No matter how sunny the day is outside, it’s dreary down here where a baker’s dozen of us first graders squirms in ladder-backed wooden chairs, arranged in an oval configuration. The church basement room is like a cave. The linoleum tiles have turned gray. The wood-paneled walls with black grain patterns remind me of tiger fur.
Mrs. Hubley is our Sunday school teacher at the Evangelical United Brethren Church on Park Avenue in Chambersburg. You’d think that a church with the word “jelly” in its title would be a fun place.
Mrs. Hubley sits, ankles crossed, at the head of our oval. A flannel-covered board is propped on an easel beside her. Her knobby fingers move flannel-backed cutouts of Jesus and others around the flannel board. Now she adds baskets brimming over with google-eyed fish. Next she pats cutouts of baskets filled with loaves of bread onto the field of faded blue. “Jesus performed a miracle.” Her voice quavers with demure excitement. “He fed a crowd of thousands.”
Mrs. Hubley uses the word miracle. A lot. It’s the theme of the story, apparently. Jesus and his miracles. Miracle. Miracle. Miracle. Mrs. Hubley believes in miracles.
So far, in my 6 years on earth, I cannot recall any miracles happening. The birth of my two brothers doesn’t count, everyone has brothers and sisters. Santa Claus isn’t a miracle because he comes every year whether you need a Barbie & Ken house or not. Our fish and loaves of bread come from the grocery store, every time. If miracles are still happening, I would have noticed, don’t you think?
At that age, I still had the guts to ask questions of authority figures. After all, Mrs. Hubley had the same raised blue veins in her hands and the same powdery checks as my beloved grandma Ethel. I raise my hand. I ask: “Do miracles still happen today?”
I wanted, I needed her to tell me a good one. It could have been about a miracle that took place in a foreign country I’d never heard of. It could have been a miracle less miraculous than fish & bread. It could have been a miracle that happened before I was born, something as far back as the 1930s. That’d all be OK.
Mrs. Hubley pauses. None of us moves. “Yes,” she says. “A miracle happens when you put on a coat, you reach into the pocket and you find a dime that you didn’t know was there.”
I slump in my seat. Her answer saddens me.
Time is almost up for our Sunday school class. Mrs. Hubley passes around a tin container with a slit in the lid. Sweaty dimes hit the bottom of the tin. Plock. Plock. Plock.
I wish she would have been better prepared for the inevitable question. Now I have to sit in church with the grownups and listen to the Reverend Fisher’s sermon.