Book 3: Israel's Story: Arizona
“When are we going to tell him?”
“Phineas, he’s six. He won’t fully understand what’s happening until we’re already in the new house. Then he’ll make new friends and forget we ever moved.”
“You’re right, Ahava, he’s six. Moving is going to be like pulling his whole world out from under him.”
Israel Benton lived in a small, tan house with a red roof in Tucson, Arizona, right next door to his first best friend, Ross, and down the street from his second best friend, Dylan and his grandparents, Meemaw and Papa.
On the last day of kindergarten, just as he had every other day of school, Dad woke Israel up with a soft knock on his bedroom door and, as he opened the door, a cheerful, “It’s a great day to serve the Lord!”
Israel knew that serving the Lord — who was also known as God — meant making his bed before he left his room and then saying “please” and “thank you” when Mom gave him his breakfast. Being nice to your parents — and others, but especially your parents — was one of the big rules in the Bible — also called the Ten Commandments — that Israel had learned from his dad in church and in Sunday school.
“You did your homework and put it back in your backpack, right Israel?” Mom asked as she handed him his oatmeal.
“Yes, thank you.” Israel said, kicking his feet under the table as he picked up his spoon and began eating.
“We never have to worry about that with you, do we, Israel?” Dad asked, looking up from his notebook and smiling.
“Right,” Israel said, warmth spreading through his body and making him kick his feet harder. Dad was a pastor at church, which meant that sometimes everyone had to be quiet and listen to him tell them how much God loved them and how His son, Jesus, had saved everyone from their sins. “What’s your sermon about now?”
Dad looked up from his notebook again. “This week, I’m talking about greed and about why money isn’t everything.”
Israel nodded, though he didn’t exactly understand. But Dad got mad sometimes when Israel interrupted his work in his notebook, so Israel just finished eating and headed back to his bedroom. Mom followed him there and helped him get dressed, then followed him to the bathroom. She set the timer — which helped Israel know how long to brush his teeth — and then, while he brushed, she combed Israel’s brown hair until it looked just like Dad’s, except that Dad’s was blond. The teeth-brushing timer went off, and Israel spit into the sink just as the doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it,” Israel said, dropping his toothbrush onto the counter and running to the door. He already knew who it was, of course, because he walked to school with Ross and Dylan every morning. “Hi,” he said happily as he opened the front door for his two best friends.
“Hey,” Dylan, whose blond hair hung down to his chin, said. He wore the black and white heavy metal shirt that Dad didn’t like over baggy cargo shorts, looking like a miniature version of his dad.
“Hi,” Ross, who had black hair and brown skin like Israel’s mom, said. He pulled at the collar of his plaid shirt, which was definitely something that his mom had made him wear.
“Hello boys,” Mom said, coming up behind Israel and putting her hands on his shoulders. “Go over by the cactus. I want to take a picture of you three on your last day of school.”
Israel and his friends groaned, but Israel put on his shoes and grabbed his backpack, anyway.
After way too many pictures, Israel, Ross, and Dylan waved to Mom. Then they joined the flood of neighborhood kids on the sidewalk to walk to the school, which was just down the street. Israel had walked to school every day this year, but Mom still watched from the driveway every time, “just in case.” She even watched all the way until Israel stepped into the school, which was right across from Meemaw and Papa’s house.
“I get to go to camp this summer,” Dylan said.
“I want to go to camp, but I can’t because I can’t miss church,” Ross said, kicking at a pebble on the sidewalk.
“Dad wouldn’t let me miss church either,” Israel said. “I’ve never missed a service, even when I was sick.”
“Well I’m not missing anything,” Dylan said. “Dad said I’m free to do whatever I want this summer.”
“We invited you to church before and you missed it,” Ross pointed out. Israel nodded in agreement.
“Probably because the time I went it was soooo boring.”
Israel made a face at Ross, who shrugged back. Ross had said that he didn’t think Dylan would ever believe in God, but when Israel had told Dad that, Dad had said that if they kept inviting Dylan to church and showing him the love of Christ, then Dylan would learn to love God eventually. Then he could go to heaven with them and they really could be best friends forever.
“You should come to Summer Bash,” Israel told Dylan. “It’s going to be super fun.”
“Yeah,” Ross agreed excitedly, putting his arm around Dylan’s shoulders. “If you came, it would make us super happy.”
“When is it?” Dylan asked, pulling on his backpack straps.
“Tomorrow,” Israel said. He knew because Mom had been helping plan all of the fun things at church for weeks.
“Then I can ask,” Dylan decided.
“Yes,” Israel and Ross yelled, high diving each other. Then Ross frowned. “I just hope there’s not any clown like last year.”
“Clowns are soooo scary,” Dylan agreed. “There’s this movie I watched with my dad where —”
Israel tuned Dylan out when he spotted Meemaw and Papa sitting out in the rocking chairs on their front porch. He waved and they smiled, waving and blowing him kisses. Israel blew a kiss in their direction and then ran to catch up with his friends as they walked across the street and into school.
Even though Israel, Ross, and Dylan were all in different classes, they all got to be together for most of the day on the last day of school. Instead of singing their usual morning songs in English and Spanish, Israel’s class got to play with the toys in the classroom. After they cleaned up, they went outside for a super long recess, where Israel, Ross, and Dylan played on the swings and then switched to playing Aliens and Robots.
After lunch, all of the kindergarteners went to the gym and got their yearbooks, if they bought one, and piece of cake, which was free. Israel let Ross and Dylan sign his yearbook first, and then he let Hailey, Sammy, and Icker sign it, since they sat as his table in class, even though Hailey said boys had cooties and Sammy and Icker mostly just talked in Spanish so that Israel could never be sure if they were making fun of him or not.
“I asked Hailey to be my girlfriend when we were four,” Dylan said once she left.
“I know,” Israel said as Ross said, “Ew,” and then Israel and Ross dissolved into giggles.
“But she said no,” Dylan finished, hanging his head. “But I still like her a little bit.”
“Ew,” Ross and Israel said, at the same time this time, making each other laugh even harder.
When the bell rang at the end of the school day, Israel made sure to give his teacher, Mrs. Thomason, one last hug before running out of the building and heading to Meemaw and Papa’s house. Israel always stopped by their house after school to play with Papa and eat whatever cake, pie, or cookies that Meemaw had out on the table for him.
“Israel!” Papa called, standing up from his old rocking chair as Israel jumped up the porch steps. Israel gave him the biggest hug, breathing in his usual smell of wood and paint. Papa was always working on a project, whether it was something in his backyard, his garage, or the house. The part was, he always let Israel help.
“How was your last day as a kindergartener?” Papa asked, stepping back from their hug.
“Awesome,” Israel told him.
Papa took Israel’s face in his hands. “Meemaw and I are so, so proud of you. Do you know that?”
Israel nodded, which made Papa smile. “Look at you, so grown up.” Papa’s eyes started to get watery, so Israel hugged him again. When he let go, they headed inside, where Meemaw covered Israel in kisses and sat him down at the kitchen table. There was already a slice of strawberry cheesecake sitting out for him, and Israel dug in.
“Do you like it?” Meemaw asked hopefully.
Israel nodded eagerly and let her kiss his cheek again. “Oh, I’m going to miss this,” she said, petting his hair for a second before turning to the sink to wash some dishes.
When Dad walked into Papa’s garage awhile later, Israel wailed, “No, not yet!” Then he jumped behind Papa, accidentally wiping his paintbrush against Papa’s arm.
“Oh, sorry. Sorry,” Israel said, but Papa just laughed and then asked Dad, “How are you, son?”
“Good,” Dad said slowly, looking at the race cars that Israel and Papa had been working on for a super long time. “These are turning out very well. Which one’s yours, Israel?”
Israel pointed at the purple and red race car, which was boxier than Papa’s.
“Very cool,” Dad said, smiling. “All right, help Papa clean up so that we can get going. We need to go home and eat dinner, quick.”
“Why?” Israel asked. Summer Bash wasn’t until tomorrow.
“Mike Cordray invited us and the Bagwells to go for an evening walk up Tumamoc Hill. Now let’s go.”
“So Ross and Dylan will be there?” Israel asked, putting his paintbrush into the cup of water that Papa had brought out so that they could wash their brushes.
“Yes, they will,” Dad said, checking his watch. “Now come on, Mom’s putting dinner on the table as we speak, and we wouldn’t want to eat cold food.”
Israel really wanted to stay and finish painting his race car, but he also really liked climbing Tumamoc Hill with Ross and Dylan.
Papa took a deep breath and patted Israel on the head. “I can get this cleaned up, don’t worry about it. Have fun with your friends.”
“You are my friend, Papa,” Israel said, and Papa smiled. Israel gave him one last hug before going over to Dad, who took Israel’s hand. “What do you say to Papa?”
“Thank you,” Israel said, and then Dad started walking home so quickly that Israel had to run to keep up.
The top of Tumamoc Hill was Israel’s very favorite place to sit and eat a snack. When he said so to Ross and Dylan, they agreed.
“Dad says that if someone fell down the side of this hill, they’d definitely die,” Dylan said, munching on his Cheetos.
Israel glanced back at their parents, who stood a few feet away, talking about boring things.
“My dad says that this hill is his-story-call,” Ross said carefully. “’Cause ‘Tumamoc’ is an O’odham word, and —”
“What?” Israel asked, laughing. Dylan laughed, too. Ross was always saying weird words that weren’t English or Spanish, especially right after he came back from visiting his grandparents on the rez. Israel had always wanted to go with him to figure out where he learned all the words and the cool stories he sometimes told, but Mom and Dad had told Israel that he wasn’t allowed to go to the rez, even though they never said why.
“Boys, let’s go,” Ross’s dad, Mr. Bagwell, called. Israel and his friends got up and gave the remnants of their snacks to their parents.
“Remember,” Mom said, putting her hand on the back of Israel’s neck, “even if Ross and Dylan run down the hill, you need to walk with me. We don’t want you running into someone and hurting them or scraping yourself up like last time, do we?”
Israel used one foot to scratch his other knee, where he still had a scar from the time he had taken a big fall on the steep pavement. “Yeah.”
Ross and Dylan took off down the hill, but Israel obediently stayed behind with Mom and Dad, Mom’s hand still on his neck. Israel’s legs were a little bit tired from the hike up the hill, but still… He would rather be with his friends than with all of the adults. They just kept talking about boring things as if Israel wasn’t even there.
“Mom,” Israel finally said, tired of plodding down the hill at the adults’ slow pace. “Can I please go play with Ross and Dylan?”
“No, Israel, remember what we just talked about? Besides, they’re too far ahead now, and I don’t want you running off alone.”
“But we always slow down if we get too far ahead, remember?” Israel said.
“Israel,” Dad said sternly, “don’t argue with your mother.”
Israel crossed his arms and pouted until he looked up and spotted his friends. “They’re right there, look! Can’t I just go?”
“Israel, if you ask one more —”
“Oh, just let him go,” Dylan’s dad, Mike, said.
Israel looked back at him and grinned.
“There are only so many more times we’re going to get to do this all together,” Mike said.
Israel scrunched his eyebrows, wondering why Mike would say that, but then Mom’s hand unclamped from the back of his neck. “Go, m—”
Israel was gone before his parents had a chance to change their minds.
Israel’s first weekend of summer was heaven on Earth. Mom and Dad let him sleep over at Ross’s house on Friday night and then Dylan’s on Saturday night, which they never, ever did. At Summer Bash, Papa bought Israel a snow cone and popcorn, and Israel, Ross, and Dylan ran around, playing with water guns and jumping in the bouncy house until it got dark. On Sunday, Israel’s family went to church and sat in the front next to Ross’s family, as usual. Dad gave such a good sermon that people talked to him for an entire hour after church.
On Monday, Israel woke up ready to go over to Ross’s or Dylan’s or Meemaw and Papa’s house, but his parents made him sit down on the couch with them instead.
“But why?” Israel asked, laying back into the couch cushions. But then he saw that Mom’s face looked sad. Why did Mom look sad?
“We have something very important to tell you,” Dad said, putting his arm around Israel. “You know how I’m a pastor?”
“Yes,” Israel said, rolling his eyes. He immediately wanted to take it back, but for once, Mom and Dad didn’t get angry with him for doing it.
“Well,” Dad said, “sometimes pastors get called to new churches. I’ve been wanting to be the lead pastor at a church for a long time now, and a new church finally asked me to come and be their lead pastor.”
“A new church?” Israel asked.
“Yes, a new church. In Missouri.”
“Huh?” Israel asked, tilting his head. ‘Missouri’ sounded like one of Ross’s weird words.
“Missouri is another state,” Mom said, taking Israel’s hand. “Remember, we live in Arizona, but some people live in Missouri. We’re going to be some of those people very soon.”
“We’re leaving Arizona?” Israel asked, tears welling up in his eyes. “But Meemaw and Papa, and Ross and Dylan, and Mrs. Thomason, and Pastor Lee live here!”
“We know, son,” Dad said gently. “But a lot of wonderful people are waiting for us in Missouri, too. You’re going to make so many new friends.”
“I don’t want new friends,” Israel cried, flinging himself into Mom’s lap. He didn’t want to leave Arizona. He wanted to keep living next to all of his best friends, and he definitely didn’t want new friends.
While Israel cried, Mom and Dad rubbed his back and his head and told him that everything would be okay. They said it was okay right now too, since they still had a few weeks left in Arizona, but it didn’t feel okay to Israel.
When he finally managed to stop crying, Mom held him tight and Dad said, “Do you want to see a picture of our new house and our new church?”
Israel shook his head, but Dad got up and then came back with his laptop anyway. When he showed Israel the picture of their new, white house with a black roof and no cactus out front, Israel began to cry again.
“Phones,” Mom sighed, wrapping her arms even tighter around Israel, “that’s enough. We can tell him more later, when he’s ready to hear it.”
The next few weeks of Israel’s life were a blur. Mostly, he was allowed to play with Ross and Dylan as much as he wanted and he could sleep over at Meemaw and Papa’s as much as he wanted, too. But sometimes, Mom and Dad made him look at pictures of their new home in Lee’s Summit, Missouri and talk about what their new life in Missouri was going to be like. Sometimes they even made him help them pack their belongings into boxes, which made Israel cry and throw things and hit his parents. Even when they got mad at him, he couldn’t stop.
Mom, Dad, Meemaw, and Papa made sure that Israel got to do all of his favorite things one more time before they left Tucson. They went to all of the parks, where Israel played alone until someone came over and asked him to play with them. He always had fun with the other kids, which made him think that maybe he would make new friends in Missouri, but he knew it wouldn’t be the same without Ross and Dylan, who had both cried when Israel had told them that he was moving.
With Ross and Dylan’s families, Israel took one last walk up and down Tumamoc Hill and one last hike in Saguaro National Park, where Mom and Dad didn’t stop him from playing with Ross and Dylan the entire time.
Unfortunately, the day came where a big truck pulled into Israel’s driveway. People Israel didn’t know came into their house and helped Mom and Dad put all of their belongings into the huge truck. All Israel got to keep at home was some clothes in a suitcase and his bag of toys that he was going to take on the plane the next day. When the truck left, Dad left too, because he said he needed to get their car to Missouri since it couldn’t fly on the plane with them. That night, Mom and Israel slept over at Meemaw and Papa’s house for the last time.
“Are you coming with us on the airplane tomorrow?” Israel asked Papa as they played with the cars they had made.
“I am,” Papa said. “Are you excited for your first time on a plane?”
Israel shook his head. “I’m scared.” Israel knew that planes flew really high in the sky, and when he had told Ross and Dylan that he was going on one, Dylan had told him that sometimes planes crashed and everyone on them died. When Israel had asked Mom about it, she had just kept saying, “Don’t be silly, the plane won’t crash.”
“There’s no need to be scared,” Papa promised. “A lot of very smart people build planes and double check that they’re working before you get on, so we’ll be very safe.”
“But what if the plane crashes?” Israel asked.
“It’s very, very, very unlikely, but if it did, there are things on the plane that will help us survive. The person who flies the plane — they’re called ‘pilots’ — goes to school to learn what to do if the plane’s engine stops working, so they know how to keep us safe, even if that does happen.”
Israel nodded, smiling down at his car. Papa always had the answers. “Are you coming to live with us in Missouri?” He already knew the answer, but he had to ask.
“No, I’m sorry. Meemaw and I have to stay here.”
Israel ducked under his arm and pulled it around him. “But why?”
“Because Arizona is our place to be, and God didn’t call us to Missouri like he called you and your parents. But you know what?”
“We’ll visit as much as we can, and you’ll still get the best ever Christmas presents from me.” Papa used his other hand to ruffle Israel’s hair, and Israel smiled.