I’d been a wife for five months when I left my husband at home to go on tour with the choir to recruit students for the church college where we lived. Denny had to stay home to teach classes and guard the wine we’d hidden in our refrigerator. Is Denny as worried as I am?
As much as I wanted to go on this trip, I felt troubled about leaving. The half-empty bottle of wine nagged at my conscience. We shoud’ve thrown it away, but didn’t want to waste it. When our bus stopped for gas I placed a collect call. The operator asked for my name and I said, “Betty Peal,” forgetting I had a new last name. Luckily, Denny knew who I was. When he answered I said, “Honey, I can’t explain how much I miss you. Do you miss me?”
“Betty, I haven’t had time.”
“Denny, I’ve been gone for five whole hours.”
“I know, I know—but right after you left, something happened. A scandal broke on campus.”
“Yes. The college president wants to fire the football coach because he cusses and steals towels from any team that beats us, and whenever we win he drinks beer with the team .”
“Denny, why are you so upset? Are you and the coach really good buddies?”
“Not at all. I’m upset because someone will be questioning the faculty under oath about these accusations that I know are true. But, how can I report anyone when we’re hiding wine in our own refrigerator?”
All we had wanted to do was create a fine dinner but we created a dreadful mess instead. Denny’s predicament at the college frustrated and worried me. He promised to keep me informed by way of the church addresses supplied ahead of time. I shared his troubles with his sister and her husband who were also on the trip. When Denny’s first letter arrived, all three of us huddled close to read his one-line letter.
“Dear Betty, I transferred the beet juice into a canning jar.”
Glenna said, “I hope he saved that pretty bottle.”
I said, “Me too.”
In the short time we’d been married, I discovered that no matter how upset he was, Denny appeared calm. I wasn’t used to such unnatural composure.
A longer letter arrived the next day.
“My dearest Betty–tomorrow is interrogation day.
I flushed the beet juice down the toilet. It was spoiled.” — Denny
Denny’s impending grilling could flatten our future in one meeting. He didn’t like to rock the boat or do anything to alter the way people saw him. Me? I was just angry.” I lingered on those thoughts too long, causing my stomach to boil. I had a solo with the choir that night and on the way to the stage, I whispered to our director, “I think I’m gonna throw up.”
“Good Grief, Betty! Drop out of line.”
I slipped away from the procession and went to the back of the church, eyes scanning every row for an isolated pew where I could lie down. I used an opened hymnal for a pillow, and stretched out flat so no one could see me but God. Then I closed my eyes and listened to our entire concert while hidden from view.
The pure, clear tones of our choir sounded prayer-like, a distraction from my worries. I barely felt the hardness of the bench under my hip bones and the music sent thrills down my arms and legs. When the program ended with a tender rendition of “All on an April Evening,” warm tears trickled into my ears, and my nose ran something awful. I turned into an emotional mess caught with no handkerchief and wiped it all away with the back of my hand.
The next day I dreaded calling Denny, afraid of what might have happened at the interrogation. When he answered I said, “Okay, Honey…break it to me gently.”
He said, “I will. Are you ready?”
“Before my turn to be questioned even came up…they had fired the coach.”
I almost fainted from relief and couldn’t wait to tell Carl and Glenna. I felt guilty that someone else got fired and not us, believing that stealing towels was worse than drinking wine.
We performed our last concert in Southern California then headed home where Denny welcomed us with a simple dinner he’d fixed by himself. After giving thanks for our many blessings, Carl said, “Hey, Auch, did you put any of that Manny-shevvy in these pork chops?”
Denny said, “Heck no. That stuff traumatized me so much that I dumped it.”
Glenna said, “I loved that pretty bottle.”
“That fancy decanter was a real pain. I wrapped it in five layers of newspaper, wound string around it, and put it in a gunny sack. After the boys upstairs went to sleep, I sneaked to the basement with a hammer and whacked the daylights out of that bottle and pushed the bag deep into the garbage can.”
I said, “Well, I’m glad it’s over.”
Denny said, “Me too. Never again will we buy anything we have to hide.”
I said, “I’ll drink to that.”
Denny said, “Betty, that’s not one bit funny.”
Carl and Glenna hid their smiles while I reminded myself that Denny had no sense of humor. I would have to change that.
* * *