The woman parked beside the abandoned school where she had the best view, facing the side alley frequented by neighborhood pint-sized parolees. Dressed scantily in the sticky heat, a bevy of playful friends came along, alternately jeering and joking with each other. Martha Upjohn snorted at their antics, wondering if she had ever been that carefree, and realized she had remained unnoticed as they continued on their way. Her piercing eyes probed the inky horizon behind them, searching for a likely victim . . .
Little Jackie Hunter walked slowly down the beaten path, scuffing at loosened gravel. Her torn dungarees and stained shirt hung off her slim body while her glasses kept slipping down her perspiring nose.
“Stupid twerps! Calling me ’poor four-eyes Hunter’! Acting all stuck up like they’re better than me. I don’t care--let them laugh. I’m smarter that all of ’em rolled together, and that’s better than being pretty—or rich!”
As if to prove herself worthy of that thought, Jackie pulled the worn book from under her arm, and continued reading the interesting book she had begun early that morning. Its pages brittle-yellowed with age, it was one of many ancient tomes in her great-grandmother’s hope chest out in the barn. A smile soon replaced the lingering scowl as she entered into another adventure where there was no place for bickering parents, screaming siblings or taunting schoolmates. She was a kidnapped princess (who had PERFECT vision) on a remote faraway desert island, posing incognito as a servant . . .
Martha knew the young girl would be perfect. She leaned out her open window, beeping her horn lightly to get her prey’s attention, pasting a sincere smile on her hopeful face.
“Hi, sweetie! What’s that you’re reading? You must really like books, huh?”
Tearing herself away from her island, Jackie looked up at the friendly woman, returning her smile as she recognized the bus insignia.
“Oh, how lovely! I thought you weren’t coming for a couple more weeks. Will I be your first customer?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. Come in, dearie, and browse to your heart’s content. I’m early today so you’ll have first choice—at least for now,” pointing to the hours of operation posted on the door.
Gingerly setting her book on the makeshift counter, Jackie sauntered down the aisle, congratulating herself on this opportunity. No one would bother her here! Her fingers caressingly stroked several promising choices, picking up different items here and there to examine more closely.
“Is there a limit on how many?” she breathlessly asked, her stack of loot threatening to spill over the reception desk.
“Well, how about ten to start with? I’ll be coming every Thursday throughout the summer and you can trade for new every week.”
And thus began a summer idyll for the lonely middle-aged woman and the young heretofore, friendless child, who reached out to each other. Jackie learned that Mrs. Upjohn’s husband had died of a heart attack the previous year and their children all lived far away. As a retired schoolteacher, she was very familiar with this job's responsibilities and knew she would enjoy filling her empty hours here. Martha, in turn, could see right off that Jackie desperately needed a confidante and was happy to fill this void in the girl’s life.
So, they made a pact, this odd-matched pair, to meet every Thursday before opening hours. Sometimes Martha would tell stories from her own childhood that would make Jackie giggle and other times, she would just listen, making helpful suggestions along the way.
“Is that Bible yours?” Jackie asked one July morning.
“Yes, sweetie—do you have one of your own?”
“Na! My mom won’t let us touch our family Bible ‘cause it has all our history and records in it. We go to church on Christmas and Easter, though!”
The following week, Martha brought Jackie a children’s Bible to keep for her very own and they began reading delightful stories throughout its pages, fascinating in newness for one and a blessing to the other as she watched her protégée enjoying God’s Word.
That was the summer I met Jesus. That Bookmobile satisfied my thirst for knowledge and adventure, but my caring friend gave me life-saving soul food. There were many other vacations with many new faces behind the bookmobile driver’s wheels, but none before or since impacted me as did that summer with books, Jesus, and Mrs. Upjohn.
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