By Karen Brode
Worship had gone pretty well, Winnie thought, as she put away the food from lunch. She moved the green and white water pitcher aside and put the bowl of black eyed peas on top of the plastic container of tomatoes. She really needed to clean out her refrigerator, but that was a job for another day. Sunday afternoon was her down-time. She and Pete usually went out to eat and then went by the hospitals to visit people they knew, but they had come straight home from church that day.
Pete had not done or said anything too outlandish in his sermon that morning, and she was thankful. People came to her when things didn’t go well at church, expecting her to do something about it.
A few months before, Pete had preached a sermon saying that Jesus Christ had come back in 1914. Winnie hadn’t known what to say when people surrounded her after worship to complain. She was just as outraged as all of them, maybe more. She wished her daddy had been alive and at worship that day. He would’ve stood up during the sermon and asked Pete where on earth he found that in the Bible? And now, people just sat there dumbfounded when Pete said things that made no sense.
Why hadn’t they complained to Pete? Was she really responsible for what he said? She had asked him about it at lunch that day, and it had grown into a huge argument between them. She wanted to ask him if Jesus came back, then where is He, but she bit her tongue. She struggled mightily with being a good submissive wife, and being an intelligent human being. Sometimes, it didn’t seem possible to be both.
Pete had defended his sermon to the end of the argument that day when Winnie got up to clear the table in silence. She left him sitting at the dining table with his Bible open . It was senseless to argue with him. She knew Jesus Christ had not come back in 1914. She hoped that the Ambrose Church would hire a real preacher soon and let her husband go back to being song leader. He would sing too loud and off tune but maybe people wouldn’t blame her for that.
He was watching football on the black and white television. It received only one channel. She hated that their Sunday afternoons were taken up with football. Once, the football game had been cancelled and they had shown “Francis, The Talking Mule.” It was so much more enjoyable than those infernal football games.
Winnie sat in her tan leather recliner to catch up on her letter-writing on Sunday afternoons. She kept all of her writing supplies in a white stationery box that no longer had any stationery. She used a lined tablet with tear-out pages to write her letters now. She leaned back in the recliner and put her feet on the foot cushion. She thought again about the story she had read in the newspaper about all the babies that had been killed by recliners made like hers. Who would have imagined that recliners would kill so many babies? The poor babies had gotten in between the foot cushion and the chair and then somehow closed the recliner on their necks. Where were their mothers? She was always extra alert when a baby visited her, especially Karen’s sweet baby, Brandon. She smiled at the thought of him.
She had sent her cousin, Foy, a picture of him and Foy had written back to say he looked just like Winnie’s brother Albert. Winnie looked closely and decided that wasn’t true. Foy was telling her what she wanted to hear, but Winnie knew better. Karen had had a son who looked like her husband’s family and Albert was nowhere to be found in that child.
Winnie wished that Brandon had looked like her poor dead brother. She had waited at the hospital the evening Brandon was born and clutched Hazel’s hand as they took Karen into the delivery room. Winnie had been crying out of happiness and fear and mostly out of sadness that once again, her brother Albert had been denied this moment that should have been his. She was glad to be there with her sister-in-law, waiting to see the baby, but it wasn’t really her moment.
And then they had brought the baby boy out, and Winnie had cried with Hazel because this was Karen’s child, and because he was perfectly made. The nurses held him up to the window and Winnie looked at him and found nothing at all about him that reminded her of her brother or the Hawk family. But she already loved him because he was Karen’s child.
Winnie wrote to her brother, Travis every Sunday afternoon. She loved her letters from Travis even though they were a little restrained and didn’t give away much that was really going on with him. He wrote about his grass and some tomato plants he had put out. She loved mostly to read about Kathy. Travis was so proud of her and often mentioned her accomplishments and accolades. Winnie remembered when Travis had written that Kathy was directing the Senior Play. He had been so proud, and Winnie was proud, too. But she felt removed from all of it. Here she was in north Texas where she wouldn’t even be able to attend the play. She felt that she had missed all the important times in Kathy’s life, and she wanted so much to be closer to her. Winnie loved Kathy simply because she was Travis’s daughter. She felt such a longing when she thought of Kathy. She wished that Travis had not moved his family to East Tennessee where there were so many miles between them.
Aunt Dollie had written most recently to Winnie, she she knew she must write back to Aunt Dollie first. This aunt was in her eighties, still in good health, and a study in calmness. Winnie marveled that the same family and parents who had produced Aunt Emma and her mother, Effie, had also produced this calm gentle woman who took life in stride. Effie and Emma had been at one or the other end of the emotional spectrum much of their lives. Either Emma was sitting on the cellar door laughing hysterically at Winnie being shut in the cellar, or she was crying about some cat that had lost her kitten. Effie’s tantrums had disrupted all of Winnie’s childhood, and most of her adulthood. Winnie was glad that she was more like her father. At least she had the ability to withstand the upheaval that her mother had created in her life.
Aunt Dollie lived in Slaton, on the west side of Texas, near Lubbock. A lot of Winnie’s relatives lived in West Texas and when she went on a pilgrimage to there, she went to see Uncle Jess and Aunt Dollie. Her aunt seemed to smooth all kinds of emotional waters as she walked past. Winnie could feel her blood pressure go down when she was with her. So many people in Winnie’s life needed something from Winnie, but Dollie was one of the few who gave her something in return. She felt secure and complete when she was around Dollie.
Her aunt was not heavy nor was she terribly thin. She had the big brown eyes that were so dominant in her mother’s family. Winnie sometimes wished that she had been Aunt Dollie’s daughter. How much more enjoyable her life would’ve been, she thought. But no, it was wrong to wish this! Winnie needed to be happy with the mother she’d had.
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.