As we writers all do, as I write, I come up with more information about my characters than I can use in any one story. The following is such material. It’s good stuff, but to put all of this into the story would slow the pace too much. Or so is my opinion. I offer it here, in part to give me time to write and give a little polish to what will be Part 3, coming later this week. And partly because it’s good stuff!
Sarah Williams was Billy’s only daughter, as precious to him as another human could be. She was born premature and not without complications. The doctors were useless, in his opinion, and his wife died in the birthing process. Not his daughter’s fault in the least. Her freckled face, button nose and long blonde hair showed a picture of health to the world and when she saw her father her face lit up with a smile brighter than the sun itself. But she was allergic to sunlight, deathly allergic. He wasn’t about to expose her to the a public—much less a public school!—that would either treat her like a freak or ignore his warnings and kill her. Billy kept her indoors, at home and with his sister’s advice, home schooled her. He often simply denied she existed rather than try to explain her.
“Who was that?” she asked again. New people were always a curiosity and those two had looked more interesting than most. Their clothes and haircuts shouted ‘city folk’.
“He’s a jerk I went to high school with, showing off his girlfriend. They’re here for Home Coming. Answer me now: schoolwork done?”
“Yessir. You want to check it?”
“I trust you.” His voice and face softened. “You know I trust you.” As they stood inside the door, he put his big arms around her and hugged her close. She snuggled in.
“So who is he, this show-off jerk? Sounds to me like a story.” She smiled and looked up at him.
“Well, you remember Miss Celia?” She nodded. “That was his momma. But he had no Poppa, or so the story went back in high school. That should have been enough to get him beat up every day, but Miss Celia was such a good church lady that nobody seemed to mind.”
“So why is he a jerk? Did he beat you up and take your lunch money?” She grinned.
“What would you know about that? I never had nobody beat me up! And I wasn’t about to buy my lunch: the cookin’ wasn’t very good and they never served enough!”
“Did he try to steal Momma from you, when you were going steady?”
“What in the world has your aunt been letting you read? Some trashy romances?” His voice was severe but he was smiling. “He stole every other girl he ever wanted, but once your Momma and I got together there was nobody coming between us.” His voice hitched, and he looked away. “Now, speaking of food, it’s supper time! Who’s turn is it to cook?”
* * *
The Caretaker’s Place was not part of the Church property. It was a small two bedroom house with a kitchen and living room and a garage big enough to double as a workshop. It sat on a half-acre of land, and it had been on a separate deed from the beginning, when Pastor came back from the Great War, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.
It was 1918, and he knew his congregation would need someone to take care of the Church property, someone concerned about the Congregation but who was not actually part of it. So the Church paid the mortgage and taxes on the Caretakers Place, but it was deeded to the Caretaker. The Caretaker made sure the property was kept up to snuff and he was free to work elsewhere for his living. Keeping his home, however, depended on the congregation being big enough to pay his mortgage. This made him somewhat of an evangelist for them, as well as their all-around carpenter, plumber and grounds-keeper. It was a mutual obligation and it had worked well for three generations.
The original caretaker was also in the Great War. Unlike the Pastor who had a desk job in England, the caretaker had been in the trenches and suffered what they called ‘shell shock’. Today we know it as PTSD. He never recovered completely and relied on alcohol, his wife, and the admiration of their young son to cope with the haunting horrors of that wartime experience. When he finally succumbed to the alcohol, his son took over parts of the job he wasn’t already doing for his father. The church agreed to continue the arrangement. It was now the Great Depression and there were few alternatives for either party.
Church property was 30 acres, most of it woods now, although at one time it had been a working farm, mostly fields and pasture. The Meeting House sat in the middle of the property, not far from the house and barn. Up a hill was a spring and a swampy woods where the ground was too wet to plant. And of course, there was the Graveyard. The founding preacher’s grave is the main stone, a large square of granite, with the other stones arranged around it, in a circular pattern.A grassy dirt and white stone driveway encircling the original area, with newer headstones spreading beyond it. The pastor had his headstone bought and paid for long before he died. His rationale was that the Congregation would need a reminder of their original purpose, why they were there. He spoke often of the memorial stones that the Israelites piled up on each side of the Jordan.
“We have to be reminded of our purpose here on earth!” he would preach. “The distractions of the big cities, of the worldly entertainment, of the flesh, the devil and the whole world system! All of them want to distract you from your purpose here on earth, but don’t let them! This stone, our Stone of Remembrance, our Ebenezer! Let this one be your reminder! Every time you look at it, be reminded there was—there IS!—a reason to continue the Good Fight of Faith!”
He put his name on it, and his wife’s. He expected each pastor after him would do the same and be buried around it. He even specified that they would be laid with their heads toward the stone. On the stone was carved a relief of the Good Shepherd. “Our True Stone,” he often repeated. But the only name on the stone was his own, with the inscription, “Founding Pastor”.