Authors: Leisha Kelly
Country Road Chronicles
Related books by Leisha Kelly
© 2006 by Leisha Kelly
Published by Fleming H. Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Printed in the United States of America
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rachel’s prayer : a novel / Leisha Kelly.
p. cm. — (Country road chronicles ; bk. 2)
ISBN 10: 0-8007-5986-9 (pbk.)
ISBN 978-0-8007-5986-5 (pbk.)
1. World War, 1939–1945—United States—Fiction. 2. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
Dedicated to our veterans
and servicemen and women.
Thank you, and may God bless.
Table of Contents
January 18, 1942
Robert was leaving tomorrow. I was trying to be brave and happy for his sake, but it was hard not to worry. It wasn’t that he was too young. My son was twenty, a strong young man capable of thinking things through and doing well on his own. It was the war that frightened me. Like a demon reaching its shadowy arms in all directions, it pulled the whole world into its grasp.
Plain as yesterday in my mind was the bright December morning when I was heating water for washing while Robert tinkered at our battery radio, trying to fix the temperamental thing again. It was a Monday, and we’d been without the radio all weekend. We hadn’t even been to church because Samuel and Robert had miserable colds. The girls were getting ready for school and singing the song they were supposed to perform for the school’s annual program. Robert got the radio working. And then all the singing stopped. My wash water was forgotten. And nothing has been quite the same since.
The attack on Pearl Harbor we heard about on the radio that morning was a slap that left us reeling. Such hideous, blatant evil demanded response. We all understood that. We knew that our nation must step firmly and forcefully into the war we hadn’t asked for, and that it would require commitment, even sacrifice, from all of us.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when Robert told us he was going to enlist. He’d registered with the selective service and told us plainly that he would be proud to serve when called. But he didn’t wait to be called. And now he would be on tomorrow’s train.
At least he wouldn’t be alone. Willy Hammond was going too. They’d been best friends since they were ten, and they’d talked it over and made their decision together. Several other boys from our southern Illinois area would also be getting on that train. But it was especially important to Robert to have Willy beside him.
I stirred the batter for the lemon cake I was making, but my mind was still on that terrible news report we’d heard more than a month ago. Sarah and Katie had both sunk in their chairs and cried silent tears. I might have, if I hadn’t been so numb. I remember running to the wood shop to get Samuel and then being unable to tell him why I wanted him to come to the house. He and Franky Hammond had run inside, wondering what could have happened to get me so upset. And Samuel went white as a sheet when he heard. Frank started praying right away. But it was Robert out of all of us to be bare-fisted angry.
I guess I knew then how much the war would touch us. Seeing our son pacing, slapping the back of a chair, fiery-eyed, I knew he’d go. And he wouldn’t be the only one. Two of the older Hammond boys were already in the service. Willy and Frank would be next, I figured. And I was right about their feelings. They went with Robert not long after that to talk to the marine recruiter when he came to town.
The recruiter had been happy to sign up Robert and Willy. But eighteen-year-old Franky would be staying home. At first he’d only confided in me what happened. But then his brothers started asking him questions, and it all came out. His limp, of course. But the recruiter had asked him to fill out a form anyway, and it didn’t take the man long to realize that Franky couldn’t read it.
“So?” Robert had asked them then. “He can shoot a rifle and repair an engine. Ain’t that what you’re looking for?”
But Frank had the limp and the reading problem, and they’d also determined him to be underweight. Any one of those things could keep him from service. So he was turned away. What might have been relief to many was galling frustration to Frank. It seemed to me he’d been extra quiet ever since.
But not everybody was quiet today. Most the Hammond clan had been over for lunch. All but Lizbeth’s family and, of course, Joe and Kirk, who were already far away with the army. The place was still bustling as I tried to get us ready to go into Dearing tonight. The cake I was making was for a party put on by the Porters to see off the young men who’d be leaving on tomorrow’s train. It had started out as a birthday party for their son, Thomas, because he’d be to Fort Dix by his actual birthday next week. They wanted to do something special for him. But the Porters, who did so much for our community anyway, had decided to include all our brave young men in the party. And everybody appreciated them for it.
We’d be leaving early because of the chance of snow. Pastor and Juanita Jones had invited us to their home for a bite to eat before the party, and to stay the night afterward if the snow looked taxing, just to be sure we wouldn’t have trouble on our country roads.
I knew it was selfish of me, but I almost wished the gray sky outside would hurry up and spit the snow it threatened, in quantities enough to slow the train and let me keep my little boy home a while longer. But he wasn’t little. He was far taller than me, taller even than his father, and he was anxious to get started on the grand adventure of duty.
Oh, Lord, how I wanted the war to stay far away, oceans away, where it couldn’t touch us! But now it wrenches at my heart!
George Hammond, our nearest neighbor, stepped into the kitchen behind me and plunked himself into a straight-backed chair without a word. I wished he’d talk a little more about this. It might set my mind at ease about the state of his thinking. But he just sat, staring straight ahead and doing his best to ignore the sounds of his family in the house.
George had lost his wife ten years ago, and since then Samuel and I had done all we could to help the family. His children had become almost like our own, they were at our house so often.
Sarah came in, brushing the little bit of snow off her overshoes, and hung her coat in the closet by the back door. “Whiskers doesn’t seem to want to eat, Mom,” she told me. “I’m worried about him.”
I sighed, hardly wanting to think right now about the family dog, who seemed to be showing his age more and more lately. “Honey, he’ll be all right. Sometimes dogs are like that. Is he curled up in the hay?”
“Dad let him in the shop with him and Frank,” she told me. “It’s warmer in there. I think Dad’s worried too.”
I started pouring the cake batter into a buttered pan, not sure what to tell her about the dog she loved so much. Sarah was sixteen but still seemed younger to me sometimes, especially when she talked about Whiskers. I hoped he wasn’t really sick. For Samuel to let him into the shop when he and Franky were working was unusual, because Whiskers was a big dog and not all that prone to sitting still. At least not until now.
“Are they about done with the shelves?” I asked her.
“Almost,” Sarah answered. “Dad said they’ll be in pretty quick. They’re gonna load the shelves in the truck first. They’re the nicest ones yet, Mom. Thomas Porter is gonna love his initials carved on the top. It’s a funny birthday present for his mom to get him, though, especially with him going away.”
“Well, I guess the young man loves books. And his mother wanted to get him something special.”
She nodded. “That would be special. When I have my own family, I want Dad and Frank’s furniture all over my house. You need some help with anything?”
Before I could answer her, George’s oldest son, Sam, came into the kitchen. “Pa, we’re gonna have to be goin’, but we’ll see you tomorrow, all right?”
“Yep,” George answered from his chair by the kitchen table.
“Don’t you be worryin’, okay, Pa?” Sam continued. “William’s a strong man now. He’ll make it all right.”
Sam and Thelma’s son, Georgie, came running into the kitchen with a whoop and a jump. At five and a half now, he was hardly ever quiet, and I was glad the cake wasn’t any further along when he started jumping some more.
His three-year-old sister, Rosemary, followed him, singing her own version of Jingle Bells. “Dingo Beh. Dingo Beh . . .”
“You kids ain’t never heard a’ quiet, have you?” George grouched at his grandchildren, but they didn’t seem to notice.
Thelma came in the room, trying to juggle baby Dorothy and two or three coats. Two-year-old Albert followed her with his thumb in his mouth, dragging his little coat behind him.
“Katie’s bringing the rest of our wraps,” Thelma told her husband. “Thought we best get the kids started into their coats.”
Bundling up little ones for the weather could always be a bit of a challenge, especially with Dorothy starting to fuss, and Georgie and Rosemary trying to scoot in circles around the table. So I went ahead and put my cake in the oven and tried to help as Katie brought hats and mittens and scarves, along with Sam and Thelma’s coats. Everybody’s boots and overshoes were lined up to the right of our back door, and Sam collected those that belonged to his family and got started getting little feet into them.
Albert was the only quiet one. He stood patiently still as I fastened his coat, and he lifted one foot at a time obligingly when his father brought his little four-buckle galoshes. He looked up at me with his big brown eyes full of understanding and gave me a good-bye wave. But he didn’t say a word because he didn’t talk yet. Albert hardly ever made a sound.
As soon as they were gone, George Hammond shook his head. “I know they’s family, but them young’uns wear me out.”
I thought it a strange comment from a grandfather who had ten children of his own, but I didn’t answer him. Willy had come in the kitchen along with ten-year-old Emma Grace to tell their older brother’s family good-bye. Harry and Bert, who’d been playing checkers again, had followed them, but only Emma Grace, the youngest of the bunch, stayed in the room very long.
“Can I help you with anything?” she asked me when Sam and Thelma were gone. Emmie loved to work in the kitchen and was becoming a pretty good cook, even at her young age.
“Do you want to mix the frosting or help me with the casserole?” I asked her.
“The casserole,” she answered immediately. “I think I already know how to do some frostings.”
“I’ll do the frosting,” Sarah offered. So I got her my recipe and left her to it. But I told Emmie step-by-step directions aloud. That’s what she liked me to do every time she helped in my kitchen. She struggled at reading a recipe book but would remember what I told her amazingly well. I had no idea how many recipes she’d memorized already. She did a lot of cooking at home now, as I understood it. Her father and brothers weren’t much interested in trying their hand in the kitchen. And with Lizbeth having a family of her own, the only other girl home was Rorey, who made herself scarce when she could.
Like now. Where might Rorey have gotten herself to? So far as I could tell, she hadn’t even told Sam and Thelma good-bye. But that wasn’t so unlike Rorey. She was preoccupied with her own thinking much of the time.
I wished George Hammond would take a little more of a hand with Rorey. She was pretty well grown, seventeen a month ago, but the way I saw it, she still needed guidance. She’d taken a liking all over again to a boy who had caused plenty of problems before, and even though he was leaving along with Robert and Willy on tomorrow’s train, it still concerned me.
But George didn’t care who his daughter chose to be with. He’d even said that she could marry as young as she wanted to, it was all right with him. He was so distant from his kids and even his grandkids anymore. I wished he would go in the other room a while with Willy, but he just sat at the kitchen table in silence as we worked. Maybe he was worrying, and that’s what had him so quiet. I could certainly understand that very well. But I still hoped he’d manage to talk with Willy a little before tomorrow’s train.