“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,”
Psalm 1:1 NIV
Gotta say, Folks, when you slap this verse out there like The Message interpretation does, it loses a bit of its poetic nuance. Unfortunately when I am examining my life I can kinda hide amongst the poetry.
“How well God must like you— you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon, you don’t slink along Dead-End Road, you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.”
Psalm 1:1 MSG
So here I am on this Saturday morning considering the day ahead. I suspect that I may mosey by Sin Saloon, have to turn around on Dead End Road, but may have some problems staying out of the company of mockers and shooting off my own Smart Mouth.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I seldom get into trouble keeping my mouth shut. Before a hundred ‘what if’ scenarios pop into your head where keeping quiet might cause disaster, I am referring to conversations–let’s say around a table, with friends. Or discussions in meetings or chats with neighbors about the neighborhood. My smart mouth, which I think of as witty, often come off as sarcastic. Go figure. Or my insight that I loudly proclaim sounds self righteous. Or my interruption to say what I have been harboring in my head shuts others out of the conversation. Or I share information that would best be unsaid.
OR I may spout off in anger crushing someone’s spirit, because of my own smart mouth.
In BRAKING POINTS Max has battled a quick temper since childhood, but his mother taught him a method for handling it. As he adjusts to having a surly teenager along for the ride, his resolve to be reasonable has its limits.
“He had won the battle, but decided it had been at a price. Winning wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Max had learned that many years before. He recited the Lord’s Prayer silently again before speaking. This time a gentler Max materialized.”
Consider the words and the time it takes to pray them–SO much better than counting to ten.
Bob Pritchett of the North Carolina State Police sat across the desk from Amanda and her mother. Amanda’s mother and grandmother had arrived at the hospital in Clyde in the early hours following Amanda’s admission. For three days attempts at any communication beyond strained politeness had proven to be a legion of false starts that intensified the awkwardness for all involved.
As a member of law enforcement, Bob Pritchett had experienced the human failure to communicate on several occasions. The mother-daughter anguish in front of him aroused both sympathy and irritation. The victim, Amanda Carmichael, slumped in the upholstered chair barely making eye contact with him and not at all with her mother. The mother—he looked at his paperwork—Virginia Carmichael sat rod upright with the merest portion of her bottom on the edge of a chair identical to her daughter’s. Their body language spoke volumes.
The mom’s eyes flitted from Amanda to the trooper; several times he noticed she started to speak, but buried the urge as quickly as it emerged. Being a parent, he recognized in Mrs. Carmichael’s behavior the burning desire to tell her daughter to sit up straight and act right—to somehow take control of the situation—but with obvious restraint she sucked them inward and held her silence.
Given the attitudes of the pair and the information he had obtained, he chose to balance his tone on a narrow ledge somewhere between stern law enforcer and compassionate friend. He elected to share first the status of the two truckers. Dave and Ray had been apprehended at a weigh station near Charlotte; currently both were in the custody of the local sheriff’s department. Both men had records; Ray’s ex-wife had a restraining order against him, because of his violent tendencies. Trooper Pritchett lumbered through the information before pausing with his finger on the report. He looked up and waited until Amanda lifted her head and locked eyes with him before continuing. This concerned her and by golly he wasn’t going to deliver another ounce of information to the air above her head.
“The hole we found in Ray’s forearm matches the chunk of flesh we found in your teeth; he’s being treated for a nasty infection. Just for future information the human mouth is packed with bacteria; bites often lead to infection. The two of them will probably be out on bail before you get back to Oklahoma, but that’s one of the things I need to talk to you about. The District Attorney wants to get a deposition from you before you leave and you will need to come back if there is a trial.”
“You mean they’ll just go free? What do you mean if there is a trial? They kidnapped my daughter!” Virginia Carmichael’s voice provided a sharp interjection into the conversation. She reached to take Amanda’s hand as she plunged in. Amanda snatched her hand back without a glance at her mother. She locked eyes with Bob. The reaction was not lost on Bob Pritchett and he made a mental note that the difficulties that had sent this child fleeing would continue to deepen unless resolution happened soon.
He curbed his own reaction tendency. His upbringing—including the occasional peach switch applied to his skinny legs and the department’s rigorous communication training—compelled him to be polite. He moved his head and eyes to the child’s mother.
“No, ma’m they will not just go free, but it might be in everyone’s best interest if they plead out. And, Mrs. Carmichael, technically they did not kidnap your daughter. They have been arraigned on their treatment of her after she entered their truck. Her deposition will help with the process to make them responsible for their actions.” He turned back to Amanda noticing the tint of her face pale while her lower lip quivered.
“Can I do it right now?”
“No, we will set up an appointment for tomorrow. . .”
“No, I want to do it today, now. I have to get to Asheville to check on Max.”
“Amanda!” Ginny Carmichael popped, her voice a good deal sharper than she had intended. Amanda straightened from her slumped sitting position and faced her mother full on for the first time since their arrival. The look bordered on contemptuous, but her voice leveled as she directed her response to Bob Pritchett and her mother.
“Max and Lily have taken care of me for days now. I was hiding out from another scumbag like Ray and Dave when I first ran into them. I have to talk to Max. I know they say he is going to be okay, but I have to talk to him. I want to do the deposition today and go on to Asheville!” Her voice trembled, but she worked to control it. Bob Pritchett made a note, took the phone number at the Holiday Inn Express and Ginny’s cell phone number.
“I will see what I can do.” He shut the folder and stood. Ginny and Amanda followed his example and exited the office in silence. Nancy Mayes met them in the lobby, but the sullen silence that infested the group of three held their tongues to the floor. Bob Pritchett shook his head as the three females exited.
With some cajoling the deposition was arranged for 2 pm in a small conference room at the station. All parties arrived on time and an hour later it concluded. Amanda had shared her account of the incident. The court reporter and the legal counselors packed up and left. For all intent and purpose the business was concluded until further notice, but the three sat. An atmosphere of ice prevailed in spite of the bright sunlight that bathed the room. Mrs. Carmichael and Mrs. Mayes dabbed at their eyes, while Amanda sat like a slab of marble next to them.
Bob knew his limitations—family counseling was way over his head—but someone needed to say something to this family. His gut—not always as reliable in situations like these as it was to signal hunger—told him that these ladies and that little girl needed to square off with each other and let the punches fly. Mrs. Pritchett’s baby boy Bob decided with his gut.
“I have two daughters at home myself.” The heads all turned his way with identical expressions of confusion. He continued. “Doreen is 17 and Ellen is 12. I don’t know what I would do if one of them took off over some piddling bit of teenage angst.” He watched Amanda as her expression suggested protest. He raised the palm of his hand to silence her. “I do know if either of them ever did, I would want to get it all out on the table when I found them. Packing stuff up inside—well, it doesn’t solve a thing. Now” Bob Pritchett stood. “I am going to go get a cup of coffee and I am going to close that door behind me and leave you ladies to get the matter settled.”The three sputtered in protest, but Bob strode to the door pulling it closed behind him leaving the ring. He’d check periodically to see if anyone had drawn blood.
Amanda spoke first after Bob exited reciting the Lord’s Prayer as her mother and Granny Nan gaped at her. At the conclusion, they echoed her “amen”. She pulled two crumpled pieces of paper from her jeans pockets; with care she spread them out on the table, smoothing the creases as best she could with her hands. All eyes studied the objects, the page of a journal and a fifty-dollar bill.
How had this happened? Whose trip was this anyway? Max found himself fighting annoyment as he was packed into the back seat of the Buick like another piece of luggage, and belted securely next to Lily, who to top things off, looked at him with bewilderment before asking, “Do I know you?” His headache dulled by drugs on top of the commandeering of his plan almost got control of his tongue to snap at her, but one look at her searching eyes grabbed hold at the last second.
“Let me introduce myself. I am Max and I believe you are Lily.”
“We are going to the ocean. Do I know these people?”
Initially, he thought she was asking him about the highjack twosome in the front seat, but felt her put something into his hand. It was the family photograph that had brought them to this place. He took it and mulled it over. Much as he wanted to be offended and just plain mad, he realized if Sophia had not come up with a workable solution that would keep them traveling east, Andrew, Millie and Peggy too, would have arrived this morning to take them home. With careful attention, he told Lily once more who each person was.
Sophia looked back over her shoulder, adjusting her seatbelt, “You all ready to go?” Then over at Amanda, who in Sophia’s presence found some of her misplaced manners.
“Yes, m’am.” Amanda replied softly.
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!” Max muttered hanging on to a smidgen of his anger.
“I beg your pardon!” Sophia said, frowning back at him with her spinster schoolteacher look.
“Just drive,” Max said, “And be sure and stay on the roads Andrew marked.”
“Aye, Aye, Sir.” Sophia said with a mock salute, “Let’s take this boatload to Knoxville and points beyond.”
Max fully intended to keep his eyes open all the way to Knoxville if only to prove he could have done it. Before they were out of Crossville on Highway 70, Lily had conked out and her head lay naturally against his shoulder. Within minutes he also was sleeping soundly, his head nestled against the top of hers. ‘Darn drugs’ was his last conscious thought as he slipped into sleep.
Sophia turned her full attention to the highway, aware that Amanda cast occasional furtive glances her way. At times it seemed she was ready to speak, reconsidered and turned her gaze away. The silence was not uncomfortable, but electric.
For the last two days Amanda and Lily had been houseguests in the Winchester home. With Morris at Austin Peay in Clarksville and Samantha at David Lipscomb in Nashville, Elliot and Sophia had more room for guests. Their younger daughter, Amy, was a sophomore in high school and of the three Winchester children the most hospitable, so rarely were there any compelling reasons to turn away strangers. Sophia found it a natural outpouring of her volunteer chaplaincy at the hospital and Elliot, God bless him, agreed. Amy enjoyed having company and for the most part, her older children ignored it, unless of course, it caused them any inconvenience. They were good kids, but it was Amy who had a heart of compassion.
During their stay, Sophia recognized Amanda was despairing over something. She’d spent some time discussing it with Millie, Max’s daughter-in-law and her major liaison with the Carnes family. Whoa! That was a whole other issue. In fact she’d snapped some photos with her virtually unused digital camera and e-mailed them to Millie.
Amanda had no intention of giving up the truth easily, but Sophia sensed with her mother’s heart that out there somewhere there was a family heartsick with loss. Amanda vacillated from sweet, almost sugary, to hard cold and way older than her years. She also managed to hit a bunch of points in between. She seemed to have a genuine affection for Lily, who still called her Greta. It was hard to get a grip on how she felt about Max. One thing Sophia was pretty sure of was that Amanda’s family was not in Knoxville. She glanced over at her, finding Amanda staring back.
“What?” Amanda asked in that haughty teenage tone that summoned Sophia’s baser instincts, which included shaking the fire out of her. Instead she responded in as level a tone as she could manage, her eyes back on the road.
“Please do not use that tone with me or for that matter with anyone. It’s disrespectful.”
Amanda let out an intake of air, but did not speak. She averted her eyes out the passenger side window and crossed her arms tightly across her chest. Sophia sighed softly and checked her backseat passengers. The rock wall Amanda had constructed had very few toe grips and would have challenged the most skillful psychological rock climber. Recalling the past couple of days Sophia thought the time she spent playing basketball one on one with Amy in the driveway was the only time Sophia believed, with any conviction, she’d had seen the real Amanda.
They would be in Knoxville soon. Sophia had no intention of leaving her at a bus stop or anywhere else, but she also had no plan as to how to prevent it, short of turning her over to juvenile authorities, which she also had no intention of doing until she had more information. With all her thoughts in disarray, lunch seemed the only viable solution to delay some serious decision-making. Less to engage conversation and more to obtain information, she spoke to Amanda.
“We ought to stop for lunch pretty soon. I’m sure getting hungry and I expect everyone is.”
“I’m fine,” mumbled Amanda, her face averted from Sophia. Sophia restrained herself again, unsure how long she would be able to keep doing that; she instead picked up the map on the console and shoved it without even a side glance into Amanda’s lap.
“Stopping points so far have been circled. Find Crossville and tell me what the next town is after. She squinted at the sign on the side of the road, Rockwood. It’s time you stopped sulking and started participating in this little trip.”
“Why, I, I’ve been helping, with Ms. Lily and the cell phone and—uh,” Amanda protested sitting up straight for the first time that morning, “I was helping a lot until you came along and took over . . .Bitch!”
Sophia didn’t think; she reacted. No way was she going to put up with trash talk. She whipped the Buick off the road onto a patch of green just off the shoulder. She set the car in park and turned off the key. Max and Lily started to stir in the back seat.
Sophia usually maintained a fairly even keel, she’d never been easily riled, but she had been raised to speak to adults, indeed, to all people with respect. She’d demanded it of her own children. She wasn’t about to let this vagabond, no matter how needy she was, call her names.
For an instant Amanda and she locked eyes before Amanda jerked on the door handle, found it still locked and let out a yelp of undecipherable venom as she tried to find the release. As soon as the lock snapped open, she yanked the handle again and bolted from the car into the brush and trees along side the road. A few vehicles slowed as they approached the scene but then continued on their way. Sophia felt molded to the front seat, staring at the open door and empty seat that marked Amanda’s departure. She knew she should move, go after the girl, but she also knew that she had to get her emotions under control before she would be of any good to either of them.
A tap on her shoulder reminded her she was not alone in the car. Turning, she saw Max’s face, as he leaned forward.
“I’ll go get her. You stay here with Lily.”
“Oh, Max, I don’t know. You shouldn’t be out…”
“Hush!” he ordered, “I may be old, but it’s you who shouldn’t be leaving this car until you calm down.”
“Oh, Max, I am sorry. I really blew it. That child is hurting, but I . . .”
“I heard her, Sophia. She had no business talking to you like that.”
Sophia looked at the heavy foliage into which Amanda had disappeared, “How will you find her?”
He smiled, “Don’t you worry about that. I grew up in the country and was a foot soldier. I’ll find her.”
He got out of the car, closed the doors, stretched to loosen the kinks and started off, only to return a moment or two later to tap on the window. Sophia rolled the window down. He leaned in and smiled at her.
“Try praying the Lord’s Prayer.” Her quizzical look prompted him to explain, “Something my mother taught me to control my hot headedness. Works pretty good most of the time.”
Sophia smiled, “Thanks.”
The search took Max less than ten minutes, even moving as slowly as he did with his bum hip. He found Amanda seated on a rock next to a natural spring that emerged from a rock near where she sat. The sun was bearing down so he was thankful she’d at least chosen a shady spot to light. She sat with her knees tucked under her chin, turned at the sound of his movement through the brush. So much for stealth, he thought, and looked away as if she could drive him back by ignoring his arrival. He also noticed she’d been crying and suspected she didn’t want that vulnerability revealed.
“Go away,” she commanded as he settled down on the rock near her but not too near.
“I will not. You disrupted my nap, young lady!”
“It wasn’t my fault.”
“Wasn’t your fault? Hmmm?”
“She is so all fired bossy! She even bosses you and Ms. Lily. You don’t like it either.”
Galloping goose feet! The child had him there. Max wasn’t a man who liked being bossed around. It had been the source of many a bloodied nose in his youth.
“Sophia is a strong willed woman, isn’t she,” he assented in part to Amanda’s observations, “ decisive actions, strong opinions, and down right annoying at times to folks like me and you who have a lot of the same characteristics. I’ve certainly been called stubborn and a few other terms I wouldn’t care to repeat. You certainly can get your back set, too. Why I’ve only known you, what is it now, about five days? And darn if you haven’t made me want to bring you down a notch or two.”
Amanda started to protest, when Max held up his hand. She dropped into silence and began watching the water again.
“Truth is, Amanda, if Sophia wasn’t driving, we wouldn’t be back on the road at all. Lily’s and my trip to the ocean would become a family tale, more of a joke than anything else. And you, young lady, wouldn’t be meeting up with your family in Knoxville. Seems we both need to examine our attitudes and show a little gratitude to Sophia and her family for sharing her with us.”
Amanda didn’t speak. If his words penetrated, there was no visible sign. Still, her silence and the quietness of the place had a peaceful quality that lulled Max into his own thoughts.
Max didn’t know if it were the drugs or just the jumble of events of the past few days, but in the hospital he had started trying to put together some of the absent pieces of his and Lily’s life together. He’d been dreaming more about the past, about his brother Ed, about Greta, and about the secrets Lily and he had kept from one another. Sitting on the bank of a nameless spring in Tennessee let him indulge in those recollections.
He sensed it was too late to clear those lapses of openness with Lily, but he wanted to understand them, to get a handle on them, and to find a resolution that would finally lay them to rest. Lily and Greta’s correspondence had been difficult to read and digest because he recognized his own lack of discernment about the whole matter. He had judged Greta without ever knowing the full truth. Perhaps Lily had tried to share and he cut her off. Maybe he just chose not to listen. So much time had passed that he could not remember.
He had his secrets, too. While he was in Italy, he received what was to be the last letter Ed wrote to anyone. A lot of water had gone under the bridge since he tore open that letter from his younger brother. Still, brim gathered in his throat; the letter stood in time as one of the saddest secrets he carried. When he received word that Ed had died within possibly hours of sending the letter, he wept more bitterly than he ever had before or had since. Like Lily saved Greta’s correspondence, he had saved the last letter he had received from Ed, unable to understand how war had brought him closer to God while driving his brother away. Sitting next to Amanda now, he hurt for his brother who had died denying God and felt ashamed he’d kept his hurt from Lily all these years. Of course, he had always hoped in the last instant of his life that Ed had changed his mind, but the letter was all he had.
If Max’s drop into reverie troubled Amanda in the least, she did not let on. The stream of water seemed to have mesmerized her. Max looked over at her. He suddenly wanted to finish his story about Greta, to pour out what he had learned from the letters to this girl, but was that wise? But what possible purpose could unloading the events of more than a half century ago on an unstable teenager have? Did he need a confessor so badly that he would choose Amanda, because she had expressed an interest and seemed the least intimidating? The rock was leaving a permanent imprint on his bottom so with no resolution to his thoughts forthcoming, he finally reached over and touched Amanda’s hand.
“Let’s get back to the car. Help an old man up.”
Amazingly, she stood without protest and offered her hand to Max.
Amazingly, he had expected she would do just that. As they walked back, she finally spoke.
“I am not apologizing!” She stated emphatically.
“Yes, you are!”
“I am not.”
But at the end of the trail, she did and found Sophia’s arms wrapped around her in an embrace that would have suffocated her if it had lasted one more second. Sophia’s tears drenched the top of Amanda’s head as she cried over and over,
“Oh, child, child, child . . .”
Finally, her grip loosened and she held Amanda out at arms length as if to check her over, a wide grin burst forth on Sophia’s face and Amanda could not help but smile back.
“Know what, nothing like a good scuffle to work up an appetite. I checked the map and I think we will stop and eat at Midtown.” Sophia proclaimed, hustling around to the driver’s side door.
Max started to get into the back seat, when Lily spoke, her voice shaky.
“Greta, Greta, I was so worried. Sit back here with me. You shouldn’t go walking alone. I don’t know where we are, do you?”
Amanda slid past Max into the back seat with Lily, patting his hand as she did.
“I’m ok, Lily. We are going to the beach. You remember that, don’t you?”
Max saw Lily’s tenseness relax with Amanda next to her.
“Oh, yes, Greta. We’ve always loved the beach, haven’t we?”
“As long as I’ve known you.” Amanda replied. Sophia and Max exchanged glances, as the Buick pulled back onto Highway 70, headed for Midtown and lunch.