“The plains are all awave with grass,
The skies are deepest blue;
And leisurely the cattle pass,
And feed the long day through.”
From “With the Cattle” ~ Banjo Patterson
Jemimah felt more confident than she could have expected as she drove up the gravel driveway to the Turnbull’s house. Angie had suggested they leave church before her father and grandmother, so that Jemimah couldn’t take the easy way out by simply following their car, and Jemimah felt a glow of achievement in having recognised for herself the network of roads from the map Angie had drawn for her that morning.
Even her worries about lunch with the Turnbulls had all but evaporated. When she and Angie had parked beside them in the church car park, Angie’s father and grandmother welcomed Jemimah as though she were a long lost daughter. Dealing with church had been easier too, for although there were still a number of people she hadn’t met, she was no longer the central focus of everyone’s attention as she had been the week before.
Now Jemimah guided her car along the two parallel tracks that stretched for about half a kilometre toward a house that lay almost obscured behind an arc of thickly planted trees. On either side of the drive were fenced paddocks, and brown and white cows clustered beneath the handful of trees that studded the rough grass.
“That tree came down a couple of weeks ago,” Angie pointed to an uprooted gum that lay not far from the drive. “We get some pretty ferocious wind storms out here - that’s why Nan’s planted so many trees around the house. You try to get them close enough to buffer some of the wind, but not close enough to crash through the house if they fall. I don’t like the wind.”
A curve in the track brought into view a turning circle that swept around a raised garden bed, but just as Jemimah began to admire the beautiful roses, two dogs, like barrels on short legs, ran furiously barking into her path.
She stopped the car dead, and Angie sighed loudly.
“Just drive on, Jemimah, they’ll get out of your way.”
Jemimah moved forward a little way, slamming the brakes on again when the dogs looked as though they were about to go straight under her wheels. They swarmed the car, yapping, and she quickly wound up her window.
“But I don’t want to run over them.”
“Starting and stopping like this is a lot more confusing for them than just driving in normally. Trust me, they’re used to it.”
Jemimah couldn’t think of a worse impression than running over the Turnbull’s dogs, and hoping Angie was right, drove very slowly up to the house. As Angie had predicted, the dogs escaped to bark about it, but observing their vigorous attention and sharp teeth Jemimah didn’t dare leave the car.
“What are you waiting for?” Angie asked, getting out and giving the dogs a brief pat.
“Can you .… can you make them go away?” Jemimah was sure that the moment she opened her door the dogs would be all over her.
“They won’t hurt you. Not while I’m here anyway.” Angie waited for her a moment longer, then shook her head and walked over to grab the dog’s collars. “Okay - are you happy?”
The dogs were straining against Angie’s firm grip, and while Jemimah might have found puppies in a pet shop window rather sweet to look at, there was nothing attractive about these two animals. They were solid and graceless, their short coats coarse and grizzled, one grey patched with black, the other a dirty tan colour.
Jemimah slid out of the car and went to edge her way around the dogs but Angie insisted that she pat them, and let them know her scent. Reluctantly she obeyed, wrinkling her nose at their strong odour.
“Yeah, they stink - I know,” Angie pulled at the grey dog’s ears, “but they’re cattle dogs - not house pets. Now, put you hand just under their noses … that’s it. Good dogs!”
Jemimah swallowed hard and endured her revulsion as their rough tongues smeared dog saliva over her fingers, and hoped the Turnbulls kept some strong disinfectant in the bathroom.
At the sound of the Turnbull’s car the dogs broke from Angie’s grip and barrelled down the long drive to greet them with another barking frenzy. They followed the car until it pulled up in the carport at the near end of the house, and then without losing speed returned to Jemimah. As they lunged toward her, Jemimah squealed and jumped backwards, throwing up her arms to ward them off. Just as she was sure they were going to jump up on her, Angie’s grandmother whistled shrilly, and the dogs immediately wheeled around and ran to her.
The older lady walked up to Jemimah, her bright blue eyes complemented by the chambray shirt she wore tucked into a moleskin skirt. The dogs trotted by her side, then sat panting by her feet when she stopped.
“Sorry about that, Jemimah - they’re a bit excitable,” she said as she slipped one hand behind Jemimah’s back and guided her toward the house, “but they’re worth their weight in gold as watchdogs. And really quite sweet when you get to know them.” She bent down to scratch the tan dog behind the ear, then opened the front door, which Jemimah noted in surprise hadn’t even been locked. The homely aroma of roast beef met them at the door, and the two girls followed her inside.
“Why don’t you show Jemimah where the bathroom is, and then give her the tour of the house while I check on lunch?” Mrs Turnbull suggested, and Jemimah blushed, as she realised she had been holding her dog-licked hands awkwardly away from her body.
Thanking God for the antiseptic handwash that stood behind the more fragrant soap-on-tap on the bathroom vanity, Jemimah scrubbed her hands thoroughly and then followed Angie through the house. The Turnbull’s home was a relatively modern brick dwelling, built in a long rectangle facing west. At one end lay the kitchen, family and casual dining area - it was into this area they had entered the house from the large patio, and at the southern end was Pastor Turnbull’s study - where Jemimah had seen him go with his briefcase directly through a second entrance closer to the carport. A long hallway ran between these two sections - with bedrooms on one side of the hall and a large formal lounge room on the other.
It seemed an ideal set-up to Jemimah, with the study far enough away from the main family area for Angie’s father to work - or speak with visitors - undisturbed by the other occupants in the house. Pastor Turnbull was just taking a few things out the briefcase on his desk when the girls passed his door, and he promised to join them shortly, returning his attention to his papers as Jemimah turned with Angie into the large formal area.
Jemimah’s eyes were immediately drawn to the black upright piano that stood between two large picture windows. On the wall above the piano hung photographic portraits of the Turnbull family, and on top of the piano smaller framed photos were arranged on either side of a bowl of red and white roses.
She stared at the largest family portrait, seeing for the first time the wife and mother who had been so suddenly taken from her family. Slightly built and standing in the protective curve of her husband’s arm, Mrs Turnbull had the same understated beauty as her daughter Gabi. Jemimah’s gaze shifted to Michael and the unexpected sensation of joy she felt in just seeing his image was so strong that it physically hurt. Michael had grown a little taller since the portrait had been taken, but he was not vastly changed, although his youthful face was softer and his eyes were without the serious intensity she’d been aware of the moment she’d first seen him.
“That was the most irritating day when we got those photos taken.” Angie had come up beside her unnoticed. “I hated that dress - and we’d travelled all the way to Tamworth in a heatwave to have them done.”
Angie-in-the-picture was looking more than a little fed up, and Jemimah acknowledged that the pink frock she was wearing did nothing for her warm colouring. Angie really looked no more than a child, in the awkward first stage of adolescence and her face still chubby with puppy fat. Standing beside her, her sister Gabi was clearly maturing into womanhood and already exuded the aura of serenity that Jemimah had so welcomed that first day they’d met.
Jemimah had begun to glance over the family snapshots on the piano when Pastor Turnbull entered the room behind them. She’d just caught sight of one of Michael as a young boy, and it cost her something to tear her eyes away from it and turn to his father.
“You have a beautiful home,” she told him softly, “and a beautiful family. I can’t help admiring all these pictures.”
“Thank you, Jemimah. Yes - my wife was the real photographer in the family, that’s why there’s not so many recent ones. It’s all I can do to remember to get the camera out from birthday to birthday.”
“Yeah, and before I bought the digital camera, we’d get the film processed and find two consecutive birthdays of the same person on the one roll,” Angie added with a chuckle. “I think that’s the end of the grand tour now anyway, Jemimah, unless you want to see the sheds - and trust me - you don’t. Why don’t we see if Nan’s got lunch ready - I’m starved. You preached overtime today, Dad.”
“Aren’t you lucky that I decided not to use all the material I had prepared then?” He tousled Angie’s hair and led the way toward the dining room. He’d divested himself of his tie since leaving church, and Jemimah smiled to herself as she followed him. She already liked him very much indeed.
Although Pastor Turnbull’s hair was streaked with grey, and deep creases lined his cheeks, he had retained the same good looks that made Michael so handsome. His voice was deep and grave, yet the twinkle that always lurked in his brown eyes kept him from being too intimidating. Jemimah had enjoyed his preaching that morning, and although some of it had gone over her head, the theme was one she was eager to learn about.
Apparently, he’d been preaching his way through the book of 1st Peter but after returning from sick leave had decided to develop the brief mention of prayer in the fourth chapter into a short series on prayer. That morning he’d focussed on the first part of the Lord’s Prayer (or the Disciple’s Prayer as he liked to call it) and the phrase “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name”.
Pastor Turnbull had opened up many other scriptures as well to show how important it was when a believer came to God in prayer, that they were foremostly focussed on God’s glory - his name and his praise - rather than just their own shopping list of requests and concerns. As she entered the dining room behind him, Jemimah realised that rather than dreading being asked about the sermon over lunch, she actually hoped for a chance to ask a couple of questions about the message.
Mrs Turnbull was already serving up a full roast dinner when they joined her around the table, and Jemimah thanked her warmly for going to so much trouble.
“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” she replied warmly, then impulsively kissed Jemimah on the cheek. “And just call me Nan - everyone else does.”
Jemimah wasn’t sure if it was Nan’s kind gesture, or something else indefinable about the Turnbull’s relaxed hospitality, but it wasn’t long until she felt the same sense of belonging that she’d experienced on that first Sunday night with Michael and Angie. Gabi had apologised at church that she would be dining at the Hart’s, but the table still seemed pleasantly full with only the four of them.
She was even able to smile when Angie recounted some of their adventures during her lessons in country driving the day before, and when Jemimah shyly told them how she’d been taken in by Jack’s ruse about eating barbecued road-kill for dinner Pastor Turnbull and Nan had to wipe the tears of laughter from their eyes.
It was nearly three o’clock when Jemimah finished her dessert, and she was amazed at herself for talking as much as she had. Somehow, Pastor Turnbull and Nan had known just the right questions to ask her - nothing so personal as to make her feel embarrassed, and nothing that stirred up the homesickness that always lay close to the surface of her emotions. The moment she put down her spoon though, she felt a subtle change in the atmosphere as Pastor Turnbull rose from his chair.
“I’m sorry, but I’ve really got to watch my time now - there are always a few things I need to go over before the evening service - and I did want to have a word with you, Jemimah, about your application to transfer your church membership. If you don’t mind coming through to my study now, we can have our hot drinks afterwards.”
It was silly to feel as though she was on her way to the headmaster’s office, Jemimah told herself as she followed him down the long hallway for what must surely be a mere formality. But all the same, when she sat down in front of the desk opposite Pastor Turnbull and discovered she could no longer even hear the others clearing away the dishes, she wished his study were neither quite so formal nor so distant from the relaxed family areas of the house.
© R. L. Brown 2007