Home > A Walk To Remember(3)

A Walk To Remember(3)
Nicholas Sparks

Talk about something whacking you straight in the face.

So, I grew up under the care of my mother. Now she was a nice lady, sweet and gentle, the kind of mother most people dream about. But she wasn’t, nor could she ever be, a manly influence in my life, and that fact, coupled with my growing disillusionment with my father, made me become something of a rebel, even at a young age. Not a bad one, mind you. Me and my friends might sneak out late and soap up car windows now and then or eat boiled peanuts in the graveyard behind the church, but in the fifties that was the kind of thing that made other parents shake their heads and whisper to their children, “You don’t want to be like that Carter boy. He’s on the fast track to prison.”

Me. A bad boy. For eating boiled peanuts in the graveyard. Go figure.

Anyway, my father and Hegbert didn’t get along, but it wasn’t only because of politics. No, it seems that my father and Hegbert knew each other from way back when. Hegbert was about twenty years older than my father, and back before he was a minister, he used to work for my father’s father. My grandfather—even though he spent lots of time with my father—was a true bastard if there ever was one. He was the one, by the way, who made the family fortune, but I don’t want you to imagine him as the sort of man who slaved over his business, working diligently and watching it grow, prospering slowly over time. My grandfather was much shrewder than that. The way he made his money was simple—he started as a bootlegger, accumulating wealth throughout Prohibition by running rum up from Cuba. Then he began buying land and hiring sharecroppers to work it. He took ninety percent of the money the sharecroppers made on their tobacco crop, then loaned them money whenever they needed it at ridiculous interest rates. Of course, he never intended to collect the money—instead he would foreclose on any land or equipment they happened to own. Then, in what he called “his moment of inspiration,” he started a bank called Carter Banking and Loan. The only other bank in a two-county radius had mysteriously burned down, and with the onset of the Depression, it never reopened. Though everyone knew what had really happened, not a word was ever spoken for fear of retribution, and their fear was well placed. The bank wasn’t the only building that had mysteriously burned down.

His interest rates were outrageous, and little by little he began amassing more land and property as people defaulted on their loans. When the Depression hit hardest, he foreclosed on dozens of businesses throughout the county while retaining the original owners to continue to work on salary, paying them just enough to keep them where they were, because they had nowhere else to go. He told them that when the economy improved, he’d sell their business back to them, and people always believed him.

Never once, however, did he keep his promise. In the end he controlled a vast portion of the county’s economy, and he abused his clout in every way imaginable.

I’d like to tell you he eventually went to a terrible death, but he didn’t. He died at a ripe-old age while sleeping with his mistress on his yacht off the Cayman Islands. He’d outlived both his wives and his only son. Some end for a guy like that, huh? Life, I’ve learned, is never fair. If people teach anything in school, that should be it.

But back to the story. . . . Hegbert, once he realized what a bastard my grandfather really was, quit working for him and went into the ministry, then came back to Beaufort and started ministering in the same church we attended. He spent his first few years perfecting his fire-and-brimstone act with monthly sermons on the evils of the greedy, and this left him scant time for anything else. He was forty-three before he ever got married; he was fifty-five when his daughter, Jamie Sullivan, was born. His wife, a wispy little thing twenty years younger than he, went through six miscarriages before Jamie was born, and in the end she died in childbirth, making Hegbert a widower who had to raise a daughter on his own.

Hence, of course, the story behind the play.

People knew the story even before the play was first performed. It was one of those stories that made its rounds whenever Hegbert had to baptize a baby or attend a funeral. Everyone knew about it, and that’s why, I think, so many people got emotional whenever they saw the Christmas play. They knew it was based on something that happened in real life, which gave it special meaning.

Jamie Sullivan was a senior in high school, just like me, and she’d already been chosen to play the angel, not that anyone else even had a chance. This, of course, made the play extra special that year. It was going to be a big deal, maybe the biggest ever—at least in Miss Garber’s mind. She was the drama teacher, and she was already glowing about the possibilities the first time I met her in class.

Now, I hadn’t really planned on taking drama that year. I really hadn’t, but it was either that or chemistry II. The thing was, I thought it would be a blow-off class, especially when compared with my other option. No papers, no tests, no tables where I’d have to memorize protons and neutrons and combine elements in their proper formulas . . . what could possibly be better for a high school senior? It seemed like a sure thing, and when I signed up for it, I thought I’d just be able to sleep through most every class, which, considering my late night peanut eating, was fairly important at the time.

On the first day of class I was one of the last to arrive, coming in just a few seconds before the bell rang, and I took a seat in the back of the room. Miss Garber had her back turned to the class, and she was busy writing her name in big cursive letters, as if we didn’t know who she was. Everyone knew her—it was impossible not to. She was big, at least six feet two, with flaming red hair and pale skin that showed her freckles well into her forties. She was also overweight—I’d say honestly she pushed two fifty—and she had a fondness for wearing flower-patterned muumuus. She had thick, dark, horn-rimmed glasses, and she greeted every one with, “Helloooooo,” sort of singing the last syllable. Miss Garber was one of a kind, that’s for sure, and she was single, which made it even worse. A guy, no matter how old, couldn’t help but feel sorry for a gal like her.

Beneath her name she wrote the goals she wanted to accomplish that year. “Self-confidence” was number one, followed by “Self-awareness” and, third, “Self-fulfillment.” Miss Garber was big into the “self” stuff, which put her really ahead of the curve as far as psychotherapy is concerned, though she probably didn’t realize it at the time. Miss Garber was a pioneer in that field. Maybe it had something to do with the way she looked; maybe she was just trying to feel better about herself.

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