MARY HASTINGS Part One

Mary Hastings pulled off the highway and stopped to check her dad’s mailbox before heading up the drive to the house. He’d been dead two weeks, but he was still getting mail. Even her mother, who’d died two years before, received an occasional piece of junk mail. Sure enough the mailbox was full, and none of it was for Mary. Laying the stack of mostly advertisements on the passenger’s seat, she closed her door and drove on.

As she continued up the orange tree-lined road to the house, now hers, she felt a warmth which made her smile, even after thirty years. She had grown up among these groves, swum in the lake, learned to drive dodging around citrus trees, received her first kiss by the water tower, enjoyed birthdays and holidays with her friends and a loving family. But she also felt a sadness. Her parents, her grandparents, her brother, Will, killed in Vietnam, were all gone, all now buried along with her great grandparents in the little family cemetery on the north side of the lake. Only she and her younger brother, Travis, remained.

She was thankful that the place had remained in the Hastings family. Mary had chosen to go off to college up north. At the time she wanted to get away from this place, this backward way of life, this boring little town of Lake Wales where nothing ever happened. The big excitement was a Friday night high school football game or a Saturday night movie. So she had elected to attend the University of Virginia, one of the biggest party schools in the country, and the home, more or less, of Edgar Allen Poe. She wasn’t a big party girl, but UVA did sound exciting, and academic standards there were high.

But that was a long time ago. She had majored in English Literature and had gone on to get her PhD. A series of teaching jobs at several universities followed, and suddenly it was thirty years later. Mary retired when her dad died, and now she was coming home for good.

In the meantime Travis had remained in Lake Wales and had taken over managing the groves just as his father, his grandfather, and his great grandfather had done. And he had harbored no ill feelings toward his sister because she’d chosen to do other things. As far as Travis was concerned, he’d always said, “No problem, Sis. When you get ready to retire, come on back. There’ll always be a place for you.”

In fact, there was. Travis and their father made sure that Mary was taken care of. At Travis’s request, their dad had willed her the family house and the adjacent five acres on the lake. The property was beautiful, covered with old live oaks, a well-maintained beach, and a large pavilion for family gatherings and parties. And the house. The two-story house was too large for Mary, five bedrooms, an expansive kitchen and adjoining dining room, and a wide, screened porch surrounding all four sides, but she loved it.

Approaching the house and seeing no cars there, she drove on to the family cemetery above the lake. It was a pristine spot. Her dad and grandfather had wisely kept the trees around the shoreline, so that anywhere a person might sit, he would feel the tranquility that only a forest and a lake can provide. The cemetery sat back several yards off the water on high ground. Enclosed by a filigreed wrought-iron fence, it was spacious, large enough to hold many more graves. Mary walked to her parents’ resting places and bent down to pat the fresh mound of earth covering her father.

Will was buried on the other side of her mother. Mary smiled down at Will’s grave and sighed. Even after forty-five years, she pictured him in minute detail, his brown eyes, strong jaw, his big grin, even the cow lick on the crown of his head. She had idolized her big brother. He’d taught her how to drive, how to smoke, how to drink, how to fend off unwanted attentions from the boys. When she was a girl he was always there to protect her. She loved her little brother, Travis, but Will was her hero. He’d been such a terrific young man. What a waste.

Does anyone like my stories or am I whistling in the wind? Let me know what you think. I’d appreciate it.

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