Always in the spring, when the Kentucky bluegrass grows thick overnight and petals swirl down from the Bartlett Pears to scurry across the streets like swarms of white scarab, Josephine knows she can no longer lean on the temperamental variances of weather to excuse herself from church.
Thank god for old age, she says to herself on those winter Saturday afternoons when the calls begin. The Ritters down the road, the Talbots' unemployed son John, half the Community Outreach committee, all calling to offer her a ride or a sturdy elbow to cling to on the walk to Sunday morning services. But in those bitter months, Josephine can claim all manner of good reasons to stay home: cold air, slight wind, rain in all forms – both drizzle and drop – and the very deadly threat that an icy cobblestone walk poses to a woman of her age.
But once Spring finally pushes the mercury higher and holds it there, Josephine can no longer hide. Her presence will be expected. Missing services now, when the cobblestone walk is dry and perfectly shaded from the bright morning sun, will send a message that Josephine's faith is at risk. And this will mean a visit from the loyalty committee.
Of course, they preferred the acronym HARPS – "Helping All Return Praising on Sundays" – but Josephine had seen the group in action. Two years ago, the HARPS were summoned to action when Wyatt Vernor started spending too much time on the tavern stool and not enough time in the pew. From her garden, Josephine watched the efforts Sunday after Sunday. First the Parish Nursing Society was dispatched, to check after Wyatt's health. Then Community Outreach, wondering if he'd like to drive them on their Sunday cookie deliveries? Then Congregational Needs was sent, to suss out the reason: car troubles? Money? Did he need a new tie?
In the end, Wyatt was chalked up to a loss for the HARPS. Josephine didn't expect they'd be in the mood for another defeat.
This Spring Saturday, the first call comes while Josephine is in the flowerbeds, crouched low enough to run a fingertip along the teacup-bloom of each daffodil. She hears the phone through the open window, but the gentle warmth of the sun begs her stay where she is. The second call comes while she sits on the swing, the squeak of the chains the only breaks in the perfect hum of a spring evening. The third call comes as she scrubs the last dinner dish, watching a storm gather over the hills in the distance. She returns no calls but makes one of her own.
Wyatt meets her on the back porch the next morning and offers his elbow. He is right on time. When the church bells sound fifteen minutes later, Wyatt and Josephine are sitting on her garden swing in the morning mist, his thermos of coffee between and the purest of services spread before them, as far as either could want to see.
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