Home > The Summer That Made Us(11)

The Summer That Made Us(11)
Author: Robyn Carr

“And, Franklin? I’m going to need a little extra money. To buy some clothes for myself and the girls and to—”

“The girls have clothes,” he said irritably.

“The right kind of clothes. I know how to buy my daughters’ clothes. I’m not taking them back to Minnesota dressed like a couple of punk rockers. I have to get a few simple, inexpensive things for myself and I’m going to need some travel money. Also, I’ve just put some work into the house... It was quite falling down around me. I’d happily pay for all this if I had any money, but unfortunately on my limited income...”

“Hope, I give you two thousand dollars a month and pay all your bills, including gas for your car. You have only to buy food and clothes. You have a college degree. Have you ever thought of going to work?”

“Can’t we call it a loan, then? You could simply advance me a few months of that allowance you give me...” She could not call it alimony. No matter how hard she tried.

“And add it to what you already owe me? No, I’m afraid not. Sooner or later you’re going to have to be accountable.”

“At least May and June, then! At least send those checks early! For God’s sake, Franklin, would you like to see me beg? Am I not quite humiliated enough for you?”

“Overdrawn again, Hope?”

She was silent for a moment. “Does this young girl you’re living with know what a cruel bastard you can be?”

“Do you mean Pam? My wife? Who is only eleven months younger than you?”

“Please, Franklin,” she whimpered, but it was more a plea for him to stop throwing that truth in her face than a plea for money.

“I’ll send May’s check now,” he relented. “And I’ll talk with the girls and call you next week to let you know what time they’re willing to compromise from their summer plans. And...if you decide to drive to Minnesota, you can use the gas card as usual, but I’m unable to fund plane tickets.”

“Drive? You expect me to drive?”

“Actually, Bobbi would probably be thrilled to do the driving. I don’t know if your nerves can take it, but she’s coming along with experience.”

“Ohhh, Franklin...”

“Is that it? Money and vacation plans?”

“Yes,” she said, suddenly very tired.

“I’ll be in touch, then. And, Hope? I want to remind you that the insurance coverage you have will pay for counseling...if you’re interested.”

She stiffened. She had told him many times before that she would indeed consider counseling—marriage counseling. She was about to remind him of that when she remembered she needed that check right away—to cover the carpet cleaning, window washing and beauty shop expenses. Where did her money go? She couldn’t eat that much every month. And there were only those few little COD catalog purchases... “Thank you, Franklin,” she said as sweetly as she could. “Please convince the girls to extend their vacation time with me. Please. It’s very important to me...and I ask for so little.”

“I’ll speak to them,” he said.

She was so tired. All that cleaning and primping. All that stress and worry. She would have to rest now and wait. It was going to be all right. Once she saw Grandma Berkey again everything would be fine.

She didn’t think about Megan’s four-year battle with cancer. Her oblivion was so complete that if someone asked her, right now, how the family fared health-wise, she would say, “Very well, thank you!”

* * *

In 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down and the Game Boy was introduced, right before Hope was due to become a junior in high school, she took her last realistic look at her family. Her cousin Bunny was dead. Her parents had had a very troubled marriage and her father, Roy, had run off, couldn’t be found and didn’t send money. Her mother was sick—depressed and emotionally unavailable. Her mother had no job, no husband and no money. Her sister Krista couldn’t stand to be at home anymore and was running with a bad crowd, skipping school and getting into serious trouble. Twice the police brought her home in the middle of the night. Her youngest sister, Beverly, had been Bunny’s best friend and was broken by her loss. She was in even worse shape than Jo. Her cousin Charley had been exiled to Florida to have and give up her illegitimate baby. Charley’s last letter to Hope said, simply, “I’m going to run away the second I get back to Saint Paul so don’t expect any help from me...unless you want to come with me.”

“Mama,” Hope entreated. “You have to ask Grandma and the judge for help!”

“The judge can’t help us,” Jo said.

Hope later learned that the judge had offered help with the condition that Jo agreed to divorce Roy and live by Berkey standards. Jo refused.

The family was in utter chaos after Bunny’s death. And that was when Hope started looking for a better life.

As a little girl Hope had spent hours looking through the photo albums at pictures of her mother and Aunt Lou dressed for their formal dances at the club and pictures of their incredible coming-out parties and unbelievable weddings. Aunt Lou had twelve bridesmaids—like Grandma Berkey before her—and so did Hope’s mom. There were trips to Europe and carriage rides through the streets and ice-skating at the winter carnival. What the hell had happened to them all? How could this be? Falling apart was one thing but this whole family was ready to be shot and buried—they were that humiliating.

Grandpa Berkey was still on the bench and she went to him. “Please,” she begged. “I’ll do anything you want, act any way you please, just let me live with you and go to a decent high school and maybe get into college somewhere. Please, I’m begging you. I want to have the kind of life you planned for your daughters.”

Charmed, her grandparents took her in. They dressed her, showed her off, sent her to a private school. And she did as she had promised. She followed their every wish from crossing her legs at the ankle to getting home before ten every night. She went with them to the club for dinner every weekend, danced with all the old codgers, learned to play bridge and wore long, lacy dresses when torn jeans, bra tops and exposed garter belts were all the rage.

She had a coming-out party, got her college degree and met a man from a rich family. When she got married in Saint Paul, a simple but elegant affair held at Central Presbyterian Cathedral with dinner at the country club, she introduced Franklin’s wealthy family to Grandma Berkey and the judge as the people who’d raised her. She had whispered to the Griffins that her biological mother was emotionally unwell and Hope hadn’t lived with her since she was small. Jo didn’t argue with this story. Hope’s father, they said, was deceased. No one else from the family came to the wedding. No one seemed to think this odd. Nor did they ask any questions.

Chapter Five

By the middle of May both the house on Lake Waseka and Megan were looking much better. Even several visits from Louise couldn’t bring Megan’s spirits down as she anticipated the summer, and Louise definitely tried to put the kibosh on their plans. Louise steadfastly insisted she would not join them. If they wanted Grandma Berkey at the lake, they’d have to find someone other than Louise to deliver her.

There was very little left to do in the house and Charley went ahead of Meg to see it done. John had agreed to help Meg pack, make sure she had her medication and drive her and her luggage north to the lake. He wanted to be there on weekends whenever possible. There were just the finishing touches, things that Melissa had offered to take care of but Charley wanted to do herself. In fact, Melissa had come close to begging, but Charley insisted. Charley’s hands-on involvement in fixing up the place had been pretty limited and she looked forward to adding the accessories she’d shopped for in the city. She had fluffy towels, crisp sheets, thick rugs, soaps and creams, place mats and napkins, comforters and down pillows. She bought a set of eight wineglasses and as many tumblers and cocktail glasses.

After putting her new purchases in the house, Charley lit off for the nearest large grocery to stock up, looking forward with great longing to the summer days when the farmers would begin to put their fresh vegetables out on roadside stands.

She settled in, smoothing sheets over the mattress in the master bedroom, shaking out and putting down fluffy rugs in bathrooms, in front of the door and kitchen sink, beside the beds. The new down pillows almost hugged her back when she squeezed them. Everything was in place before the sun lowered in the sky and she took a glass of wine onto the porch, sat in one of the chaises with her feet up and began to do what Megan had been doing—remembering the summers that were filled with laughter and fun.

It wasn’t hard when she focused. When it was just them—the girls—it was carefree and filled with pleasure. It wasn’t harmonious every second, of course. Six little girls could squabble and bicker, especially when the rain forced them inside, but their conflicts were short-lived. They just enjoyed the heaven that escape to the lake provided. They loved to spy on their mothers late at night. Getting caught was almost as much fun as the spying, which never turned up much besides gossip about their marriages. They had swimming races and diving contests. Since they spent so much time in the lake they hardly ever took baths. In fact, they washed their hair in the lake. Aunt Jo would give them a bottle of shampoo to take to the lake every few days. They had an old outdoor shower at the boathouse but they used it sparingly because the water was freezing.

Her cell phone rang and she held her breath when she saw it was Michael. She prayed they wouldn’t fight. “Hi,” she said. “I was just thinking about you. I just got here this afternoon. The place is all put together and I’m by myself.”

“Where’s Meg?” he asked.

“John’s bringing her in a few days. I wanted to come ahead, make sure it was clean and comfortable and stocked with healthy food.”

“John’s okay with her spending the whole summer at the lake?” he asked.

“He’s planning to come on the weekends. But how are you?”

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