The Reverend Morrison’s
Last Christmas in Invertary
During his forty-seven-year tenure at Invertary’s Presbyterian church in the Scottish Highlands, Reverend Morrison had seen it all. And most of it he wished he hadn’t. Which was why, on his eightieth birthday, he’d decided to retire to Spain and spend his last few years in a country that wasn’t wet and freezing for eleven months of the year.
He’d planned his escape right down to the last detail and made it clear to all and sundry that he didn’t want any farewell parties, he just wanted to leave. It had been his intention to give his last sermon at the Christmas morning service—mainly because that was an easy one to prepare—then slip away quietly at the end of it. As usual, the folk of Invertary completely ignored him. Which is how he found himself taken hostage by his congregation and forced to sit through the longest goodbye since the Von Trapp family escaped Austria.
“Reverend Morrison,” Caroline McInnes said when she took over his service. “We know you wanted to sneak away, but we couldn’t let your many years of service to this church and community go unmarked. Please, take a seat. We have a few things we’d like to say to you, and then we’ve put on a wonderful buffet lunch for everyone afterward as a thank you.”
“Do you know what would have been a proper thank you?” Morrison said as the singing fool Caroline had married dragged a huge, throne-like chair into the middle of his platform. “If you’d listened to what I told you and let me leave in peace.”
“We all know you didn’t mean that.” Caroline smiled at him.
“Aye,” his nemesis piped up from the front row, “I told her how you’d personally confided in me that you were hoping the church would make a fuss.”
Betty McLeod gave him a toothless grin. He’d told her no such thing. This was just another attempt at payback for all the years he’d rebuffed her advances. Bloody demon of a woman. If Saint Peter had been around at the same time as Betty, he’d have performed an exorcism on her.
“I did not say that,” he told Caroline as she took his arm and led him to the chair.
“I know.” She patted his shoulder and then proceeded to ignore him. “Now, since you’re heading off to Spain, the children have prepared an appropriate Christmas song for you.”
The kids were all still dressed in the costumes they’d worn for the nativity play they’d put on during the service. One of the wise men was picking his nose and wiping it on his crown, while it looked like an angel had spilled orange juice down the front of her white robes—at least, he hoped it was juice, and not vomit stains.
“You.” He pointed at a teenager in the front row. “Go to the office and get my angina medicine. I’m going to need it.” When the teen didn’t move, he barked, “Now!” That got him running.
Morrison was jealous. There was a day, long ago, when he would have sprinted out of the church after the teen. As it was, he was too old and stiff to make a run for it, so all he could do was endure the kids’ tuneless rendition of ‘Feliz Navidad.’ Some fool had given them castanets to play during it. They clicked them randomly and used them to snap at each other. And then, halfway through the song Mary Johnson, who believed every service should have some dancing in the aisle—and had the biblical evidence to prove it, appeared beside the children. She was dressed in Spanish national costume and performed the Flamenco to the last verse of the song.
It was hell.
It didn’t help that Josh McInnes and his breakfast club buddies were sitting right in his line of sight and were laughing so hard they had to hold each other up. That’s when Morrison realized Josh was as much behind his torture as Betty. It was payback for those marriage lessons he’d made him sit through years earlier.
“Well, wasn’t that wonderful?” Caroline said as the singing ended. “Let’s give them a round of applause.”
That’s when the scream went up.
“James is peeing!” wailed the back half of the donkey as the front half lost control of his bladder. Parents ran and the donkey, both halves, was whisked to the toilets.
“Moving along,” Caroline said. “The women of Knit of Die have something they’d like to give you.” She motioned to Margaret, the leader of the subversive knitting group that had once yarn bombed his pulpit in protest over having to sing the new tune to Amazing Grace instead of the old one they were used to.
“Great,” Morrison muttered. “Just what I need. Woolen crap for a country where the sun always shines.”
He stared out of the side window, watching the gray sky as snow fell softly to cover the town. Bloody Scottish winters. They were the bane of his arthritis.
“Reverend,” Margaret said as she stood on the platform flanked by her cronies. “We realize that you don’t have much need for blankets and such in Spain, so we made you a wall hanging. Please accept it with our gratitude.”
He tried to get out of the damn chair, but his legs were a tad too short and the seat of the chair was too deep. All he could do was rock back and forth, getting nowhere.
“There’s no need for the reverend to get up,” Caroline said. “But before you give it to him, why don’t you hold it up for all of us to see?”
“Oh, aye, good idea.” Margaret and Shona unfolded the hanging and held it up.
It looked like a Sunday school craft project in wool. Just what he wanted to take all the way to Spain.
“As you can see,” Margaret said. “We’ve knitted scenes from the town.” She pointed at the top. “These are the hills, with the old mine. This is the high street and the church. That’s the Scottie Dog pub, and that’s the lake.”
“And,” Jean said, stepping forward with a large plastic bag. “We also knitted everyone in town and added Velcro to their backs so you can place them wherever you want.” She rummaged in the bag and came out with a short, grumpy-faced man, dressed in black with a white dog collar. No prizes for guessing who that was.
“Look.” She stuck the knitted version of him to the front of the church and then beamed at him as though she’d done something miraculous.
The church must have thought so too because there was applause.
“That’s not all,” Shona said.
Oh God, please, no more, he begged, but clearly, God wasn’t inclined to give him relief.
“I made you this.” Shona held up what appeared to be a lime green knitted bag with long straps. Maybe a plant holder? “It’s a mankini,” Shona said, as though reading his mind, or possibly the confusion on his face. “Like a bikini, only for men. You put your…privates…in the pouch and the straps go over your shoulders. It’s for wearing on the beach.”
Over in the corner, Josh McInnes was laughing so hard, his idiot friend Mitch had to hold him up.
“That looks wonderful,” Caroline said with a stoic smile. “And you chose a pattern that offered plenty of ventilation, which is good, seeing as Spain is so hot. Why don’t you put it all in the bag and we’ll move on to the next item? We don’t want the food getting cold.”
The women did just that, patting his hands and hugging him before returning to their seats.
“I’d like everyone who has been baptized by Reverend Morrison to stand up,” Caroline said, and a good half of the packed church stood. “Now I’d like everyone who’s been married by him to stand.” More people joined the first group. “Now anyone who’s had him perform the funeral of a loved one.” Yet more people got to their feet.
Caroline turned to him. “Look around you,” she said. “How many people can say they’ve touched so many lives in one lifetime? And these are just the ones who could be here today.” She pointed at Dougal who stood holding a microphone in the center aisle.
The pub owner was wearing a red shirt with an ivy pattern on it and a shiny green waistcoat over the top. With his white beard, he looked like Santa had raided Elton John’s wardrobe for the morning. “Reverend,” he boomed, making Morrison wonder why anyone had given him a mic. “You performed both my marriage ceremonies, laid my dear departed wife to rest and faithfully visited my mother in the hospital until she passed away. You’ve also propped up my bar on occasion, offered unwanted advice to anyone who would listen, and you’re a terrible dominoes player, isn’t he boys?” The Domino Boys cheered. “You will be greatly missed.”
He passed the mic to Matt Donaldson, the town’s police force. “You performed my dad’s funeral, married me off to the woman of my dreams after letting her claim asylum in your church.” He smiled down at his wife Jena, who had her arm in a cast after her latest DIY disaster. “And you made time to talk to each of us regularly after dad passed away, just to make sure, as you put it, that we weren’t suicidal or fighting the urge to turn to drink.” He grinned. “You will be greatly missed.”
He passed the mic to Kirsty Benson. The ex-model and current underwear designer beamed at him, and he felt his heart melt a little. He’d always had a soft spot for Kirsty. “You were at my christening, you sat through all my terrible Sunday school plays, you were there to comfort us when my dad died, and you came to Spain to visit me in hospital after the car accident that ended my career. All of this was done with your usual bad cheer, but you did it with love. You will be greatly missed.”
Morrison cleared his throat and fidgeted in his chair. Beside him, the lights on the Christmas tree flickered as the vast church seemed to grow smaller. He wanted to shout out that they could stop now, that this wasn’t needed; he hadn’t gone into the ministry seeking recognition or thanks. But there was no stopping them now. The microphone passed from person to person, each one finishing their list of memories with “you’ll be greatly missed.”
Until Betty McLeod got her hands on the mic.
“Okay, you old bas—” Betty started but Lake Benson, who was standing beside her, smacked a hand over her mouth.
“This is a church,” he said. “You’re already going to hell, try not to take the rest of us with you.”
She glared up at him as she shoved his hand away. “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by the morality police, Reverend Morrison, you old basket case you.” She gave Lake a smug look that said she thought she was smarter than him. But then, Betty thought she was smarter than everybody. “Morry, you’ve been a pain in my arse for decades. Just when I have things how I like, you turn up and tell everybody it’s morally wrong, or illegal, or some other such nonsense. Unlike the rest of the idiots in here, I won’t greatly miss you. I will miss our games of hide-the-salami though. I enjoyed having a toy boy.”
That was it! He launched himself out of the chair that had a death grip on his backside and stalked across the platform to snatch the microphone out of Caroline’s hand.
He pointed at Betty. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
“Oh, dude, no,” Josh McInnes groaned as he climbed onto the platform. “This is not the time to invoke Clinton.”
“And another thing,” Betty shouted with glee, still holding her mic. “His first name is Shirley.” There was a gasp, followed by smothered sniggers. “That’s right,” Betty said. “His full name is Shirley Thomas Morrison,” she paused, “the second!” And then she burst into a witch’s cackle.
“Give me that.” Lake pried the mic from her hands. “Sorry Rev,” he said before switching it off and tossing it to Josh.
“Okay, everybody, calm down,” Josh said, flashing that famous smile of his that seemed to make smart women turn into fools. “We all know that the Rev hasn’t had sex with Betty.”
“Yes.” Caroline took the mic out of his hands and led him back to the chair of doom, while he kept his scowling eyes on Betty. “Because he’s a man of the cloth and they don’t do that.”
“Or,” Josh said, “because he has enough sense to keep away from Gollum over there.” He grinned at the crowd. “See what I did there? Lake calls her his Hobbit, but really, she’s the corrupted version of those lovable shire creatures. Evil has turned her into Gollum. Smart, eh?”
There were groans. Caroline shook her head and stepped in front of her husband. “Josh is now going to stop talking, and sing.”
There was a cheer. Morrison suspected it was more for Josh shutting up than for his singing. He looked at the American. “If this is ‘White Christmas,’ I will make it my duty to pray daily that you lose your voice mid-concert.”
Josh just grinned as the music started and he launched into a rendition of ‘Hit the Road Jack.’ Smart arse. Although, it did bring a smile to his face when they got to the part about the meanest old woman he’d ever seen, and the church sang it to Betty. It would have been perfect if she hadn’t taken a bow and cackled as though they were giving her adulation. Oh, but he couldn’t wait to get away from that woman.
There was loud applause when Josh finished singing. Morrison signaled to one of the kids to bring him his cane. He was getting out of there before he got trapped during lunch and led down the long road of reminiscing.
“Oh, we’re not finished yet,” Caroline said, making him groan as he sat back in his chair. “The children have prepared one last special song for you.”
As they rushed onto the stage, and the first bars of music played, Reverend Morrison knew that this was God’s retribution for being the world’s most surly minister. Because the children were singing, ‘So Long, Farewell,’ from The Sound of Music.