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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Home (01/09/06)

TITLE: In Search of Picket Fences
By Lisa McMillion


Petra, the rock; solid, unmovable. She was the latest member of our church’s singles group and there wasn’t a clear subcategory to fit her into. She didn’t belong with those looking for love in all the right places but for all the wrong reasons, or those who only came to church to broaden their dating database. What was she hoping for?

Her five years in America had apparently not changed her outward appearance. From rural Germany, her hair was still brown without chemical highlights. Her diet was hearty, and so her form. She maintained three feet of personal space without succumbing to the “in your face” approach of many eager parishioners putting the care in Charismatic. Her military husband brought her back to this, his hometown. I imagined he had to care for her once upon a time to bring her here; even a little bit was more than Petra’s father, who left when she was four, had taught her. Bait, I imagined it, this American’s style of love. Perhaps enticed by some small show of affection, she’d said “ja” to “I do” when she really meant “nein” -- her entire marital experience, an emotional and linguistic mix-up. How else could one move to another country and bare a child, oblivious of punches hard enough to split bone? We knew that Petra’s God-given teeth hadn’t disintegrated to bad hygiene, but to unnatural circumstances involving balled fists. At our weekly meetings and potluck dinners, we would see her clutch her stomach at times and wince with pain, but she’d always excuse it in pidgin English as being “her all-broken insides.”

At the end of one evening meeting, discussing where to bring the next dish of baked beans after mini-golf or some other innocuous, pulpit-approved event, Petra slowly raised her hand. “Come to my home,” she said, like it was her thirtieth birthday and her time of ministry had come. We knew that she lived in the worst subsidized housing in town, we in search of picket fences. We also knew, suddenly ashamed by our own material bounty, that Petra deeply appreciated both what she had and that she no longer had to admire it through swollen eyes. We had no choice but to accept her invitation.

When we arrived, looking over our shoulders like a ne’er-do-well neighbor might attack at any moment, the peeling bark of her door opened to the cleanest, most tidy space we could have imagined. I noticed a cloth covering what appeared to be a card table: it was spotless and perfectly pressed -- upon it, a delicious looking chocolate cake. “It’s German. Not like your box mix,” she said to the eight or so of us, then proudly, “Go ahead. I make from scrap.” We stifled laughter and savored every bite of the cake that had emptied her pocketbook; we smiled at the sense of hospitality and the peace Petra radiated.

As singles became doubles, our group drifted apart to reconvene only at general assemblies. I watched Petra and her son who turned from five into eight as if overnight; he always looked as neat and pressed as the tablecloth I had noticed years before. Petra began sitting with an admirable church couple and their two well-raised children. I wished that, there on the same pew through osmosis, the harmony Petra had lacked in her own disillusioned marriage would bleed over from the couple and onto her. I prayed for her – for fulfilling human touch and love, for a comfortable, middle-class home. But these were my own desires, not hers. Her son began spending more and more time with the family, and less and less time with Petra, though she didn’t seem injured by it. On the contrary, she encouraged it. Petra’s church time consisted of the altar, praying with her hands raised or allowing our pastor to invade her space and anoint her focused forehead with oil. When the Sabbath prayers gradually increased in intensity, it was then that I realized what Petra had meant by her “broken insides.”

Those who didn’t know her may have thought Petra’s prayers went unnoticed by God when she died, those who assumed she was pleading fervently for her own healing and not for the future of her son. I’ll never forget her or the son who left her graveside with a family to the home she had chosen for him before passing on, a home prepared by Petra, the rock, to withstand assumption and wind, treachery and time.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Amy Michelle Wiley 01/16/06
This is a facinating story, facinating style. What a tribute to Petra! Well done!!
Kathryn Wickward01/23/06
What a wonderfully developed character. I would find her hard to forget.
Sally Hanan01/23/06
Awesome Lisa. You got right in there with her. Is this true, or even partly true?