlington. It wasn’t very far, just five blocks away from Eagle Creek. It was probably another equal five blocks farther to Presidents Elementary where the two Davidson children had attended school.