Bless her, she’s gone now, but my sweet Louisa made me a wealthy man. I remember the day I knew it, deep down in my soul.
I warned her when we were courting that she’d be poor if she married a preacher. She went headlong into it, knowing we’d likely be paid in tomatoes and chickens. I never heard her complain.
One afternoon I caught her crying over that old gold velvet hat the Widow Harris gave her. Not that she had any choice, but she wore that out of style and frayed at the edges old thing every Sunday. The Regional Fifth Sunday Sing, to be held at our church, was just a few days away. I knew she thought of how fine all the ladies would be dressed, and with new hats as well.
It hadn’t occurred to me that the gold contraption was a burden to her until the Sunday previous. Louisa stood by me as we greeted folks leaving church. The Carter sisters shook our hands. Their Midnight Magnolia cologne sent me to coughing. The wealthy spinster sisters were generous to the church, but they cared entirely too much for their finery.
“Well, Louisa, such a beautiful solo this morning. You can always be counted upon, you and your golden hat.” The younger Carter sister jabbed at my Louisa with that, and then the sisters snickered as they took their leave. Louisa never stopped smiling, but I saw her cheek twitch and her eyes tear up.
I determined that she would be as gussied up as all the other ladies at the Fifth Sunday Sing. The very next afternoon I withdrew from our meager savings and went to the dry goods store where Louisa had admired a dress and hat in the window. I felt like a Rockefeller, going in that store and buying both.
Oh, how she protested, all the while trying on the new outfit and arranging the hat on her pretty little head.
“It’s a special occasion, and you deserve all the frills that the other ladies will be wearing that night.” I stood back and admired the results. She clucked around modeling her new things and then smooched me. She promised to make my favorite dessert for the reception after the Sing. My mouth waters at the thought of Louisa’s lemon bars to this day. The way she smiled that afternoon still warms those cold days when I miss her the most.
On the day of the event, Louisa cooked all morning, just singing as content as a princess. The sound of her singing the old hymns inspired me as I prepared my welcoming remarks in my study.
Dolly Harris knocked on the door. Her parents sent her to live in our town with her Aunt Peg and Uncle John, hoping they could do something with her. She’d garnered the title “Town Tart” in just the few months since her arrival. People at the church didn’t like that she and my wife spent time together, but I knew Louisa was up to the Lord’s work with her. They shut themselves up in the kitchen.
The afternoon wore on and I began to get anxious. Those lemon bars wouldn’t make themselves. One hour before the Fifth Sunday Sing was to begin, I saw Dolly Harris go out my front door with Louisa’s small suitcase and wearing her new hat and dress, wiping away tears but wearing the sweetest smile.
“She needed to go home right away. Something unpleasant happened with her Uncle John. You need to pay him a visit, by the way.”
I was speechless with shock. She smoothed the lines in my forehead. “She asked the Lord into her life.’ Louisa just beamed and tears trickled through the flour smudge on her cheek. “Don’t be angry, I wanted to send her home to her parents looking like the dignified young woman she wants to become, that she can become now because of Jesus.”
Now how could I argue with that? But that evening when she stood beside me in her best dress, which looked like everyone else’s second best, and smiling and singing in that old gold topper like she was a queen, I knew I was the wealthiest man in town.”
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