Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: FAMILY (01/21/16)
TITLE: The In-laws, the Out-laws, and the Hardened Baptists
By Zacharia Fox
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Every service was a family reunion, gossip being their gospel. The unofficial rules of the prayer-chain allowed anyone to prattle about anyone abiding they started with, "You might pray for so-and-so," and ended with, "bless their heart." I held the private notion that the prayer-chain retained the most hardened Baptists in all Harden County, and speculated that the reverend, Barbara's uncle, avoided sermons on gossip because his wife was the foreman of the rumor mill.
For the grapevine, drama was their daily bread. So, when my brother-in-law, Ricky, got outta prison my phone rang like church bells after a wedding. I figured it for garden variety rumor mill activity, until I overheard Barbara.
“What he done ain't sum'n can just be glossed over." I watched her tangling herself in the phone cord. “Forgiveness? Donna, he better go to church for that. Mm-hm. Bye now."
"Barbara?" I walked into the kitchen.
"Yeah?" she said, untangling herself.
"What's hap'nin with your brother?"
She hung up. "You were eavesdropping!”
"Couldn't help myself. But..." The phone rang and I answered it, and slammed it down. "What'd Reverend's wife have to say?"
"She saw Ricky passing the pony-keg." Barbara trimmed the flame under the chicken-and-dumplings.
"What's going on? You told me he was in for stealing."
"I ain't an advocate for theft, but what'cha hot about?"
"He stole from Momma!" She set down at the table, a tear leaving a trail fresh as her pain. "Forged her signature and wrote checks to himself ‘til she couldn't pay the mortgage. Sheriff said the only way to get the money was to press charges. It was that, or lose the house. Momma never forgave herself, and I never forgave Ricky."
"Barbara." I rubbed her shoulders. "You need to forgive him."
"He don't deserve it!"
The phone rang and I killed the call, but left the phone off the hook. "Hun. We don't forgive 'cause it's deserved. We forgive 'cause it's right."
"Baby. We ain't never loved 'til we love when it ain't deserved. Love ain't warm feelings and romance. Jesus' love is brave and unrelenting in its charge; unintimidated by the sacrifice necessary for bonds to endure."
Her frown broke into a smile and I's sure I was getting a yankee-dime, but before she delivered, a knock rattled the door.
"Who could that be?" Barbara marched to the door and opened it. We were greeted by an unmistakable slur.
"Well-looky who-I fown wandrin rown-town!"
Barbara nodded. "Cousin Bernie. Ricky. Won't y'all come in?"
"Much obliged." Bernie moseyed in and stared at me slack jawed.
"Set your keys down. I can smell that stump whiskey on you from here." He nodded and dropped his keys.
Ricky stood in the doorway.
"Sis." His face was set in stone, but he was all butter on the inside. I know, 'cause all good people eventually find themselves committed to the most self-indicting confessions. It's the only thing that see's relationships on, after they should'a died. "I don't mean to intrude, but I'm... so sorry."
"Why should I forgive you?"
His tears said more than his shaky voice ever could, but he tried. "'Cause I need forgiveness." He turned, but Barbara caught his hand.
"Stay for dinner. It's Momma's dumplin's."
He nodded. Just when we all settled round the table, the door burst open and the sheriff charged in, gun drawn, followed by the reverend and his wife.
Sheriff studied us, and holstered his revolver. "Y'all alright, then?"
"Sheriff. Why'd ya kick in my door?"
Reverend's wife barged past Sheriff. "I phoned over and again but got only a busy signal, so I called the reverend and he called Sheriff and we rushed over thinking God-knows-what had happened!" She spied our phone on the counter. "Why's your phone off the hook?"
I grinned. "We were aiming for privacy."
They stood there looking offish, and I felt right bad for 'em. "Well, I better forgive y'all the door, and be grateful for friends as... interested, as y'all. Pull up a chair and stay for dinner?" They did.
It was a blessed day, and a good dinner, with the in-laws, the out-laws and the hardened Baptists.
* * *
Forgive the dialect. Below is an explanation of terms specific to that vernacular.
Garden variety: Common
Pony-keg: Convenience store.
(See "etymology 2") https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/pony_keg
Yankee-dime: A kiss.
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