It’s hard to know what comes next
One couple had hoped the promise of wedded bliss would bring her family together.......and wondered how that dream had gone so wrong.
Meanwhile, the other pair had found that life was more satisfying without the distracting presence of a determined love rival.....even as she struggled to cope with a "social dinosaur”?
Today’s October Years serialization, Chapter 4 of Long Way Home, continues our excursion into the sometimes daunting world of late-life relationships.
Gary Harris’ birthday nap was off to a promising start. Sadly, that would not last. Just five minutes after closing his eyes he was jarred from a drowsy half-sleep by the sound of loud footsteps crossing the front porch. A moment later came two loud raps on the door. He was reaching for the lever to tilt his recliner upright, when Claudia hurried past him.
“I’ll get it,” she said. “It shouldn’t be Sarah at this hour, should it?”
“I don’t know why it would be.”
Claudia unlocked the dead bolt and pulled the door open. An instant later it came pushing in toward her and she stepped aside to avoid being hit. From the kitchen Clint and Elly heard Claudia’s startled gasp when she looked up to see her son standing in the doorway.”
“Dennis. What are you doing here?”
Gary was on his feet. Clint and Elly had moved into the dining room, watching through the archway as Dennis took his mother by the shoulder. “I’ve come to take you home.”
Gary had more to say, until Claudia motioned for him to be quiet. Meanwhile Clint was edging into the living room. Claudia pushed Dennis’ hand away and reach around him to close the door. “Will you tell me what this is about?” she asked.
“I’d like to hear about that myself,” Gary added, stepping up beside Claudia, with Clint a few feet behind.
“You shut up, old man,” Dennis growled. There was fire in his eyes as he glared at Gary. “You think I don’t know what you’re up to? You’d marry my mother. Make her believe you care about her. Then hurt her again.
"It’s a sham. That’s what it is---just a way to use her.” He paused to catch his breath. “She’s going home with me. And two old men aren’t going to stop me.”
By then Clint was noting Dennis’ clenched fists, and realizing that the heavy-set young man was probably right. He and Gary were not likely to stop Claudia’s son, especially since Gary was barred from even trying. The situation called for another strategy.
Stepping from behind Gary and Claudia, Clint walked to the side window. He pulled the curtains aside and looked out toward the driveway, asking, “Is that your rig out there, Dennis? The one with the California plates?” With a pen from his shirt pocket he started scribbling something on the corner of a newspaper page.
“That’s right. What about it?”
“Just wondering,” Clint answered casually. “If I have to call the state police, I want to be sure they have the right license number.”
Claudia started to speak but Dennis stared her down. “Come on, old man. You can’t scare me with that. It’s not a crime to take your own mother home.”
Clint stepped back next to his brother. “It is if she doesn’t want to go with you. They call that kidnapping in this part of the world.”
“She doesn’t know what the hell she wants.” Dennis was yelling now. “This old man has filled her head with crazy ideas. That’s easy to see. No cop is going to believe you two.”
“Let me tell you something, Dennis.” Clint was prepared for a little role playing. “I know every lawman in this county by their first name---City, County, and State. You think they’d buy your story if I told them different? There’s not much chance of that.”
By then Claudia had seen enough of their macho stand off. It was time to assert herself. “Dennis. I told you on the phone that Gary and I are going to be married.” She reached for Gary’s hand. “And that’s what we’re going to do. You have to stop this silliness and let us be a family again.”
“You’re mother’s right,” Gary nodded. “We both want her to be happy. And that means we have to get along.” He reached out and rested his hand on Dennis’ shoulder.
For weeks Dennis Hafner had nursed his vengeful thoughts of Gary Harris---and how his mother had been deceived. He was in no mood to accept her disclaimer and certainly not ready to hear Gary’s talk of reconciliation.
With a sweep of his hand Dennis meant to push Gary away. It was not a swing, not a punch, just a hard push aimed at Gary’s chest---except Claudia stepped into its path and took the heel of Dennis’ hand squarely on her mouth.
From the dining room Elly screamed as Claudia stumbled back against the recliner. Gary’s first instinct was to attack, to retaliate, until he found Clint standing in his way. Instead he went to his knees and took Claudia’s head in his hands, wiping the blood from her lip.
For his part Dennis stood motionlessly, staring down at his bewildered mother. When at last he found his voice, his words were little more than a sad whimper. “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Brushing off the initial shock of her tumble, Claudia pushed herself to her feet. For a long, tense moment she stood looking into their faces---first Dennis, then Gary. Finally, over her shoulder, she asked Clint, “Would you two leave us alone for a bit?”
Claudia daubed at her lip with Gary’s handkerchief as Clint and Elly retreated to the kitchen. Reaching up, she grasped Dennis’ shoulder in one hand and Gary’s in the other and pulled the two of them toward her until they were standing nearly head to head.
“There are only two men in my life.” Her eyes darted from one to the other. “I love them both. And there’s nothing that hurts more than seeing them fight each other.” Her smile had returned and both men relaxed a bit. “We’re going to be a family. That’s the way it has to be. And I’m way too old to have my family feuding with each other. Do you understand?”
The two men looked warily at each other, then back at Claudia. “She’s right, Dennis,” Gary said. “We both want the same thing---to make her happy.”
Dennis reached out to touch his mother’s red, clotted wound. It had never occurred to him that he could hurt her. He was nodding silently as he rested his arm on his mother’s shoulder.
“I’ll tell you what,” Gary offered. “One thing that families do is eat together. This bunch is fixing me a birthday dinner. I know there’s enough for one more. Why don’t we set another place and have you join us.”
It was not actually a smile, but as Dennis hugged his mother, Gary thought he saw a glint of reluctant acceptance in the younger man’s eyes, something that had not been there before.
By mid-October Gary and Claudia were deep in their preparations for a life together. Wedding plans, modest as they were, had been finalized. With the date set Claudia had returned to Lawrence to work with her daughter on the details. For the time being her communication with Gary was limited to daily phone calls and his frequent day trips to visit his ‘Lawrence girls’--- Claudia, Barbara, and Connie.
With Claudia’s stated acceptance of his motor home dream Gary had charged ahead, learning as much as he could about ‘full-timing.’ In the course of their abbreviated conversations, after discussing wedding plans and moving details, he was sure to make mention of some new fact or opinion he had read concerning their proposed lifestyle.
He realized, however, that his brief mention of miscellaneous information hardly qualified as a discussion. It would take more than that to give Claudia a voice in the life they were planning.
For more than two years he had been on his own, deciding things for himself. Before that, Christy had always been strong enough to insist that her input be considered. He was not sure Claudia would stand up to him that way. For the sake of their new partnership he must be sure their decisions were really theirs, not simply his.
On Friday morning Gary and Claudia were sitting at a round plastic table in the Food Fair section of a downtown Lawrence mall. Although he had not announced a particular reason for his visit, Claudia was learning to read the signs. He had something on his mind, and her curiosity was growing by the minute.
Finally, setting her soft drink aside, she looked across at him. “Are you going to tell me?”
“Tell you what?”
“What it is you want to talk about. I know there’s something.”
Gary was laughing to himself. “I must be pretty easy to read. Eh?”
“What is it?” she asked again, unwilling to be sidetracked.
“It’s the motor home. We’re getting close to decision time.”
“We made a decision, a couple weeks ago. Didn’t we? I thought that was already settled. In fact I assumed you’d already bought it. The green one. The last one we looked at. You did buy it. Didn’t you?”
Gary shook his head. “Not yet. I’ve talked to the guy. And I took another long look at it. Another test drive. I’m sure we can work out a good deal. But only after we, you and I, are sure it’s what we want. That it’s how we want to live.”
“Am I missing something here? I thought we’d already agreed on all that.”
“We did,” he nodded. “But I want to go back to that choice one more time. I want us to be sure. I want it to be our decision, not just mine.” Damn. It was a hard thing---trying to be fair, letting her have her say, while hoping for the answer he wanted to hear.
“Is it what you want to do?” she asked, laughing at his stumbling efforts to turn his choice into their choice.
“I think so. At least for now. There may come a time when it’s not right.”
“That’s what I said before. If we find out it’s a bad idea we can always come home.”
“I promise,” Gary agreed.
“Then let’s do it.” She reached over to give his hand a squeeze, laughing at his embarrassed grin. He had thought to ask her again and she appreciated that. And she had once again endorsed his dream, which he appreciated even more.
While Gary and Claudia moved toward their wedding day, Clint and Elly were spending more time together. True to Elly’s expectations they were finding common ground that allowed them to pursue their individual lives and interests, while being together on a regular basis. It was that ‘common ground’ policy that led to their second Friday Night Social at the Tanner Heights Country Club.
After a lifetime of carefully avoiding the country-club set, Clint found himself looking forward to his return as Elly’s guest. Unlike his first visit, he knew there would be several old friends among the members in attendance. He had paused earlier to remember the brief confrontation with Tom Berry that marred his first Social Night visitation. Now, with that possibility removed, he was looking forward to a quieter, more leisurely evening.
As before the meal was excellent and the company stimulating. Because it was the last Friday of the month, the evening included an hour of dancing after the meal. Unfortunately, the younger members seemed to dominate the music selection, resulting in long waits between the slow numbers that best suited Clint’s dance tastes. When at last he heard a familiar ballad begin he had Elly’s arm, leading her to the dance floor.
“Have they convinced you to join?” Elly asked after a few seconds. “I heard Larry twisting your arm. It sounded like he wants to make a country clubber out of you.”
“I don’t know. It’s hard to know how much I’d use it.” He was not ready to explain that the cost of membership---the initiation fee and monthly dues---was well beyond his normal entertainment budget. “It’s just never been part of my routine.”
She leaned back to look up at him. “For most of us it has a lot to do with the socializing. The dinners, the bar, the bridge nights, the golf and tennis, those kinds of things.”
“There you are. I don’t do any of those things, unless I’m invited.”
“Maybe it’s time to be looking ahead.”
“In a few weeks Gary will be gone. You’ll be on your own, with more time on your hands.”
Clint laughed at that. “I have other plans for my time.” The song ended, leaving them in the middle of the dance floor. “Let’s see what’s next,” he suggested. The music started again---a little faster than before, but worth a try.
“You must understand,” Elly said. “For some people the club is the center of their social life.”
After a few seconds Clint had caught up with the new dance beat and able to concentrate on their conversation. Yet even before he said a word, his puzzled frown was telegraphing his concern. “There must be times when it feels like you’ve hooked up with a dinosaur, or some other extinct species.”
“A dinosaur?” she laughed. “What does that mean?”
“You’re talking about a ‘social life’ as though that’s something everyone has, or does---like eating or sleeping.” He wanted to tread softly, to make his point without offending her. “I’ve never thought of myself as having a social life, let alone wondering where I should spend it.”
“Everyone is social sometime. Even dinosaurs.”
“Are you sure?” he teased. “Maybe that’s why they’re extinct.”
It was time to move on, before his stumbling observations sounded like an attack on her lifestyle. “I suppose it’s a matter of perspective, isn’t it?” he continued. “I mean, there are parts of my life that include social stuff. It’s just that I’ve just never thought of them as something separate, something called a ‘social life.’ Does that make sense?”
Once again Elly’s simple comment had produced more response than she was prepared to deal with. “We can talk about that later,” she whispered. Pulling him closer she rested her head on his shoulder.
The night was dry and warm as they left the clubhouse. If Elly’s car had not been sitting across the parking lot, Clint would have suggested they walk the four blocks to her house. It had been a good night---the meal, visiting with friends, Elly on his arm, and no Tom Berry to mess things up. There was obviously more to recommend her country club idea than he first imagined.
He held the passenger door for her. “So,” she asked again, “Do you think you want to join?”
He leaned against the open door. “I must admit, it’s hard to beat the people you meet here.” He bent down and kissed her. “Of course, I’d have to be voted in. Might have to dodge a black ball or two.” He closed her door and walked around the car to take his position as honorary driver.
At her doorstep she invited him inside. “I think there’s a good movie on HBO. It’s still early.” She did not have to ask twice.
As always, dear reader, if you have friends or family who might enjoy a dose of Geriatric Adolescence I invite you to share our address (octoberyears.blogspot.com) with them. That is the best way I know to spread the word. The blog's right sidebar lists all the earlier chapters, beginning in October with the Second Chances story, so they can always start at the beginning.