Sunday, February 21, 2010

Baby Music

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Church member Carrie Winslow recently gave birth to a baby boy named Scott. Last Sunday she and her husband Carlos brought Scott to church for the first time.

Carrie was not known for her punctuality, but this Sunday morning she made sure to leave extra early. Having a newborn meant every trip took roughly three times as long as it had before and she didn’t want to disrupt the service by entering in the middle.

Thanks to her foresight, she wheeled the stroller bearing her bundle of joy into the sanctuary seven whole minutes before service was scheduled to start. Carlos staggered behind, loaded down with close to a dozen bags of baby accoutrements that together weighed half as much as a small automobile.

Young Scott Winslow was greeted like a rock star by several of the women of the church. Associate Pastor Michelle Tellum was the first to run up, squealing in delight.

Michelle was twenty-eight and loved kids. Every time she saw one her biological clock started spinning like a merry-go-round. She crouched down in front of the stroller and began making nonsensical cooing sounds.

Missy Moore, a bubbly forty-four year-old single woman, soon joined her. Jill Boyer crowded in next to them. Jill had two daughters of her own. After each was born she swore she would never have another child. But the sight of an infant dispelled all recollection of those vows and she started dreaming about how nice it would be to have another baby of her own.

Seventy year-old Henrietta Miggins passed by the crowd. She paused only briefly to note the cause of the commotion before moving on to her seat. Henrietta was not the kind of person to get caught up in the sort of rock star fervor Scott had engendered.

Carrie watched the chorus of cooing women for a few minutes. Finally she cleared her throat and said, “Well, I better get seated. Service is going to start soon.”

That reminded Pastor Michelle that she was actually leading service that morning. She rushed up the aisle toward the pulpit. However Henrietta intercepted her ten yards from the chancel. “May I have a word, pastor?” Henrietta said.

“It’s time to start the service,” Michelle protested.

“It’s actually one minute past time,” Henrietta replied. “However I think you ought to tell that Winslow girl that babies do not belong in church.”

“Oh, I disagree,” Michelle said. “Children need to feel welcome here or they won’t come back as adults.”

“Babies are a distraction,” Henrietta huffed. “When you’ve had a little more experience you’ll understand.”

Michelle felt her blood boil at the dig but had no time for an argument. “We’ll discuss this later,” she said, then dodged around Henrietta and up into the chancel.

Meanwhile, Carrie, Carlos and Scott had set up camp in the last pew on the left hand side of the sanctuary. They picked that location because that was where Carlos had collapsed under the weight of the baby gear.

The back left section of the church proved popular that morning. Jill and her husband Kevin secured seats at the right end of the pew just in front of the Winslows where Jill could peer into the stroller by leaning back slightly.

“Isn’t he cute?” Jill said to her husband.

“Sure,” Kevin replied. He actually thought the baby looked like some kind of overcooked turnip. It wasn’t Scott in particular – Kevin thought all babies resembled vegetables more than humans. But he had learned to keep that particular view to himself ever since a certain three-day argument he and Jill had shortly after the birth of their daughter Susie.

Michelle managed to get the service started only four minutes late. Scott slept through most of it, waking up just as Michelle launched into her sermon. About a minute later he began to fuss. The fussing was loud enough that Carrie thought she better take the baby outside.

Up in the pulpit Michelle saw Carrie getting up. Michelle glanced down at Henrietta who had a smug I-told-you-so smile on her face. The smile annoyed Michelle a lot more then the fussy baby.

“Carrie, you don’t have to leave,” Michelle said. Carrie looked up, startled. “Please, stay,” Michelle continued. “Babies’ cries are like the music of life. And let’s not forget that Jesus said, ‘let the little children come to me’ when He was teaching.”

Carrie sat back down and Michelle continued the sermon. Carrie tried rocking and bouncing Scott, but his cries just grew louder. Michelle increased her own volume to match. Meanwhile Henrietta’s smile grew more and more smug.

As appreciative as Carrie was for Michelle’s kind words, she thought even the music of life could grow tiresome at this volume. She started to get up again, but Michelle caught her eye and shook her head sharply. Carrie sat back down.

Scott continued to explore the power of his little lungs. Slowly the crowd around Carrie began to shift away from her, cramming into the far ends of the pews. Eighty-six year-old Donald East turned off his hearing aids. Henrietta simply enjoyed watching Michelle shout desperately into the microphone.

Michelle wrapped up her sermon early – not because of the baby, she told herself, but because they’d gotten a late start. As soon as Michelle announced the closing hymn, Carrie bolted for the door with Scott. The entire congregation breathed a sigh of relief.

By the time everyone adjourned to the Social Hall for coffee hour, Scott was happily dozing again and his entourage of admirers had returned.

Kevin collected his daughters Mary and Susie from Sunday school. They came up to the Social Hall to find Jill holding little Scott with a look of bliss Kevin had not seen from her in a long time. Susie ran up to her mother waving a piece of paper.

“Mommy, mommy,” Susie shouted, “look what I made!”

Jill felt Scott start to squirm in her arms and quickly shushed Susie. “I’ll look later. I’m holding Carrie’s baby right now.”

“Come on, Susie,” Kevin said. “Let’s go get some juice.” Susie shuffled off with him to the refreshment table, then found a spot on a couch next to Henrietta Miggins.

“Where’s your mother?” Henrietta asked sharply. She didn’t care for the company of toddlers any more than she did the company of infants.

“Holding the baby,” Susie replied. “I don’t like it.”

“The baby?” Henrietta asked.

“Yes,” Susie said.

“Me either,” Henrietta grunted.

“Want to see the picture I drewed?” Susie asked.

“Sure,” Henrietta said. Despite her aversion to toddlers this one didn’t seem too bad. Susie handed her the drawing and an unfamiliar warmth grew in Henrietta’s seventy-year-old heart.

Then Susie spilled her juice down the side of Henrietta’s leg.

The following Sunday Carrie took Scott directly to the nursery.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ghost Bells

Hear the story read by the author.

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Every Sunday the choir meets an hour before church to warm up. Last Sunday new choir member Audra Park arrived ten minutes late dragging her six-year-old son Tyler behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Audra told Choir Director Shane Reed. “We encountered a little problem on the drive over.”

“We saw a bank robbery,” Tyler said, “and had to help the police catch the criminals.”

“Really,” Shane asked. “You caught bank robbers?”

“Yeah, right,” Audra laughed. “Actually, we got stuck behind a fender bender. Tyler has a bit of an active imagination.”

“Of course,” Shane chuckled. “I was just playing along.” He quickly busied himself with some sheet music hoping nobody noticed the redness he could feel in his cheeks.

Audra sent Tyler down to the Sunday school rooms while she joined the choir for the rest of the warm-up.

After running through the hymns they were going to perform that morning, the choir headed back to the choir room to put on their robes. Shane watched Audra as she checked her long, silky black hair in the mirror.

Shane had met Audra when he was volunteering at the Normal food pantry on Christmas. Audra had been unemployed for several months and brought Tyler to the pantry for a Christmas dinner that was nicer than she could afford to provide at home. After hearing Audra sing carols Shane invited her to join the church choir. Audra’s lovely voice wasn’t the only reason he was interested in her. Shane was divorced.

Sixty-two year-old Del Winslow, a long time member of the choir, sidled up to Shane. “The new girl sure is pretty, isn’t she,” Del said.

“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” Shane replied.

“Single too, I understand.”

“Is she?”

“Why don’t you ask her out?”

“Um, well,” Shane stammered.

“Come on,” Del chuckled. “It’s clear you like her. And she obviously likes you, too.”

“Do you think so?”

“She’s been looking at you the same way you look at her. Go on, go ask her out.”

“Maybe after church,” Shane said.

Downstairs at about this time four-year-old Mary Boyer arrived at the classroom for the Guppies pre-school Sunday school class. She found Tyler building an elaborate city out of blocks in the corner. “Who are you?” she asked.

“My name’s Tyler,” he replied.

“How old are you?”


Mary put her hands on her hips. “You’re not supposed to be in this class. You’re too old.”

“I was just checking to see if the ghost was in here,” he told her.

“What ghost?”

“Didn’t you know? There’s a ghost in the church. My mom is a ghost hunter and I help her. That’s why we’re here. To catch the ghost. But it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone.”

“How do you catch a ghost?” Mary asked, her eyes wide.

“You throw salt on it,” Tyler said.

Just then Karen Winslow, the Guppies’ teacher and Del’s wife, noticed them. “There you are, Tyler,” she said. “You need to go to the Goldfish room across the hall.”

“Okay,” Tyler replied. Then he whispered to Mary, “Let me know if you hear the ghost. You can tell when it’s around because it carries a bell.”

“Gotcha,” Mary whispered back.

All during the church service Shane watched Audra and thought about what Del said. Once during the sermon Audra glanced over at him and Shane quickly looked away. His eyes met Del’s, who gave him a wink and a grin. Shane blushed.

After the service the congregation gathered in the Social Hall for coffee hour. Shane got a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies and found Audra. He made a little nervous small talk trying to work up the courage to ask her out. Del sauntered by and gave Shane an encouraging nudge in the back with his elbow.

Shane opened his mouth to suggest that he and Audra have dinner some time, but before he could speak choir member Celia Simmons trundled over. “Excuse me,” Celia said. “I have something to give Audra. I was cleaning out my pantry and found some canned fruit I’m not going to use. I thought you might like it.” Celia held out a plastic grocery bag.

“That’s not necessary,” Audra said, forcing a smile. She wished she hadn’t met Shane the way she did. She knew Celia meant well, but it was embarrassing having everyone think of her as a charity case.

“Nonsense,” Celia replied. “I know how expensive canned fruit is these days. Frankly, it’s a travesty. What these politicians are doing to our economy…”

“Thank you,” Audra said, grabbing the bag. She thought accepting the handout would be better than enduring a long political speech.

Meanwhile, across the room Mary found Tyler sitting on a couch drinking a cup of juice. “Look,” she said, holding out her hands. They were full of little salt packets. “I got these from the kitchen so I can help you catch the ghost.”

“Good work,” Tyler said. “We’d better open them up now so we’re ready when we find it.”

The two kids diligently tore open all the tiny packets and dumped the contents into their pockets. When they each had a pocket full of salt they set off to look for the ghost.

Audra might have successfully curtailed Celia’s rant about the economy, but Celia had simply shifted to a rant about the post office. Audra spotted Tyler heading out of the social hall with Mary. “Excuse me,” she said, “I think I better find out what my son is up to.”

Celia nodded and shifted her full attention to Shane. Shane watched Audra go down the hall, silently cursing himself for missing his opportunity.

And that’s when Del came to the rescue. “Shane,” he said with a wink, “I think Pastor O’Donnell was looking for you.”

“Thank you,” Shane said. He hurried after Audra as Del engaged Celia in a conversation about the sub-par performance of the city’s snowplows.

Tyler and Mary had decided the church library would be a good place to start their ghost hunt. “We should hide so we don’t scare it away,” Tyler said. Mary nodded. She wasn’t sure why the ghost would be scared of them, but Tyler was the expert and she didn’t want to expose her ignorance. The two kids crawled behind an overstuffed chair.

A few moments later Audra poked her head into the library and called out Tyler’s name.

Tyler peeked out from behind the chair. “Go away, Mom,” he said, “We’re hunting ghosts.”

At this point several things happened in quick succession. Shane had seen Audra go into the library and followed her. As he entered, his cell phone rang. His ringtone was a peal of bells, which he found ironically amusing. But Mary heard the bells and assumed the ghost had arrived. She jumped out from behind the chair and hurled a handful of salt toward the ringing. The salt hit Shane in the face, temporarily blinding him. He stumbled back, banging his head on the doorway.

“Shane,” Audra cried as he fell to his knees.

“I’m okay,” he assured her as he swiped at his eyes with his sleeve. “At least, I will be when I can see again.”

“Sorry Mr. Reed,” Mary said. “I thought you were the ghost.”

“Okay, enough playing,” Audra said. “There are no ghosts in the church.”

“Good. We must have chased it away,” Tyler declared.

Audra helped Shane to his feet. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine,” he replied, trying to look suave despite the tears pouring down his cheeks.

“Were you looking for me?” She asked.

Shane glanced down at the two kids. “Um, no,” he lied. “I was just getting a book.”

“Oh. Okay,” Audra said. “Well, I think it’s time for Tyler and me to get home. Come on, kids.”

Audra took Tyler and Mary by the hand and led them back out to the Social Hall.

Shane went to the kitchen and wrapped some ice in a dishrag for the bump that was growing on the back of his head. Del found him there.

“So,” Del said. “I saw Audra leave. Did you ask her out?”

“Not exactly,” Shane said. “I was foiled by a ghost.”

Del just shook his head. He simply did not understand the younger generation.