Christian Book Previews Home
Christian Book Previews
Book Jacket

1578564018
Trade Paperback
160 pages
Sep 2003
WaterBrook Press

Phoebe

by Diane Noble

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Eden’s Pass, California

1935

Faith Green stomped on the clutch and, with her right hand, shifted down to first gear as the Model A lurched to a stop in front of Secondhand Rose. From the driver’s seat she waved at the proprietor, Anna Rose Hill, who waved back as she peered out from behind a bit of tattered lace curtain hanging at the window.

Anna Rose then returned to arranging the display on the table beneath the window: a child’s toy spinning wheel and basket of yarn spindles, a brass bed warmer, a stack of flour-sack dishtowels, a blue-speckled coffeepot with matching cups, a chipped porcelain baby’s bathtub, and a wooden soldier propped up in the corner against a freshly painted toy cannon. It was the little soldier that caught Faith’s attention. Its carved face peered out at the world beyond the window, its painted eyes wide and curious, its round cheeks cheery, its wellformed mouth tilting upward at the corners as if with secret merriment.

Even from this distance Faith could see the doll had been well loved, so smooth were its sweet features. She wondered—and what a fanciful thought it was!—whether a child’s caresses  had caused the wearing away. Perhaps a father had carved it for a very young boy who didn’t know toy soldiers were meant for playing war, not for kissing.

Faith’s heart caught with a pang of longing for the father she’d never known. For another instant her gaze rested on the doll, and her eyes filled with sudden tears. She swallowed hard and brushed them away with her fingertips. Since her husband Finian’s death last year, she’d become entirely too sentimental. She still wept at the memory of Fin whistling “Dixie” as he planted corn by the light of a full moon, and she got teary-eyed at the memory of his big voice booming out “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” while he stood beside her in church.

Lately, with her own loss still fresh, she wept at others’ losses—as she did now, thinking about that unknown child and the loved one who had fashioned the doll.

And she wept because she wanted to remember her father and couldn’t. He had died the same day she was born.

Now finished with her display, Anna Rose waved again, bringing Faith’s attention back to the task at hand. Faith smiled in return and smoothed her mussed gray bob. She enjoyed racing the open-topped Model A along the dirt road leading from the lease, where the old family home stood tall and proud. But she always arrived at her destination looking disheveled and brightcheeked from the harsh sun and brisk wind.

Just six weeks after dear Finian’s heart plumb wore out and hers nearly broke with grief, she upped and bought herself this old girl—she stroked the dashboard fondly—and set about learning how to crank the starter and shift from one gear to the next with a minimum of fuss and frog-leap. With each crank of the handle she still whispered a prayer of thanksgiving for the nest egg that Finian, God rest his soul, had left her.

The girls had called her foolish to spend such a sum in times like these, but—and the thought always brought a smile—Fin was likely looking over heaven’s banister, glad for her charitable heart and pleased as punch with her spunk. Besides, the girls, with hands clasping hats to keep them from flying off in the wind, now hooted and hollered in glee every Sunday as Faith putt-putted them along the dirt road to church.

Truth was, when Faith had seen the good that Anna Rose was doing for the poor, she decided to help. The shop owner washed, ironed, and starched discarded clothing; cleaned and polished old furniture; fixed broken toys; and scrubbed rusted pots until they gleamed; then resold the items all for pennies—or gave them outright—to families in need.

The best medicine for mending her own heartache, Faith figured, was helping those who couldn’t help themselves. And when she discovered that a vehicle was needed for pickup and delivery to Secondhand Rose—well now, she set about making sure it happened. Soon the car was needed more than ever.

First, she had tea with the ladies from three sewing circles in Eden’s Pass: one affiliated with the Baptist’s Cottage Hospital, another from the Community Presbyterians, and yet another from the First Nazarenes. After explaining what was needed, Faith said she would take to Secondhand Rose every new quilt the sewing circles could spare and every flannel baby blanket not needed for other charities. She couldn’t sew a straight line to save her soul, but just weeks after her lessons, she could drive better than any other person in town, young or old, man or woman.

Oh yes, Fin would have been pleased. Faith grinned, patted her hair again, then with a sigh, stepped from the Model A. She closed the door with a thud and bent over the rumble seat to lift a cardboard box into her arms. It was large and awkward, filled with three newly stitched housedresses, four aprons, six sets of knitted bonnets and booties, two bright patchwork quilts, and a dozen flannel baby blankets, four edged with crocheted lace. All three circles had worked for a month on these projects and, as of this morning, had already begun their next month’s work.

Anna Rose held open the door and smiled in greeting as Faith struggled through with the awkward carton.

“The lovely things you deliver are always the first to go.”

Anna Rose reached out to take two corners at the opposite side of the box. “Especially the baby blankets.” Together the two women set the box on a nearby table with a thud. “Most folks give discards. You’ve managed to get your friends to give the best of what they make.” Then she laughed lightly. “Don’t get me wrong. In such times, we need anything and everything that can be given—leftovers included.”

The women struggled across the small shop and placed the box on the floor. Anna Rose knelt beside the carton and held up a patchwork quilt to admire it.

“They’re happy to do what they can.” Faith smiled at the pleased look on Anna Rose’s face. When Anna Rose had finished examining the new wares, Faith started for the door, then hesitated and turned back. “When I drove up just now, I noticed something in your window. It struck me as curious.”

Anna Rose straightened with a laugh, still holding a tiny pair of pink booties. “Nearly everything I get in is curious in some way or another.”

Faith frowned. “It’s a doll. A toy soldier, it appears. Tucked back in the corner.”

“I’ll get it.” Anna Rose placed the booties on a counter and headed to the window.

“Really, there’s no need to disturb your display.”

Anna Rose’s laughter rang through the small shop. “Display?”

She chuckled again. “I’ll take that as a compliment. But really, the table is just another place to store the items that come in—at least until I can clean them up.” She reached for the doll. “Such as this soldier boy. I just haven’t had time to work on him.”

Faith took the doll in her hands, turned it over, then tipped it back again so she could look in its face. “It is handmade,” she said quietly. “I thought so.” She turned it again, enjoying the solid feel of the heavy wood in her hands. Though immovable, the arms were well formed, fingers realistic and slightly curved, the legs straight and stout.

“Likely whittled by a father for his young son.”

Faith nodded, again thinking of her own father. She touched the doll’s worn face. The wood had smoothed with age and felt almost warm to her touch. “Curious,” she murmured. “Even when I first spotted this doll in the window, a memory seemed to flit through my mind…but it’s so elusive.” She stared again into the toy soldier’s face and touched its nose, its ears, its curly hair, with her fingertips. Looking up, she laughed lightly. “Then of course, it’s likely my mind playing tricks. Since Fin passed…”

Her eyes filled again, and she was unable to finish.

Anna Rose touched her hand. “You don’t need to explain. I understand.”

Faith handed the doll back to Anna Rose. “It may be a soldier, but it’s beautiful. Do you know its history?”

Anna Rose touched the doll’s cheek, tracing her fingers over the features. “I don’t, dear. But I can tell you this: When I inspected it, I found a mark looking very much like a bullet crease.” She shook her head as if in awe. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say this toy soldier’s been to war.” She carefully gathered the small jacket into one hand, exposing the smooth wood of the doll’s chest. “There, you see, the bullet sliced right across.” She looked back to Faith.

“And, though faded, you can see it’s in a Union uniform.”

“I wonder why a man, young or old, would take a wooden soldier into battle?”

Anna Rose shrugged. “That I wouldn’t know.” She walked back to the window and stood the wooden soldier by the toy cannon.

“Though many who went off to war were little more than boys themselves.” She shook her head as she walked back to Faith.

“If only this doll could talk.”

Faith chuckled. “Along with walls in old houses. Oh, the stories such things might tell.” She started for the door, then turned.

“I’ll be back tomorrow with a sunbonnet quilt from the Community Presbyterians. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s a beauty.”

Anna Rose trailed behind her. “They do such nice work.”

Fingers resting on the brass door handle, Faith cast another glance at the doll. “You never did say who brought in the little

soldier.”

“It was that young Doc McKenzie.”

“I haven’t seen Doc since Ivy Magill’s funeral. I hear he’s leaving these parts.”

“He and his new wife are heading to the Brazilian jungle to be medical missionaries.”

“The wooden soldier must have been a childhood toy. He must have needed the money to give it up…though it couldn’t have brought much.”

Anna Rose nodded. “It seems to hold great value in his heart, though he didn’t say why. I gave him all I could spare for the doll, but mostly to help him and his new bride.” She paused. “And told him I would save it for him until he gets back from the mission field.” Her eyes glistened as she glanced back at the doll.

“Wouldn’t dare sell it now.”

“I’ll talk to the ladies of the circles about what they might do to help Doc and his wife. I’m talking to the quilters’ guild tomorrow about Secondhand Rose. I’ll mention Doc’s journey and see what they might do.” She grinned. “Then there’re the girls. They’re always ready to help when presented with a need.”

Anna Rose looked grateful. “These are hard times. But God’s blessings have never been more abundant.”

The bell above the door tinkled as Faith stepped back to the sidewalk in front of Secondhand Rose, musing about Anna Rose’s compassionate heart. Everyone knew the widow often gave up food from her own table, had offered more than one coat or sweater of her own to comfort others. And there was that mark out back, in full view of the railroad tracks, letting hobos know they could find a hot meal at Secondhand Rose.

Anna Rose’s limbs were too thin, as if she went without food so others had more. Yet her face was always bright with happiness; it was obvious she took greater joy in giving than receiving. That was what blessed her, blessed others, and this minute filled and warmed Faith.

She watched as Anna Rose moved to the rear of the shop.

Before turning from the window, Faith let her gaze rest again on the doll. It would stand beside the shiny red cannon until Doc returned, reminding all who entered Secondhand Rose to pray for the young missionary and his bride.

And along with her prayers, Faith would continue to wonder about the faded memory so close to her heart that it made her weep, so elusive it seemed to edge her mind with light even if she could not say why it touched her so.