Not all weddings happen in June

(This blog first appeared this June in Janet Rudolph’s Mystery Fanfare blog.)


Ours did.  Fresh out of college, my birthday a week earlier the only thing keeping me from being a child bride, I married the man I’m still married to many years and two sons later.


But when I was ready to marry off Joan Spencer’s daughter in Her Brother’s Keeper, it was December in their lives.  And I’d never had a daughter, much less married one off.  So I had to wing it.

My first attempt, written years ago, was a flop.  Once I got over the shock, I had to agree with the editor who’d turned it down.  I no longer have the manuscript or even the vaguest memory of the plot.  The next two books in the series were published, but they left poor Rebecca waiting her turn while her mother married Fred Lundquist, the cop she met way back in the first book.  Now, in book seven, (fortunately, characters don’t have to age as fast as writers), Rebecca’s finally marrying Bruce Graham, the violinist to whom she announced her engagement in book four, The Vanishing Violinist.  What can possibly go wrong?

A December wedding means Joan can put up family members in the bed-and-breakfast usually filled by the Oliver College football crowd.  But Rebecca’s worried that her family will be seriously outnumbered by the groom’s.  At her urging, Joan invites the brother she’s hardly heard from for many years.

The trouble starts when he accepts.  Joan, who never expected him to come, is flummoxed.  Nothing to do but warn Ellen Putnam, who runs the b&b in her home.

“I came to throw myself on your mercy.”

Ellen waited.

Why was this so hard?  “It’s my brother,” Joan said.


“He’s decided to come to the wedding.  He wants to stay with us, but he just can’t, not with Rebecca in the one spare room I have.”

“We still have space.”

“But you don’t want Dave Zimmerman!”

“What is he, an ax murderer?”  Ellen’s dimples showed.

Joan suddenly felt silly.  “Not that bad.  At least, not that I’ve ever heard.  And maybe he’s matured.  But when he was still living at home, he got into one scrape after another.  Underage drinking, pot, reckless driving, gambling, even got picked up once for shoplifting.  I’m sure I didn’t hear all of it–I was younger, probably too young to tell.  But sometimes I heard my parents talking when they thought I wasn’t listening.  I haven’t seen him for years.  I don’t know what kind of thing he’d pull now, but I wouldn’t want to cause you any trouble.”

“Don’t give it a thought, Joan.  He can’t be any worse than some of the people who stay here.  I didn’t repaint the walls because I changed my mind about the color, you know.  You should have seen the stuff the last bunch threw at them.”

So Joan lets herself relax, and Dave shows up.  He comes a week early and turns out to have been in prison, which he confesses immediately.  He’s also enough of a ladies man to charm the grouchy conductor of the Oliver Civic Symphony, not to mention the old ladies at the senior citizens center that is Joan’s day job.  Still leery about what he might do, she begins to remember the sweet big-brother things he did when she was small and he was in high school.

Even before Dave arrives, Rebecca’s mother-in-law-to-be barges in on Joan at the senior center.  Joan enjoys Fred’s mother.  Helga Lundquist’s mind may be failing badly, but her heart is in the right place.  Elizabeth Graham is focused only on herself.  She tries to run everything about the wedding–never mind what the couple themselves want–and looks down her nose at anything this small Indiana college town might provide.

“It is difficult, when we’re all so spread out,” Joan said as sympathetically as she could manage.  “And Bruce and Rebecca have such definite ideas.”  Thank goodness.

“They certainly do,” Elizabeth said.  “But they don’t know what they’re doing.  You and I have to set them straight.”

She lays out her ideas for a wedding far beyond Joan’s means, but says Bruce and Rebecca won’t even let her check on the availability of the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis.

“Well.”  Joan’s admiration for Bruce rose another couple of notches.  Whatever Rebecca faced in dealing with this woman, her husband would stand up to his mother.

“They want to have the ceremony and the reception all in that church.  Can you imagine–a wedding reception in the church basement?  Nothing but wedding cake and little sandwiches, they said.  You can’t treat people like that!”

Joan smiled, remembering that she and Fred not only had treated their guests like that, but that those very guests had decorated the room and baked the wedding cake as a surprise gift.

Elizabeth wasn’t in my first try at writing the wedding book.  Bruce had some namby pamby mother I’ve managed to forget.  Now that I’ve met his real mother, I’m so grateful to her for showing up.  Joan stands up on her own hind legs, and the conflict continues till the end of the book.

In the middle of the wedding rehearsal, Fred gets a call about his mother and has to leave.  (Elizabeth finds that unforgivable, of course.)  It turns out that Helga, in town for the wedding, is on the scene of a bloody murder. Worse yet, she’s holding the bloody murder weapon.  And we’re off and running.


Not Gonna Be a Wimp!

Losing independence is tough stuff. It can happen to the best of us at any stage of life, and we fight it. I half-remember a cartoon in which I think Linus (or was it Sally Brown?) said, “I can tie my own” (looks down) “two shoes!”

Well, right now I can’t. But hey, it’s way better than a couple of months ago when I couldn’t wash my own face.

That was after surgery on my left hand to get back some pain-free functioning in three fingers that couldn’t hold a book or knit a mitten without cramping. But you have to give some up to get some back. For more than a month, I showered with a plastic bag over the cast, and I paid helpers to bathe and dress me. I’d had plenty of time to plan ahead–I borrowed bigger shirts and sweaters from my sister to make it easier to pull clothes on over the plaster and then the fiberglass cast, and I baked bread, cooked soup and meat, and froze good things to eat.

Little by little, I got bits of my life back. After several weeks of therapy, I’m not done yet, but I can do many of the things I could before.

Like type. Last spring I blogged here about “Persevering with the Dragon,” and by this year I knew that voice-recognition software well enough to dictate all my writing for a couple of months. I even did mailing labels for the postcards I sent out to announce my new mystery, and other kinds of labels for the postcards I’m using as handouts for the library book signing and sending to mystery conferences.

BrothersKeeper cover for blogAnd I sent a longish email to people I thought might possibly give a hoot about Her Brother’s Keeper or the ebooks that are now all up on my website. Dragon NaturallySpeaking wrote that email and the many I sent every week for a volunteer job, but while still wrestling my cut-and-pasted tendons back into usefulness, I’m actually typing this blog.

I’m bragging, both ways.

I’ve kneaded my first batch of bread but still can’t tie my shoes. Or pull up the fiercely tight compression hose I’ve needed for years. I’m told now that pulling up my knee socks may be what damaged the tendons in the first place. But after training a bunch of women helpers to do that time-gobbling job, I’ve taught my husband how, and taught myself just barely enough patience to see us both through the frustrating process. Pulling up socks and tying shoes aren’t enough to justify hiring expensive help. Not easy, but I can do this if he can. Not gonna be a wimp.

* * * * *

Fast forward a few weeks. Another batch of sourdough oatmeal bread is rising in my old wooden bowl–good wrist therapy, that. My hand is getting stronger, and I now finally have a new plastic sock aid (the kind I’d tried before was useless) that works well enough to help me get the darned things on in a couple of tries. Not if you follow the written directions, mind you, but with some common sense, it’s possible. And I’m stubborn enough. The good news is that it should help prevent future damage to the just-healing tendons and my other ones, too. And my husband’s.

I hope that hand soon will be better than before the surgery. That was the whole idea. Bluntly, it’s a whole lot harder to exercise the patience than the hand. I knew that ahead of time–that’s why I hired the helpers. It’s easier not to grouch at a stranger than someone close to you. And if I slipped up, the hired helper wouldn’t have to put up with me for long. The plastic puller-upper I’m using from now on can’t even hear what I mutter if the socks go on crooked and I have to start over to keep them from pinching my feet.

Going through this kind of thing reminds you that only lucky people get to hang onto their independence their whole lives. Most of us will have to give up bigger or smaller chunks of it at some point. Not easy to do. Hard even to think about.

So I’m working on it. Toughing out pain is one thing. Losing abilities can be harder, except for the unrelenting kind of pain we all hope to be spared. Losing all choice is hardest of all. You can plan ahead and control your life only so far. After that, you have to hope the people who start making your choices will leave you enough of them that you won’t mind needing to have your face and other spots washed, and things done their way that you’d rather do your way. And that they’ll guess right what matters to you if they have to guess. Even advance-care directives can’t spell out everything.

I can practice not taking choices away from other people myself. The bossy know-it-all in me is doing better about back-seat driving, and not just in the car. Not easy. But I’m not gonna be a wimp.

And for now, at least, I can tie my own two shoes again.