After a man loses his wife and his faith, the entire small town pitches in to bring him back into the community while, at the same time, serving a worthy cause.
Edging his straight chair closer to the pot-bellied stove, Cryil Patterson thrust his knobby hands into the shallow circle of warmth that surrounded it. Through thick round spectacles, he cast a disapproving glance across the glass candy case and through the frost-framed store window beyond. “Rain’s turned to snow . . . knew it would.”
Molly McGinnis, her arms full of cans, blew away a strand of unruly silver hair, hitched her oversize bifocals into place with her wrist, looked out and rejoiced to her friend, “First snow of the season! Just look at it coming down! Makes the season all the more special, doesn’t it, coming before Thanksgiving like this?” She added five cans of tomatoes to the counter display. “Who’s coming . . . can’t quite make him out?”
The door flew open and a wave of cold air accompanied Moss Taylor as he stormed in, stomping snow from his boots. He gave the door a stout shove to close and lumbered to the counter where he tossed a wrinkled scrap of paper towards Molly. “Here’s my list, Molly, and hurry it up, will you?” He dropped into a straight chair near the stove and the frail seat squealed like a suckling pig.
“Howdy, Moss,” Cyril spoke the words, coolly. “Missed you at services yesterday morning.”
“Did you, now?” From beneath shaggy, untamed brows, Moss eyed Cyril, suspiciously. “That’s funny! I haven’t set foot in that church for the last five years. Why would you suddenly start missing me at yesterday’s services?”
“Don’t get huffy! Just trying to be civil,” Cyril said, loftily.
Molly turned from gathering items on Moss’s list to give Cyril a disapproving shake of her head, but the warning came too late as Moss fixed piercing blue eyes on Cyril. “I got more to do with my time! You go to church! Look around at all the crowing roosters and cackling hens, nodding and praying, and just scratching to get out, so’s they can peck each other to pieces.” He leveled a finger at Cyril’s nose. “Cyril Patterson, you’ve got no call to judge me!”
Cyril, a twisted little grin on his face during Moss’ tirade, looked past him. “Afternoon, Preacher,” he crooned to the man frozen stock-still in the open doorway.
Molly wrapped Cyril in another of her disapproving glances before calling to the minister, “Sam, come on in! And close that door.”
Sam Wheeler moved toward the warmth of the stove, brushing snow from his hat. “Molly. Cyl. Afternoon, Moss,” he said, offering his hand. “Haven’t seen you for a while. How you been?”
Shaking the minister’s extended hand, Moss stammered through his embarrassment, “Sorry, Sam, I didn’t hear you come in.”
Molly was at Moss’s side. “That’ll be exactly seven dollars and fifty-eight cents,” she said. “I put in a can of tomatoes, extra. You need to keep up your vitamin C, you know, especially in this kind of weather.”
“Sure, sure!” Moss answered, quickly counting out the change. He scooped up the box of groceries from the counter and stomped out the door.
The minister busied himself scanning shelves while Molly, stood, hands on hips, glowering at Cyril.
Avoiding her eyes, Cyril pulled his chair nearer the stove, sat quickly, and offered, defensively, “That man should stop throwing temper tantrums and get back into the community!” Cyril watched the figure outside the store window plowing through the whiteness. “Living over there across the street - right in the middle of town - like a recluse. Why, the only time he even comes out of that house is to buy groceries or go hunting or fishing. Used to be, we’d sit down here to a game of cribbage most every day but a body don’t dare speak to him anymore, but what he strikes out like a rattler.”
Molly pulled her bent wood rocker closer to the stove and sank into it. Shaking her head, she said, “Ginny Taylor died right soon after my Johnny, Cyl. Remember? Moss went crazy with grief, poor man. Blamed God for taking his sweet Ginny away. Sam, I know you did everything humanly possible to comfort him - we all tried - but Moss turned his back on us, all. After five years, I guess most people have even forgotten ‘why?’ He’s still a very bitter man.” She slipped off her shoes and propped her feet on the wood box to warm them.
Sam Wheeler slid a loaf of bread across the countertop. “Well, it’s high time we tried again!”
Cyril’s voice rose an octave, “What do you think I’ve been doing?”
“Then, Cyril,” Molly frowned, “You’ve been going about it all wrong.” Molly rocked and considered the situation, then she said, “You know, I’ll bet if I put my mind to it, I could probably get him back into church by Thanksgiving.”
“That’s three weeks away! Never happen! Besides,” Cyril said, smugly glancing at the minister now occupying Moss’s squeaky chair, “it ain’t proper to bet. Right, Preacher?”
“Now just a minute, Cyl,” Sam said. “You know that yesterday we kicked off our Thanksgiving ‘Baskets for the Needy’ Food Drive and, say, twenty dollars worth of goods would be a very substantial donation. I’m pretty sure the Lord would approve, so long as we consider it a donation to the church? Molly, you agreeable to that?”
“Of course! Matter of fact, no matter what, I’ll give fifty dollars in goods. And, Cyl, you’d match my donation, wouldn’t you, even if I succeeded?”
“That’d be my pleasure,” Cyril nodded. “Naturally, Preacher, you’d supervise the choosing, adding up, and packing of the goods?”
Sam Wheeler, grinning broadly, agreed.
The snowfall was heavy that Monday night, and it snowed off and on right on through the following Saturday. At Sunday morning services, Molly’s unusual absence created quite a stir.
Standing on the church steps afterwards, Molly’s good friend, Martha Wiggins volunteered, “I’d better go check on her.”
“Won’t be necessary,” Cyril said, staring off down the street, his forehead bunched in a frown.
A sudden hush fell on the knots of chattering faithful as they watched Molly McGinnis and Moss Taylor plodding up the middle of the slushy street, rifles slung over their shoulders, two rabbits dangling from each belt. When they got to the store, Molly turned in and Moss crossed the street towards home.
Moments later, Cyril slammed through the store’s front door and yelled at Molly, “A woman your age out hunting? And on Sunday, with the whole town watching? What’s come over you, Molly McGinnis?”
Briskly removing her scarf and tossing it onto the counter beside her gloves and the two brown rabbits, Molly retorted, ”Those rabbits will make a fine stew! I know exactly what I’m doing, Cyril Patterson— and honestly-” She fairly glowed. “-I enjoyed every minute of it! Why, I haven’t spoored a rabbit or had so much fun since I was a gangling tomboy!”
The door slammed again and Cyril was gone.
The following Sunday, Molly was conspicuously absent from church again. Rumor had it Molly and Moss went fishing that Sunday and that they had bowled on Wednesday when Molly would normally have been at Bible study.
Cyril found comfort in sitting with Martha Wiggins in church both Sundays and Wednesdays, enjoying her home cooking afterward. In truth, Cyril’s quiet life had taken on new dimension and his anger at Molly’s preoccupation with Moss Taylor had completely lost its edge due to Martha’s solicitous attentions.
For three weeks Molly’s grocery business fairly boomed. And it was a fact that Moss Taylor was spending every afternoon with Molly in the store and that they laughed and played cribbage between customers. Every housewife in town could testify to that fact.
The church was filled to capacity that next Sunday morning before Thanksgiving. Members of the choir occupied the first two center pews because behind the pulpit, the choir box was piled high with baskets of food.
When Preacher Sam Wheeler stepped to the pulpit, he stood for a moment, looking at the mountain of goods. “Let us give thanks to the Lord for the generosity of the members of our church who have provided so plentifully for those less fortunate than ourselves.” Smiling broadly, over a chorus of ‘amen’s, he looked down into the face of Moss Taylor, seated on the aisle, third pew. Moss was smiling self-consciously back at Sam. “Now,” Sam continued, “all those who donated baskets on the—er—hope and expectation of Molly’s success in getting Moss Taylor into church this morning, will you please raise your hands?”
Hands waved from every pew.
“Molly, Cyl, forgive me! But I just couldn’t deny the rest of our church family the opportunity to participate in our little opinion poll, now, could I? After all, they were donating to our worthy cause, too. Moss, everybody wants to welcome you back this morning.”
Spontaneous applause broke out, echoing throughout the sanctuary.
Cyril Patterson, seated beside Martha Wiggins, laughed heartily, reached halfway across the aisle, met and clasped Moss Taylor’s extended hand, shaking it vigorously. “How’s about a game of cribbage at Molly’s tomorrow after chores, old Buddy?”
Setting aside his embarrassment, Moss nodded in agreement. Then, tenderly, he took Molly’s hand into his big, rough paw and grinned down at her. “Molly, girl, you turned just being into really living again.”
Molly’s eyes were damp when she winked at Martha Wiggins.
—Published in Mature Years Magazine, Fall, 1996