Welcome to Karen Brode, a new fiction contributor to JP+C!

Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

Karen has written numerous short stories, including a series about a character named Effie, a sympathetic woman bogged down in a life of isolation, always seeking understanding and companionship. We will publish this series over the course of several weeks.

I have a feeling you will find in Karen’s writing something familiar, as I did. The characters are people I feel I know or have met somewhere. Their stories are stories I’ve experienced myself or heard along the way. She weaves together the tapestry of the complex experiences of grief, aging, and disappointment, along with hope and finding joy in the tiny corners of an overall dark world.

Karen has been gracious enough to allow JP+C to publish her stories here! Enjoy reading about Effie’s travels on the road of life.

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Walk in My Shoes

By Karen Brode

Effie slammed the front door and started down the gravel road walking to church. She hadn’t planned to go to church, but now she felt a little better after she’d been up for awhile. Her husband, John, and daughter, Winnie, had gone to Sunday School, and taken the car – not that she would have driven if the car had been there. She had never learned to drive.

Effie thought of her daughter, Winnie, the Young People’s Sunday school teacher, and how officious she looked as she marched into Bible class each Sunday morning carrying her Bible and her notepad, and it wasn’t that Effie wasn’t proud of her – it just seemed that Winnie’s complete devotion to everything good pointed up how Effie was not quite as good as Winnie. Well, no one was as good as Winnie. It was just a fact.

Effie thought how unfair it was that people judged her. Let them walk in her shoes for awhile, and see how they felt. She could remember laughing and having good times and wanting to go places! Why, she and John Hawk used to go out on Friday nights and have such fun. Even after they were married, they went to the fair every fall and took trips to West Texas and had big Christmases with extended family. Everyone remembered her chocolate pies! They requested them every year, but now….now, she hardly ever made one. Nothing seemed to matter now….. she couldn’t gather the strength to even make cornbread. She didn’t know how to explain this to anyone. She had tried to tell the doctor how she felt but he had stared out the window while she was talking to him. No one understood her. No one knew how her life had become not really a life at all.

This is what bothered Effie most. She could remember when life wasn’t so bleak. She could remember wanting to go see people, to have people come over and visit her. One winter, she and the other neighbor ladies had gotten together and made a quilt for the county fair. It was such fun, and one of the ladies would bring a pie or a cake to the gathering which was usually at Effie’s house because she had the quilting frame.  And now, she wanted to be left alone. She didn’t want to see anyone, and she certainly didn’t have the industriousness to make a quilt.  Winnie asked her if she would like to be dropped off at Aunt Emma’s house on Winnie’s way to teach school? Winnie could pick her up in the afternoon when she got through teaching.  It sounded tempting to Effie, but what if she wanted to come home before Winnie got off from teaching?  So no, she would just stay here at the house where she felt safe.

Effie’s sister, Emma, had always made her laugh and she could still make her laugh. In fact, it was hard for them to be together without laughing. Sometimes, they just looked at each other and one of them would start giggling, and then the other one would giggle, and it would all get out of control. And Emma laughed irreverently at things Effie considered sacred. Effie often felt that she was surely going to the bad place after she and Emma had laughed so much in Church. Surely the Lord would not understand. She had not allowed her children to laugh in church. And John would turn around from his place on the front pew to give her a look of disdain. Sometimes, perfect pious Winnie would turn around and look at her Mother and Emma.

“What was so funny?” Winnie wondered.

Effie smiled when she thought of last Sunday.

Effie had whispered to Emma, “Remember when Uncle Hiram died?” And Emma immediately began giggling.

“Hush, Effie! You’re going to get us in trouble!” And Emma turned away from her.

Then Effie said, “Remember when we got to the cemetery and the hole they had dug was too short for the coffin?”

At this, Emma began to shake in quiet convulsive giggling even though she was trying to keep up with the singing.

Effie was out of breath but she was almost to the church building. She stopped and leaned on a fencepost to catch her breath. The last few years she hadn’t felt much like living. She didn’t know what was wrong with her – how could she explain it to John or Winnie.  They would all be sorry when the doctors finally figured out what was wrong with her because she was certain that the way she felt could not be normal.

She opened the back door to the church and the singing wafted out into the warm morning.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, 
let me hide myself in thee; 
let the water and the blood, 
from thy wounded side which flowed, 
be of sin the double cure; 
save from wrath and make me pure.

Effie slid into the pew next to her sister, Emma, in the back of the church. John turned around to look at her, but there was no way Effie was going to walk all the way to the front of the church and have everyone stare at her.  Emma turned to look at Effie, and then continued singing.

The preacher stood up to preach, and Effie looked at Emma.  Effie shifted her position on the hard pew so that her behind would not go to sleep. It was the strangest sensation. She knew people’s feet and hands sometimes went to sleep, but what did it mean when your sitting down place went to sleep? She was afraid to think about it.

In her darkest moments, she thought she might have diabetes. She had a medical book at home, and she kept it hidden, and read it when she was alone. If doctors couldn’t help her, then she had to help herself. She was pretty sure she had diabetes, but she didn’t want to know for sure. She read through the late complications of diabetes, and decided not to find out for sure. Surely it would be worse to know that she was going to lose a foot or a leg or have to go for kidney treatments everyday? And who would take her???? Winnie and John both worked all day. Oh, she was worrying over nothing! She probably didn’t even have diabetes….And her chest hurt so bad sometimes….. she was fairly certain that she had heart trouble. But she really didn’t want to know that either. It seemed wise to her to stay in the dark about the reality of illnesses, but sometimes in the night when she woke up hurting, she would panic and think she was dying.

Her husband, John,  hated getting up in the night to go to the doctor. She had heard Winnie and John complaining to each other that it was pouring down rain, and the bridge was probably washed out! As if she had planned this….as if she had wanted to wake up with her chest hurting on this particular night. They were both such righteous Christians on Sunday morning, but neither of them wanted to take her to the doctor on a rainy night.

After one of Effie’s appointments with the doctor a few years back, Winnie had gone in to talk to the doctor by herself after Effie’s appointment was over. Winnie had a prescription bottle in her hand when she came out, and she handed it to her mother. He said to take these when you feel these spells coming on, Winnie had told her. And Effie had felt vindicated for a little while. But then, she noticed that when she took the capsules, nothing really changed. Finally she had emptied a capsule into a saucer, and then tasted it. It was sugar….nothing but sugar!   They had given her sugar pills to try to fool her. Was there no one she could trust? Was there no one who would believe how bad she felt?

The preacher was reading from Ecclesiastes.”There is a time for everything. A time to …… ” and Effie elbowed Emma and whispered, “A time to shut up!”

Both the old women giggled soundlessly. Emma punched Effie and could almost not get the words out.

“A time to realize you can’t preach!”

Thank goodness they were sitting on the back pew. They shook for a good two minutes over that one!

Effie felt so much better when she and Emma got together, but there was also something not good about the way they interacted. She knew that other people in church knew they were laughing. She would hear from John over this, and Winnie might upbraid her, too. She wouldn’t put it past Winnie. She tried very hard to sit quietly through the rest of the service. She stared out the window and looked at the cows grazing in the field.

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