The lunch basket auction was supposed to be fun, the best part of the church picnic, her aunt had assured, but Ruby doubted. She had only been in Gull Creek for eight weeks, but she already heard the whispers, felt the stares. It wasn’t just her withered hand and uneven gate that kept people away. Somehow they knew the secret shame Ruby carried within. Even God’s people didn’t seem to want Ruby near, where she could contaminate them.
Earlier that morning, when she had dropped off her basket, the parson’s wife had taken the offering reluctantly, unwilling to even look at Ruby. Now, her basket sat apart on the table, shunned by the others, subtly proclaiming to all that the crimson ribbon belonged to her – the outcast. Ruby’s face burned, and she would have run home if her aunt had not held fast.
“Running will solve nothing.” Aunt Laura whispered. “You can’t measure your worth by how others treat you. You are worth far more than that.”
“I am worth nothing.” Ruby muttered and held herself tight, trying to put up a protective shield around her hurting heart. Aunt Laura had good intentions, but Ruby had already experienced enough pain and rejection for three lifetimes in her sixteen short years. Gull Creek had offered a new home, a new beginning, away from the shame of her mother’s occupation.
“You’ve been doing a good work here, Ruby.” Aunt Laura spoke softly. “The children love you.”
The children. They had flocked her as soon as she arrived. They wanted to hear the stories that she carried in her heart. Stories that she had created on those dark nights alone while her mother practice her perverse profession - a profession that provided food for the table and a roof over Ruby’s head.
“The children won’t be the ones buying the baskets. I doubt anyone will buy my basket, no matter how much we need a new schoolhouse. I only did this for the children.”
“Then, this isn’t about you at all, is it?” Laura’s penetrating look made Ruby squirm.
“No, Aunt Laura.”
“Good.” Her aunt beamed, and pulled her back toward the crowd. “I believe the auction is about to start. We wouldn’t want to miss seeing God provide for the children.”
It was torture. Ruby watched basket after basket being bought for good prices. Missy Reynolds sauntered over to join the sheriff, after he purchased her basket for the exorbitant sum of seventeen dollars. The auction was a success, but with only four baskets left Ruby realized that hers would be coming up last. Her gut twisted.
“It’s for the children.” Aunt Laura whispered.
“For the children,” Ruby muttered, picturing the little faces that gazed up at her with such awe as she spun tales of kings and queen, pirates and sea serpents, fairies and castles.
The parson picked up Ruby’s basket and began to describe the contents. Fried chicken, homemade bread, a wedge of cheese, canned peaches, and apple pie. It was a feast, more than Missy Reynolds had offered, but parson opened the bidding at fifty cents, no one spoke. Men shifted nervously. Girls tittered behind their hands. Older women looked on her with pity. Ruby knew what a mistake she had made. None of these good people would pay money to spend time with the cripple daughter of a prostitute.
“Will anyone give me forty cents for this lovely meal?” The parson tried. Ruby’s face burned.
“Thirty?” still nothing.
Aunt Laura’s staying hand was the only thing that kept Ruby in place to face the humiliation. “You are worth so much more.” Aunt Laura whispered in her ear. “You are a child of the King.”
“Twenty-five?” the parson tried again. Everyone seemed to hold their breath.
“I’ll give you twenty.” Asa Burton called from the edge of the crowd. The farmer must have arrived late. His face was dusty from the long ride into town, but he was handsome in his Sunday best. The widower smiled down at his two young sons, some of Ruby’s biggest fans. Maybe he didn’t know who the basket belonged to.
“Twenty cents, to Asa Burton.” The parson called out.
“No, parson. I meant twenty dollars.” Asa said as he looked right at Ruby and smiled.
Proverbs 31:10 – Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.
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