Columbia County was located down on the tail end of Arkansas, which looked just the same as north Louisiana. When God made that part of the country, He made it all in one big piece, and He must have had a good time doing it. There were rolling hills and tall trees and clear creeks with sandy bottoms and wildflowers and blue skies and great puffy clouds that hung down so low you'd almost believe you could reach up and grab a handful. That was the upside. The downside was brambles and cockleburs and a variety of other things
nobody paid much attention to, since the upside outweighed the downside by a mile.
Because of the annual conference, Samuel never got to stay for the reunion. Just long enough to unload Willadee and the kids, and talk awhile with Willadee's parents. At least, he talked with her mother, Calla. John would invariably gag and go outside the minute his son-in-law set foot in the house, but Calla thought Samuel hung the moon. Within an hour or so, Samuel would be kissing Willadee goodbye and patting her on the backside, right there in front of God and everybody. Then he'd hug the kids and tell them to mind their mama, and he'd head back to Louisiana. He always said goodbye to John as he left, but the old man never answered back. He couldn't forgive Samuel for moving Willadee so far away, and he couldn't forgive Willadee for going. Especially since she could have married Calvin Furlough, who now had a successful paint and body shop, and lived right down the road, and had the best coon dogs you ever laid eyes on. If Willadee had cooperated with her father by falling in love with Calvin, everything would have been different. She could have lived nearby, and been a comfort to John in his old age. And he (John) would not be stuck with a granddaughter named Swan Lake.
The Moses family lived all over Columbia County. All over. John and Calla had loved each other lustily, and had produced five children. Four sons and a daughter. All of these except Willadee and their youngest (Walter, who had died in a sawmill accident the year he turned twenty) still lived around Magnolia, all within forty miles of the old homeplace.
The "old homeplace" had been a sprawling hundred-acre farm, which provided milk and eggs and meat and vegetables and fruit and berries and nuts and honey. It took some coaxing. The land gave little up for free. The farm was dotted with outbuildings that John and his sons had erected over the years. Barns and sheds and smokehouses and outhouses, most of which were leaning wearily by 1956. When you don't use a building anymore, it knows it's lost its purpose.
The Moses house was a big two-story affair. Solidly built, but it leaned a little, too, these days, as if there weren't enough souls inside anymore to hold it up. John and Calla had stopped farming several years back. Calla still had a garden and a few chickens, but they let the fields grow up, and walled in the front porch of the house, and turned it into a grocery store/service station. Calla had John paint her a sign, but she couldn't decide whether she wanted the thing to say "Moses' Grocery and Service Station" or "Moses' Gas and Groceries." While she was making up her mind, John ran out of patience and nailed the sign above the front door. It said, simply, moses.
Calla would get out of bed every morning, go down to the store, and start a pot of coffee perking, and farmers would drop by on their way to the cattle auction or the feed store, and warm their behinds at the woodstove, and drink Calla's coffee.
Calla had a way with the customers. She was an ample, comfortable woman, with capable hands, and people liked dealing with her. She didn't really need John, not in the store. As a matter of fact, he got underfoot.
Now, John liked to drink. For thirty years, he'd laced his coffee with whiskey every morning before he headed out to the milk barn. That was to keep off the chill, in the winter. In the summertime, it was to brace him for the day. He no longer went to milk at dawn, but he still laced his coffee. He'd sit there in Calla's store and visit with the regulars, and by the time they were on their way to take care of the day's business, John was usually on his way to being ripped. None of this sat well with Calla. She was used to her husband staying busy, and she told him, finally, that he needed an interest.
Excerpted from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. Copyright © 2011 by Jenny Wingfield. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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.
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