Columbia County, Arkansas, 1956
John Moses couldn't have chosen a worse day, or a worse way to die, if he'd planned it for a lifetime. Which was possible. He was contrary as a mule. It was the weekend of the Moses family reunion, and everything was perfect - or at least perfectly normal - until John went and ruined it.
The reunion was always held the first Sunday in June. It had been that way forever. It was tradition. And John Moses had a thing about tradition. Every year or so, his daughter, Willadee (who lived way off down in Louisiana), would ask him to change the reunion date to the second Sunday in June, or the first Sunday in July, but John had a stock answer.
"I'd rather burn in Hell."
Willadee would remind her father that he didn't believe in Hell, and John would remind her that it was God he didn't believe in, the vote was still out about Hell. Then he would throw in that the worst thing about it was, if there did happen to be a hell, Willadee's husband, Samuel Lake, would land there right beside him, since he was a preacher, and everybody knew that preachers (especially Methodists, like Samuel) were the vilest bunch of bandits alive.
Willadee never argued with her daddy, but the thing was, annual conference started the first Sunday in June. That was when all the Methodist ministers in Louisiana found out from their district superintendents how satisfied or dissatisfied their congregations had been that past year, and whether they were going to get to stay in one place or have to move.
Usually, Samuel would have to move. He was the kind who ruffled a lot of feathers. Not on purpose, mind you. He just went along doing what he thought was right - which included driving out into the boonies on Sunday mornings, and loading up his old rattletrap car with poor people (sometimes ragged, barefoot poor people), and hauling them into town for services. It wouldn't have been so bad if he'd had separate services, one for the folks from the boonies and one for fine, upright citizens whose clothes and shoes were presentable enough to get them into Heaven, no questions asked. But Samuel Lake was of the bothersome conviction that God loved everybody the same. Add this to the fact that he preached with what some considered undue fervor, frequently thumping the pulpit for emphasis and saying things like "If you believe that, say 'AMEN'!" when he knew full well that Methodists were trying to give up that sort of thing, and you can see what his churches were up against.
John Moses didn't give a hoot about Samuel's obligations. He wasn't about to mess with Moses tradition just because Willadee had been fool enough to marry a preacher.
Of course, Samuel wasn't a preacher when Willadee married him. He was a big, strapping country boy, strong as an ox, and dangerously good- looking. Black-haired and blue-eyed - Welsh and Irish or some such mix. Several girls in Columbia County had taken to their beds for a week when Samuel married that plain, quiet Willadee Moses.
Samuel Lake was magic. He was wonderful and terrible, with an awful temper and fearsome tenderness, and when he loved, he loved with his whole heart. He had a clear tenor voice, and he could play the guitar or the fiddle or the mandolin or just about any other instrument you could think of. Folks all over the county used to talk about Samuel and his music.
"Sam Lake can play anything he can pick up."
"He can make strings talk."
"He can make them speak in tongues."
Every year, the day after school let out for the summer, Samuel and Willadee would load up their kids, Noble and Swan and Bienville, and take off for south Arkansas. Willadee already had freckles everywhere the sun had ever touched, but she would always roll the window down and hang her arm out, and God would give her more. Her boisterous, sand-colored hair would fly in the breeze, tossing and tangling, and eventually she would laugh out loud, just because going home made her feel so free.
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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