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EVEN THOUGH HE’S A PREACHER’S SON.

By Lois Jean Thomas

September 2023

 

Several days ago. I was chatting with my friend Vera. She's my neighbor here on the second floor of Building A of the Heartland Condominiums in Martinsville, IN.

We were talking about the fact that someone had just moved into the empty unit on the third floor of our building. I have lived here in my condo ever since I retired eight years ago. Vera has been here almost as long.

We have seen many units change hands since then. Condos are constantly being bought and sold. So, Vera and I have seen many neighbors come and go.

“Who moved in?” I asked her. “A family? A couple?”

“No,” she replied. “She’s a single lady like us. She's really nice. I was able to talk with her yesterday when she was sitting out by the pool. Her name is Edith Stearns.”

I startled when I heard that familiar name. “Are you kidding me?” I said. “Edith Stearns was my high school chemistry teacher.”

“This can't be the same person,” Vera said. “I don’t think this lady is any older than we are. Any of our former teachers who are still living would be in their 90s by now.”

“It could be the same person,” I insisted. “When I was taking chemistry my senior year, she had just graduated from college and was in her early 20s, not that much older than her 17 and 18- year- old students.”

“Maybe it is her, then,” Vera said. “How many Edith Stearns could there be? You should talk with her and find out. She likes to sit out by the pool. Why don't we go out there this afternoon? If she's there, I'll introduce the two of you.”

A few hours later, we did just that.

“I think you were my high school chemistry teacher,” I said to our new neighbor. “About 50 years ago.”

“Oh yes.” she said. “Grace Thornhill. You were one of my best students. It's wonderful to see you after all these years.”

“What brought you here to Heartland Condominiums?” I asked her.

“My husband and I were living in Bloomington.” she said. “We had both taught there at Indiana University.”

“My husband passed away last year. My daughter wanted me to live closer to her and my grandchildren. Her husband is a doctor here in Martinsville, and they have established roots here. So, my son-in-law set me up in this condo.”

“Who is your son-in-law” I asked.

“Doctor Christopher Chandler.” she replied. “He's the oncologist here at the Jacob Chandler Cancer Center next to the hospital.”

I nodded. Not wanting to reveal how shaken I was by hearing a name so familiar to me.

So, I cut my visit short. “I need to go inside,” I said. “It's so nice to see you again, Mirs. Stearns.”

“Call me Edith,” she said. “I hope to talk with you again soon, Grace.”

That brief conversation with Edith. Set the wheels of my memory turning. I was so flooded with emotionally intense memories that I couldn't sleep at all that night.

From my earliest childhood memory, my parents and I had attended the conservative little country church here in Martinsville pastored by Reverend Dean Chandler. We went at least three times a week , virtually any time a service was to be held. Reverend Chandler was a pious little man with a dour expression. He enforced the rules of the church which, he deemed to be the rules of God, with the iron fist that he frequently slammed against his pulpit during one of his fiery sermons.

Reverend Chandler had one son, Jacob. Jake Chandler was as unlike his dour skinny father as any son could possibly be.

He had a muscular build and a square face with chiseled features. And he was just as charming as he was handsome. He won over everyone he met. The young women and teenage girls in our church gushed over him. I was no exception. Every time I was near him, the air around him seemed to be charged with electricity that made my skin tingle.

People in the church talked a lot about Jake Chandler. They referred to him as a playboy and a ladies’ man. Reverend Chandler had to know people were talking about his son. No doubt, Jake’s reputation embarrassed him.

Jake Chandler was two years older than I was, so I didn’t have much opportunity to interact with him. Mostly, I admired him from a distance.

That is until the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, when my church youth group leaders organized a Friday-night hayride for the youth.

One of the church members, a farmer, offered the use of his tractor along with a wagon filled with bales of hay. Historically these hayrides had been the breeding grounds for mischief between the boys and the girls. However, the boys never got anywhere with me, because I didn’t find any of them to be interesting or attractive. I had grown up with all of them, so kissing one of them would have been like kissing a brother. I wasn’t at all tempted to misbehave.

So, that Friday night between my junior and senior years, I didn’t expect anything interesting at all to happen on that hayride.

I was the first one to climb on the wagon. I made my way to the back, and claimed a seat on a bale of hay, hoping I could sit alone without being bothered by anyone else.

But, the wagon quickly filled up, as young people continued to scramble on, boys and girls pairing up on the bales of hay.

In a minute, a tall boy wearing a hooded sweatshirt made his way toward me. I couldn’t tell who he was at first, because he had this hood pulled up and tied around his face.

He sat down next to me, nudging me over with his hips. My first feeling was annoyance. “Scoot over Grace,” he said, “don’t be selfish. You don’t get to have a whole bale of hay to yourself. Other people need a place to sit too.”

Then I realized who it was who wanted to sit down next to me. It was Jacob Chandler. I quickly scooted over and made room for him to be seated. I felt embarrassed to be scolded by the preacher's son. I knew he was there in the capacity as one of the youth group leaders, as he was quite a bit older than the rest of us.

My nerves, along with the chilly evening air, made my body shiver violently. I hadn't thought to bring along a jacket. There were a number of old blankets scattered around the wagon. Jake grabbed one of them and draped it over our shoulders. And I felt his arm around me, pulling me toward the warmth of his body.

“I hate to see a pretty girl shiver in the cold,” he whispered. Then, under the cover of the blanket, he began rubbing my bare arm, as if to warm it. Then I felt his fingers caressing the back of my neck. And then they were on my waist. Finding the bare skin under the hem of my shirt.

I knew that Jake was doing something wrong. He should have been setting an example for the other young people, instead of fondling one of the girls. Of course, all his actions were done under the cover of the blanket.

Suddenly, I realized his hand was wandering further and further up under my shirt. Then he leaned over and planted a quick kiss on my lips.

“You are so cute, Grace,” He said, “and so sweet! We should go out sometime. “

“That would be nice,” I said without hesitation, “you can call me.” I felt absolutely giddy with pleasure. I couldn’t believe that the magnificent Jacob Chandler wanted to take me on a date.

The tractor and wagon pulled into the church parking lot, where the parents of the youth waited in their cars to take their teenagers home. I looked around and saw that my father wasn’t there yet. Jake noticed the same thing. “Your dad isn’t here,” he said, “Would you like to go for a drive with me?”

I thought that sounded like an innocent activity.  “If you make it a short drive,” I said, “I ‘m sure my dad will be here soon.”

So, I got into his car, and we drove along the White River that runs along the north and west sides of town. On the way back to the church parking lot, Jake reached over to take my hand. My dad was there in the parking lot waiting for me. Jake squeezed my hand and said, “I’ll call you Gracie, I promise.” I was glad that he didn’t try to kiss me in front of my father.

In my naïve 17-year-old way, I had presumed that Jake’s actions of the evening had already established me as his girlfriend.

True to his word, Jake called me Saturday afternoon. And we made plans to go out that evening.

I knew my parents weren’t keen on the idea of me dating. But I figured they would think that me going out with the preacher’s son would be the best possible scenario.

Once again, Jake suggested that we go for a drive, this time, we drove to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest south of town. Jake Stopped at a secluded spot where we weren’t likely to be seen. After a few minutes of awkward kissing in the front seat, Jake said, “I think we would be a lot more comfortable in the back seat.” So that is where we went. There we had full access to each other’s bodies.

As it turned out, for the rest of that summer, Jake took me out every Friday and Saturday evening. Sometimes our date started out with us getting food; once we went to the bowling alley. Usually, though, our dates started with Jake suggesting that we go for a drive. We’d drive along the river, or we’d go to the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. Whenever he would find a place secluded enough where we weren’t likely to be seen, Jake would park the car. I soon came to understand that Jake parking the car signaled that it was time to move into the back seat. I was always nervous, as I feared we would be discovered. But that never happened. I decided that Jake knew what he was doing. For the most part, our time together was spent in the back seat of his car. On our third date, I learned what “going all the way “meant. Once we crossed that threshold, I wasn't hesitant to cross it again and again.

I knew instinctively that I was doing wrong, but I reasoned that Jake, who was older than me, and also the son of a preacher, would never lead me into something I shouldn't do.  And I knew that he wanted me to trust him without question, and I decided to do that.

As we continued our intimacy, my feelings for Jake quickly deepened. I told myself that I was deeply in love with him, in fact, he would be the only man I would ever love. I believed that our intimate activities were binding us together for life.

Jake never spoke of his feelings for me., But his passionate kisses and tender caresses told me everything I needed to know, everything I wanted to believe. My parents never questioned me about our relationship. Little did they know that Jacob Chandler posed a much greater threat to my virtue than did any other boy in the community.

Jake and I carried on like this together until the first Friday evening in September, when he said, “Gracie, we can't go out tomorrow night because tomorrow morning I'm leaving to go back to college.”

“I don't want you to go!” I protested, clinging to him.

 “Don't be silly, Gracie,” he said. “I need to finish my education and get my business degree, so I can get ahead in life. Don't you want that for me?”

“Of course,” I whimpered. “But I love you and I'll miss you so much.”

“We’ll still see each other when I come home on breaks,” He reassured me. “And I'll call you whenever I can.”

“Will you be true to me?” I sniffled. “I don't want you to go out with any other girls.”

“That’s not fair, Gracie,” he snapped. “You can't expect a college boy not to have fun. Those are the best years of a guy's life. I'm not asking you to wait for me. I want you to enjoy the rest of your high school years. If you want to go out with another guy, go ahead.”

His lack of possessiveness hurt me deeply. I pulled away from him.

“Don't ruin our last night together before I leave by getting into a snit, Gracie,” he said. “I want to remember you as the sweet girl you really are. Remember, we'll be seeing each other when I come home on breaks. If you feel like you want to talk to me, then write me a letter.”

I ended up writing to Jake almost every day, pouring my heart out to him. But he never wrote back. And I finally realized that the boy I was so desperately in love with wasn't in love with me.

He never called me at all, not until he came home for his Thanksgiving break.

He came to pick me up on Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving. We quickly found our way into the back seat of his car.

So, have you been with anyone else?” I asked as he began making love to me.

“Grace, we already talked about this,” he said. “Let's not ruin our time together by fighting over stupid stuff.”

Jake had a very effective way of silencing me whenever I brought up topics he didn't like. He would find a way to make me be the one at fault.

When Christmas break came around, Jake was home from college for two weeks, and we saw each other quite a few times. He once again became impatient with me when I started asking questions about his activities with the girls at college.

“if you are going to keep acting like this Grace,” he said, “then I think we should break things off between us.”

My anger flared.” Fine,” I huffed. “I don't want to go out with someone I can't trust. Take me home, Jake.”

When he tried to kiss me goodnight, I pushed him away.

“Grace,” he said. “You know I care a lot about you, we have such a good time together.”

I was unmoved. In my mind, I made a New Year's resolution: to never let Jacob Chandler touch me again.

That happened on the last day of my holiday break. The next day, I had to go back to school. I was so hurt and so shaken that I was on the verge of tears all day long. By the time I went to Miss Stearns sixth hour chemistry class. I could no longer hold myself together. My resolve broke. I buried my face in my folded arms on my desk and sobbed.

Mrs. Stearns walked to my desk, put her hand on my shoulder, and asked, “What has you so upset, Grace? Were your holidays difficult?”

“Yes and no,” I blubbered.

“Stay a few minutes after class,” she urged. “You have study hall next hour, don't you?”

I nodded. As soon as the bell rang, the other students began rushing out of the room. Mrs. Sterns motioned for me to come sit in an empty chair by her desk.

“Grace,” she said, “you are usually such a level-headed young woman. So, I know something must have gone terribly wrong over the break to get you this upset. Are you talking to anyone about this?”

I shook my head. “I don't have anyone to talk to.”

“Talk to me,” she responded. “I'm here to listen.”

So, I did. I began recounting what had happened between Jacob Chandler and me, beginning with the evening of the hayride. I told Mrs. Stearns about Jake’s refusal to promise not to see other girls at college while still wanting to spend time with me when he came home on break.

“I know you have strong feelings for this young man,” she said. “But no guy is worth crying over like this. From my point of view, this guy is a scoundrel, He is manipulating and using you. I know it hurts for you to hear that.”

When I told her about Jake breaking up with me, tears began pouring from my eyes again.

“When do you think he'll be home again?” She asked.

“Easter weekend,” I replied.

“What are you going to do?” She asked, “When he wants to take you out again.”

“I’ll say no,” I said.

“Good for you, Grace,” she said. “Never forget that you always have the power to say no. No matter what Jake said about breaking things off, I can guarantee you that he'll still try to talk you into something again. Please be careful, Grace.”

As it turned out, Jake did come home Easter weekend. I wasn’t surprised to see him, but I was surprised that he had brought a young woman with him. They walked around holding hands. She seemed to be clinging to him in desperation. I actually felt sorry for her, as I figured she was probably seeking the same kind of commitment from Jake that I had wanted from him.

She was a skinny girl, and was wearing baggy clothing. But once when I caught a glimpse of her from the side, I saw a suspicious bulge in her midsection. And then, I heard the women around me speculating that she was pregnant.” I’d say about 4 months,” one woman said, “what do you think Grace?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “I’ve never been pregnant, so I don’t know how to tell how far along someone is.” Just as I made that statement, it hit me that I could very easily have been the girl with the bulging belly.

After the service ended, I rushed out to the church parking lot. I didn’t want to be part of any more gossip or drama pertaining to Jake and his girlfriend.

As I stood out there by my parent’s car, Jake seemed to appear out of nowhere. He was alone. “Where is your girlfriend?” I asked him.

“Diane’s in the ladies room,” he told me. “For your information she isn’t my girlfriend.”

“Well, everyone thinks you’ve knocked her up,” I said testily.

“She’s not pregnant,” he said, “at least not with my baby.” Then he added something I knew was intended to melt my heart and it worked. “I don’t feel the same way about Diane that I feel about you.” Then he looked around furtively, as if to make sure no one was approaching. Then he planted a quick kiss on my lips.

“I care about you so much, Gracie,” he said.

“This isn’t right Jake,” I protested when he tried to kiss me again. “You are here was another girl.”

Moments later Diane walked out the church door. Jake walked toward her and greeted her with a kiss. I felt sick to my stomach.

Three days later, at our Wednesday evening prayer meeting, Jake was there. Diane wasn’t with him. When he greeted me, I asked why he wasn’t at college, He did not respond.

Reverend Chandler started out the service by praying for a list of church members who were sick. Then, quite abruptly he began praying for all the young people who were away at college. He prayed that none of them would yield to the temptations surrounding them. I glanced at Jake and stifled a bitter laugh.

Then just four days later at the Sunday morning service, Jake Chandler was in church again.

At the beginning of the service, Reverend Chandler walked up to stand behind the pulpit. He swept a stern gaze around the congregation. Then he bellowed in and a grim voice, “There has been a terrible violation of God’s law, in this church. It has actually taken place within my own family.”

Then he slammed his fist against the pulpit and called out, “Jacob I believe you have something to say to these good people.”

Then Jake made his way up front, his head hanging. He was holding a white notecard in his hand. He stood behind his father’s pulpit and began reading from the card. “I need to confess that I have done a terrible thing,” he said in a trembling voice. “I am guilty of the sin of fornication, and a young woman is carrying now my illegitimate child.”

The audience gasped. The first thing to hit me was that Jake had lied to me. Still, I felt terribly sorry for him. I could see that he was utterly humiliated by his public confession. At that moment, I hated Reverend Chandler for putting his son through this. I realized that if everyone who had committed the sin of fornication would have to go up front and confess their sin, the line would be quite long, and I would be in it.

As soon as Jake’s confession was over the congregation stood up to sing a closing hymn. I took the opportunity to walk to the back of the church and slip out the door. Both sick at heart and sick to my stomach, I desperately needed fresh air. What I did not need was to talk with Jacob Chandler. But he had long ago figured out my escape route when I wanted to avoid him. Moments after I left the service, there he was in the parking lot, standing beside me.

“Ohh Gracie,” he said, reaching for my hand. I pulled my hand away from his. ”I want you to know,” he said, “that I don’t love Diane, and she doesn’t love me. We don’t plan to get married. We have been talking about putting the baby up for adoption. We don’t love each other, and it would be terribly wrong to try to build a life together.”

“So, Gracie, let me sort this all out. And then we can see what the future holds for you and me.”

I was absolutely shocked. This was the first time that Jake had alluded to the two of us having a future together. But it came, and it came at such a time! Just after I had learned that another girl was pregnant with his child.

“Please don't give up on me, Gracie,” he pleaded. “I couldn't stand it if you did.”

 “All of us need time to think,” I said. “You need to go back to school and take care of business with Diane.” “You're a smart girl, Gracie,” he said, before walking away.

On our drive home from church. I was sure my parents knew how upset I was.

“That's too bad about Jake Chandler,” my dad said. “that young man has just ruined his life.”

Then my mom spoke up. “I don't think Reverend Chandler should have brought the matter up in front of the entire congregation. Some things should be handled privately. Not everyone needs to know everyone else's dirty secrets.”

I thought that was the wisest thing I'd ever heard her say.

Once again, I had a terrible time at school the next day, and I sobbed my way through my classes. Once again, Mrs. Stearns asked me to stay after her sixth hour chemistry class. I told her everything that had transpired the day before: Jake's forced confession of sin followed by his parking lot conversation with me.

“He really got to you, didn't he? “ she said. “Guys like him know how to do that.”

“He’s not a terrible person,”” I protested, “he comes from a good family. He’s a preacher’s son.”

Mrs. Stearns smiled at me, and I saw sympathetic tears in her eyes.

“Even though he is a preacher son,” she said, “he has hurt you badly. And he will keep on hurting you. He’ll jerk you around emotionally as long as you allow him to do that.”

“My first question is,” she said. “have you heard Diane say she wants to put her baby up for adoption? Her maternal instinct might override Jake’s desire to be free. If she keeps the baby, then Jake will have paternal obligations for at least the next 18 years. Even if he does break up with Diane and marries you. He will never be completely yours. He will constantly be pulled between you and his responsibility to Diane and her child. Do you really want a life like that?”

I shook my head vigorously.

“I didn’t think so Grace,” Mrs. Stearns said, “you are way too smart for that. What are your plans for after you graduate?”

“I want to go to nursing school,” I told her.

“Don’t let Jake Chandler or any other guy derail those plans,” she said.

She looked at me with a determined expression on her face. “Let me give you a piece of advice, Grace. In order to protect yourself and your future, you need to completely cut off contact with Jacob Chandler Don’t give him even one more opportunity to mess with your emotions.”

I nodded in full agreement although a tiny part of me hung on to a sliver of hope that my relationship with Jake would somehow, someday, work out.

Yesterday afternoon when I again encountered Edith out by the pool, I reminded her of the advice she had given me so many years earlier. “What happened after that?” she asked.

“I’m proud to say,” I told her, “that I haven’t spoken to Jake in almost fifty years.. He went on to marry Diane, and they decided to keep their baby.”

“And as you know,” Edith chuckled, “that child became my son- in- law.”

“Well,” I continued, “Jake finished college and took his business degree and went to work at one of our local Goldfish Hatcheries, and within a few years he was running the place. A few years after that, he ran for public office. At first locally, but then he ended up being our US congressman for this district for 22 years. So, he and Diane and their child settled down here in Martinsville. I saw them one time at Jake’s Father’s church. I didn’t even speak to them.  I knew I needed to keep my distance from Jake, as I had no right to cause a disruption in their family life. So, to make things easier, I stopped attending Reverend Chandler’s church. I never ran into Jake again.”

“But here’s one weird way in which I maintained a type of loyalty to Jake. Every election cycle I voted for him, although I completely disagreed with most of his policy positions. I was glad when he finally retired from political life, so I could stop being such a hypocrite.”

“So how about you,” Mrs. Stern’s asked, bringing the conversation back to my life.

“I went on to nursing school as I had planned,” I told her. “Then I had an almost 40-year nursing career most of it as an intensive care nurse at Martinsville Hospital.”

“Then you surely would have met my son-in-law,” Mrs. Stearns said.

“Yes,” I said, “he started seeing patients at the hospital about a month before I retired.”

“Did you know right away,” Edith asked, “that he was Congressman Chandler son?”

“Of course,” I said, “everyone knew, as he had established the cancer center in his father’s name.”

“The first time I ever met Dr. Christopher Chandler,” I continued, “I knew that I was in the presence of greatness. He had such a sweet aura around him as if he had been specially blessed by the divine.”

“I knew right away that Dr. Chandler was a much better man than his father had been. Ever since he’d been a teenager Jacob Chandler had had scandal swirling around him. As a businessman he’d had allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. And he’d had similar allegations made against him during his years as a congressman. I never wanted to believe that these rumors were true, even though I knew Jake was fully capable of such behavior.”

“It didn’t take long for me to see how much Dr. Christopher Chandler was loved, both by his patients and his staff. And I loved him too, in an odd maternal way. I told myself that if I had, early on, fought for my relationship with Jacob, if I had put my foot down and insisted that he be faithful to me then I might have been the one who ended up pregnant and married to him, and Dr. Chandler would be my son.”

As Edith listened to my silly fantasy, she laughed. “Grace, you were always such a good science student. You know how DNA works. If you and Jacob Chandler would’ve had a son, he might have been a fine person, but he would not have been Chris. He would have been someone else altogether.”

 ‘Yes,” I said somewhat reluctantly. “I have since come to realize that Dr. Chris Chandler was born to the right parents at exactly the right time. Diane was meant to be his mother, not me. Despite The fact that the circumstances surrounding his conception hurt me deeply, I know without a doubt that Dr. Christopher Chandler was meant to be, and that this world is a better place because of his presence here. I know that I have no right to judge how this beautiful soul came to this planet. I’m just glad that he did.”

“Grace, “Edith said, “You’ve grown to become such a wise woman.”

“That’s not always the case,” I confessed, “I still lapse into silliness sometimes. Two years ago, my friend Vera was diagnosed with breast cancer and Dr. Chandler was her oncologist. She loved him and trusted him deeply. I served as Vera’s caregiver for a while. One day, I took her to her appointment with Dr. Chandler.  Once again I felt, his sweet aura. He thanked me so kindly for taking such good care of Vera. When I shook his hand, I wanted to pull him to me and throw motherly arms around him and tell him he should have been my son. Of course I did not. That would have been ridiculous. And, no doubt, it would have baffled and upset him.”

Edith chuckled.

“How are Chris’s parents doing now,” I asked her.

“Diane has some health problems,” she replied. “Diane and Jake are living in some type of assisted living facility in Franklin, Chris checks in on them on a regular basis. He is absolutely devoted to his sick mother.”

“How about you, Grace,” she asked, steering the conversation back to my life. “Did you go on to get married and have a family? I’m guessing that you didn’t, as you are living here alone, and you still carry your maiden name of Thornhill.”

“No,” I told her, “I have dated many men, and I’ve actually been engaged twice. But none of my relationships progressed as far as marriage?”

“Why not?” Edith asked.

My answer was a shrug, as if I was clueless about the matter. That shrug was a lie because I know full well why I never allowed myself to get serious enough about a man to agree to marry him. It’s because they haven’t been Jacob Chandler. I did not want to admit my foolishness aloud.

“Do you have a fellow in your life now?” Edith persisted, refusing to let the subject drop.

“Yes,” I told her. “I’m dating a man who lives in this complex. His name is Walter, and he lives in building C. We started seeing each other shortly after I moved into my condo 8 years ago. He’s a wonderful guy and I also have beautiful relationships with his children and grandchildren. They call me Grandma Grace. Walter’s family is the closest I have ever gotten to having my own family.”

“What do you envision for your future with Walter,” Edith asked.

“More of the same.” I toldl her.

“Have the two of you ever talked about marriage?” Edith asked.

“Well,” I admitted, “Walter has brought up the topic several times, but I haven’t given him an answer yet.”

 

“You’re not still holding out for Jake Chandler are you Grace?” Edith scolded.

“Oh, no!” I said hurriedly, “that would be utter foolishness.” I thought out loud as I answered Edith, trying to talk myself out of an old fantasy. “If Jacob Chandler were free right now and he wanted to get together with me, I would still choose Walter. Because Walter has proven his sincerity, his loyalty and his dependability over and over again. And that is something Jacob Chandler never did.”

 Oh Grace,” Edith said, “I am so glad to hear your reasoning on this matter.”

 Then I thought to myself, I would be a fool to let go of such a great guy. I don’t know that the future holds for Walter and me. Who knows what I might end up agreeing to.

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

This story is for all the souls who have come to his world through less-than-ideal circumstances. You are meant to be here. May you find the strength to live the beautiful life you were destined to live.

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