All the inhabitants knew that Jeremy Jackson was the newsboy who would bring you the local newspaper at home, come rain come shine. You could rely on him. Six days of the week. If anyone wanted a newspaper on the Lord’s Day, he or she had to go to the Dairy. But there were not many people in the village of Warham.
So, every school day at four o’clock Jeremy jumped on his bike, went to the grocery of Mr. Potts and picked up his first bunch of newspapers (“The Warham Standard,” with colored pictures at the front-page). Jeremy had divided the village in four regions, so he had not too many papers at once to handle on his bike. Mr. Potts knew exactly how many papers he needed to serve all the clients.
It was not always easy for Jeremy. Much depended on the weather. When there was a strong wind, Jeremy had to push the pedals very hard, going against it, to reach the farms on the outskirts. If there was snow, he had sometimes to walk a fair distance. In summertime it was the opposite and he did the job with a happy smile, sometimes singing or whistling all the way. Jeremy’s sly face and spontaneous laugh mollified many elderly people, when he spoke with them. If they asked him to lend a helping hand, to cut a piece of grass, to plant a young tree, to trim a hedge or to pick up some medicines from the chemist, he was quite willing to do so. But, at home Jeremy had a problem.
After his mother had died in a traffic accident, his father married a woman he had never seen before. Only eleven months later his father died of a heart attack. That was quite a shock for Jeremy. He had no brothers or sisters, and he noticed that his stepmother did not believe in God, stopped going to the Church, removed the Bible from the mantelpiece, the photographs of his father and mother from the sideboard in the living room, and so on. Only in his room she did not touch anything. In fact she said he had to keep his room clean himself. Records and cassettes with Christian music she laid in front of his door. He tried to talk with her and wanted to know why she behaved like this, but she laughed in his face.
From that day Jeremy read every evening a chapter in the Bible before he went to bed, like his father had done at the table after dinner. Of his own money, that he earned with the delivery of newspapers, he bought Christian books and he subscribed to a Christian monthly.
It was clear to Jeremy how important Jesus Christ was in his life. One day he went to his stepmother and tried to explain this to her, but she became very angry and she said she did not want him anymore in the living room and he had to eat his dinner in his own room. Jeremy asked her what was wrong with the Christian faith, in her view, but she gave no answer. Jeremy asked God every evening to give him wisdom and strength to handle the situation.
Every morning he left the house with a bright smile He did not want to be discouraged because his stepmother was inaccessible, whatever the reason might be. “You don’t get me under,” he said.
The day came that Jeremy with the Bible in his hand went to his stepmother and refused to leave the room; he said he was not to be intimidated. He felt a bit amazed by himself, but he knew God gave him the strength to deliver a whole sermon. “I tell you the truth. It is not yet too late” he said. “Don’t be beyond reason or help, please.” He begged her to go once every Sunday with him to the Church.
His stepmother listened and did not move. She looked at him in a dazed sort of way. She had not expected that a boy would ever have the brutality to defy her and teach her from the Bible. She grew up with two younger brothers and she had known to bend them to her will.
Now she got into a black temper; she could no longer control herself. She exploded, “Jeremy! Stop that immediately! I will never hear about this again! Do you understand? Never again! That Book of yours is all nonsense. I have thrown out Christianity, out of my life. I don’t want you to waste your time with these things, and you must no longer go to the Church. I have been silent long enough. You are a fool. Behave like a normal boy!”
Jeremy shook his head and stammered, “If my father heard you now… I want to be a Christian, like him. You do not have the right to forbid that.”
“I’ll show you. If you refuse to obey me, you have to leave this house. I do not want to see you again. Look somewhere else where you can stay, I give you one day to make up your mind. Nothing more.” She ran to the corridor, put on a coat, and left.
It was Saturday. Jeremy had the newspapers delivered already. He went sobbing upstairs to his room. He looked at the pictures he had of his parents and a little native tree in a pot which his father had given to him shortly before he died. He understood now what his father had meant, when he said, that you had to set your standards high or else your life would become like an empty spectacle.
On his knees he prayed and asked God to protect him. That night he did not sleep very well. The following morning he left the house early through the back door and walked a long way before he went to the Church. The sexton just opened the doors. Jeremy greeted him and took a seat at the back. The organ was not yet playing. The sexton noticed the confusion on Jeremy’s face and the sadness in his eyes. It was obvious something had happened.
During the service he gave him two peppermints. The sermon was about being more obedient to God than to man, and Jeremy hung on the minister’s lips. It was the food he needed.
Back home Jeremy went straight away to his stepmother, who was sitting in a rocking-chair, with a lap-dog, and a cup of coffee in her right hand. Without turning her face in his direction she asked, “Have you decided, what you will do?”
Jeremy looked hard at her and answered, “Mother, you know what I have said. I stick to that.”
She picked up a magazine and said, “Well, that is settled. You have now to leave this house, forever.”
Jeremy felt a lump rise in his throat, took to his heels and went to his room. He put his money in his wallet, put his clothes in a small box, together with anything else that he found important, and went down the stairs.
In the Church-bulletin he had seen the address of a well known minister and he wanted to ask him for work and shelter. Warham would have to live without the services of this newsboy…
He went to the living room and asked, “Before I go, may I yet play the organ for a while?”
His stepmother stared in front of her with a gruff face and nodded. Jeremy went through all the psalms and hymns he knew, playing and singing. Praising, praying, thanking, jubilant or full of sorrow. The last one was, “I want to be like Jesus.“
Then it happened. He could barely believe it. This was the “impossible,” and yet, the hands of his stepmother were on his shoulders and with a dry sob she said, “Jeremy, I don’t know what is the matter with me, but please, forgive me all the nasty things I have said to you. I have treated you badly. Don’t go away. Help me. Tell me everything about Jesus, and what else there is in the Bible. Jeremy, I know I can never replace your father and your mother, but I will do my best. Give me one more chance.”
Jeremy slowly put the organ-stops back and turned himself to her. “All right,” he said. With a smile he picked up his small box, left the room and went back upstairs.
* * *
Jeremy told nobody in the village what had happened at home. But the neighbors saw, that suddenly he started together with his stepmother to take care of the flower-garden in front of the house. It became a wealth of dahlias, with a fountain in the middle and a pole with a bird feeder. On both sides of the path to the front door they planted spruce-firs, Jeremy had received from the forester near Warham. And, finally, every Sunday the two of them came together to the Church. No, there was nobody who came with questions. They all were friendly and pleased with some civil conversation. God’s goodness remains forever. ❖