Pam and Mark Walker are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary with a week-long family reunion and a ceremony renewing their vows. Mark breezily dismisses Pam's misgiving about temporarily closing Montis Inn and heads off to the county fair, to try his hand at both chainsaw sculpting and sheep shearing, with chaotic--and hilarious--results. Meanwhile, Pam juggles her thrill-seeking mother, who has a new "friend with benefits," and her non-conformist niece, who posts family secrets in her online blog . Then Mark's brother-in-law starts broadcasting his radio talk show live from Montis Inn. His remarks disparaging small-town life cause immediate rifts, especially when he sides with a real estate developer who wants to turn Lumby into a Las Vegas version of Aspen. As the controversy pits family against family, and neighbor against neighbor, will the spirit that defines Lumby triumph once again?
About The Air: "The band of carnival vendors and operators who traveled from one fair to the next during the summer months allowed themselves three days to set up, so the fairground was bustling with activity in preparation for Tuesday's official opening. By then, the service trucks would be gone, leaving straight rows of booths and rides between wide-open walking paths. When Mark and Joshua stepped out of the Jeep, they noticed that many of the concession stands had been erected and that several were already serving a limited menu of hamburgers and sodas to those who were working the fair. Two young men were struggling to set up an arcade game that had fallen off the ramp of a heavily rusted van. Although many of the carnival rides would be arriving the next day, the huge Ferris wheel, aptly named The Air, had already been assembled. The operating crew of three was just beginning to go through the long engineering checklist before they ran their first test. One of the operators had climbed up the frame of the ride and was swinging from a roped harness, trying to replace burned out lightbulbs among those that outlined the massive wheel. From all appearances, the worker was engaged in a serious conversation with Hank, the town's mascot, a plastic pink flamingo who was perched in the highest basket of the Ferris wheel, eating popcorn and sipping from a glass of freshly squeezed lemonade. Enjoying the unobstructed views of Mill Valley, Hank had taken up residence there just after The Air was assembled. Although his acrophobia had been acting up in recent months, the well-padded seats and security bar allowed for a good night's sleep. Hank, who thought himself more an eagle than some dim-witted wading bird, had seen many fairs come and go. This one certainly looked most promising. If nothing else, he would have penthouse accommodations for the week." - excerpt from Lumby on the Air
CHAPTER ONE: Invitation
Pam Walker rolled the ecru-colored card between her slender fingers as she sauntered from the bedroom into the kitchen at their home at Montis Inn. It was shortly before midnight, and all lights in their house were off except for the wrought-iron fixture above the large oak kitchen table where her husband, Mark, sat reading the newspaper. The old casement windows were open, and a gentle summer breeze wafted through the large room.
She placed the invitation on the table, continuing to study it as she tightened the belt around her robe. "You don't think the typo is a bad omen?" she asked, sitting down next to Mark. Not getting any response from him, she leaned over and petted Cutter, one of two black Labrador Retrievers that were fast asleep by his feet. "You don't like it either, do you, boy?" she asked the dog.
"Honey," Mark said, without looking up, "it was my name they messed up, and I really don't mind."
Pam tucked her short ash-blond hair behind her ears. "It's still unbelievable that they were actually mailed out with that typo."
Mark softly laughed, seeing more humor in the mistake than his wife did. "I'm sure we're not the first couple who each thought the other had proofread the draft before giving the store the okay to address and send out the envelopes."
Pam continued to stare at the card as she thought about the coming week. "I still don't think it's a good idea that we're closing down the inn for nine days during our busiest season."
Mark shrugged. "It's a little late to worry about that. Like it or not, those invitations were mailed out a month ago, and everyone will be arriving in three days. Don't worry, we'll get through it," he said absently, turning to page four of the weekly newspaper.
Mark's laugh, as he finished the article, was halted abruptly when Pam said, "Fark!"
Clipper, the Walkers' other Lab, was startled out of a light sleep and barked in reply.
Mark grinned. "I'm actually starting to like my new name-it sounds like Hungarian nobility."
Pam shook her head in loving disbelief. "Honey, I guarantee that's not what it sounds like. If anything, I think it's a bad omen." She pulled the soft cotton collar up around her neck as if to ward off her concerns, then leaned back, closed her eyes and did what she did best: considered the best- and worst-case scenarios. She continued as if talking to herself. "I see it coming. The front page of The Lumby Lines will read 'Family Reunion Implodes at Montis Inn.'"
Mark leaned over and kissed Pam on the cheek. "That's ludicrous. Dennis Beezer would write a far wittier caption-something like 'Montis Murders Mortify Municipality.'"
She squinted at him out of the corners of her eyes. "You've been thinking about that for days, haven't you?"
"Weeks," he admitted with a sheepish grin. Laying the paper down, he turned in his chair. "I really don't understand why you're so concerned. I can't wait to see my family again."
"I'm sure she won't come," Mark replied quickly, not willing to consider any other possibility. He paused, trying to count the years since he'd last seen his brother and two sisters. "It's different for you-you talk to your mother every couple of weeks. But as close as my family was while we were all growing up, we lost touch when we went our separate ways. And then after a few strained holiday gatherings-"
"And then the civil lawsuit. Not getting together came easier than making an effort to mend the rifts and smooth out the hard feelings. And ever since coming to Lumby, I haven't reached out to any of them. I think it's sad that we touch base only once a year with a Christmas card."
Pam pulled her knees into her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. "In some ways, I've done the same with my mom. Although I've invited her here several times, I never really insisted that she come." She looked at her husband. "Do you think we've been selfish in not wanting to share Montis with anyone?"
Mark didn't reply immediately. "Not intentionally, but maybe," he finally said. "What we have here is so great, and we've built so many good relationships in Lumby, maybe some of our more casual friends from the past just got a little more distant. But this is good; inviting our families to join us as we celebrate our anniversary might be the fresh start that we need to bring them back into our lives."
"But having them all here, together, for an entire week?"
Mark took his wife's hand in his and held it tightly. "I think you're obsessing just a little."
Pam frowned and gently pulled free of his grasp. "Obsessing, am I? May I remind you that you haven't seen one of your sisters since you sued her husband, who stole a quarter of a million dollars from you?"
"Okay, seeing Lynn after all this time would be a little awkward. But I'm sure she won't have the nerve to show up."
"Even though she RSVP'd that she is planning on coming?"
"In writing-she couldn't even bring herself to call," Mark reminded her. "Lynn is only concerned with appearances; she always does what she thinks is socially correct. I'm sure we'll get a carefully worded and tremendously shallow letter from her tomorrow, regretfully canceling her plans to join us."
"You're probably right about that," Pam said, sighing deeply. "She would never have the audacity to come to our home. But what about Carter? Your brother-in-law is one of the most disliked national radio talk show shock jocks around, and he'll soon be walking down Main Street in Lumby, acting the ultracompetitive, confrontational jerk that he is, just to get fodder for his show."
Mark shook his head. "Nope, that's not going to happen. Carter promised that the reunion is off limits. He said he'll be broadcasting reruns during the entire week."
Pam raised a brow. "And you actually believe him?"
Mark picked up the newspaper in an attempt to escape any further discussion about the reunion. Although he would never admit as much, he was almost as apprehensive as his wife about his relatives descending on the small town of Lumby and causing mayhem at Montis Inn and in the life that he and Pam had so caringly and lovingly built together over the last several years. But he also knew that time was passing quickly, and that there would be few opportunities to rebuild the ties he once had with his brother, Patrick, and at least one of his sisters.
"Fark?" Pam said, still waiting for his response.
"Okay, Pam," he said, folding the newspaper. "Yes, I admit we may have a few small family issues, but when you really think about it, who doesn't?" Before letting his wife reply, Mark pushed the paper in front of her. "This," he said as he tapped his finger on a front-page article. "This will take care of everything."
Pam put on her glasses and began to read. "A pie-eating contest?" she asked in confusion.
"Yep," he said confidently, ignoring her skepticism. "Well, I mean, no, not that specifically, but the county fair-the entire thing, the whole enchilada."
Pam leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. "What about the fair?"
Mark lifted his hands as if the answer was obvious. "It's opening on Tuesday, and it's the perfect distraction. Everyone can go to-"
"Their separate corners," she said glibly.
"No, to the fairgrounds. We'll all be too busy to argue. I've signed Montis up for a bunch of competitions."
Pam glared at her husband. "You're not serious."
Mark flipped over the newspaper so Pam could see the fair schedule. "Some of these events are going to be so cool," he said with mounting enthusiasm.
She continued to look skeptically at the man who had proven, on so many occasions, that he was adept at conjuring up harebrained schemes. "Don't tell me you're going to be chasing after a greased pig."
Mark looked insulted. "Of course not-that's for kids. But maybe we'll try the tractor pull and the demolition derby."
She panicked when she heard those words. "With our Jeep?"
"I haven't figured that one out yet," he replied. "And there's bull wrangling."
"Bull wrangling?" she repeated slowly.
Mark nodded and then said in his deepest voice, "With horns. Very dangerous. A real manly-man competition."
Pam covered her mouth as she laughed. "Oh, this train wreck is coming right at us a mile a minute."
Just thinking about the fair excited Mark to no end, and all of his unspoken worries about the reunion faded away. He shot out of his chair, kissed his wife on the head and poured himself another cup of coffee. "It's going to be great. And we can take little Jessica on all the rides."
Pam coughed. "How old do you think little Jessica is?"
Mark looked up in thought. "Well, when we last saw her, she was about four, and that was about four years ago, so she's around eight-the perfect age for going to the fair."
"I don't want to burst your county fair balloon, but we saw your niece eight years ago, and she was eight at the time, so that would make little Jessica sixteen and probably not all that interested in going on the carousel with you."
"No, that can't be," Mark said, waving his hand at her. "Your math is all wrong. She isn't that old."
"Train wreck," Pam repeated.
"Honey, you worry too much," he assured her. "And Kay will be here to calm everyone down."
Pam smiled at the thought of seeing her mother again. "She is a rudder, isn't she? Always so steady and levelheaded."
"Just like her daughter-very predictable."
Pam groaned. "That really means boring, doesn't it?"
"I guarantee that's one thing you're not," Mark said.
"Did I tell you she called the other day to ask if she could bring a friend?"
"Oh, that's great. Who is she bringing?"
"We talked so briefly, I forgot to ask, but I'm sure it's Noreen Buckman. Ever since Dad passed away, she's been Mom's closest friend-a wonderful companion for playing bridge and going to an early matinee. And I'm sure Mom doesn't want to travel alone." Pam thought for a moment. "I'll give them the two adjoining suites in the guest annex."
"Whatever you want," Mark said, taking his wife's arm and leading her into the bedroom. But instead of going to bed, he pulled two chairs in front of Pam's desk. "Let's go online and see what else we can do at the fair."
"It's late, honey. We've got to get some sleep."
"But this is the county fair," he said, turning on her computer. "It only comes to Lumby once every four years. This is the highlight of most folks' lives around here."
"And that alone doesn't concern you just a bit?" Pam watched over his shoulder as he booted up the computer and found the fair's webpage. "Click on Fair Sponsors," she said. "We should be mentioned."
As soon as the webpage refreshed itself, the Montis Inn name and logo popped up at the top of the page, separated from and far bigger than any of the other sponsors that were listed.
"Wow," Pam said, resting her hand on Mark's shoulder as she leaned closer to the terminal. "How did we get such great billing?"
"I gave them a little more than the normal donation," he said quickly.
"How much more?"
"Don't ask," he replied as he navigated his way through the site.
"Wait, what's that red notice?" Pam asked, pointing to the bottom of the page. She read aloud: "'July 14 Update: The Lumby Fire Department concession stand known for refried, chocolate-covered doughnuts will not be open until Wednesday due to damages sustained during a grease fire earlier this morning.'"
"That's too bad," Mark moaned. "I just love their deep-fried Twinkies."
"So the options for death at the county fair would be either heart attack from clogged arteries or being gored by a bull?" she asked.
He pretended not to have heard the comment and continued to scroll down to the events listing. "Here it is," he said.
They silently read the long list of activities: Fiddling Competition, Livestock Auction, Grange Judging.
"How about that?" he asked, pointing to the barrel races.
"Peanuts is our only horse, and she would have a nervous breakdown if you put a saddle on her back and asked her to trot between two barrels."
Mark nodded in agreement. "Okay, how about this?"
"Ox yoking?" Pam laughed. "That would be a challenge-we have neither ox nor yoke."
"All right," he said, "let me find Jimmy D's website. I hear he's listed the best competitions on his From the Mayor webpage."
Mark began to scan the results of his search but then abruptly stopped.
"What is it?" Pam asked.
"Huh. It seems someone's been blogging about Lumby on MySpace," he answered as he clicked on a website link.
Suddenly, they were looking at an attractive teenager with short strawberry-blond hair who was holding a can of Bolt, the highly caffeinated drink that had recently become an overnight fad with high school and college students. She wore a scoop-necked magenta tank top that fit tightly over her well-developed chest and, layered over that, a sheer black blouse that hung loosely off her shoulders. The cut of her hair, with long bangs, complemented her face, and although she was a few pounds overweight, anyone would consider her very cute on first impression. Wearing ample makeup and stylish jewelry, she looked as if she were in her early twenties.
"Jessica?" Mark stuttered.
Pam groped for words. "Seems your niece isn't so little anymore."
He blinked several times, trying to make sense of the MySpace page. He scanned Jessica's profile and then took another minute to skim his niece's daily blog entries from the prior week.
"Jessica is writing about coming to Lumby," he explained.
"Is that good?" Pam asked, sinking into the chair next to her husband.
"I don't think it's necessarily bad. She's calling it 'A Trip to Lumby Land.'"
Pam pulled her chair closer to the desk and tilted the screen for a better view. It took both of them several minutes to carefully read everything on Jessica's page, including the blog entries that related to their family reunion.
Pam gasped. "She calls Montis Inn a musty old monastery!"
"Remember, she's just a kid," Mark said, coming to his niece's defense. "And, honey, she's not that far off the mark: Montis is, in fact, a hundred-year-old abbey."
"But musty?" Pam cringed.
"That's just an assumption by a teenager who has never set foot in anything older than a new pair of jeans. I'm sure she didn't write that intentionally."
"Intentional or not," Pam said, running her hands through her hair, "this could be read and believed by anyone. To write about our inn and our town like that is just irresponsible."
"But honey, it's just the Internet." Mark shrugged. "Everyone knows that whatever they read should be-"
"Trashed," Pam interjected.
"No, just checked out thoroughly," Mark corrected as he continued to study his niece's webpage. "Oh, look, she also has a video."
Mark clicked on the button and a second later, pop rock music blared out of the computer speakers. An image of Jessica filled the screen.
"Hey, everyone," the teenager said. "Like, I'm being dragged out of my room tomorrow for a lame reunion in Nowhere, USA. My cam is on, so stay tuned. I'll be uploading Lumby Land streams every night."
And then the computer went silent.
"Well, that seems harmless enough," Mark said.
Pam sat motionless. "A stream?"
"A video," he answered as he quickly typed in another web address. "Let's see if she's on Facebook."
Pam glanced suspiciously at her husband. "How do you know about all these networking websites?"
Mark smirked. "I'm hip. I know what all the young kids are doing."
Pam patted her husband's shoulder. "Then you'll know exactly how to stop Jessica's blogging the second she walks in the door. The last thing we need is a rebellious teenager broadcasting our every move over the next week."
Mark raised his fist in solidarity. "I'm with ya, bro," he said in his best, albeit painfully unsuccessful jive.
Lumby on the Air Reading Group Guide
About this GuideThe proposed topics for discussion, presented most often in question format, are designed to support and enhance your individual thoughts about, or group's discussion of Gail Fraser's novel, Lumby on the Air. Comments and suggestions are invited by the author at www.lumbybooks.com.
- Family reunions are often an interesting blend of joy and stress, especially around the holidays. Do you have any secrets for having a successful family gathering? What have been your experiences?
- One theme that runs through the book is that what we fear will happen is frequently much worse than what eventually does happen-we see this with Lynn as she enters into a new relationship and with Elaine as she struggles to discipline Jessica. Could fearing the worst be a self-fulfilling prophecy, or is it merely human nature to put up defenses when we are faced with uncertainty?
- Pam voices her disapproval of Kay's activities out of fear of losing her mother. How can we, as Kay advises, simply "let go" of something that's very important to us? Does Pam ever do that successfully?
- Raising a teenager in these times is tremendously challenging given the technology to which they have access. Discuss some of those challenges and how parents can use the technology to help a teenager grow into a responsible adult.
- Elaine Walker appears to be trapped: she is too panicked to move forward because of what happened in the past. Have you ever felt unable to do what you knew you needed to do? How did you eventually overcome your resistance or the barrier that was in your way?
- What are some ways one might handle an abrasive, overly competitive personality like Carter Reed? Could Mark have done anything different to soften Carter's impact on the reunion?
- When Pam and Lynn walk down to the barn together, Pam unexpectedly blurts out exactly what she thinks of her sister-in-law. Does she do the right thing in being so honest with Lynn, or should she keep her feelings to herself? How do you know when it's right to openly speak your mind about your feelings toward another person?
- Lynn's cat Coco plays an important role in her life by offering her hope and companionship. Chuck suggests that sometimes an animal can provide more comfort than another human. Do you feel that's true? Discuss the relationships you've had with your pets.
- Both Lynn and Chuck are aware that their relationship is going to be short-lived, but they are able to embrace the moment and simply appreciate each other's company for the time they have together. Do you have any fond memories of a brief encounter that helped you along in life?
- The county fair is a community event that the residents of Lumby enthusiastically embrace. When was the last time you attended a fair? Are there other public events that bring your community together?
- Hank may be the only one who is less than thrilled about the fair, but he puts aside his own feelings and becomes an ambassador for Lumby, greeting all those who enter the fairgrounds. What can we learn from his behavior?
- Kay Eastman and Robert Day are healthy, vibrant senior citizens who make the most of each day. They also both feel tremendously blessed to have found love a second time. Have you ever found your soul mate? How many times have you found love?