Loretta Giles was ready for her son’s visit to be over. She excused herself from the table, gathered several plates and entered the kitchen. From the sink she could still hear him.
“So dad, how many have you baptized this year?”
“Well, let’s see,” she heard her husband Eli ponder. “Five. We had the Damron twins at Easter, Kurt Wilson’s son Danny during the summer, then Walter Fields and his wife just a week ago.”
Loretta knew her son was smirking and waiting.
“We’ve had over seventy this year,” said Joseph.
“You don’t say, that is wonderful Joe, truly wonderful.”
“We’ve finished that family life center I was telling you about,” Joseph continued, “and Pastor Mike is now talking about purchasing more land.”
“It does sound like you have been led to blessed place,” responded Eli.
“Yep…Have you ever thought about a building campaign, dad? Maybe putting up a new sanctuary?”
Loretta barreled back into the dining room with a saucer in each hand.
“Why don’t you boys stop talking religion and enjoy some cobbler? I’ve got some vanilla left in the freezer if anyone wants a scoop.”
“No thanks Loretta,” said Eli. “I’ve got to get going, remember, I’m picking up Dale Baxter and his boy, we’re going to get some work in on Jerry Keefe’s roof.”
Eli engulfed the dessert in three quick bites as he stood from the table.
“Good, always good Loretta.”
Loretta admired her husband. Eli Giles never refused a sweet following a meal, but nearly sixty, he was as lean and strong as the day they had met. After slipping on his flannel jacket, he kissed Loretta.
“I’ll be back before sundown.”
“Please be careful.”
Eli embraced his son and patted him twice on the back.
“Thanks for coming up Joe, sorry to run off before you go, but be careful driving back. Visit with your mom awhile and take some of these leftovers with you.”
A mouth full of cobbler muffled Joseph.
Eli slipped on a worn blue cap.
“I’m glad you’ve found such a good church, son, based on all you’ve told me it sounds like the Lord is definitely at work there. As for us expanding,” Eli grinned, “based on our congregation we may need to consider expanding the cemetery.”
Joseph laughed, “No new building?”
“Ours has stood for forty years, it must have been built right,” said Eli with a wink as he slid out the screen door.
Joseph rinsed off his dessert plate and dropped it into the soapy water.
“I can’t believe he preaches in the same building he helped build as a teenager.”
“I can,” responded Loretta, smirking and waiting, as Joseph turned from the sink. “You sound embarrassed by that and I think it’s amazing. Why can’t you be as proud of your father as he is of you?”
She gave him no time to answer.
“For two days you have told him what he doesn’t do and what he doesn’t have. Eli Giles is a shepherd. Yes, it may be a small flock, it may be an old fashioned flock, but he loves his people and he leads them toward Christ.”
“Mom please, I didn’t mean to…”
“But you did, and that man is too righteous to retaliate. You mock his education, but who taught you scripture? You question the number of his baptisms, but how many men has he trained to preach? Yesterday you informed him of what a real mission trip consisted of, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s on one right now.”
“Mom, he’s fixing a roof, he’s…”
“Jerry Keefe and his wife are the only unchurched couple within ten miles of our house, and your father is determined to do something about it. So I don’t want to hear…”
“Mom please, this was not why I came up here.”
Loretta glared at Joseph as he disappeared down the hallway. She knew he would return with his duffle packed and his keys in hand, ready to get back to the city. A tear made it midway down her check before she swiped it. Loretta unclenched her fist. She moved to the sink to busy her hands, her mind. She prayed.
She turned to find Joseph, dressed in a sweatshirt, jeans, and a pair of his father’s work boots. Though his eyes were red, he smiled.
“Would you mind giving me directions to the Keefe house?” he asked. “I hear there is some work to be done.”
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