Meet the other man in my life

Published 11:59 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

There’s another man in my life.

Let me explain.

One day in mid-2005, after my husband retired from the ministry the second time, he left the breakfast table and went straight to his computer.

What’s he doing? I wondered, as I took a load of clothes out of the washer. He doesn’t have to write sermons anymore.

Several years before his retirement, because of his failing eyesight from macular degeneration, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services provided him a computer with software that magnifies and reads the type on the monitor. As I transferred the clothes to the dryer and switched it on, he came in the kitchen for a drink of water.

“What are you doing at the computer?” I asked.

“Writing a book,” he said, turning on the faucet at the kitchen sink to fill his glass.

All through his ministry he had made notes of Scripture and quotations that meant something to him. I just assumed he had finally decided to compile them.

“Well, what’s it about?” I said.

“A Methodist preacher. He’s the senior minister at Sanctuary Mission during the Depression. He’s an amateur sleuth. The Catholics have their sleuths, the Episcopalians and some other denominations have theirs, and the Methodists need one.”

And so it was that the Rev. Alabaster Armstrong entered our lives.

Since that day, the dedicated, genial, sometimes tough, sometimes shy Alabaster has occupied hours and hours of our time. Other people have their cats, their dogs, but the Keenams — we have Alabaster.

Not only that, but most of the characters that he created in that first book, The Secret in Deep Water Swamp, live with us, too. If you were a fly on the wall in our house and heard us speak of Alabaster, Chief Detective Spaniel Hunter, Helen Good, Director Adem and several others, you’d think we were discussing real people.

“I’ve got to get back to Alabaster,” my husband often says when he rises from the table. Or if he’s about to slip into his own sanctuary to grab a nap, I’ve heard him say, “I’ve got to get Alabaster out of trouble. He’s really in danger right now.”

Sometimes in the wee hours of the morning, he sits up in bed, flips on a little light, grabs his notepad and begins to write. I call these moments, “Alabaster flashes.”

Alabaster’s penchant for getting himself into danger didn’t end with the first book. Some time early this year, he and his friends will spring to life again in his second book, Perils in the Belgian Congo.

And, yes, you guessed right. Alabaster’s still at it. The author is aiming for a trilogy and the third book is scheduled to appear in the months ahead.

There’s no doubt about it. The Rev. Alabaster Armstrong is a permanent resident of our household — the other man in my life.