Fumes and Faith
My feet don’t reach the floor. I’m sitting on a wooden church pew in the Country Roads Bible Church. My daddy is the preacher. He’s leading the singing. A blue-haired old lady plunks the piano. Fat hangs from her arms and her hands kind of shake. Dad’s not a real good song leader. He says so.
It’s Sunday evening service, which started at 7:30 so the farmers have time to do their chores. Right before it was the youth service. This morning we went to Sunday school and Worship service. Everyone seems tired. I’m seven. My six-year old sister Lou, leans against Mom. On the other side of Mom, Sue is sleeping on the pew. She’s three. Mom holds my baby sister Annie, on her lap. Annie is not crying right now. She has colic and is fussy. I like babies, but I don’t like this one, even if she is my sister.
Dad starts his sermon, talking about the rapture. He says he’s a Bible teacher more than a preacher. He doesn’t yell and holler like other preachers I’ve heard.
I try to listen to dad. He’s talking about stages or ages of something. It’s a big word I can’t say yet. He has a big chart out. The letters at the top spell D-I-S-P-E-N-S-A-T-I-O-N. With a pointer, he shows how we are in the church stage now. But, soon, Jesus will come and all the Christians who truly believe in Him will fly up into the clouds to meet him. And all the dead Christians will too. I think they all go to heaven while all the unsaved people stay on earth and fight wars and then Jesus comes back to earth and sends all the sinners to hell. It’s kind of scary.
Annie starts fussing and Mom gets her bottle from the diaper bag. She tries to rock her and feed her, but Annie still is fussy. Lou fell to sleep on Mom. Mom slowly slides her down on the pew. She takes the baby to the annex so her crying won’t disturb people. I think there is about twenty-five in church tonight.
I try to be good and not look around, but still I hear Annie’s cries. I do not like her! It is not fair. I am seven and already had two sisters. I wanted a brother, not another sister. Now I have three, three sisters. She was supposed to be a boy!
Dad leads the last song, says his closing prayer and all of us move out of the pews. Everyone seems tired. Dad and mom and me stand at the door to shake hands and say goodbye.
My dad carries Sue to the car. Lou sleepily climbs in the back seat, in the middle, between me and Sue. Annie is on mom’s lap. It’s very dark out in the country. We live in Michigan, near Stanton.
“Honey, we need gas. I think I’ll run over to Cedar Corners,” Dad says to Mom.
“It’s awfully late,” Mom says. “Do you have any money? Can it wait till tomorrow?”
“I think I have a dollar and some change, besides I have to visit Gladys in the hospital. I have to leave early so I can have prayer with her before her surgery at 7:00.”
We have a 1949 Plymouth. The lights bounce off the dirt road. Dust comes in through rust spots in the floor and doors. Tree shadows swoop and jump at me. I twist my neck to look up and see stars and a skinny moon through the clouds. The homes seem a long way apart. Dad pulls into Cedar Corners. It’s a little store covered in tar-paper. The owner gave me a candy once. There is one gas pump.
“Well, looks like they’re closed but I can pump my own and leave the money in that cup,” dad says as he climbs out of the car. I hear him fiddle around, then he climbs back in. “It’s out of gas, we’ll head for Rocky’s.”
Mom sucks in her breath. “Honey, do we have enough to go that far?”
Lou and I look at each other, her blue eyes big and worried. But we stay quiet.
“Oh, I think the Lord will provide. After all, He increased the oil in the widow’s lamp, didn’t He?”
Dad drives slowly down the back roads. Then, we feel the car go more slowly. I think he’s trying to make the gas in the tank last longer. Lou’s eyes get bigger and bigger the slower we go. We see Mom fidgeting more. She tells us to go to sleep. Dad starts humming a hymn. Lou and I look at each other and softly shake our heads. We’re too scared about running out of gas to go to sleep. The next minutes seem like hours as dad drives slower and slower.
At last, I see a light flickering in the distance. It’s a single bulb in an old, green metal shade hanging over a rusty gas pump. Through the storefront windows I see a faint light in one of the back rooms. Rocky must live back there because he soon walks up to dad’s window. “Preacher, what are you doing out so late on a Sunday night? Want me to filler up?” He’s very gruff.
“Well Rocky, I thought I could get some gas at Cedar’s but they’re dry. We just made it here on fumes. No. No, don’t fill it up. I have, let’s see, I have one-dollar and thirty-three cents. That’s what I’ll take, please. I have to leave early in the morning for the hospital to see Violet before her surgery, otherwise I wouldn’t be bothering you.”
“A buck thirty-three? Hell, preacher that’s not enough to get me out of bed on a Sunday night for!”
I give Lou a worried look, but then we hear Rocky take the gas cap off, the pump motor start, and gas splashing in the tank behind our seat. We sag back and sigh in relief. Dad hands Rocky the dollar thirty-three in change, and starts to thank him.
“Hells bells, preacher, you ain’t even gotta hard dollar,” Rocky grumbles, then starts to roll a cigarette.
“Well, Rocky, I really…” I think Dad wants to thank him again.
Rocky waves his hand at dad and lights his smoke. “I give ya two bucks worth. Figure you’re doin the Lord’s work. ’Sides, Violet probably needs all the help she can get.”
More Country Roads next week…