When All The Girls Have Gone(3)

By: Jayne Ann Krentz



“Good golfer, too,” Ethel said. “Seven handicap.”

“Right.” Charlotte cleared her throat.

“Looked good in his uniform,” Ethel said. She winked. “Never could resist a man in uniform. That’s how I met him, you know. We were both in the military. I was a nurse. Left to get married and raise the kids.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. You also made a point of saying that after his death you struggled as a widow with two young children to raise.”

“Yep.”

“Is it possible that, as much as you loved your husband, deep down you perhaps felt some resentment toward him because he left you and the children alone?” Charlotte suggested gently.

“Well, it certainly wasn’t easy making ends meet after he was gone,” Ethel allowed. “But we managed.” She beamed. “My son is a doctor, you know. My daughter is a lawyer.”

“You already told us twenty or thirty times that your kids are all successful,” Hazel Williams muttered, not bothering to conceal her resentment.

Hazel Williams had raised three children, but she had included only two of them in her memoir—a daughter who was a teacher and a son who worked in construction. Although she had dutifully recorded the birth of a second son in the family tree chapter, there had been no further mention of him. Every family had a few secrets, Charlotte thought. It was an unwritten rule in the class that the members of the group were entitled to their secrets. No one had a right to pry into another person’s past.

“I’m just telling you that we did all right after Harold was gone,” Ethel said.

“That’s obvious,” Charlotte put in quickly, hoping to change the topic. “It was a tremendous accomplishment, raising two children on your own and working full-time. You have every right to be proud.”

Stan Barlow snorted. “Why is it that when a woman raises kids by herself, everyone thinks it’s some kind of big deal? But if a man raises a family without a wife, he doesn’t get any credit.”

Mildred Hamilton, seated at the desk in front of Stan, turned in her chair. “I don’t know any men who raised a bunch of kids on their own. All the men I know who lost their wives or got divorced were married again within six months. Take yourself, for instance.”

Stan reddened. He had recorded three marriages.

“I’m just asking a reasonable question,” he said.

“I think we’re getting off topic here,” Charlotte said. She rose to her feet and made a show of looking at the large clock on the wall. All the clocks at Rainy Creek Gardens had big, easy-to-read numerals. “I see our time is up and it’s almost happy hour in the Fireside Lounge. The assignment for next week is to work on the section of the booklet titled ‘My First Job.’”

Most of the memoirists pushed themselves upright, collected their canes and walkers and filed out of the classroom at a brisk pace. Happy hour was another popular activity that Charlotte had implemented. Management had voiced some alarm at the start, but Charlotte had pointed out that many of the residents were already in the habit of enjoying a predinner glass of wine or a martini in the privacy of their own apartments. She had convinced her boss that an organized happy hour was a better alternative. It not only enhanced socializing in a segment of society that was at high risk for loneliness, it was safer than drinking alone.

The reaction to the introduction of happy hour had been so enthusiastic that Charlotte was fairly certain the residents would revolt if it were ever terminated. But it was highly unlikely that the event would be removed from the schedule of activities because there had been an unexpected upside. It turned out that featuring a daily happy hour had proven to be a highly successful marketing tool. The business of selling the retirement community lifestyle to seniors was a highly competitive industry.

Ethel waited until the others had left. Then she levered herself up out of her chair, gripped her walker and fixed Charlotte with a determined expression.

“I still say killing off Harold makes for a better ending,” she said. “More dramatic. Sort of like you getting left at the altar a couple of months ago.”

Charlotte tried not to wince.

“It’s dramatic, all right,” she said. “But keep in mind that you are writing this for your children and your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren. This memoir will become a permanent family legacy that will probably be handed down for generations. It will be uploaded online. If your descendants question the reality of some parts of your story, they might decide that you made up other elements, as well. It could call into question the authenticity of your version of your family’s history.”

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