The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek

BOOK: The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek
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In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at [email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Many thanks to Kay Finch, who is always supportive and willing to answer questions. I appreciate input from my writing friends Pat Rosen O’Day, Mae Nunn, Ginni Farmer, Candis Terry, Linda Kearney, and Debbie Swanson as well as my brilliant sister-in-law, Diane Perrine Coon, for her insight and cheerfulness.

Extra treats go to my beloved cats for their willingness to nag me until I take a break to feed/scratch/spoil them. I always return to the keyboard refreshed, covered with black and white fur, and sneezing.

Also, deepest gratitude to Christina Boys, my editor, who makes me feel appreciated and talented, and to my agent, Pam Strickler, who inspired this series. Thanks to both of you for making Butternut Creek a wonderful place to visit and for allowing me to share the joys of small-town Central Texas with readers all over the world.

I also want to thank my teachers: my third-grade teacher at Border Star, who predicted I’d be a writer; those who taught me to be both logical and creative, especially Miss Atwood, my geometry teacher at Southwest High School; the many teachers who taught me to speak and write in both English and Spanish; the dedicated teachers who sponsor clubs that allow students to try new experiences; and all who trained me in skills that have allowed me to earn a living and contribute to the lives of others at the same time.

Much appreciation goes to Margaret Beeson, my Spanish teacher at Kansas State University, in whose classes I learned to love the beautiful culture of the Spanish-speaking people, and to Frank Neussel at the University of Louisville, who introduced me to La Generación del ’98 and the magic of words.

And to Paul Crow and William Barr at Lexington Theological Seminary, who both challenged me and taught me so much about faith.

This book, as are all my books, is dedicated to my husband, with whom I spent nearly forty-seven years. Through his faith, intelligence, good humor, and example, he made me a better person.

 

Thank you, George, for sharing your stories. I love you and miss you more than I can ever say. You are still the joy of my life.

From the desk of
Adam Joseph Jordan, MDiv.

I’m fixin’ to make Birdie MacDowell happy. Let me restate this: I
hope
I’m fixin’ to make Miss Birdie happy.

I fell in love with Butternut Creek the first moment I arrived here nearly two years ago. In the center of the town square stands the courthouse, built in the Romanesque style and topped with a tower jutting into the clear blue Texas sky.

In this charming spot in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, live oak trees trailing Spanish moss surround Victorian houses. Latticed gazebos sit proudly in front yards interspersed with a few pink flamingos. From the minute I entered town, Butternut Creek wrapped its charm around me. I felt truly blessed to be here, certain I’d find peace.

That was, of course, before I met Miss Birdie, a leader of the church forever—which is why I call her the pillar but never to her face. That first day in town, she strode into the parsonage and put me in my place without breaking a sweat.

Miss Birdie reminds me a little of the courthouse. That building survived the tornadoes and wildfires that have battered Central Texas over the years and still stands. I’ve heard about rough times in Miss Birdie’s life. Not that she’s complained to me, but I know she lost her husband years ago and ended up raising her granddaughters. Like the courthouse, she stands, bricks intact, proud, and strong.

Of course, she has no tower.

Another comparison: Just as the courthouse is at the center of Butternut Creek, Miss Birdie along with the three other women who call themselves the Widows functions as the center of the Christian Church and most of the groups in town that do good works.

Unfortunately, in addition to their charitable tasks, all four of the Widows have chosen me as their
major
project.

Miss Birdie had studied me from head to toe the first time she marched into the parsonage and wondered if she could possibly accept this tall, skinny, young, and very inexperienced man as the minister of her church. With the support of Mercedes Rivera, Winnie Peterson, and Blossom Brown—the other Widows—a non-stop campaign has been waged, the first priority being to whip me into shape. The second, to find me a wife. Not easy in an area where all the young people head to Austin or Dallas or Houston as soon as they graduate from high school.

The efforts of the Widows have led to mortification on my part and deep embarrassment for a few young women to whom the Widows attempted to marry me off.

As—or if ever—she reads this, pride will fill Miss Birdie at my use of
to whom
. Her minister’s use of proper grammar is important to her. She once wanted to become an English teacher. However, she will shudder because I ended a sentence with
off
. I have no idea of a better way to write it but making Miss Birdie both proud and unhappy in one sentence feels like a remarkable accomplishment.

After nearly a year of endeavors to find me a wife, the Widows realized how perfect Gussie Milton was for me. One reason for this conclusion is that Gussie really
is
the perfect woman for me. The other advantage in the eyes of the Widows is that she’s the only single woman within sixty miles. The acceptable distance for their search steadily increased the longer I remained single.

Although the Widows have little confidence in my ability to attract a woman without their assistance, Gussie’s and my dating life has gone better than they or I had hoped. We aren’t engaged, but everything is going well between us and we’re quite happy together.

I’ve written these pages in the unrealistic belief that I have made Miss Birdie happy enough to leave me alone. I have no expectation that will ever happen.

W
hen are you getting married?” came a voice from the door to Adam Jordan’s study in the Christian Church.

He didn’t have to look up from his desk to know who spoke, but he did. The pillar expected and deserved that courtesy. “Good morning, Miss Birdie.” He stood and smiled at her.

Birdie MacDowell didn’t smile back. Because she looked like a complete professional in her pink waitress uniform, he almost expected to see a pencil stuck in her short white hair.

That moment of whimsy swiftly passed when she took several steps inside and headed toward her chair. The other Widows trailed in behind her: Mercedes, her dark gray-streaked hair in a tight French braid looking exactly like the librarian she was; Winnie, the recently married member of the foursome; and Blossom Brown, the newest and only divorced member of the group. All followed the pillar and settled in their places.

In his corner, Chewy, the enormous and curiously assembled dog Adam had taken in when Janey and Hector Firestone came to live in the parsonage, pulled his huge paws in toward his body hoping he’d escape the notice of Miss Birdie. The pillar did not approve of a dog in the church.

None of them returned his smile. Instead, they leaned forward and studied him in that uncomfortable way that made him feel as if they were determined to shove him in a direction he did
not
want to go. No, there was no “as if” about it. Their presence always intimidated him, and with good reason. From the beginning of his pastorate, he had a rule he followed when the Widows marched in: Never show fear.

“When are you getting married?” Winnie repeated.

“Ladies, Gussie and I decided to keep company only six or seven weeks ago. We aren’t engaged.”

“Not yet,” Winnie said in a voice filled with both scorn and disappointment. She’d probably used exactly that tone to prod an unproductive employee back when she ran the asphalt plant.

“Hrrmph,” Miss Birdie said. “We thought you’d finally gotten your mojo working…”

“I don’t think
mojo
is the word you want,” Mercedes said.

Miss Birdie silenced her with a glare. “Don’t correct me. I know what I want to say. My granddaughters use that word.” She turned back toward Adam. “With Gussie and her parents living in town…”

Adam held his hand up, a usually completely ineffectual gesture. However, this time, Miss Birdie, starved for information, stopped to listen.

“The Miltons are only renting Sam Peterson’s old house. Yvonne and Henry didn’t expect to sell their house in Roundville the day it went on the market, right after New Year’s,” he said. “As soon as they decide where they want to live, they’ll move, maybe back to Roundville.”

“And Gussie? What about her?” Winnie asked.

“It really did work out for everyone. With the baby coming, Sam and Willow buying their new house, and Sam just starting teaching, the extra income from the rent is a blessing.”

“Preacher, we know that. Everyone knows that. The question is, why did Gussie choose to live here?” The pillar jabbed the surface of the desk hard. “There are plenty of houses closer to Roundville. Why did she choose to live in Butternut Creek if you haven’t even proposed yet?”

“Ladies,” Blossom said in her gentle drawl. “Let’s not interrogate the pastor about his private life.”

A shush from the other Widows silenced Blossom, who didn’t understand that interrogation was their middle name. Their first and last names as well. In her short time as a Widow, Blossom had yet to realize their true mission, or how effective they were at extracting information.

“Gussie’s not living with her parents full-time,” Adam said to distract the ladies from Blossom’s comment.

He didn’t utter another word, expecting his silence to change the subject and focus on other areas in which he’d disappointed them. A foolish decision. Hadn’t he learned by now that silence never worked with the Widows? No, they eyed him like cats with a moth. Their glare foretold his eventual doom. He had to either fly off or be devoured. If he—no, that metaphor was falling apart. With an inward sigh, he gave in and furnished the facts they wanted.

“She’s staying with a friend in Austin during the week and with her parents in Sam’s old house on weekends.”

The Widows continued to stare but said nothing. He had no choice but to continue or sit in the silence until Mercedes or Miss Birdie had to get back to work.

“A long-distance courtship doesn’t work well, we discovered,” he said. “We want to get to know each other.” Adam paused to consider how many details would satisfy the Widows without giving away more particulars than necessary.

Evidently he’d met their standard because the four grinned at him, delighted with the information he’d scattered before them.

Their satisfaction didn’t last. He knew they’d either revisit the subject or move on to another item on their agenda.

“Blossom is a hand at planning events,” Mercedes said.

“She did a lovely job with the spring bazaar and always entertained for her husband,” Winnie added. “Beautifully.”

Blossom blushed, then immediately became a Widow focused on the next mission. “We must have the wedding date so I can get started,” she said. “We’ll have to rent the country club and talk to a florist. So much to do.”

“Speaking of the florist,” Winnie said, “you don’t seem like a man who makes romantic gestures. Women love flowers. If you want a woman to marry you, you need to take action.”

For less than a second, Adam considered telling the Widows that he had taken Gussie flowers, but he stopped himself. Giving the Widows additional data had never been a good idea. Instead, he waited for them to continue and watched them closely.

Lord, he loved these women. They did so much for the community and the church. If anyone needed help, they pitched in, usually led the effort. They’d furnished his house and had run the thrift shop from its inception as well as attempting to run or fix or even ruin his life, which they also considered one of their good works. They were meddlesome and terrifying and incredibly nosy, predictable and demanding but also very caring. Sometimes he didn’t know whether to laugh or scream or run from them.

He usually chose to laugh. But only inside, because even a smile might insult them. He never ran. They’d find him.


If
I propose to Gussie and
if
she accepts, I’ll tell you,” Adam said. “You will not be the first to know, but I will tell you in plenty of time to plan a wedding.
If
Gussie…”

He’d known they wouldn’t hear the
if
.

For a moment, as the women nodded and stood, Adam thought he was home free, fool that he was. Should’ve known better.

*  *  *

Birdie watched Winnie and Mercedes spring to their feet as they prepared to leave while Blossom took care to keep her feet together and lift herself out of the chair with a straight back. Probably learned that lady-like rubbish as a child. Of course, the preacher had stood as well. All four of them on their feet while she struggled to get out of the chair, to push herself up with the good arm. Goodness, her shoulder hurt. She’d worked an extra shift Friday. Her body always paid for days afterward. Made her feet hurt—exactly what she needed, another aching body part—but with Bree and Mac to raise, she could hardly become an invalid. And with those girls needing things for school and athletics and church, she didn’t have money for new shoes. Not in the budget. Tonight she had to restart those physical therapy exercises the PT had sent home with her, then she’d elevate her feet. Pretty soon, she’d be good as new.

As she tried to stand, she noticed that the preacher and the other Widows pretended not to notice her struggle. Nice of them but embarrassing. Then her bad shoulder gave out and she plopped right back down in the chair.

To cover that awkward moment, she asked, “Pastor, have you ever proposed to a girl before?” She thought she’d used her sweet, gentle voice, but the way he started and the other Widows turned to look at her, she guessed she hadn’t. She smiled. Sadly, she seldom looked jolly when she did.

“Not to a girl,” he said.

“Humph.” Birdie hadn’t thought so.

“To a young woman, yes,” he added.

The mouth of each woman dropped open, nearly simultaneously.

“You have proposed before?” Mercedes asked.

“To a woman?” Birdie shook her head. “Ladies”—she turned to the others—“why didn’t we know that?” Then her gaze returned to the preacher. “How did we miss that?” she demanded.

“It wasn’t on the ministerial information form. The only choices were single, married, and divorced. Nothing about ‘once engaged.’”

“I bet none of the committee thought to ask,” Winnie said with an expression of disappointment that echoed Birdie’s dismay. “Men don’t ask the important questions.”

“What was her name?” Winnie asked.

“Her name was Laurel. Probably still is.”

An enormous problem with a young minister was he didn’t know enough not to joke about serious subjects like engagements and marriage.

“Did she accept?” Blossom asked.

“Of course she didn’t,” Birdie snapped. Oh, dear. She hated it when pain made her short-tempered. Her irritability frightened Blossom, who hadn’t learned to ignore it the way Mercedes and Winnie did.

“Your shoulder may hurt,” Mercedes lectured. “But that doesn’t give you the right to be rude.”

That was the problem with a friend she’d known forever. Mercedes never minded pointing out her faults. This time Birdie deserved it. She should shut up now and let the others take over.

“I’m sorry, Blossom.” Ashamed but undeterred, Birdie said, “Why’d she turn you down?”

“She didn’t. She accepted.”

Birdie gasped. “She accepted?”

“Ladies, I’m not as incompetent as you seem to believe.”

“You’re not?” Winnie asked, then hurried to add, “Of course you aren’t. How nice that she accepted.”

He nodded, which caused the three still-standing Widows to take a step forward until they had triangulated on him. For a moment he looked panicked.

Good.

“But she’s not here.” Winnie gestured in an arc that encompassed the entire town and perhaps all of Creek County. “What happened?”

“She broke the engagement.”

“Oh, dear.” Blossom reached out to pat his shoulder. “I’m so sorry.” Her voice held a note of deep and genuine compassion.

Birdie needed to add that tone to her repertoire.

Blossom glanced at the other three. “We should leave him in peace. He faced a terrible disappointment. We shouldn’t pry.”

Blossom would never be a Widow, not completely. She was too sweet, too ready to let people off the hook. Did Birdie have to explain again that prying was at the top of the list of things the Widows did? How else could they fix people?

“What did you do that made her change her mind?” Winnie asked.

“Decided to become a minister.”

“Oh, dear, dear, dear,” Blossom comforted.

“She broke your engagement because she didn’t want to marry a man of the cloth?” Mercedes asked, using that high-church language she seemed so fond of.

“I sprang it on her.” He smiled sadly. “Laurel had no idea I was considering the ministry. She felt fine as the wife of a teacher but couldn’t see herself making casseroles or leading the women’s mission group.”

“That’s nearly unforgivable,” Winnie said.

“You’re better off without her,” Mercedes added. “No one should interfere with the call of God.”

He gazed at the four women, one by one. They could read him so well. His posture and expression showed he hoped that pitiful story would make them forget their priorities. He should know good and well that although they might pity him, they weren’t going to leave him alone.

“You do have experience in this area,” Birdie said.

He nodded warily.

“Maybe we could give you some pointers, just in case you’d like to propose again,” Blossom suggested sweetly.

“We could make some suggestions,” Winnie added.

“Yes.” Mercedes smiled. “For your edification.”

“Ladies…”

“Won’t hurt you to tell us about it,” Birdie snapped. Hone
stly
, someone had to push him or they’d never get the answers. Then she sat back in her chair and rotated her right shoulder. She had to stop barking at people.

“We might be able to help,” Mercedes said quickly, as if to hide Birdie’s harsh words.

“You know, Preacher,” Winnie added, “we
could
help you. Think of it as a peer review.”

Before he could respond to that, Blossom added, “We’d love to help you. We’ve all been proposed to. We know how a man acts to win his lady.”

With that, the three remaining Widows returned to their chairs, sat, and watched him.

He struggled. Birdie could almost see his internal conflict, but she knew he’d give in. He couldn’t hurt Blossom’s feelings. The preacher had no compunction about standing up to any of the other Widows, but hurting Blossom was like swatting a butterfly.

He gave in. “There’s a train, a dinner train, that goes from Louisville to Bardstown. I had a reservation for that.”

“A lovely start,” Blossom stated.

“When I bought the ticket, I asked them to play a special love song over the speaker, then to bring out the ring on a covered platter and set it down in front of her.”

“What song?” Winnie asked.

“‘The Way You Look Tonight.’”

“An old song.” Winnie wrote it in her notebook.

“But romantic,” Blossom said. “Women like romance.”

The Widows all nodded.

“Then I was going to ask her to marry me.”

When he didn’t continue, the pillar said, “How did that go?”

“After I bought the ring, I couldn’t afford dinner. It cost over one hundred and fifty dollars and I needed new tires.”

“So you didn’t propose to this Laurel on that lovely train trip?” Mercedes asked.

“She didn’t deserve it,” Blossom said. “She must have broken your sweet heart.”

“If you didn’t propose to her on the train, where did you propose to her?” Birdie asked.

He didn’t answer for several seconds.

“Well?” Birdie prompted.

BOOK: The Wedding Planners of Butternut Creek
6.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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