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Chapter 2

The night of the funeral was a tough night in the Waldren house. Ned fell asleep right away, but it was a restless sleep. He sensed when his mother came in and took Snug out for a minute. When she returned Snug to his bed, Ned feigned sleep. He didn’t want his Mom to know he was upset. She’s upset enough without Dad. I don’t need to add to her trouble.

As he lay there in the dark, he heard a gasp of some sort from the living room. I bet Mom is down there crying all by herself. Come on Snug, we need to go give her a hug.

As he donned his robe and headed for the bedroom door, he passed the toy shelf that his dad had made for him. Right in the middle of the shelf, next to his dump truck, was Bear. Bear wasn’t much anymore but he’d been Ned’s friend since the Christmas when Ned was two. He was only about ten inches tall, but his brown fur was soft. Best of all, he had silk ears. Ned used to hold on to one of Bear’s ears ear when he sucked his thumb.

The past few months Ned had pretty much left Bear on the shelf. Tonight however, he really needed his old pal. So he grabbed Bear as he headed downstairs.

Peggy was lying on the couch in the darkened living room. There was enough light from the street lamp outside that Ned could just barely see her.

“Having trouble sleeping baby?” she asked.

Ned sat on the couch pulling his mother’s head onto his lap. He snuggled Bear into her chin. “How about letting me and Bear hug you?”

“Why hello Bear. How nice of you to come down to comfort me.”

A whimper from Snug soon got the puppy picked up and onto the couch on Peggy’s other side.

Ned whispered, “It’s OK to cry Mom. I know you’ve been holding your tears back to be brave for me.”

“Oh Ned, I don’t need to cry”…. Then she turned her face into his chest and sobbed……Ned stroked her back gently. She seemed to cry harder. She retched so badly Ned feared she was going to throw up. ….. She cried a long time……..Finally her crying slowed.

“I just couldn’t face that empty side of the bed,” she whispered.

“Maybe, just for tonight, we could sleep together.”

“What a great idea, Ned.”

“Can Snug sleep with us, too?”

“Of course.”

The next morning Ned wakened before his mother. He lay there thinking. Everyone keeps telling me I’m the man of the family now. I wonder what that means?

Man of the family.’……. I guess that means I have to take out the trash every Sunday night. I remember helping Daddy do that……… He also emptied all the waste baskets a couple of nights a week. I can do that…….We used to shovel the snow together…….I guess I’ll have to do that all by myself now……

A week went by, slowly. Then another week. The June weather turned hot. Peggy and Ned got out the wading pool filling it with water. Soon all the neighborhood kids were playing in the tiny pool. Plus Snug, of course.

Peggy shook herself from her lethargy and made a batch of cookies. They didn’t last very long.

One thing was certain. The decision to keep Snug was one of the best decisions Peggy had ever made. The puppy constantly kept them both laughing. She was a tiny bit clumsy. And she was a thief. She would steal Ned’s socks just as he was ready to put them on. This resulted in a mad scramble throughout the house. The puppy running with the socks in her mouth, Ned chasing behind laughing.

Ned used to let his underwear drop on the floor. Not possible any more. Snug would snatch the garment, then run into the living room placing it carefully in the middle of the room. Even one of Peggy’s brassieres found its way onto the living room floor, much to Peggy’s embarrassment.

Snug grew into a seventy pound beauty. Peggy enjoyed her morning jog much more with Snug running alongside. Even in a small town, Peggy felt safer with the Golden Retriever at her side. Although with Snug’s friendly nature, Peggy was certain the dog would greet a stranger with tail wagging.

On the Fourth of July Peggy, her mother and Ned went to the fireworks display on the river. Peter always found the Fourth of July exciting. It did not take long before the memory of Peter turned the day from fun, into a time when Peggy missed her husband deeply. When the display ended, Peggy looked at Ned. His face was full of tears.

In August, Margo took them on a driving trip to Niagara Falls. They also stopped at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The trip took a week. It was a trip they each recalled many times. They sang songs, played games and enjoyed each moment together.

When school started in September, Ned got busy. Peggy became more and more restless. She had way too much time on her hands but she just couldn’t quite get up the energy to make herself face what she knew she needed to do.

September turned into October. Soon, October became November. On Thanksgiving morning, Peggy woke early. She put on her robe, went into the kitchen and started the coffee. As she sat there in the quiet sunlight her thoughts drifted back.

The first PTA meeting last October was awful. Everyone kept coming up to me expressing their condolences. It was like the memorial service all over. I hate to go the grocery any more. Someone always comes up and tries to be nice. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to get through a store without remembering my troubles.

Mother had been so right when she told me after the memorial service that the hard part was just beginning. The lonely nights in our big bed are the worst….. Feeling Peter’s presence, touching our feet or our hands together as we dropped off to sleep had always been so comforting. I should have cherished those moments more as they were happening. Now those precious times can never happen again, and I can’t do anything to change it.

Trying to be Ned’s father as well as his mother is extremely difficult. I’m not nearly as much fun playing games with him as Peter was. I can love him, but giving him a man’s viewpoint seems totally out of my reach. Ned’s almost nine; he’ll be a teen-ager before I know it. How will I ever be both father as well as a mother to a teen?

Mom’s been a huge help. She’s been there for me a million times. I’m so glad she lives close by. She has been a great ‘Peter replacement’ for Ned. They read together and go to movies. It gives me a break to deal with my own torment. I love being alone ….for about an hour. Then I can’t wait till they return.

For that matter, little Ned has been a major comfort too. I’ll never forget that night after the funeral when he brought his bear to me and hugged me while I sobbed. He’s truly a real pal and a lot of company. Even Snug has helped a lot, the little sweetheart.

Peter’s friend from the accounting firm, Jeb Richards, has tried to help. But he can only do so much. Two times Peter’s salary was not much life insurance. Thank goodness, Peter did buy a policy to cover our mortgage. We may be almost broke, but at least there’s no mortgage to pay on the house.

Jeb’s been thoughtful. He’s given me the financial advice I was lacking. He invited me out for lunch about a month after Peter died. He said he wanted to discuss my limited financial resources.

I arrived at the restaurant before Jeb. I watched his short stocky body cross the room. He’s quite plain looking. He keeps his brown hair short. He dresses well, and he’s very polite. A tiny mustache graces his upper lip. I’d describe him as having a quiet mousey personality. He seems to be a gentle, caring person, and he is single. I suppose a gentle caring person is just what I need for company right now.

Jeb really shook me up when he pointed out the need for me to get a job. If I don’t, his projections show we’ll run through Peter’s life insurance in just a few more months………..

After that financial lunch with Jeb I vowed to try and move forward. Unfortunately, up to this point, I haven’t been able to do it.

Time to give yourself a pep talk. Come on girl. You can’t keep feeling sorry for yourself forever. It is way past time to shake things up.

It’s been five months. You can’t keep putting it off. You want to save the rest of Peter’s insurance to pay for Ned’s college. This means you have to create some income to support your life style……

I refuse to sell this house. It’s Ned’s anchor….. It’s my anchor too……

Thank goodness, Mom can sit with Ned after school. That’ll let me be free enough to seek a full time job. The problem is….. I trained to be a teacher when I was in college. For some reason, right now, I can’t picture myself facing a bunch of kids every morning.

There was a sign at the bank yesterday, ‘tellers wanted.’ I wonder if I could be a bank teller? ….. Could it really be so hard? All I’d have to do is to balance the cash and checks at the end of each day. I’ve a college degree; but, the only business subject I took in college, was one course in accounting. I wonder how much a bank teller can earn, versus a teacher?

Peggy, there’s only one-way to find out. Tomorrow, I’ll ask Mom to watch Ned, while I go check out the bank advertisement.

OK, Peggy. Pep talk is over. Now you have to make the stuffing for the Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving turned out to be just plain God awful, lonely. When they looked at the place Peter usually took at the head of the table it was incredibly sad. Peter always carved the turkey. This year, Peggy managed to do it, but it was extra hard because her eyes were filled with tears. Holidays after a loved one dies are always tough. The only bright spot was provided by Snug. He brought his stuffed lamb to Ned and they played tug for hours.

Peggy was already dreading Christmas. It was going to be a tear-filled day.

The day after Thanksgiving, Peggy kept the promise she’d made to herself to go job hunting. She dressed in a business suit, then carefully applied her makeup. I want to make a nice appearance, but I don’t want to look like a floozy.

She drove to the bank, pulling her car into a customer’s only parking slot. It took several deep breaths to calm her nerves. Finally she walked inside. The bank lobby featured three teller windows on one side. Executive offices lined the opposite side. There was a receptionist stationed at a desk on the office side. Peggy approached her.

“I’m inquiring about your ‘teller wanted’ sign.”

The woman looked Peggy over for a second. She must have passed muster because without a word, she handed Peggy an employment application to complete.

Completing the form didn’t take long, because Peggy had zero previous jobs to describe. What took the longest was the time it took to look up her Social Security number. She’d never had occasion to memorize it. Form completed, she handed it back to the receptionist.

“Please wait a moment; I’ll see if Mr. Johnson can see you now.”

As she waited, her head filled with thoughts. Hamilton is a small town with around 3,000 residents. The big employer is Hamilton College, which adds about 2,500 students. Everyone in town knows that Henry Johnson is the President of the Bank. I never dreamed I would be meeting him. Her knees began an uncontrollable shake.

Before she knew it, she was ushered into Mr. Johnson’s office. He greeted her with a big smile and warm eyes.

“Mrs. Waldren, how nice to meet you. Over the years, I’ve had several dealings with your late husband. A good man. I enjoyed doing business with him. Please accept my condolences.”

Peggy mumbled, “Thank you,” as she sank down in a chair opposite Mr. Johnson’s desk.

Henry Johnson was a friendly man in his mid- fifties. Over the years, Peggy had observed him chatting with his employees as well as the Bank customers. She’d never actually met him. She noted he was a tad rotund. His twinkling eyes created a cheery atmosphere wherever he went.

“Are you really interested in a teller’s job?”

“Well, I don’t know much about it; but I do need income, so I’m looking into what it would entail.”

“I take it Peter didn’t have sufficient life insurance?”

Peggy considered bluffing. She didn’t want to let everyone in Hamilton know she was broke. Fortunately, she remembered Peter saying, “The way to business success is to be honest. Honesty builds trust. Business is based on trust.”

Peggy made a carefully measured response, “There was some life insurance. But I’m hoping to save what’s left for Ned’s education. I’ll be honest, Mr. Johnson, I need a job.”

Mr. Johnson thought for a moment. “A teller’s job may be below your talent level. With your college degree you might get more income elsewhere.”

“I realize that. However, I’ve lots of other factors to weigh. For one thing, the bank’s closed weekends. This means I could spend all day Saturday and Sunday with Ned. He’s almost nine now, without a father, so he needs me home on weekends. My mother will take care of him after school, but I really need my weekends free.”

“You’re seeking full time, not part time work?”

“Yes, I need full time work. I also want to advance to more responsible jobs as I gain experience, if that would be possible.”

“It might be possible. But not with a teachers degree. To advance in the bank, we require an MBA.”

“Does the college offer an MBA?”

“As a matter of fact, it does. I believe one of our employees is working towards his MBA right now.”

“If you take a chance on me, Mr. Johnson, I won’t let you down.”

“Mrs. Waldren, I’m confident you’ll be a great employee. Why don’t we start you off as a teller? If you enjoy the work and want to advance, we can discuss going for your MBA at a later time.”

The salary conversation came next. It wasn’t much, but it was a place to start. Peggy agreed to begin the following Monday morning.

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