#1 New York Times–bestselling author Jan Karon returns—with the story readers have been waiting for.
Over the course of ten Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls.
Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple.
So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun.
An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis.
And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends.
Piece of cake, right?
In Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon delivers the wedding that millions of Mitford fans have waited for. It’s a June day in the mountains, with more than a few creatures great and small, and you’re invited—because you’re family.
By the way, it’s a pretty casual affair, so come as you are and remember to bring a tissue or two. After all, what’s a good wedding without a good cry?
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Jan Karon is the author of the bestselling series of twelve Mitford novels featuring Episcopal priest Father Timothy Kavanagh and the fictional village of Mitford, the most recent of which, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, has spent more than two months on the New York Times bestseller list. She is also the author of eleven other books, including a cookbook and several books for children. Karon lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2015 Jan Karon
‘Hey, Dad. Need th’ crimper.’
Crimper, snipper, stapler, strainer…
He was scrub nurse to the fence doctor, who was repairing a section of Meadowgate’s high-tensile cattle fencing. Two of Dooley’s five heifers had broken out last night and wandered into a neighbor’s yard down the road. Not good.
‘Glad it happened with the heifers, so now we know. With Choo-Choo coming in a few weeks…’
‘Don’t want that big boy getting out,’ he said.
‘If he gets out we’re dead in the water. He’d head straight for Mink Hershell’s cows.’
‘Ah.’ He didn’t know much about those things.
‘Mink’s cows are small, he’s got Dexters—around six, seven hundred pounds. Choo-Choo is two years old and clocks in at fourteen hundred pounds. He makes big calves, which can be a serious problem with a small breed. Mink could lose cows if our guy gets in his pasture. Dystocia.’
Life was happening fast. Dooley’s graduation from vet school was coming up in a few weeks, then the bull delivery, then the practice turning over from Hal Owen, and on June fourteenth, the wedding…
‘So how’s Choo-Choo’s disposition?’
‘He’s got calves all over the county. He’s famous for gettin’ the job done.’
‘And you bought him because…?’
‘Not good timing, for sure, but the owner needed to let him go. It was me or somebody else. I could never top the price. Pliers.’
Tales about Choo-Choo were circulating at the co-op, at least one of them embellished with a direct warning.
‘It’ll be good to get out with your cattle in the evenings. Relaxing.’ He was repeating what the neighbors said about having ‘a few head’ on the place.
‘We’ll treat small animals at th’ clinic and I’ll have my large animal practice out here on th’ back forty. I really wanted a mixed practice but there’s a great vet just a few miles north. She does it all and does it well.’ Dooley wiped the sweat from his eyes. ‘Hal loved doing it all but he says he won’t miss it; he was on call twenty-four/seven. I’d like to give it everything I’ve got during the day, and have time in the evenings to spend with Lace—with, you know…’
‘Sure. With family. When you have children…’
He didn’t mean to say that, not at all, it had popped out from overlong suppression.
The look on Dooley’s face…
He had stepped in it, for sure. Craving grandkids was the vice of those wishing to assure mortality.
He let the air clear. ‘So. Scared?’
Dooley gave him an ironic look. ‘Were you scared?’
‘I was. Then the peace flowed in.’
‘Need th’ crimper again,’ said Dooley.
It was cool to know what this stuff was. He hauled the thing out of the workbox.
‘Thanks, but that’s the tamper.’
So this is what people called the simple life. He wiped his face with a bandana and went diving for the crimper.
Ever since they moved to Meadowgate a month ago, the entire household had gone hammer and tong making the old place ready for the Big Knot.
They had re-painted the interior of the vet clinic, re-finished the clinic floors and installed new exam tables. He declined to help Cynthia and Lace make curtains for the farmhouse kitchen and drove with Harley to Holding for a pickup load of furniture for the reception room. Somewhere in there, he had conducted a house blessing and a clinic blessing, replete with thurible. Then came repairs on the barn, some minor guttering work on the house, and before Dooley wheeled in yesterday for the weekend, he and Harley and Willie had weed-whacked the fence line and had a serious conversation with the county agent about liming.
‘It’s your broom straw,’ said the agent.
‘What about it?’
‘It tells you your place needs lime. Nature’s messenger.’
The agent had given him a wealth of material to read on the subject of lime.
For today’s nut to crack, they were awarded the high-tensile-fence-fix-off. He had prayed for a more challenging retirement and here it was in living color. On the other hand, it was the most fun he’d had in a coon’s age. Not everybody got to watch a young couple build a whole new life.
Lace Harper studied the canvas on the easel.
Being stuck happened a lot these days. Maybe she shouldn’t be painting to focus her mind or clear it or whatever she was hoping to do. Maybe she should be painting for passion’s sake or not at all.
But there was no passion in her—she was painting by a kind of rote. Every energy had lately been spent on this vast and overwhelming life they were entering, a life they had dreamed of for years and wanted with all their hearts—and now what had taken so long seemed so very sudden.
Suddenly their own kitchen with its amiable fireplace and big windows. Suddenly the old porches and creaking floors, the immense views, the enormous sky, the hundred acres, the doleful heifers with their bran breath—all theirs, and right next door, their own animal clinic. It seemed so grown-up to have a place like this.
A few years ago, Dooley and the trust people bought more land from Hal and Marge Owen. If cattle were to be in the picture, additional acreage would be needed and Hal made sure the price was right, as he’d done when Dooley bought out the practice. Everybody had walked away happy, with the Owens keeping the remaining thirty-five acres. So now Hal and Marge and Rebecca Jane lived in the house they built on the hill to the south, and Hal would work part-time during Dooley’s first year in practice.
They were surrounded on every side by people older, wiser, and definitely more patient. This big, new life seemed truly perfect—and also truly scary. The money Dooley inherited from Miss Sadie had stretched through his college and vet school years and bought most of the Meadowgate enterprise, with something left over. But there would be no tapping into the remainder of Miss Sadie’s amazing trust, not for a long time.
All that lay ahead would be totally up to them. They had declined any further help from parents and would be living by their wits and on income from the clinic. It was important that the rest of the journey be theirs.
Bummer. She had no idea how to proceed with this painting. Maybe it was the subject itself. She was concocting apples from a cell phone photo and blurred imagination instead of working plein air beneath a tree heavy with winesaps.
But she wasn’t trying to paint apples as God made them, she was painting at a slant—slathering on color with a palette knife, trying to chase the way the light was moving. All she really wanted was an impression of apples, an impression of a basket, an impression of mountains in the background. Anyway, it wasn’t a real painting, it was an exercise.
She stepped away and squinted at the work. Clearly, she was faking it. She could not afford the time required to fake a painting, exercise or not.
Somehow, she would make it work. Then maybe she could sell it. They needed money now, not just for the wedding, which would be really, really simple, but also for the upkeep of the property and payroll for Willie and Harley and the clinic employees. Only days ago she had sold an oil to Cynthia’s friend, Irene McGraw, who was a fabulous painter. She hoped Irene hadn’t bought the small picture because she knew ‘the kids’ were just starting out. Irene had asked the price but she asked Irene to price it instead.
‘I can’t do that,’ Irene said in her quiet way.
She had blurted out the first thing that came to mind. ‘Four hundred!’ She didn’t want to overestimate her work, not with Irene. At the same time, four hundred seemed overly modest. She felt awkward and gauche.
Irene smiled. ‘You’ve forced me to set the price, after all. It’s wonderful piece. Twelve hundred.’
She had the sensation that she might fall backward, and held on to the chair where she was standing. She had sold a lot of work before, but this was especially thrilling because Irene McGraw’s paintings were masterful.
The blood had beat in her again for the work she loved, the gorgeous work with its resinous smells and silken brushes and the restless play of light.
She should stop now. Time was precious. The Big Knot, as Harley called it, was only weeks away and Dooley’s graduation at NC State was practically here, with the bull arriving the day after and the new sign for the vet clinic going up and...
She turned away from the canvas.
….and maybe, hopefully, please, God—Jack Tyler.
She felt her heart thump, something like a book dropped to the floor.
She and Dooley were taking on too much, everyone said that except Father Tim and Cynthia. Father Tim and Cynthia gave them all the liberty they needed, expecting them to do their best. Harley was the biggest objector. ‘Th’ way y’all are goin’, you gon’ be gray-headed.’
‘Put your teeth in and have a Snickers,’ she said. ‘It’s a pot-luck, Harley. Everybody brings food. It’s the least stressful thing in the world, a pot-luck wedding.’
‘Then there’s ol’ Choo-Choo comin’ in,’ said Harley. ‘He’s got ever’body on th’ place rattled.’
True, but why was their bull everybody’s business? People should be concentrating on the wedding, on getting the post in the ground for the new sign to be hung. Every time she went to Farmer, people were telling stories about this really mean bull named Choo- Choo—at the post office, the co-op, Jake’s.
The grand wedding and honeymoon that her parents, Hoppy and Olivia, had hoped to give them would have eclipsed everything, bull included. She and Dooley were truly grateful, but they had to say they didn’t want that.
She hated, hated to disappoint Olivia and Hoppy who had been so eager to adopt her, Lace Turner, a total rebellious stray from the Creek who should be eager to please them and wear a gorgeous gown and have a wedding with all the frills at Lord’s Chapel.
Olivia had come from a wealthy family. The silver-framed family portraits in all the rooms at Olivia’s house were a testament to her paternal line of coal money. But the day she and Dooley went to tell them the plan, both Hoppy and Olivia had laughed with a kind of childlike delight. Olivia thought a country wedding would be ‘the best thing in the whole world’ and the idea of a potluck was hilarious, but in a good way. ‘It’s not our wedding,’ Olivia had said, giving them the best of hugs. ‘It’s yours.’
‘I’ll be your wedding photographer,’ said Hoppy, who had a Nikon and loved to use it.
‘I’ll make the pies,’ said Olivia, who had learned pie-baking from a former housekeeper and was proud to call it her specialty.
‘Cherry!’ Dooley had said, about to throw up from stress.
That had gone so much better than expected; she felt really grateful and later wrote them a long letter.
But she and Dooley still had to tell Father Tim. Everyone knew he hoped to marry them in the Lord’s Chapel rose garden that he and Harley and Dooley’s brother, Sammy, recovered from ruin. Everyone knew he had trained the Seven Sisters vines to climb in a really special way on the arch, just for this day.
Lord’s Chapel was where she and Dooley were confirmed and baptized, and where Father Tim and Cynthia and Hoppy and Olivia were married. It was the family church.
She and Dooley had gone one evening to the yellow house. ‘Give me a sign,’ Dooley said, ‘like when you think it’s a good time.’
There is no good time for this, she thought.
Cynthia had made spaghetti and later, they all sat by the fire in the study. Dooley jiggled his leg a lot and was finally able to say it. ‘We just want to get married at home, Dad. At Meadowgate. With family and a few friends.’
Father Tim had blinked and there was a long pause as if he were trying to absorb what he heard.
She looked at Dooley, who was miserable. They had tried so hard to do everything right. Like taking seriously the statistics of a high divorce rate in vet school and the rigor of the courses. They had gone through the awful hunger and frustration of being apart, and the endless road trips that connected the dots between Atlanta and Athens and Mitford and Chapel Hill and Farmer, and NC State where Dooley transferred after college. They had gone through four speeding tickets in as many years, two each, not to mention a huge stack of CDs. And now they both wanted to just be at home, please, God—at Meadowgate with family.
Father Tim had smiled then, and nodded. ‘Good,’ he said like he really, really meant it. ‘Getting married at home is good.’
She had also written them a long letter.
So no Vera or Oscar or hair bound up in a chignon. She knew all about those beautiful, seductive things; she had spent years looking at dresses and hair styles and being a bridesmaid at glamorous weddings. Then for some reason she never expected, none of that mattered anymore. She had done it in her head over and over—the shoes, the jewelry, the music; she had walked down the aisle a thousand times and saw heads turning and heard the little gasps of approval. She felt a new kind of joy in knowing that she and Dooley would have something more wonderful than the grand wedding, the awesome honeymoon, the lingerie as ephemeral as mist.
‘We could even have a barefoot wedding,’ she said to Dooley.
‘Wait’ll y’uns step on a bee,’ said Harley. ‘Or one of them black snakes. That’ll cure y’ of barefooted, I can tell y’ that.’
She and Dooley had dug deep to wait through the last years of college and vet school. How would she direct herself while he focused on academics? Her art instructors had been crazy about her portfolio; they said she could go anywhere and do anything and so she pursued jobs in publishing, in advertising, and then in design, but wherever she applied, it was ‘the economy.’ Here, there, everywhere, ‘the economy.’
While Dooley was on a totally defined path, she was constantly trying to figure things out in a wandering sort of way. She resisted, without really understanding why, Olivia’s generous offer to underwrite a graduate program in Art and Design at Pratt, which anybody in their right mind would go for if they could get accepted. She adored Hoppy and Olivia, who had given her everything including their name and their amazing love, but the answer was no and so there she went again, wandering like an Israelite.
What saved her in these final couple of years was teaching art to children at a non-profit in Chapel Hill, where she moved to be near Dooley. She had learned more from them than she could ever teach. It had been, in some ways, the time of her life, and she had loved each of them fiercely.
Perhaps she would teach again one day. But what ...
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