Tag Archives: Presbyterians

Verna’s Blanket

Jack and I hold a Society of Friends meeting (Quakers) once a month in our bookstore. The other Sundays we attend one block up the street, in a small congregation with a kind pastor, a wise church council, and a kick-butt organ-piano duo.

Last year, the church lost one of its members after a lengthy illness. Verna was married to a man who clearly adored her as much as she did him. While her ability to walk dissolved, she leaned on his arm; when it was gone, he pushed her wheelchair. We laughed and joked and talked with her as we’d done every Sunday, pretending we didn’t see. Verna was a dignified woman; always carefully dressed and coiffed, she waited in her pew ahead of everyone else once the chair was in play, so we wouldn’t see her entrance and exit.

As her motor skills slipped, she finally had to sit in the wheelchair in the aisle rather than in her pew with Bill. He moved to its outer edge. During the hymns, he would hold the book in one hand, and reach down to touch Verna’s hand or shoulder with his other. Throughout the sermon he would periodically lay his arm across the back of her chair. It looked uncomfortable.

It looked like love.

Losing weight and bundled in a thick blazer over her sweater, Verna had for the last year or so kept a fleece blanket in tasteful muted colors folded across the back of the pew she shared with Bill. When she moved into the chair, the blanket was returned at the end of each service to its accustomed spot.

Jack and I were away when Verna died, so missed the funeral. Bill was gone about a month, then came back to the pew where he’d sat for so many years with Verna. Meanwhile, her blanket, folded neatly, lay in its accustomed place across the back.

Of course we don’t need a blanket to remind us of Verna, but we like having it there. We smile and joke and touch Bill’s shoulder as we shake his hand, and invite each other over for Sunday lunches. No one in our tiny congregation ever mentions the blanket.

We don’t need to. Like Bill’s arm, like Verna’s dignity, it’s just there: quiet, unassuming, there.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, small town USA, VA

Such a lovely, weird Wedding….

The bookstore hosted its first wedding Sunday. The bride wore a black bustier; the groom wore a black vest. (Both wore blue jeans, in case you’re interested. And the bride had a nice white corsage pinned to one strap.)


The Society of Friends members and the friends of the marrying couple gathered in our bookstore a little before 1 pm, wearing Sunday dresses and panty hose and blue jeans and flannel and generally looking like themselves. (In case you’re interested, I wore my pink bunny house slippers. You know, an afternoon wedding is less formal.)

Jack, as a member of the Big Stone Gap Meeting, read the Clearness Ceremony findings for the couple, stating there were no impediments to their marriage. He then explained more informally how the thing would go down, to put the non-Quakers at ease.

And then the wedding started. Silence descended, lasting about five minutes before Rachael’s father spoke up to thank everyone for their embracing of Wes and Rachael’s lives, and expressing appreciation for the assembly of friends to witness their Commitment Ceremony. (Fathers don’t have to speak first; it just happens as it happens.) Another five minutes of silence. Rachael stood and told Wes she intended to help him become the person he wanted to be, and that the day she met him, “my whole future flashed before my eyes.” Wes promised to guard Rachael’s health and well being, to be her best friend, and to “always listen to what you have to say.”

Couples in the circle of chairs began to hold hands, and the sniffling started as Wes and Rachael embraced, then signed their marriage certificate. Jack and Sue-Ella, the meeting’s clerk (the closest thing Quakers have to pastors), also signed the certificate. They all sat down. Silence followed, broken by various participants speaking their thoughts at slight intervals. While a Gathered Silence for Worship usually lasts an hour, this one ended at 45 minutes, out of deference to those not quite at ease with such practices–or perhaps put off by bookshop cat Val-kyttie, a real curmudgeon who has a soft spot for Wes, deciding to bless the marriage certificate by lying down on it. Who can say?

Out came the food, glorious food–mostly vegetarian, since Quakers are generally considered liberal bleeding heart health-reform-lovin’ animal-rescuin’ treehuggers (although I happen to know that two people in our group vote staunch Republican). And the presents. A jar of honey from the homesteaders’ bees. A hand-stitched afghan. A homemade card of pressed flowers. A gift certificate to a chain restaurant. (Told you there were conservatives.)

The bridal couple took their wedding trip to the liquor store across the street (now open Sundays). While friends don’t normally go on honeymoons, four accompanied them. What can I say…..

It was a moving event. Wes and Rachael had just the day before expressed concerns: would the act of marrying change their commitment to each other, change the way people viewed who they should be? He the homekeeper, she the high powered executive, they’d spent a lifetime already defying the conventions of who should be doing what, and called what. “Husband and wife” were not in the plans; no rings were exchanged, white tulle and virginal lilies conspicuously absent.

But oh, there was love. And understanding. And honest commitment. It all got summed up when the Presbyterian minister, called in to make the wedding legal in the eyes of the Commonwealth of Virginia, stood to announce the newlyweds. I saw Rachael brace herself. As someone who had been introduced as “Mrs. Beck” five minutes after my own wedding, I felt her fear.

Tony put one hand on Wes’s shoulder, one on Rachael’s, smiled at them, then at the assembly and said, “I would like to introduce to you, for the first time ever, the loving and united-in-the-sight-of-God couple of Wesley Hearp and Rachael Miller.”



Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, VA