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Authors: Liz Garton Scanlon

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BOOK: The Great Good Summer
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“No,” says Lucy.

“Do ya want to play in the sand?” I ask when we get to the dinosaur dig.

“No,” says Devon.

“Do ya want a snack?” I ask at Picnic Hill, with its tables and shade trees and thick green grass.

“No snack at all,” Lucy says, and even though I'm getting a little tired of them saying no to all of my ideas, I'm kind of impressed by Lucy's sentence.

“Good talking, Luce!” I say.

On the other side of Picnic Hill is the skate park where all the rough boys go to do fancy tricks in the big concrete scoop. There are three high schoolers there today. One of them I know for sure is Jenny Abler's older brother, and one of the others is this boy called Jake who Abby had kind of a crush on for a while even though he's never given her the time of day, and I'm pretty sure her parents would completely disapprove of him due to his long hair and baggy pants and extreme oldness. But these days Abby's not really into her parents or the things her
parents approve of. Which personally makes me a tidge nervous, but I guess that's why I'm not Abby.

Just past the skate park is the fenced area that's for remote controlled airplanes and helicopters and stuff, and it turns out that
this
is what the Murray babies want to do today—watch the planes. They want to sit pressed against the fence and stare up at the sky. So we do.

We sit for maybe fifteen minutes, looking and oohing and aahing as the planes make big loops in the sky. Then suddenly I feel someone standing right behind me.

“Hey, Ivy,” a voice says, and when I turn around, there are Dash Bauer and Paul Dobbs, from school. “Looks like you've been cloned,” says Dash, shrugging at the babies.

“Twice,” says Paul. And they laugh.

I've never actually noticed that the Murray babies look a little bit like me, at least as much as everyone with light brown hair and light brown eyes and pinkish skin looks a little alike. I mean, I guess that's what Dash and Paul are getting at.

“Yeah, right,” I say. “Since cloning is legal and possible and all.”

Lucy and Devon stare up at the boys, wide eyed. Lucy grabs on to my leg, just the way she did with Mrs. Murray, but Devon points at Paul.

“Airplane!” he says.

“Ha. You've got good taste,” says Paul. He smiles sort of a half smile and bends down to show Devon what he's got in his hands. It's a slick-looking black-and-red-and-silver jet, with fins and a domed window. And there's at least one other plane, plus a bunch of antennae and stuff sticking out of the bag at Paul's feet. “We're gonna fly 'em,” Paul says to Devon. “Wanna watch?”

“Sure, we'll watch. Right, guys?” I say, flat-out relieved that we've moved on from the cloning jokes.

I don't know what to say around the science guys. I never have. They aren't scary in that way the super-popular kids are—you're not gonna get tripped in the hall or laughed at during a pep rally or anything—but they sort of speak their own language, and it's pretty impossible to understand. I'm not saying I'm dumb. I've been on the honor roll since the third grade, which is when we first got letter grades. But I'm mostly smart about reading and writing, and the science guys are smart about how the world works. Or at least how they
think
the world works.

Paul and Dash push through the swinging gate and start setting out their equipment—airplanes and a helicopter and remote controls and a round red target they
lay out on the ground in front of them. And big bottles of bright blue power drink and bags of chips. They greet the folks already flying with handshakes and fist bumps—they all seem to know each other—and right then, before Paul's plane is even up, Lucy says, “Potty. Go potty now.”

“Do you wanna watch the flying first, Lucy?” I say, but she's already up on her feet, reaching for my fingers.

“Go potty. Now.” She actually looks a little desperate.

“Okay, guys. Let's head over to the bathroom,” I say, hopping up quickly and bending down to swoop them up. But that's when Devon starts to scream. He screams, “No, no, no, no, no,” and he makes his body stiff and heavy. He always seems so much older than Lucy, but really he's just a little three-year-old himself.

“Devon, help me out here. Lucy's got to go. Will you help me, buddy?” But he can't hear me for all his screaming, and then Lucy starts to cry too—hard, till her face is bright pink and puffy.

“Ivy, do you need help?” Paul's looking at us through the fence, his hands hanging limply at his sides, flying gear in each one.

I look up at him to make certain he's not laughing at me, before I say, “No, I don't think so.” Not because I don't need help but because I don't know what on
God's green earth I would ask him to do. I have two crying babies and a stroller the size of a small train, and in between every cry all I can hear is the model planes whirring a noisy, endless whir.

It's hardly a wonder that as I partly push, partly drag the stroller and the babies toward the bathroom on the other side of Picnic Hill, the knot of tears pops back into my throat.

By the time we've made it all the way to the bathroom—but too late—and changed Lucy's clothes and calmed everyone down and wiped noses and repacked the bag, I just don't have it in me to hoof back over to the airspace.

“We're near the dog park,” I say. “Wanna have a snack and watch the dogs?”

And to my deep, deep relief, both Lucy and Devon say yes.

I'm pretty sure I prefer dogs to flying machines anyway.

Chapter Three

M
orning comes in, all pink, through the lacy layers of my curtains and lands like a sunburn on my skin. I roll away from the light and think,
It is summer, and Mama has gone to The Great Good Bible Church of Panhandle Florida, and I'm gonna have cold cereal for breakfast again.

And then I think,
I'm gonna be sad but I'll pretend I'm not sad, and Daddy's gonna be sad but he'll pretend he's not sad. That's all we can really do for each other these days.

And
then
I think,
Today is Sunday, and Daddy's gonna make us go to church for the first time since Mama left two weeks ago.
“We can't avoid it forever,” he said last night, even while I was thinking,
Oh, yes we can. We should.

Once I'm dressed in a sundress and a shrug and sandals—sandals that are hand-me-downs from Mama—I wander downstairs. Daddy hurries us through our breakfast as if he's actually excited to get to church. I am not excited. I would be happier doing pretty much anything else. Honestly, at this moment I would rather go to the dentist than go to church, and that's saying something.
(I hate the dentist because I always, without fail, have a cavity. Mama says it's not my fault—that I have soft teeth, teeth like loam, just like she did as a little girl—but the reason doesn't matter when the dentist gets his drill out. It hurts every time. But then, when he's done, I feel fine. I feel better, actually.)

This is different. I just know that church isn't gonna fix up any holes in me today.

“Ivy-girl, you're dawdling,” says Daddy. “Church doesn't wait on its sheep, sweetheart.”

“Daddy, what are we gonna say when people ask us about Mama?” I stir my bowl of milk. Daddy's right. I'm dawdling.

“The truth, baby. They're church folks. Church folks understand other church folks.”

I follow Daddy out the kitchen door into the garage. “This thing with Mama is churchier than church, though. Right? Isn't that the problem?”

Daddy doesn't answer me for a second because he's getting settled in his seat and looking around—at my bike on one side and mama's car on the other. Mama's car just sitting there, all locked up in the hot and dark. Once he's started up the car and pushed the button to roll the garage door up, he says, “Actually the opposite. I don't
know that this guy is offering your mother much church at all.” He reaches around my seat and turns to look out the back window as he pulls out. His lips are pulled tight and white, and the car jerks because he speeds up too quickly.

“What do you mean, Daddy? Do you know something that you haven't told me?” If I was 100 percent nervous five minutes ago, now I'm double that.

“You can't believe how little I know,” he says with kind of a harsh little chuckle. It's scary.

And then suddenly everything changes back. It's like he's in a play and he's just switched roles from the mad dad character to a jollier, more familiar one. “I was thinking we'd go out for Sunday burgers after worship,” he says. “You wanna do that, Ives? Sunday burgers and chocolate shakes?” Daddy knows I can't say no to Snow's chocolate shakes, so I guess he's got me there. I can't argue or ask another thing after that, so I sit worrying, quiet as a mouse, till we pull up to Second Baptist.

Pastor Lou greets us in the open door of the sanctuary. “Well, if it isn't Ivy Green and her daddy, Maxwell,” he says. “I am mighty happy to see the two of you today.” Which might be what he says to each of us every Sun
day, but today it sounds fishy, like he's saying, “It's hard to believe you're here, considering the fact that your wife-slash-mama's gone off half-cocked crazy and the two of you are home alone living on cold cereal and soda pop.”

I like Pastor Lou well enough, I guess, but honestly, it'd be nice if he didn't always have to comment on who we are and what we do. Mama says that's a preacher's job—to be God's eyes down here on earth. But don't you think sometimes a person can see well enough for herself what's going on, without a preacher's summary of the whole thing?

We file on in, saying our hellos and settling into our usual pew near the Loomises, and then we run through the first set of hymns.

“Would you bless our homes and families . . . ,” we sing.

“Help us learn to love each other with a love that constant stays . . .”

I try to follow along—verse one, then two, then four—the way we're supposed to, but I can't resist. I peek straight away at verse three, the bit we skip every time. Mama says we leave it out to leave room for God, which is the same reason she and Daddy didn't give me a middle name.

“We could've come up with something,” said Mama
one of the five thousand times I asked her why I wasn't Ivy Anne or Ivy Marie or something. “We could've come up with something, but what could possibly be better than leaving an open window for God,” she said, “right in the middle of your name?”

If “God is in everyone and everything,” which is what the marquee out in front of the church said last time I looked, an open window seems like overkill to me, and I can think of a lot of things I'd like better. But never mind, because here I sit, Ivy Blank Green, whispering verse three, “From the homes in which we're nurtured, with the love that shapes us there . . . ,” knowing deep down that those words belong in the song, just like my missing middle name belongs to me.

The offering baskets move from row to row, and as they fill up with bright white envelopes, folks call out prayers, first for everyone who's been impacted by the fires—the ones who've lost their homes and all their treasures, the ones who may not have a school to go to in the fall. This is how our services have opened up ever since spring, and it really
is
a sorrow that there is still so much to pray for. Say what you will about Mama, but she was right about that.

Then we move on to pray for people from our own
congregation—Louise Schmitt, who's in the hospital; and Riley Cole, who's overseas with the navy risking life and limb; and Darryl Rhodes, who was already dealing with a bad divorce and bankruptcy, but now he's gonna have to rebuild his barns after the fires too. (His sister Sharlene doesn't say all this when she offers up the prayer, because that'd be cruel and a little gossipy. Plus, everyone knows it all anyway. She just asks that we “pray for my dear brother Darryl in his suffering.”)

Then, with no warning to me at all, Daddy calls one out for Mama.

“Please say a prayer for our Diana, who is traveling in the name of God,” says Daddy, and everyone says, “Let it be so.”

“Lord have mercy,” I whisper. Not for Mama but for me—mortified, blushing, no-middle-name me. I look down at Mama's shoes and wish, more than anything, that she were here to wear them.

And then, as if he'd been waiting all morning for us to call attention to ourselves, Pastor Lou launches into his sermon.

“Today we look at the book of Ruth, from the Old Testament,” he says, “and we ponder faith and constancy. We think about Naomi and about Ruth, and about how
their loyalty to home and family is the most important lesson we are given by strong biblical woman. It's an old familiar story, but here's the important part . . .” He pauses and, I swear, looks right at me when he does. Like, he meets my eyes. It's creepy.

“In Naomi's darkest hour,” he says, “when she is in another land and has lost everything there is to lose, she yearns for home. It is in a person's moral fiber to want home—a woman's, in particular.”

A few folks mutter, “Amen.”

“And Naomi's daughter-in-law Ruth? What does Ruth do? She comforts Naomi! She says, ‘Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.' What she means, brothers and sisters, is that she will demonstrate her faith in God
through
her faithfulness to family. In spite of everything,” says Pastor Lou. “In spite of struggles, grief, and wildfires, there is faithfulness to family!”

“Amen, brother,” mutter a few more folks. We are not a rowdy church. Once we get done singing hymns, muttering's about all we do. Granddaddy's church was full of “yellers and moaners,” according to Mama, and she always thought that sort of spectacle was unnecessary. Until Hallelujah Dave came along, I guess.

Pastor Lou always says, “There's something for each of you in each of my words each week.” But today it's sounding like every single word's just for us, for me and Daddy, whether we want them or not.

“And God rewards Ruth.” He goes on, hardly even giving me a second to think, his words a little more like a song than a speech now, rolling up and down and up again. “He rewards her loyalty and steadiness with a good husband and a good life, and she is happy.”

I shift in my seat so I can see Daddy out of the corner of my eye. Surely he thinks this whole thing is a little obvious, that good women are supposed to be faithful to their families above all? Through thick and thin? I mean, Pastor Lou's practically saying, “Loyal and steady, unlike
some
people I know!”

But Daddy just sits with his eyes closed and his hands folded in his lap, resting on the soft yellow newsletter bulletin we were handed on our way in. He just sits there not budging, as if Pastor Lou were reading the phone book or something.

Daddy is always the quietest, stillest church sitter on God's green earth. Mama says it's because his roofing job causes such a racket, he likes the peace of church. Personally, I wouldn't describe church as super-peaceful,
what with all the lessons and prayers and instructions and amens. But since Mama's daddy was a fire-and-brimstone preacher in a yelling and moaning church, I guess she got to thinking of Pastor Lou as peaceful. And maybe compared to Granddaddy he is.

One time I asked Daddy what “fire-and-brimstone” meant, and he said, “Scoldings and warnings, mostly. Your granddaddy was big on scoldings and warnings.” I never met Granddaddy, on account of him disowning Mama for marrying and having a baby so young. (That baby being me.) He died before he and Mama got a chance to make up. But I know enough to say that he sure didn't sound like much fun as a preacher or a daddy.

“Meanwhile,” Pastor Lou goes on, “back in our present day, we've been rewarded with good lives too, brothers and sisters. But instead of being happy or grateful, we are led astray. We pull away. Even though our task, as modeled by Ruth, is to stick to our families like honeysuckle vine!”

Pastor Lou carries on, and the church gets hotter and hotter as he preaches. He somehow makes Job part of the story too, and Jesus and Matthew and the prodigal son. Honest to goodness, Pastor Lou can take twenty-five different bits of the Bible and make them all say the same thing if it suits him.

“My friends,” he says, pretty loudly now but still sort of singing, “I'm here to affirm that sometimes our task in life isn't to
get
anywhere. It is to stay solid with the people we love. It is to promise, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.' We learn this, brothers and sisters, from God, from Jesus, and from Ruth.”

And here's when I realize the worst part about Pastor Lou's sermon today. It's not for us—it's for Mama, and Mama's not here to hear a single word.

BOOK: The Great Good Summer
7.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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