Over the years, Olivia had given a number of speeches. She tended to shy away from accepting these engagements, but in her position as an elected official, they were unavoidable. This was the first time she’d been asked to speak at the HenryM.JacksonSeniorCenter, and she was admittedly nervous.
The senior potluck luncheons were held on the first Monday of each month. Last June, Mary Berger had asked Olivia to be the January speaker. Six months had never passed so quickly. Olivia had dutifully written the appointment in her date book and then promptly forgotten all about it. Not until she opened her appointment book for the New Year did the reminder jump out at her.
Naturally, her mother was excited about having “my daughter, the judge,” come and speak to her friends. Knowing Charlotte, she’d gloat for a month. Olivia appreciated her mother’s support, but found her pride excessive and a little embarrassing. Charlotte took every opportunity to tell friends and strangers alike that her only daughter was a judge; worse, she was prone to detailing Olivia’s various judgments, complete with commentaries of her own.
As Olivia dressed for the luncheon, she paused, standing inside her walk-in closet, and frowned as she thought about her mother. Charlotte had overdone it this holiday season, baking for friends, visiting and supervising events at the SeniorCenter, writing the seniors’ column each week.
By Christmas Day, Charlotte was exhausted. It used to be that nothing slowed her down. For the first time, Olivia realized that her mother’s age had caught up with her. Charlotte just wasn’t her usual self, although she valiantly tried to hide how worn-out she was.
Christmas afternoon, when the family gathered at her mother’s house, Charlotte had looked pale and drawn. As soon as they’d finished dinner, Olivia insisted she rest. Charlotte had, of course, resisted. Olivia wondered how she was going to convince her mother to take on fewer commitments in the new year.
Choosing a soft suede dress in a pale tan color with a brown and gold scarf, Olivia arrived at the SeniorCenter a few minutes early. Charlotte and her best friend, Laura, were at the door waiting for her. Beaming with pride, her mother immediately hugged Olivia as though it’d been months—rather than a few days—since they were last together.
“You remember Laura, don’t you?” her mother asked unnecessarily, drawing Olivia into the large room, which was set up with tables seating eight, a buffet area and a slightly raised stage that held the speaker’s podium plus the head table.
“Of course I do,” Olivia said, smiling warmly at her mother’s knitting friend. Charlotte and Laura were the people responsible for inspiring the thriving seniors’ knitting group. The enthusiastic Laura was an accomplished knitter and Olivia had always suspected she could convince the whole world that peace was a possibility if everyone took up knitting needles instead of guns.
“I’m so pleased you could accept our invitation,” Mary Berger, the center’s social director, said as she approached Olivia. “We’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say.”
Olivia smiled blandly. She was nervous already and hoped she could pull this off without stumbling over her notes and humiliating herself—and her mother—in the process.
“Did you want our guest of honor to sit with you?” Mary asked Charlotte. She leaned close to Olivia and said in a low voice, “Your mother tends to want speakers she knows to sit with her and her friends instead of at the head table.”
Olivia recalled that Jack Griffin had spoken to the seniors last year, and apparently her mother had captured him for herself. She’d paid the price, however, when Jack had convinced Charlotte to contribute to the weekly Seniors’ Page for The Cedar Cove Chronicle.
“Mom? Would you like me to sit with you and Laura and the others?” Olivia asked.
Charlotte stiffened and her chin came up as though the question offended her. “I think you should be at the head table.”
“I do, too,” Mary said primly. With that, she turned and walked smartly in the direction of the stage. Olivia was about to follow when Charlotte caught her by the arm.
“Get your dessert early,” she said in a loud whisper.
“If you don’t get it right away, everything’ll be gone by the time we line up for the buffet. So we help ourselves to dessert first. That’s just the way we do things here. I don’t approve, mind you, but no one cares what I think about it.”
“All right, Mom,” she whispered back.
Mary showed her to her seat at the head table, and Olivia reached for her dessert plate as instructed by her mother. The food tables offered a variety that was truly impressive. She chose a piece of lemon sponge cake and returned to her seat just as Mary was about to say a few words of welcome. The social director of the SeniorCenter made a small huffy sound as Charlotte walked past.
“Your mother might not approve of the practice, but it doesn’t stop her from indulging, does it?” Mary said, leaning down from the podium.
“She knows that if she doesn’t get her dessert beforehand, there won’t be anything left,” Olivia said calmly, setting her piece of lemon sponge cake next to her empty plate.
Olivia tried not to smile. In many ways, her mother was a rebel, but a much-loved one. There were days Charlotte drove her crazy, yet at the same time Olivia deeply admired her. Charlotte was fully involved in life; she engaged in plenty of creative activities and had a genuine commitment to the welfare of others. Twenty-five years from now, Olivia hoped to be just like her. The fact that the indefatigable Charlotte seemed to be losing energy distressed everyone in the family, and Olivia resolved to talk to her about seeing the doctor.
As the seniors closest to the wall left their tables to form a long line at the buffet table, Olivia saw Justine and Seth at the back of the room. Her daughter and son-in-law had come to hear her speech. Charlotte got to the newlyweds first, and quickly escorted them to her table. Olivia watched as her mother introduced the young couple to her friends, who were obviously enchanted, especially by Seth. Soon space was cleared next to Charlotte, and they both sat down. Laura urged Seth to his feet a moment later, escorting him to the buffet table to fill plates for himself and his wife.
Justine and Seth weren’t the only surprise visitors. Olivia saw Jack slip into the back of the room just as she stepped up to the podium to give her talk. Pausing when she noticed him, she was encouraged by his broad smile and his wink. Smiling too, she launched into her speech—which was about the creativity of older people and how much they contributed to society.
Afterward, Olivia couldn’t remember a word of it, but apparently she’d made sense because there was a nice, appreciative round of applause when she finished. Mary announced that Bob Beldon, the proprietor of the Thyme and Tide B and B, would be the February speaker, made a few other “housekeeping” announcements, and the meeting was over. To Olivia’s astonishment, a small crowd swarmed toward the head table to thank her for coming.
Charlotte hurried around the table and stood next to Olivia, clutching her arm, telling anyone and everyone that Olivia was her daughter—as if this was news! Mary had announced the fact earlier, but apparently that didn’t satisfy her mother.
Justine and Seth waited until her admirers had drifted off. “You sounded really good, Mom,” Justine said. “I understand why Grandma’s so proud of you.”
This was quite a compliment coming from her daughter. For a moment, Olivia was too overwhelmed to speak. Her relationship with Justine wasn’t always easy, although God knew she tried. The most difficult aspect of being a parent to an adult child was holding one’s tongue, she’d discovered. “It was wonderful of you and Seth to be here.”
Seth, her son-in-law, stood a head taller than everyone else in the room. “Great job, Olivia,” he said with a respectful nod.
“We came by to ask you to dinner tonight,” Justine told her, “And I’m cooking.”
This was the first invitation she’d received from her daughter, and Olivia didn’t know quite what to make of it. “Thank you. I’d enjoy that.” Then, because she thought—and hoped—there might be more to this invitation than met the eye, she asked, “Any special reason?”
Seth chuckled. “Don’t worry, we aren’t going to ask for a loan or anything.”
“Trust me, I’m not worried. Just…curious.” She was thrilled to see her daughter this happy. Justine looked more at peace with herself than she had in years, and it was clear to Olivia that this marriage had brought her daughter contentment. She didn’t know what had happened to Warren Saget, but he was apparently out of her life. That certainly didn’t hurt Olivia’s feelings any.
“Then you’ll come?”
As Charlotte escorted her to the door, she said, “Laura and I are going to take a trip out to the Silverdale yarn store this afternoon.” Charlotte needed more yarn about as much as the desert needed more sand, but Olivia didn’t say so. If buying yarn of every weight and color made her mother happy, Olivia could only approve.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” Jack said, coming up behind her. “Hello, Charlotte.” He kissed Olivia’s mother on the cheek, then placed his arm around Olivia’s shoulders. “Excellent speech. I took lots of notes.”
“Jack!” she cried. “You’re not going to put anything about this in the paper, are you?”
“Sure I am.”
“No, you’re not,” Charlotte said sternly, shocking them both. “I am. Olivia is my daughter and I write the Seniors’ Page. She spoke at the SeniorCenter, so don’t traipse on my territory. I don’t care if you are the editor, this story is mine.”
“Okay, okay.” Jack raised both hands in mock surrender, but his eyes were twinkling.
Jack kept his arm around her shoulder as they walked outside. “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?”
“Yes, it was,” Olivia said, “but I survived.”
Jack checked his watch and grimaced. “I’m late to report on a City Council meeting. I’ll call you, okay?”
“Yes, please do.”
He kissed her and it was more than just a short kiss of farewell. He was saying he missed her, missed their Tuesday-night dinner dates. She told him she did, too. Amazing how much a single kiss could say.
They parted, and Jack reluctantly turned and hurried across the street to his battered car. Olivia hated to see him go. Sighing, she returned to the courthouse for her afternoon session.
By that evening, as she drove to Justine and Seth’s apartment, Olivia had begun to wonder again about the reason for this unexpected invitation. Would there be an announcement?
Her daughter answered the door, looking so radiantly happy that it was all Olivia could do not to stare. She’d only been to the apartment one previous time, when it’d been filled with gifts from the wedding reception and boxes were scattered every which way. Her daughter had done a wonderful job of incorporating Seth’s things into her utterly feminine home, making it his home, too.