Chapter 7

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus. (An African-American Spiritual)

It was past 8 o’clock A.M. by the time Nancy had pulled loose of her tangled sheets, stretched her arms, legs and backs, listening for any new pops or crackles in her joints. She hated waking fuzzy headed, but falling asleep after her long phone call with Clara proved difficult. About 2 A.M. she had risen to take two mild acetometophin PM capsules, but she always paid for that with a hangover. She pulled on shorts and a T-shirt before making her way to the kitchen.

The house old as it was was seldom silent, with settling moans from joints and floor boards, but this morning Nancy felt its emptiness. Pete and Dewayne had probably been out on the farm since 5 A.M, trying to get the bulk of the work completed before the heat of the day. Making fresh coffee, she stood at the sink waiting for it to perk, thinking she might splurge on one of those pod machines, knowing she probably wouldn’t. She stared out the window over the sink across the kitchen porch and into the small native pecan orchard that her mother had planted and cultivated.

Ann Stewart had babied those trees, even installing irrigation from nearby Sandy Creek, an off shoot of an off shoot of the Red River. Of course, even that sometimes ran a little dry. Still those trees produced pecans, hard shelled and smaller than the paper shell variety, but also less easily invaded by bugs and disease. They were hardy not like the silly Poplar trees, Ellie had distributed to her Sunday School class and now wanted Nancy and Clara to…Nancy threw down the dish towel, sat down at the table and for the first time since receiving the news of Ellie’s fatal accident, she sobbed.

****

Her two younger sisters, Megan and Cindy huddled in front of the television set, their empty cereal bowls beside them on the floor. Jessie noticed they were crouched as close to the set as possible, because Jessie had warned them to keep the volume down. She tiptoed down the hall past her parents’ bedroom, pausing only a moment to listen for any sign that either of them was awake. Hearing nothing, she continued toward the front door, trying to not let the events of the previous night keep her from her plan.

After Miss Nancy had dropped her off at home, her mother confronted her at the door.

“You left without so much as a note, Missy! ”

“I told Megan I was walking out to Miss Nancy’s place…about the tree.”

“Jessie, I need you to be responsible right now.” the harshness of her mother’s voice becoming plaintive. She drifted away not physically, but as focused, angry as she had been, she faded before Jessie’s eyes. Rose stared beyond Jessie before moving past her into her bedroom, shutting the door behind her, leaving her daughter baffled in the middle of the kitchen.

“Jessie, we’re hungry.” Megan’s small voice pleaded. Jessie sat the small tree in the sink and set about finding food in the cabinets and refrigerator. At 10 she had never prepared a real meal, so enlisting 7 year old Megan and 5 year old Cindy, they pieced together sandwiches and crackers with water to drink. Megan set the table, putting out placemats and setting their cups of water on them. Cindy insisted on saying grace,
“God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen” Jessie still trembled inside, partially because of her mother’s behavior, but mostly because the word “responsible” scared her.

The three girls bunked together in Jessie’s bed after the sun set at nearly 9 o’clock, but Jessie couldn’t sleep. She heard her Dad’s car pull into the driveway shortly before 11:30, a sigh of relief escaping from a place she didn’t even know she was holding it. His noisy entry followed by a torrent of angry words from her mother, his blathering retorts ended with the sound of sobbing which Jessie realized were her father’s not her mother’s. It was in that moment, that realization confirming what she feared Jessie knew she had no choice. Ten had to be old enough to be responsible.

What would Miss Ellie do? Well, that was plumb silly, Miss Ellie would do what Jesus would do or at least, that was what she taught them. Jessie tried to remember the parables they had been studying for some faint hint of direction. She settled on thinking about the sower and the seeds, after all, Miss Ellie had given the whole class saplings to plant. Where they planted them had to be important.

Now in the light of the new day she looked back at her sisters, giving a small wave as she left. Sometime in the night she had come up with an idea for the trees. To make it happen Jessie needed to connect with the others Miss Ellie had given trees. Miss Ellie had made it clear that the trees needed each other so planting them separately wasn’t going to work at all. She cut through the edge of Mr. Daniel’s garden to take a short cut to Les’s house. He was the closest to her house and as she had already determined the most influence with the others.

*******

Sally Burton noticed Jessie slip from the hedge into their backyard. What on earth was that child doing, her expression bordering on grim, small for her age, she looked like a wizened fairy creature emerging in the mist that rose from the heated ground. Such determination on such a little girl, her size made it hard for Sally to reconcile that her Les, broad and tall for his age, already built like a defensive tackle which was his goal, and Jessie were born the same year.

Watching the girl’s march toward the house, she wondered if the rumors were true that James had started drinking again. Such a waste, she thought, but given her own struggle with Matthew’s option which was really not an option, a small piece of her understood. Rose and James had both been laid off as the plant prepared to close and move to Mexico. Would they have considered moving, if they had received the offer? Would they have been as torn up by the thought as she was? Or, would they see the hand of God moving in their lives, unlike Sally who right now vacillated between anger with Mar-Val and God. Still seeing the child approaching moved her to the door, opening it she managed a smile.

“Jessie, what are you doing out so early this morning? I am afraid Les is still sleeping away hoping to get enough in before school starts. (in Mexico, she added silently, the resentment creeping in)”

“I’m up, Mom. Hi, Jess.” Sally started a little at the sound of Les’s voice behind her.

“Hi, Les.” Jessie looked around Mrs. Burton to focus on her friend in his rumpled pajamas, his hair standing at odd angles from his head, flattened on one side and spiky on the other. He was rubbing at his face, but his blue eyes centered on her brown ones.

Sally Burton stepped aside, but didn’t retreat. Jessie took a deep breath.

“Les, I need you to get hold of Rex, Macy, Richard, and Sandra. I have an idea for the trees to do something for Miss Ellie. I am pretty sure Miss Nancy will help.”

“I dunno. What’s your idea?”

“I’ll tell you, but first are you going to the memorial service tomorrow?”

“I dunno.” Les glanced at his mother who looked away. “Maybe. Depends. I’ve never been to a funeral.”

“Well, its important! Miss Ellie was our teacher! She was special! We should all be there!”

“Mom?”

Sally Burton sighed. “Ok, we will go.”

Jessie rushed on, “and Les you have gotta get everyone there and bring the trees.”

“The trees??”

“Yes! I’ll explain, ok?”

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