I rushed into the crowded auditorium, whispering, “Excuse me,” I climbed across the already-seated folks to the two vacant chairs in the middle. I craned my neck, looking for Bill, who’d promised he’d be here for our grandson’s kindergarten Harvest Festival. Lord, let him be here for Chandler. I heard the door open in the back, and saw, in the crack of light, the tall form of my husband, Pastor William Chandler. I stood, much to the annoyance of those behind me, and waved. In the dark I could feel more than see his smile reaching over the crowd to me.
I sat and the curtain opened. Legs rustled as Bill made his way down the aisle. Irritation changed to welcome when people saw who it was. Everyone loved Bill, even those outside our congregation because he didn’t recognize denominational differences, loving and serving everyone. He took his seat, leaning to brush my cheek with his lips. “Sorry,” he whispered.
Finding his hand, I squeezed it, and we looked for our kindergartner. The sweet voices on stage raised in the familiar hymn: “Come, ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home.” I felt Bill’s arm go around my shoulder. I was glad he was here. It would mean so much to Chandler, whose father was killed in Afghanistan. Our precious daughter, who taught in this Christian school, was a good mother to the boy, but she relied heavily on her father to be his role model.
Sure enough, during the fellowship time afterward, Chandler ran up to Bill, lifting his arms and saying, “Did I do good, Grandpa? Did I?”
Bill swung him up into his arms. Everyone felt that Bill’s smile was just for them, but this little boy evoked a special smile, a smile of blessing and love, a smile big enough for a father and a grandfather. “You certainly did, Chandler, and I’m sure Daddy listened from heaven and was so proud of his little boy.”
“I hope so, Grandpa.”
“I know so,” Bill assured him confidently. “Let’s go get some cookies and punch and find Mommy.”
“Gram, did you like it? Did you hear me sing?”
“Of course I did. You did a fine job!”
Chandler glowed, squirming down from Bill’s embrace and running after his friends. Bill saw Nancy, our daughter, and made his way over to the table where she was serving punch, tucking my arm securely in his.
“Hi, guys,” she said too brightly.
I knew times and events like these twisted the knife of loneliness and longing for her husband. I also knew if I acknowledged it here in the public setting, it would make it worse, so I settled for a quick kiss on her cheek. “Didn’t they all do a fine job?”
She nodded, quickly dabbing her eyes. “I wish . . . .” She looked at her father. “Thanks for coming, Dad.”
“I wouldn’t have missed it,” he said, gathering her into his long arms. She rested her head on his chest for a brief moment, then quickly turned back to her job because the punch cups she had filled were quickly disappearing and people awaited more. “We’ll get out of your way. Are you coming by tonight?” Her dad asked.
I extended my own invitation. “I made meat loaf, and I’ll fix mashed potatoes. I figured you’d be dead on your feet tonight.”
“Thanks, Mom. I’ll be there after we clean up here.”
Bill greeted his way across the fellowship hall. He asked about an aunt’s illness, new grandbabies, struggling teenagers, lifting burdens as we went.
Finally we slipped out the door. “I rode with someone. I figured I could ride home with you.”
“Perfect,” he said, leading me to his old car, a practical low-mileage vehicle that had served him for ten years He kept it clean, if cluttered with boxes of song lyrics, tablets of sermon notes, and stacks of mail. He opened the door for me, as he had done for thirty-five years. It never failed to make me feel special.
“You look nice today, Mrs. Chandler,” he said with a gleam of appreciation in his eye.
“I’ve had this dress for years,” I said.
“But that color brings out those beautiful blue eyes I love so much.”
How could this man make me melt? He got in the car, gathered me into his arms, and kissed me in a way that turned me into a puddle.
“Bill, what will people say about the preacher necking with his wife in the school parking lot?”
“Kiss me like that again, and I’ll really give them something to talk about,” he chuckled. “Besides, we’re supposed to show them how it’s done, remember?”
“I love you more today than I did the day we married,” I said.
“Of course, me, too. We’ve been through a lot together,” he said, pulling out of the lot. “Without you I never would’ve gotten through seminary. And I wouldn’t have these fine children and grandchildren. Thank you Sarah.”
My eyes filled with tears. “I hope I’ve done something worthwhile in my sojourn here on earth,” I said. Since Nancy had moved out and Chandler was in school, I was feeling rather useless, if I admitted it to myself. Oh, I sang in the choir and painted the church nursery, did my part with the women’s ministry, but it wasn’t the same as days filled with children, cooking for six, wiping noses, or fevered brows, cleaning and doing laundry for the now-departed family.
Bill stopped at a light and looked at me carefully. I never could hide my moods from him. “Feeling a little blue?”
Where in the world did these tears come from? I scrambled in my purse for a tissue as the light changed and the car surged forward.
“I’ll just have to do something about that,” he promised.
“I’m just being silly. Besides, there’s nothing to be done. I’ll get over it.”
“Tonight, after Nancy and Chandler leave, you could soak in a nice hot tub. I’ll bring you a cup of tea, rub your back, and see if I can convince you to let me have my way with you.”
I blushed, the curse of fair skin, and he laughed, reaching for my hand. “Maybe we need to plan a little trip, just you and me, a honeymoon for old lovers. I’ll think of something.” He turned into the driveway. “After all, your birthday is coming up. Is that the reason for your doldrums?”
I waited for him to open the door because that’s what he wanted, and I fished for the door keys. We worked side by side in the kitchen. He peeled and diced the potatoes I’d cooked earlier while I put the green beans on to simmer. He asked if he should make a salad, but I’d already made the fruit salad with marshmallows that Chandler loved. We set the table, filled the glasses with ice, and settled down to wait for our daughter and grandson.
I knew he hadn’t turned on the evening news was because of his concern for me, but I couldn’t help but say, “I’ll be sixty. I’ve never minded birthdays, but this one sounds old.”
He laughed. “You’ll always be younger than me.”
“Not that much,” I replied.
“But you are slim and trim—you wear the same pants size you did when we were married, and I’m fat and old.”
“You are not fat and old. I’m a scrawny old man who never gave birth to babies.” He held out his arms. “Come here,” and I walked into the comforting hug. “I love you just the way you are, Sarah.”
“I know.” But I still felt useless.
We had a pleasant evening. Chandler wanted to play Chutes and Ladders, and Nancy saw no need to get him home. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving break. We discussed our plans for the holiday dinner and divided up chores.
“Your brother will be here. Somehow he lucked out and he’s not on call this weekend.”
“Is he bringing anyone? I wish he’d get married,” my daughter said.
“He says he doesn’t have time for relationships,” I told her. “And that’s true.”
“But he’ll be thirty-four when he finished his residency. That’s too old to start a family.”
“He could always rob the cradle, like I did,” Bill teased, winking at me.
“I wish . . . .” I let the thought trail off, but I thought of Rebecca and Miguel, far off in Peru, teaching in a mission school. I hadn’t seen those grandchildren in three years. And Andrew and Patricia, married only two years and living across the continent.
“What do you wish, Mom?”
“Nothing. It’s just we haven’t all been together in a long time. Rebecca couldn’t even get in for Andrew’s wedding.” I bit back a sigh.
Bill spilled his coffee. Bill never spilled. I jumped up and came back with a rag, quickly wiping it up. “Did you get burned?”
“No. Sorry, Honey,” he said.
When Nancy and Chandler left, Bill sent me upstairs to have a nice, long tub-bath, my favorite form of relaxation, and he followed me up in a few moments with the promised cup of tea. He didn’t forget his other promises either, and I lay in his arms later chastising myself for my foolish melancholy. I was blessed beyond measure, and I had no excuse for this foolishness!
On my birthday Tuesday, Nancy took me out to lunch. Bill planned to hang out with Chandler so we would have a girls’ day out. I still was trying to shake off the useless feeling I’d been having as this day crept up on me. I tried to talk Nancy into cutting this shopping trip short, but she insisted she wanted to go to the matinee. She had so few pleasures as a single mom that I agreed. It was almost dark when we walked out of the theater.
“The days are getting short now,” I said, trying not to think of the double meaning of those words at my advancing age.
Nancy tossed the shopping bags into her trunk and lowered it. “I think I got all I need for Thanksgiving,” she said.
“Did you invite anyone to join us? You got enough for an army,” I said.
“Maybe I got too much,” she agreed, turning the car toward home. When we pulled into the driveway, a car with out of state plates was in the driveway.
“I thought Daniel wouldn’t be here until tomorrow!” I exclaimed, hurrying ahead to hug my oldest son.
Bill threw open the door, and a chorus of voices cried, “Happy Birthday, Mom.” They were all there: Andrew and Patricia, Rebecca and Miguel, and the boys, no longer toddlers, and Daniel. I hugged and cried, laughed and cried some more.
“Did you know about this?” I asked Nancy.
Her eyes shone, and she grinned.
Bill stood Chandler in the midst of our brood: a doctor, a missionary, a teacher, and Bible translators. “Chandler, can you sing that verse of the song you learned for the program that we talked about?” Bill quieted the excited crowd and Chandler threw his chest out.
Raising his pure little boy voice, he sang: “All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield; Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown. First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.”
His arm tight around my waist, Bill waved his hand over the family. “I’d say this is a pretty good harvest, Mama.”
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