It wasn't my fault. Honest.
We were sitting in Miz Ketchum's Sunday School class: me, Jessie, Michael, and Jack. I came because my dad was a deacon and it wouldn't do for his son to miss Sunday School. It wasn't too bad, there being cookies and all for us kids. Jack's mom dragged him in every week, hoping it would “do him some good.” Jessie's family is five generations in this church. There's been a Mitchell boy in one class or another since the church was founded. Only Michael had preacher potential. He could tell the story of Daniel in the lion's den so the hair on the back of your neck would stand up straight. We always knew Daniel'd come out good in the end, but Michael could tell it like you didn't know if God would really deliver him this time.
Miz Ketchum was old enough that even our folks didn't call her by her first name. I don't know why she kept teaching us kids; hers were long grown and gone away. Once, when Jack's mother came to pick him up, I heard Miz Ketchum mutter something under her breath about “mission field.” She didn't need to head off to preach to the heathen. There were more than enough savages right here.
At any rate, we were just sitting there, listening to Mrs. Swanson pick out hymns on the old piano. She'd come around every couple of weeks to lead us kids in singing, but ever since Jack added a “cha cha cha” to the end of Amazing Grace, she'd asked us boys to just sit quietly. I looked over at Jessie and saw something moving in his jacket. He reached into the pocket and pulled out a lizard. It was a good-sized one and not one of those smooth, green chameleons. No, it was a bumpy, brown anole, the kind that looks cunning, like a miniature dinosaur on the hunt.
I elbowed Michael and whispered, “What's he got that for?”
“Said he caught it on the way in to church. He's gonna catch some bugs after Sunday School and feed it.”
Jack leaned over me and grinned. “Let's drop it down the back of Mary Hanson's dress.” Mary was sitting in the front row, tall and yellow blond, with the kind of hair that just asked for pulling.
“No,” I hissed, “Put it back.” I was hoping to see it eat a bug close up.
“C'mon,” said Jack reaching over to grab the lizard from Jessie's hand. I don't know exactly how it happened, but my hand shot out and that lizard executed a perfect arc, over the heads of the girls, right into Mrs. Swanson's hair.
Now, I'd never seen someone catch fire with the Holy Ghost before, but if there was any doubt about Mrs. Swanson's salvation that morning, she sure called on Jesus to save her then. The girls screamed. Miz Ketchum grabbed Mrs. Swanson to stop her from jumping around. Then Miz Ketchum swung her hand and knocked that lizard to kingdom come. She shot a glance our way. Michael and Jessie were busy with the hymnal. I developed a keen interest in memorizing scripture from the posters on the wall. Only Jack managed to look up, bright-eyed in all the excitement.
I remember the Miz Ketchum of that moment, as I look up from the obituary that my dad sent me. I wonder if she kept track of us boys: Jessie now a father of 3, Jack a successful businessman, and Michael the preacher we always thought he'd be. I look out the window of my 7th story office and think of her. She had faith, but more than that, a steely determination to love her savages and teach us about Jesus. She was fearless in the face of attacking anoles and energetic boys.
I turn over my Dad's letter and read his shaky handwriting. “She asked about you, Mark. Wanted to know how you were doing.”
How was I doing?
I flipped open my cell phone and speed dialed my wife. “Lyn, I want to go to church with you on Sunday. I know. I know. But this time I promise I'll go...and Sunday School. I think I have a lesson there that I need to finish.”
Thank you, Miz Ketchum.
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