Authors: Gary D. Schmidt
Gary D. Schmidt
a Houghton Mifflin Company imprint
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Copyright © 2004 by Gary D. Schmidt
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Schmidt, Gary D.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster boy / by Gary D. Schmidt,
Summary: In 1911, Turner Buckminster hates his new home of Phippsburg,
Maine, but things improve when he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, a girl
from a poor, nearby island community founded by former slaves that the
town fathers—and Turner's—want to change into a tourist spot.
[1. Progress—Fiction. 2. Race relations—Fiction. 3. Moving,
Household—Fiction. 4. Clergy—Fiction. 5. Maine—History—20th
century—Fiction.] I. Title.
QUM 10 9 8 7
For Virginia Buckley,CHAPTER 1
who, like the sea breeze, urges us to our best shores
Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for fifteen minutes shy of six hours. He had dipped his hand in its waves and licked the salt from his fingers. He had smelled the sharp resin of the pines. He had heard the low rhythm of the bells on the buoys that balanced on the ridges of the sea. He had seen the fine clapboard parsonage beside the church where he was to live, and the small house set a ways beyond it that puzzled him some.
Turner Buckminster had lived in Phippsburg, Maine, for almost six whole hours.
He didn't know how much longer he could stand it.
Maybe somewhere out West there really were Territories that he could light out to, where being a minister's son wouldn't matter worth a ... well, worth a darn. He hoped so, because here, being a minister's son mattered a whole lot, and pretending that it didn't matter to him was starting to peck at his soul.
He did have to admit that their arrival had something to it. Every member of Phippsburg's First Congregational—as well as lost reprobates from other denominations—had gathered to greet the new minister and his family. A quartet of slick trombones played a Sousa march as the steamer
came in sight of the wharf. A red, white, and blue welcome banner unfurled at the end of the dock: Welcome Pastor Buckminster! The church deacons stood properly at the foot of the gangway, their hands grasping the lapels of their dark suits, their hats lifting in unison as soon as Mrs. Buckminster appeared on deck. A cheer at the sight of the new pastor, the quartet sliding into "Come, Ye That Love the Lord," and the bronze bells of First Congregational suddenly tolling.
Then the three of them had stepped onto the shore of their new home, and the deacons grabbed their new pastor's arms, and the women of the Ladies Sewing Circle of First Congregational grabbed their new pastor's wife's arms, and Turner ... Turner stood alone at the edge of the dock, faced by the sons and daughters of the deacons and the women of the Ladies Sewing Circle. Not a single one of them grabbed his arms. They looked at him as if he'd stepped in something they didn't want to be around.
He held up his hand. "Hey," he said.
But it appeared that what he had heard in Boston was true: folks in Maine spoke a whole different language, and didn't care for those who couldn't speak it themselves.
That was the first time Turner thought about lighting out for the Territories.
Though things did get better. The Ladies' Sewing Circle set out a picnic with enough cold chicken, cold pork, German potato salad, hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomato slices, dill pickles, bacon strips, ham-and-butter sandwiches, apple-cranberry muffins, rhubarb muffins, gooseberry muffins, and strawberry and boysenberry preserves to feed the Five Thousand. And after Deacon Hurd had prayed long enough to aggravate the prophet Elijah, Turner sat down and began to think that maybe Phippsburg wouldn't be such a bad place after all—once he learned the language.
And things got even better when Deacon Hurd called the sides for the afternoon baseball game. Turner's mother grinned at him, and he grinned back.
With whistles and calls and impossible boasts, the men and boys of First Congregational strolled across to Thayer's haymeadow—mown just the day before—and marked out the lines. They circled the pitcher's mound, and squared the batter's box beside the plate. Then Deacon Hurd, now Umpire Hurd, took off his jacket and held a bat out to Turner.
"You ever play this game before, young Buckminster?"
"Yes, sir," said Turner.
He wanted to say, "About a hundred thousand times." Or, "About a hundred million times." Or, "Mister, I can shimmy a ball down a line so pretty, there isn't a soul on God's green earth that can even get near it." But he held back and just grinned again.
"Then you're the first man up," said Deacon Hurd.
"Yes, sir," said Turner, and took the bat, the resin on it feeling like home.
It wasn't exactly the kind of field he might lay out on Boston Common. It was more stubble than grass. Home plate was tilted up and stamped on top with a cracked mollusk fossil. And since the other bases were set wherever a slab of granite showed its back, they weren't playing on anything you could rightly call a diamond. But Turner saw that the pines sidled awful close to the left-field line, and he could spin a ball to make it touch in fair, then scoot off into the trees. He imagined that would be at least a triple. And even the trees in dead center were near enough that the sea breeze could take the ball into their branches—if he could hit it high enough.
And he could.
Turner decided that the second time up, he'd finesse the triple. But now, just to establish himself, he would double past the second baseman, who was playing too neighborly to a second base that was way too close to third.
He stepped to the granite plate and took a couple of slow swings. He straightened his left leg and cocked his right—this usually confused the pitcher, though it didn't seem to confuse this one. He was another Hurd, Willis Hurd, and he smiled as he tossed the ball up and down. It was the kind of smile you give to a chicken whose head you're about to cut off.
That was the second time Turner wondered about lighting out for the Territories.
He stepped back and took two more slow swings, feeling the groove he left in the air. Then he stepped up again, set his left leg, fixed his eyes, and waited for the quick swing of the pitcher's arm, the flashing slant of the ball through the blue-and-white air.
It never came. Willis held the ball a long while, still smiling, then slowly leaned forward, swung his arm down low, and lofted the ball into a high arc. Turner had never seen anything like it. The ball went about as high as a young pine, then turned, slowly spun its seams once or twice, and sauntered on down until it bounced softly on the granite plate.
"Strike one!" hollered Deacon Hurd.
Turner looked at him. "Was that a pitch?"
"That was a strike."
"It landed on the plate."
"That's what a strike will do. I thought you said you'd played this game before."
"Let's see another strike," said Turner.
And he did. Another high, lofting ball. No human being had ever pitched like that before, Turner decided. It added an entirely new aerial dimension. And when the ball meandered down from about a mile above his head, he flailed at it as if it were a bumblebee.
"Strike two!" shouted Deacon Hurd. "You know you've only got one more, son."
"Maybe you'd better bend that front leg," called still-smiling Willis.
"Are you holding the bat high enough, boy?" suggested one of the Ladies' Sewing Circle from the sidelines. She turned to another of the circle. "I don't think he's holding the bat high enough. He's not holding that bat high enough at all. It's too heavy for him."
Turner stepped back from the plate and let the bat swing low a couple of times. He wouldn't go for the double—-just a single. Someone clapped, and when he looked up, it seemed that every member of Phippsburg First Congregational was standing on the lines figuring that he didn't have any idea what he was doing.
Willis waited a moment, letting Turner settle in, and Turner wondered what Willis's smile would look like if the ball went crashing back into his face. Maybe that wasn't something a minister's son should want to see—but he did want to see it. He was almost startled that he wanted to see it so badly. He took another couple of swings; then he straightened his front leg and waited.
"You sure you don't want to bend that leg? You'd balance better," suggested Deacon Hurd.
Turner did not move. He waited with the bat held over his shoulder, absolutely still.
And Willis looped the pitch up to him.
It must have peaked somewhere in the stratosphere, because this time it came down screaming. Turner watched it come. He wanted it to come. The ball was big and fat, getting bigger and fatter, and he knew that when he swung at just the right second he would shoot it out into center. He would feel it pop against his wrists, would watch it leap as he trotted easily to first.
Rushing, rushing, rushing, waiting, waiting, waiting—swinging.
And the ball dropped onto the granite plate, bounced up against his knee, plopped back onto the plate, and rolled still against his ankle.
"Strike three!" yelled Deacon Hurd.
"Bend your front leg next time," offered Willis.
"You'll catch on, Turner. Next time, you'll catch on," called Reverend Buckminster, and turned, laughing, to one of the deacons, who had thumped him on the back.
Turner looked away from his father. He handed the bat to Deacon Hurd and sat down on the grass. No one else struck out the rest of the inning.
No one else struck out the rest of the game—except Turner.
He never could time the descent of the ball. It always seemed to cheat on him. In Boston, baseball was honest. The pitcher threw as hard as he could, the ball came flat and fast, or maybe spinning into a curve, but still fast. Here it just seemed to hang in the currents of the air until it found the convenient moment to plop onto the granite plate. No matter how he timed the thing, he was always off, and the most he could manage was a weasel of a hit that looped back to the pitcher's glove.
"Good, Turner. You got it back to me," said Willis.
"That's the way," added Reverend Buckminster.
Turner thought he might as well die right then and there. It was probably too much to hope for the Apocalypse.
And so his first failure in Phippsburg. He suspected he'd hear about it for a long time.
That first night, while the congregation sat around the haymeadow eating the ice cream Mr. Newton and Mrs. Newton and all the little Newtons had brought up from their grocery store, he heard about it from the Ladies' Sewing Circle: "Turner, don't you think you need a lighter bat? That one is so heavy for a boy your size." While bits of light flitted around so thickly that Turner could not tell which were fireflies and which were sparks the sea breeze kicked up from the blue-gold logs, he heard about it from Reverend Buckminster: "Couldn't you have done better than that? It didn't look like you were swinging right." And while the fire burned low and the moon came up to silver the haymeadow, he heard about it from Deacon Hurd: "Son, maybe Willis can show you how to stand up at the plate sometime. You be sure to ask him."Turner nodded. He'd be sure to ask Willis about standing up at the plate sometime in the next millennium.
He didn't hear about it from his mother, but later that night, she did explain to him the purpose of the small house behind the parsonage.
"You don't mean that," said Turner.
"Yes," she said, "I do." She handed him the Sears, Roebuck catalogue.
It was, Turner thought, a fitting end for the day.