A man looking for answers
Widower Alan Ridge has to believe that Laurel Ashline, a weaver who's just arrived in Ridge City, Kentucky, can do what no doctor has: help his daughter, Louemma. He's skeptical about weaving as therapy, but he'll do anything for his little girl, especially after the accident that injured Louemma and took her mother's life.
A woman looking for a home
Laurel Ashline's grandmother was from this small town, and Laurel has come here to claim her inheritance--a cabin, plus forty acres--and to start a new life. And maybe...to find a place to belong.
A child looking for a mother
Louemma Ridge wants three things: to get better, to unburden herself of a secret and, most of all, to have a new mother....
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March 01, 2012
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Excerpt from Hearts Entwined by Roz Denny Fox
A noise at the door made Laurel Ashline glance up. She was working with Donald Baird, an elderly stroke victim, teaching him to operate a hand loom. The woman who stood in the doorway was someone Laurel didn't know. Laurel was fairly new to Ridge City, Kentucky, and had recently become a volunteer occupational therapist here at the local hospital.
The white-haired woman wore a dusty-rose chenille robe and matching slippers. She seemed unsure about crossing the threshold.
"Hello." Laurel offered a warm smile. "Are you here for weaving therapy? I wasn't told to expect a new student, but if you'll take a seat I'll run out to my car to get another loom. I'm sure your chart will catch up eventually. They always do."
"Oh, I'm not here for therapy. I'm practically recovered from a touch of pneumonia, although my doctor and I don't see eye to eye about my going home today." The woman sighed. "In fact, he ordered me to spend the afternoon in the sun-room. Said he'll decide later if I have to eat hospital food again tonight." Her droll expression spoke eloquently about her opinion of hospital fare.
"I see. Well, the sunroom is at the end of this hall." Laurel pointed.
"I know, dear. I just couldn't help noticing how you have my friend pulling that bar toward him with both hands."
The man in question stopped a painstaking quest to thread the shuttle in and out between thick rag strips. "Vestal? Howdy." He had to peer around Laurel to see the woman. "It's sad when a tough old duck like me is reduced to making pot holders. This is woman's work," he said, although his disgust seemed exaggerated.
"Nothing of the sort," Laurel quickly interjected. "Weaving's a time-honored craft anyone can feel good about. All the better if working a loom allows you greater arm and wrist mobility. Isn't getting well your primary goal?"
"You tell that old coot--uh--sorry, I don't know your name," the patient lingering by the door said, gazing at Laurel from faded blue eyes.
"It's Laurel. Laurel Ashline. And you're--?"
Her gaze still on what Donald Baird was doing, the elderly woman moved in for a closer look. "Is this type of therapy successful for all upper-body disabilities?"
Laurel hesitated. At twenty-nine, she was a master weaver, not a certified occupational therapist. "I don't know about all disabilities. But it's an old technique, one that gained respect and popularity with orthopedic physicians after World War Two. Lou Tate, a weaver from Louisville, was the first to use desktop looms to help partial amputees and other maimed soldiers. There's a wonderfully soothing quality connected to the repetitious motion of working a beater bar. The exercise develops tone in atrophied muscles." Laurel might have expounded further on a subject near to her heart, but a nurse appeared to escort the inquisitive stranger away.
"Goodbye," Laurel called belatedly. "Good luck getting sprung by suppertime." Her conspiratorial grin was answered in kind as the departing woman glanced back over one shoulder.
Laurel set to work again shuffling between the three people currently in her program. During the course of the day, the stranger faded from mind. Laurel maintained a hectic schedule. As well as volunteering at the hospital, she wove in cotton, wool and chenille. But her specialty was fine linen tablecloths and napkins.
When she'd first come to Ridge City, she'd been reclusive, hiding out to nurse her deep wounds from a bad marriage--until she decided it was time to take back her life. Now she had an ever-widening circle of private clients, plus she'd renewed a project her grandmother had begun--the collection and preservation of old mountain weaving patterns. Laurel found it was an endeavor that was both worthwhile and enjoyable; it was also a way to honor her grandmother's memory. Added to that, she taught weaving at a community college two days a week. And a few weeks ago, she'd been approached to demonstrate at local clubs. Her schedule kept her almost constantly busy. Laurel needed that, because it meant she had fewer hours at home where Dennis Shaw, her alcoholic ex, might call and harass her. He paid no attention to restraining orders issued in Vermont and in Kentucky.
As Laurel finished up at the hospital and loaded her car, her thoughts were already on her next project.
Alan Ridge, current CEO of the once wholly family-owned Windridge Distillery, stood and quickly closed out a spreadsheet displayed on his home-office computer. He smiled faintly as he listened over the speakerphone to his grandmother, who ordered him to drop everything and come get her from the hospital. She'd vehemently resisted going there at all.
Vestal still spoke to him in the autocratic manner she had when he was a boy. But though he was thirty now, Alan didn't mind. He was deeply concerned about his grandmother's failing health. He didn't think he could bear yet another loss.
Ending the call, Alan snatched a jacket from the hall coatrack. Spring evenings in Kentucky could be quite chilly after the sun set. "Birdie, Grandmother's coming home. Louemma's napping," Alan called, by way of requesting that Birdie Jepson, the Ridge family's cook and housekeeper, keep an eye on his nine-year-old daughter.
She came out of the kitchen as Alan gathered up a lap robe to tuck around his grandmother.
"Mr. Alan, that child's gonna sleep her life away. What did that new doctor have to say yesterday? Did he have any good ideas?"
"She. Dr. Meyers is a female neuroorthope-dic specialist." Alan felt his smile disappear altogether. "All the specialists say the same thing, Birdie. Medically, Louemma's back surgery was a success. Every doctor I've consulted believes her problems are psychological. Except the psychiatrists haven't helped. The last one claimed she's just spoiled. I do indulge her. But.. for pity's sake, she lost her mother in a car wreck that's left her..." Alan hated to say the damning word--paralyzed. "I know she'd move her arms if she could."
"There, there. I reckon the poor baby will heal in time. We're all just so anxious to see her bouncing around like she did before the accident."
"Come March fifteenth, which is next Monday, it'll be a full year." Alan rubbed a hand over a perpetually haggard face.
"That long? I guess it's been at that. Doesn't seem but yesterday I moved in, instead of popping in and out to cook for Miss Emily's parties. You and Miss Vestal must feel like it's been eons since that hellish phone call from the state police."
Alan felt the pain always. Life at Windridge had been topsy-turvy since that call telling him his wife had been killed and his daughter injured in a senseless crash. Everything had changed then.
"Well, you'd best go collect Miss Vestal. If I know her, she'll be pacing at the hospital door. Tell her I made buttermilk pie. For Miss Louemma, but Miss Vestal don't need to know that."
Alan's smile returned briefly. "Talk about spoiling, Birdie. I'm pointing Louemma's next psychiatrist straight at you. And Grandmother. That last shrink said we were all enablers."
"We don't know how to be anything else, Mr. Alan. Just tell that grouchy old doctor it's 'cause we all love Louemma to bits."
He laughed outright at her comment. Laughter seemed to be the only way they could deal with the parade of doctors, most spouting either useless or contradictory diagnoses, who'd become commonplace in their lives. Out of habit, Alan detoured past his daughter's room. Tiptoeing into the shuttered bedroom, he gazed lovingly down on sleep-flushed cheeks and pillow-tousled curls. The poor kid had a cowlick just like his, at the hairline above her left eyebrow. His wife had cursed that cowlick--and Alan for passing it on to Louemma.
Alan's fingers gently skimmed the dark hair. Backing quietly from the pink room that lacked nothing in the way of girlish accoutrements, he sighed and shifted the lap robe to his other arm as he dug out the keys to the car Vestal preferred over his more serviceable Jeep. Her baby-blue Chrysler New Yorker wasn't Alan's kind of car, and it rarely got driven. In her late seventies, Vestal Ridge had been so shaken by Emily's accident she rarely drove now. Only on occasion, and then only back and forth to town.
Alan liked his four-wheel drive. Outside of visiting a myriad of doctors, his trips consisted mainly of dashing between the house and the distillery, built a mile uphill on the vast family estate. The road was often muddy, especially in spring. Since 1860, a Ridge had owned the three hundred and sixty acres that made up Windridge. In all that time, the estate had remained virtually unchanged. With the exception of forty acres, Alan recalled with a scowl. He wished he could forget the pie-shaped wedge sliced from their eastern border. Jason Ridge, Alan's grandfather, had let that parcel slip out of the family's hands before his death. And no one apparently knew how or why.
On the way to the hospital, Alan thought about the fact that his plant manager and board of directors wanted that wedge back. Considering how much work had piled up while Alan was taking Louemma to the most recent doctor, he hadn't yet found time to delve into old county records to determine any options regarding Bell Hill. In the distillery safe, he'd found the land grant that deeded the entire parcel to the first Ridge to settle there. Written on parchment and signed by Daniel Boone himself, the document ought to prove ownership. Although Boone's fort and settlement, rebuilt and now run by local artisans, had long since been incorporated into Fort Boonesborough State Park. So many local families had sold and moved out. Alan liked that sense of permanence. If it'd been up to him, he wouldn't have incorporated Windridge Distillery, but kept it strictly a family-owned company.
Not wanting to think about that, Alan lowered the electric windows on both sides of the Chrysler. Settling his wide shoulders against the leather seat, he inhaled the relaxing scent of wet limestone and loamy soil refreshed by a recent shower. He shoved in a CD of mountain music. Alan's preferences ran toward bluegrass played on fiddles, dulcimers, harmonicas and other old-time instruments.
Turning off the main road, he drove through the small town his ancestors had founded. In five minutes he reached the hospital he and Vestal had been influential in getting built. Granted, the town hadn't yet floated a bond to install the newest equipment available. But it was a well-maintained facility, boasting a fine staff.
Birdie had been right. His grandmother was pacing in front of the door. Alan entered the hospital and, crossing the lobby, picked up her suitcase before greeting Vestal with a kiss on her soft, powdered cheek. For as far back as he could remember, she'd smelled like the wild roses that grew up the stone walls ringing the distillery. During certain times of the year they warred with overpowering odors of rye and barley mash used to produce Windridge's high-grade bourbon.
"Why aren't you waiting in your room?" he scolded gently. "Doc Fulton wouldn't be happy to see you standing in a draft."
"What does that twerp know? I diapered his behind when that boy was knee-high to a chigger."
Alan grinned. "It'd serve you right if I phoned Marv right now and told him you said that. But if I did, he'd turn you over to Randy Wexler. Then I'd never get you to see a doctor again."
Vestal latched on to Alan's arm and maneuvered him out. "Randy Wexler has chickpeas for brains. I'm not trusting my body, old though it may be, to a kid who failed fifth grade. Marvin at least was an A student."
"Randy knuckled down. According to his credentials from Duke University Med School, he graduated magna cum laude." Alan opened the heavy car door and helped her in. Before Vestal could object, he wrapped the lap robe around her legs, then tossed her bag in the voluminous trunk. He'd barely slid under the steering wheel when she fixed him with a look Alan knew from experience usually meant trouble.
"I met someone today who can help Louemma."
Alan jabbed his key in the vicinity of the ignition twice, missing both times. "A doctor? Here?" he asked, clearly excited. "A consultant?"
"Not a doctor. What good have a host of sawbones done my great-granddaughter? No good, that's what."
Alan felt the bubble of hope burst. "Oh, not an M.D." He clung to the belief that a doctor on the cutting edge of a new discovery about muscles and nerves would one day solve Louemma's inability to raise her arms.
"Hear me out, Alan. I've lived many years and I'm not without common sense, you know."
"I know you're a dear, smart lady. And you love Louemma. Up to now, though, all the doctors we've seen--and these are the very best--claim her dysfunction isn't physical. That it's beyond the scope of their expertise."
"I think the woman I met is an occupational therapist. She's got Donald Baird using his left arm and moving his fingers. What do you say to that?"
Alan turned his head. "Roy said his dad had severe, permanent damage to his entire left side, because of the stroke."
"Uh-huh. And today I watched him weave a rag pot holder."
"Weaving?" Alan snorted. This time he started the car easily.
"Don't be making pig noises at me, Alan Ridge. Laurel Ashline said doctors recruited weavers during the Second World War to help injured soldiers regain the use of their limbs through learning to operate hand looms. Can it hurt to talk with her? Invite her to Windridge to evaluate Louemma? Short of voodoo, Alan, you've hauled that child around the state to every other kind of expert--and quack."
"Never quacks! Every man or woman I've made an appointment with, in or out of the state, has been a licensed practitioner."
"A ward nurse gave me Ms. Ashline's business card. She apparently has a studio in the area. Her phone number has our local exchange." Vestal waved the card under Alan's nose.
He snatched it out of her hand and shoved it in his shirt pocket. "I'll think about it," he muttered. "I'll ask about her program around town. You say she's an occupational therapist?"
"I'm not sure of that. She volunteers at the hospital. Dory referred to her as a master weaver."
"Right.." Alan half snarled under his breath.
"Just phone her is all I ask. If not for Louemma, then to humor me. You know I won't stop badgering you until you do."
"Tell me something new, Grandmother." Alan sighed heavily. "Fine. Tomorrow I'll put out feelers. That's my best offer. I'm not about to hand Louemma over to some dingbat. What brought this weaver to Ridge City? Do you know the name Ashline? Who would move here unless they already have roots in the valley?"