Chapter 10 - Honor Thy Mother
“Tom, have you heard anything today? Any reports come across your desk?”
“No sir Pastor Jesse, just like the last couple of weeks, no word or requests from anyone. Humpf, if she has a family, they don’t care she’s missing.”
Jesse was sitting at his kitchen table and thinking the very same thing. How could someone so charming and beautiful not be missed? Expecting a missing person’s report to come from this county or a neighboring one, the whole ordeal had now moved from the strange to the absurd.
“You know pastor,” continued Sheriff Sanders, “if you would’ve come out and told me when this happened we could’ve resolved this by now.”
“I know, I know Tom,” replied Jesse grudgingly, “it’s just that Jane really needed my help. You yourself have told me that ever since Sara died I seem a bit depressed. Helping Jane has revived me and I really want to see her reunited with her family, I want to see this through.”
There was an obvious pause from the other side, the sheriff continued, “I understand Jesse, but as your friend, I don’t have to tell you the townsfolk are talking. A beautiful young woman suddenly appears out of nowhere and then she’s living with you. Sara’s death hit all of Miracle hard, you know that. And now this? People can’t help but talk, and some of it’s not good.”
Back in the kitchen Jesse shook his gaunt face. He had heard the grumblings from his conservative congregation, the kind of gossip which puts him in an unflattering light. Trying to measure his reply and not sound defensive, Jesse said, “I’ve heard, but it’s all just talk. Tom, I think you know me, heck, she’s old enough to be another daughter that’s how she’s treated.”
“Jesse, I know that,” replied the sheriff, “but it’s not me you need to convince, it’s everyone else.”
“My concern is not what people think, it’s to help this young woman. If people can’t or won’t see that then there’s nothing I can do to change it. The townsfolk can think and say what they please. Now, what about the social worker, have you heard anymore from that front?”
Jesse thought he heard a sigh right before the sheriff said, “Nope, same story. It’s only one gal and with all the cuts at the county and state level she’s the only person taking care of cases in Miracle.”
“Well, alright then. I’ll keep bugging her. Hopefully between the two of us we’ll get them to come out here and work this.”
“Hopefully pastor” – the sheriff started to sound weary – “is there anything else I can do for you today.”
“Naw, that’s it Tom. I appreciate your time and effort on this, I really do. See you later, thanks.”
Jesse hung up the phone just as Jane entered the kitchen. The pastor then looked up at the wall clock; it was early-Sunday morning about half-past eight and in less than four hours he’d be giving the sermon he had not yet written. Although Jane’s presence these last few weeks had invigorated Jesse, it was only to a certain degree, he still dragged his feet when it came to the sermons. This past week was exceptionally difficult with emergency visits to the hospital. It seemed every time Jesse turned around, another church member’s son or daughter or nephew or whatever was near death because of alcohol or drug abuse – the problem was already bad in the town and this week it had seemed to get much, much worse. All of this drama left him precious little time to work up a sermon which mixed poorly with a lack of desire to write one in the first place.
What had now become a customary routine at the Fisher house was for Jane to wake up in the early morning hours to start breakfast. She pulled out a couple of pans, grabbed some eggs, a nice-sized slab of bacon, and ham from the fridge, and then started the gas stove. Preparing not only breakfast, but bagged lunches and hot dinners as well, cooking had become her very own chore in the household – one in which she was very good at performing. Jesse wondered again-and-again if she was a trained cook and had worked in some fancy restaurant far away from here, all of the meals Jane created looked way too fancy and tasted way too good for her to have worked anywhere nearby.
Jesse sat at the kitchen table and watched Jane. She was already dressed for church, in clothes Jesse had bought for her since he could not bear to watch her wear Sara’s clothes any longer. Placing a long, red apron over her navy-blue, knee-length dress, it was shortly after Jane put the finishing touches to this morning’s meal she asked a question of Jesse which caught him off guard.
“I was coming back from the bathroom when I heard you say something about what other people think and a young woman, and about something called a social worker. Who were you talking too?”
“I was talking to Sheriff Sanders,” said Jesse, crossing his long legs and shifting his eyes to the table. “We were talking about you, about how to help you, and a social worker is someone trained to help people in situations like yours.”
She placed two full plates of breakfast on the table, one before Jesse and the other at the spot opposite the pastor, and said, “My amnesia you mean, right?”
Jane sat down in front of her plate. “And what about these people and what they’re thinking that you don’t care?”
Jesse shifted in his chair, pulling on his blue-jeans, “Nothing really. People can’t help themselves from talking and making up things that aren’t really there.”
“It’s because I’m here living with you now, right? A young woman living with a widower, one who’s a pastor. I guess I’ve not only imposed and disrupted you’re life, but I’ve brought some unneeded rumor your way. I’m sorry.”
“Jane, please, don’t apologize,” returned Jesse firmly. “It’s not your fault or mine. You need help and I’m gonna give it to you, regardless of what people say. No worries, okay?”
“Alright,” said Jane. She faced Jesse coolly and added, “I guess these people should remember—to not judge so that they will not be judged.” Jane smiled and then dug into her eggs ravenously.
The pastor sat there dumbfounded. Once again the beautiful woman spoke with sincerity and authority, sharing words of wisdom he himself at one time had spoken. An idea then kindled faintly in his mind, one he needed to mull about further before finally deciding on it one way or another. For now, he let it stoke.
After they each finished their breakfast meals, Jesse helped Jane clean and put dishes in the dishwasher. While Jesse turned to the Sunday paper Jane readied a healthy serving of breakfast for a yet unseen Missy. Done with the front section, the pastor tossed it aside and then opened up the sports page.
Normally Jane ignored the paper – a couple of weeks ago both of them looked through an entire Sunday bundle and found nothing that triggered a memory. The whole ordeal of turning page by page and not finding a single item that looked familiar was disheartening, since then Jane had no interest.
But something on the front page caught her eye.
“This is just awful,” said Jane, reaching for the paper. “A little girl is lost? What happened?”
“Oh, everything turned out fine,” Jesse replied, bending the sports section back to look over it at her, “they found the little girl at her father’s house. The parents are divorced and the father took his daughter away from the ex-wife. Read the story, you’ll see she’s back with her mother, safe and sound.”
“Divorced?” Jane asked. “What’s that?”
Jesse bent back the sports section again to look at Jane, this time strangely, and said, “You don’t know what ‘divorced’ means…Um, well, it means a husband and wife are separated, permanently. They’re no longer married.”
“Don’t they know the Almighty does not allow that?”
Turning back to the sports section, Jesse said, “Sure they know, but they don’t care. Once things get a little rocky, most folks just quit, get divorced. Sad, but it’s the state of affairs nowadays.”
“Don’t people understand—the two become one flesh? That marriage is a life-long, almost eternal vow to each other?”
“Jane,” said Jesse, putting the paper down and shaking his head, “you’re knowledge of the scriptures amazes me. It just comes out of you so easily. Think about it. Do you know why?”
“The scriptures? The scriptures,” repeated Jane, rolling the words in her mouth. “You mean like the Bible? Am I saying things from that book?”
“Almost all the time. There are pastors I know that don’t quote or paraphrase as well as you. Might your father be a preacher, or someone in your family?”
The word ‘father’ struck a chord in Jane.
She thought about who her father might be, who her mother might be, but no one came to mind. It was a grim reminder of the situation – amongst a friendly pastor but a stranger nonetheless. She looked around at her surroundings, familiar yet alien, Jane wanted so desperately to go home but where was home? Again, nothing came to mind. Jane’s eyes welled with tears she tried to hold back.
Jesse had watched her search for the answer; he could tell she was trying really hard to remember. This was the first time he had pressed Jane in while, each time ending the same way. He now truly wondered if Jane was ever going to get her memory back, and if not, he worried what would happen to her.
“I’m sorry Jane,” began Jesse sadly, “I didn’t mean to push you, I just thought, maybe if I asked—”
“It might spur a memory?” Jane wiped her eyes with a napkin. “No Pastor Jesse, it didn’t. I can’t recall anything.”
The pastor was about to console Jane further when Missy, dressed in a worn hoodie and black leggings underneath a grey skirt, strolled into the kitchen squeaking with her black, high-top sneakers.
“What’s for breakfast?” She sounded demanding.
“Good morning to you too,” said Jesse, slightly irritated with his daughter’s tone. He looked at the kitchen clock and was surprised to see it was almost ten in the morning; it was about time to go to church and get ready for today’s service.
Missy sat down at the chair opposite from her father and said, “I’m ready.”
“Mis, do you mind saying ‘please’?” said Jesse.
Jane had stood from the table to get the plate full of breakfast she had prepared moments earlier for the young girl. Softly, she placed the dish in front of Missy along with a fork and knife, and then quickly turned away sniffling. Missy, who noticed the redness in Jane’s face and the somber look to her dad, stuffed a forkful of eggs in her mouth and began eating.
“Wa happun? She sill haz amnesha?”
“We talked a little this morning,” replied Jesse, watching Jane carefully, “but no, nothing seemed to jog her memory.”
Missy swallowed and shrugged, “So, did you write your sermon? What’s it about?”
“I didn’t write one, didn’t feel it in me.”
“Oh,” said Missy, bringing the fork slowly to her mouth, “I guess you’ll let an elder do it?”
A wry smile appeared at the corners of Jesse’s mouth, “Nope. I’m actually thinking of letting Jane lead the sermon.”
“What?” blurted Jane and Missy.
“Pastor Jesse,” continued Jane, “you want me to do the sermon? But…I don’t know what to talk about.”
“You’ll think of something,” said Jesse, placing his long forearms ending in knobby elbows on the table. “I’m pretty sure of it.”
“You can’t do that,” said Missy, “she’s not even a deacon.”
“I can and she will,” he looked at Jane and smiled, “she’ll do fine.”
Missy stood, making no indication she was going to take care of her plate and utensils, then said, “You think they’re talking about you now, wait until you plop this on the congregation.” She started to walk out of the kitchen and laughed, “Good luck.”
The service started with the opening hymn then progressed smoothly to the opening prayer between pastor and congregation. Not so surprising, the church was warm this late-morning as a larger than normal crowd filled the pews.
The First Presbyterian Church of Miracle was an old building, fabricated on the barest of budgets. A wooden-frame structure, the nave and sanctuary consisted of a square shaped area with two sets of long pews separated by a wide aisle. Sitting atop four, 8-foot walls, the roof lifted high above the congregation in the shape of a pyramid, reaching its highest point thirty-feet above. The ceiling was entirely made of long planks of dark, cherry wood giving the sanctuary a rustic-look to anyone who entered. The pulpit was a raised floor prepared entirely of tiles matching the lumber far above, with an old, particle-board lectern made to look like wood as the centerpiece. The lighting inside the sanctuary was dim. Even though there were enough fixtures in the ceiling they were so high above that a very long ladder was needed. As a result, no-one ever took the time to replace the burned-out bulbs.
Pastor Fisher finished reading the prayers from the congregation for other church members, their families, and friends. Normally, when done reading these prayers aloud, he would turn and place his tall and rangy frame behind the lectern and begin the sermon. But this day Jesse changed his normal routine.
“Good morning everyone.” A warm smile beamed from his face.
From the pews a “Good morning” was returned in kind.
“Folks, I’m gonna do things a little bit different this morning,” said Jesse. “If you’ve looked at the insert in your program you’ve noticed the sermon is simply listed as ‘sermon.’” He waited as he watched several parishioners turn to their program and look up the spot on the insert. “We will have a sermon, but I’m not going to give it. Instead, I’ve decided to let someone else give it this morning. Someone who I believe has been touched by our Lord, someone who I have been taking care of for the last three weeks…Jane.” Jesse then looked at the front row of pews to his right where both Jane and Missy sat, waving for the beautiful, young woman with long, white hair to approach the lectern.
A murmur swept across the room sounding almost like a hiss of disapproval to Jesse.
At least, he thought, they’re not booing or jeering.
“Now I know I’ve put her on the spot, but I have the greatest confidence she’ll do fine. I’ve given Jane this chance to share with you some of the amazing things she’s capable of preaching. So I’m asking you, all of you, to do the same. Lend her your ears, your mind, and your heart, and give her a chance as well.” Jesse stepped away from the lectern, pointed to it with an open palm, and said, “Jane?”
Wide-eyed and with her heart thumping Jane stepped up to the pulpit and reached the lectern. Tugging at her dress nervously, fussing with her hair slightly, she ran fingers through her white mane moving it away from her silky face. Taking a deep breath she prayed for clarity of mind, the thought instantly recognizable to her, yet Jane did not know why.
Looking out into the pews she noticed a variety of expressions: Dismay, expectant, confused, indifferent, and did she detect some anger? She still did not know what she was going to say, but Jane hoped whatever she was about to would be well received.
“Um, hi everyone,” said Jane timidly.
“Good morning” was returned from the pews again.
“Yeah, ah—good morning.” Jane fidgeted at the lectern. The moment had come for her to say something and she had absolutely no clue. Then suddenly, a flash of understanding lit vibrant and whole in her mind. Jane instantly knew and intimately understood what to say as a story formed before her. It was clear and it was complete, and she hoped it would be good enough.
“Picture this, a young mother is out shopping with her weeks-old baby. The baby begins to fuss and the young mother checks for the usual and the obvious, but no, the diaper is clean. Instead, the baby is hungry and the young mother has forgotten to bring food along in a bottle. With no way to really sit in a bathroom, the young mother decides she has no choice but to breast feed her child at the first public bench she can find. Unfortunately, she did not come prepared for this, as she has no blanket or even a napkin to discretely cover herself. The baby is now fussing even more leaving her no choice but to begin. The entire time she does it she gets shocked and even angry looks from passer-bys, but then, along came this other mother with her six-year old daughter. This other mother noticed the plight of the young mother as she approached from a distance. The other mother did what came naturally to her, she sat down next to the young mother and handed over several napkins that she carried. The young mother graciously thanked the other mother, and they both sat and talked and laughed as the baby ate. All the while, the six-year old daughter watched, listened, and learned.”
Around the sanctuary and along the pews parishioners sat up and began to listen carefully to what Jane was trying to preach. She noticed that many of the faces in the audience changed expressions, to one of interest or surprise. Many heard the authority in her voice and the sincerity with which she delivered the talk, it was hard not to listen to her and begin wondering about the message she was trying to convey.
Jane did notice Pastor Fisher’s smile of expectant success changed to interest, while Missy’s face moved quickly from indifference to surprise and what now looked like was stirring toward anger. Trying to remain unfazed, the beautiful, blue-eyed woman pressed on.
“A couple of years later the other mother I just spoke of became a coach for her now eight-year old daughter’s soccer team. On the third-to-the-last game of the season, one of her players, a boy, just before the game ended, collided with another boy and fell to the ground awkwardly. The boy withered in pain and everyone saw something was wrong, this other mother and the mother of the boy went out to the field to tend to him. The boy’s parents immediately rushed him to the hospital and the other mother would later find out he had broken his collar bone, in two places. In the course of conversation the other mother discovered the boy’s parents carried no insurance. It was then she decided to help them the only way she knew how, by arranging for a fundraiser during the last two games of the season. With the help of parents from her team they baked cookies, candies, and cakes, then sold those and other items to help pay for the boy’s medical bills. Although they didn’t raise a lot of money what they did they handed over to the boy’s parents at the team’s year-end party. Both of the boy’s parents accepted the money, hugging and crying, along with the other mother. All the while, the eight-year old daughter watched, listened, and learned.”
Missy’s arms crossed as Jane spoke. The deadly glare that came from the young girl felt like a white-hot light to Jane. The pastor started to look bemused, the story Jane was preaching was not being well received by at least one of the Fishers although the rest of the congregation seemed captivated.
“A few years later the other mother began working at the daughter’s elementary school as a substitute teacher. As she did every morning, she walked with her now ten-year old daughter to school. On the way to her assigned class she came across the principal, whom with she had become good friends. The principal mentioned to her that one of the school’s students had recently been diagnosed with Leukemia. The student was a girl in the same class as her own daughter. As you can imagine the wheels instantly started turning in the other mother’s head but before she could say anything, her daughter interrupted. Her daughter reached into a pocket, pulled out a $1 bill, and said, ‘Mommy, I would like to donate this money to help cure my friend.’ The other mother and principal looked at each other and smiled, holding back a lump in her throat the principal took the money and told the daughter she would make sure that the girl’s parents got it…Another generation learns the importance of caring and helping others.
“We have so many excuses as to why we can’t and don’t—do for others. This is a common and dangerous error. We use the old excuse that we don’t have the time, or I don’t know them. Our hearts tell us we should do something for someone, but our heads are full of reasons why we can’t do it right now. The needs are out there, reach out and grab one. Our little community is beset with alcohol and drug problems, these won’t go away by ignoring them, we must meet them head on. Intervene in the drug or alcohol abuser’s life; age is not a barrier, if you are young and don’t know what to do, talk to a family member or neighbor, if you are older, show them you care and express to them your wisdom. If after all this you still need help, I’m certain Pastor Fisher would lend a hand.
“The longer we wait the worst the problem becomes—that is a guarantee. I ask you, no—I implore you, the time has come to solve our community’s problem, the time is now. Imagine how this will improve and better your personal life, and the life of our town, if we allbegan saving our loved ones, one person at a time.” She paused smiling, letting the message sink in for a few moments. Then Jane glanced toward Jesse and added, “Pastor Fisher?”
His face covered with surprise, Jesse approached the lectern. After nodding to Jane and motioning for her to sit down, he grabbed at the sides of the lectern and searched his mind for words.
“Thank you, Jane. That was a…an interesting and thought provoking sermon. One I admit is long overdue.” Jesse stared at the lectern blankly for a moment then found the program and added, “Very well, open you’re hymnals to page one-hundred sixty-one, the song, Angel Voices Ever Singing.”
Once the service ended, Jesse took his place at the sanctuary’s exit and thanked everyone on their way out. Missy meanwhile stood dutifully by her father, albeit she was not overly friendly with the parishioners. There was an undercurrent of annoyance or maybe even rage that Jesse felt as she stood next to him. His protégé pastor, Jane, stood beside him as well and in stark contrast to Missy greeted every single person warmly, wishing them a blessed day and reminding them to come back next Sunday. In return, Jane was praised and thanked for her sermon – many plainly stating in front of Jesse it was the best sermon they had heard in quite some time. As the last of the parishioners toddled through, Jesse still felt the irritation coming from Missy. He worried the drive home would become explosive and had already started to dread it.
Surprisingly though the trip home was uneventful. Missy had kept to herself listening to the music on her phone, ear buds plugged in tight. Jane, sitting in the back, watched intently as the town rolled by the windows – the look on her face told Jesse she was still trying desperately to find something to jog her memory, even after all the weeks that had passed. The pastor meanwhile drove and wondered. The things Jane had said were so moving and personal he speculated if they were from the young woman’s previous life. He noted to himself to ask her about it, but once at the house, Jesse didn’t have to wait long to find out.
The moment the front door close, Missy ripped the ear buds off and angrily confronted Jane.
“Listen lady, I don’t know who the hell you are, but what gives you the right to tell those stories today? Hmm? Well?”
“Missy!” blurted Jesse. “You know I don’t approve of that language. Jane was just giving a ser—”
“Dad, don’t you know?” Missy asked incredulously.
“Those stories. They were stories of me and mom.”
The memories he had kept locked away in a corner of his mind, all but forgotten until this moment, came back to him in a torrent of emotions. He now realized why the stories seemed so eerily familiar – they were Sara’s stories told to Jesse over the family dinner table. Memories of how special his wife is, or was, memories too painful to keep reliving so he did what anyone else still in profound mourning would do – he buried them and buried them deep. But now they were out and how they had come out became a serious concern to Jesse. How did this woman, so beautiful and compassionate yet at times strange and curiously bizarre, know all this about his wife and daughter? It was enough for him to look at Jane with a slightly wary pair of eyes.
“Jane,” said Jesse, turning straight-faced to calmly confront her, “Missy’s right. How’d you know all of that? The story with the mother and baby, or the thing that happened to the Forester kid in soccer, or even the Wilmer’s girl who had Leukemia, how’d you find all this out? I don’t recall ever telling you this. Who have you been talking to about us, and why?”
The young woman took one idle step away from Missy and Jesse then turned and faced them. The pastor half-expected Jane to come clean, plead for forgiveness as it were and explain the reasoning why she went behind their backs to learn about them. What she actually came out and said was more shocking and revealing than anything he anticipated.
“Jesse, I do not know how I learned this,” said Jane, as the features of her soft face became stern, “I have not been stalking you or Missy. You have given me the best of hospitality under the most difficult of situations, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart. All I have done is observe. I’ve watched and listened to the both of you, here at home and elsewhere, and frankly I’m disappointed.”
Jane’s eyes appeared to glaze over as her face contorted slightly. Her demeanor changed and her mannerisms became familiar to Jesse.
“You’ve obviously lost your faith,” continued the now strangely appearing Jane, “letting Missy down, letting the congregation down, and letting me down. How did this happen?”
The pastor was about to retort but was stopped short when Jane lifted her hand and silenced him. The way she did it, down to the flick of her wrist, reminded him of Sara.
Turning to Missy, Jane said, “And you young lady, look at how you’re dressed. I said those things during the sermon to remind you especially of how far down the wrong path you’ve gone. Where’s your compassion? Where’s the love for your father? You need to buckle down and help him. Both of you need to help each other.”
Missy stood there flabbergasted – Jane had just sounded like her mother. Jesse watched in gaped silence as well, not knowing what to make of the exchange. Everything Jane had said, right down to the way she had said it, screamed Sara to him. But how? They still did not know how Jane came across the information and now she seemed possessed by his dead-wife.
It was becoming more and more obvious it was no coincidence he found this particularly pretty girl unconscious behind the church. There had to be a reason, was God reaching out to him, or was it something else?
The white-haired woman whose harsh face began to soften, suddenly felt dizzy and wobbled on her legs. As her lithe form started to collapse Jesse caught her before she hit the floor.
“What the heck just happened here?” demanded Missy. “Was I the only one to notice?”
Jesse carried the now unconscious body of Jane to the living room and said, “No you’re not. She sounded just like your mother” – the pastor placed Jane on the couch, propping her head with an extra cushion – “and the really scaring thing, is that she’s right.”
Jane began to moan and stir on the couch.
“Dad, this is just way too creepy,” said Missy shaking her head. “We can’t let her stay here after that.”
“What do you want to do then?” returned Jesse. “Just kick her out to the street?”
“Mis, that ain’t gonna happen, get it? I don’t know what took place but she’s no danger to us.” The pastor paused and locked his eyes to Missy’s, then added, “Tell me you don’t agree with what you heard?”
“That’s not the point dad. How did she find out about all that? Doesn’t it worry you?”
“No, Mis, it doesn’t. Can’t you see what’s going on here?” Jesse stood putting his hands on his daughter’s shoulders, “God is reaching out to me, to you, to us. Somehow He’s using this woman to do it. Why? I don’t know. Everything she just said is true. We’re lost and your mother would not be happy about it. We gotta start helping each other.”
Missy’s face pinched angrily as she pulled away from her father, “You’re crazier than her. You may want to believe her acting job, but I’m not. There’s no way God sent her to help us, please.”
Missy turned furiously to the steps and raced straight up. Her father thought he heard her sobbing by the time she reached the top. Jesse was about to follow her when he caught Jane sitting up from the corner of his eye.
“Oh…my head,” croaked Jane. She palmed her hair and sat fully up, “What happened? Why am I on the couch?”
Jesse looked at her carefully and replied, “You were just…talking to me and Missy. You where answering why you knew some stuff from our past. Before Sara died.”
Jane’s blue eyes opened wide, “I don’t know how I know that stuff Pastor Jesse, really I don’t. You called me to the lectern and the next thing I knew, those memories just appeared in my head. There was nothing else I could say, so I just went with it. You have to believe me.”
And Jesse did.
He really did not have a good reason to believe this strange woman, other than she looked genuinely mortified, and other than his gut feeling. After staring critically into her pleading eyes for several awkward seconds – he smiled.
“Okay. Do you remember what you said next? About you’re disappointment with us, me and Missy.”
“No Pastor Jesse, no” – Jane sounded close to tears – “What’s happening to me? Am I losing my mind?”
“I don’t think you’re losing your mind,” chuckled Jesse, “if you are then I’m losing mine too. Come on, let’s go to the kitchen and I’ll fill you in on everything you said. Maybe together we can make sense of it all.”