Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Happy (07/12/07)
TITLE: Passing Through the Fire
By Sandra Petersen
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Of the fifty-odd buildings that once lined the single dusty street, seven stood untouched. One of these was the church, its white spire and cross raised to the sky as if in triumph over an enemy.
From a sanctuary window, Reverend Wesley Davenport peered out at the remains of the town before turning back to the young man and woman seated in the front pew. They had arrived that morning on the stage to prepare for a funeral.
“Everyone had the greatest respect for your grandmother,” he began. “Each Sunday morning, hers was the first face I looked for from the pulpit.” He paused, blew his nose into a smoke-grayed hankie. “I’ll miss her.”
The pair seated in the pew nodded their heads in unison, the woman knotting her fingers in the fabric of her long skirt.
“She seemed to smile all the time. I can’t remember once seeing her frown or cry,” she whispered. “But she had a rough life, Pastor. When our grandparents married out east, Grandma had no idea she would have to leave her parents and move out here to Alder Glen. She miscarried two times before she gave birth to our father. Her husband died four years later in the Mexican-American War, left her with two children to feed. She took in boarders and washed clothes just to make ends meet. But she loved the Lord and she survived . . . she survived.”
The three contemplated their memories, staring at the worn wood floor. Sunlight streamed through the grimy soot-stained windows and onto the burnished metal altar cross.
Finally, the young man cleared his throat, a startling sound in the silence. “Was our grandmother the only victim of the fire?” he asked.
“The only human,” Pastor Davenport responded. “The livery stable was among the first buildings to burn. All that straw. The horses screaming, unable to escape.” He shook his head and shuddered, thinking of that evening.
“Why Grandma?” The young lady raised weary eyes to meet his. In her face, the pastor saw the serene gray eyes of the woman who had for twenty years encouraged his every sermon with her smile.
“From the little I’ve been able to gather, Sister Miranda, your grandmother was serving as midwife to young Mrs. Jenson. She had just finished cleaning up when she heard the first shouts outside.”
Miranda nodded. “Grandma Witherspoon was very wise in those things. She could always be counted on to go where she was needed.”
“She ordered Mr. Jenson to carry his wife and the baby to a place of safety while she led the other three children out. Your grandmother could be firm when she felt it was necessary.”
Pastor Davenport walked slowly to the window and paused. The charred timbers of the Jenson house were within his view. A tear crept from his eye.
“She found the two oldest, but three-year-old Sarah was nowhere to be seen. Frank Jenson, the oldest boy, later told me that your grandmother was smiling and praising the Lord when she found them. She left the children with their father and went back inside.”
The pastor bowed his head and closed his eyes. “Young Sarah somehow found her way out of the burning house by herself. She later claimed that when she heard your grandmother praying to the Lord to help them, an angel appeared and took her hand. The last words she heard was your grandmother telling the Lord how much she loved Him.”
From behind him, he heard Miranda sniffle and Thomas, her brother, shift in his seat to embrace her.
“Her body was found kneeling in the approximate location of the children’s bedroom.” As the pastor finished, he turned to the brother and sister, compassion etched on his face.
“I don’t know how it could be possible . . . “ he hesitated, staring at them, wondering if they would believe his next words. “The entire room was destroyed down to the mattress and bedframe. The glass windows melted in the heat. Yet there was not even a scorch mark on your grandmother’s skirts. And her face . . .”
Again he paused.
“What about her face?” Thomas asked with a frown.
Pastor Davenport passed a shaking hand across his brow. “She was smiling as if it was her wedding day.”
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