For decades at Fayetteville’s First Presbyterian Church, we have fed any of the members who would come on Wednesday nights. (Or to my way of thinking, actually Wednesday late afternoons, but I am told that I will one day outlive my desire for late suppers and adopt an Early Bird Special way of life.) During one of those years, my wife was the chairperson of the committee that was responsible for putting the thing together.
As one might expect in a church, sometime close to when the biggest majority of people were within a bite or two either way of the start of their dinner, someone from inside the gathering was asked to go to the microphone and say a blessing. Susanna has a peaceful and comely way about her, and it was no burden on her to cruise about the dining hall chitting and chatting and looking for someone she had not previously asked to pray, someone who would tend to the task with the proper joy and reverence.
On one particular night, her route ended at the table occupied by Laurice and Zula Hubbard. They lived in Vander next door to their manicured grape vines and kind of across the street from the football field of Mac Williams Middle School. Whereas most successful couples are a blend of yin and yang, the 50-plus-year marriage of the Hubbards thrived with both being poster children for meekness. Always, they had idyllic smiles with pores oozing loving kindness. Zula’s sweetness was familiar, like the kind often found in Southern girls raised by their moms. Laurice was one of the uniquely gentlest men I have ever known.
After the pleasantries, Susanna asked Laurice if he would mind saying the blessing, pretending that it was a question, but knowing in her heart that anyone as kind as he could easily bless this food and these people and the hands that prepared it. As soon as the question escaped her lips, though, she knew she had crossed a heretofore unseen line. You see, Laurice was a rosy-cheeked kind of fellow by nature, yet upon hearing Susie’s question, the color immediately drained out of his face, disappearing below the collar of his white shirt.
Before he could stammer out a response, Susanna tried to let him off the hook by cutting back in and saying with a patting hand, “It’s ok, Mr. Hubbard, I can ask someone else.” That attempt at retraction may have been harder on Laurice than was the actual request.
“I just do not like speaking in front of a crowd,” he whisperingly apologized. Then came his words of reverence that in my house have become legendary. “But you should never turn down a chance to pray.”
Laurice made the short-but-long and arduous 15-foot walk to the microphone, nervously tapped the windscreen, and said some sort of an almost unintelligible blessing. I don’t remember what any of the words were except “Amen”, but I have never forgotten that act of prayer.
Having gotten in on the Netflix craze, Susanna and I have been watching “The Crown.” It is historical fiction about Queen Elizabeth. Or maybe it is modern history with a heavy dose of poetic licensing by the writers and directors. It is a higher quality watch, though, than, say, “Family Fued” or “The Office” reruns.
In an episode from Season Three, we are introduced to the mother of Prince Phillip. Nothing about her character up until then was complimentary, but she wound up being the most pious and Christ-like of the royal family. In the seminal reunion between her formerly estranged son Philip and her, she asked him to allow her to share one last piece of motherly advice. Then she said this: “Find yourself a faith.”
Sometimes around our town, one will see pink windshield stickers that read “EJB.” Emmi J Barbaro. She was a precious and magnetic child from the moment she could first interact. She was tragically lost to this world at age 10 in a sledding accident while on Christmas vacation visiting family. Her dad has been a 3 a.m. friend of mine – a friend who you can call at 3 a.m. and who will rise to help without questioning – for 30 years.
At the funeral, both Mom and Dad took the pulpit to memorialize their only daughter. Heather Barbaro told of how at any restaurant to which the family went, Emmi would not eat until a blessing had been said. “So,” said Mom in her moment of great sadness, “when you go to a restaurant, pray before you eat. And if you open your eyes and someone is looking at you oddly, close your eyes again, and pray for that person.”
Laurice and Zula and Emmi are all gone from this world, leaving only bottomless love and happy memories for those of us who knew them. I bet Emmi sometimes sits with Laurice and Zula for dinner. They smile at her so sweetly. Emmi charms them nonstop with details of all that happened that day. And Emmi lets Laurice off the hook by always saying the blessing.
Bill McFadyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.