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Authors: Ann H. Gabhart

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BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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Beside her at the window, Murray had run out of cookie and let out a squeal for more. Jocie’s dad looked around and saw them in the window. He waved and so did Leigh. The shaft of sunlight that had spotlighted them melted away, and they drifted over to where some other people were talking before going in for church.

The warning bell that Sunday school was almost over sounded. Jocie picked up Murray and turned away from the window to help Miss Vangie put away the crayons and coloring books while the boys and girls lined up at the door to wait for the second bell.

After the bell rang and the kids rushed out into the hall to find their parents, Jocie went back into the Beginners’ room to get a tissue to clean the cookie mess off Murray before she turned him over to his mother. She took one last peek out the window and finally saw a car she didn’t recognize pulling into the parking area. Jocie watched as Noah climbed out of the passenger side of the front seat and reached back in to pick up a little boy who looked about two. Jocie hadn’t thought to ask Noah about brothers and sisters. Another girl of maybe nine or ten climbed out of the backseat and then picked up a little girl who looked the same age as the little boy Noah was carrying.

“They must be twins,” Jocie told Murray as if the baby knew what she was talking about. “I wish Tabitha was here to see this. She’s half scared of you, Murray baby. She’d faint if she had to think about having two.”

“Two what?” Murray’s mother said behind her. When Jocie looked around at her, she went on. “I waited out in church, but thought you might be having trouble with Murray.”

“No trouble. He’s never any trouble. I was just cleaning off his hands and face. Vanilla wafers and drool make cookie mud.”

“Here, I’ve got a wet cloth in my bag somewhere.” She dug down in her purse until she came up with a wet washrag in a plastic bread sack. “But two what?” she asked again.

“Two babies.”

“Oh, my heavens. One at a time is enough. Has the doctor told Tabitha she’s having twins?”

“No. I was just looking at the two little kids out there and guessing they might be twins.” Jocie moved to the side so that Mrs. McDermott could look out the window too.

Together they watched Noah’s mother climb out of the car. She was tall and slender and moved with total confidence. Her skin was a beautiful bronze and her black hair was swept back in a neat roll on the back of her head. At least Jocie was guessing the woman might be Noah’s mother. She really didn’t look like anybody’s mother. She looked way too regal for that.

“She’s beautiful,” Jocie said.

“She is, isn’t she?” Mrs. McDermott agreed. “They must be the family that bought Harvey McMurtry’s farm. I’d heard they’d moved in.”

“Did you think they would come to church here?” Jocie asked.

“Well, I didn’t know, but I’m glad they decided to give our church a chance. Let’s go meet them before church starts.”

“I met Noah—that’s the boy—Thursday.”

“Oh, good. So he’ll know somebody.” Mrs. McDermott took Murray and led the way down the hall to the sanctuary.

As Jocie followed her, she knew again why she liked Mrs. McDermott so much, why most everybody liked Mrs. McDermott. She didn’t just talk about loving her neighbor. She did it. She always wanted to believe the best about anybody and didn’t want to listen if somebody else tried to point out the parts that weren’t best. And she always knew the right thing to say.

Jocie hoped Mrs. McDermott would do most of the talking now, because Jocie was feeling strangely tongue-tied. Maybe she’d just say hi and play with the toddlers. She was good with little kids. Kids liked her. Kids and dogs.

9

Each Sunday David was amazed at how much he could tell about the kind of week the people in his congregation had had just by looking at them in the pews as he welcomed them to the morning service. “Good morning,” David said as he made mental notes of the ones he needed to seek out after church for an extra word. “Is everybody warm enough?”

That brought a laugh since it had to be almost ninety outside, and the cardboard fans donated by the Hazelton Funeral Home were getting a workout all over the church. “Well, I just wanted to be sure everybody got a warm welcome today,” David went on with a smile before he called on Ogden Martin for the opening prayer and then returned to his chair on the podium behind the pulpit while Jim Sanderson led the first hymn.

Jim wasn’t the greatest singer in the world, but he was willing and loud and looked as if he enjoyed singing so much that everybody in the church felt compelled to join in. If he went off key, his wife, Jessica, just played the piano a little louder until they got back on the right notes. Singing in church was all about making a joyful noise unto the Lord anyway, and most mornings they sounded joyful if not always on pitch.

This morning everybody was sounding a bit tentative as they started out on the first verse of “Bringing in the Sheaves.” And then a strong soprano voice rose up out of the third pew from the back, and even Jim almost forgot to keep singing for a moment. Myra Hearndon’s voice was as beautiful as she was, and she didn’t seem to give the first bit of notice to the fact that half the church had seemed to lose their voices as they looked over at her when she started singing. Or maybe she did notice and sang a bit stronger and truer because of it.

She and her family had come in and nearly filled up one of the pews. The McDermotts had settled in the pew in front of them although they usually sat closer to the front. Jocie sat beside Noah and already had one of the twins, Elise, in her lap. The little boy, Eli, was in Noah’s lap. The girl, Cassidy, was sitting very close to her mother, helping her hold the hymnbook and singing along. Aunt Love was in her customary spot three rows back, and Leigh had joined her there instead of crowding the Hearndons by sitting with Jocie.

Three families had moved across the aisle to settle in different pews than usual, but at least no one left when the Hearndons came in and sat down. That was something to give thanks for, David thought as he watched his congregation. Some had even welcomed Myra Hearndon and her children. The McDermotts. Mr. Harvey and Miss Sally. A few more.

Several others smiled over at the woman and her children but seemed hesitant to speak to her for fear they wouldn’t say the right thing. Myra Hearndon had kept a friendly smile on her face the whole time. Yet David thought he caught the hint of a challenge under her smile, as if she was waiting for someone to say the wrong thing, perhaps even ask her to leave so that she could refuse.

Before the service started, David had introduced himself to her as he shook her hand. “We’re so glad you are here this morning.”

“Are you?” she said with that challenge in her eyes.

“Of course. Noah said you might come when we talked last week.”

“Oh, yes. He told me you had offered him a job at your newspaper.” She bent her head just a bit like a queen granting favor to a subject. “Thank you, but he’ll have to clear the hours with his father. My husband is working very hard to get the ground ready to put in some apple trees this fall.”

“Noah can let me know what hours might suit him best. Tuesday is the day I need the most help because that’s the day we run the paper, but we can talk about that later. Now I hope you enjoy our services.”

“Is that what you think the Lord wants? For us to enjoy church?”

The question had surprised David. “Yes, I do. Don’t you? The Bible does say to come before him with gladness.”

“So it does,” she had conceded with a smile that showed perfect white teeth. “And perhaps I will enjoy worshiping with you and your congregation.”

“It’s our prayer that you do so.”

Now with the last verse of the song winding down, David was praying. He had his eyes open as he sang along, but he was praying at the same time.
Dear Lord, let these people
you have allowed me to shepherd have open minds and hearts.
Let us all be here in your church to receive your message and
your love and to share that love generously and without prejudice
with one another.

David was preaching on Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. His focal verse was the one where Paul asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” That was a question every Christian needed to ask themselves. It was a question David had asked many times since the first time he’d felt the Lord in his heart. It was a question he’d asked even more times after the Lord had laid his hand on him and called him to preach.

Could a man ever be absolutely certain that he was following the will of the Lord instead of his own will? Every Sunday when David stood up behind the pulpit he prayed his sermon would be what the Lord wanted him to say and what the people needed to hear. Sometimes he felt the message move through him and become more powerful as it left his mouth, and other times he felt he failed completely.

Now as he watched Ogden Martin and Harvey McMurtry bring the offering plates with the tails of bills and checks sticking up out of them back to sit on the table in front of the pulpit, he said the prayer he said every Sunday before he preached.
Not my words, Lord, but thine.

The heat was building in the church. Already David’s shirt was sticking to his back, but he didn’t loosen his tie. He took hold of the pulpit on both sides so that no one could see how his hands were shaking. He’d been preaching for almost twenty years, but he still got nervous, still had to swallow his fear of speaking in front of people. He reminded himself he wasn’t speaking. He was preaching, and the Lord would give him the power to do that if he only reached toward him in faith.

He began reading Acts 9. He read the sixth verse twice. “‘And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.’”

And then the sermon was there spilling out of his mouth, some of the same words as he’d prepared the night before and some new words put into his mouth by the Lord. The people listened. They waved their fans back and forth in front of their faces but they listened. For a while, they even seemed to forget that something unusual was happening at Mt. Pleasant on this Sunday morning. Something that probably hadn’t happened for almost a hundred years in Holly County. Blacks and whites sharing the same church pew.

After the invitation hymn had been sung and the final prayer said, David stood at the door and shook the hands of his people. The Hearndons were one of the first families out the door. When Myra Hearndon took his hand, her hand felt cool as if she could even will her body not to feel the heat that had gathered in the church building during the service.

“Thank you for coming,” he said.

“I appreciated your sermon,” Myra Hearndon said. “It’s a question I ask myself every morning when I get up. What would you have me do this day, Lord, to make the world a better place?”

“And do you get an answer, Mrs. Hearndon?”

“Some days, and some days I find my own answers.”

“May the Lord guide you to the right answers.”

“And the same for you.”

“That is my prayer,” David said.

She studied his face a moment before she nodded. “I believe it is. Thank you for your welcome, Rev. Brooke, and for the welcome of your people.”

“God’s people. We’re all God’s people.”

“Yes.”

“May I come out to meet your husband? Alex, didn’t you say?”

“He’s working. He might not stop for a visit from the preacher.”

“Perhaps I can help him in whatever he’s doing.”

“On the Lord’s Day, Preacher? The day of rest?” She raised her eyebrows at him.

“A preacher does little resting on Sunday,” David said.

“No, I suppose not. Come if you want.” She started to step out the door, but then smiled at David over her shoulder and added, “I’ll hide the shotgun.”

The girl, Cassidy, slipped past David without letting him shake her hand and hurried after her mother.

Noah, still carrying Eli, shook David’s hand. “Mama shouldn’t have said that. Preachers might not be Dad’s favorite people, but he’s not that bad. He won’t shoot at you.”

“That’s good to know,” David said.

“Mama just likes to test everybody to see if they’re as brave as she is.”

“I doubt I could measure up to her standards.”

“Yeah, well, join the club,” Noah said. “Look, I’ll come to work tomorrow about noon if that’s all right.”

“Sounds great,” David said.

Noah looked down at the little boy he was carrying. “Tell the preacher good-bye, Eli.”

The little boy obediently waved his hand and said, “Bye bye.”

Jocie, who was right behind Noah still carrying the other twin, Elise, flashed David a quick smile and said, “Aren’t they cute?” She went on out of the church where she gave the little girl to Noah. He easily balanced the twins, one in each arm, and carried them to the car where his mother was waiting.

David kept smiling and shaking hands as the Mt. Pleasant members spilled out of the church and spread out in the shade of the oak tree out front. A few of them stopped talking to watch as Myra Hearndon backed her car out of the parking area and drove off. Harvey McMurtry waited till everybody else went out the door, except for Miss Sally who was gathering the money out of the offering plates, and Nora Hayes, the housekeeper, who was back in the Sunday school rooms making sure the windows were closed and all the lights were off.

Mr. Harvey’s forehead wrinkled in a frown. “Did anybody say anything to you?”

David smiled as he shook the man’s hand. “No, and I don’t think they will.”

“Well, they will to me. They’re liable to run me out of church.”

“I don’t think that would be possible, Mr. Harvey. Mt. Pleasant wouldn’t know how to open its door without you and Miss Sally being here.”

“I don’t know. I got some looks this morning, but I’m glad they came.”

“I am too,” David said.

“She can ever more sing, can’t she?”

“I have a feeling Mrs. Hearndon can do many things well.”

“I have a feeling you’re right,” Mr. Harvey said. “Sally says you’re to come to our house for dinner today.”

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
13.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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