Friday, April 20, 2012

Best Laid Plans

Isaac Nichols was approaching 70. He had worked hard all his life. At the age of 20, he married his childhood sweetheart, Maude Jenkins and that same year, thanks to Maude's dowry, opened Nichols' Corner Market. For almost 50 years Nichols had been providing the residents of Camden Corners with the finest produce, dairy products, meats, poultry and advice thanks to Isaac and Maude.
The years were happy ones. The Nichols loved their market and took pride in their establishment. Lately though, Isaac noticed his back became sore by the end of the day and Maude didn't have that twinkle in her eye that used to make his heart sing. If only they had been blessed with children, it would be time to pass the torch to the next generation. Isaac's brother Ivan moved to Greensboro many years before. Ivan's son, Oliver just graduated that spring. Isaac and Maude attended his graduation and were so very proud of their nephew. Maude remarked that if they'd had a son she would have wanted him to be just like Oliver. Isaac thought it was worth a try to persuade Oliver to take over the store until they were able to find a buyer for it. Isaac knew he would never sell to just anyone and maybe, just maybe, Oliver would become the new proprietor of Nichols.
Isaac and Maude had never had a vacation. The market was only closed on Sundays and holidays. Isaac liked to stay close by in case any of the townsfolk needed a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk during the evening or on Sunday afternoon. If Oliver was willing to take over the store within the next few weeks he could be there to guide him and after a reasonable time he would surprise Maude with a trip to New York City. Maude always wanted to visit New York and loved to listen to Maddie Mackenzie regale her with tales of her time in the big city with all the Broadway shows and beautiful shops. Yes, he would send Oliver a wire today inviting him to come for a visit.
Oliver loved his Uncle Isaac but could see right through his invitation. Maybe he would help the old folks for a little while but he wasn't in the market for a job, especially one that would keep him tied down for the rest of his life. No, Oliver had plans. He was going to do some traveling. He had made up his mind that he would go to California where the winters were warm and people grew oranges on trees in their back yards. He packed a few of his belongings and was on the next train to Camden Corners. The sooner he got started at the market, the sooner Uncle Isaac would find a buyer and Oliver would be off to California. He didn't bother to pack a winter coat or hat or gloves. He wouldn't need them come December because he would be basking in the sunshine and enjoying a fresh picked orange or maybe a little wine made with California grapes.
“Yes, life was going to be good.”
Cassie Lambert was toiling in the kitchen of the small house on Fern Street where she and her three younger brothers had been born. Three years earlier Cassie and the boys had lost their parents in a tragic accident. Cassie had just turned 18 and the last words she heard her mother utter were to take care of the boys. Cassie promised she would and kept that promise. After some failed attempts at cooking and with the help of the ladies of Camden Corners she had become an excellent cook. The boys were all well fed and content even though each of the children missed their Mama and Papa every day of their young lives. Cassie never complained that she had given up her dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Before the accident, Cassie had applied and been accepted for an internship at the House of Clarice in New York City.
Cassie was determined her three teenaged brothers would grow into fine men that both Mama and Papa would be proud of. She worked with them every night on their school work, made sure they were clean and presentable every day and loved them all very much. Cassie's devotion paid off, Raymond, Eddy and Fredrick were three of the nicest young men in Camden Corners.
Cassie was willing to wait until her brothers were settled in their lives and then she would find a way to fulfill her dream. Her ultimate goal was to go to Paris, France and join one of the famous fashion houses there. She never even considered the possibility of marrying and having children. She did love taking care of her brothers but she wanted to explore the world and experience life away from Camden Corners. Cassie did enjoy designing and creating children's clothes. With all of the children of various sizes in Camden Corners, she was kept busy with her sewing. Maude Nichols loved Cassie's work and offered to give her some space in the market to display her clothing. The Nichols were very fond of Cassie and admired how she had taken charge after the Lamberts passed away. Cassie never charged very much for the beautiful outfits she sold but it was enough to build a savings for her someday trip to Paris.
Oliver arrived in Camden Corners and Isaac began showing him all the ins and outs of running a general store. Isaac noticed Oliver seemed to be a natural for taking over for him. He had no idea Oliver was counting the days until he would be boarding the train for his trip out west.
Cassie stopped in the shop with an armload of children's outfits. Isaac introduced her to Oliver. They both felt an attraction to the other but neither wanted any kind of a relationship so they ignored those feelings. Oliver thought it was strange that there would be a section in the store to display children's clothing. He didn't voice his doubts since someone else would be taking over proprietorship of the market and it would be their problem.
No sooner had Cassie placed her latest creations on the display table when three women walked in the store and started oohing and aahing over them. Oliver couldn't believe they purchased several outfits each and were tempted to buy more but felt they should leave something for the other women. Oliver knew nothing about fashion and especially children's fashion but upon looking over the tiny outfits, he knew they were beautifully made. He was impressed with Cassie's skill. She blushed at his praise. Isaac and Maude smiled at each other. Those two young people were a perfect match for each other. It would just take some time for them to discover it themselves.
Oliver was in his second month in Camden Corners. He was happy to be able to help Uncle Isaac out but he was anxious to start his adventure. He sat at Isaac's kitchen table and told him he would be leaving soon.
Isaac was afraid this day would come and had to accept the fact that Oliver wouldn't be taking over Nichols Market. He did have a backup plan. He knew the Lambert boys were very responsible and Cassie had often helped them in the store as payment for displaying her goods. He wondered if the Lamberts would be agreeable to running the store while he and Maude were away. After the vacation, he would begin looking for someone to take over permanently.
The Lamberts were more than willing to work in the store. The extra money would be a big help with their college savings fund.
Cassie was delighted that the Nichols would be taking a vacation and was excited that Maude would finally see New York City. Cassie wished she could go along with them, but her day would come and maybe sooner than she'd planned with all the boys working in the store.
Just as the leaves were beginning to turn in early autumn, Isaac and Maude boarded the train for New York City. Cassie designed several outfits for Maude and surprised her with them on the day Isaac told her where she was going. The twinkle was back in her eyes and Isaac was as proud to be with her as he was that day 50 years ago when she was his new bride.
Oliver didn't want to admit it but he was touched by Cassie's generosity. He wondered silently if she would be willing to consider a move to California one day.
A few days later, Oliver was on the train headed west. He had planned for this day for as long as he could remember but he wasn't filled with happy anticipation. He and Cassie had spent more time together than he realized and he was missing her smiling face.
California was even more beautiful than Oliver imagined. He found a small room to rent just outside of Los Angeles. The room was clean and the neighborhood was quiet but there weren't any oranges growing in the backyard. There wasn't even a backyard. He was miles away from any vineyards and the only wine he found to sip was at the local tavern where it was dark and gloomy. He thought of O'Sullivan's in Camden Corners where he could always find someone to talk to and the light was always bright even on a cloudy day.
Oliver found that his college degree wasn't doing him much good without experience anyplace except his uncle's store. He was used to being able to walk anywhere in town but Los Angeles was much bigger and everything was much farther away. He was offered a job at Sherman's Market just a block from where he lived and thought he'd accept it until he found something else. Oliver's attempts to have friendly conversations with customers went nowhere. He missed the friendly people in Camden Corners and he found himself missing Cassie more than he thought possible. He had to admit that he had made a big mistake in coming to California. He was just a small town fellow at heart. It didn't take long before he was on the train headed east to Camden Corners.
Cassie was deep in conversation with Diana Taylor when she looked up and saw Oliver walking through the door. Her eyes lit up and she smiled so broadly she thought her cheeks would crack. Oliver held his breath. He had forgotten how lovely Cassie was. Diana greeted Oliver and left the store anxious to spread the word that Oliver was home again and by the smile on his and Cassie's faces, it looked like he was home to stay.
Oliver could no longer keep his feelings to himself. He loved Cassie and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her right here in Camden Corners. He drew her into his arms and from that moment on Cassie and Oliver knew they would always be together.
Two smiling faces peeked around the corner. Isaac had the papers all ready for Oliver to sign. He and Maude had a lovely time in New York but they were home to stay now. They purchased a small cabin by the lake and pictured many happy weekends with Oliver, Cassie, the Lambert boys and a bunch of grandnieces and nephews that would surely come along.
Cassie still held on to her dream of Paris but life had taken a different turn and she found she enjoyed being her own designer. They were married before the last autumn leaf fell off the maple tree in the front yard of the Lambert home.
Oliver had a Christmas surprise for Cassie. A trip to Paris, France in the spring where they would celebrate their belated honeymoon. Cassie had a surprise of her own. Paris would have to wait at least 18 years. There was much to celebrate that Christmas for the Nichols and Lamberts. Isaac built a cradle for the new baby and Maude lovingly made a little quilt. The Lambert boys were already planning to teach their little niece or nephew how to fish.
Oliver's parents visited from Greensboro and loved Cassie and her brothers as much as Oliver did. The snow was falling in Camden Corners. Oliver and Cassie stepped outside to watch the flakes spill from the sky. Oliver loved the feel of winter with his arms around his wife and couldn't remember why he thought he would be happy living in a place without snow.

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