Tonight was my first (slight) detour from my outline. I’m at the point where I need to write the main conflict — the meat of the story, the single event that changes my main character — but I realized I hadn’t yet injected enough back story about her journey of faith which, for many years, was superficial and based not on love but on fear. What follows is a 700-plus word excerpt from Edna Mae Ferguson’s conversion experience at the age of 8 in April 1926.
Unedited. Some rabbit trails here. Hey, it’s a work-in-progress, right? But no apologies, fellow WriMos. Remember, these are our stories, our rules. And inner editors remain bound and gagged in padded, sound proof rooms in our mental closets. Right?
But eight-year-0ld girls didn’t question spiritual things. Edna Mae learned that lesson the hard way. Pastor Clemens a year or so earlier expounded on the virtues of childlike faith and how the Lord Jesus besought the children to come to him. He also said that anyone who came to him with the faith of a little child would go to Heaven. In the same breath, Pastor Clemons directed all the parents to “cease the infernal shuffling and fidgeting of your disrespectful children.” Sondra Ramsey thumb-thumped little Edna Mae on top of the head as a domino-effect of thumb-thumping cascaded through the congregation.
“Ouch!” Edna Mae exclaimed. “What did I do?”
She’d already said too much and it was unusual for her daddy to answer in church, but when he said, “You’ve got to stop fidgeting,” Edna Mae immediately responded, “But little kids fidget, and Jesus loves little kids.”
What followed at home was the worst spanking of her life, and probably had more to do with the ladies on the pew behind them that giggled and guffawed over Edna Mae’s cute little quip. But it embarrassed her daddy. And you never, ever embarrassed George Elliott Ramsey. Apparently one needed childlike faith to come to Jesus, but once you were there, no more need for that. And no fidgeting.
“What’s a wretch?” Edna Mae couldn’t get that thought and images out of her mind. “A wretch like me.” Sounded like “witch,” and that wasn’t good. Whatever it was, a wretch was someone who Jesus could love, but probably nobody else loved a wretch, and Jesus could save a wretch, but then did that person have to remain unwretched in order to stay in good graces with the Lord?
So many questions, but she dare not ask.
Sister Maybelline played a long instrumental piece while the deacons passed their hats to collect offerings from the folks who had been tossing in large coins and even paper money earlier in the week, but now, on the seventh night of hat-passing, there were mostly pennies and probably a few super saver grocery stamps thrown in. George Elliott Ramsey wore a brown fedora with a pheasant feather tucked inside the trim ribbon. He tucked the feather into his front pocket before passing the hat to collect coins.
Edna Mae whispered under her breath, “What is a wretch?” and when it came time for Brother Burden to preach his final sermon of the revival, he dramatically DASHED to the pulpit, shouting “What?” before he even grasped the pulpit. Nary a shoulder slouched.
“What is a wretch!?” he shouted.
Edna Mae didn’t know whether to be terrified or overjoyed that God Almighty so quickly answered a question that she hadn’t even put in a prayer that was properly bookmarked by “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.”
“You are a wretch!” the preacher shouted, his brow already drenched in righteous sweat. “If you are lost in your sin and don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ, YOU are a wretch!”
Edna Mae – and the other 70 or so worshippers underwhelmed by the big ceiling fan – sat motionless.
“And if you DIE as a wretch, oh, my friend, my beloved,” Brother Burden continued. “If you die and don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, oh, my friend …”
Brother Burden’s voice trailed off, his head dropped onto his chest, and he wept. “OH, my friend, my beloved …”
Edna Mae wanted to stand and shout, “Oh, my friend, my beloved – WHAT?”
A great thing was about to be said, and for the perfect punctuation, God Almighty sent another lightning bolt that struck a tree just outside the door. The lights went out.
“Oh, my friend, if you die a wretch, you most certainly … will … go … to HELL!” Another lightning bolt and church-shaking clap of thunder. “Come to the altar NOW! and say the sinner’s prayer!”
Edna Mae sprinted to the front of the church and had no trouble finding the altar in the pitch dark church. Someone lit an oil lamp and the light glistened and reflected off Brother Burden’s red face. Undoubtedly every person under 40 was at the front of the church, kneeling.
The collective spiritual angst was a din of commotion, yet also separate and distinct. The patter of raindrops on the church’s tin roof. Sister Maybelline’s piano gently playing “Just As I Am.” Brother Cy Burden repeating, “Oh, my friend, my beloved.” The sniffling and tears of sinners being saved. And a little girl, surrounded and lost in a crowd of wretches, softly pleading, “I don’t want to be a wretch I don’t want to be a wretch.”
If this comes across as a mix of serious, child-like reflection and a humorous depiction of an old-time revival service, please let me know, because that’s the effect I’m looking for.
Current word count: 12,058. Target for first four days: 6,668. On pace to finish: Nov. 16. But I’m not counting on it. The next three days will be especially challenging for my NaNoWriMo effort. My day job at the Columbia Daily Tribune — Tuesday’s election and a couple of other in-depth projects — will need my utmost attention between now and Wednesday.