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Authors: Ann H. Gabhart

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Orchard of Hope (9 page)

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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“I know. I hope Miss Sally didn’t go to too much trouble cooking for us.”

“Oh, you know women. They have to cook everything in sight when the preacher’s coming. We’ll have leftovers for a week. So tell your girlfriend to come on over and eat with us too.” Mr. Harvey put his thumbs behind his suspenders and grinned.

David’s cheeks warmed. He hadn’t even allowed himself to call Leigh his girlfriend yet. But as the word echoed in his ears, it didn’t have a bad sound.

Sally McMurtry had come up behind her brother in time to hear his words. She put her hand on David’s arm. “Now don’t you let Harvey give you no bother. He sometimes opens his mouth and lets fly before he thinks. But we do have plenty and we would love for Leigh to come eat with us if she can. She’s such a sweet girl.”

“I’m sure she’d like to do that if she doesn’t have other plans for the afternoon.”

“You know, I have a pretty good idea that she’ll have the afternoon free,” Miss Sally said with a smile and a knowing look in her eyes.

David followed Miss Sally out of the church and down the steps. She made her way purposely toward Leigh and Aunt Love, who were passing the time of day with Dorothy McDermott and Pam Jackson. Jocie and Pam’s daughter, Paulette, were taking turns swinging little Murray McDermott back and forth in their arms.

Bob Jessup stopped David before he reached his family. “Brother David, can I have a word with you?”

“Of course, Bob.” David tried to keep the reluctance out of his voice as he stopped beside Bob. Bob and his wife, Charlene, drove out from Hollyhill every Sunday. Charlene said Bob kept talking about joining one of the big town churches, but she liked going to Mt. Pleasant where she’d grown up. Bob owned a furniture store in Hollyhill and didn’t mind letting people know how successful he was. He made sure everybody saw the two twenties he put in the offering plate on Sunday mornings. David was glad enough to see the twenties—churches couldn’t operate without money—but he didn’t like the way Bob thought the twenties bought him more right to decide what happened in the church than the people who put in ones or fives.

Now David only half listened to Bob complimenting him on his sermon. Instead, he was watching Leigh smile and nod a little as Miss Sally talked to her. She raised her eyes up to look over Miss Sally’s head toward David as if to be sure going to dinner with them would be okay with him. Her cheeks were bright red, but that just made her look prettier. David’s heart started beating a little faster as he smiled over at her.

Maybe
girlfriend
was the right word. Maybe it was time to ask her out on a real date instead of just expecting her to show up at Mt. Pleasant on Sunday mornings or to help fold papers on Tuesday nights at the newspaper office. What was it Zella had told him he should ask Leigh to do last week? A candlelight dinner. When he’d told Zella he didn’t think the Hollyhill Grill had candles on their tables, she’d just rolled her eyes at him as if he was hopeless. He didn’t have much argument with her on that when it came to dating. Of course, Miss Sally might put candles on the table if he asked her to.

David’s smile disappeared as Bob moved away from David’s sermon to what he’d really wanted to talk about. “Don’t you think somebody ought to tell that Mrs. Hearndon about the colored church up town? She and her children would surely be happier going to church there, you know, with her own kind, and it isn’t all that far. Charlene and me drive the same distance out here every Sunday morning.”

“I think we should let Mrs. Hearndon decide on her own which church she and her family want to attend.” David looked straight at Bob. “And as long as I’m pastor here, our doors will be open to anybody who wants to worship.”

“I wasn’t suggesting they wouldn’t be, Pastor,” Bob said. “But I’m not sure this woman is a bit interested in worshiping with us out here. I think she just wants to stir up trouble. She was in the store one day last week, and she’s not your run-of-the-mill colored woman. I hear she’s been all over the South doing sit-ins and marching in the streets down there. I tell you, she just wants to upset the natural order of things. That’s the only reason they bought Harvey’s old farm.”

David took a deep breath and kept his temper under control. “Mr. Harvey says they’re getting ready to plant apple trees, start an orchard.”

“That just goes to prove what I’m saying. You can’t grow apples on that old farm. Take my word for it. All they’re wanting to start is trouble.”

“I guess that remains to be seen, Bob.” David pushed a smile across his face and prayed for patience. “But the Lord only holds us accountable for our own actions and thoughts, so as I said this morning in my sermon, we need to ask what the Lord would want us to do before we borrow any trouble. Don’t you agree?”

“You don’t want to divide the church over this, Brother Brooke,” Bob said.

“No, Bob, I don’t. Do you?” David kept his voice low, but he could tell the people around them were listening. David could almost feel the people shifting to this side or that in the yard.

Bob didn’t answer his question. Instead he said, “I pass two other churches on the way out here. I can stop at either one of them.”

David kept his voice calm and as loving as he possibly could, with the way he was having to clamp down on the anger rising inside him. “You and Charlene are part of our family here, Bob. We’d hate to lose you.”

Bob’s voice rose a little. “Your words don’t mean much if you’re choosing that colored family over mine.”

“I’m not choosing any family over any other family, nor does the Lord. We’re all part of the family of God if we have made the decision to follow the Lord.”

“Are you trying to say that I’m not right with the Lord?” Bob’s face had gone beet red.

“No, Bob, I would never say that. You know in your heart where you stand with the Lord,” David said.

But Bob had stopped listening. He took hold of Charlene’s arm and jerked his head at their daughter as he headed for their car. Everybody in the churchyard stopped talking and watched them get in the car and drive away.

Ogden Martin moved up beside David. “That’s the last we’ll see of him. And his money. Guess we’d better be tightening our belts around here.”

“I’ll talk to him,” David said.

“No offense, Brother Brooke, but I think you might have already talked to him too much.”

Again David had to clamp down on his irritation and the feeling that Ogden Martin was taking pleasure in David’s discomfort. “You could be right, Brother Ogden. Perhaps you should be the one to talk to him instead.”

“And what should I tell him, Brother Brooke?” Ogden Martin said.

“Whatever the Lord puts in your heart to tell him.” David looked straight into Ogden’s eyes. “I know your prayer is always to do what’s best for the Lord and our church body.”

Ogden slid his eyes away from David’s. “Sometimes the devil has a way of sneaking right inside a church and tearing it apart no matter what most of the people are wanting.”

“Then we need to stand together as pastor and deacons and church members, hand to hand, heart to heart. We need to stand strong in the gap to keep our people away from that kind of destruction.”

Ogden looked over David’s head at the church building behind them. “I’ve always stood in the gap for
my
church.”

David kept his eyes on Ogden’s face, willing him to look back at him. He and Ogden Martin had their differences, probably always would. But it was important that they try to find a spiritual common ground for the good of the church at Mt. Pleasant. David chose his words carefully, overlaying each with a prayer. “And I thank the Lord you’re there, Ogden. I thank him that we can stand together on the most important matters in the church.”

Ogden looked back at David and met his eyes. “I’ve never done things for the preacher, Brother Brooke. I do things for the Lord.”

“That’s all the Lord asks of any of us.”

Ogden looked down at the ground and then at some place over David’s left shoulder as he said, “The wife is planning to have you all to dinner some Sunday whenever Miss Sally says there’s an opening on the list.”

“Well, that’s great, Ogden. We’ll look forward to it.” David smiled. It wasn’t much of a lie. And it was a good first step to healing the problems between them, putting their feet under the same table to eat. He’d just have to make sure Jocie stayed home with Wes that Sunday.

10

Jocie liked going to the McMurtrys’ house for Sunday dinner better than any of the other Mt. Pleasant members’ houses. Miss Sally made the best yeast rolls in the county, and she didn’t act the slightest bit upset if Jocie passed up the green beans to save room for an extra roll or two. She’d just wink at Jocie and pass her the butter while telling Aunt Love, “She’ll eat an extra portion of your beans and corn next week, Love.”

Aunt Love was about ten years older than Miss Sally, but Jocie couldn’t tell much difference in them except, of course, Miss Sally hadn’t started losing her memory the way Aunt Love had. At least she never burned the rolls. Still, they both liked to sit in the living room and talk about the church and how much things had changed since they were girls. Sometimes they’d run out of things to say and the only sound would be the ticking of the old clock that had been sitting in the same spot on the mantel ever since Miss Sally could remember. That didn’t seem to bother them either, even if one or the other of them dozed off for a few minutes.

Best of all, Miss Sally didn’t expect Jocie to just sit there with them listening to the clock tick. She let her explore. The last time they’d been there, Jocie had played the old records on the windup Victrola in what Miss Sally said used to be the parlor. She told Jocie the parlor was where she was supposed to have received her gentlemen callers, but that she guessed they must have forgotten to call. After Miss Sally’s father died and her mother got too feeble to climb the stairs to one of the upstairs bedrooms, they set up a bed in the parlor for her.

Her mother had passed on years ago, but Miss Sally never bothered turning the room back into a parlor. “I was way too old for gentlemen callers by then anyway, and the parlor had always been Mama’s room even before we put the bed in there.”

So Miss Sally’s mother’s hats were still on the hat stands on the chest. Her glass perfume holder on the dresser still smelled faintly of lily of the valley. A quilt stitched by her sisters and cousins for a wedding gift lay folded at the bottom of the bed. As Miss Sally helped Jocie read the names embroidered in the quilt squares, Jocie ran her fingers over the threads and half expected ghosts to come out of the walls to tell her their stories.

Everybody had stories. Sometimes it didn’t seem like it when they were trying to find enough Hollyhill news to fill up the pages of the
Banner
, but news stories and people stories weren’t always the same. It was funny, but ever since Zeb had found the baby’s bones in the cave in the woods and Jocie had heard Aunt Love’s story, she hadn’t been able to look at old people the same way. Before, she might have looked at Miss Sally and just thought she was a nice old lady who was always good for a piece of chewing gum at church. But now Jocie wondered about her. Why hadn’t she married? Had she wanted to? Had she been happy never leaving the house she was born in?

And then Jocie wondered what her own story would be. She couldn’t imagine leaving Hollyhill now. But if she didn’t, would she be old someday and wish she had? Wasn’t she supposed to want to leave home and see the world?

Jocie sometimes almost exploded with all the questions she had. She wanted to know everything all at once, but her father told her it took a lifetime to get even some of the answers. He said the search for the answers was sometimes more important than the answers, especially when she was finding out answers about the people around her. A week later he’d given her a wire-bound notebook and a new ink pen. “So you can write down the stories you find out,” he said. “And your own story a day or week at a time.”

So she’d started a journal. She liked that better than a diary. She’d tried diaries before, but it was always too boring writing down what she did every day.
Got up, ate
breakfast, rode my bike, got ink on my new shirt, got fussed at
by Aunt Love, and went to bed
. But in a journal she could put down what she was thinking instead of just what she was doing. She could write about Wes being from Jupiter, or Tabitha changing into a mother in front of her eyes, or Miss Sally saying she didn’t have any kind of story that would interest anybody. That she’d been happy and content even if she hadn’t married or had children.

Miss Sally had smiled and touched Jocie’s cheek as she talked. “I’ve borrowed the children at Mt. Pleasant over the years. Made them mine in many ways, but it might have been nice to have been called Granny by some child born to the job. A granddaughter perhaps. But I have no regrets with the life the Lord has seen fit to bless me with.”

Jocie wrote down what Miss Sally had told her almost word for word, and in her journal she wondered if she should call her Granny. But then she remembered Miss Sally saying the child had to be born to the job, and Jocie hadn’t been. She would only be a substitute. Jocie knew about that. About how sometimes people tried to substitute for what they thought you were missing.

There’d been a few women at the churches she and her father had attended who tried to be a substitute mother for her, but she didn’t really need one. She had her father. And Wes. And for a few years her grandmother, Mama Mae. Aunt Love, who’d moved in after Mama Mae died, never tried to be a mother to Jocie. She cooked for them and did her best to keep Jocie on the straight and narrow path a preacher’s daughter should travel by dipping into her vast resource of memorized Scripture to whip Jocie into line. There’d been few smiles and no hugs over the years before Tabitha came home.

Jocie hardly recognized Aunt Love now sometimes when she saw her sitting out on the porch knitting blankets and sweaters for Tabitha’s baby. Her face would be all gentle and smiling, and she would be humming and not just hymns Jocie knew, but other songs. Livelier songs. Songs that made Jocie think of banjos and dancing. So maybe they could teach Tabitha’s baby to call Aunt Love “Granny.”

BOOK: Orchard of Hope
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