It was mere days before election year, and thus the holiday family dinner I had been dreading arrived. Especially bad for me was my recently earned poli-sci masters and the included expectation of me being able to swing with the tipsy pundit-wannabe punches of my close family. That day was Christmas eve, and everything was going as predicted. As usual, the women were in the kitchen, the old men in the sitting room, and me wishing I were playing around the house with my younger cousins rather than being pressured into drinking skunk-smelling beers. The news that evening was running an exposé on how the candidates were spending their holidays.
Among the group, there was the Mogul from New England, the incumbent vice president trying to keep momentum, and most notably, The Pastor. “What do you think of that Joseph Cummings, Jude?” My father spoke up, beer foam stuck to his dark mustache. “You know I went to Sunday school with that boy when we was kids.”
“That’s right!” An uncle chimed in. “We got him to fall out of that tree once!”
“Oh-” I listened in, surprised at the sudden revelation. “I did hear he was from around here…”
“He might as well been a cousin, even being white and all.” My dad spoke up, trading slaps on the arm with his brothers.
“Well…” I said with a sigh, looking to the man on TV struggle to counter the questions with Bible verses. “His forte certainly isn’t politics. He doesn’t even have any sort of staffers, it looks like.”
A second uncle slapped his thigh. “He’s got the bible and Jesus, all a man truly needs.”
“Yeah, for some… not a bad speaker, though. What, he runs a parish out in the panhandle, right?”
“He’s got my vote.” My grandfather chimed in with a grunt from the couch against the back wall.
My mother exited the kitchen with the first of the food, pausing to stare into the TV screen. “I’d have to say so too. Not many of these folks in politics these days are bold enough to give the lord an old fashion praisin’. He’s not bad to look at, either.”
My father jerked back in his seat with a grunt and glance to my mother.
“Well, for a white fella’, that is.” She concluded, pulling herself away back to the kitchen. “Help us out, Jude, since these farts won’t.”
The news was still playing in the background while the bird was carved. My father, sat across the table from me, was partially still focused on the screen while dragging his knife loudly on the plate. “Jude, ya know…” He said, turkey shoved into his cheek. “I bet the pastor could get it good having someone like you on his team, Jude. Someone to give his campaign the whoopla it needs, like you said.”
“I mean, a campaign adviser would do him good; he’d do well to be kept in check just a little bit.” I said with a shrug, doubting my words would even be heard. “…But I’m not going to go out just yet and destroy my political career already,” I replied in only slight exaggeration.
My father was already shouting across the table at his brother before I finished pushing out the words. “John, you still got that Cumming’s boy’s auntie’s number? We need to give him a call. Love, we can have him over for New Years, just something nice and small.”
My mother nodded daintily in response to the idea. “I suppose I can arrange something.”
I brushed off the notion while other topics devolved about the table following the ingestion of more turkey and alcohol.
I had completely forgotten about the conversation by the time those next few days passed. I had cooped myself up in my old childhood room to go over emails on my laptop when I heard a knock on the front door downstairs. By the time I came down to see if it had been answered, the Pastor and his family was already disrobing and exchanging pleasantries with my own.
“There he is.” My father huffed and ushered me out of the hall. Joseph Cummings was just the same as he looked on TV; neat brown hair with bits of gray at the edges, clean shaved, slightly weathered, but with an enthusiastic smile as brilliant as his handshake was tight. “Jude, is it?” His deep voice almost pounded my chest. “Your father tells me you’re interested in politics yourself.”
“He’d be glad to tell you all about it.” My father boasted some more. “Come on, let’s have a seat first and bring out the hors d’oeuvres.”
Joseph’s wife, Sandra, and his teenage daughter, Jess, had come with, but seemed to only ever speak through the Pastor himself. “Well, Jude, your father seems to think that you have some good ideas about the whole political process. I’ll tell you this, this lady here, the love of my life, has been advising me since the day we were married. What makes you think you’d be able to stand up to her?”
I stared at the Pastor’s serious visage and pondered the response I had no idea I was suddenly forced into coming up with. “Uh, well, a Campaign Manager, I supposed, is what you’d really…”
Joseph let out a short laugh, complimented with a slap to his knee. “I’m pulling your leg, son. This is no interview, although I’d love to talk to you more. Good son you raised, Ty. What’s your deal, you’re all graduated from college? Working?”
Not a sound had passed my lips when my father spoke up for me again. “He’s darn well book-learned- took a chunk out of our retirement- but a lack of common sense. He’s working now for something called an internship.”
“It is a paid internship.” I finally spoke up. “At an NGO.”
“NGO.” Joseph repeated, eyes locked to the empty space past me.
“Non Governmental Organization. We’re nonprofit, of course, too.”
“Oh, so like a church.” The Pastor said proudly.
“Not quite, but I suppose there are parallels…”
Joseph’s attention was pulled away by my mother bringing out serving dishes full of snacks to the sitting room. The wife and daughter were silently speaking to each other, looking to me, about the house, Joseph, and my family members. I smiled at them and tried to focus back in on the conversation that my father and Joseph were having- reminiscing mostly.
Dinner was slightly less stiff, but the conversation was primarily held between Joseph and my father. “What a wonderful dinner.” The Pastor hummed, looking over the second feast that week my mother had found herself having to prepare.
“That’s why I married her.” My father hummed, making lovey eyes at my mom.
“To think,” Joseph hummed, “those on the opposition are so quick to say that we want to create… racial boundaries… various nonsense, too. That’s the one thing about politics I’m not fond of. But there’s no way they could craft some tale about prejudices when I’m so close to fine folks as yourself. I mean, even a whole quarter of my parishioners are black folks.”
“Never will understand them.” My father grunted, gripping his fork tightly.
I cleared my throat and looked across the table at the Pastor. “They often forget that Jesus himself was a person of color, as well.”
Joseph paused mid-chew and swallowed hard. “Well, specifically the Bible does never offer a detailed description of Christ…”
“Of course, but based on where he was born… the Middle East after all… you get a good idea of what his features must have been like, tanned skin…”
My father placed his hand on my shoulder in a loving, playful way, but in reality, was digging in his fingers in a fashion I had experienced all through my strict childhood. “Now, it isn’t about what a man looks like, it’s about what he does.”
“Right you are.” Joseph nodded.
It wasn’t until the heaviness of that evening’s dinner had finally caught up to us and the more relaxed conversation had come out. Sharon was prodding at her husband as if urging out something that they had previously discussed. “Hmm? Oh, I should, I suppose.” Joseph spoke up, wiping his mouth on a napkin. “Jude, my boy, all things considered, I am putting thought into who might follow me into this coming election year.”
“That’s… important, no doubt…” I said, nodding.
“My family and a few of my parishioners are already on board, and we’ve called just about half of every church here in north Florida for campaign contributions, but I wonder… sometimes… if we can really make it. As much as people are for Jesus and the Lord, a lot of the public out there wants to know things that I can’t seem to answer.”
“Sure, that’s more… or less… on par with how things go.”
“Jude-.” My mom hissed.
“Nah, well, it’s the truth.” Joseph rolled his head back and forth. “I get ya’ if you’re all wrapped up in your NGO internship job, but I’d be real pleased if someone like you would step in and help me out. At least until the primaries in a few months. If we don’t make it, then… well, we’d just be back to the same old. Nothing wrong with that, either.”
I pondered the words for longer than my father would have liked, evident by his kicking at my heels under the table. “You should answer a man when he’s askin’ something of you, ya’ know?”
“Well, I think it would be great and all.” I shrugged. “In fact, it wouldn’t be so bad on a resume, either.”
The Pastor’s wife took the rare opportunity to speak up. “Well, I suppose you would want to talk to your current boss, first, Jude dear.”
My mother stood. “Sharon, would you care to help me get some coffee started?”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful.”