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And Your People Shall Be My People

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Herbert Scroggins was not accustomed to being contradicted. As pastor of the Whistle Stop Baptist Church, he was a highly respectable member of the community, whose advice was most often received with gratitude and agreement. Even when he provided his advice unsolicited, he was usually respected on account of his status, and his advice followed. On this late Spring evening, however, the scene on the wrap-around porch of Mr and Mrs William Threadgoode's home was not proceeding according to plan.

'Sister Bennett, I really must object,'

'So you have said, Reverend,' she replied. 'And as you know, I use the name Jamison now.'

'It is your name that is part of my difficulty,' he said. 'You may use Jamison, but in the eyes of the law and the Lord your name is Bennett. To compound this, you are asking me to baptise your son with an unrelated name.'

She smiled gently, reminding Herbert that Ruth Jamison Bennett was considered one of the prettiest girls in Alabama – at least by the citizens of Whistle Stop.

'My son will grow up with a name he can be proud to bear,' she said. 'He has no right to the name Jamison – as you have pointed out,' she continued, 'and while there remains breath in my body he will not be subjected to the indignity of the name of Bennett.'

He could see the fire in her eyes, but duty required him to make at least one more attempt. He turned to his hosts, who had so far sat silently on the white wicker settee that sat against the parlour windows, while Herbert 's chair faced Sister Bennett's across the tea table.

'Sister Threadgoode, let me appeal to you. Brother Threadgoode, as a father, can you not persuade Sister Bennett?'

'Ruth knows her own mind,' said Mrs Threadgoode, 'and as it happens, we agree with her.'

'If this child is given your name, any rumour or innuendo that follows him will also follow you and your family.'

'Ruth is our family,' said Mr Threadgoode, 'And her child is our grandchild as sure as if he were by blood.'

'I'm certain you can imagine the sort of rumours I am afraid of,' said Herbert. He hesitated. 'I would rather not speak of this in the presence of these good ladies,' he went on, 'But I feel bound to point out to you that suspicions will surely fall upon your sons, as well as on Sister Bennett.'

'Reverend Scroggins,' said Mrs Threadgoode. 'In all of Whistle Stop, I can't help but notice that you are the only person not to accept Ruth's request as to her name. I believe that my friends and neighbours will also respect the name she gives to her son. And as my husband told you, he is our grandson, whether the law acknowledges that or not. Meanwhile, I am certain that the Lord knows and loves this little boy no matter what his name.'

Herbert opened his mouth to respond, but before he could speak, Mrs Bennett rose from her chair. Perforce, he also stood up. 'I want my son to be baptised in my church, among my family and friends. I hope that you want this as well, Reverend. In the meantime, we have no more to discuss. Good day.'

Herbert inclined his head in farewell. 'Good day, Sister.'

'Oh, Idgie,' Ruth said a few hours later as the two women prepared for bed. 'I declare his eyes were close to rolling out of his head, he was so earnest. The Lord bless Momma and Poppa for standing by me.'

'As if they'd do anything else,' replied Idgie.

Ruth was sitting at her dressing table, brushing her hair. Idgie crossed the room to stand behind Ruth and rested her hands on Ruth's shoulders.

'You know they think the world of you, Ruth. You're the daughter I never was.'

Ruth reached up to place her hand over Idgie's. 'You're their daughter, too. I could never replace you in anyone's heart.'

'I don't know why anyone would want me when they could have you,' replied Idgie.

Ruth put down her hairbrush and stood up. She put her arms around Idgie's waist and leaned forward to brush her lips against Idgie's. 'Don't talk nonsense,' she said. 'You saved my life, and you saved the life of my son. Our son. I can never thank you enough.'

'Weren't nothing,' responded Idgie, her voice gruff. She leaned into Ruth, nuzzling against her neck. 'It's awful good of you, though, to name him after Buddy as well as after Poppa.'

'Buddy was probably the sweetest boy I ever knew, and Poppa is the grandest gentleman in Alabama. Like I told Reverend Scroggins, our boy will have names he can be proud of.'

Idgie smiled. 'You didn't really say "our boy", did you? I ain't heard that Scroggins had a heart attack while he was here.'

'Oh, honey, how I love you,' said Ruth. She giggled before she grew serious. She sought out Idgie's lips with her own, and kissed her deeply. She slid her tongue between Idgie's teeth, into Idgie's warm mouth for a moment, then pulling away. She skimmed her hands up and down Idgie's back, underneath the well-worn cotton shirt.

'Why, Miss Jamison, what are you doing?' asked Idgie, all smiles and fake innocence.

'I'm undressing my bee charmer,' Ruth replied softly.

As they smiled at each other, they heard a baby crying.

'Let me get him,' said Idgie. 'Let me look after our boy.'

Ruth kissed Idgie gently once more, then let her go. 'If Sipsey will only let you,' she said as Idgie left their bedroom.

Buddy James William Threadgoode was baptised in the Whistle Stop Baptist Church on a cool Spring morning. Idgie Threadgoode – in one of her rare appearances within the four walls of a church – stood as Godmother, in a clean white shirt and tie, with red braces holding up her trousers. 'I ought to have named you Godfather,' Ruth was heard to mutter at Idgie, as they stood with Reverend Scroggins at the font. 'I ain't worn a dress since Leona's wedding, as you know very well,' was Idgie's somewhat louder response.

'That was the day that Poppa Threadgoode took Idgie aside and told her that it was time for her to act like a gentleman. She had Ruth and the baby to be responsible for now, he told her, and he gave her five hundred dollars to find some kind of honest work with which to support her family. There are those that say Idgie near cried at that, but I'm not sure I believe it,' said Mrs Threadgoode to Evelyn Couch. 'Whether she cried or not, she took that money and bought the café, and not a single person in Whistle Stop ever regretted it.'

'And what about Buddy?' asked Evelyn. 'They never made up rumours about Ruth and Idgie's brothers, did they?'

'Now, I don't know as I'd say "never",' said Mrs Threadgoode, 'Although my Cleo would have told me if anyone started up any stories about him, and I have to say I never heard any. But folks in Whistle Stop understood Ruth and Idgie, and they understood why Buddy was given the name he got. In any event, after the accident, he was nearly always known as "Stump".'

'Accident?' asked Evelyn. 'What accident?'

'You know, I never could understand how Ruth could bear to live so close to the railway line,' said Mrs Threadgoode. It didn't really answer Evelyn's question, but by now she was used to Mrs Threadgoode's way of telling the stories of Whistle Stop. She took two candy bars from her bag, handed one to Mrs Threadgoode, and unwrapped the other one while she listened to the story.