Excerpts from Preacher's Creek: Sanctuary! Sanctuary!
This excerpt is about Kent and Ellen recovering from strep throat, creating disaster, and being banished to watch television. During this banishment, they watch "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and this steers them in an unusual direction.
After Jesus saved me from the burning fires of Hell, me and Kent got sick. Man oh man. We were so sick. Momma said we had strept throat and ear infections. Bottles of pretty pink medicine stood in the old Kelvinator. Before we took the first spoonful, we thought this was gonna be great stuff, like peppermint candy. But, we were wrong, very wrong. It was bitter and chalky. Momma had to chase us down, throw us on the floor, and straddle our bodies. With her free hand, Momma poured the awful sludgy liquid down our stripped throats.
After doing that once or twice, Grandma Carter took hold of our arms. “You cut that out, you hear me? You’re not babies! Your mother can be chasing you around like that! She’s tired enough…” We had stopped listening by then, but Grandma had set us straight: don’t run, take the medicine, and swallow it. No one ignored Grandma Carter. She knew all sorts of things, and had a way of getting down into one’s face and staring them in the eyes. Maybe because she was part Indian, Grandma Carter could tame a wild bull, I betcha. Nope, we did just what she told us.
Days, maybe years went by. Sometimes we lay on the living floor like abandoned old dogs, floppy and worm-infested. Other times we stretched out on Momma’s big bed, flattened out like dried earthworms, twisted in agony. Our tongues lolled out when we were thirsty, and Momma lifted our heads, giving us cool water. We were so grateful to our Angel Momma.
Then one day we woke up and got out of our beds with a new energy. The pink bottles had to be finished up, but on this day, we felt better, good almost. We put on clothes and even talked to each other as if we were real humans and not worn-out, mangy hound dogs.
That day was hell for Momma. We were pestering her for everything: to go out to play, to have something to eat, and whatever our minds could think up.
As if that weren’t bad enough, we discovered how to open the flour bin while Momma was hanging up wet clothing outside. “Hey, Sis, let’s make a surprise for Momma! Go get some newspaper.”
I eagerly ran for yesterday’s paper that lay on Dad’s rocking chair. ‘Boy oh boy, Momma is going to like this!’ I thought, running back to the kitchen where Kent had scooped about twenty pounds of flour into a bowl, and was pouring water over the mounded white powder. Using Momma’s big pot-stirring spoon, we mixed and mixed until the bowl was full of a mass of tan goo.
With a grand sweep of his arm, Kent sent the salt and pepper shakers flying to the floor, the sugar bowl skittering across the table until it crash-landed on the linoleum. Startled, we glanced up at each other, fearing that Momma heard the noise and would come hurtling through the door. We peered out the screen door and saw Momma and Mrs. Jennings chatting about tomatoes in the garden. When they got onto the subject of tomatoes, they could be out there for hours. There was real pride in Preacher’s Creek when it came to gardens. Early on in our lives, we learned that no one messed with someone else’s garden.
It was a trial and error experience that started with us pulling up green onions and moving onto the radishes before Momma caught us and put an end to that venture before we headed on to serious destruction. Messing with someone’s garden was like stealing a pick-up truck, or shooting someone’s milk cow. Gardens were sacred places, and anyone who stepped into a neighbor’s garden could be hung, or at least that is what Ron told us.
We scurried back to the table, and began tearing strips of newspaper. Creative juices flowed in our veins, having been sick with striped throat for so long. “Here, dab some goo on this…take that paper and hold it down there…nice and thick, spread it nice and thick…” We had no spoken goal, but the spirits of dead artists moved us to go beyond our child boundaries. In the end, our creation was a monument to our genius.
We stepped back, filled with awe. Words failed us. We had covered the kitchen table completely with flour paste and newspaper, giving it wings to boot. No mortal could look at the winged table and not be moved to break out in praise, we were sure of it.
We heard Momma saying good-bye to Mrs. Jennings, and coming through the back screen door. With giggles and anticipation, we hurried out the kitchen, and peered around the corner. It was like Christmas morning, all the waiting for something really big to happen.
Boy oh boy. Momma did not disappoint us one bit. She dropped the laundry basket, and let out one long big holler. “KENT! ELLEN! Get yourselves in here r-i-g-h-t-n-o-w!”
I cannot tell much more beyond this, as we found ourselves neck-deep in a heap of trouble, bad trouble. The following hour rang with words I can’t repeat, tears that would not stop, and fierce regret that we considered Momma’s flour bin as source of inspiration. That is all one needs to know.
Once the table had been restored to a normal boring piece of wood with legs, the salt and pepper shakers replaced, and a new sugar bowl put on the table, we cleaned up the flour footprints that mysteriously had traveled through the house and the flour handprints that appeared on the walls. Then Stone Faced Momma threw a patchwork wool comforter down on the floor in front of our black and white television. She gave us firm directions about what we could do, what we could not do, and “…you will not move off this comforter, not one inch…” Then Momma stalked back to the kitchen, where mutterings and pot banging was heard for some time.
We sat there in silence in front of a black and white television show. Our free-wheeling lifestyle usually had me and Kent out on round-ups and bloody battles during this time of the day, so beyond our regular cowboy shows at night, we didn’t watch TV. As we slowly grew interested, we saw a horribly disfigured man gazing lovingly at a beautiful dancing gypsy girl named Esmeralda. Esmeralda, Esmeralda. I said the name over and over in a whisper. The name rolled over my tongue and filled my mouth with wonder. It joined Darla and Loretta in my head.