Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Sunday Clothes, Chapter 19

December 29, 2018

… Anywhere with Jesus I can go to sleep,

When the dark’ning shadows ‘round about me creep,

Knowing I shall waken never more to roam; 

Anywhere with Jesus will be home, sweet home. 

Anywhere, anywhere! Fear I cannot know; hymnal

Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.


The song coasted to a halt, and the noise of hymnals sliding into pew racks momentarily filled the church house. Then the room quieted as the worshippers stood, waiting for the benediction.

“Our Father in heaven, we thank thee for the blessin’s a this hour,” the gangly, bespectacled man prayed in a singsong voice, “and for the truths spoken unto us by Brother Woodrow. We ask thy blessin’s upon each that’s here, and that thou’d bring us back at the next appointed time. In Christ’s name, amen.”

A chorus of male “amens” answered, and the racket of conversation swelled as the congregation shuffled along the pews toward the center aisle and the front door. Zeb moved with the others, laughing and talking. A firm, meaty hand clapped him on the shoulder, and he turned around.

“Zeb, my wife has fixed up the biggest ol’ mess a chicken and dumplings you ever saw, and I figure you’re just the man to help us eat it,” said Pete Norwich. “Whaddya say?”

And Zeb knew immediately the source of his malaise before his last return to Little Rock: it rose up in him instantly now, flared into a klaxon of danger, blaring away inside his head. He was a married man, and the tendrils of guilty pleasure that beckoned him to accept this opportunity to be with Becky Norwich were forbidden to him, and he knew it. He shouldn’t go. He should decline Pete’s invitation as gracefully as possible, and he should go back to his rooms and pack his things and get on the next train to Nashville, and he should never come back to Little Rock again.

But … he was in charge of his own life, wasn’t he? He’d managed things in Little Rock very well, and he was in control of himself, and what was wrong with having lunch with some of the new friends he’d made for himself in this place that was his own? Why should he turn tail and run, why raise all kinds of awkward questions with Griffs and Carleton—not to mention worrying Addie needlessly? He could handle it. He was equal to this challenge too. And these were church folks, for Pete’s sake. What could happen?

He grinned at Pete Norwich and said, “Sure, Pete! I’ll be there! Thanks!”


Zeb leaned comfortably back in the chair and patted his stomach. “Pete, I’ll tell you one thing: Ruth knows her way around the kitchen. How in the world have you kept from getting big as the side of a barn, way that woman cooks?” barn

“Self–control, son. Nothing but self–control.”

“Yeah, but I’m talking about you, not her.”

“Watch it, boy. I’ll toss you out on your ear, you keep that up.”

Pete rustled the newspaper, and Zeb listened to the women’s voices coming low from the kitchen, just audible above the noises of splashing water and the clink of dinnerware. Becky’s voice was lighter in timbre than her mother’s, though much the same pitch. Zeb imagined her, sleeves rolled to her elbows, perhaps a wisp of blonde hair falling to her shoulder as she washed and dried …

Norwich made a disgusted sound. “I tell you, Zeb, I don’t understand what Roosevelt thinks he’s gonna accomplish with this Labor and Commerce Department foolishness. Sounds to me like just another way for some Washington bureaucrat to get his hands on the public funds.”

Zeb made a noncommittal reply. It was almost reflexive with him: he seldom allowed himself to be drawn into political or religious discussions with prospects. Just as Pete was launching into a diatribe against the wasteful ways of the federal government, Mrs. Norwich came in from the kitchen, bent over the back of his chair, and whispered something in his ear.

“Huh? Why? I’ve just started my paper, Ruth! Can’t a man at least—”


He stared at her for maybe five seconds and gave in with a shrug. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be right there.” He looked at Zeb, shook his head, and sighed. Zeb gave him a small, sympathetic smile in return as Pete laid aside the newspaper and followed his wife from the room.

No sooner had they left than Becky came in. Zeb looked at her and smiled. She ducked her head and seated herself in the chair her father had just vacated. She lifted a corner of the newspaper, smiling fondly. “Daddy and his Sunday afternoon rituals.” She shook her head.

“Sure was a good lunch, Becky. Your mama knows how to rearrange the groceries, that’s for sure.”

“Glad you enjoyed it.” She wouldn’t look at him. He couldn’t stop looking at her.

There was a longish silence. Becky took a deep breath, patted her palms on her knees, and turned her face toward him. “It’s a nice, bright afternoon. Why don’t we put on our coats and go for a stroll?”

Zeb nodded. “That’d be all right, I guess.” He got up from his chair as she went to fetch their wraps. She handed him her coat, and he held it for her. As she slid her arms into the sleeves, she leaned back against him, ever so slightly. His heart hammered at his rib cage like a wild thing.

They walked out into the brilliant blue afternoon. The wind was still and every breath of fresh, cool air entered Zeb’s lungs like a shout of joy. He ambled along with his hands in his pockets. “Nice day, like you said,” he offered.

She murmured in agreement.

“Glad you mentioned a walk.”

She said nothing.

They strolled along for almost a hundred yards without speaking. “Excuse me for asking,” Zeb said finally, “but how come a woman as nice looking as you never found a husband?”

She made no reply for a long time, and Zeb feared he had transgressed. Just as he was about to attempt an apology, she said, “I haven’t been in a hurry about such things.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her glance at him, then away. ‘‘I’m still not,” she said.

They walked on. Ahead and to the right, the capitol dome glistened in the crystalline air. “How’d you come to work for your daddy?” Zeb asked. dome

“I’ve always enjoyed the company of men more than women. Guess it comes of being raised with brothers. I’ve never much been able to abide quilting parties and so forth. I’d rather be working on the store’s books than gossiping about chintz.”

Zeb looked at her and grinned. He could see the smile starting, watched with amusement as she tried to suppress it. At last, it broke free across her face and she looked at him, laughing.

“That’s the most words you’ve said in a row all day. I’d about decided the cat had your tongue for good.”

She shook her head and grinned at the ground. “I don’t know what’s got into me today. I’m usually not nearly so reserved.” She looked at him. “Especially around friends.”

They stopped walking and looked at each other. At the same instant, their hands reached out and found each other. “Friends,” Zeb nodded. They walked on.


December 15, 1902

 My Dear Husband Zeb,

How anxious I am for you to come home for Christmas! I

think you’ll like the way the house looks, at least I hope so. The

wreath is real pretty, I think. Mary Alice is about to worry me to

death, trying to keep her out of the Xmas tree. 

I hope all is well with the agency. It sounds to me like you’ve

really got things going your way. I know you work so hard & I’m

very happy it’s paying off. Maybe the men at the Home Office will

soon figure out what a go–getter you are & give you that position

you’ve been looking for so long. I certainly hope so. letter

Had a letter from Lou the other day, she seems pretty good,

right now. Says Daddy doesn’t hardly come out of the house at all

anymore. It makes me sad, thinking of him in that big old house

all alone, with just Rose for company, her only part of the day. I

know he did wrong by you and me, but my heart aches for him. I

guess I can’t help it since he is my father, after all. 

Well I’ll close this for now. I love you with all my heart & I’m

looking forward to meeting you under the mistletoe (ha!). Hurry

home as soon as you can.

Your own,

Adelaide C Douglas


Addie read the letter one last time before folding it. She gazed wistfully for a moment at the envelope, thinking about Zeb’s hands holding it. She wanted to feel those hands again, to look into his face. She briefly considered adding a postscript to that effect but thought better of it. Zeb might think she was being affected—too romantic and gushy. He might think she wasn’t being brave.

Besides, if she started putting down on paper everything she wanted to say to Zeb but couldn’t, she’d never have time for doing anything else. How could she tell him how desperately lonely she was much of the time? How could she say how it made her feel sitting in church with Mary Alice on her lap and looking about at the other families, the children ranked in the pews between their parents like books between bookends? It took two parents to do that. And how could she tell him how she longed to cook for him, to put three plates on the table in the evenings, to hear him breathing beside her in the dark of their bedroom? How could she explain how badly she wished he were here with her, hearing Mary Alice’s babbled attempts at new words, smiling at the new things she was doing each day, marveling at the way their daughter’s personality was already bursting into bloom? Hardest of all, how could she give vent to her darkest suspicion: that Little Rock had stolen her husband from her?

No, it wouldn’t do. He would think she was trying to tether him to her with guilt. He would resent her interference in the pursuit of his dream. He would sigh and shake his head and secretly rue the day he had taken such a weak woman for a wife, and though he might accede to her wishes, there would be a hurt place in his heart that could never be hers again.

Stop it, she told herself. There was no point in thinking such things: Zeb loved her and Mary Alice. He was a good man, and he had more to do during the day than mope over her. He wrote faithfully, and besides, he was just trying to make his way in the world the best way he knew, and she should be ashamed of herself for being so selfish. He’d come back to Nashville soon enough, and their future would be secure, and all would be well, and he wouldn’t have to spend so much time away from home ever again. “Just try and stand it for a little while longer,” he’d told her the last time he was home. “And I promise some day it’ll pay off.” Someday. That was what she’d think about—how it would be, someday.tree

Nodding to herself she affixed the stamp and sealed the envelope. She stood and suddenly felt the room whirling about her head. She had to grab the back of the chair to keep from falling over. In a moment, the spell passed and the room got still again. She’d been having some dizziness lately, for some reason. That, and feeling tired all the time.

Before Addie posted the letter, she just had to look again at the ring. She slid out the lap drawer of the secretary and fished around in the back until her fingers closed on the small, square box from Sears & Roebuck’s. She removed the lid and admired the smooth, shining gold of the center section and the elegant, beaded line of the silver borders. The ring was even more beautiful than the picture in the catalog. She knew Zeb would be proud of it, and that he would be surprised. She tried to imagine the look on his face when he unwrapped it. Feeling a small glow of pleasure, she replaced the cotton padding atop the ring and put the lid back on the box.

She stepped out on the porch and clipped the letter to her mailbox with a clothes pin. It was a cold, bright day, and the blue sky was thickly littered with gray shreds of cloud, scudding along before the north wind. Gripping her elbows against the chill, she glanced up and down the street. Then her eyes fell on the bare branches of the two large hickory trees standing guard in her front lawn. She stood a moment, looking up to their tops, which swayed slowly back and forth. Even if she could climb them, she thought, there was no hiding place now, no concealing safety where she could sit and dream. Only the tossing, indifferent wind of December. I hope Zeb comes home soon, she thought, and went quickly back inside.


This post is a chapter from the novel Sunday Clothes, by Thom Lemmons. Sunday Clothes will soon be available for purchase as an e-book at

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So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.



The Home Place, Part 1

January 5, 2010

I felt nostalgia grabbing at my sternum as soon as my tires crunched in the red gravel driveway. I live in the city, so I don’t drive much on anything except pavement, but even when I do, in my part of the world they don’t really have gravel—they have something called caliche. It doesn’t make the same sound as the red gravel folks use around here.

I used to spend hours—well, minutes, maybe—standing in the driveway with a bat-shaped board, tossing golf-ball-sized rocks into the air and pounding them into the empty field across the blacktop road from our house. Hal taught me how to do it—demonstrated, anyhow. And, big-brother-like, mocked my fumbling efforts at imitation. But I finally got it. The board/bat was how I first learned about hitting the sweet spot. You really want to find the sweet spot when you’re batting rocks from a red gravel driveway.

The place looked different. Not surprising; I hadn’t seen it since Reagan was president. Not the house so much—I expected that. It was more the land itself: flatter, if you can imagine it. More uniform. I’d noticed it on the drive in: fewer trees, and what little contour the terrain used to possess now laser-graded and scraped into the uniformity needed for irrigation. The few sloughs and sinks I remembered from the days when I used to hunt rabbits and squirrels had yielded to the implacable need for increased rice yields. It was just business—I understood that. But I still missed the sight of those old-growth cypresses and sweet gums.

I got out of the car and corralled the store-wrapped packages in and under my arms, turned and walked across the winter-browed front yard. Steam feathered in front of my face in the cool December evening. Through the kitchen windows I could see Gail bent over the sink, peeling or scrubbing or slicing or some such. I reached the front porch and started to nudge the doorbell with a knuckle, but before I did I paused, letting the silence of the darkened countryside seep into me.

The stillness out here was of a completely different quality from that which passed for quiet in the city. It was like being in a closet: one the size of the universe. No whine of truck tires on a freeway, no passing thump of car stereos, no distant music or laughter spilling from the open door of a nightclub or restaurant. Just an elemental hush that I could almost feel on the back of my neck.

I pressed the button and almost instantly heard the pounding of multiple sets of juvenile feet, stampeding toward the door. The door jerked open and a tangle of blond hair, denim, and arms and legs of various sizes flung itself about my waist. “It’s Uncle Frank! He’s here!”

“Hey guys! Take these packages before they’re destroyed.” I parceled the boxes out with a hug and a kiss for each of them. I looked up just in time to see Hal come out of the den, just off the entryway. He smiled. “Hey, bud. Glad you could make it.” We hugged tightly, slapping each other on the back.

I had seen Hal twist steel bolts in half, trying to snug them down just one more notch. And I had seen him rocking his babies, his hard, nicked hands cradling them as gently as a feathered nest.

“How was the drive?”
“Long and uneventful.”
“Still liking your Miata?”
“You bet. Made it here from Dallas in just over eight hours.”

Hal shook his head and smiled. “Well, come on in and put your stuff in Kris’s room. Gail’s still working on supper, so it’ll be a while.”

On my way to the kitchen, I glanced at the small tree in the den. The five-foot spruce struggled gamely to bear up under the weight of all the decorations, clustered as thick as chain mail. The few packages I had brought had just about doubled the volume of parcels under the tree.

Gail scurried between the stove and the refrigerator, choreographing the three-course meal and looking like a utility percussionist during a performance of the 1812 Overture. She finally glanced up and saw me.
She gave me a grin. “Hey, Frank!” She reached for me, a paring knife in her hand. “Oops, sorry,” she said, seeing my mock dodge. She tossed the knife on the counter beside the sink, then turned and gave me a good, tight squeeze. “Good to see you.”

“Likewise, kiddo. Glad to be here. Smells delicious.”
“Well, I hope it is. I got started late, as usual.”
“I’ve already been so advised. How you doing?”
“Oh … okay.”

I searched her eyes for the source of the delayed response, but she looked away.

“So, you can either help me slice potatoes or go in there and chase the kids and visit with your brother,” she said with a quickly summoned smile. “Your choice.”
“With my culinary skills, I can probably make the best contribution by getting out of your way.”
“That’s kind of what I was thinking. Dinner will be ready before you know it.”

I wandered back through the house, looking at everything. This was the same house my parents had brought me home to from the hospital. Through the years our folks had made additions here and there, and Hal and Gail had continued the process during their tenancy. The dwelling had started out as a very simple living room/kitchen/two bedroom crackerbox. Then, as times got a little more prosperous, Dad and Mom had added another bedroom, a carport, and enlarged the kitchen. Hal and Gail had added a den, an upstairs playroom, and a master suite.

So many joinings of timber and time, so many layers of memory … The house existed both Now and Then. The construction of my life had started with the building of this house. By the time I graduated from high school, I was pretty sure I’d outgrown this place. Turns out it had grown into me.

I felt Hal’s hand on my shoulder. “Whatcha doing?”
“Oh, just remembering stuff, I guess.”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
The tone in his voice pulled my head around to look at him.

“Something going on, bud?”
He stared into the middle distance for a second or two, then shook his head. “Nah. Let’s go sit in the den.”

There was a comfortable fire in the fireplace. The TV was on with the volume down; General Schwarzkopf was standing in front of a bank of microphones while stock quotes crawled across the bottom of the screen. Hal aimed the remote and the picture disappeared. I settled into an armchair and rested my feet on an ottoman, and Hal sank into his recliner. We both stared into the fire for a few seconds.

Kip, the youngest, scampered into the room. “Know what Santa’s bringing me, Uncle Frank?” he said, crawling into my lap.

I smiled down into his intent blue eyes. “No, Kipper, what’s that?”
“He’s bringing me a red tractor, just like my daddy’s.”
“No kidding! You going to help your dad plow?”
“Yeah. Just like my daddy.”

“Sounds good, pal. I bet your dad could use another good tractor driver.”
I ruffled Kip’s hair as he scooted out of my lap and trotted toward the stairs leading to the playroom. I grinned at Hal.

Tears gleamed on his cheeks as he stared into the fire. His mouth was twisted into a grimace of anguish.

“Hal? You okay?”

He just kept staring straight ahead.

(to be continued)

Creative Commons License
So Fair and Bright (a weblog) by Thom Lemmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.