By: Julie Garwood

For Mary K. Wahlstedt Murphy, my sister and my friend.

With your steady strength, your quiet grace,

and your wonderful sense of humor,

you make the world a better place.



Fortunately her mother, Jilly, left for parts unknown just three days after Avery was born.

Avery was raised by her grandmother Lola and her aunt Carrie. The three generations of females lived quietly and modestly in a two-story frame house on Barnett Street just two blocks from the city square in Sheldon Beach, Florida. The atmosphere on Barnett Street was vastly different after Jilly left home. The household, which had once been in a constant uproar, was now peaceful. Carrie even learned to laugh again, and for five wonderful years, life was very nearly idyllic.

The previous years with Jilly had taken their toll on Grandma Lola, however. She hadn’t become a mother until she was almost old enough to begin the change of life, and she was an old, tired woman now. The day Avery turned five, Lola began having chest pains. She could barely get the icing on the child’s birthday cake without having to sit down and rest a spell.

Lola didn’t tell anyone about her problem, and she didn’t see her regular doctor in Sheldon Beach because she didn’t trust him to keep quiet about his findings. He might just take it upon himself to tell Carrie about her illness. She made an appointment with a cardiologist in Savannah and drove all the way there to see him. After giving her a complete physical, his diagnosis was grim. He prescribed medication that would ease the pain and help her heart, told her she had to slow down, and also, as gently as he could, suggested that she get her affairs in order.

Lola disregarded his advice. What did that quack of a doctor know about anything? She may have one foot in the grave but, by God, she was going to keep the other firmly planted on the ground. She had a granddaughter to raise, and she wasn’t going anywhere until she got the job done.

Lola was an expert at pretending everything was fine. She’d perfected the art during the turbulent years trying to control Jilly. By the time she got home from Savannah, she had convinced herself that she was as healthy as an ox.

And that was that.

Grandma Lola refused to talk about Jilly, but Avery wanted to know everything she could about the woman. Whenever she asked a question about her mother, her grandmother would pucker her lips and always answer the same way. “We wish her well. We wish her well away.” Then, before Avery could try again, her grandmother would change the subject. And that, of course, wasn’t a satisfactory answer, especially for a curious five-year-old.

The only way Avery could find out anything about her mother was to ask her aunt. Carrie loved to talk about Jilly, and she never forgot a single one of the bad things her sister had ever done, which, as it turned out, added up to a considerable number.

Avery idolized her aunt. She thought she was the most beautiful woman in the whole world, and she wished more than anything that she looked like her instead of her no-good mama. Carrie had hair the exact color of Grandma’s homemade peach jam and eyes more gray than blue, like the furry white cat Avery had seen colored pictures of in one of her storybooks. Carrie was constantly on a diet to lose twenty pounds, but Avery thought she was perfect just the way she was. At five feet six inches, Carrie was tall and glamorous, and when she put on one of her glittery barrettes to keep her hair out of her eyes while she was studying or working around the house, she looked just like a princess. Avery loved the way her aunt smelled too, like gardenias. Carrie told Avery it was her signature fragrance, which Avery knew had to be special. When Carrie was away from home and Avery was feeling lonely, she would sneak into her bedroom and squirt some of the special perfume on her arms and legs and pretend her aunt was there in the next room.

What Avery loved most about Carrie, though, was that she talked to her like she was a big person. She didn’t treat her like a baby the way Grandma Lola did. When Carrie spoke about Avery’s no-good mama, Jilly, she always began by saying in her no-nonsense tone of voice, “I’m not going to sugarcoat the truth just because you’re little. You’ve got a right to know.”