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Braking Points

Pausing in the midst of Life to ponder, pray and find footing to continue.

Month

August 2013

Braking Points–Chapter Fifteen

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Chapter Fifteen

Haywood Regional Medical Center
Emergency Room
Clyde, North Carolina

The rugged beauty of Haywood County was lost on Sophia who was speeding to keep up with the ambulance. A telephone call to the Carnes’ family would have to wait until they reached the hospital. No way was she going to chance the need for another emergency vehicle. Lily had fallen asleep almost as soon as they had pulled onto Interstate 40. Trucks and cars moved to the shoulder as the ambulance sped by with the Buick tethered to it by invisible chain. Good thing Lily was asleep, Sophia thought, otherwise she’d be screaming her head off. Sophia scanned the trucks that had moved off the roadway to let the emergency vehicle pass, but she wasn’t sure if she’d know what to do providing she even recognized the one Amanda got in. That and the phone call would have to wait until they reached the hospital.

*

“Dave, Sugar, call me Dave. What’s a pretty little lady like you doing hitching rides? Could be dangerous!” The husky truck driver winked and grinned at her, his yellow teeth broadcasting a life of too much coffee and tobacco. The cab of his truck reminded Amanda of an overfull trash dumpster outside a fast food restaurant. The pine tree air freshener hanging from his mirror added just enough pine scent to the fetid smell of fried foods, cigarettes and body odor to stimulate Amanda’s gag reflex. Wadded sacks from a variety of food chains were mixed with emptied coffee containers; used creamers and other remnants of a life lived on the move filled the floor and portions of the seat. She wondered when he’d last shoveled it out. With a wariness learned from her previous experiences with truckers who offered her rides, Amanda scrunched against the far door in the cab and kept her hand near the handle.

The decision to escape transpired when she had rounded the Welcome Center and heard her name. Recognizing Sophia’s voice talking animatedly, she’d paused, easing backwards; she hid in the shadows around the corner and listened. She couldn’t decide who Sophia was talking to, but within seconds she’d heard enough of one side of the conversation to know they were delivering her to someone in Greenville and they knew her name and where she come from. What an idiot she’d been! Amanda had watched as Sophia slapped the cell phone closed and headed down the hill to the car.

Rage propelling her she headed in the opposite direction toward the dozen or so trucking rigs parked at the rest stop. Dave—she glanced to see if he were still watching her—had spotted her before she saw him as she flew toward the trucks. Without a doubt she would have to lose him the first chance she got. The eager truckers, the ones on the look out for female passengers proved to be the most vulgar—at least measured by her limited experience. If the interior of his truck was any indication of his mind, Dave might just be the most disgusting of them all.

As he started the rig, he glanced back at something, causing Amanda to look too. A crowd had gathered down in the picnic area, but she couldn’t see what was happening. Dave shrugged after a second or two and flashed his tarnished smile her way.

“You didn’t say, Sugar. Where are you headed?”

Amanda sputtered, “Uh, uh, Asheville, that’s right, Asheville. I have family there.”

“That right? Asheville, huh? Let’s get some music in here. You like music?” He flipped on the radio without giving her a chance to protest. The cab filled with country and western sounds, something about runway lights in the backyard. The volume jolted her and covered completely the sound of sirens turning into the rest stop. Amanda saw the flashing lights, but only in passing as the rig pulled out onto the interstate. First chance, she thought, and I am out of here.

The mountain climb taxed the tractor trailer rig, so Dave’s hands were busy shifting gears and occasionally talking on his CB which crackled and popped continuously in total disharmonious accompaniment to the Country and Western station.

Although Amanda did not relax she did settle down in the seat trying to decide what on earth she was going to do. Her jaw tightened as her resolve grew. It was good she’d found out now. For some reason her mind drifted back to Greta’s story. The man she loved left her alone; he failed her. So be it! There was no Joel Levin on the horizon for Amanda.

How far could the Atlantic Ocean be from here? A short swim and Amanda Carmichael would dissolve in the salty water. How fitting an end! The pamphlets at the Women’s Health Center in Oklahoma City and the websites she had searched after reading the journal explained that abortion in the first trimester often involved introducing a saline solution into the uterus, which destroyed the embryo prior to dilating and suctioning the offending passenger from the womb. So in the end salt water would be the means of death just as it had been intended before she was born.

The time with Max and Lily—yes, even bossy old Sophia—raised doubts, but now she knew or did she? She was so deep in thought and surrounded by the tightly packed sound in the cab that the sound of the siren coming up fast startled her. It seemed to jar Dave, too. She heard him mutter “whoa!” as he wrestled the rig to the shoulder of the road.

Rising up in the seat for a better view, Amanda saw the ambulance scream past with the all too familiar Buick on its tail. For the first time since she planned her own ending, a shudder of real concern for someone else ran through her.

“Lily,” she whispered.

“Huh?”

“Do you know where that ambulance is going?”

“Huh? No? Why?”

“Never mind,” Amanda shouted over the music and the squawking box, “She pulled on the handle and rammed the door open.

“Hey, get back in here. Where do you think you’re going?” He had released the clutch and the truck lurched forward

“Thanks but no thanks,” Amanda shouted, preparing to dismount, “And, Dave, clean out your garbage pit.”

“Shit! Dave, looks like you’ve captured a little tiger here.”

Amanda startled and hesitated. Though her vacillation was brief, it cost her freedom. A hand from behind took hold of her pony tail and heaved her back into the cab. Pain shot through her head, neck and shoulders as the realization dawned, Dave had a partner and judging from his grip, a strong, mean one. Twisting and kicking she struggled to free herself, but fighting served only to boost the sting that traveled from her scalp down. She was flailing against herself. Commanding calm, Amanda closed her eyes and went limp. The truck stopped and she could hear Dave sputtering and cussing. The monster clasped her hair tighter, laughed and shook her like a rag doll. The door remained open.

“What the hell are you doing, Ray? She’s jail bait for sure.”

“Shut up and shut the damn door!” The monster named Ray ordered.

Ray yanked Amanda out of the open portal as Dave reached to do as he was instructed. The additional pain caused an involuntary shudder, but Amanda bit her tongue to keep from crying out. The ooze of blood tasted salty in her mouth
.
There are some who would say that primal survival instincts have their roots in evolution, that the only creatures that exist today are those who have changed to secure their place in the current mix. Others contend those same instincts are the gift of the Creator and the foundation of life. No rational person would however deny its power. The force that drives a drowning man to surface for air, struggling for one last breath or gives rise to the flight or fight response, impelled Amanda to react. The monster loosened his grip on her hair running his hand down over her neck and shoulder to her breasts. Dave brushed over her thighs reaching to pull the door closed, snickering nervously.

While Dave tugged on the door, Ray continued his exploration. Amanda opened her eyes then with as much strength as she could muster she bit down on the tender under skin of Ray’s wrist and kicked Dave off balance into the filthy floor board. With energy supplied by adrenaline and sources unseen, Amanda flung herself feet first from the truck not turning loose of Ray’s wrist until she cleared the door. The asphalt collided with her bottom and her right leg folded painfully beneath her. Her whole body lurched forward and she tumbled over an incline crashing across rocks and through brush. Briefly, she thought as she fell that she might die from the fall, but mercifully the plunge ceased and she was still alive and conscious. Above her she heard Dave and Ray talking as they peered down the hill. Rats! She hadn’t considered they might come after her.

The slightest movement might betray her position, so in spite of the awkward painful posture in which she had landed, Amanda continued to lie still.

“There she is!” The monster yelled to Dave who had moved a few feet away.

“Where? Oh yeah, I see her. Gahdamit! Ray, she looks dead.”

“Naw! She didn’t fall far enough to be dead. Probably faking!”

“She could be dead.” Dave contradicted cautiously.

“So what do you propose we do? The bitch took a piece of hide out of my arm.”

“We got to get out of here.”

“Tell you what, Davey boy; we’re just a couple of honest truckers with bladders too full of coffee, stopped to take a leak. . .”

Amanda heard Ray unzip his jeans and a moment later Dave followed suit. Burying her face deeper into the prickly foliage, she realized she had something between her teeth. Revulsion sent shivers through her as she spit Ray’s flesh into the dirt and a man-made spray of yellow rain splattered over her.
Unable to bear the thought of what might happen next, her face pressed into the ground, she muttered, “Oh, God, I don’t want to die.” The impact of the truth stunned her. She didn’t want to die. Like the drowning man gasping for breath, she cried silently, “I want to live. Save me.” Exhaustion, pain and shock kicked in and Amanda lapsed into unconsciousness.

*

The Haywood Regional Medical Center’s Emergency Room presented a veneer of composure designed to calm the most turbulent of souls to enter. Max had already been transported to an assessment and treatment area reserved for patients who needed the quickest intervention, when Sophia managed to pull an increasingly befuzzled Lily through the doors. Sophia was no stranger to chaos, but the current multiple situations had her scrambling to prioritize. A pleasant young woman smiled at her from behind a desk rendering Sophia speechless for a moment
.
“May I help you?”

Calm down, Sophie. She could hear Elliot’s voice in her head. Think! Max, Amanda, call Millie and the rest of the Carnes tribe. First, answer this young woman who waited patiently and expectantly for Sophia’s response, evidently well trained for her job and familiar with the confusion of family and friends. Sophia swallowed and tried not to rush her words.

“Yes, my name is Sophia Winchester and this is Lily Carnes.” She drew the trembling Lily closer to her. “We were traveling and Max, Max Carnes, Lily’s husband had a seizure. He arrived by ambulance a few minutes ago.”

The young woman nodded, looking at her computer screen and started to speak when Sophia rushed on
.
“And, a young girl Amanda Carmichael who was traveling with us may have been abducted at the rest stop.” Abducted or running away, she’s a child, Sophia thought. “She’s only 14 and I saw her being lifted into a truck by a man. I am very concerned about her. She’s rather . . .uh, uh . . .unstable.”

With only the briefest hint of confusion the attendant picked up the phone checked a number and dialed. She met Sophia’s eyes.

“I’ll get the State Police here so you can give them the information. Do you have a picture of her?”

“Yes. There are some snapshots in the suitcases.”

“Where is this place? I don’t like it here. I want to go home.” Lily moaned and wrestled against Sophia’s hold. The attendant, MARCY, according to her identification badge, shifted her eyes sympathetically between Sophia and Lily while speaking to the dispatcher. Hanging up, she looked back to the computer screen.

“A trooper will be here shortly, so you may want to go get the photo. Mr. Carnes is in ER room 1B. I’ll call back there and let the staff know you’re here. Someone will be out shortly to talk to you.”

“Thank you, Marcy.” She turned to head for the car then remembered, “Marcy, I need to call Mr. Carnes family. May I use my cell phone in here?”

“Here in the lobby, but not back in the ER rooms.”

“Thanks, you’ve been very helpful.”

“Sure, no problem,” Marcy said, then, “Would you like for me to get Mrs. Carnes settled, while you go to the car? We aren’t very busy right at the moment. I’ll just call back there and check and then I can sit with her for a few minutes.”

Sophia calmed down at the offer. She would write a note to Marcy’s supervisor praising her. The Lord never promised there wouldn’t be turbulence in this life, but he had promised peace in the storm. Right then for Sophia the Lord’s peace had a name and it was Marcy. The girl deserved a gold medal, but a letter to her supervisor would have to do.

“Thank you, Marcy that would be very helpful. You’re a blessing.”

Marcy flashed a smile and took Lily’s arm guiding her gently to a couch in the waiting area.
*

The piercing bleep, bleep, bleep of the emergency broadcast signal blasted through Tim McGraw’s voice from the radio setting off a chain reaction in the cab of Dave’s truck. Dave, who had been balancing a container of coffee in one hand while smoking a cigarette with the other, spilled coffee on one leg. Scrambling to set the cup on the dash and tend to his burning leg, he dropped the cigarette in his lap and screamed obscenities so loud that he nearly failed to negotiate a curve on the mountainous interstate. “What the . . .?” Ray bellowed from the sleeper unit as Dave overcompensated and the large rig rocked violently on the road. In the confusion the emergency announcement passed, but the bleeping started again almost instantly and both men heard it the second time.

“An AMBER ALERT has been issued. At approximately 11:30 AM Eastern Daylight Time today, a fourteen year old female was seen entering a tractor trailer cab at the 1st East bound Rest Stop on Interstate 40 in North Carolina. The name of the victim is Amanda Carmichael. Her potential abductor is described as a white male wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt driving a white tractor-trailer rig traveling east on Interstate 40. The victim is described as 5’2’’ tall, approximately 110 pounds with sandy brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She has blue eyes. At the time of the incident she was wearing blue jeans and blue long sleeved T-shirt top. Please be on the look out for . . .”

Dave snapped off the radio. Sweat beaded on his face. Ray muttered. The crackling of the CB radio momentarily was the only sound inside the confines of the truck. Dave broke the silence first.

“So now what are we going to do?”

“Nothing, Davey, boy, we are going to do nothing except keep on driving.”

“She knows our names, Ray.”

“So, they may not even find her and if they do we’ll be long gone.”

“The cops might pull us over.”

“Do we have a girl in here, Davey?”

“No, but . . .”

“But, what?”

“Like I said before, we are just a couple of honest truckers trying to do a day’s work.”

“I ain’t so sure; we . . .”

“Trust me Davey there’s nothing to connect us to that kid. Like you said, she could be dead.”

“Don’t say that, Ray.”

“Come on, pull over. I’ll take over driving. If we get stopped, just keep your mouth shut.”
*
There was no denying the concern on Millie Carnes’s face when she closed her cell phone and turned to speak to the gathered clan. Motivated by concern for Lily and Max, the brothers, their sister and spouses decided that a reunion had been long overdue. Sophia became a willing accomplice keeping track of the action so that timing would be perfect. With Sharon and Barry opening their home, the whole group had converged on Greenville in the last two days.

Millie had been at the forefront of the idea, but even Ryan, who had rarely attended any family functions since his divorce, had willingly agreed to join them. Sharon had rented a beach house on Ocean Isle Beach for the lot of them. The plan was to surprise Max and Lily and join them for a family vacation. Sophia’s phone call with the grim details about Max and Amanda had hijacked that agenda. The traveling Carnes family was being diverted to Asheville’s St. Joseph’s Hospital. Millie surveyed the faces before she spoke, hoping she could keep her voice from breaking.

“It’s Pops. He had a seizure at a Rest Stop in North Carolina. He’s at Haywood Medical Center, but he’s going to be transported to Asheville. He has a sub dural hematoma, like a bruise on his brain, from the bump he got in Tennessee. He’s stable but he has to have surgery.” Millie finished but the others erupted asking questions to which she could only shake her head and mutter, “I don’t know, but we need to get there. Sophia’s bringing Momma Lily.”

Sharon burst in to the fray waving them back and commanding silence. Millie silently blessed her.

“Ok, everyone, get some stuff together and take our van. I’ll stay here and pick up Amanda’s folks at the airport tonight and bring them to Asheville.”

Millie paled and gasped. In unison every head turned her way. Once again there was silence as they waited. This time her voice broke as she repeated the news about Amanda.

*

“Polly, girl, calm down, sit,” Dean Bell ordered. His wife, Shannon, laughed as the black lab licked Dean’s ears and tried to crawl over the seat into his lap. Polly obeyed temporarily before rooting around in the floorboard and retrieving her leash. With determination she crashed into the front seat and dropped the leash into Dean’s lap. Dean joined his wife in laughter as he held up his hands in defeat.

“Ok, Polly, girl, I get it. We should have stopped at the rest stop and taken you for a walk.” Then to Shannon, “Can you pull over somewhere along here? I’ll walk her up the road so she can take care of business.”

“Looks like there is a place up here; I just want to be able to get completely off the road.”

Dean snapped the leash onto the ring on Polly’s collar. Shannon pulled the Volvo to the side, taking great care to get as far to the right of the roadway as possible without sliding down the mountain. Dean sprung the door open letting an over eager Polly leap from the car, pulling him along with her.

“Hey, slow down.” He struggled to hold on as she stretched and pulled against the leash, looking back over her shoulder as if to say “Hurry up.” He grinned at Shannon while trying to get the door closed and remain on his feet.

“All that money for obedience lessons down the tubes.”

Shannon waved them off, settling back in the driver’s seat watching Dean wrestle the restless Lab along the side of the embankment off the asphalt shoulder. She rolled down her window, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath of air laced with the fragrance of the forest. Opening her lids Shannon saw Polly sniffing every possible blade of grass deciding which ones to squat and pee on. Suddenly, Polly lurched off the path, knocking Dean to his bottom. She heard him yelp with surprise and pain. Grabbing the keys from the ignition, Shannon closed the window, opened the door and headed to where Dean had fallen.

She whistled to Polly as she set out to help. Surely, he hadn’t been hurt, but Polly was still a puppy even at 85 pounds and prone to over exuberance. She might have tangled Dean’s legs in the leash and up ended him. As Shannon approached, she could hear Polly barking. Dean rose up over the edge of the road with Polly in tow. Physically he was ok, but even shaded by the bill of his cap, Shannon saw his eyes were wide. Something was wrong.

“Shannon,” he called, “Come get Polly and get on your cell phone. Call 911. There’s someone down the hill. I’m going to climb down and check on her.”

“Her?” Shannon queried, taking the bouncing Lab’s lease and hauling Polly toward her, “Dean, could it be that kid we heard about on the radio. You know the Amber Alert.”

“Don’t know,” his voice faded as he descended the hill, “Call 911!”
*
I think we’re at a hospital or a doctor’s office, but I don’t feel sick. That girl there she was really nice to me. I wish she had told me her name. I came in a car. Yes, I am pretty sure it was a car. It was really fast. I’m sure glad it wasn’t my yellow roadster; the wind would have blown me plumb out of the seat. I don’t remember holding onto the steering wheel so I don’t think I was driving. Who are all these people? I don’t think I know them, but what if I’m supposed to? How embarrassing! I’ll just sit here and hope no one notices that I . . . Oh, my, there’s a policeman talking to that nice girl over there. What is her name? Maybe this isn’t a hospital. I think it’s a jail.

What on earth have I done? There was a flashing light. I was strapped in my seat. Were there handcuffs? Oh, mercy me, I’ve been arrested. What have I done? I don’t see any blood on my hands. This woman next to me, she was there—in the car. She must have arrested me, but what did I do. I just cannot remember. I need to call Max. Where is this place? What is the phone number? Oh, my, oh my here come more policemen. They are coming over here. The policewoman she’s getting up. Help me, help me, oh, Lord, they’ve come to take me to a cell. No-o-o-o!

Sophia stood when she saw the troopers arrive. Her heart quickened. The security guard who had been talking to Marcy at the desk straightened up and motioned toward her. Her concentration had slivered in so many directions during the last 2 hours that her mental state resembled a shattered glass; consequently, Sophia did not notice Lily’s thumbs rubbing across her fingers in growing agitation nor her trembling even though they had been sitting shoulder to shoulder. For that reason, Lily’s plaintive howling, “NO,” caught her and it seemed everyone in the room off guard. Her whole body jerked in reaction to the cry.

The State Troopers halted in their tracks, allowing Sophia room and some measure of privacy to care for the obviously distraught old woman. Sophia turned to Lily and put an arm around her shoulders, but Lily’s crying did not stop, at least not exactly. The level of her voice dropped significantly and she began pacing in place, like a child who needs to go to the bathroom. Under her breath Sophia could hear Lily talking, so she leaned over and put her ear near Lily’s mouth.

“What is it, Lily? What’s the matter?”

“Phone call, one phone call, can I call? Oh, what’s the number? Oh, mercy me.”

“You want to call someone?

Lily’s head bobbed, but she kept her eyes on her feet, “Max. I need to call Max.”

“Max is here, Lily.”

“Here? Oh, my, has he been arrested too?” It was coming back to Lily now. They’d taken Max in the Paddy Wagon. So that was the truth, they’d both been arrested, but she simply could not remember why.
“Arrested?” Sophia gasped and the two troopers echoed her. “Lily, honey, Max hasn’t been arrested. This is a hospital. He’s, he’s—sick.” Sophia gathered Lily into her embrace and held her until her shaking subsided some.

Lily felt better even though she had some trouble breathing with her face buried in the fabric and flesh of Sophia’s breasts. The hug lasted a few minutes with Sophia silently asking the troopers to give her just a little time for Lily to settle down. Still gripping her shoulders Sophia released Lily and looked her over.

“I need to tinkle.” Lily whispered, looking all around her as if amazed. Sophia waved to Marcy at the desk, who came instantly to walk Lily to the bathroom.

“What’s your name,” Lily asked.

“Marcy.”

“You are very nice. Can you tell me what the name of this place is?”

Sophia sighed and with a mixture of dread and anticipation turned to the two troopers. The older one smiled at her and her heart jumped.

“A couple from Ohio, walking their dog, found Amanda. They are getting her ready to transport but she should be here in the next 30 minutes or so. Looks like she’s going to be okay. We are going to stay around here so we can talk to her as soon as they get her checked out and will let us.”

One of the broken slivers had been recovered. Sophia’s eyes filled with tears and she thanked her Lord and Savior.

*

Lily entered the Ladies room alone, patting Marcy’s hand, but waving her off. The lights came on instantly when the door closed, but Lily could not remember if she pulled a cord. She must have, because the lights came on and they were very bright. The room looked both familiar and foreign. The toilet stood between a large pipe secured to the wall and a smaller one extending out of the back wall forward before dropping off to finally disappear into the tiled floor. Lily checked the one closest to her with the back of her hand.

Max had taught her that so that she would know if a pipe or hose was hot without burning herself. It was cool. She checked the other one finding it cool as well. Oh, my, what had that girl told her? This was a hospital. Lily was sure that was what she had said.

Had she asked her where it was? No, she didn’t think so, but it certainly didn’t look like any hospitals she’d seen, but she’d only visited a couple—the sanatorium where Momma had stayed and the hospital in Savannah where Greta had worked.
It took Lily several minutes to locate the toilet paper. Finally she spotted a piece hanging from a large metal cylinder next to the commode. How odd? Standing at the sink, she kept her eyes down as she washed her hands suddenly realizing this bathroom wasn’t private and an elderly lady was waiting behind her to use the facilities. The appearance of her hands bothered her; obviously she had not taken good care of them since her wedding last year or was it two years now? All this worry about Greta took more of her brain than she had realized.

Lily shook her hands to dry them unable to see a towel nearby. Glancing up into the mirror the old woman’s face appeared; she looked down again quickly and murmured quietly, “I’m through; I’ll just get out of your way now.” She pushed down on the handle and pushed the door open into the hall. The light went out. Had she pulled the cord or had the old woman? Maybe when she got that old she’d want the bathroom dark, too.

The hall offered her few clues and everybody seemed to be in a hurry. A tall blonde man paused next to a door a few feet from where she stood. He was reading something on a clipboard—a stethoscope hung over his shoulders and he was wearing a white lab coat. He glanced up and saw Lily looking at him. Seeing her confusion, he approached her.

“May I help you? Are you looking for someone?”

Lily furrowed her brow, trying to remember. Was she looking for someone? Perhaps this young man could help her if she could only figure out where this was and how she had gotten here. She thought someone had told her it was a hospital.

“Ma’m, are you okay?”

“This doesn’t look like any hospital I’ve ever seen.”

“Well, it has undergone some changes the last few years, so it’s pretty ‘state of the art’.” His eyes roamed the facility and there was a touch of pride in his voice.

“State of the art’? What art?” Lily scanned the walls for any sign of art.

Distantly, Lily distinguished sirens approaching. The young man glanced away from her toward the sound. Moments later a loud pop followed by a whoosh of air and the clatter of feet and wheels invaded the air space. The young man looked between Lily and the noise choosing to move toward the noise. Lily stood fixed between two realities, the merging of the sights, sounds and smells physically surrounding her and a distant time with all its unraveled pieces.

The landscape of Lily’s brain resembled a battle zone; clumps of plaque blocked the main highways while the trunk lines and ancillary circuits lay in tangled webs. Signals reached the end of those nests of wires only to find the receptor tracks dismantled. Given the crumbling ruins of her mind, Lily’s conclusion seemed obvious. Somehow, someway she had gotten to London, to the hospital where Greta worked. God bless Max, he had relented and let her come.

The noises, the blasting sound, the sirens—of course, Greta had written about the awful air raids. She had wanted to come get her and take her home, but Max—he was so against it? But that was the only explanation; he must have seen her despair and let her come. How else would she have gotten to London to this odd hospital where Greta and Dr. Levin worked, unless Max had bought her ticket?

Her confusion well she’d just had too much on her mind lately. The last few days are a blur. Oh, thank you, Lord. Thank you, Max. He let me come get Greta and Olivia so I could bring them home. I was afraid to ask him, but here I am. Now I just have to locate them. Lily’s eyes looked up to find the young man no longer there. She reached out and grabbed the arm of a woman dressed in green with a fine green hair net covering her hair.

“My sister, Greta Stanton, I mean Greta Levin she works here. She’s a nurse. Her husband is Dr. Joel Levin. I must find her. I need to take her home to the United States.”

“To the United States?” The woman tilted her head and looked at her curiously, then with sudden insight gently took her arm. “Why don’t we go down here to the Emergency Room Lobby and check with Marcy?” Lily resisted her prompting at first sure they were losing time, but relaxed and let herself be guided.

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Worship in Darkness or Light

Generations of Hope
Generations of Hope

“Everyone please pray for this beautiful lady… My mom was informed today that her cancer has spread into her lungs and has to start a new chemo treatment and this one is going to be a lot stronger… She could use all the love, thoughts, and support as she could possibly get during this hard time… Just hoping Owen can hold off for her to get her first treatment so she can at least get the joy of being there for her first grandchild’s birth with the recent bad news… I love you with all my heart mom and I know you’re strong enough to fight through this and you got some amazing people on your side to help get you through this” Chassity Pierce Inglis, August 29, 2013

Several bloggers I follow are doing a one word prompt, five minute Friday challenge. I have followed their blogs, but not participated in the challenge. Notably, check out http://www.hopeinthehealing.com and http://www.vanderbiltwife.com. However, after hearing the PET scan results and plan of treatment for our niece, Ima Lee, I looked again at the one word prompt for this week: WORSHIP and it hit me. Worship doesn’t depend on our circumstances or human prognosis…Worship provides healing, hope, and comfort even in the dark.

Where there is fear
Where darkness lies
with the enemy near
loud wails, muffled cries
When abandoning hoping
seems the wisest of choices
Slipping away, fingertips groping
Seeking purchase, finding my voice
I lift my battered face, and begin
At first just a whisper, a breath in the wind
then like a miniature chorus, echoes return
Strengthening my song as new courage burns

Where there is Fear…The Lord is still near
Where darkness lies, loud wails, muffled cries
I Lift up my head, I open my eyes to watch the sun rise
When the worst possible news comes straight to my door
What the Lord has promised trumps that card a thousand fold more
So with the wolf at the door, whether facing a fight or longing for flight
I’ll sing praise in the darkness, dance with delight, and wait for the light

Worship is sweetest in the darkest of nights
When abandoning hope seems the wisest choice
For in corners crouching, searching for light
Sometimes the heart finds its most passionate voice
And can find cause to Rejoice!

“Rejoice in the Lord, always. And again I say rejoice” Philippians 4:4

Our family covets your prayers at this time for Ima Lee, Clark, Chassity, Daniel and baby Owen…due soon!!

Ima Lee, Clark and Chassity
Ima Lee, Clark and Chassity

Braking Points–Chapter Fourteen

white-semi-truckChapter Fourteen
Rest Stop, I-40, North Carolina

A remarkable thing happened following the hugs, decisions on seating arrangements for the three passengers, latching of seat belts and waves that marked the oddly assorted group of travelers. For the first time in days, they actually traveled.

Once on I-40 they practically flew to Knoxville where they encountered some slowing of traffic due to the inevitable Tennessee road construction. Sophia pretended patience, but Max saw the tensing of her jaw as the Buick crawled along, strapped to one lane and boxed between two semis. Lily had chosen to sit next to “Bertha Mae” and was actually chattering. Nothing she said made sense so it reminded Max of the toddlers he had observed as their gift of gab emerged—gibberish, but an attempt at communication. Amanda sat directly behind Sophia, awake, but distant, deep in thought or bored. It was hard for Max to define the minor nuances Amanda displayed with so little alteration in her typically bland countenance.

Max read the orange highway maintenance signs. “Left lane closed ahead. Merge Right”; “Slow Road Work in Progress”; and, “Fine will be doubled in Work Zone.” They amused him. He turned his head toward Amanda.

“Do you know that Tennessee didn’t invent road construction, but they have perfected it?”

“Huh?” Amanda barely shifted her head to give him a “so what” look.

“It’s a fact. Believe I read it somewhere.” His attempt to mimic her bland look, even slumping his shoulders included failed to bait her. “That’s why all road construction signs and pylons in the United States are orange. To honor Tennessee and the fine traffic conduits they manage to place on every road in the great state.

Sophia chuckled softly in the front seat. Amanda tucked her chin to her chest, furrowed her eyebrows and gawked at him.

“I haven’t a clue as to what on earth you are talking about.”

“Orange. . .University of Tennessee colors…you know.”

“Oh.” Her voice conveyed in that one word a total apathy regarding his attempt at humor. She retreated to looking out the side window at the huge concrete divider that almost touched the Buick as Sophia edged her way through. Max returned to his own reverie as well, closing his eyes hoping to catch a little nap and rid himself of the headache. He’d hardly relaxed against the seat when he felt acceleration as the Buick broke through the concrete gauntlet and pushed forward toward Asheville.

The tenseness in Sophia’s jaw relaxed. Lily quieted; Max couldn’t see her clearly because of the head rest, but speculated that she slept. A somnolence settled over him, too. He yawned a couple of times, his head bobbing forward. The drowsiness nearly sunk him into sleep. He lowered himself into the warm pool of slumber, when two factors delayed him

The first began as a muscle tic at the right corner of his mouth, and then spread its tentacles upward across his right jaw, upward toward his ear. Tiny currents of electrical activity followed the pathways giving rise to yet more involuntary muscle movement. Instinctively, he started to reach up and touch the twitching muscles only to find trunk lines of electrical current in his right arm. He winced with pain, inhaled, held his breath a second or two before releasing the air. Whatever triggered the incident faded away. His sleepiness dissipated replaced by an uneasy feeling. Carefully, he stretched out his arm, flexing it a couple of times. Once sure it functioned, Max touched the right side of his face; the skin felt like, well, like skin.

With some trepidation he glanced toward Amanda. Sensing his interest, she turned her head to face him
.
“Max,” she said, “Did Greta have her baby?”

He nodded, cleared his throat and remembered the pink bordered birth announcement he’d found in the box of letters. “In August 1939, a little girl, Olivia Levin. She was born in London.” His voice was barely a whisper.

“What happened to her?”

A painful sigh filled his lungs before he answered.

“I don’t know.”

“Does Lily?” Amanda tilted her head toward the front seat
.
“I don’t know.” An overwhelming sense of loss unlike any he’d ever experienced before threatened to pull him under. There had been nothing about Olivia. He’d gone over it again when Lily mentioned her last night. Greta and Joel had kept his nieces and Olivia in the city until the bombings began. Joel sent them all including Greta to the country in August of 1940; Olivia was a year old. Greta stayed with the girls a month before returning to London. She died in November. What had happened to Joel Levin? What had happened to those little girls? If Lily had only asked, he would have searched high and low for them after the war. Or would he have? Max honestly couldn’t say for sure how he would have reacted. Now he would, but then he, well he just wasn’t sure. The question never arose. Lily never asked and now she never would.

Amanda reached over and clasped his hand with a quick squeeze. She even offered him one of her rare smiles. He returned it
.
“Carmichael” she spoke almost inaudibly.

“Pardon.”
“My real name is Amanda Carmichael. I promised I’d tell you.”

He nodded but said nothing, uneasy with the information he had about Amanda, knowing he had to tell her and dreading the possible reactions.

*

“Welcome to North Carolina.” Sophia announced. “I do believe we have surpassed our mileage record by traveling greater than 60 miles without a stop. At least that’s true since I joined this little trek.”

Interstate 40 sliced into the mountains of North Carolina with the Buick and her passengers ascending more rapidly than they had in Tennessee. Almost in unison everyone’s ears popped as their Eustachian tubes worked overtime to equalize the change of air pressure.

“I may need some gum,” Amanda announced, swallowing hard several times.

“We will probably be climbing all the way to Asheville from here; this part of I 40 cuts right up the mountain range.” Max interjected.

“There should be vending machines at the first rest stop. Ruth packed us a lunch. It shouldn’t be too far; they usually put those Welcome Centers pretty close to the border, so you can find all the fun things to do in North Carolina. Would you look at those rocks?” Sophia pointed to one side and then the other.

“Gosh, it looks like they just came down off the mountain!”

“Looks that way, but this road’s been here a while, so. . .

“What’s that orange netting? Do you see it? Are they trying to catch them as they fall?” Amanda looked upward as if at any second a huge bolder could plummet crushing them all.

Max listened and looked, trying to remember when the rock slide that closed I-40 in this region happened. It hadn’t been all that long ago. Noticing the apprehension on Amanda’s face prevented him from sharing that tidbit of trivia. Instead he said,

“Interstate 40 was in the original group of Eisenhower Interstates. Construction started in the late 1950s during the height of the Cold War.”

A skeptical Amanda shifted her eyes toward him away from the threatening boulders. “What?”

“Eisenhower started the interstates?” Sophia asked suspiciously. “You know that for a fact?”

Max looked between them. Amanda had shifted her bored expression a notch upward to “still bored, but I’ll humor you” while Sophia had cocked her right ear just slightly toward the backseat. It was no surprise that Amanda had missed this part of history—her own history beginning in the latter part of the 20th Century—but Sophia! Lily stirred in the front seat probably uncomfortable with the change of pressure.

“Where are we?” She asked a tremor in her voice. Max spoke before the others could.

“You remember, Lily, we have to travel through the mountains to get to the ocean. I was just telling about Eisenhower building the interstates.”

“Oh,” she murmured, “We are going to the ocean? Will we miss the election?”

“No, do you remember Eisenhower, Lily?” Max probed, uncertain where this would lead.

“Oh, yes.” She looked at Sophia, “My Max served under the General in Europe, during the war. I have a button.”

“A button?” Sophia asked
.
“I Like Ike!” Lily exclaimed. Soft laughter filled the car, even Lily laughed then fell silent working her fingers in her lap as if she were crocheting.

“Anyway, the story goes that as a young lieutenant in 1919, Ike had traveled in a convoy from the east coast to the west coast in an amazing 62 days. On some roads travel speed averaged 5 miles a day.” Max began only to be interrupted by a short burst of laughter from Sophia.

“Sounds like this trip!”

Max shook his head unable to come up with a quick retort and continued his little history lesson
.
“Well when Ike was in post war Germany, he noticed that while Allied destruction of airports and railways virtually destroyed those transportation routes, the wide autobahns remained usable. We moved our equipment and men down them. Apparently extensive miles of asphalt and concrete present a far more formidable target than railways and airports.”

“Weren’t there potholes and such from the bombs?”

“Huge ones but the roads were still passable with little repair necessary. It actually impressed us all.”

“So you’re saying Eisenhower built roads here because of the roads in Germany?” Sophia sounded as if she could hardly wait to get to the computer to check out his story.
“That’s right. He saw how important roads could be to a strong defense program. Under his leadership as President, Ike hunted for support to provide adequate roads for the transportation of troops and equipment as well as provide evacuation routes for citizens. So the Department of Defense budget financed the original interstates. Interstate 40, this very road, is one of them.”

“So how long is this one?”

“Interstate 40 starts in California and ends here in North Carolina near the coast. It was completed I think in the late 1960’s”

“How do you know all this?” Amanda pressed with the attitude of an interrogator.

Max looked again between Sophia and her, sighed and admitted what they all could agree on.
“I’m old.”

With a quick nodding assent, they all fell silent again. Max continued to contemplate this particular section of road. It had been non-existent in 1960.

Some stretches of the roads were easier to build than others. Max remembered that the fifty miles from the Tennessee border to Asheville, North Caroling presented a significant road construction challenge. To Max the man-made valley appeared to have been created by a divine hand with a wedge driven into the mountain range, but he knew the finished product was the result of dynamite and land moving equipment. The angle of the mountains with walls of netting to prevent sliding rocks from landing on the road gave the impression that mountains and Pisgah National Forest might yet retake the road
.
“Sophia, is there a rest stop somewhere close?” Amanda asked.

“Should be one pretty soon. You all ready to stop? We can picnic. Ruth sent a passel of food for lunch.”

“I’m ready.” Amanda confirmed.

“Me, too.” Max agreed. Lily was silent, sleeping again, no doubt. He smiled again at her “I like Ike” interjection.

Immediately after Exit 7, a rest stop sign appeared. Sophia eased the Buick off the road and followed the signs for cars and picnic facilities.

*

Flies descended on the sandwich lying on a paper towel in front of Lily. Their frenzied attack matched the activity that surrounded the picnic table. Bertha Mae—or was she Bertha Mae’s sister? —Worked to get all the food in the basket out on the table. The man and the girl had gone off somewhere. They were all together Lily thought. They’d been in a car. But who were all these other people? Children played nearby. Cars and trucks came and went. Voices she didn’t recognize descended on her ears like the flies on her sandwich. Lily’s chest tightened, a clammy feeling draped her. Trembling she gasped for breath, but there wasn’t enough air. The voices were closing in, like the flies; she began to shake both her hands over her sandwich until an uncontrollable trembling began to take over her body. A low moan began in her throat
.
“Get them off. Get them off.” She cried shaking her hands and rocking. They were closing in. There was no way to escape. Lily screamed.

*

Sophia dropped what she was doing and tried to calm Lily who batted furiously at the flies as she screamed.

“Lily, Lily, Calm down. I’ll get the flies off.”

Lily struggled away from Sophia, clutching her sweater and sliding off the picnic bench. Purposefully, Lily crumbled to the ground and crawled under the picnic table. She covered her ears with her hands and screwed her eyes shut. Her screaming had stopped but her gasps for air and trembling persisted. Sophia watched helplessly while she drew herself into a tight ball like a trapped animal.

Oh, Sweet Jesus, what am I going to do? Sophia thought. A crowd was gathering though not a single person had yet offered assistance. Taking a deep breath, she dropped as gently to the ground as her substantial frame would allow. If Lily opened her eyes at least they would be eye to eye. Sophia had experience a foretaste of Lily’s anxiety attacks, but none of the episodes prior hinted of the panic this spell produced in Lily and whoever—Sophia being the whoever—happened to be closest. She edged as close to Lily as she could with the concrete bench as a barrier between them. Just as she started to speak, her pocket began vibrating and the William Tell Overture swung into full gear and a voice from above spoke.

“Can I help?” Max asked.

*

Max watched as Sophia dragged the cell phone from her pocket and attempted to rise off the concrete pad surrounding the picnic table and benches, pointing as she did so underneath the table. Before he examined the situation further Max knew who he would find crouched there.

He scanned the curious circle of people who began shifting their eyes nervously and pulling back from the obviously private drama. Good riddance, he thought. He started to offer an arm to Sophia, when the stabbing electrical current rendered him powerless. Sophia kept talking, but he wasn’t paying her any attention nor was she paying him any. She’d tell him later if it was important. He waved her off and she willingly retreated, chatting as she went.
Holding his arm still, the paralyzing effect of the neural activity began to subside. Getting down on the ground proved impossible, so he sat on the bench and began talking to Lily.

“Lily, it’s Max. I’m here to help you.”

No response, her moaning continued.

“Lily, everything’s okay now. Are you okay?”

There was still no response, but the moaning stopped. He couldn’t see her, but her quieting encouraged him.

“Did you have some lunch, Lily? Aren’t you hungry?”

She moaned again. He changed courses.

“Lily, come on out here and I’ll get you someplace to rest.”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Flies, everywhere, flies, buzzing.”

“There are no flies now, Lily. I scared them off. Come on out.”

“Who are you? Who are the others?’

“I’m Max.”

“My husband’s name is Max. He’s in the army in France.”

Max nodded thoughtfully. The talk of Eisenhower must have prompted this diversion in her mind.

“Well, I know for a fact that your Max wouldn’t want his lovely Lily hiding under a table from a bunch of measly flies, now would he?”

“No.”

Max heard her moving from under the table, crawling out. When she emerged, he saw she had scraped her knees and palms. He helped her off the ground and seated her on the bench facing out toward the surrounding rocks and trees and away from the commotion near the Welcome Center and parking area. He uncovered her sandwich and handed it to her. Lily ate without hesitation; evidently her fear of flies had dissipated.
With a gentle hand he dusted the grit from the scrapes on her knees. Max grimaced for her. Lily’s skin was so thin that it peeled like onionskin with the slightest provocation. She would need them washed and an antibiotic cream applied, but that would have to wait till later. Max shifted his body closer to hers on the bench, taking her hand in his, when she finished eating. Lily did not protest. His intention to speak to her about their journey to the ocean, to calm her fears, was denied.

A canopy of light descended on him; sound swirled around him like a tornado dragging him into its core; and the vacuum created at its vortex sucked his internal organs pulling them up to his swollen head threatening volcanic explosion. The last Max remembered was the rigidity of his body and the sound of screaming.
*

Sophia hurriedly told Millie ‘good-bye’ when she heard Lily screaming and saw a dozen or more folks running toward her. From her vantage point she could not see what was going on, so she snapped the phone shut and started down the hill to the area. Displaying once more her ability to run she covered the distance in seconds. Her attention was directed toward Lily so she had reached the picnic table before she realized that Max had collapsed. Having seen more than one seizure in her life as a hospital chaplain, she recognized in an instant what was happening.

A petite female from the crowd stepped forward. At first, Sophia thought it was Amanda; she shook that perception off when she realized her mistake. She attempted to to stop the woman’s forward progress. Without missing a stride the young woman explained herself.

“Hi, my name is Francine. I’m an EMT. We’re on vacation.”–she motioned toward a man and a toddler, pointing then toward Max—“He’s having a seizure, so I was going to make sure he didn’t hurt himself.” Sophia watched as Francine moved to Max with the self-confidence of a trained emergency technician. Once at his side, Francine looked up at Sophia and said calmly, “Do you have a cell phone?” —Then without waiting for an answer said—“call 911. He is going to need to be transported to a hospital.”

Sophia whipped open the phone and punched in the numbers all the while moving toward Lily who was turning in circles stamping her feet and screaming. The crowd had backed off and given her room after she swatted at a couple of them and called them “Nazi flies”. Sophia tucked her under one of her ample arms while giving what information she could to the dispatcher.

When she clamped the phone shut again she scanned the crowd for Amanda. Where was she? Was she still at the Welcome Center? Sophia squinted and peered toward the Welcome Center. A flock of the curious hovered there also watching the scene unfold below. Surely if Amanda were there she would have heard the ruckus and checked to see what was happening. Sophia expanded her search of the grounds.

Bingo! Sophia spotted her running across the lawn to the truck parking area. A burly man in a sleeveless shirt and baseball cap gestured to Amanda as she ran. Sophia watched with horror as Amanda changed course and headed toward him. He stood on the side of the cab of his tractor-trailer rig with the door open. As Amanda approached he caught her arm and scooped her into the cab then followed her. Swallowing hard Sophia yelled, “Stop that Truck!” but her voice was muted by her own revulsion and the sound of sirens approaching. The writing on the cab was too distant to read and the trailer was devoid of identifying signage. Suddenly, Sophia realized her utter helplessness interceding in the fast forward split screen events that were unfolding. With Max on the ground seizing, Lily in a panic, and Amanda in a truck 200 feet away, her gut gnarled.Hot tears burned her cheeks as Sophia drew Lily closer and began to soothe her. She prayed silently. The paramedics’ appearance on the scene with Max relieved some the pressure. Their professionalism brought a measure of calm to the whole scene. Max’s seizure had resolved leaving him to all appearance like a floppy doll; she heard one of them speak into his radio, “We have an elderly white male with flexion to pain . . .” His voice trailed off. His partner started toward Sophia as Francine pointed toward her. Sophia watched him approach as the truck with Amanda aboard barreled away and disappeared on Interstate 40 headed east.

Tracing the Threads of the Word–Beginning today with 1 Peter 2:15, 16

In the magnificent tapestry of scripture, threads interconnect without breaking forming one of the most profoundly beautiful and yet complex documents ever created. Following the connected threads helps me understand God, His purposes, ways, and character. Without those connections I might stand too far back gazing only at the overall beauty of the whole work or zero in on one tiny piece of stitchwork and misinterpret the message.

So it is that when I read a verse or two, like 1 Peter 2:15-16 which were YouVersion.com’s verses for August 30, 2013, I consider their meaning and application first alone and then praying begin to trace the thread that enables me to understand how I am to live in the world today.

Looking first at the two verses: “It is God’s desire that by doing good you should stop foolish people from saying stupid things about you. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Live as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:15, 16 NCV) I find the threads I need to follow, do good, stop foolish folks from talking about me, live free, do not use freedom as an excuse to do whatever I please, and live as a servant of God. Right off, with only those verses, I see the potential of tangling the handwork stitches and having to undo the mess.

My Mom was an expert seamstress and did beautiful embroidery also. She tried to teach her only daughter, me, a girl with no patience and ten thumbs how to follow a pattern, take tiny stitches and look at both the back and the front of the piece, checking for knots or other clumps of thread. Theoretically the finished piece should look almost as good on the back as the front. Needless to say, Girl with ten thumbs spent more time ripping out stitches than creating them and the front while not perfect looked a darn sight better than the back.

In my study of scripture I have at times managed to to take the tiny perfect stitches of God’s Word and knot them up in the application. So, I have learned to pray and let the Holy Spirit call to remembrance my thread for the day.

Today, God led me first to Galatians: But the Spirit produces the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. There is no law that says these things are wrong. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NCV)

Ah! So these are the qualities of doing good, the kind of good that quiets the tongues of those who do not know Christ as it says in the 1 Peter passage. Doing good involves staying attached to the vine, so the fruit get all the nutrients needed to ripen to perfection. Doing good with God isn’t ME trying to do good things, it is God with me in every situation showing the world Who He is. Doing good is more about abiding than acting, but it is not stretching out on God’s lounge chair, soaking up the rays, either. The good God desires manifests itself as worship from the center of my core.

As I absorbed the pattern of all living and doing good with God reveals in my life, I encounter what freedom really means and so I follow the thread further along to find: “So if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free.” (John 8:36 NCV).

The freedom of God differs from man’s imitation of freedom, no matter how good that may appear. God’s freedom removes the bonds of sin, death, self-seeking, people pleasing; God’s freedom removes the knots I allow the world, myself, and my sinful leanings to tangle in me. God’s freedom requires that I submit to his work in me…that I choose to live free in His kingdom.

And so on this Friday morning, the scripture from 1 Peter 2:15-16 lets me follow these threads to better understanding and application for this day. That is one of the marvels of God’s Word…it is unchanging and yet it is New every morning!. Tomorrow I might read the same and be led to another thread, so it is with God’s Word, this marvelous tapestry of truth, the patterns are many and as I come to it each time, He meets me and leads me as I am ready to see.

Standing too near distorts, standing too far away blurs, but observing the whole and then following the threads opens our eyes to the vista of abundant life God intends for us each and every day.

Wherever you are, no matter your circumstances ( I am recovering from surgery), Live the good life God desires to exhibit in you, freely, doing no harm, and let people know you belong to him.

How My Mother wished I did needlework
How My Mother wished I did needlework

Braking Points–Chapter Thirteen

image Chapter Thirteen
Ruth and Lincoln Pierce’s Home

The swing in the backyard of Lincoln and Ruth Pierce’s home over looked a minor branch of the Tennessee River. The setting was beautiful but elevated high enough above the river that the sound of the water rushing over rocks was muted. The rocky hillside dropped sharply to the stream; nevertheless, its descent sported blooming rhododendrons and Dogwood trees. The verdant drop presented little place for roots to sink but there they were clinging to the barest measure of soil. Max considered the tenacity of those plants; they reminded him of the poster he’d seen in Allison’s room of a cat gripping a branch with only its front claws.

He tried to remember the caption thinking it was something like “Hang in There.” When he saw the poster for the first time, he had identified with the cat. During that period, right after Lily’s diagnosis, he felt a lot like he was hanging by his nails from a limb.

The rhododendrons and the Dogwoods growing out of the rocks, on the cliff he now observed, refused to turn loose of their sparse bit of earth adding their testimony to the countless numbers who refuse to stop living even as the earth crumbled beneath them.

No longer hurried by the schedule of others, Max had carried his ice cream bowl from the back patio to that very spot. Multiple concerts of the William Tell Overture changed the course of their journey—yet again—slowing once more the pace of the trip.

Some of the changes were almost humorous—Ryan had decided to fly to Greenville and accompany his parents to Ocean Isle. Suddenly, after months of being the busiest professor in the history of modern academia, he found he had at least two weeks to spend with the folks. Some changes were disturbing—there were issues Nancy Mayes needed to deal with in Oklahoma and Kansas, before she and Amanda’s mother came east. It might take a day or two. Please, please she had begged through Millie who shared the information with Max talk to Amanda, prepare her.

Before Sophia handed the phone to him she carried on in muted tones with Millie. Listening to the one sided conversation between Sophia and Millie before being handed the phone led Max to believe that the two females were in cahoots about something and also suddenly caused him some anxiety about the cost of long distance calls on cell phones. His conversation with Millie did nothing to relieve his anxiety but it did shift his focus from feminine plots and cell phone bills to Amanda and her family situation.

Both Barry and Peggy called as well both inquiring about how Lily was holding up and how he was recuperating from his accident. They also had brief conversations with Sophia resulting in a rise of fresh suspicions on Max’s part, but nothing he could put his finger on.

The alterations of the travel plans allowed Max to accept a gracious invitation to a home cooked Sunday dinner. Ruth Pierce invited them all after the worship service. Ruth’s mother had lived with them the last year of her life, she told him. Lily reminded her of her Mom. Seeing his embarrassed look, she went on to say that the year had been hard but had proven to be the most precious time she’d ever spent with her mother. It would fill a hole in her heart if Max would bring Lily and his friends to dinner. He’d been ready to refuse, but Ruth Pierce’s gentleness as much as her words told him she understood his heart—this woman he’d barely met understood how love worked.

The ice cream capped off a sumptuous feast of fried chicken, fresh greens, mashed potatoes and gravy plus a variety of side dishes, all begging to be sampled. He had sampled plenty. “Lord, I do love southern cooking.” He repeated several times during the meal. After dinner, Ruth with Amanda had helped Lily to one of the bedrooms for a nap. Sophia engaged Pastor Pierce, who asked to be called Lincoln, in a lively conversation about his interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal. Max had excused himself and gravitated to the spot above the river.

His ice cream finished he sat the bowl next to the swing and began to pray about the ground that needed to be covered—not simply the roads to the ocean but the numerous tangled paths created by truths withheld in the name of love. He had his and Amanda had hers as did Sophia, the Pierces, and everybody—the just and the unjust. Certainly neither youth nor old age offered protection from the forces of nature nor the acts of man—including the consequences of choices made without thinking.

*

Amanda watched Max from the window of the bedroom where Lily slept. Ruth Pierce sat in a rocker near the bed, occasionally rubbing Lily’s back when she stirred or moaned in her sleep. She was singing as she rocked and Amanda found herself half listening; Ruth’s voice was smooth and deep and the melody pure. Amanda had temporarily abandoned her plan to run out on Lily, Max and Sophia. So now she was, in part, debating whether to go talk to Max or wait.

Though she feigned skepticism when Sophia told her Max had not ratted on her, she knew Sophia spoke the truth. The expanse of lawn reminded her of Nana and Poppy’s backyard in Mulvane. Poppy took pride in landscaping and gardening. For as long as she could remember her times with him included digging in the dirt or picking tomatoes or beans. When she was little and he was younger he’d swing her up on his shoulders and let her pick the very first peach of the season. Amanda swallowed hard feeling the sting of hot tears threaten to fall.

Poppy had built a gazebo for Nana in a corner of the yard. He called it her private garden. He surrounded it with hedges and planted vines that under his tutelage soon covered the structure. Amanda loved the spot. In the summer, she had traveled to Mulvane to spend one week with Nana and Poppy and the following week with Granny Nan. Her parents would drive her up on Sunday afternoon and she’d transfer from one home to the other on the following Saturday. At the end of her visit the three grandparents would drive her back.

At Nana and Poppy’s she’d carry a book to the gazebo to read or merely watch the light and shadows playing through the vines and leaves. She wouldn’t be going this year.

Max walked to the edge of the yard and stood for a while looking down, before returning to take a seat in the swing. Amanda watched as he sat his bowl on the ground, leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his head resting on his clasped hands. ‘Is he ok?’ she wondered.

Earlier all indications were that they were going to cover lots of miles to make up for lost time, but shortly before the last of the congregational hand shakes and hugs, Amanda had answered the cell phone. That call had been from Max’s snotty son—put my Dad on, please–. Within moments of the end of that conversation, The William Tell Overture signaled another incoming call. That time it was Max’s daughter-in-law for Sophia and Max. When the band struck up again, Amanda handed the phone to Sophia.

“Why don’t you take care of this?’

“Shouldn’t there be a ‘please’ in there somewhere?”

“Please.”

“I’d be happy to.”
Sophia had flipped it open and answered it.

Even with the door of the room closed Amanda could hear Pastor Pierce and Sophia talking about his sermon. The discussion sounded like it could continue for hours, a sort of self-perpetuating conversation. Without turning she could feel Ruth Pierce’s eyes on her. The dinner had been great. During the meal she had watched for any signs of discomfort on the part of their hosts and finding none, settled down to eat her fill.

Even with her limited exposure to religious rituals in African-American churches, praying and the like, she’d found the church service at Harvest Fellowship livelier than she expected, but no one flopped out in the aisles or wailed or anything like that.

She certainly did not feel uncomfortable in the Pierce’s home and she hadn’t felt uncomfortable in Crossville at Sophia’s. Truth was, Amanda couldn’t see in any of these people as victims in need of empowering. Sophia—for sure—didn’t need a grain more of power or she would likely be dangerous. But she had lived a pretty “white” life back home.

Bits and pieces of the conversation in the other room filtered through her daydream. Sophia and Pastor Pierce were discussing the father in the story. The subject interrupted her negative thoughts that were spiraling downward to a pit inside her that Amanda had not known existed before last week. With some effort she turned her attention to their conversation, still aware of Ruth’s eyes on her but not minding that so much.

*

Later, Amanda trudged down the sloping yard toward the swing with a glass of iced tea and a sandwich for Max. Ruth Pierce was talking to Sophia inside, while Pastor Pierce prepared for evening services. Amanda suspected she’d been given this task because she asked too many questions.

She hadn’t intended to do anything but listen, but when the subject of honoring parents no matter what came up, she left the bedroom trying to get some answers, but she realized it probably looked like she was itching for a fight. To Lincoln Pierce’s credit, he never flinched at her bluntness; instead he’d simply indicated a chair and asked her to join them. Amanda did.

Frankly, she thought shortly after joining the discussion, she should have stayed put in the bedroom, because the convictions she’d nurtured the last several days suddenly felt less like fact and more like a one-sided view—hers. The struggle she had with the radical viewpoint coming from both sides confused her. There had been a moment when she wanted to dump the whole mess of her life on both Sophia and Pastor Pierce. Maybe they would see her point of view if they knew her existence had been an accident from the beginning, a series of miscalculations, bad judgment and outside interference.

Amanda knew what they didn’t the fact that she had ever drawn a breath resulted not from the love of her parents but from a poor choice of scheduling. Another minute or two and she might have unloaded; however, that didn’t happen.

The conversation, discussion, debate—whatever it was—had ended abruptly when Lily had awakened in the strange room with a stranger. Ruth tried her best to calm her, but it took Sophia and Amanda to help Lily get oriented enough to ask for the bathroom—unfortunately, not in time. No adults Amanda had ever known had wet themselves.

Lily stomped her feet in frustration as urine ran down her legs, drenched her socks before pooling like a moat around her. Wringing her hands repetitively Lily wailed like a child, “I peed my pants. I peed my pants.” Amanda blushed with embarrassment for Lily.

Calm, take charge Sophia worked with Ruth’s help to calm Lily and get her into clean dry garments. They moved her quickly from the bedroom to the kitchen and Ruth went to work fixing a light supper. As Amanda prepared to take out Max’s supper, she paused to watch Lily, who now sat in the kitchen, nibbling on a sandwich. She continued shaking slightly, but otherwise seemed ok. Impulsively, Amanda leaned over and pecked her cheek. Lily looked up her expression devoid of recognition. With a trembling hand she patted Amanda’s arm. “Are you my friend?”

Amanda wanted to scream, “I’m Greta; I’m Greta!” But how foolish would that be? She certainly hadn’t liked being called by Lily’s dead sister’s name at first. Why on earth would she perpetuate such a morbid delusion? There was no good answer, but somehow Lily’s failure to associate her with Greta bothered her. Without being Greta she was no one to Lily.

Amanda swallowed hard, searching Lily’s flattened affect for a tiny spark. None came. Amanda patted Lily’s hand and turned to go. Before reaching the door she glanced back into the room. Sophia and Ruth talked quietly at one end of the kitchen table; Lily sat empty eyed staring at a spot in space; with her hands in her lap she was picking over and over again at an invisible particle.

So whatever their reasons for sending her out with Max’s supper, Amanda was glad to be outdoors. Lily’s current condition frightened her as much as the scene in the dressing room at Cookeville. Nothing was turning out like it was supposed to—too many stops and little or no progress. Here they were not ten miles from where they started that morning. From the conversation she’d eavesdropped on between Sophia and Ruth, it looked like they were going to stay here for the night. Her thought patterns bounced from past to present to future and back again in the short trek from the house to the swing.

“Hey!”

Max looked around as Amanda approached, rising because he’d been raised to do so when a lady entered the room. A whoosh of dizziness swirled around his head. He blinked his eyes and reached for the swing. Amanda stepped forward steadying the swing with her body till Max stabilized.

“Whoa! You ok?”

Max nodded but couldn’t get his voice to work. Finally, still twirling inside, he turned and sat in the swing Amanda continued to hold. ‘Just have to let it settle’ he thought. In a few moments with only a mere residue in his head like the slowing of a merry go round, he found his voice, though it didn’t sound quite right to him.

“Did you bring that to me?” He asked, lifting his right arm to point at the sandwich. The arm felt like an enormous weight was attached. The sluggish movement bothered him momentarily, but then it passed as the last twirl of the gyroscope in his head completed its cycle. All that remained was the persistent headache, but it wasn’t any worse than before.

Amanda studied him for a moment then took a seat in the swing handing him the sandwich followed by the drink. Thankfully, he sighed, his hands grasped the items firmly.

“You’ve been out here a long time. What have you been doing?”

“Thinking, mainly,” he managed between bites. The shadows stretched out across the lawn elongated by approaching twilight. “I thought we’d make Asheville today at least. Guess I whiled away our driving time. Probably ought to get on to Knoxville and get a place to stay for tonight.”

Amanda grunted. “Think again.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Sophia and Ruth practically have our rooms assigned.”

“Oh, My! We can’t intrude like that.” He shook his head then bit off another piece of the sandwich. His next words bothered Amanda though for a moment she could not figure out why.

“This trip hasn’t been anything like I wanted it to be. I thought . . . Imagined. . No, fantasized that Lily and I . . .” He looked off toward the river. Amanda realized Max wasn’t really talking to her, but his tone bothered her—plus hadn’t she just been thinking the same stuff. Sadness clung to his words weighing them down until every utterance sounded forced and mechanical.

There had not been a moment since she’d met them that Amanda had thought of Max and Lily as anything but old. Nevertheless, Max hadn’t seemed decrepit or feeble—until now—now he sounded really old.

A light went on in the kitchen. She looked back toward the house and pictured Lily picking over and over again at something only she could see. Rising from the swing Amanda patted Max’s shoulder. He jolted, blinked rapidly—stared at her before a tentative smile emerged. They exchanged knowing looks both aware that for the briefest of moments Max could not identify Amanda.

Neither moved. Neither spoke. Amanda fussed with gathering the remnants of ice cream and supper. Max steadied his frame and rose from the swing. This time—thankfully—the dizziness remitted. Together in silence they walked toward the light. Max tested his foothold with each step. On top of everything else, he certainly didn’t need to fall.

*

Once the majority of the current occupants departed for evening services a peace settled over the house. Max relaxed in the larger lounge chair in the Pierce’s living room content to watch Lily sleep in the companion chair. The twitching he had noticed earlier when he had returned from the yard with Amanda disappeared as she slept.

Except for Lily’s whispering snore, the room was quiet. Max’s Bible and journal lay open in his lap, but he did not choose to read or write. The episode at the swing troubled him. Tonight he would swallow two aspirins rather than the pain medication he had been using since his accident. The side effect of high-powered pills often packed a bigger punch than the condition they were designed to relieve. He’d observed that in Lily.

Medications often had to be changed almost as quickly as they were prescribed. He’d learned the hard way. Within a short period of time the medication shelf became packed with useless expensive prescriptions. Peggy had thrown a fit when she saw them lined up like soldiers in the cabinet. She had been right, of course, they needed to be discarded, but he had to leave the room when she flushed them like the waste they were. Max learned quickly to ask for samples or to fill only a portion of the prescription.

Maybe the pain pills were the root of his dizziness and headaches. Another disquieting thought picked at him—the brief amnesiac episode with Amanda. Only an instant passed, he was pretty sure of that, but in that instant he existed in a place he didn’t know—in an unidentifiable time period, with a person he’d never seen before in his life. Search as he did for clues that fractured piece of time, Max acknowledged he had not even known who he was. Maybe dropping back to plain aspirin would help. He hoped so.

His eyes lifted from the pages he was not reading to find Lily staring at him. He smiled at her, watching to see if she still displayed the anxiety she had earlier. Her eyes while filmy did not appear to be frightened.

“Are you my friend?”

“I’m Max and yes, I am your friend, Lily.”

“Max, what a nice name. My husband’s name is Max.”

“Ah? Is that right?” Rare moments like these seldom happened anymore.

Lily remembered she had a husband named Max. He couldn’t recall when she taken that pathway in her brain. “Is he here?”

She frowned and looked around the room. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Where do you think he is?”

“I,” she puzzled with the question, scanned the room again, before her eyes found his again, “He joined the army. He’s . . .I don’t exactly know right now, but he’ll be back.”

“I am sure he will.”

“Yes, after he finds Olivia.” She leaned back in the chair evidently satisfied that the conversation had ended. Max swallowed hard. To his knowledge Olivia’s name had never been spoken between them. He’d seen it in the letters, but until that time Max had not known the name of Greta’s child. In his stubbornness—his pitiable self-righteousness—he had chosen never to ask the child’s name. A name might validate the child’s existence.

Only Greta’s body and a box for Lily arrived from London. No mention of the child occurred within the family, but Lily’s letters—Lily’s half of the correspondence had been the contents of the box—reading those letters and the ones Lily saved from her sister shattered his prejudicial opinions about Greta. Max noticed she slept again.

Max leaned back as well, still watching her. Nowhere in any of Lily’s letters to her sister had she let on that Max felt anything but love and compassion for Greta. Not a word crossed the pages about the harsh words they had exchanged nor the cold silent wall Max erected after the fight. She never shared the nights he had heard her crying softly into her pillow when he would simply grab a pillow and blanket and leave. Gradually, his anger faded, but the letters revealed the damage.

In effect, Lily had lied. She knew perfectly well where Max stood on the issue. His hot words—his frigid withdrawal left no questions regarding his verdict.
Still her slender cursive penmanship wove the reality of their marriage like a master weaver given inferior thread for the loom. If a thread broke, she’d simply keep on weaving, catch the thread with a stronger one and tuck it out of sight.

Reading the letters was an epiphany that forced Max to see the pain he had caused and to recognize in Lily’s lies, grace. The pictures she painted with words portrayed Max with such true strokes that he came to believe Lily not only loved him as he was but saw him as he should be. The letters brought Max insight, but Lily could no longer comprehend. The damage left a gap he’d been oblivious to—a chasm he’d waited too long to cross.

With tenderness he leaned forward and caressed her hand. The trip to the ocean was his way—at this late date—of trying to show Lily that he was striving to exhibit the fiber she’d skillfully attributed to him 60 plus years earlier. He closed his Bible and journal, leaned closer to her while he continued to stroke her hand.

“Come on, Miss Lily; let’s get to bed before the crowd gets back.”

She opened her eyes and let him help her to her feet.

Before he crawled into bed, Max walked to the kitchen, poured a glass of water and downed two aspirin.
*
The fragrance, clean starched bed linens, slowed the rapid pace of her heart on awakening. The room was dark except for the slivers of moonlight peaking around the edges of the curtains. Lily stared at the ceiling, watching the movement of light and shadow.

There was nothing remarkable about the ceiling; as far as she could tell it was ordinary. A turn of her head to the right as her eyes adjusted to the dim light proved more perplexing. What details she could distinguish bewildered her. The furniture, the placement of the doors and windows didn’t fit. Were it not for the scent of the sheets and the run of the mill ceiling, Lily might have panicked. She lay still, trying to backtrack in her mind.

*

Laundry was done on Mondays in an outbuilding just behind the kitchen.

Isadora and Bertha Mae supervised Bertha Mae’s two nieces, Joyce and Lolly who came every week to help with the washing on Monday and the ironing on Tuesday. A large wood burning stove took up most of one end of the wash shed. Pots of water set on every burner.

Wash tubs and scrub boards lined one side of the wall while rinse tubs lined the others. Lolly’s son Malcolm transported fresh water throughout the day from the pump. Everything was hung on the clothesline to dry. The best drying days were in the fall when the breeze swept in from the Atlantic. The power of that aroma embraced Lily.

She leaned into the embrace tugged the sheet close to her nose, inhaled, held her breath, exhaled and then repeated the sequence until she found a cozy spot in her memory to rest. The room–its ordinary ceiling and its unfamiliar arrangement—dissolved on her third or fourth breathing cycle. Her eyes closed; her breathing deepened; Lily slept.

*

Sophia and Amanda packed the car early the next morning. The smell of coffee woke Max. He looked to his right and saw Lily curled up. Leaning over her he saw she still slept. Lily was present and accounted for, but a look around the room told him his suitcase had disappeared. At closer observation he noticed a change of clothes and his shaving kit rested neatly on the bureau. Lily’s things sat next to his. Humph! This was a good sign. Human elves had been at work. Maybe they’d cover some ground today.

Stretching his frame served to work out some of the kinks caused by the inactivity of sleep. A familiar proverb mentally resonated “Too much sleep and too much slumber, too much folding of the hands to rest and poverty will come upon you like a bandit.”

The gremlins of atrophy stole from his body and mind without so much as firing a shot. His hip triggered a reminder that brittle bones broke with the slightest fall. The battle demanded his full determination to stand his ground for as long as he could. Extending the muscles in his legs and arms before rising helped assemble the troops who had not gone AWOL.

The few minutes spent organizing his faculties, allowed Max additional time to prepare his soul for the day. Of all the greasy little bandits of poverty, the gremlins who threatened his spirit taunted him most. Battling them took more than the grit of his will. Those nasty harbingers of doom retreated only when Max reached into his closet arsenal. He’d recite bits and pieces of scripture he’d memorized as a child—whatever came to mind. He prayed and he sang. The latter he’d learned from his mother, but it was the one he saved until safely under the hot running water of the shower.

The rituals completed, Max rolled to a sitting position on the side of the bed. Whoa! The gyroscope in his head tilted; the spin began. Complicating the dizziness, an invisible Suma wrestler pinched his head together from the forehead to the nape of his neck. When the nausea erupted, lying back down attracted Max, but he swallowed the bile and stayed upright; his hands grasped the edge of the bed, which was tilting forward threatening to buck him off.

Max had attended a few rodeos in his life. At that very moment he suspected bull riding to be no more challenging than his current condition. His eyes open he tried to fixate on a stationary object. Shutting them he found escalated the problem. In spite of the fact that his eyes seemed to be jerking and rotating in his skull, he managed to lock onto his shaving kit on the bureau.

The tilt diminished and the whirring slowed, and with its demise his nausea subsided. The retreat of nausea and vertigo thrust his headache to the forefront. The Suma wrestler’s grip hadn’t lessened in the least and Max noticed a high-pitched ringing in his head. Nothing a couple more aspirin couldn’t relieve, he thought pushing to stand, testing his legs before venturing toward the bathroom. Max rotated his head slightly—checking for residual disturbance in his head—before turning to check on Lily. The tilting bed evidently had not bothered her a bit, he mused.

He stepped forward and moved with as much determination as he could to complete his preparations for the day. As he went he decided his fight songs for the morning would be, “I Shall Not Be Moved” and “The Solid Rock”. Spurred to ignore his headache, Max hummed as he went, reasoning in light of the forces in his cache that bandits and gremlins of poverty had better beware!
*
The front porch of the Pierce home faced south so that the morning sun filtered through the tree branches providing agreeable lighting, the pleasantness of sunlight without the heat. The furnishings consisted of two cushioned rockers. The provisions formed a pleasant environment in which to sip morning coffee. Of course, Max reasoned that no amount of pleasantness could hold him long. There was unfinished business he needed to discuss with Amanda, but he had hoped to be on the road by now—a glance at his watch told him it was 8:30. Talking to her here in the Pierce’s home didn’t fit Max’s ideas, but strangely he couldn’t seem to get a handle on what the right place would be?

He had tried to read the paper, Ruth had brought him, but the print doubled up on him, so he sat and waited. Lily had awakened agitated about washday. Everyone in the house had tried to calm her, get her to eat some breakfast and help her get ready. For someone who didn’t top the scales above 90 pounds, she could sure put up a fight.

In the midst of the fracas Amanda noticed Max’s strained expression and clumsiness first, but it wasn’t long after she asked if he was alright that the women en mass exiled Max to a seat on the porch while they got Lily ready to go. Lincoln Pierce had gone off to a minister’s alliance meeting, so as the lone male, Max did as he was told.

Not for the first time since beginning the trip Max questioned his thinking. Half the time or maybe more than half, he’d discovered how frail and dependent he had become. Taking care of himself on the open road required most of his energy, which left very little for Lily, who needed constant attention. Without Sophia and Amanda, without folks like Lincoln and Ruth Pierce, aborting the trip would be the only option.

His own disgruntled murmuring brought a wave of depression, “Should of stayed on the farm.” No sense bothering other people with his problems; Max preferred being able to handle whatever came along. A westerly breeze brought a hint of rain, though the sky denied the possibility. The fragrance refreshed a recent but distant memory from the deck of the inn, two days previous.

He lifted his eyes out beyond the lawn to the road. Everything looked like it was a 3-D comic book with multiple images off setting each object. The strange blur failed to pass when he closed his eyes then reopened them. His stomach lurched. Reluctantly, he shut his eyes again holding the position a few seconds longer before testing his vision. This time things looked a little sharper and his stomach ceased doing flip-flops.

“You okay?” Amanda stepped out onto the porch and perched on the rail facing him.

“Of course,” Max lied. “How’s it going inside?”
“Sophia and Ruth are helping Lily shower and dress. She had some breakfast. They sure didn’t need me so I came out here to talk.” Her eyes shifted left uncomfortably.

“Ah, yes,” Max sighed, thinking what she wanted to talk about and what he needed to tell her were miles apart, unless she’d come out to tell him why she’d run away. With no clues from her side, he wasn’t about to launch into the conversation he’d had with her grandmother. Max chose to wait, let the aspirin do its work and listen.

“Finish Greta’s story—she’d started walking through the park,” Amanda invited, her eyes carefully averted to the lawn.

“Greta?” Temporary confusion jumbled Max’s thought patterns. He’d been seeking a starting point to share the information he’d received, half expecting Amanda to assist him. Lord, he wondered, could Greta’s story help or hurt?

Max had promised to tell her, but in the wake of the other account, Amanda’s story, he feared Greta’s might do more harm. The decision, right or wrong, fell to the promise. With a breath he hoped would clear his brain, he began. Amanda continued to look away, but the nuances of her body told him she was listening.

“Before she reached the other side—three men in hoods—they . . . attacked her.” Max’s voice dropped to nearly inaudible as he struggled with the words. Amanda’s face turned slightly, but she didn’t flinch. “They beat her…especially her face…she screamed so loudly, one of them pushed her face into the mud to keep her quiet . . .thinking she might suffocate in the mud, she stopped struggling. Mud mixed with her blood filled her nostrils and caked over her eyes, but she managed to lie still. Greta knew she might die at their hands, but her stillness spooked them.

With their footsteps retreating, she managed to get to a sitting position and wipe her face with her sleeve. Just as she started to rise, one of them or maybe the fourth man grabbed her by her hair, spun her toward him and pummeled her face some more. That beating mercifully slid her into unconsciousness.”

“How do you know all this? Did she tell you?” Amanda’s voice demanded, swinging her body and head toward the yard, away from Max.

“Letters, she wrote Lily all about what happened, but not right away, not until much later.”

“Did she go to the police? Did they catch them.”

“No, she was too ashamed and humiliated.”

“Why? For Chris…goodness sake. She didn’t do anything wrong.”

Max grew silent. Greta hadn’t done anything wrong. Amanda hit him dead center with the dart without ever knowing it. Guilt rose like the bile of his early morning nausea leaving just as foul a taste in his mouth. With effort he continued wanting, no needing to tell this story out loud even if it was to a child.

“When she regained consciousness, she discovered the last man or she hoped it was only the last one, had . . .he had . . .defiled her.”

“Are you saying he raped her?”

Max recognized once again how worldly children were—What on earth did fourteen year olds know about rape? Why on earth did fourteen year olds need to know about rape? —But he supposed they did given the evil in the world and so many children being abused. He couldn’t stop to probe so he pressed on.

“He did or they did. Greta never knew for sure. She managed to pull her belongings together and get home. She avoided the church where Charles was practicing. It was January before Lily received Greta’s letter about what had happened. Funny thing was they continued to exchange letters during the interval but Greta’s bothered Lily. They became hardly more than duty notes written to a distant relative.”

Amanda leveled her gaze at him for the first time that morning, started to ask a question, shook her head and turned back to the lawn. Max thought about prodding her—ask your question; save me from having to come up with the words—and then decided not to. He wanted to finish the story.

The act of sharing the sordidness of Greta’s violation honored her in a way he could not explain—honored her, as she should have been all those years ago. The shame thrust on Greta by her attackers turned out to be only the beginning of the shame she would endure. Lily had shielded her from Max’s harsh opinions, but protection of Greta from the actions and gossip of so many in Savannah and Brunswick was impossible.

The pause in conversation wore thin on Amanda’s demeanor. She fidgeted on the railing, finally moving to the top step of the porch. Settling with her back against the post opposite Max, she stared up at him. A touch of orneriness prompted him to latch eyes with her like a mad dog. With a sigh of exasperation Amanda threw out her hands palms up, breaking first.

“Well?? What happened? Did she tell Charles?”

“She actually told Charles the next day after it happened. He didn’t buy her made up story that her battered face with a broken nose occurred when she fell in the park. Remember, I told you Charles loved her. He really did . . . to a point. He ordered her to stay away from Dr. Levin and her activities at the synagogue for her own protection. Average citizens, good people in Savannah and back home in Brunswick found associations with Jews hard to stomach.

He encouraged her to keep her story to herself because few people would sympathize with her, because they didn’t know her like Charles did. Charles had grown up in Georgia and he knew what incited violence in normally gentle folks. Greta withdrew from those associations, but her relationship with Charles began to slide. Normally, she was stoic not given to tears like some southern women, but after the park incident, her crying became so unnerving to Charles that he ordered her to just get over it.”

“Yuck, what a loser!”

“Sixty years ago, I probably would have acted just like him. Greta no longer was the woman he fell in love with and he was determined to force her back into that mold. Charles continued his frustrated attempts until that January. Greta wrote Lily before she told Charles. The truth she had denied became undeniable, she was expecting a child.”

Max paused, wiped his damp face and looked at Amanda whose mouth formed a silent “oh”.

“Lily wanted Greta to come to Kentucky and stay with us. She might have done that if Lily’s husband hadn’t been such a hard hearted fool.” Max looked at Amanda for her reaction. A mildly astonished look crossed her face.
“You wouldn’t let her come? What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t thinking—at least not like I should have been—I was judging Greta. Nice girls, “who got in trouble”, he drew quotation marks in the air, “went quietly away some place, had their baby, gave the baby to a family and returned home with some cockamamie story about studying at a boarding school or somewhere. They sure didn’t flaunt their mistakes in the home of their sister, not even one who lived two states away.”

Amanda scowled, but chose silence over speaking. Max appreciated that. He just wanted to get the rest of it out as quickly as possible. His head had begun to pound again and the nausea of earlier lurked in a corner of his abdomen.
“Greta went to Charles. Charles loved her but the idea of raising another man’s child appalled him. Not knowing what to do, Charles went to his older brother Wade.

Wade like Charles recognized that Greta had been violated, but no way was the child to become a “Lewis”. Charles retreated to his music while his brother Wade took charge. It was Wade who arranged for a doctor he knew in Atlanta to end Greta’s little problem. What he didn’t count on was Greta’s reaction.”
“He arranged for an abortion? Wasn’t it illegal back then?”

“It was.” Max restrained his tongue before blurting “not to mention immoral.”

“Greta rejected the offer and told Wade to get on back to Brunswick. Charles and she would handle it. Wade went directly to Charles, helped him pack his belongings and both brothers took the train back to Brunswick. Charles left a terse note, but to my knowledge they never spoke again.”

“So then she decided to go to London,” Amanda interjected.

“Not immediately, she simply kept on working until her pregnancy became obvious to her co-workers and everyone. The hospital medical director fired her on moral grounds.”

“What?” Amanda roared. “How could he do that?”

“It was 1939, Amanda. Unwed mothers were not viewed in the same light as today. There were unspoken morals clauses in every job place and frankly, even married pregnant women didn’t work in public. He had grounds to fire her. Her options were to fight an uneven, humiliating battle or leave. She left.”

“She probably wished she’d gone to see that doctor in Atlanta.” If Amanda was fishing for a reaction, which he presumed she was, Max denied her the pleasure and let the remark go.

“That night Joel Levin came to visit her. With reluctance Greta allowed him to come in for a few minutes. Needless to say her mood hardly conveyed hospitality, but Joel Levin didn’t come for a social visit.

With no preparation he launched into a lengthy often convoluted tale of the insidious Nazi persecution of the Jews and other “inferior” people in Europe. There was good news though, he told her, his nieces, Sarah and Rachel had an opportunity to escape Austria legally. England had opened her doors to accept Jewish children between 5 and 17 years of age if their parents had the 50 pounds necessary to assure their transport.

They would not be allowed to bring anything of value with them, and they had to have relatives or a family willing to accept them in England. Joel told her he had sent the money through his Gentile friend. The girls were scheduled to depart Austria in a month.

Greta listened but the plight of Dr. Levin’s nieces didn’t arouse the ire she would have felt a month or two before. Her struggles dampened her normal “Good Samaritan” qualities. Her biggest concern that evening was how she was going to tell the rest of her family she was expecting a child. She had vowed to Lily that she would never share the horror surrounding her baby’s conception. Even with her own inner turmoil raging, Greta tried to be polite but her patience wore thin during the visit.

He rambled outrageously, repeating himself several times, as if he was circling a jumping off point. He kept rotating his hat brim in his hands and staring off in the distance. Greta just wanted him to leave and was about to insist on it when he turned to face her squarely. ‘So you understand, Greta, I have the utmost respect for you. Perhaps that is not enough, but my nieces will need a woman in their life.’ Greta’s letter to Lily highlighted her confusion at his comments. She had no clue where his tedious monologue was headed, but suddenly he had gained her attention.

Greta watched as Dr. Levin straightened his spine, raised his eyes, and looked her square on—you know what I mean?” Max asked Amanda, who was looking him square on. “With very few words he let her know how deeply he respected her and, well, he, he, well he told her that he had received word from her attackers shortly after the incident in the park. They brutally informed him of “what happened to “Jew-lovers”. He had tried to talk to her about it, but realized after several rebuffs that she was not willing or able to do that. He understood and backed off. Then without a break Joel Levin took her hand, dropped to his knee and asked her to marry him.”

The breeze picked up a bit, catching dust and whipping it into a tiny whirlwind that jumped across the lawn. Max and Amanda turned to watch it. The audibility of the voices in the house intensified. They suggested the solace of the porch was an endangered entity.

“Did she?” Amanda asked, cocking her head toward the voices, but staring Max in the eye.

“Yes.”

Amanda opened her mouth to speak but stopped as Sophia pushed open the door and walked onto the porch with Lily on her arm and Ruth trailing.

Max looked up and smiled. The weight of the conversation combined with the throb in his head welcomed the interruption. Further chats, if that term fit at all, could be continued later.

Braking Points–Chapter Twelve

imageChapter Twelve
Oak Ridge Road Harvest Fellowship Church

Lily fell asleep on Max’s shoulder almost before Sophia had the Buick started. Max treasured the weight of her body as she nestled against him. Public places wore Lily out. She complained that her head was hurting before they finished their meals. He watched for signs of anxiety and noticed when Elaine the waitress brought the check that Lily’s fingers were rubbing, rubbing, rubbing the edges of the tablecloth and her body rocked slightly to the beat.

When Elaine laid the check on the table, she smiled broadly at Lily.

“Now, you come on back for supper sometime and I’ll see you get that plate of Liver and Onions you wanted.”

“What?” Her eyes searched Elaine’s face, “Have we met?”

Elaine backed off a bit, no longer making eye contact with Lily. Obviously embarrassed she addressed the others at the table.

“I am so sorry. I didn’t realize she was,” Elaine tapped her forehead, “You can take care of this at the register. You all have a good Sunday. Sorry.”

Max hated the gestures people used to avoid the words they wouldn’t say. Funny about people, they presume the gesture to be kinder or less offensive than the word. Max wondered what word Elaine meant with her tap on her forehead, the choices were endless, crazy, empty headed, brain dead, dim witted, senile—so many words imbedded in that one small tap. Max sucked air into his lungs letting it out slowly.

“Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”

By the time he reached, ‘forever and forever, Amen,’ his irritation subsided. A few more minutes and they’d be traveling east down I -40 heading toward Knoxville and beyond.

He looked at the backs of Amanda and Sophia’s heads contemplating how on earth he was going to maneuver Amanda so that she would tell Sophia at least the little she had told him without letting her know Sophia already knew. They were approaching the entrance ramp, when Max saw a sign that read: KNOXVILLE 21 miles. Revelation was going to have to be quick.

Once past that hurdle, he’d crawl under it if he had to, he’d have the mountains of East Tennessee and North Carolina to figure out how to tell Amanda her grandmother and mother would be waiting for her in Greenville. How did he get stuck with this job? With tenderness, he smoothed Lily’s hair as she slept on his shoulder, kissed the top of her head and prayed Sophia would choose the minimum allowed speed on the Interstate.

Sophia did not slow down, she stopped, whipping the Buick to a grinding halt on the shoulder just as a semi blistered by, blowing his horn.

“Tailgater.”

Amanda gasped! Max gulped. Lily slept.

“What are you doing? You want to get us all killed?”

“Sophia?”

Sophia switched off the key and turned to face the passenger side of the car. A quick look across her shoulder rendered Max speechless. Clearly Sophia’s attention was on Amanda. Amanda stiffened, turned away and stared with fixed attention on the piece of asphalt outside. Sophia waited. Max watched.

Sophia’s face didn’t suggest either impatience or anger only expectancy. Amanda wearied of the asphalt and began drawing circles on the window with her finger. She pressed her forehead against the pane. Seconds later, though it seemed much longer, her shoulders sagged and Max thought she might be crying.

“We’re less than 20 miles from Knoxville, Amanda. I don’t know your whole story, but I know most of what you’ve told us is a lie.” Sophia held up her hand as Amanda swung her head around poised to react. “Hold it, young lady! There is flat out no way Max or I or frankly anyone can force you to tell the truth. So I’ve decided to do what I do practically every Sunday morning and hope I’ll get a word of wisdom from the Lord.”

Sophia’s eyes swept all of them with a declaration of finality. “That’s right, Folks. We are going to church!”

“That won’t change anything! I won’t go!”

“Don’t know if it will change anything for you, Child, but let’s hope I get it right with the Lord for all our sakes!”

“I won’t go!”

Perplexed and unnerved by the prospect of attending a strange church with Lily, as Max felt he had never allowed his own children to refuse to go to church and he wasn’t about to let Amanda refuse.

“Amanda, as Sophia said, we are all going to church.”

With one swift look she let Max know she felt betrayed. He cringed. It hurt, but he held his tongue.

*

All but Lily recoiled from the others to lick their wounds. The Buick’s interior tensed and flexed with the breaths of its occupants. Except for the keys occasionally jingling and the air conditioner blowing, silence prevailed. Like people silences have personalities—good, bad, and indifferent—good silences relax; indifferent silences isolate, but bad silences generate electrical current. Decidedly the hush in the Buick felt like a thunderstorm with lightening flashing. The three involved retreated into their thoughts, but the car remained charged, a whiff of ozone seemed likely any moment, as the potential of a lightning strike grew.

*
Amanda wrapped her arms as tightly around herself as she could and slumped down, pressing her body against the seat wishing she could disappear. Her thoughts ran rampant. Max had squealed to Sophia. That was obvious. Max was the only one she’d told anything. And to think that just last night—her lip trembled in spite of her effort to stop it—just last night it seemed like well, they all liked her. I am such an idiot! If my own family doesn’t love me, why would this bunch of loonies. Church! Yuck! I’d rather she’d just stop the car right here and let me go. They are certainly not my only ride to the Atlantic. What’s the point of church? Just another guilt trip—it’s worse than being sent to my room to think about what I’ve done.

Granny Nan goes to church all the time, but she’s the one, the one who tried to leave me to be emptied with the other ba-a—garbage. As soon as we stop, I am so out of here. There are plenty of truck drivers—an involuntary shutter ran up Amanda’s spine—I’ll get there no matter what. Anything would be better than staying. I don’t need God and I sure don’t intend to endure the insufferable self-righteousness of losers who do.

*

The turn signals clicked as Sophia negotiated the exit ramp. Amanda weighed heavy on her mind. The idea of dragging a surly teenager to church had as much appeal to Sophia as passing a kidney stone like she had the year before—an experience she relived in nightmares. So why on earth was she doing it? What about Max and Lily? Max—she knew—worried about Lily and her anxiety attacks. She’d probably already had her full load of the unfamiliar today and now church.

Not too late to turn back to I-40 and stop near Knoxville to lay out all the cards to Amanda, but she kept driving. The sign for “Oak Ridge Road Harvest Fellowship Church—Come Visit Our Family” had leaped out at her as soon as the pulled onto the Interstate. Well this morning, the little slice of Americana in the Buick, would be paying them a visit. Sophia hoped they were ready. She prayed the preacher had a mighty word from the Lord, because she, for one, surely needed one.

*

The crunch of the tires on gravel as Sophia slowed and negotiated a turn signaled Max that they had indeed arrived at church. He peered through the windshield from his back seat position. A glimpse of the brick building, complete with steeple, settled his insides, which had churned dangerously since Sophia had decided the course of the morning for all of them. The appearance of the structure suggested a small congregation, a thought further enhanced by the gravel versus paved parking lot. He chanced a look out the side windows and saw only a few cars parked near them. Lily began to stir.

There hadn’t been enough time for Max to work out the logistics of getting Lily through the church service with the minimal amount of anxiety. Now he needed a plan. Frankly, during the short drive, after the outburst he’d thought more about Amanda than Lily.

The story her grandmother had shared haunted him. No wonder the child had run, but where on earth was she going? Max grunted quietly—he’d never been a master of conversation. Truth was, he’d never had much need for conversational skills beyond the ordinary, but today he’d be delighted if he could get a transfusion of, not only the gift of dialogue, but also the sense to use it. He had promised Amanda’s grandmother he would talk to her and he had promised Amanda he’d finish telling her about Greta. With or without sense Max planned to keep those promises—today. The exact timing would wait until after the church service, getting Lily through that would require the majority of his waning energy.

A squeezing sensation that ran from his forehead to the nape of his neck heralded the return of the persistent nuisance pain he’d endured for days. ‘Tough it out!’ He commanded, acknowledging that gulping down an analgesic might provide pain relief while robbing him of his full faculties. Heavens to Betsy! At eighty seven he needed every one of his remaining brain cells for the tasks ahead. He leaned over Lily unfastening her seatbelt when bedlam broke out in the front seat.

With the Buick securely in park, Sophia turned to open the door, when she heard the passenger side door swing open and the sound of Amanda’s clogs on the gravel. Sophia groaned, pushed upward and rounded the car in pursuit. In spite of the clogs, Amanda had enough of a head start that even though her running form resembled that of a hobbled ostrich, Sophia running at her top speed could see her chances of catching up diminished as her lungs began to burn with every painful breath. She’d run track in high school and college but twenty five years and seventy pounds later slowed her pace. Gasping for breath, she pleaded heavenward, “I’m dying here, Lord, Help!”

Providentially or coincidentally—let the great minds argue that one—at that moment, one of Amanda’s four inch clogs slipped off her foot, followed by the other one leaving her hopping painfully on the gravel. With all the authority of a middle school disciplinarian, Sophia swooped down on Amanda, who had slumped onto the gravel. Standing over her, Sophia heard her sobbing and swearing as she tried to get hold of her errant shoes and wrestle them onto her feet. Amanda’s predicament allowed Sophia time to catch her breath and the briefest moment to think before she spoke.

“Amanda, the church is the other direction.”

“I don’t, don’t want to go. You can’t make me.”

“That’s true. I can’t. Nobody can make you do anything.” Sophia lowered herself onto the ground next to Amanda. “I am inviting you to go. Just like Max and Lily invited you on this trip. I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I’ve been a mother long enough to know that you are wound in a little wad of hurt inside. Now if you still want to run for the hills I can’t stop you, but you at least owe Max and Lily the courtesy of a thank you and a good bye.”

Amanda struggled to her feet, and then reluctantly assisted Sophia who held out her hand for a lift. She continued to refuse to make eye contact with Sophia, choosing to study her feet.

“Max told you, didn’t he?”

“What?”

“That my folks don’t live in Knoxville.”

“Amanda, Max didn’t tell me. You just aren’t a very good liar. You should thank the Lord for that.”

“He didn’t, really?”

“That’s a fact, really.”

“Now what’s it going to be? You want to come say your thank yous and good byes so we can get on into church and you can get on down the road? Or, do you want to join us for church and talk all this out later?”

Amanda looked up at her skeptically. Sophia held her gaze.

“I’ll go.”

“Where?”

“To church.”

“Good choice.”

Sophia took her arm and guided her back toward the Buick as Max was getting Lily up on her feet. Relief washed over her. She wasn’t quite sure what she would have done if it had gone the other way.

*

The congregation of Harvest Fellowship Church, in spite of their sign on the Interstate inviting visitors, seldom had visitors in the worship service, other than family members or friends from out of town. By the time Sophia approached the doors firmly escorting Amanda, the observant members of the congregation had reported the child’s attempted escape, the chase, and the fleetness of the amply built “sister” to anyone who had missed the whole scenario.

Responses among observers and non-observers were varied, but positive; some had been quite impressed by how swiftly a woman of Sophia’s size could run, some silently applauded as they watched her apprehend the fleeing child, others cheered aloud. Members of Pastor’s Prayer Team promptly bowed their heads and prayed for the child’s soul. Others found their favorite pew for fear that one of the visitors might mistakenly assume it was available simply because it was temporarily unoccupied. White suited gentlemen stood at their posts near the front doors prepared to welcome the guests warmly. Mothers cast no nonsense—you’d better pay attention or there’s a price to pay—glances down the pews at their children. Mothers’ glances, however, were not the result of the visitors but a long established pattern that passed from generation to generation. Fact was they could be seen on any Sunday with varying results.

Pastor Lincoln Pierce quivered with expectation as he took his seat on the riser at the front of the church. He couldn’t help stealing a look at his wife, Ruth, who was grinning from ear to ear. Just that morning they’d opened their day with a prayer calling out to the Lord to send new ears to hear into their midst. As unobtrusively as he could, he checked to see that the deacons were properly assembled in the Amen section to the right of the podium. He nodded at the two Wases (Women’s Altar Service Endeavor) designees, who stood in white suits like the greeters at the door. He saw they were eagerly awaiting the entrance of the visitors. He felt, rather than saw, movement behind him in the choir loft indicating Miss Ruby Almstead had her two sopranos, one alto, one bass, and two tenors, counting Mr. Hiram Forester, who—God bless him—made a joyful noise, assembled.

The doors opened and Sophia led the way, nearly dragging Amanda. Behind her the pastor saw an elderly couple. Children all over the sanctuary and a good number of the adults were sneaking looks at the foursome. A sound akin to a captured insect’s buzz rose from scattered areas around the room.

Labelle Watts took her cue from the restless to begin the prelude. Labelle firmly believed the word of the Lord that said “Love covers a multitude of sins”, but her experience as organist at Harvest Fellowship led her to another firmly held belief that a prelude of sufficient amplitude could quiet the noisiest of congregations or at least shut out the drone of their murmurings.

Pauline and Frances, the Wases on duty, quarreled briefly over who would seat the guests finally agreeing that both should participate. Frances, who at eighty five years was the elder of the two, welcomed and ask the guests to follow her. With Frances leading the way Max followed with Lily close to him, Amanda and Sophia came next and Pauline served as rear guard. The small parade down the middle aisle drew attention from every side.

With a flourish that coincided with the last measure of the prelude, the guests were seated in the short second row pew on the organ side. Frances and Pauline—mission accomplished—marched shoulder to shoulder to take their appointed places in two small chairs at the front of the Sanctuary next to the Communion table.

Wedged into the pew so near the front, the visitors had to tilt their heads back to see Brother Arnold rise up and step to the pulpit. Brother Arnold was a meticulous man who obviously never rushed. Prior to speaking he adjusted his glasses, cleared his throat twice, shuffled through the papers before him and stood to his full height, which barely allowed him to see over the massive pulpit. Sophia couldn’t help but think they ought to get that man a stool to stand on.
His fussy mannerisms and diminutive build faded rapidly from consciousness when he spoke. With the deep tones and articulate speech of a man accustomed to public speaking, he began with a robust “Good Morning.” A few hearty souls in the congregation responded likewise. Brother Arnold shook his head and swept his barely visible eyes over the crowd. “Let’s try that again. I said good morning!”

This time everyone including Sophia, Max and even Amanda responded. Lily burped. He proceeded to thank Miss Labelle Watts for her fine prelude, and Sister Frances and Sister Pauline for their altar service. His eyes scanned the crowd before coming to rest on the tightly packed group on the second row.

“Do we have visitors this morning?”

Sophia looked at Max and Lily; Max looked back at her then at Amanda who shrugged, then whispered to Sophia, “Pretty obvious isn’t it. We are the only white people here.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“Oh, that’s right. So? Are we supposed to stand or something?”

“Beats me.” Sophia whispered.

Max looked up at the man behind the pulpit, who signaled for him to rise. Max grasped the back of the pew in front and pulled himself to his feet. Brother Arnold waited, obviously he had mastered the art of the pregnant pause. Seeing Max was upright, he simply nodded. Max pointed to his chest and raised his eyebrows. Brother Arnold nodded again. It was Max’s turn to adjust his glasses and clear his throat.

“I’m Max Carnes from Todd County Kentucky and this lady to my right is my wife Lily.” True to her current state of mind Lily narrowed her eyes and stared at him in utter disbelief. He smiled at her, turning left he indicated first Sophia then Amanda, “and these are our friends Mrs. Sophia Winchester of Cookeville, Tennessee and this is Amanda. We are passing through and thought we’d stop for worship.”

The crowd applauded. Max startled; he had never been applauded in church. The last several years he’d noticed people applauded in church for special music and such even in his own church. As the applause died away, Max felt a couple of pats on his back and turning took the offered hands and shook them heartily. Brother Arnold—true to form—waited again before holding his arms up and palms down to calm the show of hospitality.

As quietness fell, he said, “I know each of you will want an opportunity to welcome our guests after the worship so I am going to ask our guests to follow Pastor Pierce and myself to the back door at the conclusion of the service.”

“Oh, dear,” Max deliberated, glancing at Lily.

“Rats!” Amanda reflected.

“This could be interesting,” thought Sophia.

Two congregational hymns, one choir anthem, a personal testimony about the Lord’s deliverance of a rebellious son who had, for sure, been hell bent, a call to the Altar for prayer, collection of tithes and offerings—during which Amanda poked Sophia and asked if tithes were better than offerings or what?—and a heartfelt, albeit lengthy, prayer by Brother Malcolm, a man every bit as tall as Brother Arnold was short, ALL preceded Pastor Lincoln Pierce’s message.

Sophia glanced down at her watch when he started; it was 11:50 AM; she never looked at again until they all stood to sing the final hymn. Pastor Pierce displayed the characteristics she liked best in a preacher. He stuck to the Bible and he delivered the message with conviction and compassion—and a hint of humor. A couple of glances at Amanda told Sophia she was either listening or in a permanent catatonic state.

Amanda saw Sophia look at her but chose not to look at Sophia. Initially, she had planned to assume a pose of youthful disinterest commonly employed by her peer group and promoted heavily in youth driven media. The result commonly forced adults to shift into overdrive to create even the slightest spark of interest in a group of teenagers.

Teachers and parents encountered this form of elder abuse more often than other adults. Some of the crueler of her classmates kept tally of the number of teachers they’d driven from the room in tears. The unwritten but well understood code of Amanda’s comrades included abandonment of any classmate who showed the least form of enthusiasm. A smile without an accompanying condescending look might mean you ate lunch alone for a week.

So knowing Sophia wanted her to listen drove her to new levels of resistance, but the story—Rats!—captured her attention. Though it sounded vaguely familiar, her religious education, which consisted of regular Sunday School and Church since childhood, but with only casual regard to all of it hampered her ability to place the story. Somewhere mid sermon, she got caught up in the vivid word pictures of the son who ran away and the other son who felt unloved.

However, it was the father in the story she wanted to know more about.

Amanda tried to figure out if he had loved one son more than the other.

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Braking Points–Chapter Eleven

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Chapter Eleven
Main Street Diner
Munford Crossing, Tennessee

Sophia announced as they loaded the last of the luggage that she didn’t fancy donuts and stale coffee again, so it was Sophia’s suggestion—the capital “S” implied by her tone—they should return to Max and Amanda’s local preference, the Main Street Diner, for breakfast. If anyone felt strongly opposed, there was no evidence in the silent response of the others.

Max settled in the back seat with Lily, helping her secure her seatbelt, before snapping his own. He really didn’t care whether they ate a big breakfast or not. The Main Street Diner compared poorly to his all time favorite eating establishment—the kitchen at home—and neither Betty’s service nor the food could hold a candle to Lily’s.

Of course, that was before she began to decline. Lily hadn’t cooked a meal since she tried boiling potatoes on a cold burner, while melting a Tupperware dish in the oven. Like Fred, he’d learned a bit about cooking since that incident. Food tasted ok—hard to ruin or improve canned stuff—but measured poorly against the meals Lily had prepared.

With care trying not to frighten her, Max put his arm around Lily and grinned inwardly. When he’d first started trying to fix meals for the two of them, his biggest learning curve was the electric can opener. During that earlier stage of her disease, Lily would wander into the kitchen and start lifting lids and sniffing. Invariably she’d turn to him before heading out of the kitchen and say something like, “I don’t remember starting supper, but I guess I did. What am I fixing?” Back then he’d still been able to see her wit.

*

Lily traced the checkerboard blocks on the plastic tablecloth with her finger, occasionally sweeping a tiny crumb off to the floor. She wasn’t looking at the tablecloth; she was looking at the folks sitting around her, trying to place them. She wasn’t scared. Sometimes she was, but right now she felt safe.

With effort, she remembered they were all here to eat—oh, what is it?—breakfast, that was it. The nice waitress wasn’t Betty, whoever Betty was, she was Elaine. Elaine was a nice name. Lily tried to remember if she knew Elaine. No, she didn’t think so, but Elaine had a nice laugh, not mean at all. Lily knew that because when she pointed to Liver and Onions on the menu, Elaine had laughed a good hearted laugh. Uncle Ben would like Elaine. The nice gentleman next to her had told her it was too early for liver, it was breakfast time. He had ordered for her. What was she having? Oh, my, what?

Pancakes, yes, she thought, he had ordered her pancakes or was it oatmeal?
The faces of her companions all looked vaguely familiar. The robust woman across from her looked something like Aunt Isadora’s housekeeper, Bertha Mae, but somehow that name was not right. The young lady next to her—Greta?—in disguise, of course, so that no one would know she was back home. The man—well, he looked the most familiar of all; she should know him, she knew she should. She tried retrieving his name, but try as she did, his name did not come. Lily mentally caught fleeting glimpses of his face, younger and now older, but the movement jerked like an old film and though he said his name repeatedly, it was garbled.

She watched the three of them talking, but there was no way she could keep her mind on conversation. She had things to remember, breakfast, Elaine, pancakes—or was it a poached egg? Down the aisle she saw the waitress, ELAINE—Lily noticed on her tag, yes—bringing platters of food—breakfast, yes. Lily looked up expectantly as Elaine began distributing the orders. She smiled at Lily when she put her plate before her.

“And, French Toast for the Liver and Onion girl.”

Of course, Lily thought, I was right—French Toast, breakfast and the waitress’s name, oh what was it—a mist obscured it, but yes,yes, “Thank you, Ellen.”

The waitress smiled again and winked at the others over Lily’s head.

“You’re welcome. Enjoy your meals.”
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Braking Points–Chapter Ten

imageChapter Ten
Not Quite Walking Distance of Knoxville

The inn Sophia chose for the night was less than thirty minutes down the road from the Bartlett Emporium, which Max had assured her would not be looking to have repeat business from the likes of them. Max also assured her that he had let Mrs. Hatchett—yes, that was her real name—know they had no intention of ever darkening her door again. Clearly, it was a case of good riddance on both sides.

“When it’s up to you, live at peace with all people,” Max quoted as Amanda and he helped Lily into the back seat of the Buick, which, true to her word, Sophia had running and ready to go.

“What?” Amanda asked.

“Did you know you say that a lot, young lady?”

“What?”

“Never mind. I said ‘When it’s up to you, live at peace with all people’. It’s from the Bible, not a direct quote just a good solid principle. Some people just make living at peace exceptionally hard to do. Somehow I doubt Mr. Hatchett gets much peace around that woman.”

“Whoa!” Sophia chided from the front seat. “I think you’d better check your attitude, Mr. Max Carnes.”

“Yeah, Mr. Max, you’d better watch it.” Amanda playfully waggled her finger at him

Not one soul had protested when Sophia pulled into the motel. Knoxville could wait till tomorrow. They’d get settled in the rooms, then get some supper. Sophia thought one of those beds surely had her name written all over it, but somehow she wanted to contact Millie before conking out. She didn’t need to worry about that, because just as she was settling the suitcases in the room she was sharing with Amanda, she heard the faint plaintive cries of the “William Tell Overture.”

*

Max sat in the easy chair near the bed where Lily nestled, and by the sound of her whiffle of a snore, sleeping soundly. He marveled that for the first time on this trip, she had not protested sharing a bedroom with him. Maybe he should buy some mosquito netting; he snorted at the thought. His journal lay open in his lap. Sophia had knocked on the adjoining door earlier and told him she had talked to Millie and that she would talk to him more the next day. He supposed that was about Amanda. He would wait to hear what Sophia said. After that he would decide if he would share Amanda’s confession earlier in the day. His head ached, as did his hip. His arms felt like leaden weights, but he wanted to write something about the day, so with great deliberation, he recorded:

There are four of us traveling now. Sophia Winchester, volunteer hospital chaplain, wife and mother and officer in charge, joined us. She was the condition I agreed to so that we could someday get to the ocean. Fortunately, I like her. Amanda has had her ups and downs today, but she’s softening. I hope I help, but its been a long time since our kids were that age and I don’t remember them being so mouthy, but it was probably Lily who took care of that. We lost Lily, but we found her and I only had to shell out $200 for damages. Enough said about that. Hope we make it to Knoxville and further tomorrow. At the rate we’ve been traveling we’ll be lucky to get there next month, but it’s not like I have a pressing appointment.

Max closed the journal, leaned forward and propped his forehead on his folded hands. Crawling into bed with Lily, he sensed a truth about love. Loving someone is far more rewarding than being loved by someone, but to have experienced both in a lifetime is a hint of paradise.

*

The morning came with a hint of rain on the breeze. It felt cooler than the day before, Max thought, as he sat on a redwood deck that extended out from the lobby of the Inn. Inside a scant few of the guests were stirring, coming into the lobby to get the complimentary breakfast provided by the establishment. He had poured himself another cup of coffee, not yet feeling very hungry. They all seemed content to stay inside; maybe it was the dampness of the air. Max was just as glad that they did. He’d already had a healthy dose of human contact and it was only 6:30 or so.

Lily had gotten up around three a.m., awakening Max with her pacing and moaning. He’d managed to guide her into the bathroom finally, which helped, and then back to bed, but twenty minutes later she was up and pacing again.

That time he had been unable to calm her, so he took a seat in the chair and simply watched her pace. He’d catnapped some, but it seemed to him just as he would drop off, she’d round the chair again and tap him. Sometimes she spoke and sometimes she didn’t, but try as he did, none of it made sense.

Around 5 am, he had heard a knock on the adjoining door. Opening it he found Sophia with two styrofoam cups of coffee in her hand. She indicated with a tilt of her head that Amanda was still sleeping soundly. He nodded and she came in. Sophia took Lily’s hand and led her back to bed. She sat there next to Lily, rubbing her back, sipping the coffee she’d brewed in the room and looking at Max, who settled back in the chair once more.

“Your face looks awful.”

“That’s what I like about you, Sophia, you don’t sugar coat the truth. I am eighty seven years old and I got less than four hours of sleep last night.”

“That may have something to do with it, but the multicolored forehead alone would make you look awful.”

“May I remind you, I was in a motor vehicle accident, let me see, about three days ago.” Max moved to the mirror over the dresser. He frowned at his reflection and gingerly touched the offensive forehead.

“Ugh! I do look awful.”

“What did I tell you? You’re hurting this morning?”

“Some, not so bad; tired though, Lily got us both up a couple of hours ago. She wouldn’t go back to bed for me. Thanks for stepping in.”

“I heard her moving about so I got up and thought coffee might taste awfully good this morning. Besides I wasn’t sleeping very well anyway.”

“Oh?”

“I talked to Millie last night. You know that?”

He nodded.

“Mercy, Max! That child in there is a runaway. Her name’s really Amanda Carmichael. She’s just 14, Max. She’s been posted on one of the internet websites by a “Granny Nan” with contact telephone numbers. Millie called the first one listed and got her mother on the phone. It didn’t take long to send the picture by e-mail and confirm her identity. Her parents live in some little town near Guthrie. I can’t right off remember the name; it’s . . .” She puzzled with it for a minute as did Max.

He could hardly imagine Amanda had run away from somewhere within minutes of home. Daysville, Elkton, Tiny Town, surely not Trenton, he turned the names over in his head. Before he could speak, Sophia continued.

“Well anyway it’s between Oklahoma City and the Kansas state line up I-35, according to the information Millie got from her mother.”

“Oh, Oklahoma, not Kentucky.”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway—she told Millie they thought at first she would head for her grandparents near Wichita, Kansas, but obviously she didn’t. She left a note, so she is officially a runaway. Millie said her mother wouldn’t or couldn’t talk about the note’s contents. She was glad to know she was ok, but get this, said she needed a little time to sort things out, so would we keep her for a while longer and not tell her we know. She said she wanted, no needed to talk to her husband and parents.”

“What?”

“I know, sounds mighty odd, don’t you think?” Sophia had continued to rub Lily’s back but looked over at her and stopped, “She’s back to sleep. All curled up and snuggly like a toddler.”

“Well, too late for me. I am wide awake now. I think I’d better mosey on down to the lobby and get a little breakfast. I need some time to think all this through. I don’t want to lie to the child. Would you mind staying with Lily for a bit?”

“I wouldn’t mind at all. You go on. I’ll do some thinking of my own while I take over this comfortable, already warmed chair you are vacating.”

“You do that.” He picked up his Bible and headed out the door.

Even with all the sleeplessness of the night before and the news Sophia had brought, Max loved days like these. So even if it was only for a short while, he was going to sit outside and enjoy it. At home he’d find his rocker on the porch, which faced south, and watch the thunderclouds build.

The deck, which connected the lobby to the swimming pool, bore little resemblance to their front porch. He sat in a plastic molded chair in which he had to shift every few seconds to keep it from pressing clear through to his tailbone. He had come in his older years to appreciate creature comforts a good deal more than he had as a youth. Lily and he had rockers with well-padded cushions and just the right amount of seat depth and leg length.

At first, simply because it was there in his immediate line of sight, he stared out over the swimming pool, cement pond, he mused remembering how his children, the younger two at least, had enjoyed “The Beverly Hillbillies”. Now, there was a show you could watch as a family without wondering about the language or anything but a bunch of silliness that everyone knew was silly. He hardly watched TV anymore, but he did like “Wheel of Fortune” and found he was pretty darn good at solving the word puzzles.

Lily had loved “Jeopardy”, even after her short term memory started slipping but she had to watch that one with Millie who gave her a run for her money. The rapid fire approach didn’t suit Max’s contemplative processing even if he knew the correct questions. Even the news wasn’t fit to watch half the time; it wasn’t the news itself but folks trying to make out like everybody, who was worth anything, had to think just alike or accept the trends of society.

In his younger years, why even in his family, strong opinions and lively debate were respected. A person could call right, right and wrong, wrong. People still made poor choices, but everybody didn’t blame somebody else for their mistakes. Even the true victims he had known, like Greta, hadn’t coveted victim status.

He stared a few more moments at the pool, thinking about whatever captured his mind before his thoughts rested on the conversation with Sophia about Amanda. TV was probably one of the reasons she talked like she did, but how she talked was the least of her problems, or his for that matter. He didn’t want to pass judgment on the girl’s family, but who would have thought they’d say hold onto her for a few more days so we can decide what to do. He shook his head and when he did a wave of dizziness washed over him.

Sitting back in the chair, he closed his eyes; the episode passed. He tried to remember if he had taken his medicine that morning. When he opened his eyes, his focus had lifted from the pool.

With his eyes looking beyond the structures immediately around him, he beheld the wonder of the hills beyond the motel, heavy with foliage. The hills magnificent in their own right were capped by a sky, the center of which was full of blues, pinks, lavenders, and yellows. Surrounding these pastels, majestic anvil shaped cumulus nimbus reaching ever upward framed the center as if it were a portal to the world beyond.

As Max watched, the movement of the thunderclouds squeezed the window of light closed, until only a pin hole remained, then it too was gone. The wind picked up, blowing some of the empty plastic chairs around the deck, knocking them over. He felt a spray of water on his face. Still he did not move or look away.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills from where my help comes.” He remembered and knew that for a long time out of stubbornness and pride, he had been looking in the wrong place for solutions. Times like this made him aware of the pattern of returning to his own resources, limited as they were, trying to figure out the right thing to do. In that way, he contemplated, he was a whole lot like a cement pond thinking it was the ocean.

The gathering storm with the wind and rain reminded him that the cement pond required constant maintenance and filling by people while the ocean, lakes, streams, all created natural things needed filling from above. Call it ecology, or conservation or whatever, the system God designed worked best when man took care of it as if it belonged to God, while recognizing that his cement pond brain might not always be able to figure out how it was going to work out.

What a relief! He didn’t have to fix Amanda or Lily or his own physical ailments, but he sure had to depend on the One who could. The rain was sweeping in sheets across the deck and Max. He heard his name being called, looked back to the sky and then realized it was Amanda standing in the doorway with a jacket. He turned and went in, suddenly hungry for breakfast.

*

Convincing Sophia he could drive to the small local café for a real breakfast had been the hard part. Her formidable resistance rested on her responsibility to Max’s children to do the driving to Greenville. Hands firmly on her hips she stood her ground for several minutes. Max told her that was fine, so they all needed to get into the car and go, because he wanted a decent breakfast. However, she certainly had no desire to get out in the wind and rain when the motel was serving a perfectly acceptable continental breakfast.

How stale donuts and weak coffee could compete with sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy Max could not fathom but he had to agree about her second reason; Lily needed more time to acclimate to her surroundings before traveling even a short distance. Even though Sophia had gotten her dressed and down to the lobby, she moved as if in a trance. The sparkle that had teased and flickered the last few days, along with the episodes of anxiety, had retreated down another path in Lily’s brain maze evidently hitting one of the increasing numbers of dead ends.

In the end, after several uncomfortable minutes of deadlock, Sophia had agreed, handing him his car keys with all the admonitions a parent gives to their teenage son who just acquired a driver’s license and wants to borrow the family car. The bottom line, of course, was Max was behind the wheel of the Buick again as Amanda and he made their way to the Main Street Diner. He whistled all the way, which seemed to amuse and embarrass Amanda.

*

“You look awful.”

“Well, thank you.” Max responded with mock sarcasm. Galloping goosefeet, females were just plain tactless.

Amanda and Max were sitting in a booth near the back of the Main Street Diner, which appeared to be a gathering place for locals, many of whom were congregated closer to the front around one big table having pulled two or three together, drinking coffee, smoking and spreading the latest gossip. Their laughter and conversation filled the relatively small place.

The smoking would single-handedly have been enough to propel Max away from the group, but he also had caught the drift of their conversation that centered around some crazy old couple reliving their honeymoon on one of the displays at the Emporium out on Highway 70. Their language and embellishments of the story caused Max’s neck and face to burn as he passed by as quickly as he could. If Amanda had heard and he wasn’t sure how she could have avoided it, she didn’t let on. He appreciated her silence on the issue, but now she was criticizing his appearance.

“I mean, your forehead’s really swollen and it’s all yellow, green and purple. Does it hurt?”

“Oh, some,” he rubbed it and winced a bit as he touched the tender areas. The waitress brought two breakfast platters, refilled Max’s coffee then drifted back to the group at the front, leaving Amanda and Max to dig in and eat. Max was still wondering what direction their conversation should take when Amanda spoke again.

“You know what I told you yesterday about my name and that my family isn’t in Knoxville?”

Max nodded, his mouth full of scrambled eggs.

“Well, I wish you wouldn’t say anything about it to Sophia. You can tell Lily if you want.” Her eyes looked down, appearing to study her plate of food.

Max swallowed, took a sip of coffee before answering. “I think I must tell Sophia something and I won’t lie to her.”

“Rats! I knew you would say that!”

“Then why did you ask?”

“It was worth trying.” She played with her food more than eating.

“In all honesty, you haven’t told me much. Like your real name, it’s not Smith is it? Or why you are on the road by yourself? Or even where you’re from? I don’t know that Sophia will let you off so easy once she finds out your family isn’t in Knoxville.”

“She won’t turn me over to the police will she?” Amanda asked, her head coming up and meeting Max’s eyes. There was true alarm in her expression.
A shuffling of chairs at the front along with the sound of coins being dropped onto the table signaled a break up of the hometown boys. The noise provided a needed diversion for both Max and Amanda from their conversation.

The bell on the door dinged as each one departed shouting back at the waitress, whose name evidently was Betty. The place grew quiet and for the first time the sound of the rain and wind could be heard, indicating the storm continued to rage outside.

Max answered her question, “I don’t think she will do that, but Amanda what can you tell her or me to show us that is not exactly what we should do. How old are you for example?”

“Fourteen.” Her eyes had returned to her plate.

Max wasn’t ready to reveal the little they had found out about her, but he was elated that she had not lied about her age. For several seconds they remained silent. Max sipped at his coffee and Amanda stared at her plate.

“Tell you what, Max,” she paused as if uncertain whether she really wanted to continue.

“What?” Max asked after a few seconds with the unfinished sentence still unfinished.

“You finish the story about Greta and I will tell you my name and—” The open phrase pause hung in the air between them once more. This time he didn’t speak but waited. Finally, the words he had hoped for came, “why I am on the road.”

Max waited and stewed over her request and promise. So much of Greta’s story seemed inappropriate to share with one so young, but to leave anything out seemed a dishonor to his wife and the sister she loved so dearly. Did he have the right to reveal it? What about his actions and inaction would he reveal? What did he have to gain? Absolution?

On the other hand, what did he have to lose? A deep aching reminded him of his struggle when he read the letters. The contents had provided insights into his wife, opened doors to communication almost sixty years overdue, just when the ability to communicate freely was rapidly withdrawing. He wanted to share what he had learned.

He knew Amanda’s last name. Still, he didn’t know her story. He also wondered if she really was interested in Greta or if it was just a ploy to try and wriggle away from her end of the bargain, or worse, make a getaway from them. She was watching him quizzically. He met her eyes.

“Ok, but I must tell you some of what you hear doesn’t make a pretty story.”

“Life’s not very pretty sometimes.” She muttered with a tone that conveyed a cynicism that seemed just plain ugly because the source was a fourteen-year-old mouth.

Max took another long sip of his coffee, because now that he had agreed to tell Greta’s story to Amanda, he was uncertain how to begin. He wanted to be true to the letters, which dated back to soon after he had moved Lily to Kentucky. Initially, while the exchange contained family news, discussions about the latest news and a sharing of feelings and concerns, a decided difference of tone had appeared in Greta’s letters in the fall of 1938. The intensity of the sister’s correspondence darkened.

Max studied Amanda, who was now eating voraciously, then plunged forward with what he knew beginning with that autumn.

“Greta, as I told you earlier worked as a nurse in Savannah with children. In September of 1938, a Dr. Joel Levin joined the staff of the hospital. He had come from Austria to America. Do you know where Austria is?

“UH, I think it’s in Europe.”

“That’s right. He, the doctor, became a friend of Greta’s. They both worked with children. Dr. Levin was Jewish. He worried a lot about his family in Austria and Greta, dear Greta, became a willing ear for his concerns. Her problems started with that friendship.”

Max paused as he saw questions arise in Amanda’s face.

“Let me finish.”

Amanda nodded.

“Greta noticed things. She wrote her observations to Lily. For one thing, the other doctors and staff avoided Dr. Levin, not working, but socially. She noticed that few people in Savannah seemed interested at all in Hitler or any news from overseas. Greta, however, began to read the papers closely and listen to the radio. Her letters to Lily breathed outrage at the attitudes around her. People—Jews mainly, but others, too—were being robbed, carried away from their families and killed by a mad man.”

“Hitler?”

“Yes. Sometime that fall she started attending meetings with Dr. Levin at the synagogue in Savannah, mainly meetings to try and get some relief to Jewish families in German occupied countries. She shared all this in letters to Lily”

“Were she and Dr. Levin in love?”

Oh, the romantic notion of the young—love has so many faces. Max shook his head.

“Not romantically. She was quite engaged and quite in love. Her fiancé, Charles Lewis was from Brunswick, her hometown. The Lewis family held positions of power, not just in Brunswick but well, Charles’ father had been a state senator and both he and Charles’ brother, Wade, were lawyers. There may have been a sister, I don’t quite remember.”

“Was Charles a lawyer, too?”

“Hardly, Charles, unlike his older sibling and father, took no interest in the law. Charles’s passion was music. He was an accomplished organist and, in fact, that was how Greta and he met. ”
“He played the organ—you mean like at church?”

“Yes, in fact he was organist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Savannah, where Greta’s Uncle Ben was rector. They were seeing each other before Lily and I married in June and engaged soon after that. Lily and Greta exchanged letters almost daily, planning together for a wedding in the spring.”

“Well anyway, everything seemed to be going well as far as anyone knew, but in November 1938—well, uh, no it really started before then.” Max stopped, took a drink of water before continuing.

People began to notice the frequent conversations Greta and Dr. Levin shared and her visits to the synagogue. Lots of people, even people here in the United States, distrusted or down right hated Jews. Snide comments and slurs were made to Dr. Levin and to Greta. Someone sent a note to Charles warning him of Greta’s growing attachment to the “Jew Doctor”, suggesting he get her under control before she defiled her reputation as a “Christian” woman.

Charles took the note directly to Greta and evidently her explanation satisfied any concerns the message raised. She assured him that her interest in the plight of the Jews in Europe did not constitute a romantic relationship with the Doctor. She even invited Charles to accompany her to the synagogue for the meetings. He did not, and encouraged her to consider helping in less visible ways. Greta stood her ground. Finally, Charles, seeing no way to stop her, agreed she could attend the meetings. I think he really loved her, at least as much as he could.”

“So what changed in November?”

“Ah, so much happened during that month. Gangs ravaged Jews and Jewish businesses in Germany and Austria. The news trickled to the United States, bringing with it reactions as wide and varied as the multitudes who live here. There was shock, some anger, but a few grasped it as a license for attacking Jews in the United States.”

“Dr. Joel Levin’s fear for his family overwhelmed him. For several days no word came. Finally, he heard from a former gentile colleague in Austria that, though his family was spared injury, his brother-in-law’s business had been destroyed. His anguish over the news led him to telephone Greta. His tears prompted her to meet him at a small café near the hospital. By the time he calmed, it was dark outside. He offered to walk her home–.”

Max stirred his coffee, wordless with the weight.

“What happened?” Amanda asked after several seconds.

“She refused.” Max’s voice broke. When he recovered, he added, “She should have accepted.”

Suddenly he sagged, his head hurt and he felt weak. Max wondered how Lily had managed this load alone for so many years. How had she stood up under it and why had she kept it a secret?

“Max, are you ok? What happened?”

“I’m feeling a little tired, Amanda. Could you wait till a little later today? I promise I’ll finish. It’s just a lot harder than I thought it would be.”

“Sure, that would be tight. We’d better go anyway. Looks like Betty is giving us the evil eye.”

The rain had stopped and when Max looked at the dash clock, he realized they’d been gone for an hour and a half. Sophia would be beside herself.

*
Sophia met them at the car, but her expression was hard to read. If she was upset about the length of time they had spent at the Main Street Diner, she hid it well, but she was anxious and that immediately caused Max to be concerned about Lily. Sophia opened Amanda’s door almost before he came to a full stop.

“Amanda, would you mind going up to the room and sitting with Miss Lily for a little bit. She’s sleeping pretty soundly.”

“Sure, but shouldn’t we be packing our stuff in the car?”

“I need to discuss our travel plans with Max, but,” she looked from Amanda to Max, “I don’t think Miss Lily is up to moving on today.” Sophia returned her gaze to Amanda, “Will that be alright?”

“Sure, why not?” She waved casually to Max and headed into the inn.

Sophia took a seat where Amanda had been sitting in the car. Once in and with the door closed she handed Max the cell phone. He handled it a little like it was about to explode and gaped at Sophia.

“We have some business to take care of.”

“And that would be–about Amanda?”

“That and our future travel plans.”

He furrowed his brow and waited for her to continue, no need to get riled up over something before you knew what it was. However, it sounded like there were going to be some changes made and he wasn’t too sure he was going to like them.

“While you and Amanda were in town, Millie called; oh and yes, your son Ryan—you must give him a call later—he said he’d called while you were in the hospital and some teen queen obviously had not given you his message.”

“She gave me the message. I just didn’t call back.”

“You, in the habit of stone-walling your children.”

“Only when I anticipate being scolded. They used to do that to me. Now I return the favor. One of the perks of growing old.”

“Humph!”

“Humph, yourself. Now what did Millie have to say?”

“Amanda’s Granny Nan, her mother’s mother, called Millie back. They are deeply concerned about Amanda and want to come for her as soon as the path is cleared, but there are some issues. Before you interrupt, she didn’t say what those issues were, but she asked Millie to have you call her as soon as possible. Millie shared the trip itinerary, which by the way isn’t even close to the original time line now, and they want to fly to Greenville and pick up Amanda, hopefully tomorrow night.”

“Greenville, tomorrow night?” Max tried counting the miles and time in his head. He was shaking it slightly as he turned it over. Sophia went on.

“I told Millie there was no way Miss Lily was up to travel today,” she began only to notice the alarm on Max’s face. “Not to worry, Max, but she’s exhausted and when she gets tired like she is right now, everything seems to become a jumbled mess to her. She needs another night here, but I figure if we get on the interstates, we can make it into Greenville tomorrow afternoon. Would you be willing to alter your travel plans that much?”

Max remained thoughtful for a few minutes. Lily had been on a roller coaster since the trip began, not that the trip itself had not been a roller coaster, but he wondered for the first time whether his decision to take her to the beach had been wise. He closed his eyes for a moment and Sophia, bless her heart, kept her mouth closed. He pictured Lily on the porch with the photograph. He’d shown her old family photos before, without heading off toward the rising sun. What on earth had made him think this was different, so important that he would risk both, now all, their necks to go? Maybe he was a crazy old fool, like he was sure at least certain members of his own family thought.

What business did he have, he paused mid-thought and remembered, this trip had nothing to do with business. So what difference did a change of route make? If there was any sure thing about this whole adventure, at every stop something new happened. He opened his eyes.

“I think that would be just fine, Sophia.”

“You’re ok with that?” She sounded dubious, but relieved.

“Now show me how to get “Granny Nan” on this cell phone.”

“Her official name is Nancy Mayes.” Sophia punched in the number, handed the phone to Max and exited the car.

*
Max’s conversation with Nancy Mayes did little to calm his spirit. The headache he’d been fighting for two days had taken up residence, which dulled further his ability to make sense out of the convoluted set of circumstances in which he found himself.

In the past when his bucket had been full, he sought the wisest human counselor he knew, Lily, and as if she took a siphon, she removed the pressure incrementally. The bucket became manageable with little collateral damage in the process. How he needed to talk to Lily. He entered the room, finding Amanda sitting in a chair near the bed where Lily slept. She looked up at him.

“She’s sleeping. Could you finish the story about Greta?”

He must have looked blank, because she continued, prompting him.

“ You got to the part where she had just left the café and was heading to the church.”

“Maybe later today, Amanda. I am going to have to lie down myself. I have a little headache.” Inside he was churning, the headache real as it was, didn’t even scratch the surface of his dilemma.

She shrugged, trying he could see to keep from nagging him, “Ok, but later, Ok?”

He didn’t, couldn’t answer. He simply sat down on the bed next to Lily and began removing his shoes. Amanda took the hint, retreating to the adjoining room and closing the door. Max lay down next to Lily and pulled her sleeping form to him until he could nestle his face in her hair. Tears rolled down his cheeks, but he did nothing to abate them.

“Too many secrets, Lily. I wish I had left you an opening so you could share them. Oh, Lily, I love you. Forgive me.” He calmed as he held her, his breath coming easier, then right before he fell asleep, he murmured, “Poor Greta, poor Amanda—Oh, Lord, help.”

*

Lily woke before Max. She looked over at his sleeping frame before getting up. He looked vaguely familiar. For a few seconds she studied his face. Who was he? And where was she?

Scanning her surroundings as she sat up, Lily struggled to locate even the smallest reminder–something, anything–that would help her. She needed to go to the bathroom, but couldn’t remember if this place had one. There were three doors in the room. She looked from one to the next to the next and then back again. Where did they lead? Nothing looked like she remembered—where were her crocheted pillows, her rugs.

As she became more frantic, her eyes swept the area again landing on the snapshot on the night table. Snatching it to her, a flood of relief washed away her panic. Of course, how could she have forgotten, they were going to the beach like the people in the picture—now she remembered. Without even another thought about Max, Lily picked up her overnight bag and headed for the door immediately in front of her. She’d better get going or she would surely miss the train. With determined resolve, she tugged open the door and stepped forward.

Sophia and Amanda both looked up when she entered with expressions of surprise. Sophia rose and crossed to her, taking her bag.

“Going somewhere, Lily?”

Lily smiled congenially at her and then looked at Amanda.

“Come on, Greta, we don’t want to miss the train.”

*
Later Max roused and lay quietly trying to acclimate to the gathering darkness. How long had he slept? He reached over for Lily and then sat bolt upright, a motion that sent bolts of lightning through his head and down his neck. Where was Lily? Fine job he was doing taking care of his wife. Muted laughter drifted through the barrier of the door, as did the aroma of Italian spices. He flicked on a light and slowly made his way across the room. He guessed he’d better take some aspirin before he went to bed that night. He needed to kick this headache soon. With what he hoped was a firm hand he rapped on the door.

“Come in,” the chorus of female voices shouted.

Inside he found all three ladies sitting on the bed watching an ancient movie with—was that Clark Gable? on the TV and a pizza smack dab in the middle of the bed. They all looked up, but it was Lily who spoke first.

“Do I know you?”

“Max, I’m Max.”

“You help me sometimes.”

“Yes, yes, I do. Are you doing ok, Lily?”

“We’re having pizza. It’s good.”

“I see you are; it looks good.”

“Want some pizza, Max?” Amanda asked, pulling off a slice and handing it to him on a napkin.

“We are having a girl party, but you can be an honorary.” Sophia interjected, “Pull up a chair.”

Why not? Max thought, relieved that Lily was ok and glad to be included, even if it was as an honorary female for the evening. After the movie, Max escorted Lily to their room, leaving Sophia and Amanda with the mess. When Lily slept he decided to take his pain medication rather than the two aspirin he had intended to take. The headache obviously needed the big guns.

With great effort he pulled out his journal and wrote:

It stormed this morning, so Amanda rode with me to town for a hot breakfast. I started telling her about Greta, but it hurts having to reliv,e not only my memories, but also the truths I never knew. Amanda’s grandmother and mother want to pick her up in Greenville tomorrow evening, but they want me to prepare her. After all her grandmother told me, I don’t know if I can and I don’t know if I should tell her any more about Greta. My head hurts. Lily’s sleeping—my dear Lily—what would become of me without–?

Weariness and medication wove their magic over Max’s body. Sleep came without even a yawn. The pen dropped to the floor at the same time his head lolled against his shoulder. The unfinished sentence in his journal found completion in his final conscious breath of the day—Lily.

*

Some time near midnight Max awakened to a nagging cramp in his neck. As quietly as he could—remembering Lily’s nocturnal wanderings the previous night—he moved from chair to bed. Once supine, he stretched out as far as his hip would allow. Briefly, he wondered if he would be able to get back to sleep, but the moment he closed his eyes, he drifted away.

My Choices Matter

imageI am only one person, but how I choose to live matters.  

Each one of us matters and how we choose to live, indeed to which drummer we march makes a difference.  When I was in high school, SO many years ago, we were required to memorize and recite increasing numbers of lines of poetry.  I cannot remember the exact numbers, but I think it was 100 as sophomores advancing to 200 as seniors.  Needless to say, I have boundless partial poems in my head that manifest themselves like specters.  They are indeed a kind of haunting.  With some prompting I can sometimes remember a whole poem, but usually only snatches of the works.   Some are really difficult to shake, such as “It was the 18th of April in 75, hardly a man is still alive, who remembers that fateful day and year…” (Midnight Ride of Paul Revere)  or “Of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest of these are “it might have been'”(Maud Muller) or “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward” (Battle of the Light Brigade)…So many little ghosts.  

One of those hard to shake poems is  The Horseshoe Nail by George Herbert

For the want of a nail
The shoe is lost

For the want of a shoe
The horse is lost

For the want of a horse
The rider is lost

For the want of a rider
The battle is lost

For the want of a battle
The kingdom is lost

And all for the loss
Of a horse shoe nail

Our action, reaction, or lack of action to the offenses of life have far reaching ripple effects the total scope of which, we may never know.  How I choose to live my life with others, God, family, friends, the checker at Walmart, matters.  The scripture of the day at YouVersion.com for yesterday was I Thessalonians 5:15 but I have chosen to expand it for this post:

Now, brothers and sisters, we ask you to appreciate those who work hard among you, who lead you in the Lord and teach you. Respect them with a very special love because of the work they do. Live in peace with each other. We ask you, brothers and sisters, to warn those who do not work. Encourage the people who are afraid. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. Be sure that no one pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to do what is good for each other and for all people. Always be joyful. Pray continually, and give thanks whatever happens. That is what God wants for you in Christ Jesus. Do not hold back the work of the Holy Spirit. Do not treat prophecy as if it were unimportant. But test everything. Keep what is good, and stay away from everything that is evil. Now may God himself, the God of peace, make you pure, belonging only to him. May your whole self—spirit, soul, and body—be kept safe and without fault when our Lord Jesus Christ comes. You can trust the One who calls you to do that for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 NCV)

God calls each of us to live fully and fully love because He loves us.  How you live in relationship to others matters.  How I live in relationship to others matters.  Remember the horseshoe nail.

And Choose how now to live.

In the face of offenses toward me, how I choose to respond MATTERS

Retaliation considered
Revenge intended
Lives upended
Friendships ended
Families untended
Churches splintered
Communities offended
Human earthquakes, famine of spirit,
Wars and rumors of war
Wrong heaped upon wrong unending
To what end?
Destruction.

Forgiveness considered
Kindness intended
Life defended
Friendships unended
Families strengthened
Churches united
Communities enlightened
A peaceable kingdom without and within
Grace for all ages, seasons and times
To what end?
Reconciliation

Along with the fragmented hauntings of old poems memorized years ago, are also the scripture texts I have memorized that the Holy Spirit calls to my remembrance just at those moments of choice, when what I do, say, or act will be kind or cutting. Those are the “braking points” in my life, my opportunity to be an agent of destruction or reconciliation. Pause, choose well, today…it matters.

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