© Copyright 1998 by Roi Allen

Chapter 10: Influence of Sons

During the next two years, Robert worked at the same job and took part-time classes at the community college. He continued to see Emily at church but no longer considered dating her. He received an occasional letter from Penny, still in Texas but not studying nursing.

During one of the Buckingham Community Church’s summer tent meetings, Robert invited Barbara Hendrix to attend with him. She had been a classmate in high school and a rather unpopular girl. Her lack of popularity seemed to be the result of her family’s poverty. Her father was chronically unemployed, and the large family lived a rather meager existence much of the time.

Barbara accepted Robert’s invitation to the tent meeting. She apparently considered this to be date with Robert. He, on the other hand, considered it an opportunity to expose her to the Gospel message.

She went forward at the first invitation from the evangelist. Her spiritually hungry heart eagerly embraced the message of salvation. She eventually became a strong element in the small Buckingham Community Church.

Robert’s one-on-one ministry to Barbara was seen by Emily Liming as an insult. She and Robert discontinued their practice of sitting together at church. It was over. Robert did not seem too upset about the situation.

Barbara, too, soon came to understand that Robert’s interest in her was entirely prompted by a concern for her salvation. Though perhaps a little disappointed, she was very grateful that he had managed to lead her to the Lord.

Robert looked forward to the completion of his college studies. He hoped to be finished by May of 1960. It had taken a long time for him, taking only two or three courses per semester most semesters. A couple of semesters had been full-time studies. Now, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel. In just seven or eight months he would have a teaching degree and be ready for whatever God’s plan included for him. How he wished that Penny had stayed around to share his future. He felt so unfulfilled so much of the time lately.

As Thanksgiving neared, Lila began making plans to prepare the traditional meal. It promised to be a repetition of last year’s Thanksgiving. The table seemed too empty with Ben gone, and no doubt, Robert and Kerry would not have lady friends to invite this year.

“I don’t know whether to kill the only tom turkey we have this year or to settle for a hen,” she shared with Chauncey on Sunday afternoon. “I’ve got to decide by Tuesday or so, I guess. What do you think?”

“We’ll eat leftover turkey, Honey,” he replied. “I want a big bird again. Go ahead and kill the tom.”

“I guess I will, then,” she agreed. “I think turkey is one of the favorite meats of Robert and Kerry.”

As they were agreeing to kill their tom turkey, the telephone rang. Kerry, standing near the kitchen window, answered it.

“Hello. What? Oh, yes! Just a minute! I’ll get her! Hold on! Don’t hand up!” Yelling loudly, Kerry called, “Mom! Mom, come quickly! Hurry! It’s Benjamin!”

“It can’t be! Oh, Chauncey, can it be?” she cried, running to the kitchen to grab the phone from Kerry. She was closely followed by Chauncey, his eyes wide with anticipation.

“This is Lila!” she said, trying to be calm. After a few minutes of listening, she broke down. Unable to control her crying, she handed the phone to her husband.

“Ben, is it you?” he asked. “Yes, this is Dad. How are you, my Son?” He listened, trying to control his emotions, trying to maintain his tough man image. It was a losing battle, however. “Talk to Kerry for a second, Ben. I’ll talk to you again in a moment.” He handed the phone back to Kerry.

Kerry maintained more emotional control than either of his parents. He talked for two or three minutes, while Lila and Chauncey regained enough composure to talk to their youngest son again.

“I’m back, Ben,” said the father, taking the phone from Kerry. “No, Mom can’t talk right now. She’s so happy to hear from you that she can’t stop crying. You coming home, Son? We want you!”

Chauncey’s silence indicated that Ben was doing a lot of talking. Chauncey was again the stoic, unemotional man which the family knew him to be.

“Ben, I’ll sell a couple of pigs to wire the money to you,” Chauncey promised. “Paul Osborn has been wanting some of them; he’ll buy them tomorrow, I’m sure. By noon tomorrow, you should go to a Western Union office and pick up the money I’ll wire you. Mom and I had just been talking about killing the biggest turkey we have this year. I want you here to have the biggest drumstick you’ve ever had.”

A brief silence on Chauncey’s part signaled Ben’s attempt to communicate. Then, Chauncey resumed, “Son, take a train to Adrian. I’ll meet you. Let me know which train and what time. I’ll be there. Bye, my Boy, we’ll talk tomorrow when you’ve got your tickets.”

As Chauncey tried to share Ben’s conversation with Lila and Kerry, Robert arrived home. He could see that something had happened. He had never seen his father in tears before. Now, however, Chauncey was choking up as he shared the news that Ben wanted to come home for a visit.

“It will be a good Thanksgiving after all,” Lila rejoiced. “Kerry, will you help me catch the tom turkey in the morning before you go to school? I want to butcher it before I go to work tomorrow. We’re having a full-family Thanksgiving this year!”

“You know it, Mom!” beamed Kerry. “It will be great to have my brother back home. I’ll try harder to include him in my life, now. I think I failed him when he needed me.”

“I feel that way, too,” confided Robert. “I’ve felt guilty for a long time about not being more involved in Ben’s life.”

It was clumsy, trying to pretend that nothing had happened to their family, trying to not remember the anger which Ben had displayed just before he disappeared. Ben, too, was very ill-at-ease at meeting the family he had deserted three years earlier. No one asked him questions of a personal nature though everyone wondered about the type of life he had been living those three years in Chicago.

“I’m not staying, Mom,” Ben finally confided after the Thanksgiving meal. “I wanted to see how much damage I had done to all of you when I left the way I did. I need to go back to Chicago in a couple of days.”

“You’re welcome here, Son,” Lila offered. “Your room downstairs is still empty. Robert and Kerry refused to take it. They hoped you would return sometime. Now, you are back, and the room is yours.”

“I should have a wife, Mom,” he told her. “I fathered a little girl. It’s my duty to marry her mother and try to provide a home for them. I’m only nineteen and didn’t finish high school, and it’s hard to find good work. I did a lot of wrong things, and I hurt you and Dad. I also hurt the baby and it’s mother by my reckless life style. Now, I must marry my daughter’s mother and begin a home for them.”

“You’re probably right, Ben,” agreed Lila. “I still see you as my baby, and all of a sudden, my baby has a baby of his own, my first grandchild. Please arrange for me to get to see you.”

“You’ll see her, Mom,” Ben promised. “I don’t know how to tell Dad and Kerry and Robert.”

“Let me tell them, later. OK?”

“I’d hoped you’d say that, Mom.” He kissed her cheek, bringing a flood of tears to her eyes. “It doesn’t show, I know, but I love you, Mom.”

Lila waited until Ben returned to Chicago, at Chauncey’s expense, to tell her husband and sons about Ben’s family in Chicago. They all agreed that his marriage was the proper thing to do.

Ben kept his promise to his mother. He wrote a note to accompany the wedding announcement he sent them. In the note, he asked if he could bring his wife and daughter to visit during the Christmas season.

“What a great Christmas!” Lila beamed as she held her three-month-old granddaughter. “God’s gift to us, many centuries ago, was wrapped in a baby blanket, just like Ben’s gift to me.” She was all smiles. “I’m almost in Heaven, having all my family here, especially the newest member.”

Ben and his family planned to leave on a train to return to Chicago on the second day of January. He was in Lila’s kitchen, preparing some hot chocolate, when the phone rang. As no one else was in the house besides his wife and baby, he answered the phone.

“This is the Lewis residence,” he announced. “No, he’s not here right now. May I take a message? Really? I can’t believe it! Penny? No, I’m not Kerry; I’m Ben.”

Ben wrote the message on a note pad and left it on the table for Robert. However, everyone else read it before Robert did. Robert was the last one to arrive home that evening.

“Go ahead, Robert,” urged Lila. Her face nearly glowed, almost as though she had a halo. “We won’t stay in here and eavesdrop. Just call her, and talk as long as you want. Consider it a late Christmas gift from me to Penny.”

Robert dialed the number which Penny had given to Ben. Almost immediately, he was involved in a spirited conversation. Lila tried to keep Kerry and Ben and his wife busy in the living room, talking so much that it was not possible for any of them to hear much of Robert’s phone conversation. She had promised him some degree of privacy and intended to keep her word.

When the beaming Robert entered the living room a few minutes later, everyone seemed intent on voiding Lila’s promise to not delve into Robert’s business concerning Penny.

“Just hold the questions!” yelled Robert with one of the biggest smiles he’d worn for a long time. “Let me tell you about it.” Gently patting his moist eyes, he went on, “Penny is coming back to Adrian to finish her teaching degree. She wanted me to meet her at the Detroit airport and drive her back to Mrs. Draper’s again.”

“When?” Ben asked. “I and my family must return to Chicago the day after tomorrow.”

“Sorry, but you’ll just miss her,” Robert said. “She flies the next day. Her semester begins the third week of January so she will have about a week and a half to get settled. I’ll have her call you in a few days, Ben,” he promised.

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