By DiVoran Lites
“How do, Miss Morgan.” Mr. Leitzinger stood at attention near the driver’s side of a new Ford Touring Car. “Ready for church?”
She nodded looking him over and noting the way his Stetson enhanced the western theme of his jacket and boots. The jacket was as handsomely tailored as any tuxedo she’d seen and his boots had been carefully polished. He must have a place for clothes in the house, she thought. Surely he doesn’t keep them in the loft.
“Mr. Leitzinger, I’ve decided you may call me Ellie,” She looked into blue eyes shaded by thick, perfectly shaped, brows.
“Good. Call me Aldon. Please come around and meet Signor Solano.” Aldon steered her to the white-haired gentleman in the passenger seat. The man wore a perfectly cut, pinstriped suit and held a black fedora on his lap. Ellie placed her hand on the windowsill and the older man lifted it to his lips. A diamond cufflink peeked out from under the sleeve of his suit, caught a sunbeam, and winked
“Good Morning, Signorina. You are welcome to Spruce Creek Ranch. Please make yourself at home with us. Today, you are our guest to church.”
“Thank you, sir, she said carefully slipping the hand he had kissed into the pocket of her spring jacket.
“Now will you come over here, please?” Aldon, again at the driver’s side pulled the seat forward so she could get into the back with Molly who sat behind Signor Solano. The older woman wore a heavy black coat aged with russet streaks. Her hat sprouted stiff lavender ribbons looping and turning in a fantasy of bows.
Aldon got behind the wheel, pressed on the starter, and the automobile hummed to life. They were on their way to town, an older man, a woman of a certain age, and two young people who still had most of their lives ahead of them.
It took almost half an hour to get to town, but only a few seconds to coast down Main Street to the outskirts. There, identical churches sat facing each other across the road.
“This is the Catholic Church.” Aldon wheeled in next to the north-facing edifice, got out and opened the door for Signor Solano, then helped Molly out of the back seat. A priest in a cassock rushed from the church, gave Signor Solano a hug, and kissed his cheeks. Ellie noticed that Aldon’s face turned red and assumed he was embarrassed. She knew men in Chicago disdained a show of affection, so she wasn’t surprised that cowboys did too.
“That’s Father Contenti,” Aldon said. “We’ll leave the car here and walk across to my church. Opening the luggage area, he picked up a large, black Bible and stuck it under his arm then lifted his mandolin case and closed the hatch.
A large young man in a dark blue suit, red hair flaming in the sun, emerged from the other church and walked quickly across the street to greet them. He pumped Aldon’s hand and hit him on the shoulder. Ah, that’s how they do it here, thought Ellie.
“Hello there, I’m Pastor Quentin Rudd of the Clifton Community Church, at your service ma’am.” He gave a small bow then led Ellie into the church and straight to a pot-bellied stove radiating heat. “Come get warm,” he said. She held her gloved hands above the heat rising from the stove. Looking around she all but gasped at the sight of jeweled light shining through the stained glass windows, dashing color against the white walls, and splashing over the tops of the pews.
“You have a musician’s hands, I think,” Pastor Rudd said.
“Violin.” She looked around the large room. “Your church is lovely.” One of the windows depicted Jesus leading a herd of sheep with a lamb lying contently across his shoulders; another showed Him kneeling against a rock with His hands folded in prayer.
“The first one is an artist’s rendering of the Good Shepherd,” said Pastor Rudd following her gaze. “The second is our Savior’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane not long before His Crucifixion and Atonement.”
By this time, Aldon had seated himself in a wooden chair at the front and was concentrating on tuning his mandolin.
Pastor Rudd walked with Ellie to a front pew and motioned for her to be seated. He then went over to an organ that looked too small for him and fitted himself onto the bench. Angling his feet so he could press the pedals he laid large fingers on the keys. He and Aldon struck up “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Ellie had heard it before at Grandmother’s church, but never like this. Her heart rose up and she felt as if she could fly to heaven on the music alone.
When the men finished playing, Pastor Rudd disappeared through a door at the side of the church. Ellie gave Aldon a look that asked where he was going. “Young’uns outdoor Sunday School,” he said catching the look. He beckoned to the ladies who were coming in at the back and hanging their coats on a coat tree to come forward.
“Please come closer,” he said. The women wore print housedresses and ancient hats. When Ellie looked at their feet she saw white anklets with stout lace-up shoes. Looking up to scan the women’s faces, she saw eyes bright with anticipation. What kind of lives must they lead, she wondered. It’s probably a constant round of child-care, cooking, washing dishes, cleaning and sewing. What could they do for entertainment except come to town for church on Sunday? Could I bear every day being like the one before it and the one after? she thought. Oh well, I suppose happiness depends more on attitude than anything else. Aldon introduced her to Mrs. Bauer, Mrs. McGregor, and a Leitzinger cousin.
“How do you do?” Ellie said the words she’d been taught to say when she met someone. The ladies nodded without smiling, and suddenly Ellie knew she was being judged. Oh Lord, she thought they’ll be gossiping about me the minute I leave the church.
Let’s pray,” Aldon bowed his head, and the women bowed theirs, too. “Lord, please open our ears, eyes, and hearts and help us know you in fresh, new ways.”
“Ellie,” Aldon said, smiling. “Will you please read Psalm 139:14?” He opened his Bible and pointing to the passage, put it into her hands.
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Ellie projected as she had been taught in drama class.” Was it true? Was she fearfully and wonderfully made? What a fine thought that was. She paused to let it sink in, and a momentary hush fell over the company as if her own awe had become a benediction for them all. Then, in a gentle voice, Aldon assigned a scripture to Mrs. McGregor and she began to read.