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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Empty Nester/Retirement (from work) (09/10/09)

TITLE: Vows and Venerability
By Ann Grover
~1st Place


Untidy weeds mar the lawn, and I tug them, adding them to the small heap of ragged and withered stems I’ve already pulled.

“Ah, Mrs. Kent, ‘tis a pity the gardener has disregarded his responsibilities and allowed the churchyard to fall into disarray.”

There’s no response from Mrs. Kent, but I do not expect one, as she’s been dead nigh on thirty years, and it is from around her mossy headstone that I pull the tangled greenery.

My memory of her is as fresh as this morning’s sunrise, a tiny widow of indeterminate age, able to embroider jewel-like designs, though her fingers were cramped and gnarled. Not that I, as a man, should care for such frivolousness and trivialities. She’d resided with her maiden daughter until she was laid to rest beneath the nearby grass, God rest her.

“Ho, Reverend Hedgewick,” Johnno hales me from the verge of the rutted road where he maneuvers a wheelbarrow loaded high with turnips and potatoes. A bit of a simpleton is Johnno Dole, but he grows magnificent vegetables.

“Good day, Johnno,” I call out, to which Johnno nods, pointing to his bounty. “Taties and neeps for your tea, Reverend?” I hasten to the gate and slip the proffered vegetables into my frock-coat, hoping I’ve hid my grasping eagerness from Johnno’s eyes.

Johnno trundles away, and I continue to pluck thistles from the graves, occasionally resting a hand fondly on a headstone. Annie Nolan, wife and mother. Mary Beck, infant daughter. Thomas Pringle, aged 18. I remember them, their laughter and laments and laying them in the ground.

The turnip and potato thump against my leg, and my belly grinds painfully, anticipating a plate of buttered mash. I bid farewell to my erstwhile companions reposing in the churchyard. It’s a short walk to the cottage where I’ve lived since being ousted from the manse to make way for a more vigorous man. Indignation rises sourly, as I contemplate, not for the first time, the injustice of my situation.

“Frail in body” was the bishop’s verdict, and I was sentenced to retirement and an annual pension of three pounds, barely enough to bind body to soul. A fall from grace, certainly. I should die in the harness, like the plough-man, not put out to pasture like a useless workhorse. The Lord’s calling does not expire. There remain hands to unite, babies to christen, and the spirits of the truly retired to commend into God’s hand.

My gouty leg throbs as I limp along the hedgerow, but I endure, spurred on by peevishness and hunger.

The cottage is bleak, as expected, and I scrabble in the scuttle for a bit of coal, enough to boil supper and chase off the damp. Soon, I am dining on Johnno’s unexpected gift, savouring every tender morsel. A small chop would have pleased me, but I cast away tempting thoughts of succulent drippings and sizzling fat.

A man of the faded cloth, I am. Exiled, relegated to uprooting weeds. What of my promise to carry on with God’s work until I no longer breathe?

A knock on the door interrupts my querulous reverie.

“Walter!” I invite the hunched man into my parlour-cum-dining room and bid him to take his ease in my own chair. “Tea?” I offer, reluctantly, as the tea is weak for only dust remains in the caddy.

“Thank ‘e.” Walter sips loudly, gratifyingly. “”Tis lovely.”

I drink and feel somewhat cheered by its warmth. “How are you, Walter?” It had been some weeks since I’d seen the old man.

“T’ arthritics been painin’ me, but still.” His grizzled grin brightened the room. “T’ missus had the palsy but she’s hearty now, thank t’ Lord.”

Thank the Lord, he says, of an ill wife and gamey legs.

“Yer lookin’ vexed, Rev’ren’. Ye troubled?”

I sigh, remembering Walter’s piercing discernment from his days as my parishioner, his bluntness and pointed observations. I don’t answer, not wishing to foist my bitter discontent on him.

“Whate’er ‘tis, Rev’ren’, it’ll pass. Yer above t’ sod, so’s it’s a grand day.”

Walter hoists himself up. “I ‘most forgot.” He rummages in his coat, removing a parcel. “A fresh chicken, Rev’ren’. Thanks for t’ tea and fine fellowship.”

He disappears into the dusk, leaving me with the dampish package and a renewed heart. The bishop might consider me feeble, but my eyes and wit are sharp.

I’m above ground. The Lord’s calling continues.

Accept Jesus as Your Savior Right Now and be Certain of Eternal Life.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Allen Stark09/18/09
Tis good I converse with my good friend in northern Ireland on occasion. Makes these kind of pieces easier to read.
Charla Diehl 09/19/09
I enjoyed the authentic dialog and the easy way this flowed. Your MC was endearing and loved the message tucked within this lovely story.
Catrina Bradley 09/20/09
I love every word of this well written story of faith lost and found, without knowing it was lost in the first place. So meaningful and worthy of being shared.
Diana Dart 09/21/09
I was warmed myself while reading this lovely entry. Excellent dialect and mood.
Beth LaBuff 09/21/09
oh wow.. I love everything about this... especially... "You're above t' sod." This is so well written. I wanted more.
Deborah Engle 09/21/09
This was a wonderfully written story froma different perspective. Great job.
Betty Castleberry09/23/09
This is very literary. I enjoyed the read, and the message. It's true that if we are still living, there's work to be done. Kudos.
Jan Ackerson 09/23/09
Wonderful! Perfect in atmosphere, and the lesson is beautifully stated.
Mona Purvis09/23/09
I don't know if this one will win or not, but it's the best writing I've read this week. You told this most believable story with great characterization.
I was there. Superb in every way. Entertaining with a wonderful life-lesson.
Just splendid

Verna Cole Mitchell 09/23/09
Wonderful characterization sets this in a class by itself.
Pamela Kliewer09/23/09
I like the tone of this story and how 'real' you made the reverend.
Virgil Youngblood 09/23/09
Excellent writing.
Robyn Burke09/24/09
Congratulations on a very well deserved win! I enjoyed every word of this well crafted tale. Delicious!
Mona Purvis09/24/09
So very, very worthy!!
Chely Roach09/24/09
Congratulations, this was beyond superb. Loved it.
Carol Slider 09/24/09
A truly beautiful, meaningful story, told with exquisite attention to detail! Absolutely wonderful--congratulations!!
Beth LaBuff 09/24/09
Congratulations Ann! First place!! .... Your writing is exquisite!
Patricia Turner09/24/09
This is my favorite line: "Yer above t’ sod, so’s it’s a grand day." Wonderful phrase to remember. An awesome piece and well deserving of its 1st place win!
valerie chambers09/25/09
I am so glad you are back. Ido so love your work. You are my Fav on the site
Lisa Johnson09/25/09
This is a very well written story. I loved the spot-on dialect. I loved the MC. I could see him in my mind's eye. Thank God for his parishoners reminding him there still is work to be done. Congratulations on your first place, both on your level and EC.
Brenda Shipman 09/30/09
Beautiful description, excellent dialogue, well done!
Lori Robbins10/01/09
Your piece left me wanting, in a good way. I wanted to know more about your reverend and his ministry. Well done.
Sharlyn Guthrie10/01/09
Simply exquisite. Excellent alliterations and word choices, and your characterizations are vivid. Congratulations!
Genuine Suede10/02/09
Oh my goodness, this is so well written! I love your language. Your wonderful scene. I feel like I am there.
Nancy Quinn10/05/09
beautiful writing and such warmth - I liked the ending too. God always provides and there are no retirement plans with the Lord - He continues to use us even past the world's idea of retirement - I look forward to more of your writing! :)
Genuine Suede10/14/09
It is rare that a story utterly enchants the way this one does. Your lilting prose is music to the soul, every word perfectly in character, each one perfectly fitted to the others. Great story. Well done!