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Love Is Always Welcome
By Sue Glasco
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Rated "G" by the Author.
Miss Gladys was in her sixth decade and she still longed for love in her small town in 1950. "Love Is Always Welcome" was previously published in the 2002 Southern Illinois Writers Guild anthology
Love Is Always Welcome
Yes, she thought, it was him. The distant scratch of the wooden leg on the concrete was coming closer. His comical cart produced another distinctive sound as it was pulled along the old brick road over on Green Street.
The street she lived on had once been paved with brick. It was covered now with asphalt. The underlying brick still made a car sound funny; sometimes out-of-towners thought they were having car trouble. She remembered the long-ago summer the street department covered up the brick avenue in front of her home. She had to walk to work all that summer. People didn't mind the inconvenience. They were proud of the progress in their little town.
Her father was opening the store early that summer, for some of the road workers would stop by for cheese and crackers for breakfast. They would all be laughing sitting around on the sacks of flour. "Morning, Miss Gladys," they'd say when she walked in. Someone would always banter with her a bit; and although she was shy, she enjoyed that. It was comfortable walking into the warmth of her second home--the rambling old general store her family already had operated in Smithboro for 30 years that summer when she was 16. Because a couple of the workers were young and unmarried, Gladys didn't linger. She wasn't that comfortable. She went on into the dry goods section and started straightening the bolts of material there. Her hand lingered on the light blue dotted Swiss. In her mind, she felt its softness on her shoulders. This was the fabric made up by Mama into the dress she'd worn to the Senior Party with George.
"No," she prayed, I mustn’t think of that night or George. Please, Lord, help me not remember. He belongs to Myrtle now. Don't let me covet him, Lord."
Now these many years later in 1950 in the middle of the century, Miss Gladys shook away the memories and smiled at herself as her ear picked up each sound the rag picker made as his cart grew closer. Seems like I've spent my life remembering. So much is in the past: my first and really only romance when I was sixteen. Mama. Papa. Robert. Clarice. Gone. Lawrence and his Millie and their only son--all down in Texas. Except, she had to remind herself, Lawrence was not in Texas, but in heaven.
It was so difficult to keep remembering that Lawrence was gone too now like the rest of her family. This summer he would not bring Millie back for the annual pilgrimage to the home place. He had died last winter. Robert and Clarice, the brother and sister with whom she'd shared the house and run the store for so many years, had died over a decade ago. Yet sweet, sweet Lawrence had still come back to this house every summer--just to visit her. Not this summer. The rag picker was almost to her street.
Sitting on the front porch of the big old house, she felt how odd it seemed that the house was empty now. Empty and no longer even waiting for anyone else to return. She remembered the bustle and sounds of her childhood. Papa's booming voice. Her mother laughing and singing. The four children of the house and the many neighborhood children running in and out. The cook always in the kitchen. The rag picker's mother had come twice a year to pick up the lace curtains and then brought them back a few days later all starched and crisp and clean.
It was such a busy house in those days, and now it was so quiet. There was no one left but her to whom the house was important. Fewer and fewer people called her "Miss Gladys." She was becoming "Miss Crain." Oh, occasionally one of her nine-year-olds from long ago whom she'd taught in Sunday School dropped by for a visit with Miss Gladys. The new neighbors on both sides of her called her Miss Gladys, for when she taken them a homemade blackberry pie of welcome, she had instructed them, "Everyone calls me Miss Gladys."
She missed her Sunday School class yet, and it was fifteen years since she taught nine-year-olds. Robert and Clarice died ten years ago, but for five long years before their deaths, she had had to take care of them while they were "ailing.” During this time, Mama also grew progressively weaker. Finally, she lost all three the same winter. The blackness of that year was so great that after that nothing ever hurt her much again. She felt as if the Lord who helped her survive that year was strong enough to do anything!
It had been difficult when Papa died when she was thirty, but Lawrence still lived here then. And he comforted and kept the family calm. Mama had been surprisingly strong. Miss Gladys had always assumed Mama was weak, but she had taken hold of the family business in a way that equaled Papa's management. For twenty years, the family ran the store and enjoyed watching Lawrence and Millie's son grow up.
For Miss Gladys the most important thing in her life was the class of nine-year-olds at church. A difficult age others said, but she felt nine was the age when young minds were beginning to come alive. She loved being there to answer the nine-year-olds' questions and to point them to the Lord.
She gave them scriptures: He careth for you. My God shall supply your every need. Perfect love castest out fear. Be still and know that I am God. Scriptures that had saved her sanity when she realized that George had married Myrtle and there were no more Georges available in Smithboro.
Oh, for many years she assumed God had a husband for her from outside of Smithboro. She prayed and she waited for him to move to town. She took trips and attended church assemblies and actively looked for the man God had chosen for her.
When she was 30, the year Papa died, she heard a woman who had been a missionary speak to the church. Miss Gladys knew that the woman had been sent to speak just to her. Mama always told her, "God expects us to marry and bring our children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Your husband will come along one of these days, Gladys. Just be glad you aren't like Myrtle--just your age--and already burdened with all those babies."
Mama never knew how Gladys would have like to have had those babies for George. Miss Gladys smiled. She didn't feel guilt for that thought anymore. At thirty she did. But God sent the missionary lady to talk to their church (really just to talk to her) and He told Miss Gladys she didn't ever need to feel guilt about her love for George. Her love had been as pure as Myrtle's. But God also told her it was His will that Myrtle marry George. And have those babies. God wanted Miss Gladys to teach the nine-year-olds at Smithboro. And so she did. Happily, enthusiastically, joyfully. God had supplied her every need.
Except one. She still wanted a soul companion. A mate. That night when God spoke to her through the single missionary who told of her own loneliness but explained that sometimes God did not expect certain people to marry, Miss Gladys had been comforted to know she could quit looking for the man her Mama had promised her. He would not be coming. There would be no babies. Only nine-year-olds. And her every need would be supplied.
It was all very clear. And it all came about just as the Lord said. Except one thing. He had told her that someday there would be a soul companion for her. Someone to share her bed and her breakfast and her love for the Lord. Miss Gladys had never doubted the Lord's plan since the night she heard the missionary speak. And, oh, how happy she had been as she had waited.
But now the house was empty. The store and the nine-year-olds had been gone for fifteen years. The family--except for Millie and the nephew in Texas--was gone.
Her best friend had become the rag picker who had taken to stopping by her porch each morning and talking to her about the Lord. It is just because he knows about the old days and shows me proper "Miss Gladys respect" that I enjoy him, she chided herself. She shushed that doubt. She knew it was from the Evil One.
Five years ago, Smithboro had seen a miraculous transformation in the rag picker, who had problems not only with the childhood loss of a leg but also with his inclination to use alcohol to help him cope with the loss. He had walked the aisle of their church one day all cleaned up and had told people he had met the Lord.
He had inherited both the title of rag picker and the small junk collection business and second hand store from his father. Now suddenly sober for the first time in his adulthood, he was able to run it adequately.
Lately Miss Gladys had grown much better acquainted with him. She had asked him at church one Sunday to stop by and pick up some of Lawrence's things that were still in the house and which his son did not want. Miss Gladys hoped the rag picker could sell them so she could give a donation to the new gymnasium being built by the church. After that, he began stopping here each morning sometimes to pick up items for sale but other times just to visit. They talked together over their lemonade about the Lord and their oddly different lives.
And last night the Lord had told her: He is the one. Miss Gladys smiled. She already had planned a menu for Sunday dinner for him after church. She did not doubt what the Lord told her. She knew that John would accept the dinner invitation. She knew that she was yet to be a bride in her sixth decade. Her heart bounded with joy when she saw John and his cart round the corner. Quickly he looked for her and waved.
Site: Down on the Farm with Sue Glasco
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