Warrendale Township

Patty poured the heated water from the kettle to the basin and little Eric stripped off his jeans and his t-shirt and sat himself into the water. It was Saturday evening and that meant he needed a bath, and Patty made no small effort of reminding her youngest that tomorrow was a very important day, the greatest day in all the world… well, the greatest day in Warrendale Township, anyway. Tomorrow was Easter Sunday, and Jesus tolerated no bullshit on the celebration of the day of his resurrection. While Eric scrubbed himself clean with the ivory bar of soap, Patty looked out the kitchen window at the blooming forsythia, and old Granddaddy Frank sat on the porch swing and smoked a cigarette, and the birds were busy darting for the bugs that were buzzing in the springtime warm, and all the rest of Warrendale Township waited with baited breath for morning.

 

“I don’t wanna take a bath, ma,” whined Eric as he dutifully scrubbed the layers of grime and dirt from his hands and from his feet. His face contorted to some combination of focus and frustration.

 

Patty didn’t answer, she kept her eyes on the forsythia. Her family was poor as shit, there wasn’t any way to hide that; the siding on the house was at least thirty years beyond replacement, and she couldn’t afford a bathtub for her child to bathe. Instead she used a galvanized tub that once was used to feed the pigs. Patty did her best to ignore that fact. Ordinarily this sort of willful ignorance took a measurable toll on Patty’s psyche, but not right now. Right now there was only the forsythia outside, popping yellow flowers that screamed springtime promises with no attempt to reign itself in. Her mouth felt dry.

 

“Ma, I jus’ said, I don’t wanna take no bath. If I take a bath now, I gotta stay inside, and the peepers are peepin’”, Eric pleaded. The child was unaware that it was uncustomary to bath in a metal tub on the kitchen floor. This life was all that he had ever known, and although nine years old made him a child by any standard he was smart enough to know that the peepers were peeping. He hadn’t ever found a single springtime frog, but it didn’t stop him from crawling through the marsh at every chance he got. If he took a bath now he could forget looking for any frog until at least tomorrow evening.

 

Patty’s focus was broken, and her brow furrowed and she looked at Eric, “Watch yourself, you hear me? Tomorrow’s a big day. It’s the Resurrection, and momma’s singin’ in church.”

 

Eric’s scrubbing slowed down some, and his own brow furrowed. If anybody had seen the expression they’d remark how much Eric looked like his mother when he had something on his mind. He wouldn’t know until he was an adult that there were few memories from his childhood that Eric would hold onto through his life, cherished as if a precious candle flame holding back a sea of anguished dark. Paramount to these memories was the memory of his mother singing at church. The years he heard it would be congealed into a single wave of nostalgia and emotion, but for right now, Eric knew that tomorrow was a big day. Not just for him, or for his mother, but for all of Warrendale Township. And it wasn’t big because of the resurrection. It was big because Patty would be singing at Sunday Services.

 

Granddaddy Frank put out his cigarette on the arm of the swinging chair in the divot of the wood where he always put out his cigarette. He listened to his daughter speak to his grandchild about tomorrow morning, and he swung harder in the chair to hear louder the creaking strain of rusted chain bolstered into the roof. Frank fucking hated the Resurrection, and he hated it because his daughter sang at church.

 

***

 

Frank wore blue jeans every day, and suspenders and a belt kept them in place while he swung a ho or hammered a nail or saddled a horse. Life was simple enough for a guy like Frank, even with sixty-seven years of wear and tear on the ol’ body holding him back. He still did what needed to be done, it just took a more deliberate approach getting there. The house his daughter Patty lived in now had once been his, his and his wife’s until that sonofabitch upstairs took her away. He built the shack with his own two hands, and nobody else’s. Frank was no carpenter and he wasn’t a mason, but he knew how to get shit done.

 

The ash from his cigarette drifted away and onto the denim covering his thigh. He was ignorant to it, his attention forcing itself away from the conversation inside and focusing instead on the rusted Ford in the field. Years ago he would take the Ford to Cherry Ridge on the weekends and meet up with his cousin Bug, and they would drive all the way to Pottertown to the hardware store with the pretty blonde working inside. Thirty-two years that bastard ran, until Frank got it stuck in the mud so bad he never was able to get it out. He tried chaining it out with the tractor and pushing it with his neighbor, but nothing got that Ford out of the ground. It was stuck there, and every day since then Frank watched it rust and rot until it was a corrugated iron coffin. Every day he saw that rusted heap it would torment him, until something inside turned off one afternoon and he stopped giving a shit.

 

Frank used to love that Ford, but now it reminded him of failure.

 

Frank hated that Ford now, and he hated listening to his daughter speak to his grandchild.

 

***

 

Night came and went.

 

***

 

Eric’s eyes forced themselves open. It was early, the chickens had barely started to scamper and already Eric was sweeping away sleepiness and turning over under the sheet he used as a blanket. His mouth was dry, and the thought of getting a drink of water was bashed away by a swell in his chest. Because it was Easter Sunday, and that meant there was an Easter Egg hunt.

 

Eric had a tough time finding spring peepers, but he was a god damn instrument of clairvoyance when it came to hunting down an Easter Egg.

 

He rolled out of his ancient mattress and struggled to put his clothes on, excitement adding fidgeting inaccuracy to an otherwise practiced procedure. His socks were on inside-out and he tore out of his room.

 

Patty was waiting for him. She drank her two-day old Reynold’s House coffee and savored the sweetness of the sugar in the otherwise vile drink. The moment she heard Eric’s stamping on the ground as he struggled to put his jeans on the right way, she was ready for him, and despite the tremendous weight on her chest about the singing in church that was hours away she put on a happy smile for her youngest child and hugged him hard when he exploded from his room.

 

“Mom, it’s Easter!,” he squealed, hugging her with ferocious intensity.

 

“I know, I know,” she said through a beaming smile, “You mind yourself ‘round the other kids, okay? They ain’t as good at huntin’ as you are.”

 

Eric pretended to hear what she said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be careful!”

 

***

 

Patty had time to make Eric a breakfast before the cousins arrived, and they ate eggs and toast and bacon together in mutual excitement. The last piece of toast was chomped on by Patty when the door wracked with knocks.

 

“They’re here!,” yelled Eric, catapulting from his seat and running to the door. He opened the door and was tackled by his young cousins en masse. Laughter rolled through the shack and Patty beamed at the excitement. In only a few minutes, she would be hiding the Easter Eggs around the yard and the hedge row with her sisters and her brothers and her cousins. They would drink beer and laugh and feel like children themselves for all of half an hour as they devised devious hiding places for neon-colored plastic eggs filled with candy and coins.

 

And when the doors of the house opened and the children were released into the yard chaotic joy would be celebrated. The first few moments of an Easter Egg hunt were always a cutthroat affair, every child for themselves after all. But as the hunt went on charity became the name of the game. Older children would help their younger cousins find the more obviously hidden eggs, and the younger cousin would simply hand over the eggs they discovered if an older child had come up short.

 

The parents felt like guides in an unfamiliar land booming with surprise at every turn. They motioned towards the drainpipe here and behind the boulder there and helped the children find all that was in store for them.

 

Patty watched from the porch and drank her coffee and couldn’t peel her eyes from the forsythia, thinking about church in only two hours.

 

Granddaddy Frank chain smoked and remarked to himself that nobody ever looked for the eggs inside the rotted-out Ford.

 

***

 

Warrendale Methodist had enough pew room for 83 worshippers, and on any other Sunday that was enough. But on Easter Sunday, the Resurrection, it was standing room only. Sometimes the church doors were propped open and the windows were cracked so that all 327 people who lived in Warrendale Township could worship together on the most holy of Sundays. That was when the weather was nice, and today, this particular Easter Sunday, the weather was heavenly.

 

Everybody was there. I mean everybody, and although they listened to the pastor go on about the love of Jesus and the power of the Resurrection, they were really only here for one reason: Patty was going to sing at the end of the service.

 

It was the same feel every year, ever since Patty was fourteen and her mother died and she sang for the first time in front of everybody who attended the Easter Service, and every Easter Service since Patty sang, and all Warrendale Township learned quickly that Easter Service was the one day at year that everybody had to go to church.

 

“Sunday Best” in Warrendale usually consisted of the cleanest jeans and nicest button-down shirt that you owned, and all the neighbors and cousins and truckers and farmers were wearing their Sunday Best. The pastor told the story of the Resurrection and people shouted “amen” and children fidgeted with their ties and Granddaddy Frank lit up a cigarette outside the house of the Lord and the smoke carried his prayers to the heavens.

 

And at the end of the service the parishioners clapped and the pastor waved and everybody stood with baited breath as Patty walked towards the organ.

 

There was no welcoming of her approach. It was deliberate, measurable silence.

 

Her flat-soled feet scuffed over the red velvet rug and she took her seat at the keyboard. Her fingers stretched. She rolled her neck from side to side. She licked her lips and swallowed the saliva.

 

“We-ell”, she sang, and she waited a pause because somehow she knew each of the 327 people outside who comprised all of Warrendale county was waiting for this moment and required a moment to allow reality and fantasy to hold hands. And she stretched her fingers on the keyboard and teased a chord followed by another, and she sang again, “We-e-ell”, and she held her breath for all of half a moment before letting loose.

 

The organ rocked backed and forth as Patty banged the ivory like she was tenderizing a steak and sang the words that came to her heart as she was singing them. It wasn’t an act of practice or of memory but instead an absolute submission to the flow of the Lord, at least so far as she interpreted the experience. The song was different every year, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but each year built in intensity upon the one before it. Patty wasn’t a good singer, but she could bark and howl and croon and growl with enough vivacity that nobody gave a shit that she couldn’t sing well. Her skills on the organ were average, but the intensity and the passion she funneled into each and every movement and step was what unified the heartbeat of everybody in Warrendale Methodist.

 

Every worshipper started out listening to the tunes with an appreciation of the intensity and the drive behind the music, but a few minutes into the raucous jam saw that each worshipper was in their own world, their own secret world of redemption and hope where old loves loved again and dreams were not a four-letter word. The day was fresh and good and everything Patty sang bolstered hopes for a better tomorrow even while it rattled the dust on top of the beams that held the church roof together.

 

The service went on for twenty-seven more minutes, because Patty sang for twenty-seven more minutes. She would never remember what she said, but when she sang she saw the forsythia in bloom.

 

And when she sang, the residents of Warrendale Township felt young and old and peaceful and energized for all that was to come.

 

And when she sang, Eric knew that bath time was not a punishment but an investment.

 

And when she sang, when she sang, Granddaddy Frank lit up another cigarette and curled his lips into a bitter frown and he thought of his Ford stuck in the mud.

 

And when she sang, next year, they’d all be back to hear it.20140525_183515

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2 Comments

  1. This is really good stuff. I grew up in western PA and now am in Austin TX. Your writing captures the essence of that land up north like few others.

    Like

    1. Hey there, thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think that rural PA (rural America in general) has a hard beauty to it, and that it’s easier for folks who’ve been raised there to see it that way. I appreciate the comment, have a good’un!

      Like

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