Nicole Seitz, Author of Southern Fiction
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BEYOND MOLASSES CREEK
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THE INHERITANCE OF BEAUTY
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SAVING CICADAS
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A HUNDRED YEARS OF HAPPINESS
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TROUBLE THE WATER
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THE SPIRIT OF SWEETGRASS
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books - A Hundred Years of Happiness

A Hundred Years of Happiness  by Nicole SeitzExcerpt

PROLOGUE
The Ghost

I am not a ghost. Some may say I am no longer living, but one could argue with that. One might argue that before I left the earth, I was not actually living, but swimming, going through the motions, clueless as to how the universe works. I am much more real now than ever before—more real than the country boy from Georgia, more real than the soldier in Vietnam. In fact, one might argue that you, friend, are the ghost. Earthly lives are often veiled and wispy—just as you imagine me to be now.

After I took my last breath and entered heaven, I was able to see the whole picture—the mazes, the intricate workings, the coming together for a common good. For this knowledge, for the Truth, I will always be grateful. Know this: Life does not simply end when we die. There is something after. I promise there is. What it is just depends on us.

I am in a much better place, so don’t worry for me. I am happy now. At peace. I’m going to tell you my story so you can see for yourself how it all works, how it all comes together. Seeing that no life is solitary, but we are all tangled up, strings of souls here and there, some more twisted together than others—this story is not just about me. It’s about us, we who bump and tousle, pull apart and go our own ways.

It’s about you.

Some characters in this story I knew very well. Others, I only learned of after my passing. Upon reading, you will find your own place in this story.

Know that I still pray for her and for many in these pages. Never underestimate the power of prayer. Even when you think it’s too late for it. You’re about to see how it saved a lost soul like me.

This story may not be like any you’ve ever heard. Be prepared to open your mind to possibilities. The mind is such a powerful thing. May all who hear this tale be blessed by it, you, children of sacrifice and you, fathers and mothers of battle. And to my fellow soldiers, my brothers in arms who fought valiantly and are still fighting to this day, I say this:

Take comfort. Your battle is not in vain. Know that one day soon, your war, too, will come to an end.


PART ONE: WATER

When the father's generation eats salt, the child's generation thirsts for water.
~ Vietnamese proverb


CHAPTER ONE
The Beach
Charleston, South Carolina, May 2008
Katherine Ann

He’s wrestling with the folding chairs and losing. His finger gets pinched, and he spouts a four-letter word. “Why’d we have to come to the beach when I got a perfectly good river in my back yard? Shoot, no ugly people in bathing suits at my house. Well, except for a couple of you Water Lilies.”

“That is just rude.” I turn and watch my boys somersaulting in the sand.

“I wasn’t talking about you…” Daddy says.

“But those are my friends.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have had to haul all this crap halfway across town if we’d stayed home. Here. Make yourself useful and help me with this.” I grab a tent pole and hold it steady for him while he jabs the others into the ground.

My father would like to own the world. If it’s not his—his river or his boat or his kayak—why the heck would we want it? Like the beach, for instance. We live so close, but we never go. It’s a sin, really. Well, we’re here. With Mama’s help, I finally twisted Daddy’s arm and talked him into leaving behind his fortress along the Cooper River. It’s like any other day, the sparkling ocean spread out before me, warm sand blowing across my feet, and my father—making me wish I’d stayed at home.

“This is not about you, Daddy. It’s about the boys. They love it here. Look at them. They need a place to run wild.”

Mama and RC, my husband, are walking now along the water’s edge with Tradd and Cooper in tow. They look so tiny, so vulnerable there. It’s all I can do to resist the urge to join them, but I know this expanse of space and quiet will help me recharge as a mother, as a wife. This is good for us all.

Daddy finishes putting the tent up, grunting and cursing, and I move toward the sandy dunes, digging my toes in the soft heat. I watch everybody I love from a calm distance. Every now and again, the boys stop to pick something up and throw it into the water. They run squealing from the waves, and RC scoops one and then the other up high over his head. He’s such a good daddy. What did I ever do to deserve him? Mama pulls her beach hat over her ears again and stares up into the clouds, checking for rain.

With the boys taken care of, I walk and breathe and ponder until I find myself bored with solitude. At this time in my life, my family is what defines me, and apart from them I am a single balloon drifting in the sky. Long gone are the days when I wore a suit, carried a briefcase, practiced law. I was defined by the work I did then and proud of it. But I want to be there for my kids like my mother was for me. I never had to struggle for her attention. She was just there when I needed her, usually at the kitchen sink. No, I rarely miss the old me, my life before family.

I see my father sitting alone in our encampment, his once-trim belly hanging over a crisp blue bathing suit. He holds a bottle of water in his hand, and his ankles and feet are perched in front of him, blue-white from never taking his shoes off. He looks so alone.

I drag my feet. Daddy and I don’t talk one-on-one very often. Or ever. So, what will I say? My shoulders itch, sandpaper just under the skin. If this was Mama sitting there, I’d be by her side in a heartbeat. Wouldn’t give it a second thought. Sitting and chatting with Mama is as natural as breathing. But Daddy?

“Hey,” I say, walking to the beach blanket and leaning down under the mammoth man-made shade Daddy bought from a wholesale store. The whole beach set-up, from chairs to towels to picnic basket, is new and still has the tags on, Minnie Pearl-style.

“Have a seat.” Daddy stirs and pulls a chair closer, beckoning for me.

I sit and melt into it. “Nice chairs,” I say.

“Thirty-eight dollars at Price-co. Can’t beat that.”

“No, you can’t.” I look around and watch a fiddler crab emerging from a hole. He ducks back in again. “Sure is beautiful out here.”

“Mm hmm.” Daddy keeps his stare on the boys and Mama. Or is it the horizon? I can’t tell behind his sunglasses. A container ship cruises far off in the distance at a snail’s pace. I watch it go by.

“RC get a raise yet?” Daddy asks, jarring me.

“No. And please don’t ask him about it again.”

“I won’t! I’m just talking. Can’t a man talk?” He takes a swig of his water and screws the cap back on. “How ‘bout you? Making any money these days?”

“Daddy!” I grab the armrests, sitting up, and he shakes his head.

“You could help out too, that’s all I’m saying.”

“You know I’m watching the boys. It’s a full-time job.” My chest tightens and my throat attempts to close. I cough and sputter.

“Well, your mother worries about you and those boys all the time. That’s all I hear. Just you and those boys. It’s gonna kill her one of these days.” I’m reaching for the open bag of pretzels when he looks over at my stomach rolls.

“What are you, pregnant again?”

“No! I’m not!”

“Well, you gotta start taking better care of yourself.”

“Look who’s talking!” I squeal.

“Your husband’s a personal trainer, right? Why don’t you get him to whip you in shape?”

I drop the bag and cover my belly with my arms. I have the sudden urge to dig a hole in the sand and hide like that fiddler crab. I’d get up and walk away except for the fact he’ll be staring at my plump legs and rear when I leave. I don’t want to give Daddy the satisfaction of being right.
I grow silent and Daddy does too. Why in the world did I come over here? To relax? After a few minutes, I’m done. I suck in my stomach and count down in my head. Three, two…

“I don’t know,” he mutters, as if we’ve been carrying on a conversation. Which we have not been.

“Don’t know about what?”

“Oh, you and RC, your mother, everything.” He says the words as if they’re heavy bricks on his tongue.

“What? We’re fine.”

“Yeah, but you could stand to make some more money, Katie-bug. Know what I mean? Private school’s expensive. Don’t come looking to me to help out.”

“Could you please stop talking about money? Truly. And the boys are going to public school. We’ve already told y’all that.”

“Oh, no. No, you can’t do that. Your mother won’t be able to stand it. She’ll drive me crazy.” He turns to me. “Why couldn’t you marry a man with money? Another lawyer. A doctor. What’s his problem anyway? When’s he gonna get a real job?”

“That’s enough.” I stand and face my father, hands on hips, the urge to bless him out working its way up to my tongue.

“You’re just like your mother, you know that?” he snips. “She can’t stand me either.” He turns away from me, staring down the beach.

I stop, surprised. Still standing, I realize my hindquarters are exposed, but something in the tone of his voice made me think he was sincere for once. He sounded so sad. Wounded.

“Oh, come on now,” I say. “You’re not that bad. I can stand you just fine. I’m sure Mama can too.”

“I’m serious. Your mother’s gonna leave me one of these days. She’s getting very testy in her old age. Doesn’t put up with much anymore.”

“She’s not gonna leave you. Why do you think she’s stayed with you for thirty-seven years?” I sit down again. I think of telling Daddy about hormones and what menopause does and how he should never, ever, mention old age around Mama, but I can’t seem to get the words to come out right.

“I don’t know,” he says finally, defeated. He seems to be talking, not to me, but to himself. Or maybe to the warm breeze. “Maybe God’s punishing me or something.”

“Really? What’d you do?” I ask, half-joking to lighten the mood.

“Hell if I know. I guess it was something pretty bad.”

“Well, I hope you figure it out soon before we’re all in real trouble. Right? Before we all go down in flames.”

I laugh, but Daddy doesn’t say anything else. He just sits there morose, dark sunglasses aimed at flying seagulls. My blood chills with his sudden change in persona. And when I get up to join Mama, RC and the boys near the waterline, Daddy doesn’t even turn his head to acknowledge I was ever there by his side.

Copyright ©2009 Nicole Seitz. Reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson.

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Copyright © 2007 Nicole Seitz. All rights reserved.
The Spirit of Sweetgrass Trouble the Water, coming February 2008!