The Saga of Amberlin – Chapter 7

Chapter 7

“Come on, Hannah, or we’ll be late for church,” Joseline Barrington shouted from the bathroom where she took a final look in the mirror to be sure her graying blonde hair wasn’t too much of a rat’s nest.

“What are you doing, anyway?” She asked, giving up on her hair and walking into the room that served both as her family’s living and dining room.

“I’m giving Lucky a final brushing so he’ll be pretty for church,”  eight-year-old Hannah replied from the single bedroom that the two of them shared.

“Well, Lucky can’t go with us this time,” her mother said from the doorway.

“I know he can’t go in, but you’ve let him stay outside waiting on me before,” Hannah said, her lower lip starting to stick out in an all-too-familiar pout.

“Well, he can’t go this time because we’re not going to our regular church.  We’re going to the large church on the hill.”

“What?” Hannah gave Lucky a final pat then released him.  It took both of them several seconds to stand up – Hannah because of the brace that forced her left leg to remain straight but also allowed her to walk; Lucky because of a stiff rear leg left over from some long ago run-in with a car.  “But all our friends and the people you work with are at the colored church.”

“That may be true, but unlike them, we’re white and we’re allowed to attend the church of our choice, and today my choice is to attend Our Lord and Savior Church.”

“Well, that’s not my choice. Those white people are all stuck up.  Besides, they treat us like poor, white …”

“Hannah Barrington, don’t you finish that sentence.  People may treat us however they darn well please.  It doesn’t make it so, nor do we have to act like it is. Now, let’s get going.  We’ve got further to walk and I’d prefer not being late our first time there.”

“But Ma, I don’t think I can walk that far,” Hannah whined.

“Don’t give me that.  If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, don’t you let anyone treat you like a cripple, and that includes yourself. Now, let’s go!”

* * *

Sitting in the pew between Rose and Grandpa Herb was the hardest part of attending church for Amberlin, particularly since her eyes seemed to have a mind of their own, constantly wandering to the side wall where the newest tombstone plaque hung:


BORN SEPTEMBER 24, 1925  ~ DIED APRIL 28, 1950

Amberlin still remembered the first time she saw the plaque.  She thought, I never have to worry about forgetting my birthday, because even though she hadn’t been able to read all the words, she recognized April 28, 1950 as her birthday.  It took her several days to get up the nerve to ask her Grandpa about it.

They were sitting together in the Sanctuary.  Papa Herb had just finished reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, one of Amberlin’s favorite book, and had closed the cover. The two of them sat there relishing in the afterglow of the story.  Finally, after taking a deep breath, Amberlin cleared her throat and asked. “Papa Herb?”

When her hesitation lengthened out to a pregnant pause, Papa Herb, prompted her.  “Yes Dear.  Do you have something you want to talk about?”

“Yes, but I… I don’t know how to start.”

“Well, why not start by sharing what’s on your mind?”  That seemed easy enough so after a few more seconds, Amberlin spoke up.

“Well, it’s about my mother.”

“Yes, what would you like to know?” Papa Herb’s gentle voice made it easier to talk to him than anyone else she knew.

“Well, I’ve tried asking Grandma about her, but she never wants to talk about her.  She says she’s too busy, or that I’m not old enough, or that we’ll talk about her later, but she never does, and well, I’m wondering how she died?”

“Oh,”  Papa Herb replied, apparently caught off guard by the question.  “Well, I’ll tell you what I know though I’m afraid it’ll be secondhand.  I don’t know if you were aware of this or not but I was overseas on a writing junket when you were born.  I was nervous about leaving, but your mother and grandmother assured me everything would be all right.  After all, what good would I be in the delivery room, they said. I guess they were right about that.  So I took the assignment.

“I was in a remote part of Africa and out of all communication for about two weeks.  I was shocked to learn when I got back to civilization that there’d been complications during the delivery.”

“What kinds of compli…”  Amberlin stumbled over the word, not being sure what it meant.

“Com-pli-ca-tions.  “It means something unexpected and unplanned for happened.  I’m not sure exactly what they were.  I just know that the doctors did everything they knew to do, and while they were successful in saving you, they weren’t able to save our Evie.”  Amberlin could hear the hesitation in Papa Herb’s voice and see the tears welling up in his eyes.  She reached over and patted his hand.  After a moment, he took a deep breath and tried to smile, but the sadness made it come out crooked.

“Anyway, by the time I returned home, Rose had taken care of everything.  Your grandma is a strong Southern lady, but it was almost too much even for her.  She was at her wit’s end. Of course, Reverend Stover and Missy were around to help, but it was still very hard on Rose; on all of us.  She made me promise to never take such an assignment again, and while I’ve traveled out of the country a few times since then, I’ve made sure Rose could reach me.”

Amberlin continued to sit next to Papa Herb, contemplating what he’d told her. Finally, placing her head on his shoulder, she asked. “So, my mother died giving birth to me?”

“Yes dear,” he replied.  After a few moments considering the news, she asked, “Do you ever miss her?”

She felt him sigh heavily before answering, “Yes, Sweetheart.  Every day.”

Now, sitting next to Papa Herb on the hard church pew, Amberlin leaned against her grandfather as she had on that day, and whispered, “I miss her too.”

Papa Herb bent his head down. “What was that, Sweetheart?”

“Oh, nothing.  Just remembering,” she whispered back.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay, I guess.  Is it time for the Children’s March?”

“Almost.  Do you want me to go with you to your Sunday school class?”

Amberlin sat up, straightened her shoulders and with them her resolve.  “No, that’s okay, Papa Herb.  I’m a big girl now.  I’ll be fine.  I have a good feeling about today’s class.”

“Really?  Well, trust your intuition, I always say… particularly yours,” he added with a smile.

* * * *

“Come on, Hannah. Can’t you walk just a little faster?”  Joseline called over her shoulder without slowing her pace.

“I’m doing the best I can, Mom,” Hannah yelled back, gasping for enough breath to be heard.  “This darn brace is rubbing my leg raw.”

Joseline slowed then stopped and turned to her daughter. “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to bark at you so.  I just didn’t want to be late on our first visit.  It gives a bad impression.  But we’re almost there, so it will be just fine, I’m sure.”

Hannah took her mom’s momentary pause to catch up and then pass her.  “Well, come on.  What are you waiting for? I’m going to beat you there.”

Joseline smiled despite herself.  Her daughter’s undauntable spirit was a constant inspiration to her, so while they arrived late, hot and sweaty, they also arrived in a much better mood than they had started out.

“Let’s see if we can slip in the back,” Joseline said. “I’ll go ahead and take you to your Sunday school class, and then go on into the service.”

“What? Are you kidding?  I’m old enough to find my own class, thank you very much.  After all, I believe someone once told me to never let anyone treat me like a cripple.  I’ll be fine.  You go on to the service.  I’ll meet you afterwards.”

Joseline hesitated for a moment before nodding her head, and after quickly hugging her daughter, she turned to find her way to the service.

Unfortunately, Our Lord and Savior’s Church was larger than the church Hannah was used to attending, and its convoluted hallways confused her, so it took an additional fifteen minutes before she finally found her way to the Youth Ed department.  She could tell she’d finally found it by the sounds of children singing on the other side of the door. She tried to look through the door’s window but it was too high for her, so taking a deep breath, she tried to quietly open the door just far enough to slip in without anyone noticing. Unfortunately, her timing was terrible.  Just as she entered the room, the song ended with a low “Amen,” followed by a loud squeak from the door that sounded like a chipmunk was being crushed to death.

So, as Hannah entered the room all eyes were upon her. The one thing she hated more than anything else was being the center of attention.  She knew that the first thing everyone noticed about her wasn’t her long curly hair, or the dimples in her cheek, or her bright blue eyes.  The first and only thing they ever noticed was her leg brace, which at the moment felt like fifty pounds of gleaming metal that drew everyone’s attention to it like a neon sign while also chafing her inner thigh raw.

“Hello, who’s this?  Do we have a new child of God come to share this glorious day of our Lord with us? Come in, come in. No need to be shy here.  We’re glad to have you even if you are twenty minutes late.” This last comment had a bit more edge to it than the rest.

“Oh great. I’m already in trouble,” Hannah thought.  She imagined herself turning quickly around and disappearing through the door she’d just entered, but her brace wouldn’t let her make such quick turns. Besides, where would she go for the next hour while she waited for her Mom to come find her?

“I’m sorry, I’m late.  I … I got lost.”

“A gimp with a poor sense of direction.  Just what we need,” said one of the older boys, which elicited a round of laughter from several of the other children.

“Ben Stover, you sit down and keep your mouth shut, young man,” the lady that had first welcomed Hannah to class said with even more edge, then turned back to Hannah.

“Please, come in.  I’m Missy Stover, and despite what my rude son says, we’re very happy to have you.  What’s your name, dear?”

“Hannah… Hannah Barrington.  My mom went on to the service. I thought I could find my way here but…”

“Oh, don’t you fret none, you hear?  You’re here now and that’s what matters.”

“Why don’t you go sit in that empty chair there next to Amberlin.  Everyone, please welcome our new guest, Hannah.”

“Hello Hannah. Welcome to Our Lord and Saviors Home,” they all replied in unison.  Everyone, except the pretty girl she’d been instructed to sit next too. What was her name? She simply smiled and moved the hymnal that had been on the seat next to her, making room for Hannah.

Hannah smiled back.  “Thanks…what was your name again?”

“Amberlin, Amberlin Gentry.”

Okay, children,” Missy Stover walked to the front of the room.  “Now that we have our guest situated, who wants to be first to see how many names of the books of the Old Testament you can remember in order?”

When no one moved or raised their hand, she pointed to Ben.  “Okay, Ben, come to the front of the class.”

“Ahh, mom, no fair picking on me,” but he slowly rose from his chair and skulked to the front of the room.”

“Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers…huh, Deuteronomy…”

After a minute of watching Ben squirm and struggle, Hannah whispered, “Oh, this is not anything like the church I’ve been attending.”

“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” Amberlin replied under her breath.

“Oh no, did I say that out loud,” Hannah blushed.

“It’s okay. Your secret is safe with me.”

“I just hope she doesn’t call on me.  I don’t have a clue what the books of the Bible are,” Hannah whispered back.

Before Amberlin could respond, Missy Stover cleared her throat loudly.

Ahh, that’s fine, Ben.  You can sit down.  Amberlin, since you don’t find it necessary to be attentive in class, why don’t you come up and show us how well you know your Bible.

Now it was Amberlin’s turn to blush.  “Sorry,” Hannah whispered as Amberlin rose from her seat and walked to the front of the class.

“Where would you like me to start?”

“Start from the beginning.  That is, if you can remember any of the books of our Lord’s Bible.”

“Okay,” Amberlin took a breath before she started. “Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua, Judges Ruth First Samuel Second Samuel First Kings Second Kings First Chronicles Second Chronicles….” She said all in one breath, then paused to take another breath before continuing, “ Ezra Nehemiah Esther Job Psalms Proverbs…”

“Okay, okay, that will be just fine, Miss Gentry,” Missy Stover said with enough spit and vinegar to douse a dozen candles. “We’re here to praise our Lord, not to show off. You may be seated.”

Amberlin curtsied to her teacher before returning to her seat where she gave Hannah a quick wink.  “No need to apologize,” she whispered as soon as she was sure Missy Stover wasn’t watching.  “I predict we’re going to be good friends.”

Hannah nodded, but didn’t dare say anything.  She didn’t know the first thing about the Bible, though she suspected that would change as she hung around with her new friend.