Wednesday, March 29, 2023



It is not all that surprising that I can relate to Dan Padgett’s frustrating dilemma. After all, he and I have a lot in common. During the final years of his long career in municipal government Dan has nursed his dreams of a mobile, nomadic retirement….including a well-equipped motor home that will serve as the primary residence for him and Nell as they drive off to see the world. 

As Dan’s retirement date draws near those seductive possibility are harder than ever to resist. In the end, however, it seems that his nagging wanderlust….the lure of “places-to-see” and “people-to-meet” in the remote corners of the US and beyond, has only managed to complicate things. 

As the story I call Family Matters opens, Dan has concluded that his carefully constructed dream is a perfectly reasonable vision of what retirement ought to be.  The truth and the attraction of it is so self-evident….at least until he realizes that his wife has created her own, very different notion of their Golden Years. 

For decades Nell has followed her husband all over the state, from job to job. Every few years she had been forced to establish a new home in a new town. Finally, after half a dozen such moves they finally returned to Tanner, where their odyssey had begun all those years before. To her way of thinking they were finally home. More to the point, she was determined to never move again.

So while Nell looks forward to the permanency of their Tanner retirement, Dan continues to dream his “on-the-road” dreams….of going off to see the world, unimpeded by the anchoring limitations of a permanent home. The logic of it is so clear to him. But in the face of his wife’s objections why does he continue to dream that dream? Why is he so eager to dismiss her desires for a very different future? What can he possibly be thinking? I believe the time has come to ask him.

(Gil) “Tell me Dan, why does it look like you’re walking all over your wife’s dream? I learned a long time ago that’s not really a good idea.”

(Dan) “Believe me, I don’t mean to be putting her down. I just keep hoping that she’ll finally come to her senses….to realize how great it would be to see all those places we’ve dreamed of seeing and do the things we’ve always wanted to do.”

(Gil) “What makes you think that both of you have ‘always dreamed’ about seeing those places and doing those things? Could it be that you’re trying to turn 'your' dream into 'her' dream? If that’s so, what if she doesn’t buy your idea of retirement? What happens then?”

(Dan) “I suppose you could say that is what’s happened….at least up to now. She’s just so darn stubborn. I’m offering the perfect way for us to get out from under all the stupid stuff that comes with owning a home like ours….the housekeeping, the yard work and gardening, the cost of it all. We could put all that behind us, and be free to go wherever we wanted to go, for as long as we wanted. Can’t you see how great that would be?”

(Gil) “It doesn’t matter what I can see. This is about Nell. And I’m guessing that what you’re describing doesn’t sound so ‘great’ to her? It’s not the way she wants to spend her retirement. Right?”

(Dan) “You can say that again. She says that she’s actually looking forward to the gardening, and her silly clubs….all the stuff that keeps us here in Tanner. That’s what she wants. Can you believe it? The very things I want to get away from….the day to day chores and upkeep, the meetings that never seem to end….are exactly what she wants more of.”

(Gil) “Why do you suppose that is?”

(Dan) “I don’t have a clue. I keep asking her to explain, but she can’t….at least not in a way that makes sense to me. It’s like she’s living in some other world.”

(Gil) “Would you mind if I took a guess….a slightly different take on what you might be dealing with? I may be wrong, but I’d like to hear what you think of it.”

(Dan) “Go ahead. God knows I’d like to find someone who can sort it out for me.”

(Gil) “Well then, how about this? What if the two of you are bumping heads because you don’t agree on what each of you means when you talk about ‘home’? Maybe that word means something different to her than it does to you. Could that be what you're talking about? (As you might guess by now, I’m prone to playing the pseudo-wise guru.)

(Dan) “What the hell does that mean?”

(Gil) “You tell me. If I backed you into a corner and forced you to define ‘home,’ how would you do that? What does it mean to you? How would you describe it?”

(Dan) (I won’t include all his false starts---the hemming and hawing that proceeded his final reply.) “It seems to me that when you get right down to it, home can be anyplace we want it to be….wherever Nell and I are together. It’s not about a certain piece of land or some special building. It’s a matter of being happy together wherever we are. That’s what makes full-time RVing so appealing to me. We could go anywhere we wanted, and still be home.”

(Gil) “So, how about Nell? If I asked her to describe ‘home,’ would her answer be the same as yours? Would she agree with your ‘home can be anywhere you two are together’ idea?”

(Dan) “Not a chance. Her idea of home is tied to a place….right here in Tanner. It’s the house we live in now, along with her friends, and gardens, and clubs, and church. For her it’s all about this particular place and everything that goes with it. Every time I try to explain that it doesn’t have to be like that, she throws all her Tanner stuff back in my face.”

(Gil) “So the real hang up, what has you two at each other’s throats, is the notion of ‘home,’ and what that means to each of you. You simply don’t agree about that. Right?”

(Dan) “I suppose that’s it.” (He paused a moment, before asking his question.) “If that’s true, how the heck do we get past it? Can you see any way for us to do that?”

(Gil) “Oh man, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure it’s wouldn’t be easy. It would be a complicated thing. I’ll bet I could write a whole book about that. In fact, I have.”

There you have it. The scene has been set and the Padgetts’ frustrating dilemma has been spelled out for everyone to see. What if it was you? How would you define “home?” Can you imagine how their Family Matters story will play out?


Blog excerpts are taken from October Years - a writer’s blog compilation.

    If you, or someone you know, is one of those October/November Years folks a quick Google search of “Gil Stewart’s Amazon Author’s Page” will provide further details of all 21 of my Kindle and paperback stories.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023


Let’s Hear it for Late-Life Boldness

(Original posted 10/2015)

Do you ever wish that these late-life years, our Octobers and Novembers, came with a crystal ball? If you are like me, by this stage of the game your timing and energy may not be what they once were. There are moments when it would really help if we could see around the next corner of our life-path….to have a better idea of what to expect and how to prepare for it. Alas, like every other time of life, October and November do not provide that kind of foresight. 

There are times, of course, when each of us indulges in our own form of looking around that next corner. How often have we said with conviction that “I am definitely going to do ‘this or that’ next year” or “I’ll never do ‘this or that’ again”? Do we say that intending to predict the future? Probably not, though we may have wanted it to sound that way. In the end, however, it is not our predictions, but the choices we actually make, that will shape our future. 

Perhaps you know someone who is weighed down by late-life realities, apparently ready to give up on his or her future. What happens when the future we can’t see and don’t know has already defeated us? How do we move beyond that stubborn barrier….when a change of course seems not to be worth the effort? Whatever the answer, I believe that using our October/November status as an excuse to cease our “Becoming” is to sell ourselves short.

Months ago I mentioned in these pages that I planned to title my next story October Bold. And now, having completed the first draft, I find that the name still  seems to fit. It describes the simple tale of a sixty-something pair….she from Oregon, he from Iowa….each of them still dealing with the loss of a spouse. In time they will come face to face with the unsettling reality that a new relationship, if that is in the cards, is bound to require a change of course and attitude. 

Getting the best from the relational possibilities the pair faces will require change. And the necessary changes will require a dose of October Boldness. After all, the questions they must answer now are decades removed from when they were first asked. 

As I have said before, the October Boldness I advocate is not a matter of daring adventure or great physical risk, but rather the risk of nagging doubts, hurt feelings, embarrassment, or head shaking snickers. It includes a willingness to venture beyond our comfort zone….proving to ourselves that our fragile egos can deal with those doubts and challenges. 

More to the point, October/November Boldness is a frame of mind. It is a conscious decision, no matter how timid, to reach for what we perhaps assumed was out of reach. It requires a willingness to act in the face of all the reasons we have created for not acting. It’s about taking a chance. After all that we’ve gone through to reach that time of life, why not be bold? Haven’t we earned that right….in a late-life sort of way?

Let me put a personal spin on this. Perhaps someone will buy my books…. maybe they won’t. My blog may be read….or not. Either way, my own Late-Life Boldness allows me the opportunity to be true to myself….to create the characters I imagine into being, and send them off to create a future for themselves. Hopefully they will be bold enough to seek the best of what that future can be. After all, even at our age, we deserve the chance to give it our best. 

It’s what I call ‘Becoming’….moving ahead toward a hopefully better version of who we are. Though we can’t avoid the change that is part of every life, we can influence its course….how it plays out in our own Becoming. After all, perhaps the most important of all change agents is the small voice in our head or our heart, urging us to become the person we are meant to be.

So why not scrape off those limiting barnacles and be more open to taking those chances? Step out with your own brand of Late-Life Boldness. Who cares if you end up looking silly or out of place? If you’re like me, you’ve been there before. To hold back or hesitate because of what someone else may say or think about my feeble efforts strikes me as a cowardly and very unbold reason for not acting.

I pray that you can be bold in your own Late-Life ways. If there is something you want to try or do, and there is nothing more than your own timidity holding you back….then give it a try. What are you waiting for? Will it be easier next year?

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

ELDER ORPHANS - November Epiphany



      A November Epiphany

     ( originally posted 1/16/2016)

I won’t apologize for this bit of repetition that I offer for those who did not see it the first time, or perhaps need to be reminded. It is one of those subjects I have dealt with before, and may well address again some day. It is, in my muddled, moss-covered opinion an increasingly serious matter…. that deserves another look.

For seventeen years now I have tried to make the case that late-life, our October and November Years, works best as a shared effort, when two or more of us….friends and lovers, family and caregivers, face that sometime harsh time together. I have written whole books making that case….following my Tanner Chronicles friends as they stumble toward the relationships that will help support them in October and beyond. 

Having spent so much ink stressing that point, you can perhaps imagine my pleasant surprise when I first came across an effective and incredibly descriptive way, just two familiar words, of defining the unfortunate seniors who are forced to face late-life alone.

Perhaps those folks are Elder Orphans. Take a moment to repeat those words out loud. When I first heard them they had the ring of an epiphany….a striking, suddenly-revealed truth. In two short words, catchy and amazingly accurate, is captured the essence of a growing, wide-spread October/November crisis. I was impressed at the time, and still am. Like a lot of things, the more aware we become, the more we are able to see the all-too-obvious signs all around us.

Lest you think my not-so-nimble mind has created that simple, yet startling insight, I am happy to credit a Huffington Post blog by Carol Marak, part of an extended blog series on Aging Alone that addressed Elder Orphan problems and possibilities from a personal perspective. 

“Who will care for them?” she asked. “Who will look out for those unfortunate ones?

Dealing with late-life complexities is hard enough in the best of circumstances. But who will help the aging, the childless, the single….when they are alone and in need?”

Those 'lonely ones' are, of course, the Elder Orphans. Like their infant counterparts, they are literally on their own at a distressingly vulnerable time of life, and just as much in need of caring support.

Chances are they are socially and physically isolated, living without a family member or surrogate. Too often they are lonely, depressed, and perhaps dealing with diminished decision-making capabilities. To make matters worse they are seldom acknowledged as a group or class that needs help.

So what does the future hold for our Elder Orphan population? By all accounts their numbers are increasing, and the help they need will grow accordingly. Looking ahead it is likely that more seniors will need more help for a longer period of time. 


    According to Ms. Marak a recent AARP report offers precious little solace, confirming that the demand for elder caregivers continues to grown faster than the supply. In the face of funding shortfalls and rapidly increasing costs, Caregiver per Orphan ratios are steadily declining across the country. Being an Elder Orphan is not going to get easier.

Though I operated without that catchy label for all those years, my Tanner Chronicle stories often focused on those who qualified as Elder Orphans. Take for instance Johnny Blanton, one of my favorite Tanner friends, who reminded me of a special fellow, someone you may have known. 

In Best Friends and Promises Johnny lives in a low-cost, county-owned apartment, surrounded by neighbors who scarcely acknowledge his presence. Though he would be unwilling to admit as much, (actually he would scream like hell.), in many important ways he had become an orphan. You tell me, is this a viable depiction of an Elder Orphan?

For all his gregarious instincts Johnny Blanton led a spartan, decidedly isolated existence, the unfortunate result of circumstances over which he had little control. In the course of his four-year residency in the County-operated Senior Housing Complex he had concluded that, as a group, his neighbors suffered from a multitude of shared failings. To a person they were old, financially strapped, grouchy, and judgmental. Most depressing of all, not one of them subscribed to his long-cultivated interest in having a good time.

Wary, unsmiling widows were everywhere. He passed them in the hallways. They crowded the dingy activity room. Without exception he found them  unnaturally distrusting of his well-intentioned attention. At one time or another he had approached nearly all of them, hoping to spark some degree of interest, and had struck out at every turn.

Except for Mrs. Perkins, who lived across the hall from his apartment and provided him with a steady supply of day-old newspapers, Johnny had not made one female acquaintance in the entire thirty-unit complex. He took that sad reality, and the slight it represented, very personally

To make matters worse Johnny’s success at making friends among the male residents, he called them “inmates,” had been only slightly better. Some were deaf, blind, or immobile….which tended to limit their “good time” potential. Sadly, the few who still found a few beers a viable social pursuit were no more affluent than Johnny. After years of having Aaron Peck and others pick up the tab, he was reluctant to cultivate drinking buddies who expected him to play that role.

As a result, his social life had become seriously constrained. For three years Willie Thomas, who did not drink at all, but played a mean game of cribbage, had been his most reliable ally among the residents. With Willie’s passing the previous December that welcome friendship had been lost.

In his heart of hearts Johnny Blanton was a very social creature. It appeared, however, that in the sterile confines of the Senior Complex his declining years were destined to be lived out in a state of stagnant depression. To his way of thinking it would take a miracle to change that unfortunate situation.

An unfortunate situation, eh? One that begs for a compassionate storyteller to provide the “miracle” Johnny is hoping for. That, however, is something for another day. After all, storytelling….fictional accounts of non-fictional situations….is one thing. Living real life in the Elder Orphan lane is something very different. It is, however, something that you and I can play a part in addressing.

You see, most of us know an elder orphan, probably more than one. They sit in the midst of our congregations. We may pass them shuffling behind their walker in the supermarket aisle, or rub elbows with them at the senior center. You may also find them in hospital emergency rooms, often their only source of the health care. They are, in fact, everywhere….out of sight….right before our eyes.

So, from the first time I read Ms Marak’s post I wanted that label and what it stands for to be part of my personal October & November Years dialogue, with you and myself….now and in the future. 

And along the way I hope I can be observant enough, and bold enough, to spot the elder orphans who cross my path….to acknowledge their place in my world, and perhaps take the time to hear a bit of their story. 

That’s an important thing, you know, showing them that for at least a few minutes someone cares enough to listen. There are so many folks out there who need that casual gift….the simple act of acknowledging and affirming their presence. Isn’t that what every orphan wants, no matter what their age?

Thursday, March 9, 2023




    As seen through younger eyes retirement has the look of an easy, carefree time of life. One of our grandsons is certain that it must be “the sweetest thing can play computer games all day and all night if you want.” 

    Of course, those of us who have reached that time of life know the truth is something more than that. We’re talking about a new lifestyle....about learning new ways and how to put those ways to work in our new life. Think of it as Retirement 101....the first grade of a new and different kind of learning. 

    There are probably a million roads leading to that retirement space....that place of life-after-work. Fact is, each of us arrives via our own unique path.

    Yet no matter how we approach it, as we grow nearer to that goal it seems the thought of it becomes more seductive. I know it was for me. But then, having finally arrived there, some of us will be disappointed to find that the reality of it is something less than our dreams. Actually, as I have confessed before, I for one very nearly flunked retirement.

    You see, many of us have spent years dreaming our dreams of that special prize. “The Golden Years” we call them, the ones I have labeled October Years

    If we are that sort, we have painted glowing mind-pictures of how it will be....the things we’ll do and the places we’ll see. For many, the fortunate happenstance of being born into the “pension plan” generation, with its generous payouts, will make those dreams financially feasible....assuming they can stay healthy, and couples can agree on which dreams they want to follow. 

   I must admit that I have been reminded, sometimes rather forcefully, that for those whose career centered on the never-ending challenge of keeping house, while feeding and nurturing the family, (they were called “housewives” in my generation....the indispensable link in creating a real family), the retirement dilemma I describe has the ring of false distinctions and cosmetic the same old play being performed on a new stage. (In Family Matters I tell the story of such a couple who are unable to agree on their retirement dreams.)

    Yet, within the confines of those relational realities, October life leaves prospective retirees, the ones contemplating that lifestyle change, with an elemental set of choices....deciding how to use the time their new status will provide. 

    Though it may sound like the least of our worries, using that time productively can be a serious challenge. The fortunate ones began their preparation years before....cultivating interests and capabilities that will help them adapt when the structures and strictures of employment are removed. The rest of us, the unprepared, are left to deal with the burden of empty, unstructured days.

    As you can guess, the giddy exhilaration of sleeping in every morning soon wears off. That’s where the real test begins. Without a plan, retirement can quickly become a matter of empty days waiting to be filled. But how....with what?

    Without those answers that new lifestyle will have the feel of a clean slate or, if you are a writer, a blank page. No matter how you describe it, at that point your new “retirement” job will include filling in those blanks.

      For some the most conventional wisdom about retirement is about finding that “something” which draws them beyond themselves. In my case the answer seemed to be just the opposite. I was pulled deeper within myself, making sense of the stories I was telling. Yet, no matter where it takes you, the right retirement answer for you is bound to be a very personal thing. 

     Whatever it turns out to be, I happen to believe that the right “something” is waiting out there, in one form or another, for everyone. If that is so, it is a matter of exploring the possibilities to find what works for you.

    Looking back, I realize that I started my own search for a viable retirement lifestyle with only the vaguest notion of what I was looking for. I wanted something I could look forward to doing....a reason to get up each morning. Ideally it would provide an opportunity for the creative expression I had never found in my work. 

    Fact is, my initial efforts were timid and half-hearted....and the results bland and uninspiring. Finally, as my frustration in not making a connection grew, I convinced myself it was time to be bold, to take a chance, even risk failure.... the kind of behavior rarely expected from a school administrator. 

    But things were different this time. If my work, whatever it might be, pleased others that was fine. But in the end I intended to do what I wanted to do, and be the primary judge of my sometimes dubious results. I finally turned the corner when I accepted the truth of it. I didn’t need to satisfy anyone else.... only myself.

    That I finally stumbled onto what worked for me was a matter of “try, try again.” By then I realized that Roma’s gardening did not suit me, I couldn’t get interested in woodworking, and it was hard to get excited about something as pathetic as my golf game. 

  Not until I came across a thirty-year old manuscript, a story I had written and set aside, did it dawn on me that perhaps I had found my retirement calling. I had walked that storytelling path before. And though it had not suited me as a younger man. This time around it seemed to be a fit.

    In time story telling and blogging would help fill my personal retirement void, taking me places I never expected to visit. Today’s technology makes that possible. No wonder I have a hard time getting my mind around the reality of this internet world. How else could these geriatric ramblings of mine be read from Maine to Alaska and beyond. 

    Take it from someone who very nearly flunked can be a daunting that requires serious attention. Many of us will begin the process with grand ideas of how it will be, but precious little experience in actually living that new life. 

     Still, we mustn’t be intimidated. Having waited a lifetime to get here, we must work to make retirement a liberating experience. For perhaps the last time in our life we will have the opportunity to choose our own future. 

    The goal is simple settle on a life and lifestyle that suits us, that holds our interest, and helps us continue the never-ending process of Becoming. No matter what path we choose, it deserves the best effort we can muster. After all, it’s the rest of our life we’re talking about.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023



Saturday afternoon. Gladys Horner was in her family room, visiting with her son David, recounting her hot-springs adventure with Jimmy least most of it. 

Without trying to follow all her excited details, David could tell that his mother had enjoyed the experience, as well as Mr. Brooder’s company. Truth to tell, he did not find that to be particularly welcome news.

While his mother carried on about hot springs and arrowheads, David was waiting for a break in her narrative. Finally he held up his hand, motioning her to stop for his question 

“So it’s getting serious is it, between you and Jimmy?”

“I think it is,” she nodded.

“And you’ve talked about what comes next?”

“Oh yes. We’ve talked about that. Turns out we’re absolutely on the same page.”

“I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“David. He’s a good man, a very good man. I won’t get hurt.” Gladys had more to say, to reinforce her case for Jimmy Brooder. It was the ringing of the kitchen telephone that cut her defense short.

“Grace. You got back.” Phone in hand Gladys returned to the family room. ”How was it?”

David rolled his eyes for his mother’s benefit, signaling his understanding that the two friends would be talking for more than a little while. He excused himself for a quick trip to the garage. When he returned to the family room a few minutes later his mother was in her recliner, handset in hand, apparently answering Grace Carson’s question.

“You certainly know that at our age it’s not like it used to be,” Gladys was saying. “It’s not like when we were kids. 

"At this stage of the game a wedding doesn’t have to be the big occasion it was the first time. Thank heavens for that. I’m sure everything will work out just fine. In a few days it will be all done, absolutely official. ‘Signed and sealed,’ that’s what my Dad used to say.”

Before David could take in the rest of his mother’s conversation the ringing door bell called him to the front of the house. Pulling the door open he was standing face to face with Jimmy Brooder. Without a word David nodded toward the back of the house and motioned for Jimmy to follow.

Seconds later Gladys looked up from her conversation. “How’s that for timing, Grace. He just walked in the door. I’ll find out what he says and get back to you.” Her face lit up as she added, “It’s amazing, isn’t it. Sometimes things work out just like they’re supposed to, even when we don’t see it coming. Anyway, I’d better go. I’ll call you later.”

Switching off the phone Gladys started for the kitchen. “Let me get you some coffee,” she said to Jimmy. “How about you, Son?”

“Not now,” David answered. A moment later he was off and pacing, to the bulky stone fireplace and back. His mother returned with Jimmy’s coffee and took a seat next to him on the sofa. Still David was pacing.

“I was just talking to Grace,” Gladys told Jimmy. “She and Hank just got back from the coast.” She had more to say, until her son’s nervous movement caught her eye. As a mother would, she recognized the signals at once.

“What is it, David?” she asked.


“Don’t you give me that. There’s something on your mind. Now what is it?”

Jimmy was edging forward on the sofa, wanting to know more, but not sure he should be asking. “Why don’t I go outside for a minute. Let you two talk.”

“That won’t be necessary,” David said, finally stopping in front of the sofa. “In fact, I’d rather you were here. I do have some questions. I’d like to hear your answers, along with Mom’s”

At the first hint of the younger man’s not-so-subtle pushing, Jimmy’s initial impulse was to push back. For Gladys’ sake that was probably not a good idea. Instead, he settled for an uncharacteristically passive approach, letting the boy have his say before deciding how to respond.

A few seconds later Gladys was asking again, “Are you going to tell us, Son? Whatever it is, I can see it has you all worked up. So why don’t you just sit down and let us hear it? If you have something to say, just spit it out.”

David glanced across at one of them, then the other, apparently not sure where to begin. Finally, sitting on the arm of an overstuffed chair, he admitted, “I guess it’s not so much what I have to say.” The hard-edged determination he wanted Mr. Brooder to see was melting in the face of his mother’s insistence. “It’s more about what you have to say, the two of you.”

“Who says we have anything to say?” Gladys asked.

“Come on, Mom. I heard you on the phone with Grace. We’d talked about that before. I told you then what I thought. You told me that nothing had been decided. Well, it’s pretty clear that something has been decided now. I wish you’d stop dodging the issue and tell me straight out.”

Setting her cup on the coffee table Gladys pointed to the recliner, silently instructing her son to take a seat where she could see him better. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, David,” she said. “You’re pointing fingers at me, and Jimmy, and I don’t know why.”

David Horner had absolutely no experience at calling his mother a liar. In all likelihood he had never considered that possibility. Yet there she was, if not indulging in outright falsehood, at least deftly avoiding the truth. He did not bother to look up when he found the courage to continue.

“I just heard you and Grace talking about a wedding, about making plans.” He leaned forward, talking now to his mother, seeming to ignore Jimmy. “You knew how I felt about that. Yet there you were, making plans, without even telling me what’s going on....when it’s going to happen. How do you suppose that makes me feel?”

By then David was pouting, Jimmy was confused, and Gladys was on the verge of laughing out loud. As if to emphasize her sudden understanding, she left the two of them stewing in their befuddlement while she disappeared into the kitchen. Only when she returned, carrying a plate of chocolate-chip cookies, did she show any interest in addressing their questions.

Holding the plate out for each of them, she was not surprised when they both passed on her offer of a cookie. Setting the plate on the coffee table she took one for herself and prepared to carry on.  “I promise to keep this simple. So that even my two favorite guys can understand. Okay?

“Grace Carson called me a few minutes ago with some very special news. She and Hank Rolland had just come back from the coast. She was calling to tell me they’re getting married, Thursday morning at the church. It won’t be a big ceremony....just the pastor, Hank’s kids, Jimmy, and me. She asked the two of us to stand up for them.”

Gladys paused for an instant to replay the last of Grace’s happy announcement. “She also said something about Sarah being there too, but I couldn’t make sense of that. Anyway, the wedding plans you heard Grace and me talking about were for her and Hank. ”

“Just a darn minute.” Jimmy was on his feet, calling for a time out. “I know that Hank headed south a couple weeks ago. The last time I saw him he was totally messed up. 

"The only thing he wanted to do was steer clear of what he called ‘those wily widows’ at the church. Grace told me the other day that he was ready to head back. But he never called to tell me he was home. And now you’re saying he and Grace are getting married. Where did that come from?”

“I’m not sure I know,” Grace offered. “I don’t suppose it matters, as long as they know.”

“And you and Jimmy,” David interrupted, seeking a return to square one, and the fate of his inheritance. “What about you? Isn’t there anything I should know about you two, about what you have in mind, any plans you’ve made?”

“Yes there is,” Jimmy replied.

With a chocolate-chip cookie in hand he returned to Gladys’ side on the sofa. Patting her knee, he prepared to finally have his say. “To begin with, I’ve heard about some of what you and your mother have discussed....enough to get the gist of your concerns, to know where you’re coming from.”

David leaned forward, tensed and ready to defend his idea of what his mother’s friend did and did not deserve. Before he could speak, Jimmy raised a hand.

“Let me finish, Son,” he added. “The other morning, before we left the hot springs, your mother and I had a long talk. And, as you may have guessed, I had a proposal for her. In fact I was ready to go the whole nine yards....on bended knee. But I’ve got this old football thing that makes that hard to do. So I just sat there beside her.”

With a wink for Gladys, Jimmy looked back to David, trying his best to keep from laughing at the youngster’s grim frown. “Thing is," he continued. "I like this lady a lot. I believe we have a future together, the two of us. And that, of course, brings us to your questions about your father’s estate, and what happens to that. Right?”

David Horner found himself backed into a corner, a rather uncomfortable one at that. To admit that his “father’s estate” was at the heart of his objection was to risk looking greedy and insensitive. On the other hand, to deny that reality might risk to the loss of something he had long considered his and his alone. At that moment, without a good answer to Jimmy’s question, he offered none at all.

“Here’s the thing, David,” Jimmy continued. “What was your dad’s, and is now your mother’s, should be yours when she’s gone. I think you’re absolutely right about that.”

“I am?” The son’s surprise was showing. There was no hiding the skeptical wariness of his next question. “What exactly does that mean?”

“It means that I told your mother that I love her, because I do. I told her I want to be with her, because I do. There are lots of things I’d like us to do....together. 

"Thing is, if it works for her, there’s no reason in the world that we have to be married to do all that. And that was my proposal. I asked her if she would be willing to be with me, but not be married to me, for as long as we both shall live?” 

Jimmy’s wide grin was telegraphing Gladys’ answer. “And she said 'Yes' she would do that. At the time I hadn’t heard anything about Hank and Grace, which I still don’t understand. But the important part is that your mother accepted my proposal, or maybe it was my unproposal. Either way, whatever you call it, I can’t remember the last time I felt that good.

“That means you probably won’t see much of us for a while. We’ve been talking about what I’m calling an unhoneymoon. I expect that to be something very special.” 

Again Jimmy made eye contact with a still confused David. “And along the way each of us will be spending some of our own money doing whatever we do, just like before. But the main part of your dad’s estate....that doesn’t involve me at all. There’s no reason it should. That’s for you two to sort out.”


It was by Tanner standards a modest affair, the Thursday morning wedding of Hank Rolland and Grace Carson....held in the church office, with Pastor Williams officiating. 

The bride wore an aqua-marine dress....“Greenish,” Hank called it. Kelly and Eric were on hand, beaming at the sight of their father finally ‘moving on.’ After the ceremony Jimmy Brooder and Gladys Horner signed the marriage license as official witnesses.

By the end of the ten minute service Hank and Grace were happily married, and Jimmy and Gladys were just as happily unmarried. Across the room, on the corner of the pastor’s desk, Sarah sat silently, smiling her thin Clabber Girl smile, perhaps knowing more than a casual observer might have expected.

            The End


Monday, March 6, 2023



Hank Rolland had promised himself he would not call until after dinner. He needed time to prepare. Besides, he ought not appear too eager. Yet by two-thirty on that Wednesday afternoon thoughts of waiting were losing their appeal. 

He had returned from Portland late that morning, fresh from a frank and very affirming conversation with Kelly and Eric. Once home he again reminded himself of the need for restraint. Rather than rushing off to see her right away, why not rely on a calm and casual approach? A call after dinner would be more appropriate.

By three-fifteen ‘calm and casual’ had lost out to 'anxious and eager.' “Hello there, friend,” Hank said when Grace answered the phone. “How’s your day going?”

“Are you home?”

“You bet I am. I’m here in Tanner and ready to come calling. If I’m invited, that is.”

“Consider yourself invited.” She paused to take a mental inventory. “I’m not sure what I’ll find for dinner around here. But come on over and we’ll come up with something.”

“I’ll come over. But after we’ve visited a bit we can go out for a restaurant dinner. Unless, that is, you’re determined to do your own cooking.”

In a matter of minutes, after a distinctly anxious drive across town, Grace Carson greeted him at her front door and ushered him inside. 

“You said you might be in Portland for two nights,” she said as she led them to the kitchen, where she paused to pour their coffee, before motioning him on to the family room. 

“And you were,” she continued. “There must have been a lot to talk over with the kids. Did it turn out okay?”

“The first night Eric was tied up with a Parents’ Night thing at school. So we couldn’t get together until last night.” 

By then Hank was asking himself how he could explain what happened when they had finally met? It had been hard enough telling the children of his surprising need for a change. How would Grace respond?

“Basically,” he continued. “The idea was to let them know what I was thinking. I wanted them to hear me out, so that even if you decided I had it all wrong, they would know why I’d tried so hard.” 

With that he scooted across the sofa until he was at her side. “Of course, I was hoping that by the time I put you on the spot you’d realize I didn’t ‘have it wrong’ at all.”

“What does that mean? ‘Put me on the spot?’ What are you talking about?”

“Don’t you get coy with me, lady. You know exactly what it means. I shouldn’t have to be drawing pictures for you.”

By then Grace was turning away, suddenly silent, unsure how to continue. For the last two days, since Hank’s surprisingly affectionate return, she had debated whether it was time to tell him everything. Now, even before he had heard her unlikely admission, he seemed willing to take them exactly where she wanted them to go. There was nothing to suggest he needed coaxing. So why muddy the water?

Yet in the end it was her own reluctance to hold anything back that dictated her response. If they hoped to find the best of whatever lay ahead, there must be no secrets, no false pretenses. In that light, it was not too soon to come clean. For a moment she sat looking into her folded hands. When she looked up at him there was no hiding her self-conscious smile. 

“Do you remember when you called me from California?," she asked. "You told me that you’d been thinking about things. And I said that I’d let Sarah know that. Do you remember that?” 

Her quizzical grin nearly had him laughing. “Actually, it was something I didn’t mean to say. It just kind of slipped out.”

“Oh, I caught it alright,” Hank replied. “Though I didn’t know what to make of it. I still don’t. I was sure that you’re much too sane to be playing such a silly game. Are you saying you really did talk to her?”

“Yes, I did.” Grace’s sheepish confession had taken on the sound of an apology. “You said that worked for you. So I thought I’d give it a try. Of course it felt kind of uncomfortable at first. But after a while it got easier, more natural.” 

“So, what did you two talk about?”

“Lots of things. Actually I did the talking, mostly asking the questions that I had for her. As near as I could tell she was a good listener.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Things I wanted to know about....answers I was looking for. Just like you, I wanted to know where all this was leading.”

With that, Grace stood. While Hank sat quietly, wondering what to make of her “talking to Sarah” admission, she took the empty coffee carafe and walked to the kitchen. Minutes later, setting the newly-filled carafe on the low coffee table before walking to a back bedroom. By the time she returned he was sipping his coffee, trying to make sense of her strangely silent behavior.

Before he could ask his questions Grace handed him a single folded page. “I’m not sure you were supposed to see this,” she began. “You can tell that it’s from Sarah, to me. She left it with Pastor Williams. He gave the envelope to me after her Memorial Service. A lot of things that she and I had talked before about are in there. Things about you, about after she was gone. It was meant for me, but I think you should read it.”

Dear Grace,

By the time you read this I will have had my final send off. Please know that I will be leaving with a heart full of thanks for your loving care and support during these last months. There was no one else who could have turned the times you and I shared into smiles and laughs. Looking back, it is hard to believe that I could have felt so good about feeling so bad. Only you, and of course Hank, could have managed that.

Speaking of Hank, which is the other reason for this note, you have heard me worry and wonder about how he will cope and carry on. With that in mind I have a last favor to ask of you. I am not sure I know how to say this, but I must try.

I realize that Hank will have to find his own way through the hard times ahead. And I know there will be many of our friends praying for him, But in the end he will have to sort things out for himself.  

However, if I knew that a very special friend was on hand to keep an eye on him, to be sure he doesn’t wander too far off track, that would be very comforting. Hopefully that special friend could help him fend off the Wiley Widows Brigade. You know how silly some of our mild-mannered church sisters can become at the sight of an eligible and slightly confused new prospect.

I know beyond a doubt that Hank needs someone in his life. I know him better than anyone, and I guarantee he would wilt and wither on his own. He may not believe that, or accept it, but it’s true. He needs someone. But it must be someone he has chosen, not someone who has finally worn him down.

All I am asking for is a caring friend to give him a nudge if it seems he has lost his way. As you can tell by now, I am hoping you will agree to be that friend. It is an unusual favor, I know. But there is no one else I would feel comfortable asking, so I hope you will honor me by accepting. 

With any luck Hank will figure everything out on his own, and not need anyone’s help. But I would feel so much better knowing you were there, just in case. You know me, I will be praying for the happiest of happy endings.

Thank you, Grace. I will light a candle for you in heaven. (Assuming I get there.)

Love, Sarah

Scanning Sarah’s letter once, and then a second time, Hank glanced over at Grace....sitting quietly, sipping her coffee, anxious to hear his response, though half afraid of what he had to say.

“That’s her all right,” he finally offered in a hushed voice. “Looking out for me, just like always.”

“That’s who she was.”

“And asking you to be the ‘special helper.’ I guess that makes sense. I’m not sure what she thought you could do, but I’m not surprised she asked her best friend to do her favors.”

“I was surprised at first.” Grace was staring blankly across the room. “It seemed like such a strange request. It was loving, of course, in the way she was loving. Still, it’s not something a person expects to be asked to do.”

“Yeah. It’s different all right. But when I stop to think back over the last few months, since she’s been gone, it seems like you were always there to steer me in the right direction. Now I see why. There were times I hoped you were doing it because you wanted to. But I guess it was all part of your job. Eh?”

Grace reached out to retrieve the letter. Opening it for a moment, she focused on Sarah’s unsteady signature. Then, clutching it to her chest she said, “When I talked to her these last few days, when she and I were alone, I was hoping she could help me understand. 

"I wanted to know if being that friend was supposed to be nothing more than ‘my job.’ Or was there more to it than that? So while you were running all over California, trying to figure things out, I was here in Tanner, looking for my own answers.”

“About what?”

Clearing her throat, Grace took a deep breath and prepared to offer her own secret. “I was asking her how I could keep an eye on you, like she wanted me to, when.......when what I wanted was to be the one you were looking for.”

“You wanted......?” Hank’s stumbling question was overtaken by the realization of what she was saying. “You mean, even after I’d run off, and even before I’d come back?” Gladys was nodding her affirmation.

He was struggling for an appropriate reply. “My God, I came back to convince you that I’d finally figured it out, that I knew what I wanted---who I wanted. 

“I spent a couple hours last night telling the kids that I’d be doing my best to convince Grace Carson to throw her lot in with me. It sounded like a long shot at first, when I was driving back from California. I was sure it would take some serious arm twisting. But by last night, with Kelley and Eric, I knew that’s what I wanted.

“By then I was sure it would take all my natural charm to win you over. But now you’re saying it’s not like that at all.”

“Oh goodness,” Grace laughed. “Of course you’ve been your charming self. You didn’t really have to sell me on anything. But I’m glad you tried. I’d told Sarah over and over that I wanted it to be your idea. So when you came back, talking like you were, like you are, it felt like you were bringing me her answer.“

“And what was she saying? What was her answer?”

The surprising reality was sinking in. After months of assuming that Sarah’s revelation was meant for him alone here was Grace, offering her own understanding of what Sarah was telling her. 

You are Sarah’s answer,” Grace answered, taking his hand. “That’s exactly how it feels. It’s like she is saying that you and I, actually the three of us, are supposed to be together. When I read her letter again last night, it felt like that’s what she intended all along.”

Reaching down, Hank pulled her to her feet. With a perfunctory peck on her forehead he held her away at arm’s length. “Are you telling me that you and Sarah had it figured out all along? That you were just waiting for me to catch up. Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

“Why do you suppose?," Grace replied. "If it was going to happen, I wanted it to be your idea, not something I talked you into. Not something Sarah’s letter talked you into. I knew exactly what I wanted, but I couldn’t say anything until you knew it too. Remember, she said in her letter that it needed to be ‘someone he has chosen.’ That meant I had to wait until you made up your mind.”

Grace’s mischievous wink was suggesting another possibility. “Or maybe until it felt like Sarah was telling each of us the same thing.”

By then Hank was looking ahead, hoping to fill in the blanks that seemed to be surfacing at every turn. “Look, I promised you dinner. Why don’t we do that. I can tell we have lots more to talk about.”


Hank and Grace had their dinner that evening, a reunion of sorts, with a few drinks and a long, rambling discussion of the promise and perils of ‘moving on’ together. Later, in the light of a full moon, their stroll through Waterfront Park was a quiet time, as each of them processed thoughts of a pleasantly memorable day.

By the time they returned to Grace’s home their growing connection had claimed yet another victim. Somewhere along the way, Hank’s admonition that they “take it slow” had been trumped by an urgency neither of them had foreseen.

Later that evening Grace would make that point herself. Laying together in her bed, their passion spent, she rolled over to face him. “So much for going slow. Eh?” She waited for his response, but he had none. “You’re awfully quiet. I can’t tell if you’re disappointed or what.”

“Disappointed? Are you crazy?” Slipping his arm under her neck, he pulled her closer, until her head rested on his chest. “I’m just thinking how good it is to finally know that I’m exactly where I belong.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you were just caught up in the moment. What if it’s nothing more than a passing fancy.” She paused, then asked, “Do old folks like us still have passing fancies?”

“I don’t know,” he laughed. “But I can tell this is definitely not one of those. It’s what I call ‘change.’ I learned a thing or two about that on my trip. Turns out it’s another name for ‘moving on’ toward the right place.”

“How can you be sure of that?”

About then Hank was wishing she would stop asking her uncomfortable questions. Or at least, that he had better answers, ones that might sound more rational to a level headed, straight-thinking lady like Grace. For a moment he considered softening his message. But on second thought, no one deserved the truth more than she did.

“I spent a lot of time while I was in California talking to Sarah,” he said. “I wasn’t always sure she heard me. And there were times I probably wasn’t listening as well as I could have been. In the end I realized that I’d been looking right past the real answer. It took that dream, or whatever it was, to make me understand what Sarah had known all along.”

Leaning back enough to see his face, Grace was shaking her head. “I wondered about that before. How could you be talking to Sarah, when she was here with me?”

“That’s something else I learned. It seems that Sarah can be anywhere I am. At least that’s how it she was telling me that California wasn’t the right place to be looking. That it was time to come home, because what I wanted was right here. Like it had been all along.”

Snuggling closer, Grace allowed herself one last observation. “I just hope you’ll feel that way in the morning.”

She had closed her eyes, soaking up the warmth of him, and the surprising reality that he was laying there beside her. A moment later her reverie was interrupted by his quiet laugh. 

“What’s so funny?” she asked.

“I just remembered. My car is parked in your driveway. It will still be there in the morning. I don’t know how nosy your neighbors are, but I know that some folks pay attention to such things, and like to tell their friends about it. You know how fast that kind of gossip can spread.”

“Let them talk. Who cares?”

Though he took heart at her spunky disclaimer, Hank was already hatching a better answer. “That’s fair. But, what if it was parked in front of a nice motel in Lincoln City for a few nights? No one would know about that. We’d have time to sort things out at our own pace, and keep the town gossips at bay. We could drive over in the morning. Wouldn’t that be better?”

“I suppose it would. I’d like that. But, we’d have to be back home by Saturday night. I’m leading the Guild discussion group at church on Sunday morning. We’re doing a session on Making Good Choices.”

“No problem. We’ll just make it a point to be back by then. Who knows, you might even have some new examples to add to the discussion.”