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Chapter 8: First Day Of School

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Parsonage

A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint
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Debra blinked back tears as she watched Jessi trudge up the road toward Wesley Drive and the bus stop. I know it would sound corny if I said it out loud, but this hurts me more than it does you. She and Jim had both offered to take her in to the high school but Jessi could be very strong minded at times and this was one of those times. She declared she wasn't a baby any more and didn't need Mommy and Daddy looking after her every minute. And that was that.

The twins had long ago forgotten their misgivings about moving and were actually looking forward to going to a new school and meeting new kids. In fact, they had made some new friends yesterday in Sunday school who went to the same elementary school they would be attending. Right now both were in the powder room off the kitchen, jostling for position at the sink as they brushed their teeth.

Ben had inherited his Dad's ability to brush his teeth and talk at the same time. "Mom, when Shelly spits, it goes all over the place, even on the mirror."

"I can spit as good as you can."

"Can not!"

"Can too!" And then a new song was heard. "Mom, make Ben leave. I need my privacy."

"I was here first. You can get your privacy up stairs."

Debra was tempted to remind them they had taken communal baths until they were too old to fit into the tub together. Then she had a better idea. "Ben, did you know there's a lavatory down stairs, off the family room? Have you tried that one yet?"

That idea appealed to Ben and he thundered down the stairs to check out the new facility.

Finally the twins were ready to leave for their first day of school at the Shepherdstown Elementary School. Breakfast was done, faces were washed, teeth were brushed, and each had visited the necessary room. And, Ben insisted that the hugging and kissing take place in the privacy of his own kitchen. "I don't want no kids at school seeing me getting kissed in broad daylight"

"Mommy, what's broad daylight?" Shelly wanted to know.

"Outside where other people can look at you," explained Debra. Shelly looked like she was about to pursue the issue with a question about "broad nightlight" since she rarely asked just one question on a given topic. Debra forestalled that. "Okay, everybody ready for the new school?"

"Yep," said the twin in unison, smiling and nodding. Debra glanced at the stove controls to make sure the burners were off and then ushered them through the connecting door to the garage and into the Eagle. As she pulled out onto Wesley Drive, she noticed there were no high school kids at the bus stop.

"Hey, kids. Let's pray, shall we? Our prayer topics this morning can be Dad in his new office, and Jessi at her new school, and you at your new school, too." And me with all those boxes! On such a gray, misty day. "Who wants to pray first?"

Debra watched the road while the twins prayed in turn. Both had been praying since they learned to talk. Jessi, the little rascal, had even taught them a night-time parody which Ben had been fond of quoting in front of church members. How did that go?. Now I lay me down to sleep, with my Ford parked in the street. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord will set the brake. Where do kids come up with this stuff?

Quickly Debra refocused on the twins' prayers, and joined with them in spirit as God's blessings, the direction of the Holy Spirit, and the protection of the Holy Angels were invoked on everyone's behalf during the day's activities.

All three Hogans were a little startled to find that the new teacher was a man. Somehow, Debra had always associated first grade with a woman. But, Mr. Hutton was neat, personable, and very professional. Both Ben and Shelly seemed instantly impressed.

On the way back to the parsonage, the mist became a cold drizzle. Debra was thankful it wasn't cold enough to freeze on the roads. She decided to leave the Eagle in the driveway so she would have better access to the boxes which were stacked up on both sides of where the car had been parked. In fact, the garage was so filled with boxes, The Chief had to spend the night outside. Probably would for the next several nights, too, until things got organized.

Since the Hogans had lived in the same house in Ashtabula for twenty five years, they had accumulated an enormous amount of flotsam and jetsam. A sizable contribution to the local land fill and a three-week garage sale had gotten rid of quite a bit but much still needed to be moved.

The garage sale had been kind of fun. Jim had given the garage a good sweeping and then set up the Ping Pong table and several card tables to hold a wide range of household items, toys, tools, and books. Small adhesive labels with prices were put on each item and the labels were color coded. White meant the item was not the personal property of one of the kids. Jessi's things had pink labels, Ben's had blue, and Shelly's had yellow.

They had run an ad in the "Valley Shopper" and put posters on the bulletin boards of several area super markets. In addition, Jim had lettered a four-foot square of plywood on both sides with "Garage Sale" and an arrow pointing to the garage. The sign was placed at the edge of the lawn where it could be seen by people driving by.

Jim had also rigged an automatic signal for the breezeway door which buzzed in the downstairs hall when a customer entered. The kids were the sales force. If someone sold a white-tag item, that person could keep the money. Of course, the money from colored items went to the original owner. Fortunately it had been a very mild February. By keeping the overhead door closed and the quartz heater on, the garage hadn't been too cold for the kids to handle money. Since all the prices were in multiples of twenty-five cents, the twins were able to catch on to making change, with a little coaching from Jessi. By the time they closed down the garage sale, Debra estimated they had cleared almost four hundred dollars.

But what hadn't been sold or given away or taken to the land fill had to be put in boxes. One of the members worked for IBM and his family had moved around quite a bit. He and his wife had shared several moving tips with the Hogans.

The first tip had been to use only boxes which have been used to ship paper, the kind with the fitted lids which slip down over the top. Another member of the church had owned a print shop and he provided all the paper boxes they needed and then some. The second tip had been to allow no one outside the immediate family to help with packing boxes. The next tip was to carefully mark the unlabeled end of the box with its exact contents. Break these two rules, the IBM man had warned, and you won't see some of your most cherished possessions until the rapture.

Jim had contributed a couple of his own ideas to the moving effort. He sketched plans of all three floors of the tri-level and then marked each room with a simple designation, such as kitchen, living room, dining room, and family room. Then each box lid was marked with its destination in the new parsonage in Mechanicsburg. However, as they got down toward the end of the packing, more and more boxes had been destined for the garage.

Now Debra stared at all the boxes which had ended up in the garage and she was more than a little depressed. Suddenly she realized that the movers had made a mistake and left one of Jessi's boxes in the garage. It seemed light, probably one of several which contained stuffed animals. She decided to carry it up Jessi's bedroom. Had to start somewhere.

Jessi's room was the only normal place in the whole house, even though the moving van had pulled away less than thirty-six hours earlier. The first thing she had done was hook up her stereo and unpack her CDs. Then she had worked like a beaver throughout Saturday afternoon and early evening, while enjoying the sounds of Mylon, and DeGarmo & Key, and Petra, and White Heart. Jessi sure did love her music.

 

Jessi couldn't remember having been more miserable. At the bus stop, no one had said a word to her. All the other kids stood in clumps and talked to each other but she could have been a telephone pole. A misty rain had started to fall before the bus came and her spiral perm was kinking up. When she got on the bus and started to walk to the back, which is the universally-accepted province of juniors and seniors, she found to her embarrassment there wasn't a single seat available back there. She ended up in a front seat next to a pimple-faced seventh-grade boy who had repaired his horn-rim glasses with a bent pin. Of course he wouldn't slide over and she had to clamber across his gangly legs. And then he kept leaning against her, even when centrifugal force didn't justify it.

The day didn't get any better when the bus arrived at the Mechanicsburg Area High School. Both Jim and Debra had offered to drive her to school and make sure she got registered all right but Jessi hadn't been feeling real close to either parent since the final decision to leave Ashtabula. So she had insisted that she was perfectly capable of catching the bus with everyone else and registering herself when she got there.

When she finally found the office and presented her Ashtabula transcript at the counter, no one was available with the necessary authority to take care of the paper work. Her first thirty minutes at her new high school consisted of serving as department store mannequin on a bench in the office. Or maybe a statue. Teachers and students came and went but no one so much as glanced in her direction. She wished the place had pigeons. At least they paid attention to statues.

At eight-thirty, an assistant principal sauntered in, declared he didn't handle new students either, but did invite her into his office to get better acquainted until the guidance counselor came. No sooner did she get settled in the assistant principal's office when his phone rang. For the next twenty minutes by the clock, he went round and round with a parent about a bus stop while Jessi sat miserably in his small cubicle of an office.

Finally Mr. Book, the guidance counselor arrived and led the way down a short hall within the office complex to an even smaller cubicle of an office. Mr. Book was kindly, balding, and wore half spectacles through which he seldom if ever looked. But his corny humor did make Jessi feel a little better. The counselor was visibly impressed with the grades on the transcript and with the extent of her extracurricular activities. She assured him she would like to continue to be in band and chorus. However, there was no computer club and that was disappointing.

At long last her schedule card was completed and she was a full-fledged student in the Mechanicsburg Area School District. By now, though, first period was over and the clock was well into second period. Mr. Book hastily scribbled a hall pass for second period, which was English 3, and gave her a locker assignment card along with padlock and key. Mr. Book would have escorted her to both the locker and the second period class but two other students were already waiting in the hall to talk to him so she said she could find her way okay.

"Don't worry about anything in that locker. The kid who had it moved to California last week," advised Mr. Book. "Just chuck it all."

The locker was a disaster. The things in it which were recognizable included three foul gym socks, one equally-foul sneaker, a stained athletic supporter, and an unsharpened pencil. Somehow, the unused pencil fit in with the rest of the locker contents and she almost smiled. She put her coat back on to have a place to hang it, slung her purse over her shoulder, put her notebook under one arm, and then used the pencil to fish out the soiled clothing and deposited each item one by one in a nearby trash can. Oh how she longed for Ashtabula Junior-Senior High School and the neat-as-a-pin locker which had been hers since seventh grade. Carefully she hung her suede leather jacket on a bent hook, hoping it wouldn't fall to the bottom of the filthy locker. There was a Slurpy cup down there complete with some sort of sticky substance which was have been its contents. With a sigh, she closed the locker door, snapped the padlock, and trudged down the hall to English 3, which would dismiss in less than fifteen minutes.

The English teacher never missed a beat in his monologue about dangling participles. He just strolled back to the rear seat Jessi had taken, tucked her hall pass in his shirt pocket, and kept right on talking.

By the end of fifth period, with two more periods to go, the only person who had spoken to Jessi as a real person, instead of just another student, was Mr. Book, the guidance counselor who had registered her.

Her non-person status ended with her sixth period class, health. The teacher appeared to be a yuppie in her late twenties who wrote her name on the board at the beginning of the period as Ms. Carter-Clarke. Later she learned that all the kids called her CeeCee. Right away Jessi learned the class was part way through a unit on sex education. The text was titled "Experiencing Sex and Life".

The feature of the day was a look-alike acquaintance of Ms. Carter-Clarke's named Ms. Hockinger. Ms. Hockinger represented the local Planned Parenthood chapter and was speaking to each period on the topic of modern birth control. After a few words of introduction, Ms. Carter-Clarke sat in the back of the room grading papers while Ms. Hockinger held forth on the virtues of safe sex and related matters.

Jessi had known the facts of reproduction and birth control from the day she asked her first probing question at the ripe age of two. Her mother had answered that question in simple but biologically-accurate terms. The same had been true of each succeeding question, whether asked of her mother or her father. And with each answer about sex had come a value system based on the Biblical absolute that sex is reserved for a man and woman within the bounds and bonds of a legal marriage. And within marriage, totally fulfilling sex is completely natural and blessed by God.

Ms. Hockinger was coming from the opposite end of the spectrum. "The old, Victorian taboos about sex are gone forever," she intoned. "A modern teen has to worry about two things and no more. Number one, prevent pregnancy; number two, prevent disease. Beyond that, you should feel perfectly free to express yourself sexually." Jessi's stomach churned with anger and she bit her lip to keep from blurting out a bold denunciation of this kind of values-free tripe. "Sex is a perfectly natural bodily function, just like eating food or eliminating wastes. When you're hungry, you eat. When you feel a need to urinate or defecate, you excuse yourself and use the rest room." There were several snickers, mostly from the boys. "And, if you feel physically attracted to another person, you express that attraction with a level of intimacy with which you both feel comfortable. No big deal, just like going to the restaurant or the rest room as the case may be." The woman surveyed the class with a supercilious smugness. "Any questions or comments?"

Jessi had been waiting, had been hoping, had been praying for just such an invitation. Why not? No one in this whole school even knew she existed so why not speak her mind as well as her conscience? Jessi didn't just raise her hand or ask for permission to speak, she stood erect and stepped into the aisle.

"Ms. Hockinger, I'd like to say something."

"Yes?"

"I agree that sex is a natural part of life but I don't agree it is as casual as going to the rest room. God tells us in the Bible that sex must be restricted to heterosexual marriage."

"Well, Virgin-ia, do you believe in Santa Claus, too?" Hockinger asked sarcastically with a rude emphasis on "virgin".

"The name is Jessica Hogan and no, I don't believe in Santa Claus."

"Hogan, Hogan... Didn't I read in the paper some church over on Wesley Drive got a new pastor by the name of Hogan?"

"Pastor James Alan Hogan is my father," Jessi flashed proudly.

"Well, Miss Preacher's Kid, I suppose your daddy has told you not to have sex until you're married," Hockinger said mockingly.

Jessi prayed for both the wisdom and the protection of the Holy Spirit. It was one thing to be lonely in a crowd. It was quite another to be standing up in front of twenty-five high school kids with the scorn of an adult focused squarely on her. "I don't 'want' to have sex before I'm married, and it's how I think, not just what my dad says."

"That kind of thinking was last heard from right about the time your dad graduated from high school. We've had a sexual revolution, or haven't you heard? We've made a lot of progress since then!"

"Progress? Do you call AIDS, claymidia, herpes, teenage abortions, and an increasing number of children having children-- do you call that progress? I call it regress, right back toward the decadence of a falling Roman empire!"

Hockinger smiled with false sweetness. "You're entitled to your opinion and to your right to express it. Just know one thing. Even though you are admittedly articulate on teenage sexual mores, you are definitely in the minority. I'm sure that all the boys in this class will agree with me on that point." She smirked around the room but strangely, no one was willing to make eye contact.

That did it! Jessi had never been considered a sex symbol but she was pretty in a wholesome way and she was above all else fashionably correct, from her Esprit sweat shirt to her Treetorn sneakers. She jammed her fists in the pocket of her
jeans and looked Hockinger straight in the eyes. "As far as boys are concerned, I've always had as many dates as I cared to have, even with my antiquated ideas about sex. And for your information, a lot of other kids feel just like I do.

"Back in Ashtabula, Ohio, where I used to live, we had a group in our school called 'Ivory' and we had one thing in common. We were dedicated to the concept that sex must be limited to heterosexual marriage. The kids in that group came different churches and different races but without exception, we all agreed on total sexual abstinence before marriage."

Now Jessi turned and faced the whole class. "This is my first day at Mechanicsburg High School and none of you know me. This may be a little sudden, but I want you to know that I'm starting an Ivory Club in this school, right here and now. All of you can join or none of you can join but the Ivory Club exists in this high school starting--" and she smacked a clenched right first into her left palm, "starting right now!" Then the little crusader sat down fast and covered her face with her hands, tears starting to flow.

Never in the history of Pennsylvania public education had so many high school kids made so little noise for such a long period of time. Finally a tall kid with red hair, freckles, and a varsity sweater who had been sitting in the right front corner of the room stood and began to clap, slowly and rhythmically. A cute girl sitting across from Jessi stood and joined in the clapping. Then someone in the back of the room, and over in the left rear corner. One by one kids were standing and clapping until the whole class was on its feet and smiling Jessi's way. Ms. Carter-Clarke discarded her papers and walked over behind Jessi, grasping each shoulder in friendly pressure.

At the height of the standing ovation, Ms. Hockinger stuffed her handouts into her briefcase, snapped it shut, and stalked out the door.

The teacher left Jessi and walked to the front of the class. After the kids had stopped clapping and resumed their seats, she said, "Jessica, Dr. Grace Carson is a dear and personal friend of mine. Tonight, I'm going to call her and say that if Wesley's new pastor is half as good a preacher as his daughter, the church board just got a good bargain. And I think I'll see you in church Sunday, too." Jessi was speechless. She had read her new health teacher all wrong.

Ms. Carter-Clarke continued. "Class, I've been hearing about virginity support groups springing up in high schools all over the country, so the concept behind Ivory isn't something Jessica just cooked up in a remote corner of Ohio. You heard what some people would call the liberal viewpoint from Ms. Hockinger. And your new classmate just expressed the conservative viewpoint very beautifully, as well as forcefully." Ms. Carter-Clarke sent a special smile Jessi's way. Again considerable applause from the class. "And since you have information from both sides of the issue, you are now better qualified to make your own value judgments about what you will do about sex in your own lives.

"Here's what I'm going to do regarding Jessica's Ivory idea. Unfortunately I don't have the authority to endorse the creation of a school club. And, I don't have the authority to control what you do in your free time, either. So, if you're interested in what Jessica-- or is it Jessi?" Jessi was too full to speak but she mouthed "Jessi". "All right, Jessi-- if you're interested in what Jessi has to say about Ivory, meet with her outside of class time. And Jessi, you can talk to me any time about your project. I'm really interested in seeing how this all turns out."

The bell rang and most of the kids in the health class scattered to their next period classes. But about ten boys and girls clustered around Jessi's desk, eager to learn more about Ivory. The red-haired boy who had started the clapping reached her first, sticking out a bony hand.

"Jonathan King," he said, pumping her arm excitedly. "Everyone calls me Jon. I've been itching to say what you said today since I first got into this class. I've never seen this Hockinger person before but old CeeCee can get pretty liberal herself, sometimes. Congratulations for standing on your own two feet!"

"Thanks, Jon," Jessi said earnestly. "What you did today really means a lot to me. That took courage. Being the first to stand and to start clapping. I'll never forget that." And then on sudden impulse, she stood on her highest tiptoes and kissed him lightly on the cheek. He blushed beet red, making him look very endearing and vulnerable at the same time.

The cute girl who had sat near by grabbed her hand next, saying with admiration. "Oh, Jessi, I'm so glad you said what you said. I've always felt like you do but I guess I was too scared to say anything myself. Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Cindy Parsons," and she gave Jessi a quick and impulsive hug.

Most of the kids gathered around Jessi's desk had study hall next period so they quickly agreed to regroup there and try to talk some more about Ivory. For some strange reason, Mr. Book was monitoring the study hall and Jessi felt comfortable in asking him for permission to work with her group at a table in the back of the cafeteria.

As soon as they were situated, a short boy with long hair and glasses slid a nine-by-twelve sheet of drawing paper across the table to Jessi. She gasped with delight.

"Did you do this? It's really neat!" Everyone gathered to look at a professional-looking logo and quickly agreed that it was indeed neat. The word "ivory" was outlined in large block letters. Below the large letters was a line of smaller script which read "100% Pure". In the background was an olive branch.

"This is really good! What's your name?"

Alan Cotton was a four-year art major at Mechanicsburg who didn't have a lot of classes with the rest of the kids around the table and no one really knew him. Besides, he was very shy, especially around girls. But he quickly thawed in the warmth of the group's praise of his work

"My name is Al Cotton and if you want, I'll be Ivory's resident artist." Everyone expressed approval and Al continued, "I'll use a Macintosh computer in the graphics arts room to make this logo into a camera-ready original and then you can go anywhere you want with it from there."

"How about T-shirts or sweat shirts?" Jessi asked.

"Yeah," said Cindy, "I'm working at that Big-T place at the mall. I can get the shirts wholesale and get a forty-percent discount on the imprints, too."

The group got so engrossed in their plans that everyone was surprised by the bell signaling time to pass to last period classes. After making quick plans to meet again on the bus ramp after school, Ivory dispersed to assigned classes. Jessi was especially pleased that both Cindy and Jonathan would be in last period with her.

 

The back door banged and Debra looked up from shaping a meat loaf as Jessi burst into the kitchen. "Hey, Mom! Guess what! We're going to have Ivory in Mechanicsburg! Isn't that wild? Oh, and Mom, meet my best friend, Cindy Parsons. Cindy, this is my Mom."

Debra was astounded. "Jessi, slow down and let me get my breath." Quickly she washed the meat loaf off her hands and opened her arms to Jessi for a big hug. Then she extended the hug to include Cindy, also. "Did you say Ivory and a best friend, all in the same day?"

Jessi nodded. "Isn't that great? I think I'm going to like it here!" she sang in a passable imitation of Annie, while waltzing around the cooking island in time to her music.

"Tell me all about it," invited Debra as she led the way to the breakfast nook. Quickly Jessi recounted the happenings in the health class, in study hall, and on the bus ramp, with numerous excited assists from Cindy.

"Yeah, and Jessi made another new friend today," said Cindy importantly. "Tell her, Jessi."

"Well--" started Jessi with a blush, "there was this cute guy in health class and when I got done making my big speech, he kind of got everybody clapping."

"Yeah, and we all ended up giving Jessi a standing ovation!" bubbled Cindy.

"A standing ovation," marveled Debra in a whisper. "Well, young lady, you have had yourself one mighty fine day. By the way, What time did you have health?" Debra asked soberly, close to tears.

Jessi looked at Cindy for help. "About one-thirty, Mrs. Hogan."

"I thought so," said Debra softly.

Suddenly it dawned on Jessi. "Oh, I get it. You and Dad were praying for me about that time, weren't you?" She too spoke softly and was equally close to tears. Cindy sat very still with a puzzled look on her face.

Debra nodded in answer to Jessi's question. "Your Dad was pretty late getting home for lunch, and then when he got here, he said he wasn't hungry and just wanted to pray for you. So we did, right where we're sitting now. We prayed together for at least a half hour."

Cindy's eyes were as big as moons and she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to stay any longer. But Jessi jumped up, leaned over the table to kiss her mother on the cheek, said "Thanks, Mom. Love you both!" and then grabbed Cindy's hand.

"Come on, Cindy. Let's go up to my room. You can tell me all about Mechanicsburg and I'll play you some great music." She flashed Debra a wink as she headed for the stairs.

 

Debra never liked to call Jim at the office but this couldn't wait. "Sandy, I hate to be a bother on Jim's first day on the job but is he available? I need to talk to him if possible."

"No problem," said Sandy with a laugh. "He's already told us that your calls have the same priority as Grace Carson's and God's. Please hold."

"Hi, Debbie. What's up?"

"Jim, I know you're busy but this'll just take a sec. Guess what happened to Jessi at school today."

 

After Debra hung up, it was Jim's turn to marvel. A virginity speech, a best friend, a standing ovation, a cute boy, another Ivory. All on the first day of school? To God be the glory for the great things He has done!

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