Those Pearly Gates

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Overview

The heartwarming saga of Imo Lavender and her spirited family continues in a third installment of the beloved Homegrown series.

Life is moving on for Imogene Lavender, and reluctantly she leaves her farm in rural Georgia to follow her new husband, Reverend Peddigrew, into town to live in the parsonage. Her struggle to adjust is not what she expects when she begins feeling the all-too-perfect presence of the Reverend's late wife. The move also leaves Imo's niece Loutishie ...

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Those Pearly Gates: A Homegrown Novel

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Overview

The heartwarming saga of Imo Lavender and her spirited family continues in a third installment of the beloved Homegrown series.

Life is moving on for Imogene Lavender, and reluctantly she leaves her farm in rural Georgia to follow her new husband, Reverend Peddigrew, into town to live in the parsonage. Her struggle to adjust is not what she expects when she begins feeling the all-too-perfect presence of the Reverend's late wife. The move also leaves Imo's niece Loutishie resentful and stretching her faith to find a way back to her beloved farm. Imo's daughter, Jeanette -- a beautician at the Kuntry Kut 'n' Kurl married to a reverend of her own -- is so afraid of becoming a "church lady" that she secretly enters an erotic bull-riding contest. But a devastating event forces Jeanette to see that beauty is not just skin deep, and when Imo's neighbors suffer a great tragedy, she learns what it really means to be a reverend's wife by helping to restore their faith.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
"The third installment of Cannon's joyous Homegrown series reunites readers with Imo, Loutishie, and Jeannette two years after both Imo and Jeannette have married local ministers....With such genuinely admirable characters and engaging story lines, Cannon's endearing series is solidly established."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"A poignant, humorous look at extended family relations in a rural community."
The Asheville Citizen-Time
"A picture window raised wide open on small-town life in the South."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781597221153
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 12/28/2005
  • Series: Homegrown Series
  • Pages: 499
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 8.88 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Those Pearly Gates


By Julie Cannon

Wheeler Publishing

Copyright © 2005 Julie Cannon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781597221153

Prologue: Lou

The hardest lessons of my life always seemed to sneak up on me like the nests the dirt daubers built out in the barn. I'd figured on some smooth sailing, at least for a while, after Aunt Imogene married the Reverend Lemuel Peddigrew, and Jeanette turned her life over to Jesus.

But I remember well that fateful day, and being so troubled in my heart over the goings-on that come evening I paced up and down the hallway and through the kitchen in my nightgown, finally pausing impatiently at Imo and the Rev's bedroom door. Mostly they went to bed with the chickens, right after the supper dishes were washed and put away, but occasionally they'd wrap up in robes and mosey out to sit in the den to thumb through old issues of Reader's Digest and the Guideposts, or to look at television for a spell.

That night their snores were a beautiful sound as I headed out to the back porch. Grateful for the solitude, I sank onto a damp pew gleaned from the old chapel at Calvary Baptist and spread my notebook open across my thighs. In a pool of lamplight, my stomach a fluttery knot, I sat tapping my pen on a clean sheet of paper.

Intimately familiar with both the dark and light sides of Jeanette, I had this feeling she'd somehow gotherself back on a slippery slope, but I wasn't exactly sure yet what to make of her latest escapade. My heart began beating double time as Lavonia Fullard's quavery voice ran through my mind; "I ain't a gone make no bones about it," she'd said as she waggled one gnarled finger at the previous Wednesday night's prayer meeting. "You give old Slewfoot a ride and he'll always want to drive!" She was an ancient woman, one of the founding members of Calvary Baptist, who claimed she got regular

words from the Lord, and who felt it her calling to share the revelations.

I began to entertain visions of Jeanette backsliding from the faith, running around with married men, and getting a job dancing topless at the Honky Tonk Tavern.

C'mon Loutishie, I remember trying desperately to reassure myself, let those words spill on out. It'll help you calm down. The notebooks had become a way for me to release emotion, and many times I'd write like a crazy person, not stopping till I could draw a deep breath, look my scribblings over and say, "I get it now!" That anxious

night, I whispered a short prayer that even if I couldn't figure everything out right away, I could at least clear my mind, maybe even allow myself to get a little bit of sleep.

I started out by writing "April the First" at the top of a clean page. That right there made me stop and laugh out loud. I wondered if I oughtn't be too surprised at what I'd seen and heard in Cartersville that afternoon. Maybe it was only a big cosmic April Fools' joke! Maybe I was overreacting and being a Miss Goody Two shoes. Was it wrong to do the thing Jeanette was planning to? While wearing clothes that showed all a woman had to show?

Wait a minute! Anybody who'd been there and seen her face would know I wasn't getting worked up over nothing. Pondering all this I looked up from my notebook to peer out into the settling darkness. The smell of wet earth filled the air as water dripped and ran from the swollen creek at the side of the farmhouse down into the Etowah River.

It was one of the earliest, wettest springs on record in Euharlee,Georgia, the kind where the rain hangs a cool, low mist over everything. The songs of spring peepers, joyous over the season, rang out from the creek. There were other froggy sounds, too, various croaks and husky trills calling for mates.

Down in the lower hundred acres of the farm, called the bottoms, the Etowah River sliced through what used to be a field full of Silver Queen corn that was my Uncle Silas's pride and joy. That land had grown fallow at his death and stayed that way, as the Reverend's hands were full tending to the needs of his flock.

On the top two hundred acres, there was nothing left but the farmhouse, Imo's little quarter acre of a vegetable garden, assorted barn cats, and Dusty Red, our fearless yard rooster. Oh, and Bingo, but he felt more like one of the family than a dog.

In her prime, Imo had been a hardworking farm wife who cultivated a huge garden, cleaned the house, cooked, canned, sewed, gathered the eggs, milked the cow, and thought nothing of jumping out of bed in the dark of night to chase down an escaped bull. And during those two years between when Uncle Silas passed away, and before her marriage to the Reverend, she still kept her big garden as well as a small herd of Angus.

But the day Imo said "I do" again, all this fell by the wayside. Imo took the job of pastor's wife seriously and she was gone from the farm practically all day: sitting with shut-ins, comforting sick and bereaved folks, and tending to things at Calvary Baptist.

I was ten the first time I was ever away from the homeplace more than a night. I went off to stay with a buddy at her granny's house in Atlanta for a week that summer, and she lived smack dab in the middle of that big city, in a fancy condominium with thick carpets and gold mirrors. The only animals around were little featherweight dogs that folks carried out to the sidewalk on leashes.

The first couple of days were exciting -- going to art galleries, strange restaurants, and fashion malls. I'd barely given a thought to Imo, Uncle Silas, Jeanette, or the farm, but by that third day I thoughtI would bust if I couldn't see some wide open spaces, and I couldn't get back home fast enough. When I did, I told Imo I was never leaving again, and she just looked at me, nodding and laughing.

Though Imo wasn't my birth mother, she raised me from my first cry in this world, and I became the shadow of someone who loved to garden, who knew the connection we humans need to the earth. If she felt the need to see the world, she never let on. She seemed more than content right there on the farm.

While Imo and I were both country girls at heart, Jeanette called the farm, and Euharlee, Georgia, for that matter, Dullsville. When she finally moved away to Cartersville, she was beside herself.

My trip to Cartersville that day started out innocently enough. Jeanette called and put Little Silas on the phone. "Auntie Lou," he said, his breath laced with wonder, "I can ride my bike without wheels!" Of course, he really meant without training wheels, so I said to him, "I'm going to come see what a big boy you are."

When I got there, the front door was standing open and I walked on in. Jeanette, Little Silas, and Reverend Montgomery Pike were sitting at the dinette table in the kitchen eating macaroni and cheese for lunch.

Jeanette's hair was piled in a big pouf on top of her head, above eyes made up in glittery blue eye shadow and long swoops of black eye liner. She wore jeans and a clingy pink shirt that said "Princess," and she was holding a can of Fresca, laughing a little too hard, excited or maybe nervous about something. I guess I was frowning, because when she spied me, she laughed and hollered out, "Git on in here, Loutishie. You look like you been sucking on a lemon."

I never took personal offense at anything Jeanette said to me like that. It was just our relationship, had been since the day Imo and Uncle Silas adopted her when I was three and she was six.

Little Silas dropped his fork and half-danced over to where I stood in the doorway. "Auntie Lou!" he said, grabbing my hand and looking behind me. "Mi-moo?"

"No, sweetie," I said. "Imo's busy at the church right now and then she's got to pick Tiffany up from cheerleading."

"Tiffany?" Jeanette's lip curled. "Mama picked the Reverend's grandchild over her own?" She slammed her Fresca can down, sending a small spray of droplets on the table.

"Tiffany's her grandchild, too, now, Jeannie," I said in a pleading tone.

"Step-grandchild. Ain't the same thing and you know it!"

"How are ya, Lou?" the Reverend Montgomery Pike asked as he stroked Jeanette's forearm. "What's shakin' down on the farm?"

"Oh, nothing much," I said, grateful for the change in subject. "Imo's hardening off the tomato seedlings."

I was fourteen and Jeanette was seventeen when we first laid eyes on Reverend Montgomery Pike. He was preaching at Imo's fiance Fenton Mabry's funeral, though when it came to preachers, the Reverend Pike was not your run-of-the-mill. For one thing, he was younger than most, and covered up with tattoos and piercings on account of the fact that before he got the call to be a man of God, he sang with a rock 'n' roll band. He looked like a rock 'n' roll star, too, with his dimples and this dark swoop of hair that reminded me of Elvis.

"Hungry?" he asked, pulling out a chair for me.

"No, thanks."

"Cain't believe Mama didn't come with you, Lou." Jeanette stabbed some macaroni and popped it into her mouth, and began chewing so hard her jaw muscles quivered.

"Jeannie, sweetheart," the Reverend Pike said, "you know how busy your ma stays."

"Hmphh." Now Jeanette crossed her arms and thrust out her bottom lip. "She acts like Reverend Peddigrew's family is more important than us."

"You know that's not true," Montgomery said as he scooped Little Silas up and placed him on his knees. "This boy right here is the apple of her eye." He bounced Little Silas up and down. "Mine, too."

One thing I always marveled at was how taken Montgomery was with Little Silas. Acted like he sprung from his very own loins, though Little Silas had dark brown skin, like a walnut, on account of Jeanette's fling with the married India-Indian who used to run the Dairy Queen.

The day Montgomery and Jeanette were married, he got things in motion to legally adopt Little Silas, and then gave him his own last name. To me, that was God answering Imo's prayer that there would be a man around for Little Silas to learn from. Montgomery carried Little Silas hunting, fishing, to the monster truck shows, and just about everywhere else he went, too. That was most likely the easy part of marrying Jeanette, because she stayed in a huff about something almost all the time. I looked hard at her face now, her pouty lip and scowling brow.

"C'mon," I said, prodding her playfully in the shoulder. "Let's all go outside and see this boy ride!" Little Silas hopped up and grabbed my hand, pulling me from the kitchen to the back porch, through the creaky screen door, and down the steps out into a slight breeze and a clover-covered yard buzzing with fat bumblebees. He danced impatiently underneath a pear tree covered in lacy blooms, waiting as Montgomery emerged from the house carrying a bike helmet and as Jeanette sashayed across the yard to perch sulkily on top of the picnic table.

She glanced down at her watch, crossed her arms, and then squinted through the bright sunshine at Little Silas.

"Alrighty, darlin'," she hollered, "show Aunt Lou how smart you are." She bit her lip, then added, "So she can go home and tell Mimoo what Mi-moo missed!" She patted the table. "C'mere, Lou, sit right up here beside me. I need to ask you a favor."

I moved to the table, wondering about the strange tone in Jeanette's voice and watching a hawk circling overhead. After a bit, she drummed her fingers nervously on her thigh, leaned over real close to me and in a breathless voice whispered, "Lou, sweetie, I need you to do me a huge favor and keep an eye on Little Silas this afternoon."

"Sure," I said, watching Montgomery push a little green bike with plastic streamers hanging from the handlebars up to the top of the sloping backyard. He held it steady as Little Silas, face serious, swung his leg over the seat.

"Got a friend coming over who needs to talk to me," Jeanette said, still whispering, privately." I nodded, clapping and cheering as Little Silas pedaled wobbily along, with Montgomery's outstretched hand always at the ready. Jeanette checked her watch constantly and finally she called out to Montgomery that it was 1:15 and wasn't it time for him to skedaddle?

He looked surprised.

"Don't you have that important meeting about the new parking lot?" Jeanette said.

He nodded. "Guess I'd better run. Good-bye, sport, ladies. Nice to see you, Lou."

"Whew." Jeanette blew out a long whoosh of air soon as she heard his truck pulling onto the highway. I looked at her hard. "Don't you like it when he comes home for lunch?"

"Adore it," she said, stretching out her leg and letting it dangle off the short end of the picnic table. "I love the man to bits, Lou, but like I told you, someone's coming over. April and I are..."

She kept talking but I tuned out at the sound of that name. There was only one April I knew of. Her younger sister, Dawn, was in eleventh grade with me. Dawn had a sullen face and she hung out in the back parking lot of Euharlee High, cutting classes and smoking like a chimney. There were five or maybe six sisters total, girls commonly known as "hussies" around Euharlee. All the sisters were daring and compelling females, who could draw men, even married ones, with only a slit-eyed, come-hither look. The talk was that April worked as a stripper at a nightclub in the sleazy part of Atlanta.

My mouth dropped open. "You talking about April Horton?"

She nodded and that was when I knew why she wanted Montgomery out of there.

"You got a problem with her?" Jeanette's voice rose.

"Problem?" I said stupidly.

"Yeah," she said, narrowing her eyes. "What's the matter with April Horton?"

"Bad company corrupts good morals?" I said weakly.

"Well, it just so happens I didn't ask your opinion, Saint Loutishie. And anyway, even if she was, and I said was bad, then it would be my job as a fine upstanding church lady to point her to the straight and narrow path, now wouldn't it?"

Hurt, I answered, "Well, I only meant..."

"You were being judgmental, Loutishie Lavender."

"But, I heard that she -- "

"The Bible says not to judge folks. The Bible also says even Jesus receiveth sinners. He eateth with them, too." Jeanette turned on her heel. She had me there, I thought, sitting in the sun and watching her huff back into the house. But still, I felt something was up. And what it was was not Jeanette's intention to proselytize a wayward April.

I followed Little Silas to the sandbox, plopping down cross legged in the grass, wondering what Jeanette was getting herself tangled up in this time. If anyone knew what a long and rocky road it had been for her to make it this far -- to get a high school equivalency diploma, graduate from beauty college, find a job working part time at the Kuntry Kut 'n' Kurl, to be raising this beautiful child, and being a minister's wife to boot, a minister's wife, I may add, who was supposedly walking with Jesus -- then they would probably be holding their breath, too.

I had been there through all of the juiciest episodes of Jeanette's past, and I was only just getting to the point where I could relax regarding her eternal destiny. I'm not saying that Jeanette having April Horton over was a sin. Or that it was a sure-fire signpost on the road to backsliding from the faith either, but like I said, I had this feeling.

I could smell trouble like a skillet full of bacon frying.

Nervous, I kept glancing over my shoulder at the house and before long this baby blue Trans Am zipped up the driveway. A youngish woman stepped out, with frizzy bleached blond hair to her shoulders, wearing a black tube top over a faded blue-jean miniskirt. She was tall, made taller by some platform sandals that also made her hips wiggle as she climbed the brick steps, her elbow bent against her waist with a cigarette between her fingers. I got even more nervous when I saw she was smoking, because it wasn't long ago that Jeanette had given it up.

April Horton nudged the door open with her hip and after a minute or two, I heard them both screeching with laughter -- sounded like a couple of hyenas. Across from me, Little Silas looked up at the house. In his black eyes there was a question. "Your mama has a friend over," I said.

He nodded and bent back over a plastic dumptruck, his face screwed up in concentration. Trying to make lighthearted play, I patted up a mound of damp sand with one hand, and with the other bored out a hole in it. "Hide in here, buddy," I instructed, "hide from the bad guys."

"The bad guys are big," Little Silas said, thrusting his hand inside the cave and smiling up at me. In the sunny backyard we listened to the purr of a distant lawn mower and moved from the sandbox to the tire swing and then to the slide. Somehow I managed to play enough to distract myself and to satisfy Little Silas. "I'm hungry," he said at last, putting his grimy hand in mine.

Jeanette and April were in the den with the TV on. When I peeped around the doorway they stopped talking. Jeanette sat on the couch with a couple of hair-styling magazines open on her lap, eating from a bag of Doritos, and April was leaning over her shoulder with a Pepsi in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Jeanette caught my eye. "Hey April," she said. "You remember Loutishie."

"Nice to see ya, kiddo," April said.

"Nice to see you, too," I said, staring at her glossy red lips. I felt my neck growing warm as I pictured her dancing naked onstage, strutting her stuff up and down as men eagerly reached their hands toward her bare flesh. "Uhm," I said, "we came in to get us a snack."

"There's some oatmeal cream pies on top of the Frigidaire," Jeanette said. "Me and April are going outside."

Little Silas and I plopped down at the dinette with milk and oatmeal pies, but I was too distracted to answer his constant questions. My curiosity got the better of me and I crept across the hallway, through the tiny den, to a window facing the backyard.

Holding my breath, I watched Jeanette as she literally squatted in air, smiling over at April, and holding her hands up with her forearms parallel to the ground. What a funny position, I thought, like she's riding an invisible horse. April was leaning forward in the air, too, pushing her behind out and swiveling it around.

I witnessed pure devilment in their faces as they nodded at one another, rose up higher, keeping their feet planted in the grass, and in the craziest way you ever saw, rocked their pelvises forward and to the side, still holding their hands out. Their tongues slithered out to slowly lick their lips in a sensual way. Then they opened their mouths into ovals, threw back their heads, and rolled their eyes upward; bucking, twisting, and writhing their hips wildly.

Then I stared with my mouth hanging open as April cupped her bosoms with both hands, bit her bottom lip, threw back her head and pursed her lips in mock ecstasy. Jeanette watched, then mimicked this entire move.

"What in heaven's name," I uttered into the chintz curtains. I turned away, to Little Silas who was behind me then, licking the cellophane wrapper of his oatmeal pie. "What you doing?" he asked, and I knelt to press his face against my neck, a raw impulse to shield

him from what I called the forbidden fruit of the hussies.

In front of the television, we sat watching Grover sing his ABCs. You could be overreacting, reading it all wrong, I told myself, maybe it's only a couple of girls having a light and passing fit of spring fever.

But Jeanette's and April's faces when they came into the house a good half hour later held conspiratorial smirks and all my doubts flew right out the window.

When April left, I found Jeanette standing in the hallway rifling through the mail. "What were y'all doing out there, Jeannie?" I asked in a tight, high-pitched voice I could not help.

"Oh, playing around," she said offhandedly.

"What?" I insisted. "What were y'all playing?"

"Nothing really."

I followed her into the sunny yellow kitchen and stood while she scraped congealed macaroni into the trash. I knew enough not to back Jeanette into a corner, so I decided to let her stew a while, think I'd forgotten all about it. Then, perhaps she'd let it slip out. Or maybe it wouldn't be a slip at all. She'd come right out and tell me because she'd intended to all along. She'd never been a shrinking violet. You just had to know the technique to draw things out of her.

I sat down at the table as Little Silas varoomed through the kitchen pushing a plastic car. I would be patient, I would be shrewd. Soon as Jeanette cleaned up the lunch dishes, she went into the den, sank down onto the couch and grabbed the remote. I was right on her heels. "Pretty day out, don't you think?" I said.

She shrugged, flipping through the channels.

"Little Silas rides his bike like a pro," I said. "I bet Imo'll be sad she missed being here to see him today."

She scowled.

Shameless, I kept on, though mostly it felt like I was betraying Imo. "She sure stays busy looking after the Reverend and his family," I said. "Busy all the time going and doing for them."

Jeanette reared back and snorted in disgust. "Makes me so mad I could spit!"

I nodded.

"Heading up Bible studies and prayer chains and chasing the Reverend's grand-young'uns all over kingdom come." Jeanette folded her arms. "Probably even irons his underwear."

T"She does take a lot of care of him," I affirmed. "She was out gathering pokeweed this morning. For his spring tonic."

Jeanette's eyes blazed. "Ain't seen hide nor hair of Mama for four whole days. Four days!" She slapped the armrest. "And she's got time to go hunting pokeweed, but she ain't got time to come see her only real grandchild ride his bike? Huh!"

Knowing Jeanette and her self-igniting ways, I sat back to wait. "Mmm-mmm-mmm," she moaned, shaking her head slowly with her eyes shut in disgust. Little Silas, sensing his mama's agitation, climbed into her lap, stroking her face in a delicate, tentative gesture.

"Probably too busy at the Reverend's church and seeing about the Reverend's pile of family to even notice anything here in Cartersville!"she fumed. "Wouldn't even realize it if we all fell in a hole over here in Cartersville."

Directly, the scowl still on her forehead, Jeanette turned the channel to cartoons, set Little Silas down, and stood to stretch. "Hey, it's almost four," she said, walking over and playfully bumping my knees with hers.

I shrugged. I would starve her for interaction.

She nudged my knees again. "Hey," she said, "wanta see my new shorts?"

"Sure," I said offhandedly.

Soon we were in her bedroom and she was fishing around through mounds of clothes on the floor.

"Really, Jeannie," I said, "what were you and April doing?"

"Hmm?" She was playing dumb.

"You and April. What were y'all doing?"

Jeanette turned to me then, and her face looked almost relieved as she began. "It ain't bad, Lou. Just having a little fun. April's going to enter the erotic bull-riding contest Friday night at the Honky Tonk Tavern, and she invited me to come watch her. It's one of those mechanical bulls. Cash prizes. Afterward, they've got a live band for dancing. It's Ladies' Night."

My insides shriveled. Jeanette was in spiritual quicksand! She would forget Jesus, stray off the narrow path, and start running with the hussies of Bartow County again.

"These here are what I'm wearing," Jeanette said, poking her feet into the legs of some denim shorts no bigger than swimsuit bottoms, so bleached out they were almost white. She sucked in her stomach to snap the shorts, and twirled to show off her long, tanned legs. "They're tens," she said, "but this brand is sized small."

Standing there, Jeanette had a look of eager searching, with her flyaway hair and her darting eyes. Like a child in front of a candy store. She laughed and began chattering on about a fight April was having with her landlord, and about how April was two weeks behind on her rent, and how if the man threatened to put her stuff out on the sidewalk again, that she was going to tell his wife he was a regular at the Paperdoll, where she worked as a naked dancer. "That ought to buy her some time, huh?" Jeanette said, smiling. "Least till Saturday. April figures she's gonna win this contest and she's giving me forty bucks for doing her hair and makeup. That's real important, you know, Lou. The presentation part is." Jeanette nudged me with her foot and I nodded, saying nothing. "April was just showing me the moves today, Lou. I wanted to see what you do for a mechanical bull-riding contest." She dug around in her closet and came up with a pair of pink suede boots that had three-inch heels. "How do you think these look with the shorts?" she asked as she slipped them on and spun. "Did I mention first place is five hundred bucks?"

I shrugged, struggling to look indifferent. Then I gathered up my courage. "You really think the Honky Tonk is a good place for a mama and a preacher's wife to be going, Jeannie?"

She met my eyes with her blue-green ones and she said, "Ain't one thing wrong with it, Loutishie. Everyone'll have all their clothes on. Plus, it's in Fulton County. Don't nobody from around here go to the joints in Fulton County, and anyway, Montgomery and Little Silas'll be sawing logs while I'm watching April ride the bull."

I decided then and there not to say another word about it. I turned on my heel and strode to the door. "Bye-bye, buddy," I said to Little Silas, who was under the coffee table playing with some plastic dinosaurs.

I was still fastening my seat belt when Jeanette came galloping outside in the shorts and boots. She stuck her head inside the passenger window. "Relax, Lu-lu," she said, laughing. "Okay? Thanks for watching Little Silas, and be sure and tell Imo what she missed." All of a sudden her grin faded. She held up her pointer finger and swished it side to side. "But don't you dare tell her about the Honky Tonk. Some folks happen to be real narrow-minded."

I didn't say yes or no, just hightailed it home with my brain racing. I figured it was way too early to tell if I was being the Little Miss Righteous that Jeanette always accused me of, or if I was just keeping alert to the wiles of the devil, as Reverend Peddigrew says we're supposed to do.

Sitting glumly on the back steps at home, I tried to pray but could not. So I whistled for Bingo, and when he came loping up from the barn, we took off for the bottoms.

Usually the Etowah was unhurried, running along like drips of sorghum syrup down the side of a knife, but the spring rains had swollen the waters, and we had to pick our way carefully upriver to a sandy spot where it was relatively broad and a bit shallower. Save for Bingo's panting, all was silence and reflection. I sat down, wrapped my arms around my legs, and rested my chin on my knees. "Purty, ain't it, boy?" I said, ruffling the smelly fur at his neck.

An image suddenly flashed across my mind; Jeanette and me as young girls, our bare legs finely scratched from the blackberries we gathered along the river's edge, wading out into the muddy, slickbottomedriver, the churning of our feet turning the water into a color like Imo's coffee-milk in the mornings.

When we were at the river, Jeanette and I entered a play world of immense proportions. We fished and hunted for arrowheads. We bobbed and floated in a couple of Uncle Silas's huge tractor tire inner tubes till our bodies were tawny as the Cherokees. We became like blood sisters, and now I recalled the innocent part of me that thought things would never change.

Then Jeanette turned twelve, thirteen, and she discovered boys. From her first crush, she was a goner. At times she would still come down to the river with me -- but it was never the same.

Gone were our carefree days in the summers -- days spent playing school, helping Imo in the garden, setting watermelons into the cold water of the spring for a treat late in the day.

Jeanette became a wild-eyed young woman who spit in the face of authority, sneaking off at night to run with a fast crowd. I witnessed all this with my heart in my throat, praying without ceasing that she would return to the straight and narrow path.

What I saw in Imo then was denial where Jeanette was concerned. She simply did not want to face reality, but when Jeanette got pregnant, Imo could ignore it no longer.

I suppose Imo never relaxed again until after the shock waves wore off on the day that Jeanette -- who had fallen in love with Montgomery Pike -- turned her heart over to Jesus at the altar just after Imo'd said her wedding vows there with the Reverend Lemuel Peddigrew.

I laid my head on Bingo's warm stomach and I worried that we had seen the last of clear, blue skies. I worried that a storm might be on the horizon. Knowing Jeanette and the pull that worldly delights and trinkets held for her, knowing her tendencies, I imagined the erotic bull-riding deal escalating into another full-blown walk on the wild side.

© & copy 2005 by Julie Cannon





Continues...


Excerpted from Those Pearly Gates by Julie Cannon Copyright © 2005 by Julie Cannon. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

"You'll want to share the Homegrown novels with your mother and best friends."
author of Mad Girls in Love
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Introduction

Touchstone Reading Group Guide

Those Pearly Gates

By Julie Cannon

1. Imo has raised two adopted girls, one of whom is actually her niece. In Those Pearly Gates she is remarried to her late best friend's husband. Jeanette and her husband are raising Jeanette's child by another man. Lemuel, as a Reverend, is often placed in the role of Father to an entire congregation. Discuss the ways in which 'family' can be defined, and how growing up in various family structures might affect a child both positively and negatively.

2. When Lemuel starts to show signs of slowing down, Imo's immediate reaction is to push him to retire. Do you think Imo is doing the right thing? Do you think she is overreacting? How much influence do you think her own weariness of being a reverend's wife has on her treatment of Lemuel?

3. Despite their ever-widening family circle, the heart of Julie Cannon's Homegrown series is Imo, Lou, and Jeanette. Compare and contrast these three women and the roles they play in Those Pearly Gates.

4. Early in the novel, Imo wonders if her great love for her garden is idolatry. Later, she describes the human need to be close to God's earth, and the way her farm has provided that connection for her and her family. Have you ever loved a hobby or object so much that it clouded your judgment or mixed up your priorities? Why do you think hobbies are such a popular pastime in America?

5. What does Imo love so much about gardening? Are her feelings about the farm different from Lou's? Why or why not?

6. Imo has a very difficult time convincing Lemuel to take time out of his busy ministerial schedule for himself and for theirrelationship. Do you sympathize more with Imo, who believes that God wants his children to be happy even if that means taking a break, or Lemuel, who seems to think God will tell him when enough's enough and that he shouldn't stop until that time? How does one tell the difference between selfishness and self-care? Is there a difference?

7. Were you surprised when the source of Jeanette's headaches and dizzy spells was revealed to be a brain tumor? Why do you think the author chose this particular twist?

8. Imo is convinced that her departed best friend and Lemuel's first wife, Martha, is haunting her. This prompts her to have a conversation with Lemuel about the Biblical opinion on spirits. Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever experienced the presence of one?

9. People in Euharlee refer to their faith in God in very different ways. Discuss the religious views of Imo, Lemuel, Lou, Jeanette, and Lillian and Dewey Puckett. How do they compare to your own?

10. If you've read the two previous novels in this series (Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, 'Mater Biscuit), consider how the people of Euharlee, Georgia have been represented. Do you see characters growing and changing, or do they remain static and constant? How or how hasn't this happened over the course of the three novels?

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Reading Group Guide

Touchstone Reading Group Guide

Those Pearly Gates

By Julie Cannon

1. Imo has raised two adopted girls, one of whom is actually her niece. In Those Pearly Gates she is remarried to her late best friend's husband. Jeanette and her husband are raising Jeanette's child by another man. Lemuel, as a Reverend, is often placed in the role of Father to an entire congregation. Discuss the ways in which ³family² can be defined, and how growing up in various family structures might affect a child both positively and negatively.

2. When Lemuel starts to show signs of slowing down, Imo's immediate reaction is to push him to retire. Do you think Imo is doing the right thing? Do you think she is overreacting? How much influence do you think her own weariness of being a reverend's wife has on her treatment of Lemuel?

3. Despite their ever-widening family circle, the heart of Julie Cannon's Homegrown series is Imo, Lou, and Jeanette. Compare and contrast these three women and the roles they play in Those Pearly Gates.

4. Early in the novel, Imo wonders if her great love for her garden is idolatry. Later, she describes the human need to be close to God's earth, and the way her farm has provided that connection for her and her family. Have you ever loved a hobby or object so much that it clouded your judgment or mixed up your priorities? Why do you think hobbies are such a popular pastime in America?

5. What does Imo love so much about gardening? Are her feelings about the farm different from Lou's? Why or why not?

6. Imo has a very difficult time convincing Lemuel to take time out of his busy ministerial schedule for himself and for theirrelationship. Do you sympathize more with Imo, who believes that God wants his children to be happy even if that means taking a break, or Lemuel, who seems to think God will tell him when enough's enough and that he shouldn't stop until that time? How does one tell the difference between selfishness and self-care? Is there a difference?

7. Were you surprised when the source of Jeanette's headaches and dizzy spells was revealed to be a brain tumor? Why do you think the author chose this particular twist?

8. Imo is convinced that her departed best friend and Lemuel's first wife, Martha, is haunting her. This prompts her to have a conversation with Lemuel about the Biblical opinion on spirits. Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever experienced the presence of one?

9. People in Euharlee refer to their faith in God in very different ways. Discuss the religious views of Imo, Lemuel, Lou, Jeanette, and Lillian and Dewey Puckett. How do they compare to your own?

10. If you've read the two previous novels in this series (Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, 'Mater Biscuit), consider how the people of Euharlee, Georgia have been represented. Do you see characters growing and changing, or do they remain static and constant? How or how hasn't this happened over the course of the three novels?

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2005

    Those Pearly Gates is divine!

    If you enjoy Jan Karon's Mitford Series, you'll flat-out love Julie Cannon's Homegrown Series. (Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes, 'Mater Biscuit, and the recently released Those Pearly Gates). The three-book anthology is brimming with the succinct elements that give southern writing its rich texture and charm: sumptuous food, a strong sense of place, ties to the local parsonage, an eccentric character (or two!), and gardening ~ the southern alternative to therapy. Those Pearly Gates follows Imogene and new husband the Reverend Lemuel Peddigrew, along with daughter Loutishie and niece Jeanette, down life's rocky paths, but does so with clarity, poignancy and purpose. Ms. Cannon's prose is exquisite. Her words nearly dance off the page. The story is universal, as old as time, the viewpoint fresh as morning. Settle in for the third installment in The Homegrown Series by this gifted word-painter. You'll quickly get lost in this heartwarming and humorous story that'll have you finding a new way home.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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