By Cassandra King
Published by Hyperion
September 2002; 0786869054; 387 pages
I ended up at Grayton Beach because I came to Crystal Springs first. It was three years ago, the first Wednesday in June, that Ben and I moved to the town of Crystal Springs, across the state of Florida from the Jacksonville area where we'd lived for twenty years. With the moving van a few minutes behind us, we pulled our cars, me following Ben - a metaphor for our life together - into the driveway of our new house. We'd moved before, several times, but this was the most momentous one yet. Ben motioned for me to join him before we walked up the brick walkway to the house. A welcoming committee awaited us inside, and I was nervous. A few weeks before, Ben had met with them and won them over; now it was my turn.
"Dean, listen to me now," Ben said in a low voice, as we stood next to his blue Buick. "I was thinking on the ride over - a couple of things I forgot to tell you about these folks." Although I was skittish, worried about making a good impression, Ben was poised and confident. His brown eyes were alight, his dark hair in place. Almost fifty now, Ben looked better than the first day I saw him, standing in the back of the First Methodist Church of Amelia Island. As a young man, he'd been good-looking in a boyish, clean-cut way; as an older man, he was remarkably handsome. Trim and muscular, he always dressed well, impressive in dark suits, starched shirts, silk ties, and fine leather shoes. He was one of those men who became more distinguished with age, his silvered temples giving him an air of authority. A helpful trait in his profession.
I folded my arms and leaned against his car with a sigh. "I don't know how," I said, "since you've given me every detail of their lives. Bet I know more about them than they do." Looking around, I saw that the church, next door to the parsonage, was big, much bigger than I expected, with a towering white steeple and stained-glass windows gleaming in the sun like jewels. The saying went, the more stained glass, the higher up the ladder the preacher was. Ben was halfway to heaven here.
"Remember this, because it's very important," he said in a whisper, although there was no one around to hear him. "The Administrative Board chairperson is Bob Harris. Bob Harris, president of First Florida bank, a real big shot in town, so be especially nice to him."
"Bob Harris," I repeated dutifully, looking away from the church. I didn't know it would be so big. I longed for the safety of our little church in Lake City, wishing we'd never come here. Earlier on, I'd been as excited as Ben, thrilled with the move, his appointment to Crystal Springs. Now I was just apprehensive.
Ben bent his head close to mine and I smelled his spicy aftershave. "Got everyone's name right? Bob's wife's Collie, I think. Collie something-or-other."
"Collie Ruth, I believe. No - wait, that's his sister-in-law. His wife's Lorraine. Or Loretta. Loretta Harris, that's it."
"Which one, Ben?"
"Lorraine, just like I said. You've got to pay attention, Dean, or you'll mess up. Now, remember who the president of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee is?"
I shook my head and held up a hand, annoyed. "You're confusing me. Trust me, okay? I'll get their names right.' Ben had trouble with names, not me. "I'm not the one who stood in the pulpit and introduced the guest soloist Peter Littlejohn as John Littlepeter," I reminded him.
"You'll never let me live that down, will you?" Cutting his eyes my way, Ben tried not to smile, to maintain his look of piety. It was a look he was good at.
"Never. Anytime you get too self-righteous I'll be here to remind you," I told him, smiling. We'd spent twenty years together with me being his foil; he was the esteemed man of God, me the thorn in his side. "I'll be fine, Ben, don't worry. I'll be on my best behavior."
"You'd better be. Let's go in, then." As Ben straightened himself up, I readied myself, too, smoothing down my long denim skirt, reaching under the waistband to tuck in my best white cotton blouse. Licking my fingertips, I smoothed back my hair, tugged on the ponytail at the nape of my neck, fidgeted with the wide barrette that held it in place. But when I retrieved a tube of lipstick from the small purse hanging over my shoulder, Ben took my arm and pulled me forward, his grip firm. "You don't have time to primp," he said in a low voice. "They're peeking out the windows at us! Let's go."
As we walked up to the house, I was taken back by the difference in it and Ben's description. When he'd returned from meeting with the committee, I'd probed him to describe the town, the church, and the house in minute detail, but he'd been vague. He did okay with the church and town, but all he remembered about the house was that it was big, yellow brick, Colonial in style, and very formal. He'd not told me it was such a fine place, that the front lawn with its lush green grass was so neatly landscaped, abloom with white daisies and orange daylilies. He'd neglected to say that the wide grounds sloped toward the street to a sidewalk shaded with palm trees. Towns with sidewalks seemed more welcoming to me. The brick walkway leading to the front porch of the house was bordered in purple pansies, their sweet faces turned toward us in greeting.
Ben put his hand on my back, steering me forward, and I swallowed nervously as we climbed the brick steps, moving toward our new life, to meet the people who'd decide if we'd make it here or not. I glanced at Ben, praying he'd tell me it would be all right. He ignored me, eyes straight ahead, and I forced down the panic building somewhere deep within, causing my knees to go weak and my heart to thud. I can do this, I repeated to myself, I can do this for Ben.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I married Ben. Had I known, would I have done it? It's impossible to answer that now. All I know is, when I first laid eyes on the Reverend Ben Lynch, I knew he was the man I'd marry. I'd taken a job right out of college, as pianist of my foster parents' church on Amelia Island, when the Reverend Ben Lynch was appointed our pastor. It was his second, maybe third, church appointment since he'd gotten out of seminary. His first Sunday, he was standing in the back of the church, greeting the congregation, when I walked into the choir loft to prepare for the morning worship service. I stopped and stared at him. Although not much taller than me, he was well-built and broad-shouldered, with thick brown hair and shining dark eyes, good-looking as a movie star. I pulled the choir director aside and whispered, "Who is that?"
"Our new preacher," she replied, smiling slyly. "Good-looking, isn't he? We're lucky to get him. He's on his way up."
He was. Had he not made the career-fatal mistake of marrying me, Ben Lynch would've been where he wanted to go, top of the ladder of the United Methodist Church. Almost thirty years old then, the son of a prominent minister, he'd been on his way. To be a successful preacher, however, he needed a wife, and he needed one quick. He was too good-looking, too smooth and charming to stay single; younger women in his churches fell in love with him, and the older ones plotted to marry him off to their daughters. The bishop didn't like single ministers; there was too much potential for trouble. But Ben had been too preoccupied with getting his doctorate, preparing himself for a life of service in the church, to look for a wife.
I came along at just the right time. Because of my mooneyed crush on him,
the church ladies conspired to marry us off. With no idea that they'd
set a trap for him, Ben took me on as a project, educating me in the ways
of the church, molding me to be the perfect preacher's wife. Even though
I'd not been raised in a Methodist church - had been a rebellious foster
child and an object of charity - Ben was sure he could make me into a
worthy mate. Some cynics say all preachers have God complexes, clerical
collar, maybe. Since I'd not been schooled in the church, grown up with
its traditions and modes of behavior, I lacked all the necessary graces
to be the kind of preacher's wife the church expected. So this move was
my chance to make a fresh start.
Reprinted with permission.
In the tradition of Patricia Gaffney's The Saving Graces -- a captivating novel about one woman's journey toward independence and the life -- changing friendship that guides her there.
Married for 20 years to the Reverend Benjamin Lynch, a handsome, ambitious minister of the prestigious Methodist church, Dean Lynch has never quite adjusted her temperament to the demands of the role of a Sunday wife. When her husband is assigned to a larger and more demanding community in the Florida panhandle, Dean becomes fast friends with Augusta Holderfield, a woman whose good looks and extravagant habits immediately entrance her. As their friendship evolves, Augusta challenges Dean to break free from her traditional role as the preacher's wife. Just as Dean is questioning everything she has always valued, a tragedy occurs, providing the catalyst for change in ways she never could have imagined.(back to top)
Cassandra King was born in Alabama, where she taught college-level English and writing. She now lives in South Carolina with her husband, author Pat Conroy .