My grandfather, Jacob Lineberry, indicated in his letters to his brother, Leander, that he hoped to find a relationship with God. His letters also revealed his life and thoughts were centered around godly principles though he seemed to be unsure he had actually accomplished that relationship with God. With that as a premise, as well as the knowledge that my grandmother, Eva Keithley, and her sister, Violet, sang duets, I wove those little factoids into a chapter of the burgeoning relationship between Jacob and Eva.
Jacob had been living away from his family for five years and would have been pretty isolated. Christmas is not an ideal time to be alone, so I picked up his and Eva’s lives on the day before Christmas 1899 with Jacob deciding to go to a church – here’s an excerpt from Eva’s Story.
‘What with thinking and talking to himself, he made good time walking over to the church. He was so busy with his thoughts he almost bumped into some of the congregants getting ready to enter the sanctuary. As he looked at the people, it appeared to him that everyone was standing or walking with someone – husbands and wives and children – and that same feeling of isolation that had washed over him when he awoke came back to him with full force. He swallowed hard and wondered what kind of foolish thinking had brought him to church on a day designed for families and friends. Just as he was about to yield to the urge to turn around and head back to the boardinghouse, he heard a voice call out to him. He turned toward the sound and saw Johnny Brainard, one of the miners, heading toward him.
“Jacob. Good to see you. Come on in and take a seat.”
Johnny grabbed Jacob’s arm and walked indoors with him but once inside he turned back to the doors and cried out a greeting to someone else and Jacob, once again, stood alone. He looked around the room for a couple of moments before he reached up and self-consciously removed his hat, as if he’d just remembered his manners. He stepped inside the sanctuary a bit further and saw an empty seat a few rows up on the right; he walked over and sat down as quickly as he could. Once settled, he was glad to feel a little less conspicuous.
After a few moments, he started to look around at those sitting in the congregation. He recognized several of them from passing them on the streets, shopping or riding the trolley but, outside of Johnny Brainard, didn’t see anyone he knew very well. Of course, he was mostly looking at the backs of heads and, although the men took off their hats, the women didn’t, and he discovered that flowers and feathers and puffed up fabric made seeing things pretty darned difficult.
As he watched and listened he was a little surprised at what a noisy place this church was. It seemed as if every person who walked in had to stop to talk to folks sitting on the outside of the pews, and sometimes even leaning over folks to get closer to greet someone sitting in the middle.
He was also surprised, as well as pleased, to see that everyone seemed to be pretty friendly and mostly happy to be there. Then, Barry and Jonah, who lived across from the boardinghouse, stepped in and he thought, “except for them!” He figured they’d rather be at home playing than cooped up inside, forced to be still – at least based on seeing the scowls on their faces.
In just a flash, an unbidden thought popped into his head; he remembered his Mama saying, “Jacob, if you keep that scowl on your face very much longer, it’ll likely become permanent.” It’d been almost seven years since he’d seen his mother or heard her voice and two years since he’d received word of her death. When Louis, one of the boys who’d left Virginia, asked him to come out and join the Virginia Lineberrys and Bowers in Missouri, it was leaving his Mama behind that had been the hardest part. Things had been hard in Virginia and he had needed to find a way to earn some money. But in his heart, he knew getting away from seeing Papa hit Mama and, of course, himself and his brothers and sisters was a big part of why he left.
With just those brief thoughts of his mother, he started to feel hot wet tears form in his eyes. “Jacob,” he thought, “this is not the time or place to think about Mama.” But, he found he couldn’t really stop thinking about her. She had been a good woman and a good mother and, though he didn’t allow himself to think about her very much, he really missed her.
About that time, the woman at the piano started to play. Everybody got quieter, and he was relieved that the sounds of the piano pushed his sad memories into the background. When the song finished, the rather tall, lanky man that Jacob assumed was the pastor stood and, after a friendly greeting, invited everyone to join in singing a Christmas carol.
After just a few chords of the familiar tune Jacob soon found himself singing along with everybody else. It had been a long time since he’d sung a song and he was surprised at how good it felt to sing. “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant,” he sang along with the rest of the choir and congregation. As he sang those words, he knew he didn’t feel particularly faithful but he was surprised to notice the slight burgeoning of a little joy in his heart as well as a little lessoning of the weight of aloneness.
After the next carol and a prayer, Jacob observed two girls get up from their seats in the choir and walk forward. When he looked at them he thought, “Hey, those’re the grocer’s two daughters.” Although he’d seen both girls in the store a few times, it was the younger one he’d particularly noticed. “Eva,” he thought, “Yeah, that’s her name.” The times he’d been in the store when she’d also been there, he’d noticed, if he happened to look in her direction, that she turned her head away a little too quickly. He was pretty sure he’d caught her looking at him. He found himself trying to assess her age. She was a cute kid and he would guess her to be about 16 or 17. “Probably grow up to be really pretty,” he thought. He remembered that she seemed to smile a lot and that her smile was already pretty captivating.
The girls started to sing and he was pleasantly surprised to note their sound together was wonderful. Eva’s voice was this sweet and clear soprano that seemed to float in the air and then, all of a sudden it was like the sound was more than just in the air; Jacob found himself almost enveloped – embraced even – by the sound.Although the sound came at him as one voice, the sister’s harmony gave just the right amount of support and fullness; their voices were so alike and so different at the same time.
Every word was clear and seemed to explode in his head, a word or a phrase at a time. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. Jacob felt his own weariness followed almost immediately by a moment of hope. As he heard, He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger, he found himself wondering, “Could that be true? Could God really know my need and my weakness?” Truly he taught us to love one another.
He felt the words about loving one another in opposition to the hatred he’d held toward his father, hatred that felt hot and hard and ugly. He had a moment of deep clarity when he knew that hating his father was not only because of the violence and cruelty to his mother, as well as to him and his siblings, but also, in that moment, he knew he’d needed and wanted his father’s love, and that childlike neediness made him feel his own weakness so profoundly.
In the middle of all that hatred, neediness and weakness, the words about Jesus knowing those needs and weaknesses, and teaching him to love instead of allowing him to wallow in hatred seemed nigh impossible. All those thoughts were penetrating his heart like a needle, yet the warm embrace of melody still hovered around him in a way that seemed to want to heal the wound it had opened.
The girls finished their song, walked back to the choir and sat down and the preacher stood up to preach. But Jacob found himself unable to listen because words and thoughts kept ramming themselves in his head, like a raging battle in his mind: “I hate – God loves; I hate – God loves.”
Jacob had come to church hoping to find some connection to God, so these almost violent thoughts and angry feelings were not at all what he’d expected. It became clear to Jacob that if he didn’t get his thoughts onto something else, he’d have to get up and leave to avoid smashing a pew. It seemed he had only two options: to get up and leave or try to listen to the preacher. Since he had no desire to embarrass himself, he decided he actually only had one option – paying attention to something else besides the workings of his own brain.
He looked up to the front and, although the preacher had certainly faded into the background where Jacob had been concerned, he was, in fact, still there, talking. He was saying, “As we give gifts to those we love, let us remember it is because God, in His love for us, set the example of giving when He gave us the gift of His only son. And so, as we too, like Mary and Joseph, await the arrival of the child, let us ponder the marvelous things God still has in store for us today, as we are not only on the eve of His birth, but almost on the eve of a new millennium.”
When Brother Jasper asked the congregation to stand for prayer, Jacob stood and tried to heed the words he’d just heard, but he found his mind was still buzzing inside. He thought, “It’s true; there is only one more week left for the 1800s.” He wondered if it might be possible, as he moved into the twentieth century, that he might begin to find a little evidence of love in his life; if not his father, then perhaps God. He found it a strangely comforting possibility.’