|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
|Location:||Medlin Iowa USA|
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|Written by:||Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
|Location:||Medlin Iowa USA|
A Bitter Sunday
Fergus Fenton and his son, Leo, sauntered down the middle aisle of the Medlin Community Church and slid into an empty pew. The murmur of voices swelled within the congregation. These two had never been at a Sunday service before. Why were they here now? Will glanced up at his grandmother. Her mouth was set in the firm line he knew so well, and her hands were clenched in front of her skirt.
Mike sat in the pew in front of the Jamison family. He turned slightly and mouthed silently to Will. "What's going on?"
Will shook his head but said nothing.
The Reverend Gideon Claggett peered down on his congregation from the high pulpit. His adam's apple moved up and down before he spoke. "Welcome to all who gather here to worship our Lord." He stared directly at the Fentons and said, "If any have come other than to worship, let them bow their heads in shame and leave our midst."
Will held his breath and raised his head high. Would Leo and his father leave? Would they bow their heads as the pastor had suggested?
Fergus Fenton lifted a dirt-stained hand toward the pastor. "Please go on, Reverend. We've come to hear you preach the word. My son and I have a craving to hear what you have to say."
"And why have you never darkened the door of this church before today?"
"Well, maybe I had no need before this. Maybe there's things on my mind. Ain't that what you're all about? To help a man with what's botherin' him?"
Will didn't know whether to keep his eyes on the pastor whose face got redder by the moment or on Leo who snickered at every word his father uttered. Da always said the Fentons were troublemakers. “Pay them no mind,” he’d said.
Fergus Fenton rose from the pew. "If we aren't welcome, we'll leave. Seems we aren't welcome anywhere in Medlin lately. The Black Swan doesn't need my services anymore, and they only keep my son on because they're short of drivers. Seems a man should find a welcome at the church, though." He removed his cap and sank onto the hard pew when the pastor voiced no protest.
Reverend Claggett cleared his throat and announced the first hymn. Voices rose tentatively at first but became stronger as the hymn progressed. The Fentons sang with the rest of the congregation.
Will ignored the sermon, dwelling instead on the events of the past week. Miss Duncan sat across the aisle and a couple rows ahead. Her back stayed straight, her attention completely on the sermon. She wore her long black coat and the straw hat adorned with cherries. Occasionally, she nodded her head in silent agreement. Will couldn’t help smiling when she nodded her head, making the cherries on her hat bounce. He thought about Miss Duncan trembling with anger when she confronted Gran. Her attempt to help him return to school made him feel better than he had in days.
When the long service was over, Will shook hands with the minister and Mrs. Claggett at the church entrance and ran down the steps of the white wooden church. He headed toward the Riley family. Big Mike was shaking hands with the men and gently teasing the little girls nearby. It was easy to see where his friend Mike had gotten his own good nature. He was a copy of his father. Big Mike Riley was admired and respected by the other miners, for he could work harder and faster than any of them. His pay envelope was always the biggest because of it, but the money was swallowed up quickly by the needs of his large family.
"Here's Will the working man." Big Mike's smile lit up his face. "Wasn't it grand to take your first pay envelope home yesterday?"
Wasn't much in it," Will answered.
"Now, that's the way it's going to be, lad. Never seems to be much in it, especially after they take out the union dues and something toward what we owe at the company store." He patted Will on the head and swooped his youngest daughter onto his broad shoulder. "Keep at it Will. Keep at it. You can work your way up to mine boss one day, maybe take over for Rolly when he's ready to call it quits."
Will's stomach clenched at Big Mike's final words, but his attention was diverted to the Fentons who marched past without a word to anyone. Nor did anyone speak to them.
Miss Duncan headed his way, and he moved on to meet her.
"Good morning, Will. There's a hint of spring in the air, I believe."
"Mss Duncan, I ...I know what you did ... you know, about going to talk to Gran. Emily told me."
Before Miss Duncan could reply, he quickly added, "She said it was all right because you said not to tell at school, so please don't be cross with her."
Miss Duncan said, "You go on trying to change your grandmother's mind, Will. She takes care of you and loves you, but that's not to say she always knows what is best for you. I'll do everything I can to help. I want you to read your essay next month at the festival, and I want her to hear it.”
Didn't she know how much he wanted the same thing? Will hung his head and kicked his toe in the dirt by the horse hitching rail. "I want to come back to school more than anything, but right now I can't. Would you be willing to send some work home for me with Emily so I can keep up with the class?”
"I'm not sure I can do that. It's a lot to ask, Will. I--well, I could lose my job if I send school property to someone not enrolled in school any longer." Miss Duncan walked a few steps away from Will. She looked back with a frown, which slowly changed to a smile. "It will have to be a secret between the three of us, and it's going to be hard to do the work." Before he could answer, she headed down the street greeting people, red cherries bouncing on the black hat.
Will ran to catch up with Gran and Freddie. When he drew near, he heard his brother say, "Always in a hurry to get home from church, aren't you Gran?"
"And why not?" Gran responded. "There's dinner to be seen to. You're always the one poking around to checking what there will be to eat." She offered Freddie one of her rare smiles.
If Gran's mood stayed good like this, he'd talk to her after dinner.
* * *
Later that afternoon, Will split wood for kindling to use in the cook-stove. Each swing of his axe struck harder. After he finished, he perched on the hollow log next to the shed at the far end of the yard.
"Why so glum?" Emily called as she joined him. Her look was cheerful, her green eyes intent on him.
"Oh, it's Gran again. Miss Duncan told me this morning she wanted me to read the essay at the festival, that I should persuade Gran to let me do it."
He threw a piece of wood he had been holding with such force that it landed fifty feet ahead by the back steps. "I talked to her after we ate, nicely as I could, tried to make her understand my side. He stopped talking and gazed over Emily's head into a sky filled with dark thunderclouds. The sky matched his mood.
Emily edged closer to Will. "What did she say?”
"What do you think, Em? The answer was no, just like before. She'll never change her mind, never, never, never!" Will grabbed a large chunk of wood with both hands. "I don't want to go back to the mine tomorrow or the next day or the next day either!" He hit the piece of' wood hard against the side of the shed. "I won't go," he repeated with each blow. He ran to the huge cottonwood tree a few feet away and slammed the wood into its trunk.
"Stop, oh, stop it, Will," Emily cried. She hurried toward home, her limp more pronounced than usual.
Will continued to hit the tree until he felt strong arms surround him. Emily's father held on to him until he went limp
As he loosened his hold, Tom Scott said, "It's all right, lad, it's all right now. You must be hopping mad at somebody, eh?”
"Not that getting mad changes anything," Will said, breathing hard. "Why won't Gran
listen to me? Why won't my dad make her listen?" He finished with a half-sob.
"Go back to the house, Emily. I'll be in later." Tom Scott's words were for Emily, but his eyes never left Will. When she didn't move, he raised his voice. "Go on, do what you're told."
Tom sighed and pulled Will down to the old log. "I don't know why your Gran is so stubborn, lad, but I do know your dad is a fine man, well liked by all. He's one of the best miners I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. He'd give me the shirt off his back if I needed it. He's a good man, but he's not a strong man when it comes to standing up to your Gran."
"If he's so good, why doesn't he try to help me?"
"I think he wants to, but it's been so long since he stood up to your Gran, he doesn't know how anymore. Years ago, when we were young, he'd try, but she won every argument they ever had. She made life miserable for everyone-for him, for your mother, your grandfather--anyone in the house until they gave in. She needled your pretty little mother about her life before her marriage, but that fine woman never bent under the unkind words. She was the one person who stood up to your Gran. When she died, your dad gave up completely, and he avoided any subject that might lead to an argument with your Gran."
Tom stared ahead when he answered. "Well, I guess it was easier that way, especially with your mother gone. As time went on, it got to be a habit. You see, in most every relationship, one personality is stronger than the other, and Margaret Jamison is stronger than most everyone except…"
"Except my mother." Will's heart swelled with pride at the thought. It would be so nice if only more people would talk to him about her
Will clasped his throbbing hands. They were red and scraped from the piece of wood he had used to vent his anger. Thunder rolled and boomed overhead making both Tom and Will jump.
"Storm's coming. Guess we better go in."
Will studied his father's longtime friend a moment. "Thanks. See you in the morning." Will picked up the ax and ran as the first raindrops fell.
"Right." Tom Scott sprinted towards his own house.