Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
1 Corinthians 1:26
The calling came to me, Esther Leah Ridley, at the Jewels family reunion. "Esta Lea," I said to myself, "you are called of the Lord."
I was twelve years old. It was August in the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and sixty-two. Don’t you just love those words—"the year of our Lord"? Sort of romantic and mysterious. I read them in a book and tucked them in my mind until my calling when I remembered them plain as day. I decided that those words would describe my life from then on. No doubt about it, my years were gonna be the Lord’s, and I’d hope for the romantic and mysterious.
You may not understand how I got a sign from God at a family reunion, but in Beulah Land, South Carolina, where I come from, God, which also means church, and family matter the most. The two are always twined together like vines in a ditch.
You also got to understand our reunions. Food, talk, and beer make up some family reunions, but ours are full of pie competitions, ripe gossip, and long-winded preaching. We hold our reunions at the Beulah Land Healing and Holiness Church.
I heard that some folks play games and such at reunions, but the closest thing we have to a game is horseshoe pitching and outhouse tipping. And those two things aren’t games; they are serious business, depending on where you are standing or sitting.
My sister, Sarah Louise, and I waited all year for the reunion. Finally the day was here. I woke up feeling poorly ’cause we had busted our guts with pies the day before. We got to eat all the pies that didn’t meet my mama’s taste bud tests. "Sarah Louise," I said, "I will never look another pie in the eye for as long as I live."
She groaned, rolled over, grabbed her stomach, and then covered her head with her pillow.
"Come on, y’all, get up. We got to get going. Y’all nearly slept the day away already." Mama’s voice came up the stairs and slid under the door crack.
We went downstairs. Sarah Louise fed Baby Ben, and I fed Elijah, our dog. We didn’t eat any breakfast ourselves.
"Here, y’all, help me load the food into the truck." Mama got up from the table too quicklike and lost her balance. She landed on the floor, and so did the peach pie that was in one hand and the coconut cream pie that was in the other.
Two leaps and one bark later, Elijah was at the pies. He licked those pies like it was his destiny. Some dogs are born hunters. They point with their noses and go rigid when they see a rabbit. Not our Elijah. No sir, he was a born licker. When he smelled a pie baking, his tongue shot straight out his mouth, and then he dropped down and rolled belly up, with his little paws a-flapping.
"All that’s left is the pecan pie," Mama moaned. We all turned and stared at it sitting in the middle of the table. "I guess I’m only entering one contest this year: the pecan pie contest."
Things were not starting out too good, and I’d had such high hopes ’cause this was the day my daddy was asked to preach, and it was a great honor to stand in the pulpit of Jasper Abraham Jewels. My daddy would only get asked to preach once. He didn’t fit two important preaching rules: he wasn’t a regular preacher, and he didn’t directly descend from the line of Jasper Abraham Jewels. Only the directly descended got to preach twice, and only the regular preachers spoke more than twice. My daddy is a Ridley. He just married into the Jewels family.
The Calling. Copyright (c) 2001 Cathryn Clinton. Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA
Excerpted from The Calling by Cathryn Clinton. Copyright © 2007 by Cathryn Clinton. Excerpted by permission of Candlewick, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.