Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: WEEKEND AWAY (short vacation) (07/23/15)
TITLE: Even An Oak
By Zacharia Fox
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My pastor called that an oxymoron. “Donald,” he’d say. “The people we say that about, are the same ones that give us gray hair in our twenties.”
As far back as I can remember, I was giving gray hair to the pastor. My mom raised me in our town’s little Pentecostal church. I went to Sunday School, main service, Sunday evening service, Tuesday night prayer, and midweek service. Not ‘cause I wanted to, mind ya; I’s made to.
‘Bout junior high, I started thinkin’ the Pastor was alright. That was ‘cause I started likin’ church. And that’s ‘cause my ma prayed.
My pa hit the bottle almost as hard as he hit me, b’fore he left. Most months we couldn’t make rent. Ma would chase us kids outta the living room, put on a gospel record and pray heaven down. Once, I snuck back in the room. I felt Jesus hold me like I’d always wanted my pa to do. I gave Jesus my heart there under the chorus of Mom’s prayer.
It was church from then on, for me. Pastor was my best friend, though I can’t say I was his. He never missed a Sunday. Never.
But time changes everything. Even the strong oak bends in time.
Ma died when I’s twenty-five. Pastor did the service, and that same presence that used to fill my living room was there. My pa and my youngest brother gave their hearts to the Lord, kneeling beside Ma’s casket.
People moved away, new people came. We finally got a traffic light when they added a playground to the city park, and new benches to replace those creaky old things we used to sit on.
And then, Pastor asked Jerry, his assistant pastor, to cover a Sunday for him. Said he’s headed to his cabin for the weekend. Jerry obliged him, but by Saturday I couldn’t take it. There are some changes a soul just won’t accept.
I saw him out on his dock, dipping his feet in the lake when I pulled up. He glanced back and shook his head. “Donald, aren’t you ever gonna quit following me around?”
“No, Pastor. I’m’ followin’ your footsteps even when you’re gone.”
He bit his old lip, as a tear got lost in the wrinkles of his face.
“What’s eatin’ ya?”
“You know those old benches they replaced?” He wiggled his foot in the water.
“The park benches that gave ya’ splinters in yer back-end?”
He smirked. “Yeah. I prayed on those benches since the first day I became pastor. I prayed for your mom; for you and your brothers, for the whole town.”
“Pastor, I ain’t no scholar, but I think you can pray on the new benches just as well.”
“Donald, years ago the Lord told me ‘As long as you pray on these benches, you’ll do my work.’” He sighed. “My time is close.”
“You’re a sentimental old coot.”
We fished ’til the sun failed like a dying flame. Pastor fried the fish over a campfire as I shared what the Lord was showing me from the Bible. I followed his F-150 home on Sunday, and he asked me to meet him at the new benches in the morning.
Under the pastel hues of dawn, I walked to the park. I saw him praying on the park bench as I strode across the dew kissed lawn. “Pastor,” I called. He didn’t answer; didn’t even muscle. When I sat next to him on the bench, I knew he was dead. He was smiling.
Now almost everyone I made gray is gone, and I got gray hair of my own. I still follow pastor’s footsteps to the well that watered that old oak. I pray on the new benches everyday, and they ain’t so new no more. That same presence still comes.
It seems time can’t touch the best things. Those, I get to keep with me.
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