Beulah campbell thought everything had a purpose. This was instilled in her by Miss Mecie Tarter, her first Sunday school teacher at the Somerville Baptist Church. Miss Mecie would declare in her high, shrill voice, “God has created everything for a purpose. You too, dear children, have been created for a purpose.”
When the rain came in torrents on the particular Saturday she had intended to buy plants for her garden, she decided it must be meant for her to clean house and prepare Sunday dinner instead. Tying a brown apron around her ample waist, she set to work seasoning a roast, washing potatoes and carrots, and placing them evenly around the roast in the pan. Sliding the pan into the refrigerator, she marked that off her list.
It was her week to host Sunday dinner for the single folks, a tradition begun after she was widowed and that she shared with Evelyn, her friend and neighbor for some thirty-odd years. Taking turns fixing the dinner after church made the work lighter on each of the widows. Everyone knew the rotation routine, and since the two women owned farms next to each other, all a guest had to do was drive up in one of the driveways and see where the cars were. The leftovers were never wasted and always went home with the younger folks, happy to have another home-cooked meal stashed in the refrigerator.
And younger folks were the regulars at Sunday dinner. The oldest was Woody Patterson, a fortysomething farmer and horse trader from over on Puny Branch. He nearly married once, years ago, but canceled at the last minute. He had proceeded to scandalize the town by going on his honeymoon anyway.
Sunday was a day for families to be together. For single folks, it could be right lonely. How well Beulah knew it, after losing Fred two years ago. Dear Fred. Her childhood sweetheart, the only man she ever loved. She still missed him something awful. During the week, a body could keep busy with work, going here or there, buying this or selling that, but when the quiet of Sunday came, she felt the lonesomes more than any other time. Church service and fellowship helped, but gathering around a table afterward with a tender pot roast put a salve on the wound like no other.
Beulah put on a pot of water to boil, then set about mixing up the cheese mixture for the macaroni. “As long as I’m able, we’ll have food on the table,” she always called out to admirers enjoying the feast. Everyone laughed at her rhyme, thinking she had created it on the spot. Truth was, it was something her grandmother said years ago, and Beulah had taken it for her own.
Most of the work for dinner was done on Saturday. She didn’t believe in running around on Sunday with your tongue hanging out, disrespecting the Sabbath and disobeying the Lord’s command to rest. Only the basics were left to do on Sunday morning, and when her guests straggled in after their respective church services, they knew to help set the table, pour tea, or clean up so the workload was spread lightly among them.
The green beans were cooked, and all that was left were the pies. She eased back in the wooden chair at her kitchen table and sipped black coffee, holding the mug with both hands. The sound of rain hitting her tin roof nearly lulled her to sleep. She sure hoped they weren’t getting this downpour up in Louisville. She could picture all those women at the Derby, strutting around with their feathered and flowered hats, only to get doused with a downpour and looking like plucked chickens afterward.
Good rain, good rain. Fred had said it forty-leven times in their married life and it would be good for her garden. Beulah never put anything on her garden except a little manure for the soil—organic, they called it nowadays, although it was just common sense to her. She figured the bugs could have their fair share.
Beulah shifted in her seat to relieve an ache in her sore hip and thought about what was left to put in her garden. Heirloom seeds of Kentucky wonder beans, Roma beans, and sweet corn were already in the ground. The plants could be set in a week or so, depending on the forecast and the moon—stone and oxheart tomatoes; red, yellow and green peppers; yellow squash; zucchini; mushmelons; and if a filly won the Derby this year, eggplant. It was not a superstition, simply a frivolity she would allow herself. There was no way of explaining it, but her garden did better if a filly won the Derby, and Beulah had always wrestled so with eggplant.
The first time she discovered this phenomenon was in 1980, when Genuine Risk won the Kentucky Derby and her eggplant won first prize in the county fair. The next seven years were disastrous, until 1988 when a filly called Winning Colors won the Derby. That year, Beulah grew an eggplant the size of a watermelon. Word got out, and the weekly Somerville Record took a picture of her holding her prize like a baby. It was plastered on the front page, below the fold fortunately, so her face didn’t peer out from every newspaper stand across the county for an entire week. Beulah decided from then on she would keep the size of her vegetables to herself.
The harvest-gold wall phone rang in the kitchen, jarring her thoughts.
As soon as Beulah said hello, Evelyn started talking.
“Beulah, I was catching up on the news this morning and saw that TransAir was taken over by another airline. Wasn’t that the one Annie worked for?”
“Well, they said a lot of people were laid off. Have you heard from Annie?”
“No, but she usually doesn’t call until Sunday. No news is good news.”
“That’s right. See you tonight.”
Beulah poured herself another cup of coffee and mused over the information. Truthfully, she worried about her granddaughter. In the last two years, Annie had called less. When she did, their talks were strained and distant. It didn’t help that they hadn’t seen each other for a year, other than a quick visit at Christmas. Annie blamed it on her schedule, which required more and more overseas flights, but Beulah sensed it was more than that.
Just Wednesday, Beulah had gotten a funny feeling that she needed to call Annie. Over her seventy-odd years, she’d learned to obey those promptings. When she dialed the number, an electronic voice answered, and Beulah hung up. She wasn’t one to leave a message with a robot.
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