Monday, January 24, 2011

My Father's Name

Concord, Quatsino
June, 1749

"My friends," said Zeke, "Steadfast Warden and Labor Pledger have promised themselves to each other by the promises made here today. I therefore pronounce them man and wife, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. My friends, I give you Steadfast and Labor... Pledger."

Zeke pronounced the final name loudly and clearly -- he did not want anyone to think it was a slip of the tongue. Steadfast and Labor turned toward the congregation, Labor beaming, Steadfast with a rare smile tugging at his lips. They bowed. There was no clapping or cheering -- this was, after all, a house of God -- and Zeke watched the faces of the congregation carefully to see their reactions. He saw some smiles, some frowns, but mostly confusion. They began to stand up and file out.

Zeke busied himself tottering around the church, blowing out candles and putting away Bibles and hymnals. He kept his ears pricked, however, and soon heard a urgent whispers and murmurs coming from the area by the door. His hearing wasn't what it had been, but he could tell it was Christian and Steadfast.

Elijah Carpenter came up to him. "Beautiful ceremony, Ezekiel," he said. "But are you going to have to do it again?"

"Why would I have to do it again, Elijah?"

"Because you said the wrong name at the end," said Elijah. "You called them Pledger."

"No, that was right," said Zeke.

"But Pledger is Labor's name."

"Yes," said Zeke. "Steadfast let me know ahead of time that he'd be taking Labor's name."

Elijah's eyes bulged. "What! Why?"

Zeke shrugged. "You can ask him about it. I think you'll have to get in line behind his father, though." The argument between Christian and Steadfast was starting to get louder, especially on Christian's side.

"But that's -- that's not right!" cried Elijah.

"Friend Elijah," said Zeke, "if you can find a passage in the Bible where it says the bride shall take the groom's name, I will thank you and shake your hand and do the ceremony again. But I couldn't find one, and I looked for weeks." Mind you, said Zeke to himself, I wasn't looking very hard.

Elijah just stared at him, mouth open. Christian's voice was hissing, "Why won't you tell me? It's insulting and I -- "

"See you at the potlatch, Elijah," said Zeke.

Elijah left the church to join the families gathered outside. Now only Zeke, Christian, and Steadfast were left inside. Zeke wrapped up his tidying and approached the door.

Just as he thought he'd made his escape, Christian called out, "Ezekiel! Get over here!"

Zeke sighed and turned. "Yes, Christian?"

"Zeke," said Christian, "you come over here and explain yourself."

Zeke came over and stood silently as Christian ranted: "You've given this couple the wrong name. And Steadfast is here saying it was his idea, but he won't tell me why. I demand an explanation!"

Zeke smiled. "Steadfast and Labor both asked to take the name Pledger," said Zeke. "I could find no reason in the Bible to refuse them."

"But why? Why?" demanded Christian.

"You will have to ask Steadfast," said Zeke.

"He won't tell me!" cried Christian. He stared up at Zeke's smiling face, and his face twisted. "You know why, you devil!" he said. "I can see it in your beady eyes! You're lying, or hiding something! You -- and my son -- and my wife -- "

Christian almost lost it then. Zeke, torn with sudden pity, glanced at Steadfast. Steadfast's face was, as usual, impassive.

"Steadfast," said Zeke, "perhaps your father deserves to know."

Silence looked at him for a long moment, and then said, "I think my father does know."

Christian and Zeke stared at him. Steadfast continued to look at Zeke with no expression.

"You know," said Zeke at last.

Steadfast's mouth flirted with a smile again, but it quickly disappeared. He turned to Christian. "I have treated you as a son should treat his father," he said. "I have obeyed you and I have worked for you, and I have loved you. But you have not treated me as a son."

He turned back to Zeke. "No one has."

Zeke felt the accusation like a physical blow. He fell back a step and put his hand on a pew to support himself.

"But now I do have a father," said Steadfast. "Labor's father." And Steadfast's face broke into an open, joyful smile. He reached out and grasped the shoulders of Christian and Zeke. "Mr. Warden, Mr. Grimm, I would be grateful if you would join me at my father's potlatch." Still smiling, he left them there.

Zeke looked at Christian and Christian looked at Zeke. They could hear the laughter and shouting outside.

"Christian," said Zeke at last. "I am sorry."

Christian shook his head and looked away. "That's between you and God," he said. "We'll both have our sins to lay at His feet." He left the church.

Zeke sat heavily in the pew and put his head in his hands.

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