"What people?" he said.
"Everybody who really loved her, everybody she loved, they all know what happened." He pointed at the church. "They were all right inside this church when it happened. Nobody else deserves to know anything more than that.
Besides us, nobody in this world needs to know anything at all. It ain't going to do her a lick of good, and trouble is all it's going to bring us." He dropped his hand from his eyes and squinted against the sun.
"Folks talk," I said. "Especially in a town like Marshall, especially about a church like this. Putting up newspaper so they can't see inside ain't going to keep them from talking."
"Well," he said, "I trust the folks of my congregation to know who needs talking to and who don't. But if you got any ideas about taking our business outside this church, then I think you'd better tell me now. I need to know that I can trust members of my congregation with the Lord's work."
"That's fine," I said, "because I can't be a part of this no more." "What do you plan on doing?" he asked.
"I can't be a part of this no more," I said again. "I'm leaving the church, and I want to take the children with me."
He smiled and just stood there looking at me like he was going to laugh in my face.
"Is that right," he said. "You're just going to take the children out of my church and teach them in your own way, teach them your own beliefs. What do you think gives you the right to do that?"
"Before the hospital got built I delivered just about every child that ever stepped foot inside this church," I said. "And I delivered just about all their mamas and daddies, too. I ain't claiming to be in charge of their spirits, but I have a job to see them safely through this world after bringing them into it. And I can tell you this ain't no place for children to be," I said. "It just ain't safe." "Sister Adelaide," he said, "I've been pastoring this church long enough for you to know that we protect our children, and I can tell you that I wouldn't never let a youngster take up no snake or drink no poison or nothing like that. But you've been here long enough to know that what we do here is the Truth and our children need to see it. Our children need to be raised up in it." "And you should know that children can't keep no secrets about what they see either," I said.
He folded his arms across his chest and kind of rocked back on the heels of his boots. He turned his head and looked out over the river toward downtown Marshall like he was thinking about what I'd said. Then he turned his head and looked back at me.
"Can you, Sister Adelaide? Can you keep a secret?"
"I can," I said. "But I'd rather not know any secrets that need keeping, and I won't know them if I stay out of your church. A church ain't no place to hide the truth, and a church that does ain't no place for me. Ain't no place for children neither."
Chambliss never forgave me for taking the children out of that church. He warned me then that in leaving the church I was leaving my life as I'd known it, and that those folks wouldn't ever accept me the way they once had and that I'd always be an outsider. I told him I wasn't leaving the church, I was just leaving him, but I knew he was right. I lost friendships I'd had just about my whole life, and it hurt me. It still does. But for ten years I kept those children out, kept them safe. Once the service started, I'd take them across the road and down to the river when it was nice and warm, or folks would just drop them off at my house in the wintertime or if it was raining. We'd have us a little Sunday school lesson, then they'd play outside. Sometimes we'd make things, color pictures, and sing songs. But I didn't step another foot inside that church for ten years, and I hardly said more than a "hello" to Carson Chambliss in all that time. And for a while there it was real nice, that little truce. I had my little congregation and he had his, and we didn't have hardly anything to do with each other. I felt like I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do with those children.
Excerpted from A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. Copyright © 2012 by Wiley Cash. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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