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Authors: Ann H. Gabhart

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BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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Letting Jocie help with the Beginners was how David had found a way to keep her out of Sunday school with Ronnie Martin. David believed in avoiding confrontation in church if possible. The Lord instructed his followers to love one another, and David believed that with the Lord’s help it was possible to love all people. Liking them enough to sit in Sunday school class with them for an hour was a whole different matter.

“I’m sure Miss Vangie would appreciate that,” David said, but he could tell Jocie was thinking of more than Miss Vangie. After all, Miss Vangie had managed the Beginners’ room alone for nearly twenty years before Jocie started helping her.

Jocie saw his look. “I know Miss Vangie would be okay without me there, and I don’t mind staying instead of Tabitha, but I just thought that if Noah and his family did decide to show up for church this morning, I maybe should be there. You know, since I’ve met Noah already.”

“If they come, I’m sure Noah will be glad to see a familiar face.”

“Do you think they will?”

“I don’t know, Jocie. I haven’t visited them yet or talked to his parents.”

“He said that his father didn’t go to church, but that his mother was half preacher. She went on that march in Washington with Reverend Martin Luther King.”

“She sounds like an interesting woman.”

Jocie hesitated a second before she asked, “Do you think people will get upset if they do come?”

He didn’t have a sure answer for Jocie then, nor did he have a sure answer for Harvey McMurtry when Mr. Harvey pulled him aside before the Sunday school assembly.

“You knew I sold my farm on Hoopole Road, didn’t you?” Mr. Harvey said as he ran his fingers down the inside of his black suspenders. He’d been a member of Mt. Pleasant all his life. He and his sister, Sally McMurtry, still lived in the house where they’d both been born sixty-plus years ago. Neither of them had ever married. Mr. Harvey said he was always too busy on the farm to go courting, and Miss Sally said nobody ever asked her.

“So I heard,” David said.

“Good people. A nice family. Name of Hearndon. Moved down here from Chicago. Got four kids.” Mr. Harvey hemmed and hawed a bit. “I asked them to church.”

“I should hope so since they’re in our church community. You think I should go visit them this afternoon and extend a pastor’s invitation to them as well?”

“Well, uh, that might be good, Pastor.” Mr. Harvey rocked forward on his toes and then back on his heels before he stopped flat-footed and leaned a bit closer to David. “But just so’s you know, they’re colored folk.”

“Right,” David said. “I met their boy Thursday. He’s going to be helping me out at the paper until Wes gets back on his feet.”

Mr. Harvey looked relieved David already knew his news. “Well, that’s fine then. The boy helped me put up fence Saturday. Polite, good worker. Better than some I’ve had working for me.” Mr. Harvey frowned a little.

“He won’t be working for me every day, so he can still help you out when you need him.”

“I’m not worried about that, Pastor.”

“You seem worried about something, Mr. Harvey. You want to tell me about it?”

“All right. I’ll just be out with it and quit beating around the bush. Do you think the folks here will get upset if the Hearndons do take me up on my invitation?”

“I don’t know. What do you think? You’ve been part of this church a lot longer than I have.”

Mr. Harvey sighed and looked a little sad. “I guess it will be like anything else. Some will and some won’t. The same as with your girl. Some understand and some don’t.”

David was a little surprised by Mr. Harvey’s honesty with him. He knew there were people in the church who hadn’t fully accepted that Tabitha was going to keep her baby even though she wasn’t married, but nobody had spoken the words directly to him. David put his hand on Mr. Harvey’s shoulder and said, “We just have to pray for the ones who don’t. And for ourselves too, that we’ll say and do the right things.”

“It’s not like we’ve never had colored folks in the church before. When it was founded back in the 1820s, a third of the members were black.”

“Is that right?” David asked, surprised.

“Slaves of the founding members.”

“Oh,” David said. “That might be something you wouldn’t want to bring up to Mrs. Hearndon if she does decide to attend church here. At least not right away.”

“You sound like you’ve met her,” Mr. Harvey said.

“No, I was just going from what Noah said about her.”

“Well, you got the right idea.” Mr. Harvey smiled and shook his head a little. “She’d grab that in a minute and be gone with it. She’s something. Just wait till you do meet her. Fact is, I might ought to worry more about our members than her if she comes. She’ll probably set us all on our ears.”

“Maybe we need to be set on our ears every once in a while.”

“You could be right, Pastor. You could be right.”


They had six beginners in the class that morning, all under the age of six—counting little Murray McDermott who wouldn’t be a year old until October, but he was happy as long as Jocie was carrying him around. Miss Vangie somehow managed to get them to sit around the little table and listen when she told them stories about Jesus. Of course, she kept the lessons short. Stuff like Jesus loves you and God made the world and how to say, “Thank you, Lord.”

Miss Vangie said singing had never been her best talent, so she turned that part of the class over to Jocie. Jocie loved the way the little boys and girls kept their eyes tight on her while they were singing. She liked the way they shouted out the “Yes, Jesus loves me” part, and she couldn’t keep from laughing when they got the deep and wide mixed up when they sang about God’s love. She was having more fun in Sunday school than she’d had since she was a beginner herself in some other church years ago.

This Sunday she sang “Jesus Loves the Little Children” with them because of the line in the song that said “red and yellow, black and white.” All through Sunday school she kept peeking out the window at the parking area in front of the church, but so far there weren’t any cars she couldn’t match up with regular members.

With the singing part of the class over, Jocie set Murray down on his feet in front of the open window to give her arm a rest. He wasn’t walking yet, but he liked to stand up holding on to the windowsill and look outside. Behind her, Miss Vangie was handing out crayons and coloring books along with vanilla wafers. It was the time of Sunday school when Jocie began to count the minutes until the bell rang because the kids were beginning to get tired of being confined in one little room. And today it was an extra hot room.

A four-year-old named Sandy came over to show Jocie her picture of a church she’d colored blue and red and to share one of her cookies with Murray. “What a pretty picture and how sweet of you to share your cookies, Sandy,” Jocie said, emphasizing the word “share” to be sure the little girl knew that was a good thing to do. Jocie moved over a little. “You want to look out the window with me and Murray?”

“What are you looking for?” Sandy asked.

“I was just watching all the people coming to church this morning.”

“Why didn’t they come for Sunday school?” Sandy asked. “My mommy says everybody should come to Sunday school to learn about Jesus.”

“Maybe they’ll all come to Sunday school next week,” Jocie said.

“Miss Vangie will have to bring more cookies,” Sandy said.

“She might.” Jocie laughed.

“Look.” Sandy put her finger against the window screen to point out toward the parking lot. “There’s your daddy’s girlfriend.”

“Oh, really. Who’s that?” Jocie said, even as she watched Leigh climb out of her tan and white ’59 Chevy with the fins in the back that looked like wings.

“Her.” Sandy shoved her finger a little harder against the screen. “Mommy told me.”

“Oh, you mean Leigh. You know, your mommy might be right,” Jocie said as she watched Leigh pick up her Bible and purse and then try to shut her car door with her free hand. The door didn’t budge. Leigh said the hinges must be broken or need oil or something. Sometimes when Jocie was with her, they both had to push on it to get it to shut. Now Leigh gave up trying to close it with her free hand and stepped around behind the door to push it shut with her backside. Jocie could hear the hinges creak all the way across the churchyard.

Leigh was wearing the new dress with the white top and yellow-and-white-striped skirt that she bought when she took Jocie shopping for school clothes last Monday after they’d visited Wes at the hospital. She’d lost almost ten pounds, and she said that kind of effort deserved a new dress.

She looked nice, Jocie decided, as she watched Leigh brush off the back of her skirt and head across the yard toward the church door. She was still what some of the church ladies might call pleasingly plump and far from skinny like Jocie was. Jocie was too skinny. If she stuffed her hair under a baseball cap and wore jeans, nobody would even guess she was a girl just by looking.

Leigh had laughed when Jocie had told her that as they were driving home from their shopping trip. “Better to be too skinny than too heavy. At least you can eat all the cakes and doughnuts you want without feeling guilty.”

“But don’t you think I should be starting to develop?” Jocie had asked.

“Develop what? Hives?” Leigh looked over at her with a smile.

Jocie didn’t smile back. “That sounds like something Wes would say.”

“It does, doesn’t it? His Jupiterian wit must be rubbing off on me.” Leigh laughed. Leigh laughed a lot.

“It’s not funny. You know what I mean. Something to fill out those new bras you helped me buy.” They’d bought the smallest cup size the store had, and they were still too big. “After all, I am almost fourteen.”

“I know. September twelfth. Chocolate cake with white and dark blue icing so our teeth can turn blue when we eat it.”

Leigh was a great cook, and the chocolate cake she had helped Jocie bake for Tabitha’s birthday in July was the best Jocie had ever eaten. Still, Jocie hadn’t been worried about chocolate cake right then. She just stared down at her hands without saying anything.

Leigh reached over to touch Jocie’s shoulder lightly. “I’m sorry, Jocie. But you really are beautiful just the way you are.” Leigh took her hand away and smacked the steering wheel. “Ooh, I can’t believe I said that. That’s what my mother used to tell me when I worried about being so chubby. It never made me feel the least bit better, and I’ll bet it didn’t you either.”

“Not really,” Jocie said.

Leigh let out a long sigh. “I guess it’s just a girl thing not being happy with the way we look.”

“I never thought about it much before, but I’m going to start high school. I don’t want to still look like a sixth grader.”

“You won’t. You’re way too tall. I’ll bet you’ve grown an inch this summer.”

“Two inches, but all up and none out in the right places.”

“You will. I promise. Any day now. Some girls just take a little longer to develop than others.”

“I only have two weeks till school starts.”

“Well, it might not happen by then,” Leigh admitted.

“I know. I thought about praying about it. Dad says the Lord wants us to pray about everything, but I wasn’t sure about a give-me-boobs prayer.” Jocie looked over at Leigh. “I probably shouldn’t even say ‘boobs.’ That’s not a very nice word, but ‘Lord, please give me breasts’ sounds like I want the first pick off a plate of fried chicken.”

Leigh laughed again. “Jocie, you’re one of a kind. But you know what? The Bible says the Lord knows what we need. And I know he’s going to develop you into the most beautiful girl in Hollyhill.”

Leigh had said it as if she really believed it, but Jocie had a mirror. She could see what she looked like. Big eyes, wide mouth, an okay nose, brown hair that just sort of hung there on her head. Most of the time she didn’t give a thought to how she looked. She was too busy to worry about makeup and curling her hair. Maybe before she started high school she needed to buy some lipstick and one of those glass bottles of makeup that Paulette, her friend here at church, dabbed all over her face and then smoothed out with her fingers.

Jocie’s dad must have been watching out his Sunday school window too, because he met Leigh halfway across the yard. He wasn’t running away from the idea of Leigh liking him anymore. Far from it, from the smile Jocie could see on his face as he welcomed Leigh to Mt. Pleasant as if this was her very first Sunday there, when in fact she’d been coming every Sunday for two months. Jocie wouldn’t have been surprised to see him lean down and kiss Leigh. Maybe not on the lips right there in the middle of the churchyard, but on the cheek. But he didn’t. He just took her hand and smiled.

Of course, with the way Zella said Jocie’s dad was backward in the romantic department, he might not have kissed Leigh on the lips even if they’d been standing all alone in the dark on the tiny landing outside Leigh’s apartment. Jocie had told Zella her father wasn’t backward, just out of practice. After all, it had been eight years since Jocie’s mother had packed her bags in the middle of the night and left. As far as Jocie knew, her father hadn’t kissed any females since then except her and maybe Aunt Love and Tabitha now that she was home, and that wasn’t exactly the kind of kiss Zella was talking about. Zella was talking about the kind of kiss she read about in the romance novels she kept hidden in her desk drawer at the paper.

Wes said that reading about it was the only way Zella could know anything about kissing, since if any man had ever kissed her it had been so long ago that she wouldn’t be able to remember a thing about it. But whether she had experience or not, Zella had set herself up as matchmaker and romantic expert on the premises at the newspaper office and as the final authority on how things should be between Jocie’s dad and Leigh.

But now, as David and Leigh stood out in the middle of the yard together, the sun seemed brighter where it shone on them. It might have just been her yellow dress and his white shirt, but the air sort of radiated around them, and they looked as if they might have stepped out of a romance novel.

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
10.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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