“Pastor?” Annabelle’s voice interrupted over the intercom.
“Yes! What is it?” he answered curtly.
“It's time for us to start on the sermon. But, I almost forgot: I have one more phone call to make.”
He shook his head. Absent-minded old woman. He slumped back in his chair. Despite Annabelle’s shortcomings, he wondered how a new secretary would ever become as efficient as she when it came to helping with sermon preparation.
Annabelle had been his only secretary over all the years of his ministry. He hired her when she was in her early thirties, a few years older than himself. She was a clear thinker with an almost photographic memory, and had an uncanny way of anticipating his needs. From the time Amanda died until Curtis joined the staff, she handled much of the administrative details for the church and Morehouse Ministries. She still worked six and seven days a week, usually from early morning till well into the evening. Her challenging responsibilities and an inordinate work load would break the back and spirit of most women half her age. But it never seemed to bother her. Most of all, she knew how to handle the Pastor’s abrupt mood swings. There was no one he could depend on more.
The Pastor had to face reality: The years were taking their toll on Annabelle. She was frail and often succumbed to moments of absent-mindedness. Fortunately, Curtis had relieved her of many administrative duties.
“Pastor,” came Annabelle’s voice over the intercom, “Bert is here to see you.”
Before the Pastor could answer, the door opened and Bert Samaran walked in.
Will I ever get to my sermon? the Pastor fretted.
Bert was a portly man, two years older than the Pastor. His red beard was streaked with gray and a Veteran’s of Foreign Wars garrison cap covered the bald crown of his head. The cap was encrusted with VFW and military medals, preeminent among them being a Purple Heart he received after losing an arm in combat. But he never let on that it was much of a handicap. People agreed that he did more things with only one arm than most could manage with two.
The deacons once offered Bert a reserved handicapped parking space near the rear entrance of the church, but he turned them down in his own inimitable way. “I lost an arm, not my legs,” he told them.
Though Bert had a big greenhouse behind his home, he was never one to admit being the fine horticulturist that he was. He often quipped, in his usual, self-depreciating manner, “I lost my green thumb in the war.” He was a handyman, too, always tinkering with gadgets at home and fixing this or that around the church. He referred to himself as “half a handyman.”
Bert walked over to the Pastor’s desk. Two packages were tucked under the stub of his left arm, and in his right hand was a gold foil-wrapped pot that overflowed with a colorful assortment of yellow and purple flowers, the varieties of which the Pastor did not know or care to know.
“Boy, we’re gettin’ a doozie of a rain!” said Bert. “And more’s on the way. “Here,” he said, setting the flowers on the Pastor’s desk. “I brung these along to brighten up yer day, Desi.”
The Pastor cringed at being called by the shortened version of his name. Bert had tagged him with the moniker when they met in the Army.
“Of course, they ain’t as pretty as the flowers my Rosie used to grow, rest her soul. More’n likely they’ll die in a few days, like all the other flowers I bring ya. Can’t live without sunlight, ya know. Darned if I’d ever build a study without winders.”
Bert had a point, for the Pastor’s windowless study did need a touch of the outdoors. Not that the Pastor would ever agree to that; his study was the way he wanted it—built and furnished to his exact specifications. Windows would only expose him to views of the detestable outside world, and he didn’t want such distraction.
Bert brought cut flowers to the church every Saturday. One arrangement was for the Pastor’s study, another for Annabelle’s desk, and larger ones for the sanctuary stage.
“I brung somethin’ else for ya, Desi. Here, unwrap ‘em,” Bert said, fumbling with the packages and handing them to the Pastor.
Despite Bert’s cheerfulness and thoughtfulness, the Pastor maintained his sullenness. Always bringing me junk, the Pastor thought, sighing with resign. He dutifully began to unwrap one of the packages.
Bert smiled with anticipation. “Remember that snapshot of me an’ you when we got our medals?”
The Pastor stiffened.
“You remember,” Bert prompted. “The one they took off the wall when they redid yer study, and it got lost.”
The Pastor removed the last of the wrapping paper from the framed black and white photo. He hardly glanced at it. He didn’t need to—or want to. It was all too familiar: he and Bert, both young and wearing Army uniforms. It showed the heavily bandaged stub of Bert’s left arm and a cast on the Pastor’s left leg. They both had Purple Hearts pinned to their chests. The Pastor tried for years to erase it all from his memory, but now the photo was bringing it back again.
“Too bad we never got a picture of Tony with us,” said Bert. “Anyways, I got this one here made up for ya from the little one.”
The Pastor winced at the mention of Tony’s name. The picture of himself and Bert was bad enough. “Little one, what?” he asked.
“The little picture—the snapshot they took of us after we got our medals. Well, I took it down to Walgreens and they blew it up real big fer yer wall. Here, let me show ya,” he offered, taking the picture from the Pastor.
Bert walked over to the trophy wall and pointed to a spot. “Ain’t this about where the old picture was?” asked Bert, “Yeah, this is the spot. You can move some of these pictures and squeeze it in right next to you and Billy Graham.”
The Pastor grimaced. Now, how am I going to get rid of this one? He was disturbed by the thought that important visitors would see the picture and start asking questions. Tony wasn’t in it, but it made no difference; it still brought back horrible memories of that night.
“Well? Open the other one,” said Bert, nodding at the package on the desk.
The Pastor unwrapped it. It was a book, an obviously old, but well-preserved edition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
“I was lookin' around one of them old book stores on East Colfax the other day and ran across it.”
The Pastor studied the book’s cover. Though the story continued to have common popularity, he considered it overly whimsical for today’s more sophisticated literary tastes. He opened the book to the title page and took note that it was an early edition, printed in 1915. It could be rare.
With no response coming from the Pastor, Bert asked, “Maybe ya already got that one, huh?”
“No, in fact, I don’t,” said the Pastor, admiring the book. “It’s a fine book. I appreciate it. I truly do.”
Bert beamed with satisfaction. “Sorry I can’t stay and visit longer, but me an’ Annabelle’s goin’ out to the VA hospital.”
The Pastor frowned, angered that she had failed to remind him.
After Bert left, the Pastor leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He sighed long and deep. Fatigue was coming on and he still had to prepare his sermon. And Annabelle wouldn’t be there to help him.
He looked around for his brief case. Then it occurred to him: My car. I left it in my car. He banged his fish on the desk. Confound it!—I forget what I want to remember and remember what I want to forget!
Continue to Chapter 6 >
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