And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel… I Samuel 4:21
Ichabod was born on the saddest day of his life. His father had been the pastor in the small town just a few miles down the dirt road from the farm where Ichabod grew up. Turns out Pastor Finn had never learned to practice what he preached, and when he got tangled up counseling a woman a little too intimately, he ended up dead at the hands of the woman’s disgruntled husband. When Ichabod’s mother heard the news, her water broke. Labor lasted a whole day and tore her up so badly; she barely lived long enough to name the child, her last memory of a woman who died in a similar way long ago.
That was fifteen years ago. After his mother died, Ichabod’s Uncle Sam and Aunt Hannah, having no children of their own, were happy to take him under their roof. Ichabod loved his uncle and aunt. They treated him like a son, and he considered them his parents. When he was old enough they sent him to the little country school every winter where he learned to read and write. Aunt Hannah gave him an extra strip of bacon for every A that appeared on his report card. Ichabod always ate well those mornings. He was good at school. But his real passion was the farm. He loved to guide the plow, beads of sweat dripping down his face as the sun scorched his bare back.
Every Sunday the little family went to church. Every Sunday, when the preacher started talking about putting your burdens on God, letting him bear you up on eagle’s wings, Ichabod could feel the stares on the back of his head. He could hear his name in their whispers. He hated that. He didn’t hate church, it even appealed to him a bit. But he hated being the center of attention. He hated being defined in the minds of so many people by the parents he had never even known.
The rooster crowed at dawn as always. The half sun that peeked over the horizon painted the sky in orange and pink when Ichabod crossed the yard to the barn where Bess was stabled. He wanted to get an early start in the fields before breakfast. He was just about to start the first furrow when Uncle Sam’s bearded face emerged from behind the screen door on the porch. Ichabod waited as he approached.
“Ichabod, you’re going to town today.”
His heart sunk. “But we got work to do Uncle. I already hitched up Bess.” The big horse shook its head impatiently.
“I’m doin’ the plowin’ today, boy. Aunt Hannah’s got errands for ya. She ain’t feelin’ well enough to do ‘em herself. Don’t-cha worry boy, these old limbs can still handle ol’ Bess.”
Aunt Hannah turned from the stove when she heard the screen door slap shut.
“Oh there you are Ichabod. Would you be a dear and run this envelope to Pastor John for me?”
She didn’t look unwell to Ichabod. “But Aunty, I need to be in the fields today…”
She cut him off, “Just be a good boy and do as your Aunty says. I packed a lunch for you in a napkin. Go on now, I want you back here before sundown.”
Ichabod sighed, put the napkin and the envelope in a sack and head out the door without another word.
Pastor John seemed a good man, but everyone had said the same about Ichabod’s father. Uncle Sam and Aunt Hannah trusted him just fine. They were emphatic about the need to be in church every Sunday. “You need to hear it, Ichabod,” Uncle Sam would always say. “You need to hear about Jesus.”
Ichabod had always liked hearing the Bible stories. Uncle Sam had read the Bible after supper for all of Ichabod’s life. His favorite Bible-story was, of course, his name-sake. It wasn’t a happy story, but Ichabod liked it all the same because he was in it. But come to think of it, Ichabod liked hearing just about any story. Aunt Hannah would read him stories about knights and castles when he was a little boy before he went to bed. In the end, whether a story came from the Bible or not, Ichabod didn’t really care. Stories were just stories, after all. What mattered in life was making sure the fields got plowed and sown, otherwise there wouldn’t be no supper to read the Bible after anyway.
Ichabod could see the little town in the distance; just a few small buildings with a big white church steeple standing a couple heads taller than the rest. The sun was getting pretty high in the sky and his stomach was beginning to grumble. Ichabod plopped down under a maple tree just off the side of the road and opened up his lunch. The little envelope he was delivering caught his eye as he took a big bite of salted beef. His lunch finished, he took a long draw of smoke from his little wooden pipe and let his curiosity get the better of him. He picked up the envelope and shook it but it felt as light as a feather and made nary a sound. He lifted it up against the sun but the envelope was too opaque to see the inside. What was aunty up to? He shrugged off the thought, packed up his things, and started the last lap of the trip.
Though the shortest way to the parsonage was through the town center, Ichabod knew that more people meant more stares and whispers, so he took a detour. He walked down the little brick path to the house’s side door, where Pastor John had his study, and imagined what it would have been like to have grown up in town. Only the screen door blocked the entry, so Ichabod knocked three times on the wall. A voice beckoned him inside, so inside he went.
The first thing that caught his eye was all the books. Pastor John had shelves upon shelves of books. Some looked old and crumbly, some looked freshly rebound. Pastor John himself sat on a wooden chair behind a large wooden desk, wreathed in blue smoke from the cigar propped up in an ashtray. He was dressed as always in a black suit coat with tails, his face jammed into his hand giving it a rather contorted expression as he pored over a large book in the center of the desk. His eyes flicked upwards when Ichabod entered the room. Pulling off his reading glasses he leaned back in his chair and a big smile tightened the wrinkles on his face.
“Ichabod! Well it appears that the glory has departed your old uncle and aunt and come to pay me a visit! Sit down, sit down…”
Ichabod said hello while handing Pastor John the envelope and then sat down on the only other chair in the room. The thrice delightful aroma of leather, paper, and cigar smoke was intoxicating. Pastor John tore open the envelope, which contained a letter. As his eyes darted back and forth Pastor John’s wrinkles returned to their normal position, but his expression remained soft.
“Ichabod…do you know why your aunt and uncle sent you here?”
“To deliver that envelope, sir.”
“Well, yes. But do you know what this letter says?”
Pastor John took a draw from his cigar and chewed the smoke for a while before letting it seep past his lips. Ichabod thought of pulling out his pipe but decided it might not be appropriate.
“They speak very highly of you. Your uncle says you’ve always been a very hard worker…he’d hate to give you up but he’s prepared to make sacrifices…”
That made Ichabod’s ears perk up. His hand started to creep into his coat pocket.
“…and your aunt says you’re very bright. Always enjoyed learning about the Bible. Got good grades in school…”
Ichabod lit a match and listened to the tobacco crackle in the pipe’s bowl as he sucked on the mouthpiece. Pastor John didn’t even seem to notice. Glancing back up from the page he said,
“Ichabod, why do fields yield crops?”
Ichabod was a little irritated. “What’s this all about, Pastor? I came here to deliver an envelope. I’ve done that now and would just as soon head home. Aunt Hannah wants me back before sundown and its already well past noon.”
Pastor John was a statue, and when he spoke his tone was calm but firm, “Just answer the question, boy.”
Ichabod stared out the window as he thought. “Well, every good farmer knows its rain and sunshine that makes a good harvest. You’re a pastor so I suppose the answer you’re lookin’ for is God, and that’s true enough I believe.”
“True enough, my dear boy, true enough. But you’re overlooking something, or rather someone. Who plows the field and sows the seed? Who spends the long hours in the hot summer sun hunting for weeds? Who prays for the rain?”
to be continued