“Reverend!” It was Daddy’s voice I heard while I was under the orange trees and I was sure of it. Twelve years old and I still didn’t have a single pair of shoes, but I knew my daddy’s voice. And I knew better than to be late whenever he called me.
“Sir,” I hollered at the top of my lungs as I ran back to the house wincing at the twigs and gravels that dug into my feet. I was always grateful to reach the porch, especially on the hotter days.
Momma had just taken a bunch of clothes off the line and was sitting down to fold them. The basket looked bigger than her. “Where’s daddy?” I asked pulling the door to behind me.
“He’s workin’, Reverend.” She was the absolute vision of patience and understanding. Back then, Daddy built houses and preached the gospel. Which meant that in order to keep the ends meeting every month, he built a lot of houses. Preaching the gospel in hot and sweaty tent revivals through all hours of the night didn’t really put too much bread on the table. But that’s where all the meaningful stuff actually happened to hear Daddy talk about it.
“I heard him call me from outside,” I said about as confused as I imagine a twelve year old could be.
“Even if you did, doesn’t change the fact that he’s not here, son.” She never looked up from the pair of long john underwear she was folding in her pink hands.
The sun was already low and I didn’t want to waste my playtime trying to figure out what had happened so I just went back outside and raced to my spot beneath the orange trees. I had made a pretty good pistol out of this twig I found that had just enough of a bend in it to be a decent handle. I even peeled back a sniff of bark at the end to make a fairly recognizable sight. Many an hour was spent with me ducking behind orange trees pretending to have a shoot out with bandits or Indians. Sometimes my little boy war games were made even more interesting when the crop dusters would fly over the grove coating the trees with pesticides. Playing in the chemical-doused orange trees as a boy would one day have devastating effects on me, but back then, all I was concerned with was becoming a darn good shot with that wooden twig gun. And I was.
Back in the grove, the imaginary natives had taken over a couple of key positions that I had fought hard for. My trip to the house had set me back in my efforts to liberate the orange trees. After roll dodging a few arrows I managed to take out a couple of young warriors who had encamped beneath one of the closer orange trees. One fell to a well-placed shot from my wooden revolver while the other leapt at me with his tomahawk. With no time to think I took the tomahawk to my forearm before clubbing the warrior in the back of the neck with the butt of my twig revolver. I let out a whelp and ducked behind the orange tree I had just reclaimed, watching for stray arrows, and all the while clutching my forearm in a rather convincing display of fake pain. I didn’t know how to make a good tourniquet, so pretty soon I was gonna be in a heap of trouble. Right about then is when I heard it again.
“Reverend!” It was Daddy’s voice all right, all throat and thunder, but clear as crystal. The call had come from the direction of the house. He must have come home early and momma just didn’t know. She wouldn’t play a trick on me like that. Momma would never let a lie come out of her mouth about anything; she was the absolute worst when came to surprise parties and such. Momma just couldn’t keep a secret.
I stood up and answered again, before starting another barefoot run to the house. It was hard not to be angry. I was giving it everything I had against the imaginary Indians and these interruptions were costing me big time. At least I could find out from Daddy how to make a good tourniquet.
The spring on the screen door squealed as I opened it up again and barged into the living room. “Yessir,” I said after a couple breaths. If I didn’t look winded from how fast I tried to get there when Daddy called, I might be in trouble. Daddy was a good man, but he was hard as nails. Especially about us kids. I remember this one time when my little sister, Mary, begged and begged to say the grace around the dinner table. It was all she talked about from the moment we got home from school. When dinner was on we all bowed our heads and waited for her blessing. I’ll never forget what happened.
“Dear Jesus,” Mary said with her face hidden behind steepled fingers. “Come up from that crack, bless this food and go right back.” You could hear the crickets and frogs outside for all the noise anyone made when she finished. Nobody moved, I was barely even breathing. Apparently she had heard that silly prayer from a friend at school and thought it would be cute. The whole stunt went over like a lead balloon. Everyone waited to see what Daddy was gonna do, but nobody saw the slap coming. Especially Mary. I felt sorry for her as Daddy’s red handprint started forming on her face. That slap would have loosened my jaws.
“Now say the grace,” Daddy said and Mary sniffled out another blessing.
Back in the living room, I waited to hear Daddy’s footsteps on the wood floor. Listened close to find out which room he was in. Momma was in the backyard songbirding a gospel hymn, and Mary, my baby sister, was braiding the hair of a straw doll all the while whispering about how mean her brothers were, but no Daddy. No footsteps, no intimidating deep voice. “Yessir!” I said again, this time it would have qualified as a holler in anybody’s book. If I wasn’t getting a whoopin’ before, I definitely was now. Daddy didn’t allow yelling in the house.
“Reverend!” It was momma. She had come in from outside, another basket of clothes on her hip. “What are you doing hollering in the house?”
She was confused but so was I. I knew Daddy had called me, and no one could tell me different. Not even momma. “I heard Daddy call me again, momma. I know it was him. He called me by name.”
Momma just stood there with the basket on her hip looking me in the eye. I knew that look. She was trying to decide whether or not I was lying. I wasn’t, but if she made up her mind that I was, I’d soon be wishing I had just stayed in the orange trees and met my fate with the imaginary Indians.
After a long sigh, she set the basket down. “Come here,” she said, soft like cotton from the wash. I came close and she draped an arm across the shoulders of the tater sack shirt I was wearing. There was nothing that momma couldn’t use for something. “Your daddy didn’t call you, Reverend. He’s gone workin’ and won’t be back for a time. What you heard was the call of the Lord.”
“Huh?” I didn’t know what Momma was talking about, but I knew if she was saying it then she believed it. She sat me down on her knee and told me a story in the bible where a young boy named Samuel lived with a prophet and God woke him up out of sleep by calling his name. Three times the Lord called the boy’s name and each time Samuel woke the prophet up to see what he wanted. After the second time, the prophet knew it was God calling Samuel and he told the boy that if he heard the voice again, to ask the Lord what he wanted.
When Momma finished I was just as confused as when she started. “This just means you’re gonna be a preacher, Reverend,” she added after reading the confusion on my face. The call of the Lord? Sounded about as real as the Indians in the orange trees. Those darn Indians. By now they would have surely taken over the entire grove. I was twelve, and all that meant was I was old enough to understand that there were some things I just didn’t understand. Besides that, the sun was setting and there wouldn’t be enough light beneath the trees to pull off any shots with my twig gun, so the conquest of the grove would have to wait till tomorrow.
“Now you’re gonna fold these clothes for your momma, on account of your yelling through the house while I call your brothers inside and get started lighting the lamps.” She stood up, straightened her apron, and patted me on the shoulders as she went to the screen door. She didn’t seem at all angry with me. If anything she was pleased and almost smiling about something that only she knew about.
As I folded a pair of britches that I didn’t recognize, I thought about what Momma said for as long as my twelve-year-old attention span would allow. The call of the Lord. I didn’t know about being no preacher, but one thing I knew for sure. The next time the Lord called my name while I was in the orange grove, I was gonna ask him to help me fight the Indians.