Aunt Ginny and the Hat Pin


Sometimes, Brother Holland was inspired.

What’s more, he knew it. He’d wake up, and  hardly be able to finish his Rice Krispies because he knew that today, there would be a bumper crop for Jesus at the altar call at his church. He’d almost trot from the parish house to the church, eager to get about the business of clearing that church of Satan.

But one Sunday, something just wasn’t right.

Brother Holland thought that he had gotten everything ready for a splendid morning of soul-winning. He’d picked very convicting hymns that reminded folks of how desperate their spiritual plight was.

He’d dropped some particularly gory comic-style tracts in the church pews, in the church bathrooms, and at various places downtown where his congregation were known to frequent. These tracts showed Satan hovering over sinners and seeming as hungry as the monster in the movies that showed on Saturday night at the drive-in theater.

Why, sometimes, he’d leave a few tracts at the Howling at the Moon Club, but he’d do it in the early afternoon, before the dancers were ready to bare all, and he’d skidaddle fast, so that no one thought he might like such a den of iniquity.

But there came a Sunday when all his efforts seemed for naught.

He was concluding a sermon designed if not to convince, then to terrify. His devoted wife, Gussie Fay, given the signal, started playing “Just as I am.” It was time for the altar call, and for all Brother Hollands efforts to be rewarded.

No one came.

Who knew why. Maybe Brother Holland was really that good, and had cleansed his whole congregation of the scourge of sin. Maybe he had run the devil smack out of town. People stood, uncomfortable, as verse seven of “Just as I am” was played. Gussie Fay knew when a convicted soul came forward, she could stop and give her fingers a rest.

No one was coming.

Brother Holland reared himself up to his full 6 feet seven in a terrifying fashion. “Some of ya’ll out there ain’t made a decision.” He crowed, his eyes seeming to burn into the pupils of each person assembled, one by one. “You know it, I know it, and what’s more, Jesus knows it. And we’re just going to stay here until we get this little problem worked out. You hear?”

His congregation heard, and some groaned. Brother Holland had gone a bit long on his sermon that day already. Some wanted to get home to tune in to the Sunday football, and didn’t want to tune in late. Some were just plain hungry and wanted to get to Bertha’s Broasted Chicken Breasts before the Methodists got all the Sunday lunch.

But no, the wayward sinner had yet to show his face, and Brother Holland kept signaling to his wife to keep playing. The folks were too intimidated by their good pastor to stage a walk out, and continued to sing “Just as I am” again, and again and one more time after that. Things were getting desperate.

Folks started to grumble against who the hold out was in the congregation.

Finally, Aunt Ginny had had enough. She looked about the congregation and sized up who all was there. Then, carrying her large black patent leather purse, she crossed aisles and sat behind Terry Jenkins and his two boys, Simon and Sylvester. She fumbled in her purse, and then finding what she was looking for, got a big smile on her face.

Terry Jenkins was a big, strong fella, foreman at the local lumberyard. He rarely came to church. Usually, it was because he’d either had a wild night out at the Howling at the Moon club or had lost big at a poker game across the county line. Either way, he was usually hiding out from his wife, Rebecca.

He was a good husband, but in his mind, after he got through providing for the week, the rest of the time was his to do as he saw fit. And what he saw fit to do, Rebecca and nearly every one else in the town saw as the devil’s own business.

Terry had come stumbling in at about 8:30 that morning, reeling and beginning to feel very hungover. He hoped Rebecca would be still asleep. Instead, she stood in the hall, glaring at him, with a wicked looking broom in her hand. “You need to go to church, Terry. You need it bad.” Rebecca told her husband.

“I don’t.” He swore, trying to look determined, but really only looking very green around the gills.

“You do, and this morning you will, to show your boys what a real father does instead of chasing hussies all night at that strip club. You either go, or I’m going to beat you silly with this broom! Any questions?”

Terry had a few questions, but none that wouldn’t have hastened the beating with the broom. So, grumbling and mumbling, he went and stood under the shower until he near about drowned.

Then, feeling really bad, struggled into the suit jacket, dress shirt and tie his wife had laid out for him along with his newest Wrangler blue jeans. By then the beers of the evening before were trying to re-visit him, so Rebecca took the car keys from him and loaded everyone in Terry’s truck, putting Terry in the truck bed so he could lean over and throw up if he needed to.

They had gotten there right on time, and Rebecca had nagged Terry to the front pew. The boys sat on either side of him, which was good, because at parts of the service, they had to hold him up and keep him from pitching forward.

He was a man in misery, but not because of any crisis of the soul. He was just plumb sick from about fifteen too many the night before. He sat, hardly hearing Brother Holland rave about sin, wondering how deep in hell he’d go if he puked on the plush red church carpet.

He stood as the sermon was over, and was so miserable he didn’t see Aunt Ginny come up behind him. The congregation was repeating “Just as I am” for about the fourteenth time now, and some had to go answer the call of nature. They began to openly hate and resent the unknown sinner that was keeping them there. Who was he or she?

They were about to find out.

Just as Gussy started on the 15th verse, thinking her fingers were about to give plumb out, a wail of intensity filled the room. She stopped playing, looking for the soul in distress.

What no one knew about, even in the pew with Aunt Ginny was that she’d just taken her sharp hat pin, held it in her fingers so no one could see, and poked Terry hard right in his Wranglers. He jumped, howled, and danced around, but could not figure out who the source of his torment was.

Brother Holland, nearly about to give up, looked at Terry with an eager look on his face. He hadn’t been wrong! Surely, this was the hold-out he’d known was in the congregation. He reached out his hand, putting on his best parental look. “Come on, Son. We all understand. You just have to let go of the world, and give it all up to Jesus.”

Terry looked at Brother Holland dully. He didn’t want to let go of anything. He looked at his wife, who was looking back hopefully, tears of expectation in her eyes. If he gave it all up to Jesus, that would mean giving up the great beer, the gambling and the girls at the Howling at the Moon club. Surely Jesus wouldn’t be that unfair.

“Uh-Uh.” He said, shaking his head.

Aunt Ginny let him have it again. He slapped his buttocks where the pin had gone in, and howled yet again. Ginny whispered sharply in his ear, her voice like a hiss.

“It’s the devil, Terry! It’s the pure devil! He’s come to get you. Don’t you feel his pitchfork?” Then, she let him have it again.

Now, in all of this, Terry didn’t think of a better explanation. All he knew was that something had to change and change fast. Grabbing his sons by the hands, he ran up to Brother Holland and near about climbed him.

Half an hour later, having declared Terry, Simon and Sylvester, free from the scourge of sin, Brother Holland, smiling widely, told everyone they were free to go.

The congregation took off out of there as if some one had just found termites in one of their Jim Walter Homes.

And as far as everyone knew, Terry never visited any dens of sin again. For the rest of his life, he went around, twitching a little bit, seeming to be afraid that he’d get the pitchfork again. He became the model husband and father.

And Aunt Ginny put her hat pin in a place of honor. From time to time, she’d look at it and smile, thinking about how greatness could be achieved if applied with the right force and in the right place at the right time.

“Why are you still single?” (re-visited)


weddingring

A while back, I wrote a scathing rant about why I was still single. So scathing that some men actually stopped talking to me for awhile.

I was okay with that.

I didn’t feel like I needed to apologize for breaking bad in a blog about things that at the time I felt really needed to be said. But I was harsh.

Let’s just say I wrote the blog on a day when I was really pissed off about how  men sometimes treat women.

At the time, it had been assumed by a guy with an unrequited crush (and some major personality issues) that I was a lesbian because 1. He hadn’t gotten anywhere with me and 2). I had suggested that humanity should be kinder and less judgmental to all–including non-heterosexuals.

I knew I was fighting a losing cause, at least with this guy. So much of our population, male and female, are unbelievably messed up about their sexuality. But his assumptions made me mad enough to speak my piece.

It isn’t easy to be  ’50-something’ and single. Especially if you’re reasonably attractive and have certain expectations about what you consider to be reasonable and fair.

When I went back and re-read my blog, I found that in that year, I’d made quite a journey away from the frustrated single person who wrote it.

Yet, some things were still the same.

I have lived for almost 10 years in a very conservative small town. This town, which proclaims itself ‘the Holy City’ has shown me some of the most unholy people I’ve ever met. I sometimes wonder why the cross (that some get so worked up about) doesn’t fall off the water tower in celestial disgust.

In that small town, I’ve had women treat me badly while clinging to their unattractive, creepy and sometimes leering husbands  as if I, by my very single status, must want them. I’ve even been told by a church secretary that if a woman is single, other women assume that she must be ‘on the make.’

I had one woman accuse me, because I met and began a relationship with a male of a small devotional group, of treating that group like ‘a singles bar.’

I don’t have anything to do with these individuals anymore. At some point, something in me rose up and cried “Nonsense” to such silly women and equally silly men. If a marriage is so fragile that a woman has to stare down every single woman they meet as possible competition, I suggest they go ahead and call a lawyer. They really don’t have a marriage.

These days, if I encounter women who act like that, I immediately distance myself and don’t give such foolishness dignity. I don’t need to. While I am not a fan of marriage, I honor it. If a couple has gone to that trouble, there is no way that I’m going to do anything to rock their boat–not even if the guy really wants me to do so.

I’ve had ministers and other respected church members leer, make suggestive comments, even feel way too compelled to stare at my chest during conversations. I’ve had fellow church members contact me for what I thought was going to be a date, when it turned out that all they wanted was quick, easy sex.

Or, when some men get caught flirting by their mates, they have blamed me, saying that I had the wrong idea about their intent (when you really couldn’t get another idea about their behavior.) Their wives believed them because it was easier to blame me than to address with their husbands why they lacked self control or respect for their marriage or their wife.

When such ham-handed attempts at getting their desires met are not successful, I am shocked about how nasty and childish such men can be. It makes me angry.  And it reminds me of why I choose to be single, even when I’m often judged for doing so.

I’ve been engaged twice, but I never really wanted to get married. I’ve only recently realized that. The two engagements took place in my twenties when I was still buying into what I thought society expected me to do–get married, settle down, have a few kiddos and then start pressuring others to follow suit.

For years, I found myself in one go-nowhere relationship after another. Some were really painful, because I really loved the men involved. Some of them said they loved me, and I believed them. At least, until their consistent actions showed me that their words could not be trusted. Or worse, once they realized that the relationship might take some work, they jumped ship and acted like there’d never been a relationship.

This can be especially hurtful in the church, where men I’ve known break up by saying “God” told them to do it. You know, sometimes, that is valid. But I think that is  often an immature excuse by someone who really needs to man up. If God is going to end a relationship, I really think he’s going to tell both parties.

Or, you find the super spiritual guy (or thinks he is) who confesses all his sins in the relationship, usually on social media or at a church service. Of course, the ex-girlfriend is made out to be some unstable Jezebel type. He gets the forgiveness of his fans in church, and goes on to create relational havoc elsewhere.

Lastly, you find the couple who have, in their pasts, been up to everything immoral under the sun. Things that would make Hugh Hefner blush. Some of it while in church leadership positions. Yet, they are the first to lecture the single person struggling with very real temptation to sexual immorality. They are the first to pretend they are  something they are not.

In my journey as a single woman, I was once treated as a sexual ‘hit and run.’ I got pregnant during that brief relationship. The man in question had married a former girlfriend by this time and never knew he was a father. I had a miscarriage, alone and without medical care. It took years to forgive myself for going from a college ‘good girl’ set to go to seminary that Autumn to whatever it was that becoming sexually active (with the wrong guy) had made me.

At a later point in that journey, I  tried to turn my sexuality over to God. So much so that I requested that God decide who gave me the next romantic kiss. Now some would say it would be foolish to think God would be that much of a micro manager. However, I didn’t. And time went by.

Lots of time.

During that time I was in relationships with men who couldn’t commit, were abusive, who hid behind the church and did very inappropriate things.

I was determined, that when I next had sex, that it wouldn’t be a booty-call or a one night stand. It would be making love on both sides, something that God could look at while it was happening and smile, knowing that two of his kids had finally gotten it right.

Recently, I was talking to a male friend, discussing my most recent ‘go nowhere’ relationship attempt. He’d been there for all of it, from its exciting beginning to its sputtering end. He’d seen me cry about the guy involved. He’d held back his opinion for the most part. But finally he didn’t.

He just called it as he saw it. He told me that I purposely chose men who were not appropriate relationship choices. My picks were the narcissists, the users, the spoiled brats, the men who see women in full color stereotype–with no room for adjustment. He said, “Laura, if you wanted to be married, you would have been by now. You just don’t want to commit.”

I was almost ready to admit this. Almost. But my friend’s revelation shocked me. I wanted, at least a little, to blame someone else. The men who treated me badly. The women who tried to make me fit their stereotypes of a old maid. The churches who made me feel as if I were a leper because of the absence of that little band of gold. But not me!

But you know, my friend was right.

It’s just not possible, unless we’re living in a really ugly world, that there could be that many men who are that relationally inappropriate. And yes, I’d had some great platonic guys for pals. But had ‘friend-zoned’ them like crazy. Like a person who was….terrified.

I just was not willing to believe that there was a man who would treat me right. I told myself I had never seen it. And maybe I hadn’t–because I was too busy looking for the cheaters, players, Peter-Pans, and abusers.

Having said all that, I remembered recently joining a dating site. I put up what I thought was a honest profile, and by the next morning got 5 hits. I took that profile down in an emotion that I can only, in retrospect describe as terror.

I don’t like some parts of being single. Having better boundaries now that when I first came to my town, I can stare down the weirdos and the wanna be wandering husbands. I can avoid the men who stare at my breasts as if they’ve never been weaned. I can choose not to be in friendships with insecure women who want to act like they are in some petty 50’s sitcom.

Yet, I still meet the types that drove me to write my earlier, angry blog. That day, I announced to the interested world why I was growing old with my cat instead of the latest dream-guy.  I described the guys who use inappropriate behavior to try to pencil women into a certain box, but instead just proclaim to the world why they don’t have healthy relationships.

I guess I will always meet them.

However, now, I’m willing to believe that there are also nice guys out there too. I’ve met them. I work with them. If they are eligible, and the interest is mutually there, well, I guess we’ll see. I’ll ask God about it. And believe that He, being the loving Father (not micro-manager) that he is, will take as much interest (if not more) in arranging a match for one of his daughters.

Till then, I remain single. Not because I hate, or am frustrated, or even because I match some stereotype of some equally hating and frustrated male. Because I choose.

And also because I think I am worthy of someone who will treat me as the gift God  has been making me into all these years.

I choose health in how I deal with others, and how others deal with me. It’s not negotiable. And I will wait, even if that wait takes years or a lifetime, because finally, thankfully, I know my worth.

Finally, I expect others to recognize it as well.

And that, my friends, is, one healing year later, why I’m still single.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“There’s an Episcopalian Under My Bed!”


By Laura Kathryn Rogers

Harvey Bradshaw loved the Episcopal church like fat kids love cake. Like some Alabamians loved the Auburn Tigers. Like Johnny Paul Vernon loved Jack Daniels.

He’d go over to the next county to Woodfordsville to get his weekly fix of high church Episcopal gospel. Sometimes, he’d make his only child, Eulalie go with him. Sometimes, she got a reprieve, and went to one of the ‘fun’ Penecostal churches her mother was currently attending.

Harvey met Julie Ann, Eulalie’s mother, and after a very brief courtship, got married. By the time both thought it was a mistake, Eulalie was around, and they figured that for her sake, they might as well stick it out. Harvey wanted to go back up North, and Julie Ann wanted to stay put. Her strong will won out, and for the rest of his life, Harvey wore a look of dismay every time he was with most of his wife’s family.

Of all Julie Ann’s siblings, he could tolerate Georgia Grace the least. She would back slap the guy and nearly knock him to the floor. She came up with a nickname for him, “Stinky” and didn’t understand why that was offensive to him. And when she came to his house, she broke furniture and ate him out of house and home.

Before Georgia Grace ruined her sister, Bessie-Ann’s first two marriages, and became the family black sheep, she often came to visit Julie-Ann. Of all the Vernon girls, Julie-Ann was the best cook. Eulalie would watch, entranced, as her mother would take a pinch of this and a handful of that, and wave her hands over a bubbling pot like a magician casting a spell. She never failed to prepare something delightful.

Only, in Georgia Grace’s case, Julie-Anne could never make enough.

Julie-Ann and Harvey had a five acre farm just outside of Contentment, and nearest to Clevus and Eleanor Grace’s palatial spread. Harvey was often, when off work, doing something in his barn or to his car. Naturally thin, he picked up a trick from one of their several barn cats, of making himself narrow and pretty much invisible. He used this trick when he saw Georgia Grace coming to visit.

But sometimes he just got caught. And Julie-Ann would insist that Georgia Grace stay to supper.  This was in Georgia Grace’s single days, and she never had to be convinced too much. But sometimes, Harvey wished his (usually) sweet mouthed Southern wife wouldn’t be so nice

He sometimes came close to tears when he heard his wife say, “What’s your hurry, stay with us!”

Georgia Grace usually had it timed to arrive about the time that Julie Anne was setting out the chicken and dumplings, or fried chicken. Julie Anne always made a lot of food, because she didn’t know how to do anything else, so the meals started out okay.

Georgia Grace would reach for the main dish, knocking Harvey back in the chair. “Oh, Stinky, I didn’t mean to do that. Have some chicken.” He’d go for the chicken, and come into contact with her grasping hand, again. At first, Harvey would sit and wait thinking that he’d finally get something to eat if he waited long enough. But thinking like that meant that his plate was still empty about the same time that the serving platters also were.

Then, Georgia Grace would go and sit on the new couch Harvey had just bought for the family. The couch, not capable of handling Georgia Grace’s 450-500 pound frame, would gently collapse, its springs giving a gentle sigh and dying.

Time for a new couch.

Julie-Anne wouldn’t ask Georgia Grace to sit elsewhere until Harvey told Julie-Anne she was going to have to get a job to pay for new furniture after Georgia Grace busted four different couches in less than a year.

Julie-Anne managed (most of the time) after that to direct Georgia Grace to the most sturdy of the recliners, telling her it ‘was the best chair in the house.’ Georgia Grace, flattered, would usually sit there. It kept the destruction to a minimum.

After awhile, Harvey put a refrigerator out in the barn, stocked it with cold cuts, breads and other easy to fix snacks, and when he saw Georgia Grace pull up in one of her late model Ford vehicles, he’d just plan to have supper out there. When Georgia Grace asked  where he was, Julie-Anne said he was working late.

After Georgia Grace became a family black sheep, she still tried to visit. Only Julie-Ann would try to act like no one was home. Whoever spotted Georgia Grace first would quietly alert the other two family members and everyone would hide.

The reason for the hiding was Georgia Grace was persistent. She saw the vehicles in the drive, and sometimes even saw one of the family members running inside as if from a twister. So, she’d knock. Then, knock some more. She’d go to windows, one by one, hollering Julie-Anne’s name. God help them if a door had been left unlocked. Then, they’d have to entertain.

Eulalie finally came up with an idea of how to avoid her aunt, though at 6 or  7, she didn’t really understand why Georgia Grace was now a ‘black sheep.’ Her parents’ bed had enough clearance underneath for all three of them to get under, and the bed skirt kept anyone from seeing folks who might be hiding underneath.

This usually worked. It was just the waiting that was hard. An hour of being afraid to whisper (Georgia Grace had exceptional hearing) or move, or work the plumbing could wear on a soul. If one family member was irritated with the other, lying under the bed in close proximity  could ignite a feud that gave away their presence in the house.

Now, at that time, Georgia Grace still lived with Aunt Ginny. Most of the time on weekdays, she was at beauty school in Morgan County. So, that was when most of the other siblings would visit. One day, Harvey was sitting down to a full plate of Southern deliciousness at Aunt Ginny’s table, when he heard his daughter making a whooping sound a lot like a police siren.

Eulalie came running in, flushed and breathing hard, and sputtered….”Georgia Grace!!!”

Aunt Ginny frowned at her. “Aunt Georgia Grace, you mean.”

Eulalie nodded, “She’s HERE!”

Well, all of a sudden there was just the full plate where Harvey had sat. Aunt Ginny hadn’t been briefed on how the Bradshaw’s handled her niece’s visits, and didn’t have time to question Harvey’s disappearance.

Georgia Grace came in, nearly squeezing the life out of Eulalie, and kissing her about ten times more than the child ever wanted to be kissed again. Right about then, she saw Harvey’s overflowing plate,  and exclaimed with pleasure that Aunt Ginny must have been psychic, to have a plate ready for her right on arrival.

Julie-Anne started to say something, when a loud groan came from the other part of Aunt Ginny’s house. Another groan came next– louder, then hisses, yowls, meows and then a crash. Rufus and Georgette, housecats of Aunty Ginny came tearing from that part of the house, nearly tripping Aunt Ginny.

Georgia Grace who loved both cats more than she loved people went running in the direction of the noise. Aunt Ginny, Julie-Ann and Eulalie quickly followed.

Harvey was slowly sliding out from under Georgia Grace’s bed, rubbing at a scratched and bitten leg.

“There’s an Episcopalian under my bed!” Georgia Grace said, at a total loss for any other comment. Harvey, now fully out from the bed, stared at his sister-in-law, who stared back at him.

“Aw, Stinky, why are you messing with my cats? Don’t you know that they are the only ones allowed under that bed?”

“I wasn’t messing with your cats.” Harvey said shortly. “I was trying to avoid running into you!”

After a lengthy silence, a family drama ensued with the sisters and Harvey airing every grievance they’d ever had against each other until Aunt Ginny thought she’d have to get her walking stick after all of them. Eulalie got a plate of supper and took it up to the tree house out back, especially after the sisters started referring to each other as female dogs, and Georgia Grace started questioning if Harvey’s parents had been married when he was born.

After the fuss, which went on til Aunt Ginny had enough, and did bring her walking stick into it, the other adults grumpily went into their corners. Understanding fully now that she wasn’t really welcome at Julie-Anne’s anymore because of her homewrecking  past (though it wasn’t her fault)  furniture breaking, and eating too darn much (which she could be blamed for) Georgia Grace decided to stop visiting Julie-Anne as frequently she had been.

It would have been great for Georgia Grace to have understood her part in the dispute, but she decided to blame it on Harvey.

It, after all, couldn’t be blamed on her older sister.

 

 

Johnny Paul has a “Close Encounter”


By Laura Kathryn Rogers

If the reality show COPS hadn’t been thought of (many years later), Johnny Paul Vernon would have eventually come up with it.

Johnny Paul had gone to school with several of the county deputies and the police officers, and some were his after hours drinking buddies. So, he heard all the good stories. However, Johnny Paul had something much better by which to get his facts.

Johnny Paul had a brand new, state-of-the-art police scanner. He spent hours listening to it, commenting on the police and sheriff deputy action, keeping the scanner in a place of honor by his Laz-E-Boy recliner in the living room of his and Jillian’s mobile home.

He would listen, munching on Ritz Crackers and Vienna Sausages, washing them down with a cold Budweiser. Jillian sometimes, for the sake of the marriage, would sit and listen too.

The problem was, Johnny Paul was often intoxicated, and when he was, he usually got the information he received way wrong, and sometimes could start a county wide (or worse) crisis.

This happened, memorably, one night when he had been kicked out of the trailer by his wife, Jillian and none of his brothers and sisters were willing to even let him sleep on their porches.

They loved him and all, but when Johnny Paul got on a drunk of major proportions, he fancied himself an undiscovered country music genius, the likes of which had never before been heard.

The problem was, Johnny Paul was tone deaf. He went low when he should have gone high, and vice-versa. When he tried to yodel or make his voice ‘break’ (think Hank Williams, Sr.), it sounded like the time that Jillians tomcat, Chester got hold of Johnny Paul’s sooner hound dog, George Wallace the fourth.

The more drunk he became, the louder Johnny Paul sang.

The louder he sang, the more likely the night would end with one of his former classmates hauling him off (with humble apologies) to dry out in jail.

However, Johnny Paul would continue to sing there. So finally Deputy Charlie Plummer, his best drinking buddy from 11th grade, came upon a grand idea. Johnny Paul was a hunter, fisher and sportsman (when he could stand up) and knew Mulberry County like the back of his hand.

Why not drop Johnny Paul off past the city limits when he got in a singing mood, and let him serenade the toad-frogs?

No one thought that would be cruel. No one feared for his safety. Johnny Paul (who would live well into his eighties) pretty much had more alcohol than blood in his veins, and they weren’t sure that conventional means of any kind could destroy the man.

So that night, when Johnny Paul got really torn up and was forcefully ejected from his home and not welcomed into his families homes,  Deputies Charlie Plummer and Erwin Grace decided to test their theory.

They found Johnny Paul swaying under a mimosa tree in the town park, easily heard singing for miles. They’d had a dozen calls by then, asking if someone could put Johnny Paul out of their misery. The deputies knew it was time to take action.

To distract Johnny Paul, the two deputies went along with his caterwauling, singing along even, while giving each other frequent pained expressions. Johnny in the back of Charlie’s squad car was oblivious, and was singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” for all he was worth.

They passed the Howling at the Moon Club, then the entrance to the County Lake, where Johnny Paul and Bobbie Ray (his baby brother) had once spied (they thought) the Loch Ness Monster.

The deputies stopped to fill up their squad car at Hermie Johnson’s “Sip and Git” which sold gas, pop and beer (it was in the ‘wet’ part of the county), snacks,  fishing bait and adult reading material in a back room. It was said that Hermie’s pretty daughters did some massage services for customers in that back room as well, but it was one of those things not proven, and in Sherrif “Plug” Coursey’s eyes, best left alone.

This was also the last business establishment on that road until you got to the County line. Next, Deputies Charlie and Erwin got back in the car, and took off down the road.

Johnny Paul, keenly wailing, had moved on to “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” Just when the good deputies were sincerely wishing that someone would go ahead and hit the ground, they heard a loud noise, and everyone froze.

They were a few miles past the Sip and Git, and there weren’t even crickets cutting up. It was quiet, quiet, quiet. Johnny Paul forgot the words to his next planned Willie Nelson song and gulped air.

Bright lights were swarming down from the sky, like giant fire flies. Getting bigger as they descended. Finally those lights all joined together and plunked down right in front of them. It was the prettiest and most terrifying flying saucer that any of them had ever seen.

The deputies looked at each other, screamed, jumped out of the car, and took off on foot back towards town, running like a tiger was after them. They had no interest at all in having a close encounter with little green men or whatever they were. Their evening’s close encounter with Johnny Paul and his lack of musical ability had been quite enough.

By the time the boys got back to the entrance of the Howling at the Moon Club, right by the Mulberry River bridge, they started feeling guilty.

Not guilty enough to go back and see if Johnny Paul had been abducted and taken to another galaxy, but guilty.

It was getting near the witching hour at this point, and the two men, still on duty, walked into the strip club. At first, everyone inside looked nervous. The strip club owner, Spanky McFarland (Eleanor Grace’s double-first cousin) rushed up, his four chins wagging as he sputtered a defense. There wasn’t anything (really) illegal going on. Why were the deputies there?

Erwin and Charlie told their tale. Right about then, Spanky’s brother, Clyde came running out from the Howling at the Moon’s business office. “We’ve been invaded!” Clyde hollered, “It’s on the police scanner! I just heard it!”

“Now what are you boys doing with a police scanner?” Erwin asked sternly. Then, the deputy remembered where he was. “Never mind.”

The two deputies, Spanky, Clyde, and Lamar Bloodsworth, the bouncer, all crowded into the tiny office. Over the scanner they heard an excited account of space alien invasion.

All narrated by Johnny Paul Vernon.

Johnny Paul described the would-be invaders in a wonder-struck way. They weren’t green, and they weren’t little, and they dang sure weren’t men. They were gorgeous blonde gals who put Ann Margaret or Sophia Loren to shame, and if they wanted to take him to their leader, as long as she was as good looking as them, why, Johnny Paul, married or not, would be glad to go.

Then he hollered that he was going to bring a few of the alien gals to town to meet his brother, Clevus, who was the long-time Mayor.  Next you heard the sound of feminine laughter, tires squealing and the sound of a speeding car.

The deputies thought only for a second. They’d left the keys in the police cruiser. No one told Johnny Paul not to drive. They were in too big a hurry to get the heck out of there. Put a juiced up Johnny Paul behind the wheel of a well-maintained police car, and apparently with some admiring women in the back, oh, there was going to be hell to pay!

They all ran outside, the deputies taking Spanky’s car keys. Spanky was agreeable, because he was wondering if he could convince one of the alien gals to come work for him at the strip club.

Just as they got in the parking lot, a brightly painted, graffiti-covered VW van came hauling into the parking lot. Jillian Vernon, who had been listening to the whole thing on Johnny Paul’s police scanner was angrier than a rooster deprived of his favorite hen.

“Where are they, where is he?” She yelled, “I’ll make him think outer space alien gals!”

Just then, Johnny Paul came tearing into the parking lot in the police cruiser, nearly slammed into a few cars, skidded almost to the edge of the river, and jumped out of his vehicle, completely unharmed.

If he’d had passengers, they weren’t there now. But that didn’t matter to Jillian.

Messing around with any sort of female from ANYWHERE in the galaxy was grounds for some wifely punishment.  And she knew just how to inflict it.

Jillian ran after Johnny Paul, caught him, hit him with their daughter’s softball bat a few times, then swore loudly as he managed to get away. He ran into the strip club. This pretty much stopped all business. The table dancers and the customers all got out of the couple’s way as Jillian caught her erring spouse, and skillfully applied the softball bat again.

At this point, almost everyone had forgotten about the flying saucer and the women from another planet. But then, Spanky McFarland, being the business man he was, waved his arms and told everyone to shut up. He was loud enough that even Jillian lowered the softball bat and was quiet.

“If we’re being invaded, we need to get on out there and protect our town and our families, right?” he asked, trying to look as indignant as possible.

Spanky really didn’t care about any of that. He was thinking about the fortune he was going to make with topless space alien women, but he knew he had to make it sound good to get everyone on his side and involved.

No one, even the bigger guys really wanted to agree with him, but pride wouldn’t let them admit it. So, within the next five minutes, the Howling at the Moon Club emptied out, as the newly formed militia headed down County Rd 65 in their various pickup trucks, Pintos and Chevy Impalas to defend Contentment and Mulberry County with the deputies in the squad car following.

The table dancers, covered up more or less decently, came along for moral support.

It was sad, but when they got to where the deputies and Johnny Paul all swore the saucer had landed, no one saw anything to prove that any extra-terrestrial event had happened. No one found anything at all.

Well, almost no one.

Jillian found some silver toned lipstick, which she swore belonged to one of Johnny Paul’s women, and lit into her sobering hubby once again.

The deputies, now not sure what they had seen, pulled the couple apart and handcuffed them both so that they wouldn’t get into it again on the way to the Sheriff’s Department. There was the one cruiser after all, and it was no worse the wear for its adventure.

The deputies figured that either Jillian or Johnny Paul were going to want to swear out a warrant on the other before the night was over. They might as well take the warring couple to the Sheriff’s Department and make it official.

Turned out, no one mentioned filing a warrant.

Jillian felt bad about the beating she’d put on her beloved by the time they got to the station, and figured that he must have been imagining things. Johnny Paul, nursing bruises and a need to vomit, decided that he’d agree with her. Jillian kept the lipstick, and years later, when their daughter, Sarah Jean, needed weird makeup for a Halloween Party, gave it to her.

Sarah Jean never told her Mama that the lipstick gave her the ability to see through folks, or hear through walls several hundred feet away. Nor did she tell her that after she applied it, for a few minutes, no one saw her, though they could hear and talk to her. Sarah Jean figured that maybe there was more to that tube of lipstick than just makeup, and that her father’s close encounter may have been more true than not.

The deputies later remembered the event as the lights coming from high beams of a stalled 18-wheeler, even though such huge trucks never used that road.

And the women from space, if that was what they were, apparently went home to report their close encounter with Johnny Paul Vernon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Things Being Equal (new short story)


 

By Laura Kathryn Rogers

Gavin was sure of one thing–he wanted to kill his wife.

He was not sure how he would do it, or when he would do it, but he knew that divorce was not an option. Samantha was shrewd, and a lawyer herself, damn it all, and she would eat him alive in divorce court.

He thought of just stepping off the grid, becoming one of those weird stories in shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” where the somber host talks about the mild-mannered middle-aged guy who walked away from a mortgage and suburban lifestyle. “Have you seen this man?” The host would ask, staring keenly at America via the television camera.

No, no, no. He didn’t want to disappear. Twenty five years had built and stoked a hatred for Samantha that would only be quenched one way. She had to die.

He considered a hired gun, then disregarded that as well. Gavin was a tax attorney, making a good salary, but he figured such a person would not come cheap. And in his experience as a Caucasian-who-never-got-in-trouble (not even a traffic ticket) where the hell would he find an assassin?

He pondered this daily as he walked to his office, and walked back. As he munched on his self-made sandwiches with Fritos chips and a cold Pepsi. Considered it as he lay next to his snoring wife in bed. Thinking about how to murder Samantha was the only thing lately that put him to sleep.

When had he decided he hated her? That was perhaps a question for the ages. There had been about two good years, then Samantha’s career as a hugely successful prosecutor had really taken off, and she became (especially in her own mind) a superstar. The fun-loving, down-to-earth girl he’d loved in high school put bold high-lights in her hair, shopped at places with cachet, and spent a good deal of money recreating herself. She got contacts, and God, she was always jogging.

Sometimes, Gavin wondered what she was running from.

As her career got more newspaper headlines, she became a partner of the law firm she’d joined fresh out of college. There wasn’t a challenge she turned down. Except the things that interested Gavin. He wanted a few kids, a dog in the backyard, and game night on the weekend. As Samantha got more successful, she developed contempt for all those things and, sadly for Gavin, too.

So, there was the answer to the question. He started hating her when he realized that she, his wife who had pledged to love him forever, hated him. Not just hated, but viewed him with the scorn she might view something unpleasant on the bottom of one of her five hundred dollar shoes. He was bland, boring, and worse still, had no intention of being anything else. That one thing Samantha could not forgive Gavin for.

So, Gavin, thought, Samantha had to die.

He considered his options. He tended towards pudginess, was in no way athletic. In a fight, Samantha probably could take him. She didn’t sleep well, perhaps a cost of her ongoing climb to greater success, so he couldn’t do something while she slept. He couldn’t surprise her during sex, choking her lifeless. Samantha hadn’t slept with him in years. He wasn’t sure what she did to meet any needs she might have, but he was certain of one fact, she wasn’t doing it with him, and had no interest in that anymore.

He started watching true crime shows, reading books on unsolved murders, even became chummy with the security guard at his work, who was a retired detective. The guard, Kevin Mortimer, loved to talk about his glory days, and had, in his day, apprehended a few nasty guys. Gavin didn’t tell Kevin why he suddenly was interested in hearing all the gory details, and Kevin didn’t think to suspect a darker motive.

Gavin became an expert on his wife’s comings and goings. He realized with a start that in the years of their gradually worsening marriage, that he’d begun to ignore her as much as possible. When she saw that frequent taunting and insults were not going to motivate him to be the man she thought he should be, Samantha started ignoring him right back. It worked well for the couple, and now it was die-hard habit for them both.

She didn’t even ask him to be arm-candy at various work-related functions. In fact, someone recently quoted her as being single in an interview. Samantha didn’t correct them.

Murder often has a motive, and for Gavin, there was a big one. Far beyond hate. Far beyond the list of grievances over the years. At age 51, Gavin Roberts had fallen in love.

She was just like him, really. Normal, middle-aged, a little chunky around the waist. Amy Collins would never be a super-model. But she was nice. And she liked him. She was a fellow tax attorney who was divorced with no children.

Gavin began giving up his home-made sandwich lunches for light, healthy lunches with Amy. They went on walks during work breaks. After about six months, there was that prerequisite-to-a-love-affair first kiss, in the park next to their building.

Things really took off after that.

Amy even had a dog, a sweet natured Golden Retriever who loved everyone. Amy loved how Gavin would play ‘fetch’ with Bongo, as the dog was called, in the backyard. He even made the excuse of an out of town ‘conference’ to Samantha, who did all but yawn when he told her he would be gone for a few days. Instead of the non-existent conference, he spent that long weekend with Amy.

Happiness, an elusive stranger for Gavin, came calling, and offered him a life unlike anything he had dared hope for. Amy and he became reckless, actually, going to wine tastings, live music, and even to the library, picking out books to read together. After a year, Amy’s home was more like Gavin’s home. He hated having to leave there when he visited. He was a man given a renewed chance at a joyous life.

Now, if he could just get rid of his wife.

When he finally figured it out, he wanted to slap himself for not thinking about it before. Samantha had just had a high profile trial where she put away several notorious drug dealers with Mafia ties. All of them threatened her inside and outside of the courtroom. For a while, a unmarked police car sat at their curb, insuring his fair lady’s protection. A few months of this stifled Samantha, and she called them off.

It would be easy. He would orchestrate an alibi. He’d be sure to be seen at a local library. He’d strike up a few memorable conversations with the library workers, then ask for a private study room.

Only he would not stay there. No, he would take a gun that he would get from a pawn dealer, and he would send his wife to the great arraignment in the sky. No one would suspect the grieving husband. He would weep if he had to put onion juice in his eyes. It would be considered cold revenge for the drug lords verdict.

Case closed.

It was a frosty morning, the day of the planned execution. Gavin woke up, feeling renewed with a sense of purpose he’d not felt in years. He put on new pants that he had spent lavishly on. He wanted no chance of cheap clothing shedding tale-tale threads that would come back to haunt him. He got the gun, the rattiest looking one he could find, one that conveniently had its serial number filed off, filled it with the most deadly ammunition that he could find, and then, went about his daily business.

He went to lunch with Amy, who was amused at his joyful affect. He let her get the tiniest of details of his plan from him. Not the criminal part, of course. Only that tonight, at seven p.m. he planned to free himself from his marriage so that they could be together forever. Gavin saw an unusual gleam in his beloved’s eyes, and congratulated himself on saying just enough.

There would be no witnesses, no one to testify. No loose ends. He and Amy would lay low another year, he would act the inconsolable spouse, and this time next year, he and Amy would quietly marry.

The rest of the day flew by. Gavin went to the library at 6 p.m. Had a talk about 6:35 with the research librarian about Rodin’s sculptures, particularly one  they both liked, “The Kiss.” Gavin thought of Amy when he and the librarian looked at a photo of the statue.

Gavin had timed it to the nanosecond. Once he went into the study room, he had three minutes to walk home, secret himself, point the gun when Samantha came in.  She was a creature of habit and went straight into her home office every night right at seven. He would point the gun, yes, he would. And he would fire, and put the bitch out of his misery.

As fate had it, everything worked out down to the second. No one saw him leave the study room at the library. There was no window into the room, so as far as anyone knew, he was still there. Nothing slowed him down.

He got home at precisely 6:57 p.m. and waited in the quiet, cool room where Samantha did her legal research and preparations for trials. He had not been in there in years. It smelled of Samantha and some of her expensive perfume. He hated how the room smelled.

In the dark room, he thought he heard movement. No, it was his imagination. Nothing would foil his perfect plan.

Samantha walked in. She was beautiful, tailored to the toe, coiffed as if ready for trial. Good. Gavin thought.

He pointed the gun, and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened. Except that Samantha saw him. Revulsion and repugnance filled her face. “You can’t even pull off a marital homicide, Gavin?” She asked.

Gavin fumbled at the gun. The safety was on. He could remedy that.

Before he could shoot, he heard the sound behind him. He turned.

Amy. Oh my God Amy. And she was pointing a gun, right at him.

Let me tell you why you’re going to die, Gavin.” Amy said, calmly. “You’re a worm. I never loved you. Never. Did you not pick up on it? There was a reason I got divorced. I guess I never told you.”

She walked over, and Gavin’s face became a mask of horror as he saw his wife and his lover embrace.

It was impossible, impossible, Gavin told himself. He wanted to love Amy. Live with Amy. He wanted to be happy. If he couldn’t have Amy, he would rather be dead.

A second later, Amy fired the gun, and the bullet found its way home. Then, she and Samantha went to the living room to discuss their upcoming wedding, which they had been planning for years.

The following day, police were called when Samantha, hysterical, found her dead husband. No one thought to question the slight aroma of onions as the officers comforted her. An intense investigation followed. The gun that fired the shot could not be traced. It was of the type that criminals preferred. Even the serial number had been filed off, and a home-made silencer had made the crime unheard.

The case was never solved. Samantha buried her husband, and about a year later, taking care to be seen grieving discreetly, Samantha married Amy.

Everyone wished them well.

And, all things being equal, everyone got what they wanted.

 

 

First Comes Love


I think we’ve all had moments of fear lately.

Two weeks ago, when I left work after having developed respiratory symptoms, I was afraid. When I got to the empty urgent care office which was now set up as more of a MASH unit than the busy little clinic I remembered, I was afraid.

And when they immediately decided to give me a COVID 19 test and told me it was because I was a ‘high risk’ to get and develop serious complications related to this killer virus (age, pre-existing illnesses, etc.) yes, I felt some fear.

But, I really didn’t let myself feel the fear. Not too much. I did my best to bury it deep in my heart.

The way that I’ve gotten through things in life is to push the fear back, and not let myself really deal with it until ‘later.’ When is ‘later?’

Hmmm… good question.

It was just how I got through a crisis. The problem with delaying facing things, however, is that sometimes, I never dealt with those buried emotions. And “not dealt with” means setting a future date for reckoning with whatever I have put off.

It took almost ten years to feel and deal with fear I wouldn’t let myself feel during my time being homeless. The time being underpaid and sometimes not working at all before diabetes was diagnosed in 2003. The time living with a mentally unstable Aunt who had no problem drinking alcohol, taking psychotropic meds and driving my car.

At that time, it was either that house or the street. I chose the psychological house of horrors that was the home of the only blood relative willing to take me in.

We feel fear before, during and after traumatic things. What does fear lead us to do? What good can come out of it?

I was blessed–my COVID 19 test came back negative. I apparently had some sort of nasty respiratory virus made worse by asthma.  At the time, I was able to work at home, pace myself, and didn’t have to go out and see clients, so my recovery time was rapid.

However, there are many who are not in that situation. There were over 200 new (known) cases of COVID-10 yesterday in Kentucky. A new order was signed into law saying that only one person per household can go into essential stories (grocery) at any time. The only ones that can accompany are those too young or too disabled to supervise themselves.

Our world has really changed. It all seems very surreal.

Crisis shows us the best we can be and the worst. Since Govenor Beshear’s orders to avoid social contact in public groups. I have since seen many groups (mostly of young people) hanging out in close proximity to each other. I saw the video of the North Carolina man, Justin Rhodes who filmed himself going through a Wal-Mart spewing hate, foul language and pretending to have COVID 19.

We’ve heard of the Louisville physician who physically assaulted at least one young girl who was sitting in a tight little group outside a shopping area. Across the country, a whole family allegedly spit, hit and coughed on a person once the individual asked them to maintain the desired six foot distance in a running park. I’m sure that there are many other dark examples of human sin-nature that have not been reported.

Two days ago, I heard a woman who (I thought) was blessedly unaware of her ignorance, ranting about how America ‘too easily gave up its freedom’ by conforming to the orders to close businesses and stay at home. I wondered what her option was. Infect freely and make the pandemic last longer? Alas, she felt, there was some plot set afoot (likely by her political opposites) to turn America into a dictatorship.

People behaving badly is profitable news. We all read it, as if watching  a bad car accident. The public seems to have an all-consuming hunger for it.  But, what of the good news?

I’m thinking of people giving blood, making face masks, and yes, STAYING HOME.  Citizens, for the most part, are heeding Governor Beshear’s orders and limiting exposure to others. Major whiskey distillers are making hand sanitizer.  Grocery stores and workers are doubling shifts in order to keep shelves stocked.

This is April, time for Keeneland and celebrating all that is related to the horse-racing industry in my area. I’ve yet to hear anyone damning the decision to keep the horse-racing park closed or to delay the Kentucky Derby.

There is some good, when we look for it

So, in an unknown, and yes, scary time, how do we cope? How do we be an example of good citizenry and not be ‘one of those people’ who make it necessary for more rules during a time of pandemic?

Last night, overhead my new apartment, I heard a violent argument. Thuds, screaming, then cursing both inside and outside. Those who know me know I have zero tolerance for this sort of thing. I went to the door to determine how bad it was, ready to call 911.

By the time I got there, the male doing most of the screaming and cursing had either calmed down or left. So, the police didn’t get called. But it did remind me, our lives have changed, but not really that much.

Couples still argue, sometimes violently. Domestic violence still happens. Both children and adults get abused. Possibly,  these conditions are worsened by the fact that dysfunctional coping styles are cooped up together.

What do we do?

I would suggest that we tell ourselves, over and over, before anything else, that first, we should love.

Love. Try to understand before reacting. Consider words that might be rashly said and then take a lifetime to heal resultant wounds. Look at the things that are good about those with whom you are in close contact. If necessary, get out of Dodge, and take a solitary walk. Be part of the good, and not one of the negative headlines.

I’ve spoken a lot about the negatives here, today. And, there are a lot of them. However, if we make it a mental or spiritual discipline during this time of social distancing, we might find out that we really know a lot more about loving than we think we do.

This is a scary time. People don’t know what to do. Decisions have to made on a daily basis which can impact our whole society by what we do or choose not to do.

What do we do when we are not sure what to do?

I would suggest to act in love.

Before you do anything that might  have an impact on someone else (or yourself) to the good or to the bad, ask yourself: “Am I acting in love?”

If you are not, kick that impulse to the curb. This is the time to pull together and think of the world as a ‘WE” and not simply think about our own bottom line.

The Balance


Balance.

I’ve struggled with the concept for years. Especially in my walk with God. Tonight, I pulled out a few gospel albums that I had not played in maybe 15 years. Sang along out loud. Felt close to the Lord, and jokingly thought, that some of those Protestants aren’t so bad, after all.

Later, I’ll likely watch a few episodes of COPS, Cold Case Files or some other criminal justice oriented show. Tomorrow in the car, I may sing along (really loud) with the Who.

I may wear makeup, likely I won’t. The older I get, the less I care about it. The body being clean, the hair brushed (except when it gets a mind of its own) and the clothes being appropriate mean more than looking like some movie star close to my age (or younger.)

Sometimes, especially when I pray the rosary, I feel so close to God, I know He is right there with me. At times, I have felt the presence of the blessed Mother, at times when i needed a nurturing touch.  Sometimes it is easy to pray for both the saints and the stinkers in this world. Sometimes, I will say, shaking my head, “I love you, Lord, but I don’t care much for some of Your people.”

Sounds a bit like one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom, doesn’t it? That very thing I was warned about growing up as a sometime Methodist.  But I would say to you that perhaps having one foot in both places is exactly where we ought to be.

That is the precious state of balance.

I have plenty to bring to the table of confession. I like to joke that being a social worker taught me how to swear. But no, I knew how to swear long before that first job in 1992. The more I was released from shame, fear and repressed anger, it was amazing how the words could sometimes fly. The very thing that would repulse me in someone else would come flying out of my mouth at the worst possible time–when others were listening.

Could that earthy, sometimes profane girl actually be a Christian?

I spent many years living in a small college town that prided itself on its Christianity. I saw healthy and (mostly) unhealthy ideas of what that was supposed to mean. I tried very hard to be what various groups of folks in that town expected me to be. When I left there for the last time in 2017, I shook the dust off my feet. The dust of their expectations and of my own. Whatever it was going to be like, living in Lexington, which I had nicknamed, the ‘City of Light’ it was going to be, at least for me, honest.

Three years now. God has moved in my life in many ways. Sometimes I feel like I’m trudging waist high in mud. Sometimes, I feel like I am right where I should be. Sometimes I can’t imagine how life could possibly get better. But then, God shows me how much it really can get better.

It’s about balance in your life. I think God has no problem with loud rock and roll, R-rated movies, joyful sex in marriage, or even the occasional Monty Python sketch. However, I think Satan wants us to THINK that God does. To make it a loyalty contest. The World or Heaven? What do you chose?

Some folks try so hard to eliminate anything of the world, that being around them is like choking on vanilla. They try so hard to be what they consider ‘holy’ that they leave out all the fun and the joy.

I was shocked when I heard respected Catholic leaders lay on the loud rock and roll as part of their radio shows. Or, that a priest could swear in traffic. That the saints that I so longed to be like had barren moments, even barren decades.

I may never be what you think a Christian should be. I may daily raise my eyebrows at you. But none of it matters. It’s what God thinks of both of us. And here’s the word–He loves us. Dearly.

I believe that God wants us to enjoy the parts of the world that will not corrupt us, and will help us discern, individually, what our weak places are. The work of the Holy Spirit is often to stand next to those weak places providing conviction until they are made strong.

Now, in a time of world-wide illness, I am more often at home than not. At work, it is getting more and more restricted how much I can be in direct contact with my clients. Just tonight, I heard of a priest who died of Covid-19 because he gave up his respirator so that another person could live. Could I do that? I don’t know. Sometimes, I struggle not to lean too far in the world. Sometimes I struggle not to forget that I am still very much human.

And God is okay with both states, as long as we have our priorities in order. I can be that Led Zeppelin/Who loving gal with a tattoo or two who loves Jesus. I can also be the gal that I was tonight, singing along at top volume to Sandi Patti, in a room that I’ve decorated with antiques, flowers and books.

As long as I understand that at the end, I belong to God.

Who do you belong to? How much of the time? Are you comfortable where your ‘feet’ are? Are you balanced?

Have Mercy?


I used to think that mercy was for wimps.

As a child, there was that game where two kids attempt to bend back each others fingers until one yells to be given ‘mercy.’ The winner was the stronger one, the one who did not have to plead for release.

And of course, there was the spoken sentence I grew up hearing, “Lord have mercy” which was usually uttered by middle-aged and older ladies, and usually about anything that was out of the ordinary for them. Depending on the lady, that could be a LOT.

In lots of old Westerns, you heard the judge sentencing the bad guy to death, and ending it by “May God have mercy on your soul.” I never understand that back then. Was the judge trying to soften a well-justified verdict?

About 13 or so years ago, during prayer, I felt that God was saying to me, “You’re going to get a lot of mercy.” I was somewhat put off by that word, whether it was from the Holy Spirit or not. Me, need mercy? I was the one that people, including most members of my biological family had been merciless towards. Why did I, victimized many times, need mercy?

In the last few years, as God illuminates the dark parts of my soul, showing me ugliness and sin sometimes hidden even from me, I start to understand.

I need mercy. I need it bad.

Recently, I wrote a blog about the reason to pray for mercy. However, my thoughts about the subject were not finished. Or, should I say, God was not yet through giving me new things to think about.

As my prayers routinely turned to “Have mercy on…” in difficult situations, something started changing within my soul. A sense of foreboding when I prayed. A sense of fear when the full nastiness of whatever sin I saw became aparrent to me. A greater realization of just how ugly my sin, your sin, the sin of the world actually is.

I’ve often joked that I would not do a good job as God. I’d likely thump heads first and consider love for my creation too late. When I look at the enormity of guilt that humanity carries,  I wonder why God doesn’t do the same.

Then, I remember that He did. The great flood, which dispatched all but one righteous family showed a time when humans danced on God’s last nerve and He decided He was ‘done.’

Well, almost done. There was that one family who re-populated the world.

And when the decendants of that family messed up yet again, God offered His son as a sacrifice for those transgressions. A sacrifice still offered to us today.

We know that God is a God of forgiveness as well as One of wrath. It is clearly promised in the Bible that those who make themselves enemies of God will someday find themselves eternally separated from Him.

When I think of these things, a deeper understanding starts to seep in about what the prayer of “Have Mercy” actually might mean.

In my walk with God, there are times that He has shown remarkable mercy. There have also been times when He has let life really take me down. Both experiences have taught me and chipped off pieces of pride and deeply ingrained sin that were holding me back.

When we pray for mercy, we are doing this not so much for others as for ourselves. By asking God to be merciful to  the abusive ex-husband, the rude co-worker, or even the selfish driver who cuts us off, we are taking ourselves off the throne of God and literally saying, “Okay, you deal with him/her. You know what needs to happen in their lives better than I do. I relinquish the fantasy that I should be able to determine the consequence for those who harm me.”

By relinquishing that daydream of control, we free ourselves. God has the situation. As He has worked on us, the proverbial sculptor with living clay, we trust that He will work with offensive others as well. We lessen the times that we say (or want to say) to the offending other, “Oh, you’re really going to go to hell for that one!” Because, honestly, we don’t know.

As I pondered on mercy lately, it hit me with huge impact, that pleading mercy on another person is very powerful. Consider those rare souls who enjoy hurting others. Manipulators, self-absorbed folks, abusive to the core.  Those whose kindest actions are actually cruel. People who can be called on all the manner of personal sins, and look at you calmly and deny all of it. Or worse, admit all of it, understand how it hurts, and simply not care.

Maybe, just maybe, such a person has inspired the wrath of God, and God is ready to act in such a way that cannot be undone. And perhaps, in such cases, this wrath might be entirely justified.

We plead mercy for this person, and our cries reach God. Out of love for us God deals with the situation, but not with the enormity that might have been done. The offending person is still punished, but not nearly like they might have been.

In the old Testament, Abraham pleads for Sodom and Gomorrah. If you believe the account, God was getting ready to totally clean house. Yet, Abraham pleads, and God relents, saying that if even ten righteous people were in the area, he would halt plans of destruction.

Sadly, there were not ten, and the place was wiped off the face of the earth. However, pleading for mercy bought time, extra time, for those in the two cities to consider their actions, to turn to God and lead different lives. That they ultimately chose not to is immaterial.

They were given mercy to choose.

Today, if we are struggling with what another person has said or done to us, pleading mercy is a good place to start. It doesn’t let them off the hook. Not at all. It doesn’t mean that we put ourselves back into sick or abusive relationships to show how ‘merciful’ we are. What it means is that we see the enmity in the person, are properly horrified by it–and leave it to God.

I have been shown much mercy in my life–by God, and by others. I think we can all say the same. If praying for mercy is hard, we can take steps towards making it easier by remembering we are not excusing the person. We are asking God, who hates evil in every form, to apply only what is needed for change in the person, and not let His full wrath be shown.

Unconfessed sin makes people ugly. It is a blight in their souls that grows wildly and then comes out in future actions, like a contagious disease.

Praying for mercy for such a person, (or for ourselves when something like this is discovered) is the equivalent of a vaccine for soul sickness.

We see the sin, acknowledge its devastation, and then ask God, (and only God) to take away the sin and allow something good to spring from the ashes.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Belly of a Whale


by Laura Kathryn Rogers

I hate driving when it’s dark.

However, from late October to mid February every year, that is what life feels like to me–driving in the dark. Or more descriptive still–communicating to the world from deep inside the belly of a whale.

Winston Churchill called it his “black dog.” Edgar Allen Poe, “Melancholy.” Many people of note have struggled with deep depression that, like an unwelcome house guest, knows no boundaries, never knows when it is  time to leave, and always comes  back to call.

As long as I can remember, I just felt ‘bad’ at various times of the year, mostly in the winter. Diagnosis for me? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with associated depression,  moderate to severe. Recurrent.

The ignorant and unkind among us call that ‘crazy.’ Or they will look at you as if smelling something unpleasant and call you ‘troubled.’ Mentally ill. Not ‘well.’ Once you admit to having this illness, or it becomes obvious to even the most self-centered folk around you, some mark a permanent “X” on your dance card, as if you will never produce as part of society.

Pass her by, folks, they seem to pronounce. She could do better if she really wanted to. She just wants people to feel sorry for her. It’s not as bad as she says. She is a loser. Whisper disapprovingly about her, but don’t try to help her–because she really must be making it up. Don’t befriend her, because–if it’s real, it might be catching! What would people think if they are seen with a person ‘like that’?

I’ve had folks, upon finding out about my illness, start treating me very carefully, talking to me very slowly, and trying various ‘techniques’ that I recognize as a former trained therapist.

I wondered, observing their behavior, what episode of “Dr. Phil” led them to believe they were qualified to do this, because the ones who have attempted this with me were neither trained or qualified. They simply saw me as ‘different’ and as such, a person that had to be treated differently, when what I actually needed was to be treated as a fellow (and equal) human being.

Welcome to my life as an annual part time tenant in the whale’s belly, or what fighting this illness seems like to me.

Sometimes, the arrival of depression is insidious. I have referred to it as being like standing in the middle of a room, with the lights going off a little at a time. Suddenly (?) you are in the dark, and the dark is you. Or seems to be.

Food doesn’t taste good, or you eat far too much just to try to feel alive. Some do the same with alcohol. You spend too much money, or nothing at all, because you just don’t want to move. Doing something as simple as paying bills or going to the mailbox seems just too damn hard.

I have learned, however, in my mid-50’s that while trauma related major depression is what is wrong with me, it doesn’t have to be what is wrong ABOUT me. Despite the ongoing stigma related to depression, sometimes called the “common cold of mental illness,” my annual social hibernation doesn’t have to make me any less of a person of worth.

Even if I resist help when I am in the whirlpool of chemical imbalance and just want to be left alone. It just means, people, that like a person with the flu, I’m not doing well at the moment. Health will return, it just might take time.

As a Catholic and a Christian, what could my annual hellish exodus mean?

It means regular prayer is hard. Getting to mass is hard. Ditto confession. Praying the rosary, the key thing which brought me into the Catholic church, becomes something I just don’t want to do.

Instead, I will play endless games on my phone or computer, not really paying attention to what I’m doing. Or, I will sleep. Or look at the television, but not be able to tell you the theme of anything I have seen. I will read something, and have go back several times in order to tell you with comprehension what I’ve read.

I’m there right now.

To be in this ‘dead state’ is never to be ready for it. I’m always a little surprised each time it happens to me and I become aware that once again, I’ve been swallowed up by it. I realise that I’m reserving all my energy to complete the essential functions of my job. I see that its been weeks since I’ve enjoyed a hobby, read for pleasure, or took joy in my pets. I ensure the basics are taken care of, but otherwise, I’m walking in a human shell, not really feeling much of anything.

Life becomes a list of “Oh, I have to do….” And anything that requires more than breath and a heart beat can easily make that list during such a time. Not lazy. Just feeling incapable. The heavy hand of sadness is squeezing me hard.

And, I’m just trying to breathe.

Just before Christmas of last year, I knew the ‘whale belly’ season had arrived when a gift giving event at a nearby parish (which I had looked forward to) seemed impossible. We’d be gone for at least eight hours. Unbearable. That was eight hours that would exhaust me. I couldn’t see myself doing eight hours of anything on a Saturday. Needless to say, I didn’t go.

In recent conversation with God, I poured out my struggles.  About decisions that need definitive answers and couldn’t be put off. Possible consequences associated with each. Fear of running from God’s will and losing His protection. I have learned first hand, more than once, that if we insist on being sovereign in our own lives, that God sometimes will remove his shielding hand.

What if?

The image of a whale’s belly, of course, comes from the Old Testament account of Jonah. There have been times when I resisted God’s will in my life.  To get me back on the path, I have joked that God ‘sent a whale’ for me through circumstances, designed to get my attention.

Let’s not even pretend that I have a job as important as Jonah’s call to Nineveh.  I’m a middle-aged social worker in a small city in Kentucky. My victories are far apart, and sometimes I never know my impact. There are times I blow it, and do so big. There is virtually no likelihood that anyone will know my name in 1000 plus years as we do Jonah’s.

However, this is my life, for whatever it is worth, whatever God’s called me to do in it. And we all spend time dealing with something that we feel is not only bigger than us, but that has the ability to potentially swallow us up.

A divorce. A rebellious child. An eating disorder. A substance abuse issue. The death of a parent. Grief and guilt over a past abortion. So many things could be on our own personal list.

We all get in places of deep and seemingly black despair. What do we do with it?

Some years, I have just waited for the ‘lights’ to come back on. This year, I reached out to my family doctor and got referrals to a therapist and a nurse practitioner to evaluate if medication could soothe some of the depressive funk. A few weeks following, I’m starting to feel alive again. I have moments of where I am almost….happy.

Life throws us into the whale’s belly unexpectedly. Hard. In vivid, painful color at times. What expels us? What sends us out?

I think being real with God is a start. Confessing to him (and a priest if this is part of your spiritual formation) is the next step. Let’s face it, God already knows. Your priest or person you talk to, wants to know. Lastly, even if we don’t quickly hear the answer, ask in prayer what God wants to come out of this desperate and sad experience.

Then, wait, as long as it takes, for an answer. The answer will come.

Once expelled from the whale, Jonah preached to Nineveh. The whole town repented. What’s ahead for me or you? Maybe nothing so earth-shattering. But I believe whole-heartedly that there is something waiting outside our personal trials for those of us who struggle.

Something good and blessed enough to make us glad that, with God’s help, we weathered the storm.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Web of the Spider (story)


“There was a old woman who swallowed a fly…”

“Aw C’mon Grannie,” My eight year old grandaughter, Amy, protested. “Tell us a REAL story!” We made stubborn eye contact, my ancient eyes drilling into her brilliant, young blue ones.

She began to giggle.

“You were just teasing us, weren’t you, Grannie?”

Of course I was. I told her so.

Okay, a real story, my dear? For you and your brother, Mark, aged ten, who doesn’t really believe in ghosts, or spooks, or magic because you are far too old and sophisticated?

All right, here we go.

It was 1940, when I was about twenty, and I hadn’t met your grandfather yet. That was five years in the future, and the idea of romance was some dreamy sort of thing like the dime movies I liked to watch with my best friend, Ellie Stuart on the weekends after a long week of teacher’s college.

No, dears, I never became a teacher. But that was pretty much all that there was for us women at the time. Teacher, secretary or wife/mother. At the time, my heart wished for more, but I could not tell you what that “more” was.

Late in May, Ellie got an invitation from Sollie Handersham, an ancient relative, to go to a small town in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, called Sperryville and spend the summer with her. She could also bring a guest. Ellie chose me.

Craving adventure, I leaped at the chance. I didn’t know the adventure I would get.

We got off the train in Culpepper, a bustling little city which had roots back to Virginia’s pre-colonial days. Ellie, having gotten a substantial check from her relative to cover all the travel expenses, splurged on a cab, a bright  yellow job that was comfortable and smelled slightly of cigars.

We gossiped and giggled all the way, commenting on a few deer and what we thought was the departing end of a black bear just before we got to Sperryville.

The town, if you could call it that, consisted of a gas station, a small library, an antique store, and a small church. A few houses on Lee Highway. We were told most of the small town was tucked away off the main drag and included a few restaurants and a school plus a few more churches.

The taxi driver stopped at Sollie Handersham’s. Ellie tipped the cabbie generously, and getting a smile and wink for her troubles, the taxi-man sped off. I turned back and looked at the house, and wondered if this was best idea of a summer vacation site.

The house was old, made of brick and peeling, painted cement. It was federal fashion, going up two straight stories and ending with an adequate roof and chimneys on either side. There was no porch, only a dusty drive between the house and it’s two columns. I didn’t want to hurt my friend, so I kept my concerns to myself.

Turns out, I needn’t have.

“Well, THIS is a trash heap!” Ellie said, making one of her faces that usually reduced me to helpless guffaws. But then, the door opened, and our comments ceased.

The lady who greeted us was not ancient at all. Sollie Handersham was young, lithe, and beautiful. Perfectly and gracefully figured with alabaster skin and a swan’s long neck. She was like a work of art. You have to forgive me, children, but we gawky girls, we just stared.

We had to be mistaken. This couldn’t be the relative, who sounded, over the phone like she was in her eighties!

She spoke and we got the shock of our lives. She WAS the ancient relative. Or, what Ellie thought was going to be an ancient relative. But, actually, as we later recalled, the connection on the phone was poor the day we were invited, and there was a bit of a raspy note in Sollie’s voice, in person. Easy to make such a mistake.

“Girls, we will have an absolutely splendid summer!” She called out, beckoning us into the home. “What would you like to do first? Go canoeing? Swim at the springs? I know–why don’t we go on a picnic at the Rappahannock River?”

We thought everything sounded wonderful, but we were hungry, so we chose the picnic. Sollie called once, and a bent, tired-looking woman came out. “Yes Ma’m?” She asked, peering at us in a way that seemed a bit suspicious.

“The girls and I want to lunch by the river. Fix us something nice, okay, Dottie?”

Dottie, quite a misnomer for such a wretched and worn out looking figure opened her mouth once, but a stern look from Sollie closed it. She turned and slowly began to walk back inside.

“She’s old.” Sollie said, as if she needed to explain. “They sometimes get stuck in their ways.”

“Has she worked here long?” I asked, politely.

“Oh, no, actually.” Sollie said, her eyes dancing with an amusement we couldn’t quite figure out. “She came here after I invited you girls. Not sure where she came from, just showed up at my door. She needed a place to stay, and so she works for room and board. I have had a lot of household help like that over the years.”

This comment struck me as odd. Sollie, beautiful, youthful, might be in her late twenties at the outside. Why did she talk as if she had lived ages?

Dottie brought us our lunch, and handed the basket to Sollie. “Follow me, girls!” She chimed. “Dottie, please bring in the girls’ luggage and put their things away in their rooms.”

Dottie went to do this, but as Sollie turned around, grabbed my elbow and hissed, slightly “Be careful. Be careful.”

The picnic by the river was wonderful, the food perfect, and after a time, both Ellie and I were sleepy. I noted that Sollie didn’t eat anything at all. She had begged off, claiming to have had a large breakfast. Ellie and I napped on pillows that were among the things that Dottie had sent with us. It was a sleep deepened by soft breezes that tickled our cheeks, and made deeper still by wildlife and the river’s sounds. I’m not sure how long we slept.

When we woke, Sollie wasn’t there. Alarmed at first, I jumped up, and looked around. From a distance, we saw Dottie coming, each step seeming painful, and forced. Ellie looked and said, under her breath, “I hope I never get that old.”

I elbowed her, and soon, Dottie was there. “The Missus had some things to do, and didn’t want to wake you. Which of you are her family?” She asked, her voice cracking with her advanced age.

“Me!” Ellie said, enthusiastically. “I think this will be a wonderful summer! Picnics and walks, and all the cute animals all around…..

“Well, just watch your step, that’s what I’d say,” Dottie said, then suddenly looked frightened. “I was young once, too.”

Just then, Sollie came down the path looking very put out. “Dottie! I told you not to disturb them! Whatever have you been saying to them? Not silly gossip, I hope?”

Dottie shook her head. “No Ma’m. Not silly gossip. Just checking on them since they don’t know their way around here. There are bear and foxes and who knows what else in these parts.”

“Indeed.” Sollie said, her frown diminishing somewhat. “Indeed. Well, girls how about a dinner out in Culpepper and a nice trip to the cinema? A new Clark Gable film is out, I believe!”

Ellie had sworn to me more than once, that her express ambition was to someday move to Hollywood and marry Clark Gable, so I could tell, without looking at her face that she was sold on the idea. We walked down the path back to the house, and found that our appointed bedrooms were comfortable, smelled sweet and had furniture that was nicer than what we had expected from looking at the outside of the  house.

We enjoyed our movie, but during it, I noted something strange. Sollie wasn’t really interested in the film as much as she was the young ladies walking in and out of the theatre. She would try to catch their eyes. When she did, the girls would stop, confused, sway a bit, then break eye contact and continue on their way.

Ellie noticed none of it. She talked all the way back to Sollie’s house about her love of Clark Gable. I sourly reminded her that he was married to Carole Lombard, and unless she wanted to be a home-wrecker, her dreams of being Mrs. Gable were in vain. My attempts to rain on her parade were ignored, except by Sollie, driving in the large dark Studebaker that she owned.

“Dreams are good, Helen,” Sollie said to me. “Reality can be so unpleasant. Life is meant to be drank like a draught of tonic.” She made a sound as if sucking the last drop of a delicious soda down. “Like that. Drain it completely. Live like it never ends.”

We got in our respective beds soon after getting home, tired from the journey. Again, sleep was sound, except for a strange dream. I was walking in the house, exploring, looking around. I heard a gasping sound, and turned in the direction of it. I saw Dottie standing, staring at something, her arms out as if in defense. Then slowly, sinking, turning to ashes until there were only a few grains of sand on the floor.

I heard a loud clanging sound, and woke up, but I was not in my bed. I was somehow in the room of the dream. In that room, sat Sollie, but she didn’t see me, or at least I didn’t think that she did. She was in a cane rocker, going slowly back and forth, drinking deeply from what appeared to be a beaker like the ones we girls used in chemistry class.

For some reason, I was very frightened. As quietly as I could, I left the room, and looked around, tiptoeing, looking for my room. Just as I got to what I thought was the door a hand clamped down on my shoulder. I turned, a scream in my throat.

Sollie put a finger to her lips. “Helen, my dear. Don’t wake Ellie. Whatever are you doing out here? Ah, were you looking for the lavatory? Let me show you.”

She led me, holding my hand, not giving me much of a choice about where we were going. My voice was stopped in my throat, not daring to dispute her.

“Helen, here you are. Let me turn on the light for you.” Sollie pulled a string over my head and the light flashed on. I saw a claw foot china tub, toilet, and a sink. Also a large oval mirror right in front of me. In the mirror I saw the frightened, pale version of myself, and Sollie behind me.  Our eyes locked momentarily.

Why did I think she looked as if she were….hungry?

By force, I broke the eye-contact, and found my voice. “Thank you, Sollie. Now I know where it is.” I walked in, and closed the door and locked it quickly behind me. After a decent time, I timorously opened the door, afraid that she might still be standing there, but she was not.

The next day, Ellie and I looked around for Dottie, but she was no where in sight. Sollie had set out sweet rolls, various fruit and cold, delicious milk for our breakfast. Forgetting the strange night, I dug in, as did Ellie. I noticed, however, that Ellie did not seem to be feeling well.

When I asked, she shrugged. “I hope I don’t have a cold or something coming on. I just feel like all my strength is out of me. Like someone popped a balloon.”

Sollie came in, just then, and busied herself with spreading butter on a croissant.  As she daintily ate it, I looked at her in amazement. She seemed different this morning. Still beautiful, still radiant, still lithe, only more so. Like she had been to a spa and had a treatment of some sort. Maybe five years younger than the day before.

In the weeks that followed, I wanted to ask about Dottie a dozen times. However, each day was full of fun activities, horseback riding several times a week, mining for semi-precious stones one day, climbing the nearby mountains the next.

Everyone knew Sollie in Sperryville. It was clear that Sollie was loved in this community and everyone seemed to admire her. There was no worries with Dottie being gone. In fact, no one in the town seemed to notice.

A new woman, equally as aged and slow-moving was doing chores for room and board, soon after, named Kimberly. Then, Kimberly was gone, and there was an Adela.  By July there had been six women to tend us, clean house and do whatever Sollie wanted. Ellie and I questioned it in private. Was she raiding nursing homes for cheap help?

I felt horrible thinking this of a woman who had been so kind and generous to us, but slowly, a creeping sensation of something not being quite right filled me more and more each day.

I had so many questions. Sollie was mentioned by Ellie’s mother as a great aunt, but she was too young to be a ‘great’ anything! It was all very curious. However, other concerns temporarily stopped this questioning. You see, I was very worried about Ellie.

Over time, Ellie seemed to continue to pale, become more listless, and less eager to go on our outings. But still, she would go, to please her great Aunt Sollie, who if anything, became more vigorous and vital, more youthful, if possible, strong as if she were an ancient goddess with never ending strength and immortality.

We were due to head back to Kentucky the last day of August. We sat on the swing out back of the home, and I was saddened about how sickly Ellie looked. I had asked Sollie to let a doctor see her, Sollie had agreed if she “didn’t get better.” That had been weeks ago. I thought it was time to ask again, but Ellie disagreed. “We’ll be home in two days. I’ll go to Doctor Schubert. He’s known me since I was a baby.”

I noted something odd that last week. The never-ending supply of old women, from wherever they came, seemed to dry up. There was no one to do our laundry, make our beds, cook our meals or iron our clothes. Sollie refused to allow us to pitch in. She did the work herself.

That week, I started to see it. Sollie’s youthful looks started to diminish, somehow. It wasn’t something you could see unless you explicitly were looking for it, and I wasn’t really. However, I had been so taken by her vitality, that I suppose I noticed when it started to ebb away.

Small threads of gray worked themselves into her bright auburn hair, small, then larger wrinkles framed her green eyes. When she would frown, her forehead seemed etched with time that hadn’t shown there just the day before.

The desire to go home early overtook me. Even if it was the last week, I wanted to go immediately. I didn’t care if it made Ellie mad with me. I packed my things, and walked down to the area where a bus stopped once a week. There would be one headed towards California, and all points between the next day.

I bought a ticket.

It was after dusk when I got back. No one seemed to notice that I was gone. I walked through the house, looking for Ellie. Could I convince her to come along with me?

The house was dark, not the slightest light on. I tried not to stumble.

I got to the room next to the lavatory, the room that I avoided because it was where I had awoken after the bad dream about Dottie early in the summer. It seemed a bad place, where bad things happened.

That night, though, I went there. I had to.

I heard Ellie’s voice. A low moan. A plea for mercy. Mercy that would not be given.

As I walked in, I saw my best friend, weak, sallow, aging rapidly before my eyes.

I saw Sollie with a strange beaker, pointed towards Ellie, a thin ray of light between the two of them.

“Ellie!” I cried!

Sollie jerked her head in my direction, dropping the beaker. Ellie turned to me and then, to my horror, turned to ash and scattered on the ground.

Sollie, radiant, beautiful and young stared at me with murderous  rage. Killing fury.

“What have you done?” She cried out, pointing at the broken beaker on the floor. “How will I live?”

She flung herself at me, and two of us struggled. She had tremendous strength at first, and I felt that she would overcome me, do something as horrible to me as she had done to Ellie. “My meal, my meal!” She hissed. “I did not finish my meal!”

Suddenly, Sollie’s hold was loosening. I heard a rustling sound behind me, but dared not look. Her hands dropped away.

Sollie looked about early middle ages. Then maybe sixty, seventy. She then looked as old as the great aunt she’d been described as being.

“I knew when I was young, that I never wanted to get old.” She said. “I searched all over the world to find a way to keep youth. I chose young girls at first who were runaways, or down on their luck. I took from them what they would have wasted anyway. Was it so wrong? Look how loved I am, look how beautiful! It took years to put that beaker together, to put the right materials together, to say just the right spell…..I kept it like a treasure. But the young girls that I trapped no longer kept me young for long. I had to find someone….from my own bloodline. Slowly take her life force. Once it was completely done, I would be young forever. But you broke the beaker. You broke it….”

Before my astounded eyes, she aged further. Then crumpled in front of the cane chair, aged, wretched…and dead.

I turned as the rustling sound came again. Ellie had risen from the ashes. Her essence, in the beaker returned to her when it broke. The small bits that Sollie had drained from her over the summer could not be replaced, perhaps, but her life force could. Within minutes, Ellie stood, looking more like 40 than 20, but alive. My friend was alive!

We never notified the authorities–we just left. When an old body was found in Sollie’s home, aged beyond recognition, local police chalked it up to her taking in vagrants. They knew Sollie loved to travel, and often took off without telling anyone. They never thought to ask us what happened.

And until now, I never told.

However, I should say one thing.

I took the glass of the beaker and I carefully put it back together. Here and there, over the years, I would lock eyes with a person who I thought had a bit of vitality to spare.  I don’t over-do it like the vain Sollie did. How would I explain un-ending youth to others?

So, a bit like a spider,  I swallow a bit of someone’s life force now and again. It keeps me going, you might say.

As long as I have regular meals, I might live forever

In fact, I’m getting a bit hungry now.

Where are you going, children?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clevus and the Harley Riders for Jesus


by Laura Kathryn Rogers

Clevus was unsettled.

He, by all rights, should have been a happy man. He was independently wealthy, had been President of Contentment’s largest bank for decades, and was currently in his fourth term as mayor. He had fourteen healthy children, four of which were currently in classes at Auburn University.

The fifth one had disgraced the family by winning a scholarship at Alabama, and actually going there. However, Clevus thought, it could be worse.

At least the boy wasn’t in jail.

And, with the love and support of his Auburn-loving family, He just might turn around some day.

Clevus had a strong marriage of nearly 25 years to Eleanor Grace who he loved every bit as much as he did the day he first met her, if not much more. His brothers and sisters were all doing well, or at least as well as they got.

Even he and Uncle “Rat” were getting along since Rat lost the last election for mayor, and only got two votes. (Clevus hoped those votes were Rat’s own vote, and Rat’s wife, Bessie Ann, but you never really knew)

Clevus felt  a sense of emptiness. A sense of somehow, just missing the boat. As Clevus found his way into his middle fifties, he seemed lost somehow and just didn’t know how to get found.

Now some men might have gotten them a girlfriend, or started ponying around with a souped up sports car. Some might have taken up drinking or gambling, anything to fill the void.

With five of their children in college, and the remaining nine old enough to pretty much mind themselves, Eleanor Grace had found a job some time ago. She was so good at running things at the local Hoggly Woggly, the owner, “Spell” Hardin took to long naps, hunting and fishing trips, and day trips up to Montgomery. Clevus was so comfortable with how both the town and his bank ran that he also had time on his hands.

Finally, he turned to his long-time best friend and soul brother, Bruno Jeffcoat for advice.

Bruno had just the thing.

What Clevus needed was a brand new, frighteningly large and completely too loud Harley Davidson. Bruno had finally saved up enough to get one custom made, and was planning to go up to Auburn and pick it up at the factory.

Why, Clevus could visit four of his five kids (to heck with the Alabama hold-out) and pick him up a Harley too.

Eleanor Grace, as much as she loved her man, felt that he was getting a mite too close there lately, and blessed the trip, encouraging them to go as soon as possible.

So, the two men took off on their trip to Auburn. Neither knew that they would come back totally changed men, but I suppose road trips that change lives are sort of rare and random. The fellas thought they’d do their business, visit the kids (who all called Bruno “Uncle Jeffcoat”) and call it a day.

God had other plans.

Clevus often thought (and said) that when God didn’t have other plans, he likely stuck close to Auburn. The evidence was the glorious football team, even though Coach Shug had died a few years before. There was a fella there named Pat Dye now, and he was bringing glory to the Iron Bowl again, regularly whipping Bama’s tail. Even if he hadn’t, Clevus would have considered Auburn the Mecca (and Medina) of the South.

So, it later just seemed reasonable that when Clevus got to Auburn, God was waiting for him there.

Clevus had just visited the last of his kids on campus, his two twin girls who had just pledged Kappa Delta, when he noticed something strange near the Sigma Chi house.

Now, Clevus had been a Sigma Chi, and had been their president for most of his time at Auburn. He was used to the fraternity antics and boozy festivities that came around “rush week” but the sight he saw was something different. It didn’t look like the Sigmas at all.

Right next to the Sigma Chi house (where the Delta Chi house had been before it burned down during a lightening storm) about thirty scruffy individuals in leather, chains, sturdy boots and tattoos were standing around a large sized kids pool. They looked like the rowdiest bunch of outlaws Clevus had ever seen.

Clevus walked up to one of the young Sigma’s who was watching the men, and asked what was going on. The boy shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, Them? They’re just souped up Jesus Freaks trying to convert folks like them, I guess. But I don’t think there’s anyone like them in this town.”

“Hmmmmm.” Clevus said, and walked over to investigate.

The closer  he got to the kid’s pool, the more he felt a warm, drawing sensation that made him want to hear everything the main fella, nearly covered head to toe in tatts, with the body of a wrestler and a shiny shaved head had to say.

Bruno, who loved bald folks with tattoos (who looked  like wrestlers) was similarly entranced.

For the next hour the men listened. The pastor talked about his years of drinking, smoking, womanizing and scaring people with his huge Harley Davidson. He talked about his run-ins with the police, and how even his Mama had stopped speaking to him. He explained sin by discussing the many things that can go wrong with a neglected Harley Davidson.

Jesus, the Pastor said, was the only cure. The only way to get the human engine running right and staying that way. Scary looking men standing around listened, with huge tears in their eyes. Some held Bibles. Some just smelled of grease and exhaust.

Clevus found himself getting quite choked up.

When the altar call came, Clevus was in that pool faster than a jog to the outhouse after one ate too many turnips. He forgot he was in a suit and tie and had his most expensive watch on. He didn’t care that his best friend, Bruno, was watching. He wanted what that bald-headed road hog had, and Clevus wanted it bad.

Turned out, Clevus need not have worried. Bruno was right on his heels.

Fifteen minutes later, the two men had been baptized by the pastor and proclaimed in possession of brand new souls. They were given brand new King James Bibles with the stamp of the pastor’s ministry, “The Harley Riders for Jesus” stamped in bright red on the inside page.

By the time the two men had dried out from the pool and were ready to head to a motel for the night, Clevus had enlisted the pastor, who he now knew as Brother Tim “Bellow” Reeder, to come down to Contentment and have a revival there.

Clevus knew how much he had personally been forgiven during his time in the kiddie pool in Auburn, but he also knew his customers and fellow townspeople. Why, the Harley Rider’s ministry could stand Contentment on its side, shake it up, and get what part of the Devil that Brother Holland hadn’t cast out well on its way!

The next day, a caravan of Harley Riders for Jesus missionaries followed Clevus and Bruno back to Contentment. Since he was the mayor and all, Clevus told them to set up wherever they liked. They sat up the kiddie pool right in the middle of Robert E. Lee Memorial Park where the last great food fight between Eleanor Grace and Sue Beth Snooker had taken place.

Clevus went from door to door, inviting folks and making apologies. Some of these apologies went back years. He asked folks to forgive him for every underhanded trick or joke he’d ever pulled on them. He confessed things that some folks didn’t know he was guilty of. He humbly asked for their grace.

Most of Contentment was, well, stunned.

Finally, Clevus invited them to the park to hear Brother Reeder, whose automotive ministry had changed him so, and perhaps see if they too needed a dunk and a change in their life’s trajectory.

Well, word got around, as word does, and before you knew it, most of the town was assembled around the newly set up and filled kids pool. Brother Reeder even got Brother Holland out there, who forgot to be jealous of the fellow preachers spell-binding oration.

He just murmured “Amen, Amen” over and over.

Most of Contentment’s residents went forward when the call came to do so, and got baptized, whether they needed it or not.

Clevus went home and put his foot down for the first time in his almost 25 year marriage. Like it or not, Eleanor Grace was, (preacher’s daughter or not) going to go listen to the preacher. If she didn’t like what she heard, that was fine, but Clevus wanted her to go listen.

Perhaps it was the eloquent description of how the body of Christ was similar to a clogged carburetor. Maybe it was hearing how personal salvation was like getting the ultimate tune-up on the road-trip of life.

Eleanor Grace went forward too.

Later, she spent an hour apologizing to Sue Beth Snooker on her door step. Sue Beth, who never converted, thought Eleanor Grace had lost her mind, and wouldn’t let her in. But later, even Sue Beth had to admit something positive happened to her old foe.

Next, Eleanor Grace had a talk with Clevus. They both then asked Aunt Ginny’s advice about what to do post conversion.

Before long, Clevus had resigned as mayor and bank president and Eleanor Grace had quit the Hoggly Woggly. Aunt Ginny took in the nine kids that still lived at home, with the understanding that the kids would spend weekends, holidays and breaks with their parents.

Clevus and Eleanor Grace became full-time missionaries with the Harley Riders for Jesus.

Contentment was not the same without them, but as one might imagine, the country (and some parts of Mexico and Canada) were never the same again either after experiencing Clevus and Eleanor Grace’s special kind of automotive road-hog evangelism.