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Cover Story


The Jesus, Jesus Picture



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As soon as Grandma died, various relatives (relatives by marriage, and relatives by association) showed up and combed her house for keepsakes. By the time Tory arrived from Tennessee, the Jesus, Jesus picture was nowhere to be found.

And no one seemed to know what had become of it. The immediate family had their own upset over the disappearance of Grandma’s piano. Tory could understand why the piano had been taken.

Even though it was old, it sounded good. And other things in Grandma’s house had value.

But the Jesus, Jesus picture wasn’t one of them. It consisted of a plain print decoupaged on a pine slab. It had hung on Grandma’s wall so long that years of dust had embedded in the bark, and the shellac had cracked into spiderweb tracings across Jesus’ face.

After the funeral Tory went outside and sat in the shadow of a willow tree in front of Grandma’s house. Winter had stripped it in the same way Grandma’s house had been stripped. The same way death had stripped her life. If only Tory could find the Jesus, Jesus picture. It would be Tory’s link with Grandma, something tangible they had shared.

Grandma used to play the piano and sing hymns to her. When Grandma sang the words “Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know,” she would finish by pointing to the picture that hung on the wall beside her. “That’s Jesus,” Grandma would tell Tory. “That’s who the song is about.”

So in Tory’s mind the picture became known as the Jesus, Jesus picture. As a child, Tory had found it remarkable that Grandma owned the very picture that had inspired a famous hymn! But Tory’s own concept of Jesus had come, not through the hymn or the picture, but through Grandma herself. As Tory sat beneath the winter willow, she realized that Jesus had always merged with the identity of her grandmother. Was it sacrilegious to think this way? When Tory saw a picture of Jesus, sometimes His face merged in her mind with her grandmother’s. Well, she assured herself, this simply meant that Jesus had shown clearly through Grandma. It didn’t mean she thought Grandma was Jesus.

Satisfied with her resolution, Tory stopped wondering about the merging. But she didn’t stop wondering what had happened to the Jesus, Jesus picture.

Discovery

Three years later Tory visited her cousin Pia in the Smoky Mountains. Tory shared Pia’s bedroom, a room made dark by the hulking shapes of antiques. The antiques were legacies from great-aunts, elderly cousins, and assorted shirttail relatives from her mother’s previous marriages.

It was quite by accident that Tory dropped her brush one morning and had to look under Pia’s bed to retrieve it. Kneeling on the handwoven rug, she lifted the edge of the quilt. There was the Jesus, Jesus picture! Tory touched it, leaving a finger trail in the dust that coated the image of Jesus. She could hear Pia’s voice in the kitchen and Aunt Cecily’s laughter. Tory was alone with her discovery.

This is my Jesus, Jesus picture, she thought. It’s mine because I love it more than anyone else could. She wiped away the dust with the edge of her sleeve. Then, quickly, she stowed the picture between the extra blouses in her suitcase. As she ate breakfast with Pia and Aunt Cecily, Tory wondered how the picture had gotten under Pia’s bed. Was it just a convenient storage place—or had Pia stashed it there to treasure?

But I’m Grandma’s granddaughter by blood, Tory thought. Aunt Cecily was Grandma’s stepdaughter. So I should have it. Then Tory remembered that January when the two girls were 12. Tory had sat controlled and silent at Grandma’s funeral. Pia had cried through the whole service. Had Pia’s tears been easy tears of the moment—or were they wrenched from the heart, like Tory’s silence? Who could say?

Tory couldn’t get Pia’s tears out of her mind, though. So she waited till her cousin was brushing her teeth. Then Tory crept back and returned the Jesus, Jesus picture under Pia’s bed. After Aunt Cecily went to work that day, the girls hit on an idea. “Hey, let’s make out our wills!” With appropriate solemnity they crowded together under a Tiffany lamp. They began their wills with identical sentences: “I, _________, being of sound mind and body, do so bequeath . . .” Tory’s estate consisted mainly of her clothes, purses and shoes, old toys, and a modest record collection. Pia’s estate was more substantial. She owned an antique rolltop desk and a few other pieces of furniture of her very own. But Pia was a little short in the way of clothes.

“Would you like me to will you my big sweater with the glitter on it?” asked Tory.

“That would be awesome,” Pia answered brightly. “I’ve always wanted it.”

“OK,” said Tory. “It’s yours. To Pia Roby I bequeath my big sweater with the glitter.”

“Now, what should I will you?” asked Pia. Suddenly things became serious. “Will me that picture of Jesus that used to be Grandma’s.” “You mean that one under my bed?” “Yes! I’ve looked for that picture ever since Grandma died, and . . . um . . . I sure would like you to will that to me.” Pia’s eyes turned black like they did on the rare occasions when she got serious.

“You know, Tory, I suppose I will die first. Me being older.” (Pia was four and a half months older than Tory.) Things going their natural course, Tory thought, I should possess the Jesus, Jesus picture exactly four and a half months before I follow old Pia into the grave.

“Do you think maybe I could . . . sometime . . . borrow it? Before you die?” Tory ventured. Pia’s face went soft and sad. “I’ll give it to you now if you want it.”

“You will?” Tory felt like grabbing it and running. But she didn’t want Pia to sacrifice something close to her heart. “How do you happen to have it?” she asked.

“It always made me think of Grandma,” Pia said.

“To me it’s the closest thing to Grandma,” agreed Tory.

“With me, too. I think I loved Grandma more than anyone else in my whole life.” Pia’s voice was as sober as her face. The trouble with Pia’s seriousness, though, was she’d just have you convinced she was taking something seriously—then suddenly those dark eyes would crinkle up and she’d burst out laughing. Tory had been fooled too many times to trust Pia. Still, Tory knew Pia had a deep and tender place in her heart.

“I can’t take the picture,” Tory decided out loud. “Not if it means a lot to you.”

Pia went into her room and returned with the Jesus, Jesus picture. “Take it. You can will it to me.”

“Yeah. I might die first.” Tory cradled the picture in her lap as they finished their wills. She kept thinking of Grandma at the piano, singing and teaching her about Jesus. That memory should be her right to the picture. But what if Grandma had given Pia the same memory? Feeling like a softhearted fool, Tory slipped the picture back under Pia’s bed that evening. After all, it would probably belong to her someday anyway.

Surprise!

The next day the girls and Aunt Cecily headed to Tennessee to take Tory home. After Tory and Pia got tired of riding in the cab, they crawled into the back of the camper. Tory stretched out, watching patches of sky play across the window.

Pia spoke in the dreamy silence. “Remember those stories Grandma told?” “You mean her miracle stories?” “Yeah. Do you think anything like that happens anymore?”

“It happened to Grandma. And we knew her. So it could happen, I think.”

“I don’t mean to be sacrilegious,” said Pia, “but Grandma seemed a lot like Jesus. She just prayed that time, and she got healed from that water moccasin bite. Most people would’ve died before anyone came.”

“We’re supposed to be like Jesus. So if Grandma seemed like Jesus, I guess she was doing things right.” “I’m glad I knew her,” said Pia. Tory sighed. She wished she had the Jesus, Jesus picture. She guessed Pia, thinking Tory had it, was wishing the same thing. But Tory felt Christlike in that she’d given it up. Not like a fool at all. Grandma would’ve done the same thing.

Pia leaned close to the screen on the little camper window. “Hey!” she yelled to a guy standing by a small-town street. “Hey, flyboy!” Tory giggled. Pia’s moods changed so fast! One minute she was worried about being sacrilegious, the next she was shouting to a cute guy. Aunt Cecily parked for lunch at a picnic area outside of town. And that’s where Tory found that she did have the Jesus, Jesus picture. She discovered it slipped between the notebooks in her book bag. She snaked her hand into the bag to touch it, watching Pia outside spreading peanut butter sandwiches. She’d never understand Pia. Tory had always been the smart one—but Pia was the wise one. Pia had always been two steps ahead of Tory in anything outside the classroom. Pia outsmarted her many times. But just when Tory would decide never to trust her again, Pia would reveal a heart good and true.

If Pia hadn’t cared about the Jesus, Jesus picture, she wouldn’t have troubled herself to put it in Tory’s things. You have to care, Tory thought, to know how important something is to someone else. Tory slipped the picture out of the bag and turned the face toward the light. It didn’t matter who loved Grandma more. After all, Grandma’s legacy wasn’t the Jesus, Jesus picture. Her legacy was love.

Tory glanced outside in time to see Pia stick the peanut butter knife into the jelly jar. Smiling, Tory slipped the Jesus, Jesus picture under the front seat. And this time she didn’t feel the same emptiness when she gave it up.

Treasures

Six months later Aunt Cecily returned to Tennessee for a visit. “Pia has schoolwork,” she explained, “so she couldn’t come. But she said this belongs to you.” Aunt Cecily handed Tory a towel-wrapped object. Tory turned away to hide the tremor in her hands as she unfolded the towel. The gentle eyes of Jesus looked at Tory through the spiderweb maze of shellac.

“Tell Pia thanks,” she said, hiding in a simple sentence everything the picture meant to both Pia and her.

 

This story won first prize in the General Short Story category of the 1990 Insight writing contest and appeared in the December 1990 issue. At that time Debra Wint was a freelance writer who also worked in the social work department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She’s now the author of several books under the name Debra Anne Wintsmith, including Precious Jewels: A Seventh-day Adventist Family Saga and Church School Blues.

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