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The Sins of Our Fathers; Chapter Five
Drinking Coffee with a Bunch of Derelicts
She always wore hats. As long as she could remember, she had a hat on her head. As a teenager, a baseball cap of her favorite team covered her head, shading her eyes from the sun and hiding her eyes from intruders. Sometimes her hats covered her unwashed hair. More often, her shiny brown mane sat unnoticed beneath a statement making hat; clean, soft, and untouchable.
Her father often complained. He complained about everything, but he especially muttered about Claire’s headwear. He hated hats. But in the wind, in the bright sun, in the cold winter, he could hardly argue. A hat was a logical and sometimes necessary accessory. It was the fact that she hid beneath them that he didn’t like.
It was bad enough that his older daughter wouldn’t make eye contact. The fact that she hid her face from him and from the world bothered him. And Craig resented her sensible approach to hats, and the fact that she sometimes chose the most outrageous hat to wear, drawing attention to herself, while at the same time, hiding her eyes and her expression from the world.
Melissa couldn’t be bothered to notice Claire. Rachel eclipsed her in terms of homemaking skills and obedience. Rachel and their mother spent hours together, primping, preening, and preparing Rachel for her role as a Christian woman, while Claire kept her nose buried in her books, mostly unnoticed by her mother and sister.
It seemed from early on that Claire’s mother gave up on her. She seemed to know that Claire would not be molded, shaped, prodded or persuaded. Rachel, however, was malleable. And she didn’t wear hats.
Claire worked hard at homeschooling and finished high school ahead of time. At only sixteen she had driven herself to complete her education early.
Once she had taken the GED, there seemed nothing left for Claire but to work. College was out of the question on a number of levels. She wanted to advance beyond her limitations, but she couldn’t see a way above her circumstances.
With three children, the Newell family could hardly afford to send Claire to school. After Isaac was born, money seemed tight and affection was even harder to come by. Her parent’s relationship chilled, to the point that they would sometimes go for days with hardly a word spoken between them. They carried the distance between them, and extended it to their children. It was only in the confines of the church that the Newell family expressed any sort of connection. The closeness vanished as soon as they returned to the car.
Besides the unfair financial burden, Claire’s parents had expressed reservations about what exactly she wanted to learn at college. They pressed and prodded, only interested in containing their potentially wayward daughter.
“What is it, that I can’t teach you?” her mother had asked.
She seemed offended that Claire wanted to learn more than how to cook and clean and raise babies, as most of the women in their church were content to do.
“I don’t know mom. It isn’t you. It’s just that there’s a whole world out there. I want to know stuff.”
“What stuff?” her mother demanded.
“What is it that is so important for you to figure out? I think you ought to go on a mission and get your priorities straightened out.”
Several of the youth from the Seeker Church had gone on missions to different parts of the third world, coming back with stories about people living in abject poverty and loving the Lord. They shared stories of miracles and healing, of signs and wonders.
Claire, however, had no interest in pursuing a mission.
“Mom, I told you already, I don’t feel called to go on a mission. I think God has other plans for me.”
Truth be told, Claire had other plans for herself, and hardly thought about what God would want for her. She knew God wanted her to be happy and a mission was not the answer she was seeking.
Claire rode the bus into town to apply for jobs on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon. Her first stop was at a local Café that had been open less than a year. As it happened, they were hiring; gearing up for a busy spring break season and hopefully a busy summer as well.
She went in and asked to speak with a manager. When the manager came out front with a questioning look on her face, Claire boldly introduced herself and said she was looking for a job.
The manager asked if she had filled out an application, to which Claire replied, “Oh. I thought the application was a formality. I have a pen, and a list of references, and I can start tomorrow. I’ll fill out the application and you can start me tomorrow. How’s that?”
She smiled at the rough-looking restaurant manager, who looked dubious at the precocious teenager. Reluctantly, the manager waited while Claire filled out the application. As she interviewed the enthusiastic youngster, Kelly warmed up, and decided to give the kid a chance.
Claire got the job on the spot. She didn’t start working at The Café until the following Monday afternoon, when they had her come in for training. She left the restaurant elated. A job would be just the thing to get her out of the house and away from Craig and Melissa and the rest of the family.
Her parents began complaining about her long hours soon after she started, but Claire loved the money. The first thing she did after getting her first paycheck was to open her first bank account.
Her parents, frustrated, tried to talk her into spending more time helping Melissa with Rachel and Isaac, and of course with the job of babysitting baby Christopher. The boys were three, and quite a handful.
“Why not quit that restaurant and get a job working for your dad? He could always use the help. Poor Theresa runs herself ragged, between working at the school and working at the church. Maybe you could help her.”
Claire couldn’t think of many things she wanted less, than to help Theresa with anything. There was no job at the church that interested her, and in spite of her father’s popularity, Claire couldn’t stand to be around him.
Craig continued to inspire the church with his emotional praise and worship music. The congregation flourished under Pastor Bill and “Pastor” Craig. He sang songs and led the worship band with fervor and zeal, often pulling out his sanctimonious tears, and sometimes praying intently for the salvation of the church, with arms extended into the air.
Claire often laughed inside, when people referred to her dad as “Pastor Craig”.
She could never forget the day in his office. Those shoes, wrapped around his neck, forever burned in her brain. As she grew older, Claire suspected the identity of the shoes, but she never uttered a word to anyone.
Instead, she worked diligently and kept her mouth closed.
While Claire felt lonely at home, she loved the bus ride to work and the new friends she made at The Café. Some were church type people but for the most part, her job opened Claire to a whole new world. The dishwashers, who spoke mostly Spanish; the cooks who would whistle lowly whenever Claire came through the kitchen, causing her to blush and flee for the hostess stand; the bus drivers on her route, who came to know her smiling face and always had a pleasant word for her. One older bus driver always had a funny comment about Claire’s different hats. He always wondered what she was up to, with those crazy hats.
Claire’s favorite part of her new world was the servers at the Café.
There were a few older women in their thirties and forties, who had waited tables all their lives, who had heard every story and who were hardened to sob stories, but they loved Claire.
Her innocence, naiveté and kindness made them smile. They chuckled when she came in wearing outlandish hats, and one older lady, who had been at The Café since it opened, had given Claire a beautiful hat from the 1920’s. Claire loved these harsh, hard, soft hearted ladies, and adopted them as her aunties.
Most of the other servers were college-aged, either home for the summer or not going to school at all. Claire loved to eavesdrop on their stories hearing about college life, dorm life, party life. She was eager to get a chance to try it all. She was eager to save up and move on.
Sometimes Claire rode her bike to work. It was a short ride, and she loved the feeling of flying through town and out to The Café.
The restaurant sat on the far side of town from the Newell’s home. When Claire rode her bike, she felt almost like she was flying. And she could be alone with her thoughts, without anyone interrupting. Rather than a bike helmet, Claire usually donned an old dirty Colorado Rockies baseball cap to keep her hair manageable. She gathered up her long skirts, and rode with the wind in her face and the sun in her eyes. At these times, Claire finally felt free.
One night as she finished her shift, she realized it was raining. She looked out the windows at the gloom, dreading the bike ride home. Thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and Claire shuddered at the cold, damp air. Although it had been a beautiful day, the clouds rolled in late in the afternoon, and the rain persisted throughout the evening.
She went out to her bike and by the time she reached it, she was soaked from head to toe. Claire changed her mind, and headed back inside. The Café didn’t close until midnight on Friday’s, so she sat at the counter and asked for a cup of hot chocolate to warm her up for the ride ahead. The afternoon had been sunny and warm, but the rain had chilled the air and she dreaded riding slick, wet streets in the dark.
As she sat at the counter, facing back toward the kitchen, she didn’t see Craig approaching through the front doors.
He stormed into the restaurant, furious.
“What the hell are you doing sitting here and drinking hot chocolate?” he demanded.
Claire turned around surprised at the harsh tone, and stunned to see Craig standing in the Café. He had never visited her at work before.
She stuttered nervously, “I was cold, and I didn’t want to ride my bike home in the rain.”
“So what? You thought you’d sit here all night drinking coffee with a bunch of derelicts? Get your ass in the car. I’m not sitting in the parking lot all night waiting for you. Move it!”
Claire left her drink and a dollar on the counter and headed for the car. On the back of Craig’s car, a bicycle rack held her dripping bike. Craig must have pulled up just as she went back into The Café.
The other hostesses and servers watched wide-eyed, as Claire left with an apparent lunatic. They had heard stories about her strict upbringing, but they didn’t realize Claire’s dad was crazy.
As the door closed behind Claire and her father, the waitresses whispered among themselves.
“Poor kid. She’s got a tough row.”
“I had no idea she was telling the truth.”
“Jerk. Somebody should teach him a thing or two.”
Headlights flooded into the windows and the chitchat stopped as Craig pulled out of the parking lot.
The car turned toward town and Claire apologized, feeling guilty for making her dad wait.
“I’m sorry daddy. I didn’t realize you were waiting out here. I thought I had to ride my bike home.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. What kind of father would I be if I made you ride home in the dark and the rain? I don’t like sitting around waiting for smartass kids. Don’t you make me wait for you again.”
“But dad, I didn’t know you were coming. I would have been outside if you told me.”
“Claire, I’m sick of your sass. If you continue arguing with me, I will call that fancy job of yours and tell them you quit.”
Claire sat quietly the rest of the way home, seething inside with rage. He was so mean, and so unpredictable. Claire couldn’t wait to get back to work. Life at home with Craig was unbearable.
Claire wanted only to get away. She enjoyed her time at The Café, where they didn’t mind her long dresses. Until she was older, there was nothing she could do about her clothing. She still lived at home, and her parents still bought her clothes. The long dress requirement was inconvenient and ridiculous, especially when Claire rode her bike, but she wasn’t bold enough to defy her parents outright. The hats were bad enough, and she wanted to wait until the time was right, to change things completely. In the meantime, her hats made a bold statement of independence to Craig and Melissa, without Claire appearing too defiant.
While she saved all her money, she still picked out a new hat occasionally, and she loved wearing them to work. Her choice of hat always got a comment or two from her new friends. The customers seemed to love her hats, and some of the regular guests joked with her about her many different hats. Claire laughed at the inside joke and appreciated being included in something that was only hers. This was something Craig could not take away from her.
After years of isolation, homeschooling and seclusion, she finally felt free to make friends. While most of her co-workers viewed her as a goody-two-shoes and would rarely have anything to do with her, Claire found friendship in some of the older waitresses who took pity on her strange life.
Claire had been working at The Café for nearly a year, when she decided it was time to move on or up. Now that she was older, she seriously began to think about college. The biggest impediment was money, and she felt it was time for a change.
She approached her boss, a large, manly-looking woman who was rough but fair. Kelly had hired Claire on the spot back when she came into The Café, and she was always respectful of Claire in spite of her peculiar attire and abounding innocence.
“I’d like to find out about becoming a server.”
Claire had practiced the lines all morning, but still she almost choked on the words when it came time to face her boss.
“Well Claire,” Kelly answered, “you are a hard worker. I would love to give you a try at serving, just as soon as you finish high school. Until then, I plan to keep you in the hostess stand. You are the most reliable hostess we have, and I’m not ready to lose you quite yet.”
“Well, actually, I did graduate. I took my GED and passed nearly a year ago. That is really the only option for a lot of home-schooled kids. I would like to start taking classes at Front Range Community College, but I don’t make enough money yet. If you could let me serve, then I could save my money and go to college.”
Through her gruff exterior, Kelly had a kind heart, and wanted to give the strange little religious kid a chance.
“How about if I work you into serving a few days a week, and keep you in the hostess stand while we are busy on weekends? That way, you can get your training done, and I don’t lose my favorite hostess.”
Claire smiled and almost hugged Kelly, but her immediate withdrawal reminded Claire that some people don’t like hugs.
She was excited for the opportunity to prove herself, not only to her boss, but to everyone else as well.
For Claire, it felt like the beginning of a new phase in her life. She was finally growing up, and away from Craig and Melissa.
To read Chapter Six of The Sins of Our Fathers
To read Chapter Four of The Sins of Our Fathers