The Church Across From The Rite-Aid

My friend’s mother passed away. She was adored by all who knew her in a way that is rare and precious, and I liked her very much. More than that, I have loved her son for fifteen years, so I did a stupid, too-long drive up to New Hampshire over a weekend to attend services. My parents came up as well, my father demonstrating the esteem he held the woman in by taking a Saturday off from work, something I can recall him doing less than a handful of times in twenty years.

“It’s at the church across from the Rite-Aid, right?” I said as we grabbed our keys.

“Yes,” said mom. The last time I had been there was for this same friend’s wedding, perhaps five years ago. “What’s it called? Do you know the name of it?”

I shrugged and and seeing it she said with me in unison, “The church across from the Rite-Aid.”

“Right,” she nodded, and we left.

The church across from the Rite-Aid is a quintessential small, small-town, little white church. Country songs are written about little white churches but across Louisville all I have seen are bricks and the SouthEast Christian mega church, which is infamously huge, big enough to qualify as a stadium. This little church has a steeple that is one of the last remaining artifacts from the original settlement of the town of Newport, NH, most of which was wiped out in a flood in the 1800s. Brian snuck me up there to see the bell when we were teenagers, and then sang to me as we sat in a pew high in the balcony, so that the sound echoed all through the chamber.

We were twenty minutes early for the services and the church was full. I sat in the back against the wall and my parents went upstairs.

Picture the churches you have seen in movies. Picture a church from a movie about pilgrims or puritans; one room, with an aisle down the center leading to the altar, and to the right and left of that aisle, hard wooden pews all along. A balcony runs above, looking down on it. Once, the wealthiest people in Newport had those seats to themselves, reserved to keep them away from the masses, on an overlook befitting their stature, where they could watch and pass judgment over the comings and goings. Those balconies would have been sweltering. To this day, like much of small-town New England, the church has no air conditioning. Behind the front room where services are held is another, larger, emptier room meant to be filled with people and food, off of which is a small kitchen to aid in this endeavor. The big room in the back has high ceilings and long, high windows, and aside from a small room here and there, added at odd and confusing angles, that is the entirety of The Church Across From The Rite-Aid.

The services were lovely. They should have been; Karen designed them herself, leaving a binder of instructions that included the hymns to be sung and the prayers to be said. People told stories about the endless kind things Karen had done, the sweet and thoughtful gifts she had made and given them. One of the two Reverends who presided over the service held up his tie. “I didn’t know there was a Clergy tartan,” he said, “but Karen did, and she felt I should have a tie of clergy tartan. Along with a hat and a scarf.” There are so few people in this world like that, so thoughtful, so relentlessly devoted to love.

After the service her three sons and husband welcomed a receiving line that stretched for more than an hour and the big room in the back was so full people spilled out the side door and onto the sidewalk for the cooler air. Five tables sagged under the weight of all the food and coffee and tea people had brought or made that day in the tiny kitchen to show their regard. For every one person who said something about Karen that day, twenty more brought something to share or did something to make it easier without saying a word. New Englanders are known for our little white churches and straight narrow wooden pews and lack of air conditioning, but let it never be said we are known for saying a thing when doing it would work just as well. There are plenty of ways to say I love you, and more of them don’t offend our cold and stand-offish tendencies than do.