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Authors: Ann H. Gabhart

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BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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Of course, Tabitha’s baby would have a grandmother. DeeDee out in California. Jocie liked calling her mother DeeDee in her thoughts and writing that for her name in her journal. That was what DeeDee had made Tabitha call her after they left Hollyhill. She’d never wanted to be a mother to Jocie, and it looked as if she didn’t care the first thing about being a grandmother to Tabitha’s baby either. Tabitha had told Jocie a few days ago that she hadn’t heard a word from DeeDee. “And I doubt if I will,” Tabitha said. “She didn’t want me to have the baby.”

“What did she want you to do? I mean, you couldn’t do much about it once the baby was on the way, could you?” Jocie said.

Tabitha didn’t meet her eyes. “DeeDee doesn’t think the same way about things as people back here in Hollyhill do.”

Jocie didn’t worry about her mother that much anymore. Once she’d come to the conclusion that her mother had deserted her long before she left Hollyhill, Jocie shoved all her memories of her into a box in her mind and pushed it back out of the way where she could forget all about it. Maybe someday she’d want to pull the box out and open it up again, but not now. Now she had other things to worry about, such as starting high school and helping Wes get better and figuring out how she felt about her dad getting all googly-eyed over Leigh.

Jocie buttered her third roll and watched her father talking to Mr. Harvey, but his eyes kept slipping back to Leigh’s face. It was easy to see he was glad Miss Sally had insisted Leigh join them for Sunday dinner.

Mr. Harvey scraped a bite of roast beef up on his fork and chewed it slowly before he said, “Do you think we should go visit the Hearndons this afternoon, Brother David?”

“This might be a good time if you want to ride over there with me,” her father said.

“I want to go too,” Jocie said quickly.

Her father looked at her. “You’ll get to see Noah at the paper tomorrow.”

“I wasn’t thinking about Noah. I wanted to see the twins again. They’re so cute. Do you think there’s any chance Tabitha will have twins?”

“I hope not,” her father said.

“She’s not having twins,” Aunt Love said. “She’s not big enough for that.”

“She might be bigger if she wasn’t throwing up all the time,” Jocie said.

“Jocelyn, we’re at the table,” Aunt Love frowned across the table at her.

“Oh, sorry,” Jocie said, glancing at Miss Sally and then Leigh. Leigh had her mouth twisted a bit to hide her smile. Neither of them looked as if talking about throwing up had upset their stomachs.

Miss Sally got up to cut one of the butterscotch pies she’d made for dessert. As she distributed huge slices all around, she said, “I got a little carried away baking pies, more than me and Harvey will ever eat up. I was planning to let you carry one home and then take another one over to the Hearndons. Why don’t we all just ride along so I can deliver my pie?”

“That sounds good, but first, let me call Tabitha and make sure everything’s going okay with her and Wes.” Jocie’s father got up and went into the living room where the phone was. When he came back, he reported all was well, that Tabitha had stopped the pendulum on Grandfather Brooke’s clock so they could sleep all afternoon without anything bonging them awake.

“My heavens. I never even hear that clock,” Aunt Love said as she stood up to help Miss Sally with the dishes.

So after they cleared the table, they all piled into Mr. Harvey’s old Buick. Even Leigh.

She’d made noises about going on home, but Miss Sally looked at Jocie’s father and said, “Brother David, you tell her to stay so she can come back to church with us tonight. They can do without her at First Baptist better than we can do without her down here. Now isn’t that true?”

Leigh was still easing toward the door until Jocie’s dad said, “It is.” He’d put his hand on Leigh’s arm. “Why don’t you stay? I’ll follow you home, and Jocie can ride back to town in your car.”

Jocie had thought for a minute that Leigh was going to sparkle she was so happy, and she had to be even happier now wedged in between Mr. Harvey and Jocie’s dad in the front seat. Jocie wasn’t sure how happy Noah’s mother was going to be when she saw them all coming up to her door. But most people were polite when the preacher came calling, even if they weren’t especially glad to see him. Of course, the preacher didn’t usually drag along five extra people. Maybe there would be safety in numbers. Then Jocie wondered why she’d thought about safety.

She told herself the Hearndons were just people like anybody else in the church community, but it wasn’t true. Jocie had never gone to church with a black family. She’d never even been inside a black person’s house. She knew a few black people. Willanna, who cooked at the Grill and her little girl, Shamece, who was a couple of years younger than Jocie. She liked talking to Linc who worked with the vet. He knew more about animals than anybody she knew. He’d even given her some worm pills for Zeb a few weeks ago. Just in case, he said, seeing as how the dog was a stray and all.

Plus, she supposed she could say she knew Noah. They’d ended up in the same ditch. They’d ridden together on the same bike. Perhaps not a conventional way of getting acquainted, but they had definitely met. Noah wasn’t much like any other kid Jocie knew, but she didn’t think that had much to do with his skin color. Kids from big towns were always different from kids who’d grown up in Hollyhill. They thought they were smarter, better somehow just because more people lived in the towns where they were born.

But Jocie was pretty sure she’d never known anyone a bit like Myra Hearndon. So she didn’t have the first idea what Mrs. Hearndon might do when they all showed up on her front porch. Even her father looked a little unsure as he led the way across the yard and up the steps to the Hearndons’ front door. No dog came out from under the porch to bark at them. It was so quiet that her father’s rap on the wooden screen door sounded extra loud.

Then Myra Hearndon was at the front door, throwing it open wide and smiling just as widely at all of them. A real smile. A glad smile that welcomed them on her porch. Somehow that was the last thing Jocie had been expecting.

“Rev. Brooke,” she said. “What a pleasure to see you and your family. And Miss Sally and Mr. Harvey.”

Miss Sally stepped forward to give Mrs. Hearndon the pie. “I had extra so thought maybe you would like to try my butterscotch pie.”

Myra Hearndon’s face softened as she leaned over to touch her cheek to Miss Sally’s in a quick embrace. “Would we ever! It looks delicious.” She took the pie and moved back to let them come into the living room. “Please come in. Alex and Noah are out in the field. Alex says the more rocks he picks up, the more rocks come to the top of the ground. You didn’t seed the fields with rock, now did you, Mr. Harvey?”

“Somebody must have before I bought the place. I’ve picked several tons of them up off the fields myself.” Mr. Harvey smiled at her. “Are they down in the long acre field where he’s intending to put in the first trees?”

“They are. He’s hoping to do the first wave of planting in a couple of weeks. It’s sort of scary thinking how long it will be before the trees start bearing. We’re looking to other things before then, but of course it’s too late this season to grow anything. Or so Alex says. I’m afraid I’m a novice when it comes to farming.”

“You could try hogs,” Mr. Harvey said. “They pay off pretty quick if the market stays steady.”

“Hogs,” Mrs. Hearndon said. The word didn’t seem to fit naturally in her mouth. “My friends in Chicago would never believe it.”

“What did you do in Chicago?” Jocie’s dad asked as he sat down on one of the chairs Mrs. Hearndon carried in from the kitchen. Mr. Harvey took the rocking chair while Miss Sally, Leigh, and Aunt Love settled on the couch. Jocie leaned up against the wall and looked around for some sign of the twins or Cassidy.

“I taught English in one of the high schools there,” she said. “Alex worked for the city, repairing streets mostly, but he grew up in the country and has always wanted to own his own place. And I think he was hoping getting me this far out in the country would slow me down a bit, maybe keep me home and out of jail.”

The word
jail
seemed even more foreign than
hogs
coming out of Myra Hearndon’s mouth. Jocie stared at the beautiful woman who was smiling a little as if she knew she was shocking them and the idea pleased her.

11

David prayed the Lord would put the right words in his mouth as he followed Mr. Harvey out of the yard and across the barn lot down toward the field where Alex Hearndon and Noah were working. They’d left the women and Jocie back at the house where they’d gotten a surprisingly warm welcome from Myra Hearndon, but David had no idea what her husband would think or say when he saw them coming across the field. On another day wearing other clothes besides his Sunday preaching garb, David might have been able to impress the man with his willingness to get his hands dirty by helping clear the field. David knew about hauling rocks. That had been one of those never-ending chores when he was a boy growing up on the farm.

“I’ve been wondering about something,“ David asked as he and Mr. Harvey walked past the barn. “How did the Hearndons find out about you having your farm for sale? Do they have family in Hollyhill?”

“No, it’s the other way around. I have family up in Chicago. My aunt Clara’s boy, Ben. He worked with Alex up there. Ben told Alex about me having the place for sale, and then Ben called me up and said he knew a good family that was looking for a farm to grow some apple trees.” Mr. Harvey looked over at David. “He didn’t bother to tell me they were colored folk. I guess that was something he thought might be better for me to find out after the money had changed hands.”

“Would it have mattered?”

Mr. Harvey looked over at David. “I could pretend it wouldn’t have, Brother David, but that would be just pretending. It’s not that I have anything against colored folk, but I’d have worried about upsetting the neighbors.”

“Are they upset?”

“Some of them.” Mr. Harvey reached down and broke off a long stem of grass and put the end in his mouth.

“And were you upset? With your cousin, Ben?”

“Not that much. I’m not saying we weren’t a little surprised when me and Sally first saw them, but Ben’s a good judge of character. And even if I had been put out with Ben, I wouldn’t have been able to hold on to any of the ill feelings because of the way Sally and Myra hit it off from the first time they laid eyes on one another. Sally says she can’t explain it, but that she has to believe the Lord is behind it. Like maybe the Lord knew she needed some young ones to love like family.” Mr. Harvey twisted the blade of grass around his fingers and then threw it away. “Me, I never really missed having a family, but Sally, she did. She don’t talk about it, but I know Sally. I’ve been watching out for her ever since she was born when I was four. Hoping for a brother, but blessed by a sister.”

“The two of you have certainly been a blessing to me at Mt. Pleasant,” David said.

“Well, that’s kind of you to say, Brother David. I guess we all need blessings. Take Myra back there.” Mr. Harvey jerked his head back toward the house. “She tries to act all sure of herself like she knows everything, but the truth is, she needs something too. Some rock-solid base maybe. Somebody that never has the first doubt that the Lord is in control. Somebody like Sally.”

They went through another gate and David spotted a red tractor at the far end of the field. “What about Alex Hearndon?” David asked. “Anything I should know before we walk over there and start talking?”

Mr. Harvey stopped walking, took off his hat, and fanned his face for a moment. “He’s a man. Shoulders like you might imagine Samson having in the Bible. Keeps his nose to the grindstone. I might have seen him smile once. But nobody ever said you had to smile to be a good man.”

“But some say the eyes are the window to one’s soul.”

“His eyes are fine.”

“He’s not going to be happy to see us, is he?” David looked across the field at the man picking up rocks and piling them on the wagon behind the tractor.

“I don’t know, Brother David.” Mr. Harvey gave David a considering look before he went on. “Me maybe, but probably not you. Says he don’t have much truck with religion the way it’s practiced this day and age.”

David smiled. “It’s okay, Mr. Harvey. I’ve been plenty of places I wasn’t very welcome, and Mrs. Hearndon promised to hide the shotgun.”

A worried look chased across Mr. Harvey’s face. “I hope they don’t have a shotgun or any kind of gun to hide.”

“Why not?” David was surprised. “It seems to me a shotgun is about as much a tool on the farms around here as a grubbing hoe and a shovel. You know, for varmints and such.”

“Some varmints just get madder when you shoot at them, and it’s better to just let them do their growling and leave.”

“You’re not talking about normal varmints.”

“No, I’m not.” Mr. Harvey looked straight at David. His face was uneasy. “I maybe shouldn’t talk about it. All I’m hearing are rumors and idle talk, but somebody told me the Klan was making noises.”

“The Klan? The Ku Klux Klan?” Just saying the words seemed to bring a shadow over Mr. Harvey and David as they walked on across the long open field.

“Nothing but tale carrying as far as I know,” Mr. Harvey said quickly. “Trying to put a scare into us. They’re mostly just a bunch of cowards hiding under sheets anyhow. They probably wouldn’t really do anything, but I’d just as soon not see guns get involved if they did.”

“No, I suppose not,” David said. “But I haven’t heard anything about the Klan around here since before I went into the service.”

“Sometimes we don’t want to know things about the people around us,” Mr. Harvey said. “And there hasn’t been any reason for the Klan to be showing up in Holly County since we’ve pretty much been keeping the races separate. But now here the schools are desegregating this year, and then I up and sell a colored man a farm out here where no colored man has ever owned property before. And not only that, as much as I admire Myra Hearndon, she is an agitator. Alex himself says she chases after this what they call the freedom train. Fact is, she’s already seen the inside of a jail cell three or four times for taking part in those sit-ins or boycott marches down south. She’s even had the kids marching a time or two. I’m thinking it put a kind of strain on their marriage.”

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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