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Book Jacket

0800759842
Trade Paperback
384 pages
Aug 2005
Revell

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt  |  Interview

Excerpt:

1

Oh, the ladies of the Potluck Club . . .

Clay Whitefield sat in his usual spot at the Higher Grounds Café and shook his head as he jotted notes on a clean sheet of his reporter’s notebook. The Potluck Club. This was a group so exclusive, he’d seen country clubs easier to get in to—a group led by a sassy old maid named Evangeline Benson.

Evangeline Benson, Clay Whitefield thought. Now there’s a piece of work . . .

 

2

Simmering the Past

Maybe I should begin by telling you what the Potluck Club is, exactly. More than twenty years ago my dearest and oldest friend in the world, Ruth Ann McDonald, and I started praying together on a regular basis. We’d meet once a month at my house. I’d make coffee, and Ruth Ann would make one of her near-famous coffee cakes. While the aroma of good-to-the-last-drop Maxwell House wafted through the kitchen and into my dining room, Ruth Ann and I sat waiting at my grandmother Miller’s old cherry dining room table, our Bibles spread out before us. I’d read a passage or two—perhaps something the Lord had given me since last we met—and then we would share the issues that needed our prayerful attention.

“I think,” Ruth Ann said at our very first meeting, “that we should begin by praying for Annice Brightman’s daughter, Julie.” She reached for the pad and pen she kept tucked in her Bible’s cover.

I watched her push her large-frame glasses up the bridge of her petite nose before she jotted “Julie B.” on the pad.

“Why? What’s going on with Julie?”

Ruth Ann shook her head sadly, without so much as a “only her hairdresser knows for sure” blond hair moving on her head, then looked back down to the paper and began to retrace the name of the girl who needed our prayer.

“That boy she’s been dating?” I asked.

“That boy she’s been dating.”

This, of course, was the Lord’s confirmation.

I pressed a hand to the dark brown hair I wore pulled back in a French twist. Ruth Ann said that with my thin frame I looked like Audrey Hepburn when I wore it that way, but the truth is, it was easy, and around Colorado’s high country, women are into “easy.” Today I keep it cut short with just a hint of curl. Now people say I look more like Shirley MacLaine when she played in that movie about being the late president’s wife who got kidnapped. I think that’s supposed to be a compliment, but I could be wrong.

“How should we pray, then?” I asked Ruth Ann.

Ruth Ann looked up and raised her brows. “We’ll pray she sees the light.”

And we did. We prayed just as hard as we knew how, but Julie Brightman and Todd Fairfield ended up getting married anyway, bringing into the world a precious child—if there ever was one—Abby, about six months later. Not that I’m gossiping. I mean, after all, that child is nineteen years old now, going to school at the same university where I received my degree in business education on an academic scholarship. (The child, not me.)

Months later Ruth Ann declared we should pray for Janet Martin. “Poor thing,” Ruth Ann said. “She’s got cancer.”

“How do you know so much, Ruth Ann?” I asked her. “Do you stand with your ear to a glass pressed against the world or something?”

Ruth Ann sipped at her coffee before replacing the cup in the saucer. “Very funny, Evangeline. But I’m telling you, I heard it from a reliable source. She was seen in a doctor’s office.”

Well, that much was true. She was seen in a doctor’s office, only it wasn’t because of cancer. It was an extreme case of vanity. In other words, Janet was getting a nose job.

So that’s how the Potluck Club began: two women, a pot of coffee, some coffee cake, and enough misinformation to bring down a church. And it would have too, had it not been for Yvonne Westbrook, the godliest thing you’d ever meet, and I’m not kidding.

Yvonne had been a classmate of Ruth Ann’s and mine, but Ruth Ann and I hadn’t been especially close with her growing up. Then Ruth Ann went off to the Great Lakes with her new husband, and Vonnie and I ended up going to the same college and becoming sorority sisters. While I was studying business management, Vonnie worked toward getting her RN. In our senior year, Vonnie decided to go to Berkeley (I can’t imagine why, but she did), but she didn’t stay long. Before I knew it, I heard she’d gone back to Cherry Creek College to finish school.

After graduation I came back to our sweet little town of Summit View, Colorado (God’s country), and started a home-based tax service, and Vonnie eventually went to work for Doc Billings. Of course, that was before everything around here changed . . . before the “Rushies” moved to town, bringing us out of simple life and into a more modern existence.

I imagine you’d like to know a little more about Summit View, wouldn’t you? Well, know right up front that if anyone in this town has the authority to inform you, it’s me. After all, my daddy was, at one time, the mayor.

Summit View, Colorado—population 25,000—is pretty as a picture when it comes to scenic mountain towns. It was established during the Colorado Gold Rush in 1856, about ten years after the California Gold Rush.

I remember sitting on my grandmother’s front porch, rocking in a rocker, listening to Grandpa telling us the stories he remembered being told himself back when he was a child.

“Back then,” he said, “we had gold mines, all right, but we had some of the best gambling joints and houses of . . .” and then he’d look at me sideways and say, “ill repute.”

“Daddy, why on earth do you say things like that?” my mama implored. “Why encourage her natural curiosity?”

“She’s twelve years old, Minnie. Don’t you think she knows what a house of ill repute is?”

I nodded. “I know what a house of ill repute is, Mama,” I said, though I had no idea. I had to go ask Ruth Ann, who went to her older brother, who told us, giggling, then called us innocents too. I suppose we were, and I suppose that’s not a bad thing. It’s a shame to know your beloved little town used to harbor things like that.

But we also have lost gold mines and stage coach robberies. The stories about those have delighted our children. Not a generation has come and gone but what some pack of kids hasn’t wandered around the hills, looking for lost bags of gold or mother lode never found.

With or without the gold, we have some of the most beautiful mountains, true testaments to the creative hand of God. Summit View is just two hours west of Denver, near Breckenridge. The town sits on Lake Golden, which is actually over an old mining site. And you can see the ski runs in Breckenridge if you stand on a high spot overlooking the lake.

When I was younger, if you lived in Summit View, you knew everybody and everybody knew you. Of course, that was before the Rushies came to town.

“We’re calling them Rushies,” I told Vonnie one evening while I stood at the kitchen table folding some laundry that was still warm and soft from a recent fluff-’n-puff in the dryer. “You know, all these new couples moving here from California with all their West Coast ways.”

Vonnie chuckled in that soft, little girl laugh of hers. “That’s a good name for them, Evie. I understand you have a couple of them moving into the house across the street from you.”

I gave my best humph.

“Have you gone over to meet them yet?”

I grabbed at a towel in the clothes basket atop the kitchen table. “Now, why in the world would I want to do that? I don’t like all this . . . you know, people coming in here. What’s wrong with just settling in Breckenridge or Vail? That’s where most of them work, isn’t it?”

“What’s wrong with getting to know them, Evie? I lived in California. Remember? And I’m not a bad person.”

“Maybe you weren’t there long enough to be affected.”

“And maybe inviting them to church or to one of our suppers on Wednesday night in the social hall might be in order.”

I laid the folded towel on top of the others at the far end of the table without responding.

“Do they have children?”

“How in the world should I know?” I paused. “One.”

Vonnie giggled again.

The extended cord of the phone kept bopping me on the elbow, so I grabbed at it and tucked it under my arm. “I saw a baby crib going into the house, okay?”

Vonnie laughed hard then. “Oh, Evangeline. You are so funny. Now, don’t you think that if they have a baby, they might like to know we have a lovely church right here in town?”

We do have a lovely church—that much is true—though at one time Grace Church, a charming but small white clapboard structure, was the only church in town. We have a few more now, mainly because of the Rushies coming in and starting up their own fellowships. But none of them have the history of Grace Church. None of them were established by Father Dryer, the famous circuit preacher who visited his churches by cross-country skiing through the mountains. We have the stained glass windows to prove it too. Each one depicts a scene from the skiing preacher’s ministry.

Okay, so yes, I did invite the neighbors, and they did graciously attend our services for a while, but like I said, that was before so many moved into Summit View and changed everything, including the cost of living.

We prayed about this during one of our Potluck Club meetings. By this time our twosome had grown to a foursome. After all, Jesus said (and I quote), “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”

That’s Matthew 18:19 in King James Version, if you need to mark it, and Ruth Ann and I figured that if our two prayers were reaching the heavenly Father, then surely four would reach him all the faster. So that’s when Vonnie and Lizzie joined us. Like Ruth Ann and Vonnie and me, Lizzie Prattle had grown up here and had attended school with us. She hadn’t been the most popular girl in school, and she wasn’t the smartest or the prettiest, but she always loved the Lord, and that was good enough for us.

And she makes a wonderful apple pie. Plus, her husband is the president of the local bank and on the finance committee at Grace, so she’s good to have around. Okay, okay. All that, and she’s so often the voice of reason. Like Vonnie.

Around this time, I was throwing in a dish from one of my mama’s recipes, usually some sort of vegetable, Ruth Ann was bringing some of her nice homemade melt-in-your-mouth buttery biscuits, Vonnie was bringing along Mexican tamales (which she said she learned to cook when she was at Berkeley), and Lizzie was bringing the pie or a cake.

While we prayed about the increase in taxes, we also prayed for Ruth Ann, who hadn’t been feeling well. We prayed the Lord would give her more energy, and then when she went to the doctor, we prayed that the doctor would find the cause. Then we prayed when he found that she had cancer. They wanted to operate, so we prayed about that, and we prayed while she was in surgery. And then we prayed a few days later as we wept at her funeral in the pews of Grace Church, wondering why God answers some prayers just like we want and doesn’t answer others the right way at all.

At least not the right way as far as we can see. But God’s ways are not our ways. No, they are not. And one of these days when Ruth Ann and I are sipping on coffee and nibbling on coffee cake in the Great Beyond, I’m going to understand why my best friend in the whole wide world had to leave me all alone at such an early age.

By the way, I’m not married and I never have been. Not that I didn’t want to find that special someone. I did—I just never found him.

“It must be wonderful,” I said to my sister Peggy on the evening before her wedding. “To have found Matthew and to be so in love.”

Peggy, older by three years, and I were burrowed under the thick comforter on her bed. This would be our last night to sleep in the same bed together as sisters. We had the covers pulled up to our chins, lying face-to-face, whispering in her moonlit bedroom.

She smiled and sighed deeply. “It is wonderful, Evie. But don’t you worry. You’ll meet Prince Charming soon enough and fall in love and get married just like me.”

Either Prince Charming never came to Summit View or I was too busy to notice him, but either way, here I am, alone in a rambling old house, Mama and Daddy’s before they were killed in an auto accident. I have good friends, and I’m active socially and civically, and I’m the president of the Potluck Club, which by the way is having its meeting tomorrow.

Now, about the PLC. Nothing—and I do mean nothing—about the Potluck Club is as it used to be. What began as two and then boomed to four has all but exploded to five.

Make that six.

We have another transplant in town—Lisa Leann Lambert, if you can buy that name—and she’s invited herself to the group. How she managed to sidestep her way in is another story. Goodness, even our pastor’s precious wife, Jan Moore (who, like Lisa Leann is also from Texas, but we all love and adore her), can’t get an invitation into our group. I’ve come to the conclusion that Texas women are either “sweet as pie” or “pushy as cowpokes.”

Donna Vesey is neither. Another of our members, Donna . . . well . . . humph. Deputy Sheriff Donna Vesey, daughter of Sheriff Vernon Vesey, that girl, in a sense, cost me a husband.

But I won’t go into all that now.

Then there’s Goldie Brook Dippel. She was also a transplant, but from Georgia. She married Jack, who was from Denver, back in the early seventies. They moved to Summit View when Jack got a position with the Summit County Board of Education as head coach at the high school. Goldie has been an asset to our community (in spite of her no-good husband) and a good friend ever since. So, even though she wasn’t born here, she’s really a local.

The funny thing—and no one has dared breathe a word about it—is that I, Evangeline Benson, the president and founder of the Potluck Club, hate (and I do mean hate) to cook.

Simply hate it. But God in his infinite wisdom has made me queen bee of the PLC.

 

The Gold Rush Grocery Store is in the center of downtown Summit View, right next to the old Gilded Age Movie Theater. I drove my old but faithful Camry through the streets and blessed God for the parking space right up front. I put the car in park, shut off the engine, and scurried out, making my way into the heated grocery as quickly as I could. Fortunately, Vernon Vesey saw me coming and opened the door for me.

“Good afternoon, Vernon,” I greeted him. Vernon, a 1963 graduate of Summit View High, gave me my first kiss during a game of spin-the-bottle back when we were twelve. We played this at Ruth Ann’s birthday party, after most of the guests had gone home and the adults thought we were just talking and drinking RC Colas in the backyard. When it was Vernon’s turn, the bottle landed on me. We held hands and, as was required, walked around Ruth Ann’s daddy’s toolshed. There was an old plant pot in the middle. When we got to it, we were supposed to kiss, which we did, not that we had a clue as to what we were doing. What I remember most is thinking that Vernon Vesey kissed like a chicken, not that I’d ever kissed one of those either. At any rate, Vernon was my first sweetheart, a passionate affair that lasted all of two days until Doreen Roberts told him she’d kiss him for five full minutes if he’d break up with me and go with her, which he did. And I’ve never entirely forgiven him for it.

“Good afternoon, Evangeline. Can you believe it’s snowing already?”

I shook a light dusting of snow off my coat. “One never knows what one will get in Summit View,” I replied.

Vernon, dressed in his uniform and a leather jacket, reached for one of the baskets kept stacked up near the door and just before the shopping carts. “Basket or buggy?” he asked with a smile. I have to tell you that Vernon Vesey—even after all these years—has managed to keep the most endearing smile I’ve ever seen. No matter how hard I try, I can’t resist him when he smiles at me like that.

“Basket,” I said. “I’m just here to pick up a few things.” He handed me the top basket, and as a way of being pleasant, I asked, “So, how’s your daughter, Vern?”

“Good. Good.”

The door opened about that time, blowing in more of the crisp cold along with two Rushie women and their little ones. You know a Rushie woman when you see one; she’s the one with frosted blond hair cut in some style fresh out of a magazine, wearing some sporty outfit and enough makeup to get that new woman Lisa Leann Lambert so excited she can practically see herself sitting in a pink Mary Kay Cadillac.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” Vernon greeted them.

“Good afternoon, Sheriff,” they said, reaching for carts instead of the baskets.

I crossed my arms. “So, how’s Summit County, Vernon? Any new crime waves going on while the good citizens are sleeping?”

Vernon shook his head. I noticed his hair seemed to be sprinkled with a little more salt since last I’d seen him, which was about two weeks ago. Funny how I always notice things like that.

“Not as long as I’m the law in this town.”

I patted him on the arm and then started to walk away. “You’re a good officer, Vern. Just like your daddy and his daddy before him.”

Vernon began walking beside me. I cut him a sideward glance. “I see you have neither buggy nor basket there, Vernon.”

“Oh, I thought I’d just walk along with you for a minute, Evie-girl,” he said, using the endearment by which he’d called me since we were sweethearts. “Anything wrong with that?”

I frowned. “No, nothing I can think of. Unless you think I’m going to shoplift or something.”

Vernon laughed. “Evie, tell me something. What was I thinking all those years ago when I let Doreen talk me out of going steady with you and into going steady with her instead?”

I stopped dead in my tracks, which, fortunately for me, was right in front of the soups. “I don’t know, Vernon. What were you thinking? As a matter of fact, what were you thinking years later when you met her at the altar?”

His eyes twinkled. “Oh, I don’t know. Probably the same thing I was thinking when she ran off with the church’s choir director. What kind of fool am I?” He sang the last line. It was off-key, but appropriate. Of course, he was right there. The whole incident gave the entire town something to talk—or pray—about.

I reached for a can of soup. “A big one, I’d say. All because she’d kiss you for five full minutes.”

He nudged me with his shoulder. “And full on the lips too.”

I opened my mouth in indignation. “I kissed you full on the lips,” I all but hissed, then blushed and pushed his shoulder with the flat of my palm. “Vernon Vesey, how do you manage to rile me up so?”

“You know you’ll always be my first love, Evie.”

I walked away, heading for the canned goods aisle. “Shut up, Vernon.”

“Wanna go to the movies later tonight?”

“I do not.”

“Tell you what, I’ll pick you up at 7:00, we’ll have dinner over at the diner, and then I’ll take you to the Gilded Age.”

I reached the canned goods, but the peas, carrots, and mushroom cans all seemed to blur together. This wasn’t the first time Vernon had made a pass at me since Doreen left him, and it wouldn’t be the last. Shame on me, but I did get a kick out of it, and what was the harm, after all? “Vernon—”

“We’ll sit in the back row, and you can prove to me that you can kiss a good five minutes like you said you’d do when we were twelve. You owe me one, Evie-girl.”

I blushed appropriately. “Vernon, if you don’t hush . . .”

“Come on,” he whispered, leaning dangerously close to my ear.

I giggled. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I need to get ready for tomorrow’s Potluck meeting.”

Vernon straightened. “Oh yeah. The Potluck Gossip Club.”

I spun around, my vision suddenly crystal clear. “You take that back, Vernon Vesey. We are five women who pray fervently for God’s children.”

“I hear from Donna that tomorrow you’ll be six, what with Mrs. Lambert joining you.”

I huffed. “That woman. The nerve.”

“It won’t hurt to add one more pray-er, I don’t suppose. Who’s on the slaughter block this week?”

“Oh, ha-ha. And if you must know, we pray for anyone and everyone who calls and lets us know they need prayer. Sometimes we pray for folks who don’t ask, but we know they need it. We even pray for you.” I added the last part for good measure.

Again he chuckled. “I could use it, Evie. The good Lord knows I need all the prayer I can get.”

With that he walked off, leaving me to wonder what was going on to make him say such a thing.