Ten Years Later
Carson had let his employees leave, and he was left alone to close The Reader’s Room for the night. He wandered through the bookshelves in the annex, picking up any books or litter that had fallen on the ground. He inherited his need for a clean floor from his mother, Vera, who he hadn’t seen in six months. She spent hours on her hands and knees making sure the floor shined bright, and he was nearly as fastidious. As long as his boots didn’t stick to the ground, the floors were clean enough.
Carson’s mother, Vera Waner was last in The Reader’s Room when they first had electric lights turned on in the bookstore. It was a celebration, and many folks from around Salinas came out for the event.
Vera and Simon married and had every intention of living in Salinas for the rest of their lives but realized there was a whole world they had yet to see. Simon’s home was filled with maps and travel books because collecting such things was a hobby. They put them to good use when they took a year to cross the United States and then took the Queen Mary to Europe. They crisscrossed the continent before taking a boat from Portugal to Marrakesh. They were coming home for a couple of years for Vivian’s second child’s birth, which was due around the same time as Becky and Carson’s fourth. So far, there were Becky’s two boys and a girl. Vivian and Jay’s first child was a girl. Becky and Carson lost their first baby, a boy, but they managed to love each other through difficult times. As a couple, they had many qualities but persevering through the bad times stood out. Vera and Simon were due in Salinas any day.
Carson flipped off the lights and pulled shut the pocket doors, which separated the new and old buildings. He walked into the original section of The Reader’s Room. It was the part destroyed by Uncle Nelson with the help of Dennis Cleary. Those two menaces did time behind bars and got out only to commit more crimes. For those, they were sent to prison in California. They attempted to pull off a scheme at the bank, which neither of them was smart enough to achieve. The officers at the bank and law enforcement knew of their connection to Carson, so they sought his help in setting up their sting operation. It helped get his pesky loans paid off, and now he owned the bookstore and his house on the hill outright.
Before heading home to Becky and the girls, Carson had to clip an article from the San Francisco Examiner. They recently reviewed The Reader’s Room and declared it one of the best bookstores in California. They wrote, “It was a splendid place to spend a rainy day or even a sunny one. The atmosphere was magical and made one want to read books.” The reviews would be posted on the wall behind the register.
“Excuse me,” Carson said to a man with shaggy grey hair who was perusing the Mark Twain display put together by Mary Koppel. “We’re closed.”
“The door was open, and this was on my list of places to visit,” he said while his back was still facing Carson. “Nothing like a good bookstore when I’m away from home.”
The man turned around, and Carson had seen him before. He had seen him on the back of books and the pages of magazines. Wearing a black derby and a grey vest, Mark Twain himself stood before him. He was a giant of literature and one of his favorite authors. His copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was tattered from being read so many times. If the baby in Becky’s belly was a boy, he planned to name him Huck.
Mr. Twain turned, winked, and walked out the door. Carson could not get even one word out and would have run after him, but he couldn’t move his feet. Carson turned out the lights, locked the door, and raced home on his horse. Carson had never met anyone famous and couldn’t wait to share the news with the family.
Carson saw Becky sitting with Vivian on the front porch swing; both looked ready to give birth any day. Maureen crawled to her father while Harry and Verlene ran.
“Becky, darling. We just had someone famous in The Reader’s Room. I saw him with my own eyes, and he winked at me,” Carson said as he scooped up Maureen and tossed her in the air.
The baby cried with laughter as Becky gasped and shook her finger at Carson. She hated when he played that way with the children.
“Are you going to tell me who this famous person was?” Becky called back.
“Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens if you prefer. You know, the author,” Carson announced excitedly. “Can you believe it?
“Whatever you say, sweetheart. It’s a good thing it’s Saturday, and you have tomorrow off because I think you need the rest,” Becky commented.
She went into the house, which was lovely because the dogwoods and lilac trees were in bloom. Everything smelled fresh as the laundered sheets swayed in the wind. A table was set out on the back lawn with places for Vera and Simon in the hopes they would arrive. They had been setting places for them for a week because they didn’t keep a strict schedule. They knew the Founder’s Day parade was the following day, and it would be a special one. They had automobiles that came down from San Francisco for the first time.
Harry started jumping up and down. Here comes a wagon, and I just know it’s Grannie and Grandpa.
Vera’s blue-grey eyes shined, and they both looked tan and relaxed. The lines on her face were soft, and she didn’t look her fifty-six years because she was happy. Simon treated her like a queen, and together, they wanted for nothing.
“We’ve settled back into Simon’s old house, which is only a mile away, and we’ll be here every day. Travel has been blissful for ten years, but we’re ready to enjoy family.” She touched Simon’s hand and smiled.
“Catch us up on what the four of you have been doing,” Simon eagerly requested.
“What about us. Children are more interesting if you ask me,” Harry bellowed.
“I know you’re more interesting,” Simon agreed. “I want to get the grown-ups out of the way first.”
Becky started. Her green eyes shined brighter when she was carrying a child, and Carson said she was meant to be pregnant. He wanted at least ten children, and Becky just rolled her eyes.
“Most recently, I’ve been up to this.” She pointed down at her swollen belly. “I can’t believe I ever managed to work while I had little ones. It wasn’t as a teacher, but a helper, and I mainly just helped children with reading. Fern did most of the day-to-day work, and I had the babies with me. I’ve been trying to keep up with this beautiful house and my wonderfully active children.” Her tone turned solemn. “My father died, and that was difficult for everyone but mostly for my mother. She lives with Lydia and her husband in Saxton.”
“Do you still visit the school because I know how much that meant to you?” Vera asked.
“Until the last couple of months, I tried to go once a week. I give private lessons to a few students in need. Their mamas bring them here.”
“I know what you’ve been up to,” Vera said to Viviane. “You are so good with correspondence. Have you decided to give up teaching when the second baby comes along?”
“Yes, and as I told you, I’m going to concentrate on my writing when I have the time. While in college, I did a lot of writing and realized that’s what I’m best at.”
Jay wasn’t at dinner because when Wallace Bellingham retired as mayor of Salinas, Jay Keneally ran for the position. He won by almost unanimous consent, and the job kept him very busy. He delivered on his promise to Carson that he would always remain deeply devoted to Vivian.
“We read the article in the paper about The Reader’s Room. I’m sure that’s taking all your time when you’re not home chasing your nippers,” Simon commented.
“I can’t believe I haven’t told you yet. I saw Mark Twain at the bookstore today!” Carson announced with pride.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Vera said. “You always had the most active imagination. I think you got it from your Aunt Julia, who, by the way, will be at the Founder’s Day parade tomorrow.”
“Mother, that was when I was a child. It was him, and he even winked at me. Doesn’t anyone believe me?”
Laughter erupted, and the children joined in too.
“Carson, a man like that would never have reason to come to a town like Salinas,” Becky said sympathetically.
Verlene and Vera cleared the table because Becky and Vivian were unable to move much in their condition. Carson grasped Becky’s hand as they both looked at the family they created and smiled. The tulip tree was the place Carson read a poem to her for the first time, and now it was a nightly tradition. Most nights he read the same Elizabeth Barret Browning poem because she was never tired of it. He had it committed to memory by the time they were married a year.
Carson believed Becky was the one that gave him the life he had. Not only did she give him love, family, and friendship, but she gave him the ability to read. The written word changed the way he thought and the way he looked at the world. He was confident because he could read and made it a point to reach out to others who were afraid to ask for help.
After dinner and dessert, it was just Vera and Carson at the table.
“This would have just been a house without you, Mom. You made it a home despite your struggles with my father.”
“I don’t remember the struggles so much anymore because I see you, Vivian, Jay, Becky, and the grandchildren. We did something right. This house had bad times, but better times were all that mattered. Now we have those to build on, and who knows what celebrations will be had on this lawn in the future.”
“My daughters might someday be married in this very spot where Becky and I said our vows ten years ago. Speaking of my daughter and Harry. I have to get them tucked in because we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”
Carson walked in the back door and found Becky sitting on the couch, having already tucked in the girls. Vivian was staying the night and went to bed with her girl Lucy.
“I’m so proud of you,” Becky said to Carson as he snuggled up next to her.
“Why are you proud of me? You’re the one with a human life growing inside of you,” he pointed out.
“Look at what you created? You came back here after seven years in exile, and you inherited a mountain of debt. Your livelihood was destroyed when your uncle tried to knock you down, but you got back up more than once. Now you have a growing family that you shepherded to where it is today.”
“Don’t forget learning to read and write along the way,” Carson joked.
“I’m serious; you did this.” Becky leaned over and kissed him.
“Nothing is ever done alone; we did this.”
“I love you, Mr. Lattimer.”
“I love you, Mrs. Lattimer.”
The house was chaotic the next morning because first, they would attend Sunday services at church and then the parade. Since their wedding, Becky and Carson hadn’t missed a single Sunday sermon delivered by Pastor Krinckle. Carson started attending to please Becky, but it had become one of his favorite times of the week.
Becky wasn’t able to do everything she normally did because of her condition, so Carson helped Vera get the children dressed.
He got the children in the wagon and went in to fetch Becky.
She was standing in a puddle with Vera standing behind her.
“I won’t be going to the parade. Vera has been aching to bring one of her grandbabies into the world. Looks like baby number four will be attending his first Founder’s Day Parade next year.
Carson got the children to church, and when they got home, their brother Hank was born.