Watermelon Feed

Reads: 406  | Likes: 1  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 1

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic

Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

It was a building of durable impracticality—sprawling, complex, stucco like a kind of gritty frosting, and painted a shade close to arsenic green. But it began its useful life as a church, and a church it remained: even through seasons of close discomfort, when folded programs waved in the sanctuary like single-wing butterflies and children sat hunched over and miserable in Sunday clothes that seemed intended to torture them.

Seven years away from paying off the mortgage, the tiny congregation could only afford the three used air conditioners bleating at three widely-separated windows. The one assigned to the sanctuary was more for appearance than effect. The one assigned to Pastor Roseberry’s office worked well enough, but he was only in there about an hour a week (the parsonage had central air, and so he conducted most meetings at his home). And the third unit strained mightily to moderate the temperature in what was called the Youth Hall: creating enough noise so that Elijah’s father had to raise his voice slightly when speaking to the assembled youth, most of whom were there because their families gave them no choice.

It was July. High school was months ago. Almost forgotten. Those who could work were working. Those who could afford to be idle were idle. But, for all of them, now was the time for summer pursuits. Making memories of recklessness and adventure.

Except for Sunday.

There were fifty-two Sabbaths on the calendar, and for the Born Again they were non-negotiable. The whole day lost. Morning and evening—eight hymns and two sermons—two episodes of communion—dressing up and dressing down—a big meal around one in the afternoon—and a kind of irritated languor before the evening service.

All to worship an Almighty who had never been known to say anything to anybody.

Everyone except Elijah’s Dad was in the Youth Hall this morning because they had to “worship” that Almighty and this was part of “worship”. Elijah—sitting slightly apart from the others—had the firmest mandate to be there because his father was the volunteer Youth Minister and you could hardly have the Youth Minister’s son acting like this Sunday morning meeting wasn’t vital to everyone’s future salvation.

They were there to gain Eternal Life.

On this particular Sunday everyone had to gather because it was the introduction to what Elijah’s father was calling “Youth Week”—and right now his father was droning through the details of that festive week, ignoring the general air of indifference that the air conditioner was doing nothing to dispel.

Elijah knew that his Dad was just talking to himself, even with other people in the room.

But his Dad didn’t seem to know it.

‘There’ll be a watermelon feed at Shriner’s Park. Four o’clock sharp. We don’t have much in the way of smiling faces here this morning. Understanding that it is summer, and some people might be out of town. But I hope you’ll be telling your friends: since this is an opportunity for Christian witness. Youth Week is always important to us, and—while we’re enjoying a treat—we can plan for a special Youth Bible Study this coming Wednesday. We want everyone to have a good time—this afternoon—a chance for Christian fellowship and gathering a good crowd for the Youth Rally in Lawton where our own preacher, Minister Roseberry, will be special speaker. And you can let me know if you need a ride down to Lawton. Although I think most of you might be taking your cars....’

Elijah noticed that a couple of the other boys were smiling, as though Elijah’s Dad had just suggested something totally ridiculous—and Elijah was sure that his Dad noticed it, too.

Only Elijah was going to get dragged down to Lawton. That was a pretty sure bet.

The only thing Elijah had in common with the rest of these kids was the consensus that the man at the podium had the charisma of a cucumber. So easily disoriented, and so easily confused. The kind of man who just plodded on while other people laughed at him—pretending that amusement was “Christian fellowship”, because to admit anything else would mean that Church couldn’t be the same as Family.

Elijah couldn’t even remember the first time he’d heard it from his father: Church is your family. You’re safe there. You’ll always find love and support there—and it’s the key to salvation. The way to live forever with Jesus.

So here they were on this uncomfortable Sunday morning.

With their “family”.

•••

Just before Elijah’s father stumbled into the Bible lesson from Isaiah, three boys sitting apart from Elijah decided that they’d served their time and said that they all needed to visit the bathroom simultaneously.

Really just an FYI for the Youth Minister. They weren’t asking permission.

Once they got past the door, they started the whooping and laughing that they knew could be heard back inside, while Elijah’s Dad continued on with the lesson plan.

It was just Elijah left—and the Sugarmont sisters, who were so holy that they didn’t really talk to anyone. They could have probably delivered the Bible lesson. They said they knew the whole thing by heart. But that wouldn’t have given them the same satisfaction as waiting, arms folded, for Elijah’s Dad to make some sort of mistake.

Elijah wondered if his Dad would keep reading even if everyone left. Then he decided that maybe the man would—since the Lord would still be there—and so much of what his father did seemed to be “for the Lord”.

Just after Dad turned the page of the reading, everyone was able to hear the thumping of a basketball against the polished floor of the gym. The sound of the absent boys passing the time, since they didn’t give a flying fuck about Isaiah.

They didn’t care—and no one could make them care.

•••

When the Youth Meeting was over, Elijah found the absent boys that were supposed to be part of his “family” passing the basketball around in their shirtsleeves. They greeted his appearance with another shout of laughter, and two of them held up their middle fingers for a lot longer than they needed to—just to make sure he saw them.

The Youth Minister’s son. A real bobblehead. A real loser. And they wanted to remind him, for umpteenth time, that they wouldn’t be showing up for the watermelon feed that afternoon. Or the Youth Rally in Lawton. Or anything else.

They had better things to do with their summer.

Walking past them, headed for the sanctuary to use up the rest of his morning, Elijah felt a pang of envy: as he did every time he watched someone his own age doing what they wanted instead of what they were told.

There was no point in trying to join them out on the floor. They would just chase him away. Maybe bouncing the ball off his head, or some other gesture of contempt.

His Dad was right behind him, and he’d get a talking to if he did anything but take his place in the pews, where service was going to start in a few minutes.

Bechind him, he could hear his Dad trying to play the part of enforcer: ‘Time to wrap it up guys!’ But the kids with the ball just ignored him. They had served their time in Youth Meeting. They would play now until they got tired of playing, and then go on home: their whole Sunday ahead of them.

Elijah went on into the stifling embrace of the sanctuary where the sermon lasted forty minutes: Pastor Roseberry firing off verse after verse from the only book that mattered—while managing to say absolutely nothing new.

•••

It was a terrible risk, that afternoon, masturbating in the basement. But most everyone was taking some kind of nap, and someone descending the basement stairs made such a racket that he would have plenty of warning if someone decided to come looking for him.

His basement room was a full-service venue. There were all kinds of places to hide his magazines, as long as he didn’t mind a little dust. In fact, the magazines were the most criminal part of his whole self-gratification enterprise. Finding him with his pants down would be the prelude to an awkward discussion. But the images in the magazines—page after page of them—would mean big trouble.

Big trouble for life.

His Dad might let the whole thing go: boys will be boys.

But he’d hear about his softcore porn collection from his mother on her deathbed. He was sure of that.

•••

After doggedly ejaculating he felt understandably tired, and stretched out on his bed during the hour to spare before walking over to the park where he helped Dad unload the battered old pickup truck: two galvanized tubs, several bags of ice, and ten large watermelons.

Everything had to be carried by hand over to the picnic pavilion his father had reserved. Enough food for an army. As though his father couldn’t read body language. Couldn’t recognize how people were laughing at him all the time. Assumed (or maybe just hoped) that people took what he said seriously.

A man who wanted to participate fully in bringing the world to Christ.

With the charisma of a cucumber. A loser. A nobody. A face in the crowd. Not understanding the nature of his place in the world.

Now laying vinyl tablecloths on the long tables—then cutting the watermelons into thick slices with the largest knife they’d brought from home—ready by the four o’clock start time. After checking his watch, Elijah’s Dad sat down to await the crowd, and Elijah sat down some distance away, since he wasn’t in the mood for conversation with such a pathetic man.

And it was distressing: the idea that, in not too long, they’d be packing everything up again and taking all that watermelon home. And it would be Elijah who’d have to make some sort of presentation for Wednesday Bible Study—since no one else was likely to do it.

•••

The third or fourth time Elijah’s Dad wondered out loud if anyone was coming, Elijah felt like saying: ‘No, there’s no mistake. Everyone you thought might come knows what time it is—and they’re not going to show up. Because they never intended to show up in the first place. They think you’re a joke to sit here. And they think I’m a joke to sit here with you.’

It might be a big relief to say something impossible like that.

But no. Now it was just a matter of sitting and waiting until Dad felt that honor was satisfied.

At least that’s how it seemed at first.

Then, even sitting at a distance, Elijah saw his father’s expression change to one that was much more unfamiliar, and—as Elijah followed the man’s line of sight—they both ended up looking at a pickup truck in even worse shape than the one they owned, with four demined Indians in the cab, and maybe six more in the truck bed. All of them with the look of a Plains tribe: glossy black hair past the shoulders, big facial features of a dark bronze color, and silent stoical manners.

They were pulled in at the gas pumps across the street: where all four got out of the cab, and about half got out of the bed—one actually going to the pump while the rest looked at the main drag of Webster Street as though they’d never seen anything like it before.

Before Elijah was even aware that Dad had gotten to his feet he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and then Dad was at the edge of the pavement—checking traffic—before hurrying across and heading resolutely toward the Indian group, who reacted as though he had dropped from another planet.

If Elijah knew about anything, he knew about the Bible. So it was only natural for him to recall a Parable: even if it was one of the Parables offered by the Savior that his congregation didn’t favor very much.

Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

That chapter of Luke, which also encouraged humility, wasn’t read much in Elijah’s church since it implied that those who would be taken up during the Rapture also needed to be generous to others during their earthly life. That the “poor” sometimes deserved a break. Elijah sincerely doubted that anyone in his church “family” agreed with that point of view.

But now he was watching it happen: since Dad was aggressively talking to the man who appeared to be the driver of the truck, the oldest of the group, and not taking “no” for an answer.

At least a couple of them were nodding along, trying to be polite it seemed. But, after another five minutes or so, the nodding became more general and an agreement seemed to be struck.

Dad hustled back across the street, and—after mounting the nozzle back in the pump—the tiny tribe parked at the curb near the pavilion where the watermelons were waiting.

By that time, Elijah had already interrogated his Dad.

‘What are we doing?’

‘Showing a light.’ Elijah rarely saw Dad angry outside the house. But the man was clearly irritated now—and clearly on a mission. ‘I’m not going back home with my tail between my legs. And I’m not about to waste good food by throwing it out. Let them laugh at me all they want. I’ll still find a way to do the Lord’s Work.’

There might have been more on Dad’s mind. But family conversation stopped when the Indians got there—turning out to be quiet—neither friendly nor unfriendly—three of the ten turning out to be women.

They occasionally commented to each other in a language Elijah found unfamiliar. But they listened politely as Dad offered the evangelical boilerplate suggesting that accepting Jesus was the only true path to Eternal Life.

None of them seemed inclined to debate the point. But they did enjoy watermelon in season, and the pale green rinds piled up fast before all of them left—with quick nods of thanks—and boarded their truck for destinations unknown.

Then all that was left to do was clean up, grab a quick dinner, and get ready for evening service at seven.

•••

In retrospect, Elijah thought he should have picked up warning signs from Pastor Roseberry’s sermon that evening: the preacher musing, for about half an hour, about the gifts the Children of Israel received during their time in the desert.

As people in the congregation were well-aware, manna fell from the sky. And, on occasion, plump quail dropped loudly to the parched earth of the Sinai.

But the point wasn’t to talk about food. The message was that only the Chosen People received those gifts because only the Chosen deserved them. Almighty God drew a bright line between those who worshipped Him—who prayed—and who obeyed—and those who did not follow the Lord’s teachings: who deserved nothing at all.

Roseberry wanted to hammer that message home. Totally conversant with the Scriptures, Roseberry was able to produce many examples of how faith was rewarded, and lack of faith deprived—although not a lot of the verses came from the Gospels themselves. Roseberry, as it happened, was really more of an Old Testament voice. So he stayed away from the obvious example of Christian generosity: Jesus feeding the 5,000. Those people were at fault for not bringing their own snacks, and Jesus didn’t ask for any religious credentials before handing them free food.

There was a sudden coolness in the sanctuary as Roseberry warmed to his topic—frequent glances toward his father from the thirty or forty who dressed for evening service—and Elijah had the sudden inspiration that the grapevine had informed everyone about what had happened at the watermelon feed.

There was going to be something said after the service.

But the watermelon had loosened Elijah up quite a bit, and his urgent concern was to get to the bathroom after the last hymn. Sure, the ride home was only ten minutes—but Elijah wasn’t sure he had even that much time.

It was the effect that watermelon routinely had on him.

The bathroom right behind the sanctuary was theoretically private. The door had a lock. But the door was so cheap and thin that anything going on in the corridor outside could be clearly heard. The strident baritone of Preacher Roseberry pushed right through the barrier—and Elijah instantly sat at attention.

It was the voice of God that he’d grown up with, after all. And the answering voice was his Dad. Never strident. A born follower. A man who always strived to be agreeable and earnest.

Roseberry was over six feet. So Elijah could imagine him towering over Dad. Leaning in close. And talking in a kind of evil hiss: ‘I can’t imagine you thought you could get away with this!’

Dad instantly understand that he wasn’t supposed to reply. So he said nothing, and Roseberry rolled on: ‘Two phone calls this afternoon. The kind of things I never expected to hear about you. Living it up with some undesirables in a public park! In a public park! Calls from members who’ve been with this church for years! People tithing to this church! Who we’re depending on! Seeing you in a thoroughly compromising situation! Spending the church’s money—’

Then Dad felt he had something to offer: ‘It wasn’t any—’

Roseberry allowed him to go no farther than that.

‘I’m not finished! But you are! You’re finished! I have no idea what you were thinking, and I don’t want to know what was going through your mind! And a youth event! Of all things! How many of our own people were there?’

‘No one. That’s why I—’

‘No one? Where were they? What kind of leadership are you offering?’

‘I waited a reasonable amount of time—’

‘But they could have been there! Our youth group sitting at the same table with people like that!’

‘Jesus—’

‘You have no business talking to anyone about the Savior. He did a lot of questionable things in his time, and I believe that most of us understand that he was not a practical man. Certainly not an example for anyone making their way in the world today. And this just goes to show the problems that have been typical of you with the Youth Group. Frankly, they don’t respect you, and frankly, they don’t have any reason to. Which is the conversation we’re having now. This is an important group. It’s the future of the congregation. If we lose them as teens we probably never get them back!’

‘I—’

‘Of course you’re a good Christian father. And most of the time I have no complaints about your participation. But not everyone is cut out to be a leader. Or a teacher. Some are called just to stand and be silent. I’m ending your role as Youth Minister. Effective immediately. I’ll make up some excuse and put it in the newsletter. It won’t be a public reprimand. Even though that might be more appropriate.’

‘Who—’

‘I’ll take the job for now. Until I can find someone else to take it up. In the meantime, make sure the Treasurer is reimbursed for any of our money you spent on your adventure, and for God’s sake try to keep a low profile for a while!’

•••

Roseberry’s heavy tread went off to another part of the building, and Dad’s more hesitant steps went another direction: allowing Elijah to go directly to the car, where the rest of his family was waiting to hurry home to squeeze in some television before bedtime.

Elijah didn’t expect any kind of announcement from Dad. And he wasn’t disappointed. Dad would just tell Mom later: in the privacy of their bedroom.

But Dad didn’t even come into the house. He went from the car to the workshop he had in the garage. Which is where Elijah found him: ambitious, for once, to have an adult conversation.

An angry man might have been hammering a nail. Or sanding some wood. Some busy work with his hands.

But Dad was just sitting there on his work stool, looking at his hands.

‘I heard Roseberry talking to you,’ Elijah began.

‘Eavesdropping? You shouldn’t be doing things like that—’

‘I was in the bathroom. You know you can hear everything in there.’

‘Still. That’s listening in, and you know that’s wrong. As far as that conversation, it’s none of your concern. Nothing you need to worry about.’

‘You were just doing what Jesus would have done—’

‘But that’s not the point. That church is our family, and the opinion of your family is what matters. What matters is not to spend eternity burning in Hell. Our church—our family—is the only path to salvation. It matters what they think. And I probably never should have been Youth Minister in the first place. It was a spur of the moment decision—giving those people food—I was angry—and it was wrong—’

‘All that stuff would have gone into the dumpster. And you were talking about the Gospel the whole time—’

‘Now we’re just going in circles. You don’t understand. To be saved, we have to be among the people who are going to be saved—’

‘And we’re sure about that?’

‘We have to belong, Elijah. We have to learn to belong. When you’re older, you’ll understand.’

‘And so you just give the money back to the church?’

Dad finally made eye contact with him: ‘It wasn’t the Youth Group money. I bought the watermelons with our own money.’

‘So our own money tossed into the garbage. That was the decision you had to make,’ Elijah replied. ‘Maybe you should have told Roseberry that.’

‘It wasn’t the time. He was angry—’

‘Which is a sin, isn’t it? Like just about everything else?’

‘Enough! It’s been a disappointing day. I need to pray about some things. And we’ll still be going to the Youth Rally in Lawton. I see no reason not to go—’

‘Sitting among the Pharisees!’ Elijah snapped.

‘I said enough! Satan’s listening to this conversation, and I’m sure he’s quite pleased. So go back in the house, and let it rest. Nothing’s changed—’

‘Except you’ve been humiliated by these people again.’

Elijah’s Dad waved him toward the house: ‘We have to think about salvation. We have to think about Eternity. This is nothing compared to that, and someday you’ll understand.’

So Elijah went back into the house, and nothing more was said about it.


Submitted: July 30, 2020

© Copyright 2022 NateBriggs. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:

Comments

Keke Serene

Very said,but very true how some of these 'holier than thou,' congregations can be. I really do feel for Elijah's dad- he wasn't respected in his role, and when doing what Jesus would do, he was literally judged and reprimanded. For being around 'undesirables'?! Has quite a Hilter ring to it, yikes. Excellent writing here. Reads perfectly.

Fri, July 31st, 2020 4:09pm

Author
Reply

Thanks so much for reading - and for taking the time to comment. I always appreciate it.

Fri, July 31st, 2020 10:02am

Facebook Comments

More Religion and Spirituality Short Stories

Other Content by NateBriggs

Book / Romance

Book / Mystery and Crime

Book / Romance