Monday, December 28, 2009
A Random Chapter of My Novel
**************Please take a few minutes to read this chapter and comment. I'd like to know if I should throw my novel in the wastebasket or hang on to it.
Sunday morning arrived with brilliant blue skies and more than enough sunshine to go around. The table was set, breakfast was eaten, the table was cleared and the dishes were washed and put away, all in record time. Today would be Shaddy’s first Sunday at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Today could be considered a ground-breaking day, a ribbon-cutting event, a day anticipated with great excitement and inevitably with an equal measure of apprehension. Try as they might, Shaddy’s parents dreaded the attention that could be draw to them if Shaddy decided to put herself on display. Unaware of the rules of proper etiquette, Shaddy spoke her mind and her mind was a constantly functioning apparatus.
Dressing up in their very best clothes was part of the Sunday morning ritual. Dad wore a suit and tie, Mom put on a pretty dress, the boys donned dress pants and dress shirts along with leather shoes that had been polished the previous evening. Shaddy was so excited about church and the choir and hearing songs that she didn’t notice that her mother dressed her in a soft pink, polka-dot dress and white patent leather Mary Jane shoes over lace-trimmed socks.
At 7:40 sharp, Ralph opened the door and they filed one-by-one out of the house and along the limestone, stepping-stone sidewalk to the garage. Tommy and Bobby were at least as excited as Shaddy. “Wait until our friends get a look at Shaddy. I can just see Joey’s eyes when she looks him up and down. With his tie and slicked back hair; he thinks he’s so cool.”
“We aren’t going to be putting on a three-ring circus, boys. The last thing we want to do is draw folks’ attention to our family. We’ll take a pew at the very back of the church and we’ll mind our own business. I don’t want either of you to make a show out of us by bragging or showing off your little sister. Shaddy doesn’t need you boys adding to the drama. Today is somewhat of a practice run and we’ll play it by ear. Shaddy will see plenty of new faces and unusual things, enough to make her head spin. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it may be.” Dad turned to Shaddy and said, “If you get tired or anything is too upsetting, tell Mommy or me. If necessary, we can slip out of our pew and take you home if you want us to.”
“I’m going to hear the choir sing. They don’t shriek and hurt my ears like some people I know. They have beautiful voices. I want to see Jesus too. He loves me even when I’m reading and talking. Tommy told me.” Ralph had never seen Shaddy’s eyes sparkle as brightly as they did that morning. They were nearly as blue as the sky. The little bit of blonde hair that she had looked like silk in the sunlight.
Shaddy was scheduled to be baptized during next week’s worship service. Today was a practice run and Ralph had high hopes that they would get through this morning’s service without a hitch. Kay was doing her best to keep her composure. She and Shaddy were as pretty as a picture sitting in the front seat of the car when they pulled alongside the curb on Bluff Street.
St. John’s Lutheran Church was an old church with an adjoining school. The Dolls had been members since Kay and Ralph were married in 1942. Until Shaddy’s birth, they hadn’t missed attending services ever, except for when the boys were newborns. Tommy and Bobby attended the parochial school, as did several of the other children in the Doll's neighborhood.
“Someday you’ll go to school here,” Tommy said excitedly when they passed the playground as they walked along the sidewalk toward the main entrance into the church.
“Tomorrow?” Shaddy asked. “I want to go to school tomorrow.” Before the conversation could go any further, they were at the foot of the stairs that led to the open doors. Families were streaming into the church from all directions. Every family had their customary pew and once up the stairs and through the doorway, that’s where they headed. Like cows heading to the barn, they wouldn’t have thought of going anywhere but their usual and customary station. Heaven forbid anyone should take their spot. On rare occasions when visitors mistakenly took a pew that was ordinary occupied by church members, the wronged woman would twist and pull at her hat similar to a cow swishing its tail or butting its head when its stanchion is taken by an errant peer.
Shaddy was a bit shy among all the unfamiliar faces that surrounded her. She was sucking her thumb when the family entered the rearmost pew and sat down. Organ music filled the church. “What’s that sound?” Shaddy asked her mother.
“It’s the organ. Do you like it?”
“I'll let you know after I listen for a while.”
“The organist is upstairs. She makes the organ play the music by using her fingers on the proper keys, like a piano. Just enjoy the music until the service starts.”
Kay sat Shaddy on her lap facing the family in the pew ahead of them. Shaddy looked at her brothers and her father and then her mother. They didn’t look the same as they usually did. Her father and brothers' clothes were stiff and their hair was damp and combed with a part on the side. The boys were sitting next to her, but instead of entertaining her like they usually did, they were just smiling at her and saying nothing. It all seemed a bit strange but Shaddy didn’t put up a fuss. She had plenty to look at and listen to with the organ playing and folks filing up the center aisle and sliding to their places in the many rows of pews that seemed to go on and on.
“See over there, Shaddy. Mr. and Mrs. Heikkinen and Mike and Duane are sitting in the pew right there.” Tommy pointed across the center aisle and a few rows ahead. “Do you see them?”
“I’m glad we’re far away from them,” Shaddy said.
“Why? Don’t you like them, Shaddy?” Tommy whispered.
“They’re sitting in their pew.” Shaddy wrinkled her nose and then plugged it with her fingers. “Isn’t there a bathroom here?”
Tommy snickered and started to explain what a pew was but the pastor was entering from the back of the church. He walked slowly toward the front of the church down the middle aisle. Shaddy frowned as soon as she got a glimpse of him. “Why does he still have his bathrobe on?” Shaddy spoke louder than she should have and the family ahead of her began giggling and peeking back at her.
“That’s not his bathrobe,” the boy directly in front of Shaddy turned and said to her.
“Don’t talk to me. You’re not supposed to talk to strangers. That’s what my Mommy told me. Right, Mommy?” Shaddy looked away from the young fellow’s now red face and looked at the back of the pastor’s robe as he grew smaller and smaller as he neared the altar. Upon closer inspection, Shaddy realized the pastor was indeed not wearing a bathrobe but whatever it was it looked pretty funny to her. She was glad her father didn’t wear long dresses and scarf-like things around his neck.
After the opening prayers and verses were read, the choir stood up in the alcove in front of the church to the right of the altar. Shaddy noticed they were wearing long dresses like the pastor’s, but they didn’t appear as ridiculous because most of them were women. The choir director made her way to the front of the alcove and turned to face the choir members. She lifted her hands and then began to move them and the choir began to sing.
Shaddy leaned to the left and then to the right, trying to get a better look at them. She stood on her father’s lap and craned her little head, but was unable to see much besides the hundreds of ladies’ hats between her and the choir. “Daddy, I can’t see. I can’t see the choir.”
“Oh, but you can hear them can’t you?” Her father tried to lift her somewhat higher, but Shaddy kept whispering that she couldn’t see the choir. Ralph turned to Kay and said, “I’m going to take Shaddy up the side aisle so she can see better.” Kay scowled and then shrugged at his words. Father and daughter slipped from their pew, along the back of the worship area and over to the aisle on the right side of the church which ended at the alcove. He stood as inconspicuously as possible in a spot where Shaddy had an excellent view.
Shaddy was happy now. She could see every member of the choir and the director as well. Shaddy was watching the wide-open mouths and the joyous expressions on all the singers’ faces. She agreed with what her mother had said about them. Their singing was beautiful and didn’t hurt her ears. In fact, Shaddy wished she had bigger ears so she could hear even better. After listening and looking during the first half of the song, Shaddy became engrossed in the choir director's arm movements. First, Shaddy moved one of her hands like the director was doing. Soon her other hand was moving as well. Eventually, both of her arms were extended upward and both of her hands were mimicking the motions of the choir leader.
A few heads turned toward Shaddy. Elbowing and whispering resulted in turning the rest of the worshippers' heads like an army of dominos all going down because of a nudge from its neighbor. Ralph didn’t like being stared at. He began to shift from one leg to the other, wishing all the time that he’d never let Shaddy convince him to leave the back pew. He felt himself begin to perspire. His face turned a pinkish-red color and gradually it deepened to beet-red.
The choir director and the choir members continued on with the hymn while they sought out the culprit who was causing the stir in the congregation. After they’d checked out the far side of the church, they shifted their eyes to the other side. Against the wall on their left, they discovered the cause of the great disturbance.
Somehow the director and choir members were able to finish their song, but they were greatly distracted by Shaddy’s marvelous antics. Smiles filled the church from front to back and side to side. Shaddy was all business and did her best to duplicate every up and down and angle and jump that the director was accomplishing.
When the song was over, the choir director felt she couldn’t ignore what the entire church was focused on. With much flair and grace, she bent at the waist and bowed in Shaddy’s direction. Of course, Shaddy repeated the bow in return. The director returned to her pew and father and daughter made their way to the back of the church. The pastor was taken aback by the latest addition to the Doll family’s debut and he remained seated until the congregation quieted down and he had gotten his mind back to the sermon he was about to give.
Ralph handed Shaddy to Kay when he arrived back in the family pew. Shaddy’s arms were still going through the motions she’d just learned. She occupied herself for nearly half of the pastor’s sermon with her busy arms and hands directing an imaginary choir. During the other half of the sermon, Shaddy looked over the church bulletin, the hymnal and Tommy’s Sunday School lesson book.
Ralph had received more than enough attention for one day so he motioned for the family to scoot out the back of the church shortly after the sermon was over. He told the boys to go downstairs to the church basement where the children gathered before going to their separate classrooms for Sunday school. Tommy and Bobby slipped away without Shaddy even noticing. As mother, father and daughter walked along the sidewalk to the car parked beside the curb, the absence of people was evident. Everyone including Shaddy sighed and enjoyed the fresh air and the glory of another fall day.
“People talk funny here.” Shaddy was recalling her first Sunday at church.
“Why do you say that?” Her mother fussed with Shaddy’s dress and straightened the collar.
“I heard one lady say I was cute as a button. Another one said I am the spitting image of Daddy.”
“Lots of people say things that sound funny but are actually compliments. Cute as a button just means you’re very cute. Being the spitting image of your father means you look a lot like him.”
Kay slid into the car and turned to Ralph. “I bet you could have died of embarrassment when everyone was looking your way this morning.”
“I tried to keep reminding myself that they were looking at Shaddy, not me. It worked for a second or two and then I’d start feeling uncomfortable again. You put on quite a show this morning, Shaddy. What’ll you do for an encore?”
“Don’t encourage her, Ralph. All in all, I do have to say that things went better than I’d expected. The hymnal and Tommy’s lesson book were a God-send. They kept Shaddy busy during a good share of the sermon.”
“God sends the books from heaven? Is that where they come from?” Shaddy was looking out the window as they crossed the Rock River.
“No, Shaddy. That’s one more of the funny things people say. You’ll understand what they all mean soon enough. You’ve got a lifetime to learn everything there is to know and you still won’t know it all.”
“Oh, no. Bobby and Tommy aren’t in the back seat. They must be back at church. Hurry, let’s go back and get them before they get lost.” Shaddy began to whimper.
“They went to the church basement for Sunday school. I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you. Daddy will go back to church in an hour to pick them up.”
Shaddy stopped whimpering and brightened up. “Bobby and Tommy are my brothers. They’re the only ones I’ve got and I don’t ever want to lose them. Maybe we should go back to church right now so we’ll be there when they come out of Sunday school.”
“We’ll pick them up in an hour. I made something for you and I’ll give it to you when we get home.” Ralph knew how to get Shaddy’s mind off of upsetting things. They crossed the bridge and were soon on their way up the short hill and down the other side to the driveway. Shaddy liked the crunching noise of the tires on the gravel. The car stopped at the garage and they went in the house.