By Karen Brode
Church people had brought so many casseroles. Winnie took them from the refrigerator and put them out on her kitchen cabinet. Aunt Emma sat on one of Winnie’s kitchen chairs leaning forward on her walker, never taking her eyes off Winnie. Winnie had already thought about knocking her out of the chair, but then she decided no, she would slap her.
Then, she caught herself, closed her eyes and said a quick prayer, “God, help me not to hurt anyone.”
Travis walked through the kitchen. As he walked past Winnie, he squeezed her shoulder, and that’s all it took. The tears came to her eyes so quickly, but she held them back. Poor Travis had witnessed enough out of control emotion for one trip. She had already decided that he might never return for another visit. How could she blame him if he didn’t? Travis went to the bathroom off the kitchen, and Aunt Emma continued to watch Winnie’s movements as if she were an exotic animal who might do something really interesting soon.
Winnie stuck a macaroni casserole into the oven and wondered what she would serve with it. She wasn’t hungry, might never be hungry again. Pete had gone to bed with a sore throat and laryngitis. Winnie could only hope that his voice would never come back. If he wasn’t going to die, then that would be the next best thing.
“What is wrong with me?” she wondered. She took the casserole out of the oven and ran to the toaster oven to get the rolls just as the bottoms turned black.
Aunt Emma had started from the kitchen into the dining room on her walker. It would take awhile. She pushed the walker in front of her then took baby steps to catch up to it. She stooda few minutes to catch her breath, then do it all again. Travis and Jane stood on either side in case Aunt Emma needed help on this perilous journey from Winnie’s kitchen to the dining room.
“I’ll have to get home as soon as supper’s over,” Emma said. “Those cats are probably wondering what has happened to me.”
Travis’ face remained impassive, but Jane pointed out that cats had a way of taking care of themselves.
“Oh, but these babies are spoiled!”Aunt Emma reminded her. “They don’t know how to take care of themselves. I know they are waiting for their momma to come home! And their daddy won’t be home anymore…..” At this, she dissolved into tears and Travis and Jane patted her shoulders.
“Let’s get on over here to the table so you can eat, Aunt Emma,” said Travis. “Winnie has some lovely dishes on the table!” Emma plopped down in the chair closest to her, and Travis and Jane helped her get arranged.
Pete lay in the bed staring at the ceiling. He kept a small bottle of whiskey in the enclosed bookcase that was the headboard. He kept it for times when he lost his voice. It was the only thing that helped. He had taken two good swigs of it already, and was considering a third.
Winnie didn’t care if he had it, but she didn’t want anyone to know about it, and she asked him to go to Bonham to buy it so he wouldn’t run into anyone they knew. Winnie, and her rules!
She wasn’t so funny to him right now. He thought of what she might do if he wandered into the dining room wearing his pajamas pretending to be drunk, and he would have whiskey breath to prove it! That might just finish Winnie off. A smile came over his face as he considered the shock and embarrassment he could cause her!
It wasn’t the first time Winnie had been mad at him, but this time seemed more permanent. He halfway expected her not to even come to sleep in their bed with him, but where else would she sleep? Travis and Jane were in the North room, and Kathy and Karen were on the folded out couch. He didn’t think Winnie hated him enough to sleep on the screened in back porch, after all, it was supposed to freeze overnight.
He wouldn’t put anything past Winnie if she was mad enough. No one in her family knew how she could be at times. She went to great lengths to preserve this image of Christian womanhood. And she was a good woman, he knew that, but she could also be a child sometimes. He would never forget the day she put him out of the car on the road to Denison. He kept thinking that she would come back for him, but she didn’t.
He thought that maybe he should go to the back porch, but that would be like admitting he was wrong! He wasn’t going to give in to her petulance! He put his hands behind his head on the pillow as he lay in his bed, and looked around the bedroom. There was the picture of Winnie’s mother, Effie, looking like the face of death itself. On the other wall, a picture of Travis in his Navy uniform. She may have thought that he didn’t notice that his picture was not on the wall, but he took note of it. He knew Winnie better than anyone.
Everytime Travis came to visit, Winnie rolled the red carpet out and made such a to-do over all of them. She had never been nearly as excited about him. But he could stand that. He could stand all of it: the gossip that their marriage had grown cold, the withering looks Winnie gave him when he preached one minute past 11:45 on Sunday mornings, even knowing that she kept a picture of Roy Gene Blakey carefully hidden in her Bible. It marked Deuteronomy Chapter 4. Pete had found it the first year they were married. On the back, in a slanted script, Gene had written, “Always And Forever, Your Gene.”
Winnie’s father, John Hawk, had moved out onto the screened-in back porch and slept in the old iron bedstead after Pete and Winnie got married. It was as far away as he could get and still be in the house. Pete knew that Effie had not liked him, but he hoped he and John Hawk could get past their differences. They both loved Winnie dearly. Pete knew that he did not bring a young bridegroom’s passion to the marital bed, but he brought his devotion and his companionship. He always thought of Winnie first, and he never told her he had found the picture of Gene.
John Hawk had challenged him on so many occasions in church when Pete preached the Sunday sermon. Winnie sometimes thought that people came to the Ambrose Church of Christ just to see what John Hawk and Pete Fitzhugh would argue about that Sunday morning. It was a sad state of affairs. But Pete wasn’t going to back down just to get along with Winnie’s father. Satan came in many forms and had to be fought with truth and righteousness. Pete quoted the Bible until John Hawk sat down in frustration. John would look around at the congregation and scratch his head, and Pete would finish with a prayer that Christian brothers could get along.
Pete preached the truth as he read it. He did not compromise with the world as so many preachers nowadays did. He wasn’t out to win any popularity contests. He didn’t care if people got mad at him because what he read in the Bible was The Gospel. He couldn’t have told people at the funeral today that Charlie Taylor had entered into the gates of heaven, and the Lord had welcomed him and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant” Did Winnie want him to lie and make stories up? She was an ignorant woman if she wanted him to do that, and he would tell her that if he ever got his voice back.
He could hear them all in the dining room having a grand old time. He didn’t even want to know what they were saying. He turned over on his good ear so he couldn’t hear any of it. Ice was already forming on the bushes and trees outside the window, and the early winter evening light created a beautiful scene in his front yard.
He snuggled deeper into the warm blankets and thought how proud the Lord must be that there was still one man on earth who would preach the truth.
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.