Mary Ellen Woods was born into a military family the likes of Lieutenant Dan of Forrest Gump. Just about every male member of her family past and present has served in the U.S. military dating from the American Revolution to the current conflict in Afghanistan. Between her family background and traveling across the country as her father moved from one duty station to the next, it is not surprising she developed a keen interest in U.S. History.
This led Mary Ellen to a career as a history teacher. She was best known for her Civil War Studies class, a course for which she wrote the curriculum and taught for over twenty years. A lifelong avid reader, her love of literature led her to weave captivating narratives into her instruction to help her students connect to the people of the past. Mrs. Woods unique approach earned her the honor of being named Teacher of the Year for her high school in 2006.
Upon retirement, Mary Ellen combined her interests with her talents writing novels featuring military men as the heroes in both contemporary and historical settings. Her self-published debut novel, released in 2016, is out of the ordinary as a steamy romance with a couple over the age of 50. Her upcoming release is also unusual, a Civil War Era trilogy which features a female physician, as the heroine. A common theme in all her novels is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and she contributes part of the profits from her novels to veterans charities.
Excerpt from We Shall Ne’er Be Younger (The Silver Chronicles, Book 1)
So here I am in my fifties and life gets surreal.
I am so over death certificates, life insurances, wills and other post-mortem related paperwork. I have to get away from it. I visit my nephew and his wife in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Yep, Camp Lejeune, the biggest Marine Corps base on the East Coast. There have to be some eligible fiftyish men here, right? Somebody’s wife finally had enough of military life and divorced him. Somebody’s wife died of…fill in the blank with illness…or a horrible accident.
I forgot I said it. Drew, my nephew, reminded me. I made a comment, trying to lighten the mood at the wake, that I needed a “replacement Marine.” Drew took me literally. He thought that is why I’ve come to visit, which, now that he mentions it…
I’ve had time to consider the possibility I could grow old and die alone in one of those homes. I will not turn into one of the old widows who flirt with the maintenance guys or physical therapists who are young enough to be their grandsons. I want quality golden years, and I want someone who will live long enough to share them with me. Marines have to meet fitness standards so they have to be in decent shape at whatever age.
Truthfully, I am casting a line. I don’t have time to waste. My body has always been my greatest asset. My face makes up well, but I’m not what one would call naturally beautiful. Problem is I’m on the down slope. To keep looking good for my age, I exercise like a fiend, eat like a bird, and bathe in moisturizer while hating every minute of it.
Most of the men on this base are out of my age range, and that’s all right, I don’t want a boy toy. I’ll take one if I get desperate enough, but that isn’t what I’m looking for. I want a mature man. I want a man who is self-confident enough he doesn’t need to tack his name on me. Marines are self-confident. There is a higher concentration of men of all ages on this base than in most places. So, the odds are in my favor. I’m not below stacking the deck when I’m on the clock.
Drew and Tiffany are having a barbecue on Friday night. Included on the guest list, are the available fifty-something men they know. Both of them…so much for my odds theory.
At least there is some competition. Men want to think of themselves as winners. Even if they beat out one other guy, they still won…makes them all macho. Speaking of which, macho can be too mucho.
Bachelor Number One, Luis Ramirez, is this five-foot eight-inch, barrel-chested, master gunnery sergeant who is so over the top, he’s a parody, on two accounts. First is the “gunny” persona. He is putting on a show for me, playing every gunny I have ever seen, in any movie with Marines. I’ve seen them all, from the Sands of Iwo Jima to Jarhead. Thing is, he is serious. Ramirez believes he is a gunny from a movie. Which brings us to the second parody. He’s like a chauvinistic, bombastic, Telemundo soap opera character. Everything he has told me all night has been “mansplained.” The sergeant thinks I’m impressed.
I’m standing here wondering how he cannot see that my eyes are glazing over by the tenth “my boys” story. In every one, he is the hero and the sole reason those eighteen-year-old grunts and shave tail louies are alive today. And that could very well be true. But let your friends extol your virtues. Self-promotion is unbecoming, at least in the first half hour after meeting someone. My attention wanders to Drew, who is answering the door.
Lord have mercy! Please tell me that is Bachelor Number Two! The guy that just came in is alone, older, tall, dark and handsome. What a cliché! He’s probably six foot two. He’s got the close-cut hair required by the Marine Corps so there isn’t much, but it’s dark, even with a little gray around the temples.
Ramirez has gone quiet. He’s noticed that my eyes are diverted. I look back at him and give a sweet smile. Ramirez continues the story. I assume he didn’t skip a beat, but I can’t say for sure since I’m not really paying attention to begin with. The sergeant shows me his tattoos. There’s a tug on my skinny jeans. “Aunty Em?”
It’s three-year-old Ethan, my great-nephew. He makes me wish I’d had children. But then I remember thirty years worth of teenagers in my classroom, and that brings me back to reality. Really, I’m sorry I don’t have grandchildren. It is so delightful to spoil someone else’s little one. I can’t resist a toddler. They are cute little sponges, absorbing everything around them. Teenagers can be that way too, oddly.
“Excuse me,” I say to Ramirez and crouch down to be eye to eye with Ethan.
“What do you need, lil’ man?” I hope Ethan wants to show me something in the kitchen. That’s where tall, dark, and handsome went.
“Aunty Em, can we have pie now?” the tyke pleads.
“Did you have supper?” My great-nephew is, of course, trying to circumvent his mother on this. Aunty Em is smarter than she looks, bub, even if she never had any kids. I spoil them, yes, but I’m not going let them hurt themselves. Sugar on an empty stomach equals hyper-speed in a three-year-old.
Ethan shakes his head up and down in the affirmative. He’s lying, a concept he has recently become acquainted with. If the dog is guilty of all he’s been accused of in the last couple of days, he’d be the world’s most exceptional canine.
“Let’s ask Mommy if it’s time for pie.” I take his hand.
“Your pie,” he declares.
Ah, ownership by virtue of creation is a good concept. I made the pie; therefore, it is mine, and I can give it to whoever I please. It is sound reasoning. It’s just that three-year-old reasoning doesn’t account for subtleties, like good nutrition for children. “I made the pies for everyone at the party so we better check with Mommy.” It is simpler than explaining recommended daily allowances and why sugar is bad when it tastes so good.
Ethan argues. “But I heped.” Maybe he will buck family tradition and become a lawyer. Ethan looks up. “Daddy, can I have pie?”
I look up to see Drew, and standing over me is tall, dark and handsome.
I’m looking into a pair of gorgeous sapphire eyes surrounded by thick, dark lashes. I almost fall onto my butt. He extends a hand to help me up. My hand is swallowed by his. Men’s hands shouldn’t be too delicate or soft. His is warm and a little calloused. I can’t help but notice a big, gold class ring. If it’s from any college chances are he’s an officer. He pulls me up with no effort, not that I weigh that much, but still. Even in my heels, I only come to his chest. I had been looking at Ramirez nearly eye to eye.
“Thank you,” I murmur, still caught in those mesmerizing orbs.
“Aunt Em, this is Colonel Mike Hansen. Sir, this is my Aunt Emily.” Drew does the proper introduction that a well-raised Southern boy ought to do. He’s my brother’s son, God rest his soul. Ed was twenty-seven when he was killed in Desert Storm in ’90. Drew was Ethan’s age when it happened. My nephew barely remembers his father. But Drew always wanted to be a Marine, like his dad and his grandpa. Yeah, Camp Lejeune is pretty familiar.
Mike still has my hand. He raises it. My knees turn into Jello at the brush of his lips to the back of my hand. “Pleasure,” is all I can manage to croak out. I feel heat rising in my face when I realize I just told him that his kissing my hand brought me pleasure. It had.
The left corner of his mouth curls. “Pleasure’s all mine,” rolls off his tongue with a South Carolina drawl. I love a Southern accent. South Carolina is old and aristocratic like Virginia but more deep South. A Georgia or Mississippi drawl is too thick for me. If y’all are from the South, y’all can detect the subtle differences that seem to elude Yankees. Yankees think there is one Southern accent. Geography, people! Charleston is further from Richmond than New York is from Boston. But if you value your life, you won’t tell a New Yorker they sound the same as a Bostonian.
I’m still staring up into those baby blues when Ramirez breaks the spell. “Colonel, good to see you again, sir.”
Mike lets go of my hand to shake with Ramirez. Damn you, Ramirez, I wasn’t impressed before, and now I’m really not happy with you. It isn’t the poor guy’s fault. The sergeant was talking a mile a minute earlier. He was uncomfortable from the get-go since he’s the only enlisted man present. Enlisted and officers rarely socialize like this. Drew takes Ethan and excuses himself leaving me with both of them.
Ah, this is awkward. The two men make small talk a minute. I learn that Mike is assigned to Parris Island. He is here for the weekend to visit his son who is stationed at Lejeune. The Marine Corps tends to be in the blood.
Ramirez shoots me a longing look, telling me how nice it was to meet me before leaving the party. He knows what defeat looks like. The winner wears a full bird on his shoulders and a square jaw on his chin. Not that I’m about rank. A sergeant is every bit as worthy as a colonel. It’s just that in the last twenty minutes, Ramirez has not pushed any of my buttons in a good way. In the first twenty seconds, Mike has pushed several in a very good way.
Mike smiles. Nice teeth, he’s a nonsmoker, not many smokers in the Corps. It’s hard to do a 5k run in sixty pounds of combat gear with impaired lungs. I agree with that adage that kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray. I’d tried smoking in college. I thought I looked cool sitting at a bar holding a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. I never figured out how to inhale, honestly.
College was the last time I was in the dating game. Thirty years later it is even more awkward. The confidence of youth is missing, so is a clean slate. Everyone this age has some kind of baggage. If you never married, the other person wonders why. Are you married to your job, not willing to come out, or just too self-absorbed? Then you have the can of worms that comes with divorced or widowed.
The problem with a widower is that if the marriage was happy, he’s looking to replace what’s-her-name. He will expect me to be just like her, and I will never be as good as her. If he has children, they are likely to be hostile since they don’t want their mother replaced. I don’t want to play second fiddle to a dead woman.
Divorced works. The good thing about a divorced man is that he isn’t likely to want to get married again. I don’t. One marriage is enough to hold me for a lifetime. I still get the kids who will hate me because I’m not their mother plus I get the bonus of the ex from hell. So, pick your poison.