By Karen Brode
Hazel rushed to the front door as fast as her legs would let her get there. She was in good shape for a woman in her 60s, but her ankles and knees moved a lot more slowly than they used to.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” she called to the person who was banging on the front door.
“Hurry up!” Jewel cried from the other side.
Jewel was one of two sisters that lived in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Opal was the other. The two women were rarely seen without the other, so it was a surprise when Hazel heard only Jewel on the other side of the door. It was especially disconcerting because she was rarely demanding like that. That was usually a job left to Opal.
Hazel got the door opened, but before she could ask any questions, Jewel barged in with her suitcase, threw it on the floor, and hugged Hazel tight.
“I had to get here before Opal,” she said.
Hazel felt her sister breathing hard from the effort of the commotion.
When she pulled away from the hug, Hazel said, “It’s so good to see you, but you look as flustered as an old hen!”
Jewel let out a long breath, as if she’d been holding it for the entire six hours it took to drive to Denison.
“Opal’s not far behind me,” she said. “She brought her own car so she could stay a few days longer.” Jewel paused and raised her eyebrows with a look that said, “Sorry!”
Hazel laughed at the commiseration. They both knew how difficult Opal could be. They had known it their whole lives. You might say that having to deal with Opal gave them something in common. It had kept them close all these years.
Jewel put a hand on Hazel’s arm and looked straight into her eyes.
“I need to tell you something before Opal gets here,” she said. “That’s why I’m so flustered. I didn’t want Opal to hear me.”
Hazel nodded, waiting for the conspiratorial news.
“Whatever you do, don’t mention Laurie.”
“Opal’s granddaughter?” Hazel asked. “Is everything okay?”
Laurie was Opal’s favorite, above everyone else in the world. Up to this point, she had always been beyond reproach. In fact, most days, you couldn’t get a word in edgewise for all the talk about Laurie: Laurie had gotten a raise at her job. She had gone on a date with a medical student. She had attended the symphony with her church group. There was really no end to all the good work that Laurie was doing.
Hazel wondered what could be so bad that Jewel would race ahead of their sister in order to have a private conversation. Already, Laurie had stunned Opal by moving away to Dallas as soon as she graduated high school. Hazel couldn’t think of anything worse than that. She remembered watching Laurie grow up and Opal talking about her granddaughter’s future as if it were her own to decide. She would have a small house in Fort Smith and marry a Christian man who would emerge from the small house every morning with his briefcase with Laurie standing at the door with his coffee and a kiss. And then Laurie and her husband would have a sweet little great grandchild that Opal could cuddle in her arms. She had even talked of their living with Opal so Opal could be of assistance with the children. When Laurie moved away, it had stunned and hurt Opal deeply.
“It’s bad,” Jewel said, as if reading Hazel’s thoughts.
“My word,” Hazel said, putting her hand to her mouth. “Did she marry a Baptist?” Her eyes widened as her mind tried to guess what could be so bad. And then she gasped.
“Did she marry a…Catholic?” She could barely get out the last word and when she did, she whispered it. She knew that would be worse than anything in Opal’s mind.
Everyone knew how her sister felt about church and other churches. Hers was The One True Church, the church without instruments, the church without separate Bible classes. When anyone asked Opal about her beliefs about Bible classes, Hazel knew that Opal would consider those people as feeble minded. And she saw it as her duty to teach them.
“God did not say, ‘Go off and put yourselves in different places to worship me!’ He said, ‘Everyone must be together to praise me!’” She was quite passionate when she would relay this to anyone who challenged her on it. When pressed where in the Bible she got her information, she’d shrug and say she couldn’t remember exactly where it was, but she knew it was there and far be it from her to dispute the Word of God.
So, as her children had children, Opal made it clear that those grandchildren must marry within the church—her church. They should never even think about dating anyone outside the church. Marriage was hard enough without being unequally yoked, she’d say.
Jewel shook her head. “No. Laurie’s not married. It’s worse!“
A car drove by outside and both women jumped. They looked back through the front door as if expecting Opal to be standing there listening. Hazel was relieved to see that the car wasn’t Opal’s and she wasn’t standing there.
“Worse?” Hazel said. She stepped to the door and shut it, just to be on the safe side.
“It’s the awfullest thing I’ve ever heard,” Jewel said, tears springing to her eyes. “I knew Laurie wasn’t quite as white-washed as Opal always thought she was, but I don’t think I could ever imagined her doing what she did!”
Hazel felt the need to sit down. She guided Jewel over to the sofa and as they both sat, she grabbed a box of Kleenex from the end table and put it between them.
“Laurie called a while back and told Opal she had cancer,” Jewel said. She took a Kleenex from the box and dabbed at her eyes. “You can imagine how Opal received that news! It was terrible!”
Hazel thought back to all the loss her older sister had endured. First her son Bruce, whose death she somewhat blamed on her husband Lloyd, even though he hadn’t been within 50 miles of their son when the car accident took him.
Hazel remembered Opal recounting how, on the night of his death, he had called while he was on the road. She had wanted to say hello to her son, but she had been in the bath and, by the time she got out and dried off enough to go to the phone, Lloyd had hung up. She never got to say goodbye or anything. She had always wondered if Bruce had meant to confide something to his mother, something important that he’d never get to say. So she blamed Lloyd until he, too, died some years later.
Laurie was Bruce’s only child. When she came along, Opal took care of her on the auspices of helping out, but really she had wanted to be with her favorite son’s child. She could see Bruce in Laurie and that was as close as Opal would ever get to her son. It helped Opal cope with Bruce’s death, but Hazel knew that her sister had taken all the dreams she had for Bruce and pinned them on Laurie.
Hazel felt her own eyes misting up at the thought of Laurie having cancer. She knew how devastating this would be for her sister and, as hard as Opal was to have as a sister, she didn’t want her to suffer.
“Laurie started sending letters to the Fort Smith church last February,” Jewel said.
Hazel looked at Jewel quizzically. “To Opal’s church? But Laurie lives in Dallas, doesn’t she?”
Jewel nodded. “Opal went to Brother Bailey in tears and asked if the church could have a special drive to help Laurie with her cancer treatments. And he was quick to agree to it. He told Opal that’s what the church was for – to help in times of need!”
“That is so kind,” Hazel said. She warmed to the new minister’s generosity and thought maybe he had finally started filling the shoes of the previous minister. It had been hard on the congregation when Old Brother Leon had a stroke and it took a while for them to take to Brother Bailey.
“Opal was making plans to go to Dallas,” Jewel continued. “She wanted to take care of Laurie herself. They talked every night on the phone, so much so that Opal had to work out a payment plan with the phone company! Her phone bills went sky high!”
“Oh dear,” Hazel said. “She didn’t mention to me anything about Laurie’s cancer or going to Dallas.”
Jewel looked down at her hands. She seemed embarrassed or ashamed.
“Laurie didn’t want Opal to go,” she said looking up and blinking her eyes. “She said she’d rather call and give daily reports, which she did. It did such a number on Opal to not be there and know how to be helpful. She prayed, of course, but she was sick with worry.”
Hazel nodded. She could just imagine what that would be like.
Outside, they heard a car door slam and then the sound of a trunk slamming shut.
“That’s Opal,” said Jewel. “I have to tell you quick then. Opal found out last week that Laurie didn’t have cancer at all. Never had it! It was all a scam to get money!”
Hazel started to stand to go to the door, but she felt light-headed and had to sit back down again. The breath escaped her chest and she felt all the sadness, misery, and embarrassment that Opal must have felt this last week. She could barely believe that Opal’s own granddaughter would do such a thing!
“Poor Opal!” she said in a whisper because the doorbell had just rung. “How could Laurie do this?”
After the second ring, Hazel managed to get to her feet and shuffle to the door. Tears clouded her vision, so it took her a moment to get the door opened. Before Opal could even get over the threshold, Hazel pulled her into a big hug.
“I’m so sorry, Opal,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”
Opal burst into tears herself and she practically melted into Hazel’s embrace. And then Jewel joined them. The three sisters stood in their familial triumvirate and wept in unison.
Karen Brode is a senior contributor Jet Planes and Coffee. She grew up in Denison, Texas 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.