Tears filled the Hathcock sisters’ eyes as their father’s casket was lowered into the ground. Their older half-brother Frank shoveled in a spadeful of dirt and put his arm around his stepmother, guiding her to the waiting car. Frank wasn’t usually this attentive, but on this occasion, he couldn’t reasonably refrain.
The black limo twisted through the cemetery, taking the family home. Eleven-year-old Maggie, the youngest of the three Hathcock girls, sat next to her mother, facing Frank and her older sisters, Caroline and Ashelynn. She caught her tearful reflection in the dark privacy windows and burst out, “I hate you, Frank!” stomping her feet and wiping her tears.
Frank’s brows arched. “Whatever for? What did I do?”
Before he scarcely muttered his inquiry, Maggie cried out from her seat. “Now that Father is gone, you’re going to take our home and kick us out with nowhere to go.”
“Dearest little sister,” Frank called in the loudest voice he could muster to carry over Maggie’s cries, “I could never kick you out! Hathcock Manor is still your home. I’m not even planning to move there. My family will continue to live in Charlotte.”
Frank was a tall and slender man with a position at Hathcock Industries in Charlotte, North Carolina. A linchpin for the community, Hathcock Industries had stood for agriculture, textiles, and furniture for over two centuries. Frank and his wife, Dottie, owned a large home in Charlotte, which had graced many local and even a couple of national magazines.
Through softer sobs, Maggie continued, “But I heard people saying that everything belongs to you now, and we get nothing.”
“Yes, well.” Frank crossed his arms. “Father was only the trustee of the Hathcock estate. Grand Uncle Hathcock made it clear in his will that upon Father’s passing, I was to become the sole owner of the entire estate.” His voice softened. “However, I could never displace my sisters. You must continue to think of Hathcock Manor as your home.”
Their father, Thomas Hathcock, had become the trustee of the Hathcock estate, which included Hathcock Industries and Hathcock Manor when his uncle, James Hathcock, had grown old and could no longer run the family business and care for the house himself. James was a bachelor and not wanting to be alone in his later years, he invited Thomas, the son of his younger brother, and Thomas’s family to live with him. Since Thomas already held a top position at his uncle’s side in the family business, coming to live at Hathcock Manor to look after his uncle was a simple transition. The family’s attentiveness was a great comfort to Uncle James in his last years.
Hathcock Manor was a Greek-revival-style antebellum home situated in the country on the western outskirts of Asheville. Grand columns lined the perimeter of the white two-story house like hoplites. The limo turned down the long drive leading to the manor. Majestic oak trees created an archway of outstretched branches and hanging moss. Near the residence was a large front lawn surrounded by a circular driveway, offering a full view of the front of the house. A catered luncheon was prepared in the garden for the funeral guests.
Maggie sat on a bench across the walk from a flower bed. She stared mournfully at the blossoms and remembered how she had planted the flowers just a month earlier. Her ailing father watched and encouraged her from his wheelchair. It had been a tradition for them to plant flowers in the garden together each spring—now she wondered who would plant flowers with her.
Ashelynn stood with her mother, brother, and sister Caroline, while guests filed past and offered their condolences. She turned quietly from the crowd and made her way to the parlor to sit at her grand piano. It had been a birthday gift from Uncle James. His encouragement of her talent had helped her become an accomplished pianist. Gently touching the keys with her fingertips, she remembered how her father would sit in a chair near the piano and listen to her play. He often told her, “There are few greater joys in life than hearing you play.” She put her hands in her lap and looked down as tears fell.
Caroline remained with her mother and brother, listening to each story related about her father. She’d heard some of them before. Others were new to her ears, but each brought her comfort as they told of what a good man her father had been. One neighbor related how a pipe had burst and their basement flooded. “Not only did your father bring a pump, but he stayed with us the entire day, helping us clean up the mess and fix the pipe.”
Another guest who had known her father since grade school related, “Thomas Hathcock was the kind of man you could count on in a bind. He was everyone’s friend, and if you needed something, he was there.” Caroline cherished every kind word.
The caterers cleaned up as the guests left, and soon the Hathcocks found themselves alone. The rest of the day dragged by in mournful quiet as they continued to grieve the loss of their patriarch.
At bedtime, Caroline and Ashelynn gathered in Maggie’s room. They sat together on the bed, sharing memories of their father. Caroline, the eldest, had turned twenty just before her father’s passing. She studied art at UNC Asheville and would be a sophomore in the fall. Ashelynn was eighteen and preparing to graduate high school in a few weeks.
Caroline brushed Maggie’s hair as Maggie wondered aloud, “Why didn’t Uncle James leave the house to us instead of Frank? Didn’t he love us too?”
“Of course, he did,” Caroline said. “Grand Uncle James was old-fashioned and wanted to keep everything in the Hathcock name. Girls marry and take new names, but with Frank and his son little James, the estate will continue to carry the Hathcock name for at least two more generations. I think Uncle James liked that thought. I’m sure he figured Father would live a lot longer than he did. He probably thought we’d all be married and gone by the time father passed away, and Frank inherited everything. He couldn’t have imagined Father would get stomach cancer and pass away so soon after he did.”
“I think Grand Uncle James liked the idea of his namesake inheriting everything,” Ashelynn said from the foot of the bed where she sat rubbing lotion on Maggie’s feet. “Do you remember how much Uncle James doted on little James? I think he left everything to Frank for little James’s inheritance. Do you remember when Frank and Dottie would bring the baby to visit, and Uncle James would spend most of his time with him?”
“Oh, I remember,” Caroline said with a laugh. “Do you remember how silly he acted around little James, trying to make him giggle?” They all laughed.
“And little James just lit up like a Christmas tree whenever he saw Uncle James,” Ashelynn added.
Maggie giggled. “It sure was fun watching them, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, it was,” Caroline agreed, wrapping her arms around Maggie in a big sister hug.
Ashelynn tickled Maggie’s feet, and Maggie squealed with laughter, squirming to get away.
Hearing the laughter from the hallway, their mother pushed the door open. “What’s going on in here?” She asked with a smile, taking a seat on the bed with her daughters.
Maggie’s smile fell. “We don’t have to move now, do we? Now that Father is gone, and Frank owns the house?”
Mrs. Hathcock took Maggie’s chin in her hand and smiled. “No, dear, we don’t have to move. You heard your brother. This is still our home.”
She pulled Maggie onto her lap. “The estate provided a small inheritance for each of us, and before your father passed, he asked Frank to promise to help us with anything we might need. Frank promised, and I know he will keep his word. He wants us to continue to feel as though this is our home. Shall we say our prayers now?” Following their mother’s lead, they knelt at Maggie’s bedside, and Ashelynn offered the prayer.
Mrs. Hathcock tucked Maggie into bed with kisses and best wishes for sweet dreams. It was Caroline’s turn to read to Maggie. Ashelynn and Mrs. Hathcock left the room. Caroline took a book from the bedside table—The Little Princess—and read aloud. Her soothing voice soon had Maggie in a deep slumber.
Downstairs, Frank Hathcock sat in his father’s office poring over the financial records of the Hathcock business and financial holdings—preparing for the position that was now his. “Good… good,” he muttered, marveling at the orderly way the finances were kept and the sound frugality of his late father’s business practices.
“Let’s see,” he muttered to himself—a promise to his father to keep, “the estate grants my stepmother and sisters fifty thousand a year for their care. If they stay here, they won’t have to pay rent, so that should be more than plenty.” He thought a bit and continued, “But what about their schooling? Caroline’s at university, and Ashelynn will be next year. Would my father wish me to take care of those expenses? I wonder if I should add to the amount…?” He continued to pore over the records. “Yes, the estate should be able to grant an additional ten thousand to pay for schooling.” Frank smiled, pleased with his own generosity. “It’s more than they expected. What a surprise it will be! And Father would be proud.” He sat back in his chair and put his feet on the desk—satisfied with his intentions to keep his promise to his father.
“How long did Frank say he was going to be here?” Ashelynn asked Caroline while curling her long golden honey brown hair one morning before school—just days before graduation.
“He didn’t,” Caroline said with a shrug. “Maybe he’s staying to attend your graduation.”
“Doesn’t he have work to get back to in Charlotte?”
“I think he’s been working from Father’s office,” Caroline answered, buckling her sandal.
“But even Father drove to the office in Charlotte a few times a week.”
Caroline started down the stairs and heard the loud voice of her sister-in-law, Dottie.
“What a cramped kitchen!”
Caroline heard a cabinet door shut—loudly.
“Dottie,” she called, stepping into the kitchen. “I didn’t know you were coming for a visit.” She attempted to greet Dottie with a hug.
“I arrived this morning,” Dottie explained, shunning Caroline’s hug. “If I’m going to make something of this old place, I’d better get started right away, and there’s no better time than the summer break.”
Caroline’s brow furrowed in sudden confusion. “What do you mean?” she asked as Ashelynn, Maggie, and their mother entered the kitchen.
“This entire house needs a complete makeover,” Dottie stated, raising her hands in the air. “There’s potential here, and I’ve had my eye on changes I’ve wanted to make for some time, and now I can.”
“Dottie dear,” Mrs. Hathcock began with a nervous laugh, “Don’t do any remodeling for us. We like this place just as it is?”
“Oh, I’m not doing it for you,” Dottie crowed. “By Christmas, I’ll have this old house in the centerfold of Veranda magazine!”
The Hathcock ladies’ mouths gaped at the news. Amid an awkward silence, Frank entered the room, and Dottie threaded her arm through his to proudly announced, “Oh, and by the way, we’re moving in! I’ll need to be here to oversee the remodel.”
Having their undivided attention, Dottie snapped her instructions. “Now, Mrs. Hathcock, I’ll need you to move your things into the guest room across the hall from Maggie’s. I’ll have someone here in the morning to make plans to remodel the master bedroom. And Caroline, I’ll have you move into Ashelynn’s room. Since your room is the largest, I’ll remodel it for little James.”
Mrs. Hathcock searched Frank’s face for confirmation. He looked surprised as well. The girls looked at each other, worried brows across their faces as they closed their gaping mouths.
After a day of moving their things across the hall to meet Dottie’s demands, the Hathcock ladies congregated in the parlor.
“I can’t believe they’re moving in,” Ashelynn groaned. “They have that huge house in Charlotte. What do they want with this one?”
“It would seem Dottie had different plans than Frank,” Caroline said.
“Yes, and clearly, Dottie wants to turn Hathcock Manor into something off the cover of a magazine!” Mrs. Hathcock sighed. “I’ll admit it does need some work, but her moving in to take over like this so soon after your father’s death is like insult to injury.” Her eyes teared. “I miss him so much. I wish he were still here.”
Caroline and Ashelynn sat down by their mother, one on each side, looping their arms through hers and placing their heads on her shoulders. “We do, too,” Caroline said while Ashelynn wiped tears away.
Dottie and Frank sat in the office, where Dottie related her plans for the remodel. She inquired about the estate’s finances—gauging how much she could spend on her project.
Frank told her of the provisions in the will for his stepmother’s and sisters’ inheritance and added, “But I promised Father I’d do something more. He was very worried about them before his passing, you know, dear. I will add ten thousand a year to their allowance to help pay for schooling. I think that would make him happy.”
“You must be joking!” Dottie said in astonishment. “They have scholarships and can use student loans. You already provide them a home; they’re well taken care of here. Throwing extra money at them would just be a waste.”
Frank considered his wife’s arguments and relented. “You make a good point, my dear. I must agree they are comfortable. The original provision will do just fine.”
A smug grin lit up Dottie’s face. She proudly patted her husband on the shoulder.