Read an Excerpt
The Glory of Green
The Green Series
By Judy Christie
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 Judy Christie
All rights reserved.
A neighbor in the Ashland community wants the hoodlums who took his U.S. flag from the pole in the front yard and replaced it with boxer shorts to return his flag. However, the perpetrators should not expect to get their shorts back. "The red hearts aren't my style, but Martha Sue seems to like them," he told this correspondent with a wink. If you ask me, it's a sad day when Old Glory gets undermined by underwear.
—The Green News-Item
Chris Craig was so kind and fun—and good-looking—that I could scarcely believe he would be my husband in less than a month.
But I was having a hard time believing what he had just said.
"Don't you think that's the perfect solution?" he asked, a big smile on his face. "We don't need this place, since we'll be living in your house."
My fiancé was supposed to give away his catfish collection.
Instead, here I sat, at his kitchen table, with woven, ceramic, and stuffed catfish everywhere. And there he stood, drinking coffee out of a mug with a fish handle, tossing out a suggestion that was bigger than his heart. And Chris had a big heart.
"It hit me last night after I dropped you off," he said. "Those boys deserve better than that shack back behind the church. This trailer isn't worth much, but they'd have room to run and play, and the roof doesn't leak."
While Chris talked about changing lives, my thoughts strayed back to that catfish collection. Getting a husband at age thirty-eight was one thing; taking all his things was something else. My cozy cottage, with its mix of antiques and modern art, was arranged the way I liked it.
I looked around the paneled room and wondered who thought the catfish pillow on the couch had been a good idea. Just because Chris raised the whiskered fish part time didn't make him a fan of the creatures as art objects. Did it?
"So, what do you think?" he asked. I pulled myself back to his brainstorm.
"It's a generous gesture," I paused.
"Why do I feel like there's a 'but' coming next?"
"I assumed we'd rent or sell it, bring in a little money," I said, squirming inside as I heard how the words sounded. "I thought you were going to have a garage sale and get rid of a few things. Then we would decide about the trailer."
"There's no need for a garage sale," he said. "Let's move everything down the road. Your house is plenty big for all this." He swept his arm around, sloshing coffee onto the gold linoleum. Holly Beth, my four-month-old puppy, scampered over to it.
"Holly, stop that," I snapped, grabbing a paper towel with one hand and scooping her up with the other. "You're way too young for caffeine."
She licked my face and burrowed under my chin, and Chris laughed. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the dog, our first wedding gift, a surprise from Mayor Eva Hillburn.
Chris leaned in to kiss me, but Holly Beth moved between us, nuzzling his cheek.
He stroked her soft white fur, still focused on his grand plan. "I can get a couple of buddies to haul my stuff a few days ahead of time. That way Maria and the boys can be in here before our wedding. Mama will be thrilled if I stay with her and Daddy for a while."
"It's all happening so fast," I said. "I see now why they recommend a year to plan a wedding."
Chris placed Holly gently on the floor with her favorite toy, a squeaky rubber newspaper, and pulled me over to the tweed plaid couch, similar to one my friend Marti had when we met twenty years ago.
"You're not getting cold feet, are you?" he asked, wrapping his arms around me. "I'll get rid of my junk. I love you much more than my wagon-wheel coffee table."
"I didn't realize all the decisions we would have to make. Maybe we should have eloped."
"No way. I intend for all of Green to be there when Pastor Jean pronounces us husband and wife. It'll be a day to remember."
"No doubt the locals will talk about it for years." I cuddled next to him, his arm draped around my shoulders. "They'll tell how that hussy from Ohio stormed in here and took the town's best catch."
"Are you snuggling or stalling?" Chris asked after a couple of moments.
"Both. Let's talk about the house later. I need to check on Iris Jo. Will you take care of the little princess while I'm gone?"
"Of course I will." He picked the puppy up as he helped me into my jacket, lifting my dark ponytail over the collar and kissing my neck, while Holly licked Chris's face and yelped as though she had never been happier.
"I was afraid that was going to happen," I said, opening the door. "She likes you better than me."
He made a big smooching sound, pretending to kiss the puppy and then giving me a little peck on the cheek. "Surely you're not jealous of your own dog."
"Don't be silly."
His three dogs jumped around us when we stepped outside, and I reached into my jacket pocket for treats. "But I'm not above bribing your dogs to love me more."
Walking the short distance down the gravel road, my steps slowed as I worried about Iris, undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. A key newspaper employee and confidante, she lived between me and Chris, our places spread out on Route Two. Tiny Grace Community Chapel sat across the road.
The winter air was chilly but the signs of early spring were evident: a flock of robins migrating through, the tiniest of green leaves on trees, and jonquils budding in the shallow ditch. Spring was about to burst forth, and everything would be new and fresh for our wedding day, a symbol of my new life in Green and the roots I had put into the red Louisiana clay.
When Chris had proposed on Christmas Eve, we wanted a short engagement, egged on by family and friends who had tried to push us together for more than a year.
"Don't you think you've dragged your heels long enough?" asked newspaper clerk and photographer Tammy. "You're not exactly a spring chicken."
"Speaking of spring," Iris Jo, peacemaker of the group, said, "how about March or April? You love North Louisiana in springtime."
"Don't plan it too close to the Easter cold snap," Katy, a high school intern, said. "Spring dresses look silly under coats."
"Katy's got a good point," Tammy added. "The weather's pretty unpredictable that time of year."
"When's the weather not weird around here?" I asked.
Before the New Year rolled around, my mind had turned to planning a spring wedding, a beautiful late March day, the perfect time to become Lois Barker Craig, an honor I did not take lightly. I could see flowering quince in big urns at the front of the church, mixed with mock orange and early dogwoods, and maybe a redbud branch or two. I would carry lilies, and ask Miss Barbara, a cranky advertiser who owned a clothing store, to find me a dress.
A journalist for more than two decades and owner of The Green News-Item for more than two years, I thought the deadline of a wedding would be easy.
Had I only known.
My mental to-do list added item after item. I woke up in the middle of the night and jotted notes on a tablet I kept by my bed, and taped notes on doors at home and work. With less than a month to go, I needed to finalize my family's travel plans, empty a closet for Chris, and plan coverage to fill the upcoming editions of the newspaper, not completely trusting anyone else. Tammy called me bossy, but I preferred to think of it as leadership.
Now I had another issue to consider. I had spent months looking for ways for our community to serve people in poverty. Was I too stingy to offer shelter to a precious family?
The mobile home was not much by the standards of many of the people I had worked with in Dayton, nor in the eyes of those who lived in fancy houses on Bayou Lake in Green. When I first met Chris, widowed five years earlier, I wondered why a man who taught school and had land with ponds would not choose a better house.
"I like it out here," he told me when we started our evening walks, the strolls that turned into romance. "The bright stars. The open space. I'm not a fancy guy and I don't need a fancy house." We had never spoken of it again.
* * *
As I drew near to Iris Jo's house, Stan, all-around production guy at the paper and recent boyfriend to Iris, backed out in his giant blue pickup, his window whirring down when he saw me.
"I brought a little breakfast, but she's puny," he said. "Thanks for coming. You always make her feel better."
I waved and walked around the house, tapping on the door to the den, a room made from an enclosed carport. "It's me," I yelled, going in without waiting for a reply.
Iris, only slightly older than me but wiser and, well, more mature, was propped up in the overstuffed recliner she had bought before her surgery. She gave a small smile when I entered.
"I'm here to hold your hair back as needed and ask for marriage advice," I said, leaning over to give her a careful hug.
"I'm past the throwing-up stage today and don't have enough hair to hold back, so I'll pass," she said. "But I'm happy for your company."
I sprawled on the couch, at home in her small ranch-style house. I tried not to wince when her cat, Earl Grey, appeared from the kitchen, climbed up on the back of the sofa, and swiped at my hair. What was it with me and animals?
"Early, baby, leave Lois alone," Iris Jo said. "You know she's not your biggest fan."
"He's OK," I said, scooting over slightly. "As long as you don't give me a kitten for a wedding gift."
"Holly Beth still wreaking havoc?"
"I never knew how much work puppies were," I said. "She's not an A student at housebreaking, and you've seen what happens when I take her to the office. Tammy and Katy spoil her rotten, and she cries at night to get out of her crate. Don't tell Chris, but she sounds so sad that I've let her up on the bed."
"Have you taken Mayor Eva off the guest list for springing a dog on you?"
"It's hard to hold it against Eva when Holly's so sweet. She's more lovable than her mother." Sugar Marie, the mayor's Yorkie mix and Holly Beth's mother, had bitten me on the face last year and had a bit of an attitude problem, if you asked me.
"You mentioned marriage advice," Iris said. "Since you've only been engaged three months, isn't it a tad early for trouble?"
"My loving husband-to-be thinks we should give his trailer away. I'm not so sure."
"Does he have a recipient in mind?"
"Maria, from the Spanish service at church, and her sons."
"That sounds like something Chris would do."
"So you like the idea?"
"He's not going to be my husband," Iris said. "Your opinion is the one that matters."
"Chris says if they lived closer, the church could help more. Doesn't that seem a little over the top?"
"What's over the top?" Tammy waltzed through the door right as I spoke. Iris and I waved and said hello, and Earl Grey jumped down to rub against Tammy's leg. She picked him up and tickled him on the throat, the cat purring as loud as the hum of an old refrigerator.
"Traitor," I muttered.
"Lois is not trying to outdo me and Walt with a big wedding maneuver, is she, Iris?" Tammy said, sitting next to me with the cat on her lap. "I had the Florida-beach-wedding idea first, and we're going on a cruise for our honeymoon. Late summer. Mark your calendars."
Tammy had grown up in Green, worked at the front counter and took pictures for the Item, and was used to being in the middle of everything. If she wasn't the center of the action by happenstance, she put herself there.
"What's over the top?" she repeated, looking from me to Iris. Today, the budding photojournalist seemed closer to Katy's teens than her own late twenties, sitting on the couch in tight jeans and a long-sleeved chiffon shirt.
"Chris wants to give his trailer away," I said.
"Wow," Tammy said, her eyes widening. "I hope Walt doesn't do that with his house because I'm not sure where we'd live. My apartment's tiny."
Tammy's future move pained me, so I ignored the comment. Her fiancé was an attorney in Shreveport, about an hour away, and I thought it unlikely she would commute.
"It's possible I'm not all that excited about my groom's giveaway idea," I said. "I should be ... I have a great house for Chris and me."
"A house that Aunt Helen gave you," Tammy said. "You can help someone the way she helped you." Twirling a big bracelet on her arm, she played with the cat, unaware that she also played with my emotions. My beloved house on Route Two had been a gift from Helen McCuller, deceased friend, mentor, and former owner of the newspaper. It anchored me in the little community. Chris and I could do the same for Maria and her children.
"How dumb can I be?" I asked.
Iris and Tammy looked at each other and smiled.
"That's a rhetorical question."
"You're the smartest person I know," Tammy said.
"I'm a hypocrite. I've preached to everyone for months to help newcomers, and I'm miffed that Chris wants to do just that."
"Welcome to engaged life," Tammy said. "You aren't used to Chris making decisions that affect you. That's hard, especially for a woman like you."
"A woman like me?"
"You want to call the shots," she said.
I looked at Iris, quiet, with a gentle manner. I could tell she was trying not to laugh.
"I do, don't I?" I asked.
"Lois, you help everyone you cross paths with," Iris said. "But most of us like being in control. That's what I hate most about this cancer. It wasn't in my plans."
"Marrying Walt wasn't in my plans either," Tammy said. "Talk about bowling me over. We never know what's around the corner."
"Somehow all the twists and turns work out," Iris Jo said. "You and Chris will make the right decision."
"He already has," I said. "I've got to go."
I headed for the door and turned back to give Iris a kiss on the cheek.
"I'm going to tell him his idea is brilliant. Then I'm going to suggest he donate his decorator items to charity."
* * *
Chris and I met the next afternoon with Maria and Pastor Jean in the parsonage next to Grace Community Chapel. Jean, dressed in the skirt and blouse she had preached in, settled the trio of boys in front of a cartoon DVD and came back into the kitchen where we sat.
"¿Hay algo mal?" Maria asked Jean, looking tired and a little worn.
"No, no," Jean said and patted her hand.
Once more frustrated by my lack of Spanish skills, I glanced at Jean and Chris, both of whom were learning the language at a quick pace. My studies were interrupted by impatience and a decided lack of devotion to vocabulary words.
"Maria wants to know if something is wrong," the pastor said. "She's had so much bad news these past few months. I told her this was a good thing." She smiled at the younger woman and touched her hand softly.
* * *
Maria, one of Green's many Mexican immigrants, had lost her husband in a logging accident in a nearby parish. She regularly attended the Spanish-language service Pastor Jean had started, a controversial ministry among church members who didn't want "those foreign people moving in."
"Lois and I have a gift for you," Chris said.
"A gift?" Maria asked, and then smiled, her white teeth beautiful against her dark skin. "More clothes for my boys?"
"Una casa para sus hijos," my fiancé said in his new Spanish. "A house for your boys."
"We want you to have it," I said.
"For me?" Maria asked.
"For you," Chris and I said at the same moment.
I turned to Jean, inspired by her relentless efforts to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of her flock. "Let's have a party and give items for the house. No hand-me-downs."
"A new kind of bridal shower. I like the way you think, Lois. I'll start spreading the word while you show Maria the place."
Maria seemed almost dazed as we escorted her across the road and into the trailer, the boys more interested in the dogs than the tour.
"How much?" she asked after we looked at bedrooms and pointed out closets and cabinets.
Chris and I looked at each other, puzzled.
"How much the rent? I don't think I can afford."
I engulfed her in one of Green's well-known hugs, tears flowing down my cheeks and Chris's eyes glistening.
How much courage it took for her to build a better life for her children. How much energy to make decisions every day without understanding the language.
Excerpted from The Glory of Green by Judy Christie. Copyright © 2010 Judy Christie. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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