Magazines 2021 Jul - Aug Joan and the rotting deck

Joan and the rotting deck

12 July 2021 By Maria Hovey

Finding God in unexpected places, by guest writer Maria Hovey.

We had a rotting deck. My sister Jennifer and I didn’t mind it much, but Mom always seemed to mutter dark things about the church board’s negligence whenever she was reminded of the deck and its decaying stairs. So we made sure to tread lightly on both the wood and the subject. Being a rural pastor’s wife, my mother had plenty of more pressing things to mutter about.

Her muttering seemed to subside a little, however, after Joan moved in next door. Mom called Joan her good friend. Jennifer and I called Joan absolutely terrifying. Our Sunday school teacher Cathy had taught us swearing was a very bad sin, tattoos were from the devil and smoking was neither dignified nor healthy. Joan was guilty of all three.

I tried to block my ears every time Joan said a swearword and block my nose every time she smoked around us, lest the evil reach my brain. Jennifer and I sometimes whispered in our bunk beds late at night about how horrifying it must have been when the devil tattooed those three little butterflies right onto Joan’s calf.

One day when Mom, Jennifer and I were at Joan’s house baking cookies, I saw something strange in her kitchen. It was a familiar object, but not one I had ever expected to see on Joan’s table – a black leather book with shiny gold-edged pages and a matching gold cross on the front. It even had sticky notes sticking out of it, maybe even more sticky notes than Cathy’s.

The next afternoon Jennifer and I were outside on the deck discussing how that Bible could possibly have ended up on Joan’s table. We decided she had probably stolen it from some poor, helpless, godly soul. To see if this was plausible, we acted out the scene with Jennifer cast as the poor, helpless soul and I as Joan the Bible Snatcher.

One minute I was fleeing with the imaginary Bible and the next I was sprawled on the ground, the wind knocked out of me, and bits of rotting deck littering my clothes and hair.

Joan, out gardening, saw everything. She rushed over and helped me sit up. She rubbed my back and inspected my wounds. She checked that nothing was broken – my toes, my ankles, my legs, my arms, my wrists, my neck and my head. Then Mom came out and, after making sure I was okay, started muttering like never before.

This made me nervous. Joan heard Mom’s muttering, which Mom usually did only in private. And soon the muttering was turning into something I had never heard before. She was not crying – she never cried – but she wasn’t not crying either.

"Why won’t they ever listen to me? Why can’t I make them see? Look what happens!"

I held my breath. I did not want to look at Mom, or the deck, or my bleeding legs, so I stared at the tip of the cross on the roof of the church, just visible over our home.

Joan took her hand off my shoulder and strode back into her house. A moment later she re-emerged with a cigarette in her mouth and that black book with the gold-edged pages in her hand. She marched straight down the road toward the fancier houses in town where Dave, the chairman of the church board, lived. I watched her butterflies bob up and down until she was too far away to see.

When we opened the door the next morning, half the deck was gone and half the church was there working away. We spent the day ripping out old boards, hammering nails, sanding wood and painting the new deck. Joan was there too. She spent the whole day giving directions, handing out popsicles and telling loud jokes that made even Cathy laugh.

"Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart and a humble mind" (1 Peter 3:8 NRSV).

maria hovey
Maria Hovey, from Caronport, Sask., is completing an honours degree in English at Crandall University in Moncton, N.B. Find more of these columns at

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