The Empty Nesters - Carolyn Brown


In their years in Sugar Run, Texas, Tootsie and Smokey Colbert had had so many neighbors that they’d lost count. One by one, families in the four other houses on their block had moved in and moved away. Now, all were sitting empty.

At least they were until the first day of July, the hottest day on record in San Antonio and all the little surrounding towns. Tootsie kept a watch out the window as three big strong men—military, from the way they were dressed—unloaded the U-Haul trailers. They laughed and every so often stopped to sit on the curb and drink a beer. Smokey would like this bunch for sure since he was a retired veteran. But what interested Tootsie more than the hunky guys were those three young women and the three little girls running from one house to the other. It had been years since they’d had children on the block.

“Smokey, hurry up with those cookies,” she yelled.

“I can’t make the oven cook any faster.” He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “I like their music and that they’re wearing army fatigues. We’re going to get along with these folks just fine, darlin’.”

Country music blared from the radio in the middle house on that hot July day in Sugar Run. One of the men—a tall, dark, and handsome type—grabbed a woman around the waist and two-stepped with her out there on the lawn. A little girl with dark hair tugged on his arm, and he scooped her up and made it a three-way dance.

“I can’t wait to invite them to a cookout in the backyard tonight. I’m sure after moving all day, they’ll appreciate having a grilled burger or hot dog, and that way they’ll feel welcomed to our block,” she said.

“There’s the timer. The cookies are ready. Why don’t you get those on over to them?” He moved away from her and hurried to the kitchen.

She and Smokey had been married for more than fifty years. The good Lord hadn’t seen fit to bless them with children, but He had given them lasting love and friendship. She looked out at the new families, and her heart yearned for grandchildren. “In a minute,” she muttered. “I’m looking at them.”

Even standing in the living room of her new home with boxes all around her, Carmen could hardly believe that she was actually living off base for the first time since she and Eli had married. And as an added bonus, it was a few miles farther away from her mother-in-law, who’d thrown a fit when Eli married her and hadn’t gotten over it even yet.

Eli picked her up and twirled her around until they were both dizzy and laughing, and then he fell back on the sofa with her on top of him. “I love you, Carmen Walker. We’re going to be so happy here.”

“Let’s fill up this house with memories and have our fiftieth anniversary right here.” She moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue as she went in for a long, passionate kiss.

Eli was panting when the kiss ended. “Now that, darlin’, sounds like a good plan.”

“Mommy. Daddy. Where are y’all at?” their five-year-old daughter, Natalie, called out from the front door. “We got cookies!”

Carmen stood and tidied up her dark-brown hair. She’d never heard of the army sending a welcoming committee to folks who moved off base, but then this was the first time she had a house that the military didn’t own.

“Natalie said I could come in.” An older lady, even shorter than Carmen, carried a platter of cookies into the living room. “I’m Tootsie Colbert, and this is my husband, Smokey. We just want to welcome all y’all to our block.” She handed the platter to Carmen.

“And invite you to a backyard barbecue tonight. I make a mean hamburger and some pretty fine grilled bologna. We thought we could get to know each other—y’all are going to be hungry after all this work,” Smokey said.

Eli set the cookies on a box and extended a hand. “That sounds great. I’m Eli Walker. This is my wife, Carmen, and I see you’ve already met Natalie. Right pleased to meet y’all.”

Smokey shook hands with him. “Same here, and we’re glad to have y’all moving in. Whole block has been too quiet this past three months.”

“Well, that’s about to come to an abrupt end,” Carmen giggled. She was what her grandmother used to call slap silly that day. Part of it was because