Zachariah made it clear to Selma that caring for the baby did not take priority over her responsibilities as a wife, so often, Christine was neglected as Selma saw to the needs of her husband. Despite this, Christine thrived, always large for her age. Doctors who examined her thought she was several months older than she actually was and sometimes insisted on seeing her birth certificate to confirm. As she grew, she spent much time with her uncle Alvin’s family in another county whenever her father would declare he was tired of looking at her and as Christine gained awareness of her situation, she was thankful for the warm and loving environment her uncle provided, versus the cold and cruel confines of her father’s house. On numerous occasions, Alvin insinuated that he and his family would be happy to let Christine stay with them on a permanent basis, but Zachariah always said no.
“The girl’s my responsibility,” he’d say. He never called Christine by name, always calling her “the girl” or just “girl” when addressing her directly.
One person who took a lot of interest in Christine was Deacon Frederick, who was his usual warm and accepting self. In Christine’s case, he was especially so, and always had a piece of peppermint candy for her, and took a genuine delight in whatever story she would tell. Christine came to wish that Deacon Frederick was her father and that she could go live in his fine house in town, rather than the modest and unadorned household her mother maintained at Zachariah’s insistence. For his part, Deacon Frederick always felt a closeness to Christine that was different than what he felt for all the other children in the congregation. He frequently scolded Messner for not showing more affection toward his daughter.
“You got you a fine little girl there, Zachariah,” Frederick said once. “It’s just not right to treat her like you do.”
“The Lord has given me this burden to endure and I shall endure it as I see fit,” was Messner’s reply.
Whenever Frederick would raise the issue with Selma, she would get quiet and change the subject quickly.
“He’s my husband,” she’d say of Zachariah. “I must yield to his judgment.”
At age thirteen, Christine was considered awkward and pudgy, with full, rosy cheeks, very long feet and short, dark hair. Zachariah rarely spent any money on her, other than for food and what he paid for upkeep on their house. He especially didn’t want to waste funds on things she’d only outgrow in a year or so, so her clothing was a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs from kindly neighbors with older kids, or tidbits Selma picked up at the local thrift shop for less than a dollar. The kids at school often teased her about her clothes, but despite this, Christine remained outwardly cheerful and friendly, often laughing along with the other kids, though sometimes when she was alone, she’d cry because of their taunting. Her best friend was Jodie Newcombe, and Christine often spent the afternoon at Jodie’s home, studying and doing their homework, since Zachariah forbade her from reading anything other than the Bible under his roof.
In school, Christine was mostly studious and polite, but in one class, English, she earned a reputation for being disruptive, prompting her teacher, Mr. Standridge, to keep her after school a lot. Mr. Standridge noticed, however, that when Christine was in detention, she never acted out, but was always polite and courteous.
“Is it okay if I read, Mr. Standridge?” Christine asked the first time she showed up after school.
“You may work on your assignments, Christine,” he replied. “That’s fine.”
“No. I was hoping I can read some of them books on that shelf,” she said, pointing to the literary works he assigned to the older students.
“If you’d like,” he said.
For the next few days, Christine would report for detention, and sit, quietly reading books from the shelf. The rate at which she finished them astonished Mr. Standridge, who began to recognize a pattern.
“Christine, can I ask you a question?” he asked her one afternoon.
“Yes sir, Mr. Standridge.”
“Why are you always acting up in my class?” he says. “I’ve spoken to the other teachers and they say you’re a model student in their classes. Why not mine?”
Christine lowered her head. “I don’t mean no disrespect, Mr. Standridge. I just wanted to read some of your books and figured if you kept me after class, I could.”
“If you like to read, I can loan you the books.”
“No sir. My father don’t want me reading at the house.”
“You can’t read at home?”
“No sir. My father only lets me read the Bible at home. I have to leave my book bag at my friend Jodie’s at night. He won’t even let me bring my school books in.”
“I’ll tell you what, Christine,” Standridge said, “I’ll let you come here in the afternoon and read all you want. You can tell your parents whatever you need to as to why you stayed after school. I won’t count it against you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Standridge,” Christine said, very excited.
From then on, Christine was a regular presence in Mr. Standridge’s classroom after school. While she normally would greet him when she entered, read for a while, then say goodbye as she exited, sometimes they’d have brief conversations. He came to enjoy having her there, and admired her studiousness.
“Is that your family?” Christine asked about a photo on his desk.
“It is. My mom and dad, brother Rex, and sister Claire.”
“You still close with your sister?”
“I was. She died when we were children,” he said.
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Christine said. “Was she in an accident or something?”
“No, she had a rare heart condition. Now they have a surgery that might have saved her, but they hadn’t developed it back then. Such a shame.”
“Bet you miss her.”
“I do, Christine. Very much.”
“Why ain’t you married, Mr. Standridge?” Christine asked.
“Aren’t, Christine. The proper way to say that is, ‘Why aren’t you married’.”
Christine laughed. “Okay, Mr. Standridge. Why aren’t you married? I mean, you’re a good-looking guy. Lot of the older girls got crushes on you.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.”
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to,” she said. “I’m just wondering.”
“Not every man is marriage material Christine. I’m still young, though, so, who knows?”