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Mama and Mr. Moody

By: Dorothea Boyd Wolfe

For years Mama had talked about the great evangelist, Mr. Moody, but even Papa and the kids were surprised when the visitor came to the door.

Mama opened the front door and said, just as though it was a common occurrence at our house, "Why, Mr. Moody! Won't you come in?"

Papa, standing in the parlor doorway with all our Bibles stacked in his arms, turned white like a person does when he suddenly comes face to face with a ghost. Then Papa's glasses popped down on the end of his skinny nose. He just stared at the man and looked like he might explode.

It may be well to mention that ever since Elaine and Jimmy and I can remember, Mama has been talking about the great evangelist, Mr. Moody. She has a huge scrapbook of pictures and lots of books on his life, which she always keeps handy. The fact that Mr. Moody himself has been dead for about a dozen yeas doesn't make any difference to Mama. She can spend hours telling about the time she heard Moody preach when she was a little girl, and how she had decided way back then that Mr. Moody was her hero---that when she grew up she was going to marry a man just like Mr. Moody.

This always strikes Papa and us young McLains as very funny. For Papa, after sixteen years of marriage, is not exactly what one would call the "hero type." That is, not to look at his short, scrawny build, his lack of muscles, his balding head and his shiny, sagging trousers. Papa certainly isn't like Mr. Moody in either looks or actions. In fact, Papa can't even give a short testimony in prayer meeting without turning red in the face and twisting the hymnbook until he almost breaks the binding. But you give him a private audience, and I just know Papa could match any man---living or dead.

Right in the middle of the scutter and scurry of getting ready for prayer meeting, washing faces, combing hair, putting on clean clothes and collecting Bibles, Mama was saying, "This is a delightful surprise, Mr. Moody."

It made one feel as creepy as a horror victim right out of one of Poe's stories we read in school, to see a man looking so much like those pictures in Mama's scrapbook standing in our front hall.

Jimmy, pest of the Panther Patrol, Troop 42, peered down the stairs, grunted and nudged Elaine in the ribs. "If that's Mr. Moody, he sure has got seedy."

"Shhh!" Seven-year-old Elaine unwrapped her legs from around the banister and poked him back. "I want to listen."

The man coughed behind his dirty hat. "Beg pardon, ma'am. The name's…"

"Sit down! Sit down, Mr. Moody," said Mama, motioning to a chair next to the hall rack.

The man squirmed a little, then held out a grim, uplifted palm. We should have expected it---but we didn't. "Please, do you have a dime for a poor, hungry man?"

"He doesn't look hungry," whispered Jimmy, looking straight at the man's stomach, which from our angle in the dimly lighted hallway gave him the comical appearance of Humpty Dumpty.

The man coughed. Mama acted as though it was perfectly natural for this man to enter our house and beg for money, but not Papa, who could smell liquor on a man's breath when it was a day old.

Papa placed the Bibles neatly, and perhaps a bit deliberately, on the chair. "My good man," said Papa, turning and lifting his gray eyes to the portly but ragged beggar, "if you are hungry, Mama may have something good for you to eat."

The stranger hesitated, then bowed with a dignified but tottering flourish toward Mama. You could almost hear her gurgling and bubbling over with delight. "I'll have something ready in no time," she called back, disappearing into the kitchen.

Papa continued jingling some odds and ends that he had in his pocket and looking the man over from head to foot. The man looked up at the light fixtures on the ceiling, over to the chair stacked with Bibles, and then down at his decrepit shoes. Finally, Papa pulled out his gold watch.

"Vivian, go help Mama."

"Yes, Papa."

"Fine young lady, your daughter," the man said as I closed the kitchen door behind me with the proper dignity upon such recognition of my years. And really, I am old for going on fourteen.

Mama had things sizzling on the black Kalamazoo.

"He's awfully dirty," I said, carefully placing some wood into the scuttle next to the hot stove.

"Outside dirt can be washed off," Mama replied. "It's on the heart that God looks. We should do likewise."

That was just like Mama. She couldn't see anything bad in anybody, and was always giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. "You mean you trust him?" I asked.

"Certainly. Mr. Moody has an honest face---a very nice face."

"But you just said…" Well, there was no use in trying to argue with Mama. Mama may not be very logical, but she has a warm heart. She hustled about, scooping up huge mountains of food onto a blue willow plate.

"Now, put some hot water in the basin for him to wash up, and tell Papa we're ready."

Papa ushered Mr. Moody into the ivy-papered kitchen. It was easy to see that the stranger was not in too much sympathy with the soap and water idea. By the time Mr. Moody finished wiping the dirt off on the towel, the huge black clock with the fascinating lion heads on top of the kitchen cabinet chimed and warned us that we would be late for church.

"I'm starving," said Jimmy, holding his hand over a sunken stomach.

"Humph! He's pulling in his stomach on purpose," Elaine said, wishing she had thought of the idea first.

Mama pulled Jimmy away from the table and kept a firm hand on his shoulder. "You just finished supper. Papa, you pray."

Was it some kind of temptation that made me look up while Papa was saying grace for the man? For Mr. Moody's eyes were open and he was staring from one to the other of us like we were a bunch of freaks. Then he saw me looking at him. For the first time, I felt sorry for him as he lowered his head and gulped down the food he'd been chewing. Why, this man, whoever he was, didn't even know enough to pray!

After the "Amen" was said, Papa motioned Jimmy and Elaine and me out into the hall and started us off to prayer meeting, Bibles and all, saying, "Mama and I will be along soon."

"But you're not going to leave him here in the house while we're to the meeting, are you?" Jimmy questioned. "My prize arrowhead collection is upstairs."

"Humph! What would he want with some old Indian arrowheads?" Elaine asked. "He looks like the snake type, to me. Papa, don't let him touch my snake, Jezebel."

I shuddered. Even the thought of that snake, Jezebel, in the house can do queer things to my stomach, but Papa was not very sympathetic just then.

"The house will be locked," he promised.

I removed my panama straw hat from the hall rack and perched it just right on my head. "That's good. He's not a Christian, Papa."

"He needs prayer," Papa agreed. "Now, run along."

We did run--the whole four blocks. By the time we had climbed the thirteen cement church steps (and anyone who has climbed them as often as the McLains knows the exact number), Elaine's hair bow was missing and her one braid was flying in the wind. To make matters worse, she tried a fancy trick on the railing and broke one garter. One white stocking fell halfway down her spindly leg and twisted and turned around her ankle like a corkscrew. Not that such a trifle bothered Elaine, nor even the thoughts of having to march down the aisle stooped and clutching at the top of the gruesome thing.

"Well, if it isn't a combination of Pete the Scarecrow and the Tin Soldier," Jimmy laughed.

"Humph!" Elaine snapped, her feelings far from wounded. "And you look like Moptop, the sheepdog!"

"Moptop" is the old English sheepdog that lives in the house right next to ours. Jimmy took the hint and brushed the hair out of his eyes with his fingers.

"My, my! His eyes are blue!" Elaine chanted just as I pushed them both inside the door.

I could smell flowers in the vestibule, most likely left over from the wedding yesterday, and the old books in the pastor's study, and the newly varnished pews that stretched across the place where the old heating stoves had recently been.

Mrs. Metcalfe was thumping out the chords on the old organ, and the congregation was singing, "Throw out the lifeline across the dark wave. There is a brother whom someone should save…"

As we sat down the words of the song kept repeating themselves over and over again in my head. I kept seeing Mr. Moody's face like it looked at the table when I caught him with his eyes open and his mouth full of food. The face was red and strained and bewildered. And he was struggling in the water and swallowing and pleading for help with his eyes, and there was no lifeline to throw to him. I felt awfully sorry for him. I clutched desperately at the Bible in my lap. My hands were clammy, and I shuddered.

Then, there was Mama sitting next to me, and she asked me in a whisper if I wasn't feeling well.

I smiled reassuringly. Just past Mama and Papa---it wasn't possible, but there next to Papa and right on the aisle, sat Mr. Moody! Maybe this man was a ghost of some sort, popping up at unexpected places, because a prayer meeting was the last place to hope to see a man who couldn't pray. But it was comforting to know for a fleeting moment that he wasn't drowning.

Mama was looking very pleased that Mr. Moody was there in the meeting, tatters and all, and she gave each of us down the line a knowing look. Mrs. Metcalfe hadn't missed a thing, except perhaps a few notes on the organ.

Reverend Willard was saying a few words about the story of the Prodigal Son, but Mr. Moody was drowning again. My mind was still seeing Mr. Moody's head bobbing above the waves and his grasping hand with the dirty palm wanting the lifeline. So I prayed that the Lord would see that he got it.

Then we all got down and prayed, and it was quiet in the room except for someone praying an occasional "Amen," the loud ticking of the clock on the wall right over my head, and then a cough or shuffle of feet.

When we finally raised our eyes after the benediction and blinked in the bright light, Mama let out a gasp and grabbed Papa's arm.

"Where is he?" she asked.

Mr. Moody was gone.

"Looks like Mr. Moody has skipped," Jimmy chuckled. "Guess he ain't the prayer-meetin' type."

"What did you say his name was?" questioned the breathless Mrs. Metcalfe.

"That's enough from you, James Perry McLain," Mama reprimanded, ignoring the straining organist. It was easy to see that Mama was disappointed over the turn of affairs and so disturbed that she didn't notice by now that Elaine had both stockings rolled down around her ankles like tire tubes.

People naturally milled around, trying to get the story of the stranger from each of us. "Mr. Moody, did you say? Well, not really! Not THE…?"

"No, the evangelist has been dead for twelve years."

Papa kept trying to drag Mama and the rest of us away. He was feeling and patting himself all over, reaching into every pocket in his suit. "Where's my watch?" he said.

"You probably left it at home," suggested Mama, bidding goodnight to the satisfied Mrs. Metcalfe. "On the hall rack," she added.

Papa was still patting himself and emptying his pockets. "No!" he said, and Papa was very emphatic.

"Papa had the watch before we started," Elaine remembered. "I saw him put it in his pocket."

"Well, come on," Mama coaxed. "We'll look at home." She waved us toward the door. "Elaine! Pull up those stockings!"

Arriving home, we found the door unlocked, which started Jimmy yelling about his arrowheads and Elaine wailing about Jezebel. The watch was not on the hall rack, nor anywhere else in the house. Jimmy and Elaine found their treasures, and with sighs of relief joined the rest of us in the search for the watch. Our searching turned up some very startling facts. A number of other items were missing!

The silver candlesticks that Aunt Eloise had sent last Christmas were gone from the parlor mantel. Papa's diamond stickpin was missing from the dresser drawer, along with the solid gold initialed bracelet that Papa had given Mama on their first wedding anniversary. But when Mama discovered that her chest of good silverware was gone from the buffet in the dining room, she sat down in a chair and started to cry.

"He had such an honest face," she kept repeating.

Papa put his arm around her and comforted her with, "There, there now, Mama. There, there, Emily." But she kept right on sobbing as though every dream she had ever had in life was shattered.

"He can't get very far with those big candlesticks and that chest of silver," I said, "and we'll find them in some pawn shop."

Papa looked down at Mama for a long time, and then he stiffened and slapped his open hand down on the table. We all jumped, not because he did it with such force, but because such an act on the part of Papa was so unusual.

"Emily!" he said. He never called her "Emily" unless he was either very affectionate or very much disturbed. "This has gone far enough---honest face or no!"

That statement was the nearest Papa ever came to raising his voice. Papa, you see, is very logical. Mama may have often quoted "You can't judge a man by his face," but she never really believed it. Papa was very calm as he walked deliberately over to the wall where the telephone was, turned the crank and lifted the receiver.

"Give me the police station," he said. "I want to report a robbery."

We had a session after that, trying to calm Mama and reassure her that it was all for the best. It wasn't long at all until we heard footsteps on the front porch.

"Hey, it's the police!" Jimmy said. "I'll get the door."

Then, filling the doorway, with Mama's chest of silver tucked under one arm, the two candlesticks jutting out from under the other, one hand clutching the bracelet and stickpin and the other dangling Papa's watch, stood Mr. Moody.

Papa didn't say a word, he just stood there as if he couldn't quite believe his eyes, and yet he was calm about the whole thing. It was Mama who couldn't stand it, and for joy she started crying again and wiping her eyes. "I just knew you'd come back, Mr. Moody," she said. "You have an honest face."

Mr. Moody coughed. "Just couldn't do it," he explained to Papa.

Papa motioned for him to put the returned loot on the table, then we all waited breathlessly for his explanation.

Mr. Moody wiped his chin on his coat sleeve. "Got as far as the freight yards," he said, "then I got to thinking. Got to thinking about what you said and what that preacher said----"

"Isn't that wonderful!" Mama cried.

"What did you say to him, Papa?" Jimmy piped up.

Mr. Moody sighed deeply and turned from the table. "Your Papa was telling about the Lord loving people like me," he said.

Papa blew and huffed onto his glasses and wiped them with his handkerchief. "And that's why you brought all our things back?" asked Papa. He pushed the glasses back on his nose and then picked up his watch and fondly pocketed it.

"Well," Mr. Moody coughed. "I don't know. I still don't believe it. That's what's been bothering me." He was scratching his head. "That business about love, and that prodigal son story, just don't make sense."

There was a long pause, when you could hear Elaine yawn disgracefully, and Papa told Mama that maybe she'd better put the child to bed. Mama and Elaine disappeared up the stairs, and Jimmy and I went to a corner of the room, hoping Papa would let us stay to hear the rest.

"May I ask you a question?" Papa asked the man. He kept scratching his head and nodded to Papa.

"You say the fact that God loves you doesn't make sense."

"That's right. A man like me just ain't no good."

"Well, take a good look at me," and Papa stood there, short, puny and scraggly. The man looked him over carefully and shook his head.

Papa looked up over his glasses at the big man. "Now, tell me honestly. Do you think my wife loves me?"

"Why----sure. Sure, she loves you."

"How do you know for sure?"

The man rubbed his mouth again with his sleeve like it was a nervous habit. "Well, I guess from the way she acts." He looked over at Jimmy and me. "An' I guess you've been married a long time."

Papa nodded. "And does it make sense to you that Mama loves me?"

The man looked at Papa again, and Jimmy snickered. "Well--I don't know."

"Come now, you won't hurt my feelings," said Papa. "Tell me, does it make sense that my wife loves me?"

"Well, no, not really." He shook his shaggy head.

"There you are," said Papa, all smiles. "If love can be without logic and sense between humans, how much more so with God."

The man was beginning to break down, you could see that in his eyes and the way he was twisting his hat in his hands. Jimmy and I edged toward the door just as Mama came back downstairs.

"Come in here, Mama," Papa motioned her past us and into the parlor, and then stood there with his arm around her shoulder. "Do you love me, Mama?"

Mama looked a bit horrified at the suggestion. "Why, Papa! Such a silly question."

"Yes or No?"

"Yes, certainly. You know very well that I love you!"

"Why?" Papa was looking her straight in the eye, and poor Mama was becoming more and more flustered.

"Why? Well, I don't know. I just do, that's all."

"Because of my looks?"

That was good for a laugh. But Mama remained serious. "No."

"Because of my money?"

"Papa must be sick," said Jimmy quietly to me, shaking his head so that his hair fell back down in his eyes. "When did he ever have…"

"No," said Mama.

"Can't you give me one good reason why you love me?"

Mama's face turned redder than Grandfather Perry's barn. Mr. Moody looked shocked. Papa just chuckled.

"Now, don't you be ashamed, Mama," he said. "God doesn't give any reason for loving any of us, either. He just does, that's all---even if it doesn't make sense. The Bible says that 'Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…'"

Mama motioned to Jimmy and me, and we all slipped out into the hall, and Mama closed the door.

"Isn't he wonderful!" Mama said. And there were tears in her eyes. I was going to ask if she meant Papa or Mr. Moody, but there was another knock at the door.

Patrolman Murphy made his entrance, complete with his blue uniform and bright badge.

"Oh!" Mama put her hand over her mouth. "You can't arrest him, Officer. He's a good man." She backed against the door and spread her arms out like a mother hen does with her wings.

"Now, now, Mrs. McLain," the officer said. "Don't get excited. Where is your husband? He called about a robbery."

"You can't go in there!" Mama insisted. "He hasn't done anything wrong. Anyway, he brought everything back."

"Who? Your husband?"

"No---Mr. Moody." Mama didn't put her arms down. She really looked like she meant business.

"You mean that the thief is in there?" and the cop reached for his gun.

"Sure is," Jimmy said. "And Papa is talking to him about the Lord."

At this point the door to the parlor opened, and Papa stood there with a smile on his face and the knees of his pants baggier than ever.

"How do ya' do, Mr. McLain," the policeman said, smiling.

"Mr. Murphy," said Papa, holding out his hand. "Sorry to put you to all this trouble, but the man has returned with all our things.'

"Sure, and I wish they'd all do that." The officer looked up at Mr. Moody, who was towering in back of Papa.

Papa explained to the policeman that the man had no home.

"We'll take care of him," Mr. Murphy said. "Perhaps they'll be having a spare bed in the Mission."

Mr. Moody was looking over at Mama and smiling. "I'm a different man now," he said.

"You have a good face," Mama insisted. "An honest face."

"And the Lord has added an honest heart," Mr. Moody finished her words as he followed Officer Murphy to the door. "My name, by the way, ain't Moody. Not that it matters."

"No," Papa agreed, "for tonight there's a new name written down in glory."

Mr. Moody nodded and wiped another streak down his cheek.

Mr. Murphy was puzzled. "What's all this about a 'new name?'" he asked.

Mr. Moody, with his battered hat and a red Gospel of John in his hands, looked from one to another about the hall, and he finally turned to the officer. "I'd like to tell you how the Lord Jesus Christ saved me tonight. I'm now a child of God."

The policeman put on his cap. "Well, you can tell me about it on the way to the Mission. Let's go." Perhaps Mr. Murphy wasn't too enthusiastic about hearing the man's story since he wasn't saved himself. But this man he was taking to the Mission for the night sure was.

Mr. Moody climbed into the sidecar next to the policeman, leaving our lives as mysteriously as he had entered just a few hours earlier.

Mama waved, "Good night, Mr. Moody!"

Papa pulled out his gold watch, checked the time, and motioned Jimmy and me toward the stairs. Dragging ourselves towards our beds, we turned around just in time to see Mama in Papa's arms.

"Oh, Papa, you're wonderful!" Mama said, with her arms around his neck.

"She meant 'Papa' all the time," I whispered to Jimmy.

Jimmy nudged me and winked. "Papa is like the real Mr. Moody on the inside, isn't he?"

"Sure is," I added. "Didn't Papa throw the stranger the lifeline?"

Jimmy and I had just discovered the secret that Mama had known all these years, because as we turned the bend in the stairs and took our last peek back, Mama was kissing her hero.

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