a novel of conflict and hope. Elinor and her husband, Dan, a
Lutheran minister, confront racism and religious uncertainty as they deal with the changes that life brings to their faith. Does tragedy destroy faith? Is bitterness inevitable?
Their comfortable existence explodes when the turmoil of modern American life invades Evittsburg and forces them to face new and painful truths. Racial tensions strain relationships to the breaking point, and religious differences threaten to tear families apart. Elinor's whimsical perspective cushions misfortune until she faces the one blow that even humor cannot soften. Daughters Grace and Joy pursue their own paths, coloring their parents'
lives with laughter and discord. Grace's interracial marriage to Doug creates disturbing tensions, which involve
Doug's enigmatic father, Robey, and their teenage son, Gil,
Golden Gil, who dances across the pages with wit and a worrisome innocence. With insight, humor, and compassion,
McDaniel builds genuine suspense to a shattering climax, and then finds a certain peace in the conviction that death is not the end.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.46(d)|
About the Author
West Virginia, holds degrees in Sociology from
Gettysburg College and Seminary. Widow of a Lutheran minister, McDaniel has written for The Washington Post,
The Chicago Tribune, The Milwaukee Journal, The
Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Bookpage. She lives on a mountain in Western Maryland.
Read an Excerpt
Spite the Devil
By Maude Aurand McDaniel
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Maude Aurand McDaniel
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Well, bullshit to you, too," I said to the young man sitting next to me.
Which was probably not a good idea, because we were in church at the time.
Worse yet, I was the minister's wife.
But consider the provocation.
The wedding had been just lovely, until then. Of course, it should have been, because no amount of premarital counseling from Dan had succeeded in persuading Marty Graham that the wedding ceremony was not the high point of her life with Steve. She had spent months planning the affair, and today every daydream of her lifetime was, at last, fleshed out in excruciating detail.
After this wedding, the marriage was bound to be an anticlimax.
It featured fresh flowers, quite a relief from the black leather wedding last month. The perfume of thousands of dollars' worth of imported tropical blossoms doomed every allergy sufferer in the sanctuary.
People were sneezing all over the place.
Still, it was beautiful. And so lush that Dan could hardly make his way through the jungle when the time came.
"I felt as if I should have been wearing a pith helmet," he said later.
"Then you could have said, 'Mr. Livingston, I presume,' when Steve came in," I said, not so far-fetched as it sounds, because Steve's last name really is Livingston.
Anyway, the organ swelled slightly (Doug is very good with musical nuance), and the trumpet, played smartly by a small young man in a black mustache, tootled respectfully as the bride's mother, Beth, came in on the arm of an usher. Her gardenia corsage, trimmed in blue to match her lace suit, cut a swath through the other fragrances as she walked past me. It was a big corsage.
She entered the first pew on the left, with the large, fresh-flower-studded white satin bow on the end, opposite the one Mrs. Livingston had just settled into, a trifle frumpy in a light pink crepe dress that looked expensive but too tight. I had to admire Beth's poise as she glanced around, smiling serenely, before she sat down.
I wondered how she stood it. This was one family in the congregation I had never gotten to know very well, but I'd heard that Beth's husband had been steadfastly unfaithful to her for years. Now she was about to watch her only daughter come in on his arm and then take the same vows of love and fidelity Barney had flouted every day of his marriage.
Beth looked happy as a lark.
Well, you could say there's a lot of precedent for romanticizing love. Songs like "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine," and a whole canon of country and rock about how he's bad but I love him, I can't help myself, I'll always take him back.
That's how lots of people think it's done, true love.
But I don't think true love is romantic at all. I think it's when you find a man you decide you can work with to create it.
At least, that's how it was for me with Dan, who was coming out from the sacristy, tall and dark and uneasy-looking right now, in his brand-new linen-texture alba, and his old green stole with the simple Maltese crosses on it from the days before stoles were considered objets d'art. His right temple throbbed visibly, as it always did when he was tense. After all these years, he still got stage fright at weddings and funerals.
A small voice shouted out from the pews three rows from the front, "He's wearing green suspenders over his nightgown!" The titter died down as the groom and his best man shuffled in from the side door, heads down, hunched with embarrassment in their slate blue morning coats and raspberry cummerbunds.
The congregation looked them over with interest.
Suddenly, the trumpet and organ sounded the traditional warning for "Here Comes the Bride," and all the guests got up immediately to check out the rest of the wedding party.
Beth still sat in her pew, and so did Steve's family, but it was a losing battle. Dan always instructs the relatives to rise only when the bride herself appears, a nice touch if only it ever worked. Congregations create their own momentum, and now, as always, the family chucked the agenda and got up too, so as not to miss the show.
Three bridesmaids, two ringbearers, one flower girl, and a maid of honor later, Marty floated down the aisle on her father's arm, looking as gorgeous as she ever would, drowned like Ophelia in fresh flowers, white lace, satin ribbon. Barney Graham, flushed and sweating in a new hairpiece, looked for all the world as if he really believed in the institution of marriage.
Good grief, he was crying.
From what I knew of Barney, though, he wouldn't remember this moment past his next drink. Still, should we give him credit for the thought, fleeting as it is? John Updike always does in his books, implicitly awarding salvation for impulse, regardless of intention, or commitment, or performance.
Well, today, maybe, I decided, because I saw him look at Beth and smile as he passed her, and one can always hope. (So much for hope. The next week I saw him at the movies with a new woman, old-young and battered-by-life-looking with bottle-red curls, so that took care of that.)
Doug one-upped the trumpeter with a flourish of organ chimes after the couple arrived at the altar. Although he was now the regular organist downtown at Our Saviour, Steve had gotten friendly with him while he was still playing here at Trinity, and had asked him to play for the wedding. Doug is always good at weddings, good at funerals, good at everything really, and I say it even if he is our son-in-law. And where was Grace, I wondered, as we sat down after the invocation.
Just then she slipped past the tall young couple next to me, and I smiled at her. How could you help it? She is so nice! Nice is a dirty word nowadays, but let me tell you, it beats nasty for living with, day in and day out. She's getting a little plump, like me, poor thing - our other daughter Joy is thin as a whistle - but she wore a navy-blue chiffon with a little capelet that hid the traces. She'd just had her blonde hair permed lately, and it gave her animation.
She was frowning. "Some more of Doug's fans," she whispered. "I had to talk to them."
It had to be hard, being the white wife of a black man who was increasingly catching the public eye, at least in Evittsburg, but she never said much about it. I had mostly given up pondering it by this time. We'd warned her fifteen years ago about the problems of an interracial marriage, and she had accused us of racism.
Maybe she was right. Dan and I considered ourselves enlightened, and I had brooded over her accusation at the time. Still did, maybe, a little. But things had gone better than we'd dared hope, especially since Gil had arrived, fourteen now, and beautiful.
Up front, a bridesmaid reached out and caught a ring-bearer as he ran past from a standing start.
"Where's Gil?" I whispered.
"Home practicing the piano. He didn't want to come, so he had to think up a good excuse, and I took him up on that one."
Everyone sat down. The family with the outspoken child was now busily taking snapshots, despite the bulletin, which pleaded for no flashes during the service. Their camera was a Polaroid, and they would shoot a picture, and then pass it up and down the pew, pointing at it and whispering, quite missing the wedding itself, rather like a modern version of the Platonic cave.
Marty's cousin read the scripture, obviously doing her very best. She was a good reader, and so she read fast to prove it. The tall young couple beside me giggled a bit, and you could hardly blame them.
Marty and Steve had chosen the Genesis passage about the man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife. When Marty's cousin got to the part about cleaving, the young man next to me muttered something to his girlfriend, and they snickered. Well, you have to expect that with these archaic words, if you're going to use old translations. I never quite understood myself how "cleave" could mean to adhere to and to separate, both at the same time. Cleave and cleavage. I sighed.
Steve's brother got up then and read his assignment. It was the 13th chapter of I Corinthians, and he had learned his lesson listening to Marty's cousin. He read deliberately and well. With all the weddings we have, I get a little tired of I Corinthians 13, but if ever there was any cliché to insist on retaining, this is it.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing."
Come to think of it, the problem is that such clichés aren't clichés anymore. I once knew a journalism professor, a young man who had been brought up in the most progressive schools and carefully guarded by his family against any of these old religious superstitions of his European heritage. Consequently he was into astrology. He was writing a book on the human need for love, as if this were a contemporary insight dating roughly from The Greening of America, with some ancient groundwork by Freud. He asked me if I had any good references on love, so I read him I Corinthians 13.
"Not bad," he said. "Kahlil Gibran?"
Steve's brother had almost finished. He looked up earnestly as he arrived at the climax. "Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away."
The tall young man next to me snorted. He reminded me of Joy, who would never take anybody else's word for anything, even if they had actually experienced what she scoffed at as imagination.
"Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
"Bullshit," said the tall young man loudly.
Well, only loud enough for a couple of pews to hear, but it made a little stir locally. His girl turned red and looked furiously at him, and he set his chin stubbornly. I have to admit, it really got to me. Presently, however, everyone decided it was pretty small potatoes anyway in this filthy-mouthed time, and maybe they had misunderstood anyway, so they turned back to the wedding again.
Dan spoke to the bride and groom in that very serious tone he always bemoaned about himself, but never seemed able to overcome, and as usual, he was a little above everyone's heads. This time it was about the covenant of marriage being a part of the covenant of God with Israel, and how Jesus (neatly, I think) took the next necessary step in religious evolution to refocus a nationalistic, earth-based revelation on to a universal, spiritual one.
Everybody listened patiently. All congregations have personalities, and Trinity had always been unusual, tolerant and undemanding, grateful for Dan's emphasis on pastoral ministry rather than power plays. Long ago, he realized his strength lay in trying to embody God's love, not His authority.
The youth were a puzzle, but he tried. He had a tendency to trust their own self-confidence and expect more from them than they were really capable of doing. He labored to transplant the full-grown fruits of his own experience into green young minds, but they didn't seem to root. Hearts and kidneys can be transplanted, but everyone wants to grow his own insights.
Dan counseled all young couples before he married them, but year after year brought news of conflicts and infidelities and divorces, even from the most promising start. Now he didn't permit himself to hope.
"I give them about three years," he'd said, home from counseling Marty and Steve the first time. But this was a wedding, and I permitted myself to hope and so did everyone else - you could tell. Everyone maybe except this tall young man here, who was probably too sophisticated even to imagine the possibility.
I managed to calm myself down, and we sang a hymn, a good glorious one, "Praise to the Lord the Almighty," and everyone bellowed, in good spirits with the occasion and God, giving in momentarily after all to that elusive hope against so much evidence.
Steve and Marty had written their own vows, charming, endearingly naive ("I promise to meet all your needs forever") and whispered them at great length and inaudibly to each other.
I remembered I'd wanted to ask Grace about the rumor I'd heard that Doug had started a Sunday School class of his own at Our Saviour. She hadn't wanted to leave our church, but small-city organists are few, and full-time positions fewer. When the Our Saviour job occurred in this southern Pennsylvania town, and Doug was called, it was not a time to divide the family. Dan had urged her to transfer membership from Trinity too. "Doug needs you with him," he said.
Now, I'd missed the legal moment, the proclamation of marriage, and we were well into the prayers. I noticed that, as everyone else knelt, the tall young man sat looking around with raised eyebrows and a small superior smile. Looking a lot like Joy, when she deigns to go to church.
He made me mad all over again.
Then Doug and the trumpeter swung into the recessional, Beethoven's Ode to Joy, and the bridal couple came down the aisle laughing (really, they were lovely, and God must bless them), and the music swelled - Doug's father Robey always said his son put the soul of the black man behind the console of the white man - and the cloudstruck sun pulsed through the highest stained-glass windows, strobing shards of blue and yellow and ruby-red upon the heads of the congregation, the wedding attendants, the vanilla-white bride. It stirred the essence of gardenia, stephanotis, and pink roses into breathlessness, the music drowned out thinking, and everything seemed possible.
Grinning now, the tall young man opened his mouth, and I could just imagine what he was going to say. Suddenly it seemed important to forestall him, no matter what, so I turned to him and said pleasantly, "Well, bullshit to you too, my friend."
Grace shook her head, and I was rather scandalized myself. Profanity has never been my first line of defense against the popular stereotype of ministers' wives as prim, self-righteous biddies. I never could see the point of using up one's last earthly resort on piddling provocations. If you shit and damn when the potatoes boil over, what do you do when the house burns down? So, to preserve my options, I say "darn" a lot. I've never had a whole lot of houses burn down, so this was a surprise to us all.
I didn't trust myself with the young man yet, so I made myself smile at the tall young woman and backpedaled. "What I meant was, some of us have been lucky enough to find out that love really can work the way that reading says, you know."
The girl actually paled. "My God, Jim, it's the pastor's wife!"
That ruined my chances of saying anything anyone would listen to, since the perceived value of any given comment nowadays is automatically canceled when the source is known to be the clergy. I hate the glaze that comes over people - I saw it happening now - who meet their first minister (or his wife) late in life. No doubt, the sanctimonious image is inevitable in an age when even just believing in God is considered by definition a sanctimonious act.
"God bless you," said the young man automatically, then blushed.
The sun seemed to have gone back under its cloud for good now, and people were looking curiously at us, standing there silently, almost embattled. I smiled again, feeling the skin of my upper lip grit against my teeth, and turned toward the aisle.
Nobody stopped me.
Chapter TwoDoug played valiantly; as long as a warm body remained in the congregation was his policy. Grace and I looked at each other under cover of the music.
"I've known you for thirty-four years," she said, without a smile. "I still haven't figured out whether you're a conservative rebel, or a rebellious square."
Fair enough. I've never been sure myself, but it's not an uncommon malady, ambivalence. Most people who think at all, including Grace herself, suffer from it. Only Joy in our family ever seemed to hold unqualified opinions.
"Doug's having trouble," said Grace then, lightly.
"He seems to be having a good enough time right now," I said, listening to him wind up with the trumpet on a roll.
Excerpted from Spite the Devil by Maude Aurand McDaniel Copyright © 2010 by Maude Aurand McDaniel. Excerpted by permission.
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