The Language of Sycamores | Chapter 16 of 33

Author: Lisa Wingate | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 3293 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 10
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In the morning, Kate was up early fixing breakfast, so that we could eat together before heading off to church. By the time I got to the kitchen, she had already fried bacon and eggs and was putting biscuits on the table. She sent Joshua to gather the family, and we ate a quick breakfast, during which Kate and Ben shot questioning glances at James and me. Even Jenilee and Caleb seemed aware that there was an undercurrent at the table. Caleb rescued us by filling the conversational gaps with various news from town. Because his grandfather was the Baptist preacher, he knew who had died and who’d had a baby, who’d built a house or started a new business or gotten a divorce.

When breakfast was over, I went out to the little house to finish packing my suitcases so I could head for the airport after church and Sunday dinner at the café. My mind hadn’t quite settled on the idea of returning to the corporate jungle, but I knew I didn’t have any choice. The world would start turning again on Monday, and I had to jump on or be left behind. No more time for wallowing in self-pity. I had to get out there and circulate résumés before the job pool filled up with Lansing’s castoffs. It was the logical next step, and I knew I needed to face it.

“I can trade out the rest of my trip and go back with you,” James said as he came into the bedroom.

I realized that I was sitting on the bed beside my suitcase, silently crying. “No, it’s fine.” Feeling stupid, I wiped my eyes. James was supposed to be in Kansas City until Tuesday morning, then fly several legs before coming home. “Go ahead and finish the rest of your trip. You’ll be home Wednesday.” I knew that was what he wanted to hear.

Stopping in the bathroom doorway, he studied me with obvious concern. For just an instant, I could tell he was wondering, Karen, is something else wrong? Is there something more?

I didn’t give him the chance to ask. “Guess we should go.” Closing my suitcase, I stood up and dabbed at my eyes. “Sounds like everyone’s out in the yard already.”

“Let me get my wallet,” he said, and by silent mutual agreement we dropped the subject.

“Aunt Ka-wen . . . Aunt Ka-wen,” Joshua called from the porch, and then the screen door squeaked as he peered inside.

“Who’s out there?” I peeked into the living room, then walked through the door, wheeling my suitcase behind me.

Joshua gave the wheelie suitcase a look of fascination. “I can pull it.”

“All right.” I slipped the handle into his tiny fingers, holding open the screen door so he and the suitcase could get through. “Sure it’s not too heavy?”

“Nope,” he replied confidently, as the suitcase bounced down the porch steps sideways, dragging him with it. He and the suitcase landed in a pile at the bottom, and he scrambled quickly to his feet, laboring to roll the suitcase back onto its wheels. “I can do it. It’s not hebby.”

“I can see that.” I ruffled his hair as we started down the path, Joshua walking backward with both hands on the handle, lugging my suitcase over the uneven stones, determined to be my helper no matter what. I was suddenly filled with a rush of affection for him. “Hey, big man, you gonna miss me?”

He nodded, his big blue eyes soft with the unashamed love of a child. “I’m gonna mi-iiiss you!” he said, dropped the suitcase, and threw his arms around my knees. Suddenly, I wanted to cry again, which, of course, was silly.

“Next time I come, we’ll do something fun,” I promised.

“Okeydokey.” He punctuated that with a curt nod and hugged me again as James came out of the little house, then walked with us to the gate.

Dell appeared on the river path as we met up with the rest of the family by the yard gate. She dashed across the gravel driveway barefoot, wearing a wrinkled blue cotton dress and a choker of blue plastic beads. We waited while she pulled a pair of shoes out of a Wal-Mart sack and chewed off the tags.

Kate gave the shoes a double take, and Dell glanced up as she slipped into one of the stringy sandals with three-inch stiletto heels. “Uncle Bobby brung me some new shoes. These kind make your legs look long.”

Kate frowned at the footwear and then at me, obviously thinking the same thing I was. Who would buy leopard-print stilettos for a little girl?

Buckling the sandals, Dell stumbled around on the gravel, trying to get her balance. “These are kinda hard to walk in.”

“They’re awfully high,” Kate said, then bit her lip to keep from adding that the shoes weren’t at all appropriate for a twelve-year-old girl, who shouldn’t have been worrying about whether her legs looked long.

Jenilee stepped from behind the gate and held her own foot up next to Dell’s. “I think we wear about the same size. Want to trade me? Mine are flats.”

Thinking over Jenilee’s offer, Dell tried a few more steps in the high-heeled shoes. Finally, she took the shoes off and set them on the post by the gate. “I think I’ll just go get my flip-flops.” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and dashed to the porch, then came back wearing red plastic flip-flops that didn’t match her dress, but were still an improvement.

“I guess we should get going.” Kate glanced at her watch.

Caleb and Jenilee headed for Caleb’s truck. “I went ahead and loaded our stuff,” Caleb told Kate as he passed. “My granddad’s going to have a fit if we don’t stay at his place tonight. Jenilee wants to do some visiting in Poetry tomorrow, too.”

Kate finished buckling Rose into her car seat, then stood up and stretched her back. “I wish you two could stay longer, but I understand. We have to share you with everyone else. We get to have you over Memorial Day weekend, though, right?”

“Sure.” Jenilee paused to smooth a stray wisp of blond hair back into her hair clip. “I hope all my family being here doesn’t drive you too nuts,” she added self-consciously.

Kate glanced at her watch again. “No, it’ll be great. We’d better go. There’s probably some special penalty for making the preacher’s grandson late for church.”

Caleb chuckled. “Well, when I was young, he’d make me do the opening prayer. It didn’t matter if I walked in thirty seconds late or five minutes late—he’d stop me wherever I was, and say, ‘Caleb, would you open us in prayer?’ There I’d be, halfway in the door, and all the old ladies would turn around and give me the look. If that doesn’t break a kid of diddling around in the Sunday school rooms, looking for leftover doughnuts, nothing will.”

The rest of us laughed, then turned around and headed for our cars, because we weren’t entirely sure Brother Baker wouldn’t do the same thing to us. He had been known to put latecomers on the spot.

“I’m gonna ride with James and Karen,” I heard Dell say behind me. She didn’t wait for an answer, but caught up with James and me and started talking about music. “Can we come home and play the piano after lunch?”

I felt something twisting inside me. More than anything, I wanted to be able to say yes. “I can’t,” I admitted. “I have to head for Kansas City after lunch so I can catch a flight home.”

“You’re goin’ already?” she asked, the sparkle of excitement fading.

“Yes.” I turned to her as we reached the car. “But I’ll be back in a couple weeks for Memorial Day. James is going to be here until Tuesday. Maybe he could show you a few things on the guitar. I bet you’ll be just as good at that as you are at piano.” James gave me a distracted look. All morning he’d been brooding, mentally adding up the emergency fund and seeing how long it would carry us if I didn’t get another job right away.

“You think I could play the guitar?” Dell asked, turning to him with her heart on her sleeve. I hoped he would wake up and pay attention. “Is it hard?”

“Not as hard as piano,” he answered, shifting out of brooding mode and starting to look interested. “I think you could do it. Let me see your hands.”

Dell’s eyes lit up with instant adoration, and she held up her hands.

James chuckled, raising his hand next to hers, measuring the size. “I think you need something with a smaller neck. See, my fingers are quite a bit longer than yours. It’d be tough for you to manage my guitar, I think.” Pulling the car door open, he ushered her in. “Tell you what. We’ll try a few things on the guitar that I have here, and if you decide you like it, I’ve got an old youth-sized guitar at home in the attic. I’ll bring it next time I’m down. Comes complete with The Partridge Family logo and the whole deal. It’s pretty rad, man.”

“Cool!” Dell bounced to the middle of the backseat and sat leaning through the front console so she could talk to us. “What color is it?”

Sliding into the driver’s seat, James closed his door. “All colors. Haven’t you ever seen the big bad Partridge bus on TV? It’s like that.”

“Cool,” Dell said again.

“Oh, it’s way cool.” James chuckled. “Now slide back there and put your seat belt on, all right?”

Dell shrugged, still leaning through the console. “Uncle Bobby says I don’t need one.”

James started the engine, glancing over his shoulder with an obvious fondness. “Well, Uncle James says you do, so put on your seat belt. If we have a wreck, I don’t want you to end up as a little greasy spot on the dashboard.”

Dell huffed an irritated puff of air, disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to hang over the console and talk to us on the drive to church. “All right.

“Because then,” James finished, “who would show me all the best catfish holes?”

In the backseat, Dell giggled and said, “O.K.,” again, more pleasantly this time, as the seat belt clicked into place.

By the time we reached Hindsville, Dell and James had shared an entire conversation about playing the guitar, and how the notes were created on a stringed instrument. They talked about the chords and how they compared to the chords on a piano, and why some guitars had six strings and some had twelve, and bass guitars had only four. Dell was fascinated, just as she had been when we sat together at the piano. It was as if someone had turned on a switch, and she was so filled with enthusiasm, she forgot to be shy.

My mind drifted as we wound through the back roads of town, heading for the church parking lot. I thought of the weekend and everything that had happened since that horrible Friday night when the storm blew through and I sat playing the piano, trying to drown out the clatter of life. Friday seemed a lifetime ago now, and Boston a million miles away.

I tried to snap back to reality as we pulled into the church parking lot and walked into the chapel with the rest of the family. It felt strange to be there again after so long, but stranger still to be there without Grandma Rose at the head of our procession, shaking hands and kissing babies, making sure everyone saw that the granddaughters had finally come to visit.

Inside the chapel, the organist started the instrumental meditation as we slid into the usual pew, three rows from the front on the left. That much hadn’t changed. Grandma’s pew was still unofficially reserved. She had made certain of that at some time in the past, making a donation and having a plaque affixed to the end of the pew, which she insisted meant it was her spot.

My mind drifted between the past and the present as the music stopped and the service began moving slowly through the same timeless routine—greeting, hymn, prayer, offering, and finally Brother Baker’s sermon. He paused to smile at Caleb as he climbed to the podium. “So good to see my grandson Caleb here with his little girlfriend, Jenilee,” he said. Caleb did the parade wave, and Jenilee ducked her head as everyone turned to look at them.

Brother Baker went on. “And nice to have Karen and James Sommerfield visiting from out of town. We see James around here from time to time playing guitar on Shorty’s porch, but haven’t had the pleasure of Karen’s company in quite a long while.” He smiled at me, and I’m sure I turned ten shades of red. I was tempted to stand up and defend myself—Yes, I haven’t been here in a while, but we do go to church at home. Which would have been a lie. Brother Baker knew that. It isn’t good to lie in church, so I waved like a visiting celebrity, wishing I could sink into the seat and disappear.

Fortunately, Brother Baker moved on to the sermon. “Yes, it’s so good to have Caleb here today. I’m constantly reminded of how much he’s grown up. I asked him the other day if I could talk about him during service, and he didn’t even hesitate; he just said, ‘Sure, Grandpa.’ Wasn’t that long ago, as a teenager, he wanted me to pretend I didn’t know him.” The congregation laughed, and Brother Baker chuckled with them, then turned serious again. “I have to tell you that seeing him sitting out there now, a young man, through his last year of college and about to start medical school, I want to fall down on my knees with gratitude. I think back to that awful day two and a half years ago, when we got the call that Caleb had been in a car wreck, and he was lying in a hospital in critical condition with internal injuries and serious burns. Most of you remember that. I stood here on the podium and wept, asking all of you to pray for him as I left for the hospital. It was a low time, a time when I questioned God’s reason for things.” He pointed a finger at the audience. “We all have times like that, times when we stumble in our faith. Anyone who tells you they don’t isn’t being honest with you or himself. It’s the lowest point in your life when it happens—the one time when you’re really, truly alone. I’ll raise my hand right here and tell you that I stood in Caleb’s hospital room alone that day. I looked at that bed. . . .” He paused, taking off his bifocals and wiping his eyes.

When he spoke again, the words were choked with tears. “I looked at that bed and there was the boy who had played linebacker on the football team, who made good grades and earned a scholarship to college. Who never disappointed his parents a day in his life, a perfect son, a perfect grandson—everything we ever hoped for. And now the doctors were telling us he wasn’t going to be perfect anymore. If he recovered, he was going to have scars on his arms and legs from the burns.” Brother Baker looked at Caleb, his eyes filled with love and remembered anguish. Around us, the room was silent except for the hush of breathing. “And I asked God why. Why would you take this young, good-looking, beautiful boy and leave him the rest of his life with scars?”

He paused, looking up toward the heavens and then down at the pulpit. “And you know, God doesn’t always answer our questions right away. Sometimes he leaves us to think and ponder, to find our way back on our own. Sometimes the answers are so ordinary, you could walk right by without even noticing.” He paused and reached behind the pulpit, pulling out something that clattered like metal on metal. Everyone leaned forward in their seats, and I realized I was stretching upward, trying to see. As we watched, Brother Baker lined up several old containers—a rusted tin bucket, a dented flowerpot, an old saucepan, a partially smashed coffee can, and a new child’s beach pail—in a row along the railing. The members of the congregation began to murmur, theorizing on the purpose of the unusual display.

Dell leaned close to me and whispered, “What’s he doing?”

A memory flashed through my mind, of me asking my grandmother the same question on some long-ago Sunday. “I don’t know,” I whispered, just as Grandma Rose had whispered to me. “Watch.”

Brother Baker waited, allowing the suspense to build before he took the pulpit again, one hand in his pocket, the other leaning casually on the podium as he gazed at the pots. “The other day, I was out in the back lot behind the church, back there near that hill where the kids play in the sand sometimes.” He chuckled, looking at all the rapt faces in the audience. “It’s a funny thing about kids—you can make them all the clean sandboxes in the world, and they’ll still prefer an old hill of real, one hundred percent dirt.”

The congregation chuckled in response, the tension easing as Brother Baker went on. “It’s been kind of a dry spring so far, so we haven’t had to do much mowing out in the back lot, but we finally had some rain a few weeks ago, praise the Lord. So I went out to mow, and I saw all of these old buckets, pots, and pans the kids had left sitting around near their dirt pile. And you know, as I looked around, I noticed something. The perfect ones had caught rainwater and held it until it became stagnant and black. All the grass around them was dead. The containers that were dented or cracked or had holes had probably caught rainwater as well, but they had poured the water out through the holes. There was no stagnant water in them, and all the grass around them was growing.”

Brother Baker paused, moving his gaze slowly from the buckets to the congregation, holding the parishioners riveted. “It is the same with people. It’s those little nicks and dents and imperfections of spirit that allow us to flow out into a thirsty world. It’s our scars that allow us to relate to the scars of others, our suffering that connects us to others who suffer.” Holding out his arms, he turned his hands over slowly, studying them, then looking again at his grandson. “I don’t know why God put scars on my beautiful grandson, but I do know that when he becomes a doctor, when he reaches out to those who are wounded and hurting, they’re going to realize he’s been there. He’s going to understand his patients in a way that many doctors never will, and just by virtue of those scars on his arms, he’s going show them that life goes on. He’s going to be able to flow out into other people in a way that would have been impossible if God had left his life perfect.”

Leaving the pulpit, Brother Baker walked to the railing and picked up the new plastic bucket and the dented coffee can. “Consider for yourselves which life you’d rather have, which vessel you’d rather be. Perfect?” He tipped the plastic bucket toward the audience so that we could see the inside, which was blackened with the mold and algae left by stagnant water. “Or imperfect?” Tipping the coffee can toward the audience, he displayed the inside, washed clean by the rainwater passing through. His gaze slowly swept the congregation, stopping when it came to me. I felt myself move forward in my seat, forgetting there was anyone else in the room. “Ready to hold in everything that comes your way, or ready to pour out and be refilled with each new rain? Closed to the world . . . or open to the possibilities . . .”

I’m ready, I thought. I’m ready. I realized there were tears streaming down my face.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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