by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #16 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November 2017.
Sharing grief and sharing joy,
hearts though two be one
Shared surprise by stealth employ
blessing new their son!
"You know, Ethelene, I think I met Carl a few times at the construction site before Quest and I moved north to Enid Trails. As I recall Carl was one of the hardest working bears on the crew. He always seemed to do twice or three times as much work as the average bear on any given day. I'm not surprised that he died of heat exhaustion. He never let a little thing like heat slow him down."
"Yes. That was my Carl. He was the best provider I could ever have had,...at least to that point in my life. Amazingly enough, though he was a Type-A individual, he had a gentle side, too. I watched him pull a needle and thread for hours without end to make these beautiful needlepoint pictures that were always done to perfection. Such a strong man. Such a gentle man. Such a persistent man. I miss him so." Soft tears trickled down her furry face.
Casa took her paw in his and let her cry until she finished. When Grainger approached out of concern for another creature in distress, Casa waved him off, mouthing the words, "It's okay. She needs to grieve."
A few minutes later Ethelene grew quiet.
"How do you feel, Ethelene?" Casa asked.
"Do you want to continue to talk? Can you go on?"
"Yes. I would like to do that."
"I must say that your Carl was one of the strongest bears I have ever met. Did he always work on construction crews?"
"You may not believe this, but Carl started out as a farmhand in his youth. He did work some construction jobs in his late teens, but then he joined the Special Forces of the Bear Corps, enlisting as a submarine sailor because he was running from the Call to preach!"
"That big, strong bear was a Gospel preacher? I think I need to lie down."
"There's more. He told me that D'Oso Reimi had chased him to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in the belly of his submarine by sending a strong typhoon that lasted for three days on the surface of the waters. 'I felt like the prophet, Jonah, in the belly of the great fish. I was running away from God just like Jonah did." That is what he would say to me and to anybody else, who would listen. He would preach it from the pulpit. To hear him tell it, Jonah was his 'sugar-stick' as much as was the little book of 'Philemon.'"
"Why did he call them 'sugar-sticks'?"
"I think it was because the truths and incidents of these two accounts were so 'near and dear' to his heart. Another reason was that he had some weeks in which it was hard to prepare a sermon. On those weeks he would often pull out one of his 'sweet and easy sugar-sticks,' preaching it, again, with great passion and joy. He loved to preach. He was, actually, the pastor of a little church near Fort Worth, when he died. He worked on the construction crew because the church didn't have the resources to pay him a full-time wage. He pastored that little flock of saints, like a full-time pastor, even though his was just part-time pay. He worked construction Monday through Friday 'to make ends meet,' but on Saturday he was out visiting the sick and shut-ins as well as trying to win lost souls to a saving knowledge of D'Oso Reimi. He preached every Sunday, 52 weeks out of the year, carving out the necessary time to prepare new sermons for most Sundays. He even came home on Wednesdays in time to take prayer requests and preach a short sermon during the Wednesday Evening Prayer Service."
"WOW. I knew he was strong, but I didn't know that. I am interested in being your friend, and hopefully more, but how do I compete with that?"
"YOU DON'T. I don't want you to be Carl. I want you to be the best Casa you can be, if The Lord wants you to be more for me, then He will let us both know that for sure in due season. Just breathe. Your friendship with me in this first week of school has been such a healing balm. You are a breath of fresh air, Casa. Be yourself. I am pleased with that man. I am quite sure The Lord is, too."
"You keep talking about The Lord. Am I to understand that you and Carl made The Big Choice for D'Oso Reimi, belonging to Him forever?"
"Well, I can't say that I've ever heard it put that way, but Carl and I got saved early in life, meeting in high school, when he was a varsity fullback on the football team. We went to see a very young prophet, named Winston Middlesbrough. The prophet had so much energy in his youth that he frothed at the mouth as he preached. Since he was (and is) a grizzly bear, his frothing sermonizing made him look just like one of those sprinklers the farmers use out in the field. He'd make the slow sounding, 'Tooo,...Tooo,...Tooo,...Tooo,...' from left to right, then he head would shoot back to the left sounding like he was saying a rolled Spanish "R," starting all over, again. That night as his mouth was spitting in our direction, his words were shooting right into our hearts. 'You must be borned, again!' At the end of the sermon, we ran down the aisle weeping and bellowing and giving our hearts to D'Oso as His eternal Home! We have never regretted a moment of our lives as servants to the Great Bear."
"So, I'm guessing you expect to see Carl, again, someday, right?"
"Most definitely. He's in Heaven right now, undoubtedly, working on some construction job or picking fruit or sitting down with D'Oso, talking His ear off. He was always the happiest when he was moving about, doing something."
"I can see that."
"But what about your wife,...Ossie, was it?"
"That's right. She was named, 'Ossie,' but I am sad to say we never thought much about God when the three of us were a family. We were always thinking about food, shelter, playing, and being together. God was Somebody the older people needed, but not us. We had too much living to do,...and...now she's dead. I don't think I'll ever see her, again. Oh, Ossie, what have I done to you. I took care of your life for most of our days together, but I totally neglected what you'd be doing now when you're dead." Heavy tears flooded his face. Regrets were hard to relieve.
This time Ethelene took his paw in hers, and as before Grainger came to check on Casa's welfare, but she waved him off for the same reason. Finally, Casa was able to speak.
"Did you know that Prophet Winston Middlesbrough was preaching the night the seed of the Gospel was planted in my heart as well as in Quest's heart? That night he made the bold statement, 'There is a choice to be made between Heaven and Hell. You must choose! You can't Not Choose!' We left the meeting that night very troubled because it was the first time we had heard about the Big Choice. We didn't know how to choose. We only knew that we had to choose, and that frightened us. When we got back to our makeshift den, I could tell that Quest was exhausted. So, I told him to get some sleep, and that I would take the night watch. That seemed to put his fears to rest enough for him to fall asleep."
"What brought you, finally, to The Big Choice?"
"After I had been searching online for about an hour to try to make some sense of the words the prophet had said in the meeting, all of a sudden D'Oso Reimi spoke to me. When I turned around I came face-to-face with the Son of God in the form of a grizzly bear. He explained many things to me, personally, that night. By the end of our conversation, I understood enough to choose for D'oso rather than against Him. The next morning I explained things to Quest and he made The Big Choice to trust D'Oso, too. I can't explain how, but something has been wonderfully different in both of us, since that day."
"You don't have to explain it. Anyone, who has met and trusted D'Oso knows exactly what you mean."
Just then Grainger approached the table. "Is this a good time, Monsieur and Mademoiselle?"
"Yes, of course, Grainger," said Casa. "What can we do for you?"
"The Lasagna Corners are waiting for you in a warmer, but I fear that they are not as when they were pristine...about an hour ago. Would you like to enjoy your supper before it becomes completely cold?"
"Oh, Yes. Grainger, thank you for your patience. You are such a good serveur!"
Grainger ran back to the kitchen, returning with two immaculately decorated plates. "'The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna' is served pour vous."
"Mmmmmm. This Flambé of 'The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna' is a wonderful homage to the great Chef's work." Ethelene cooed. "I could have this every night of the week."
"Ahhhhhhhh. I tend to agree with you, Dear Lady," Casa said. "The title, 'One of the Greatest Chef's in all the World is no exaggeration."
The new couple chewed slowly, enjoying every mouthful. With the last delectable morsel, Casa gently crossed his knife and fork on the plate, placed his napkin on top of the two, leaned back on the booth cushion and sighed a long breath.
"I could not have expressed it more elegantly, Casa," Ethelene offered and did the same.
"Great meals are like great works of art. One must savor the brilliance before turning one's attention to other things."
After a long fifteen to twenty minutes or so. Casa and Ethelene began a new phase of their conversation.
"Outside of teaching, Ethelene, what would you say are one or two of your main interests?"
"That's easy. First, I enjoy spending time talking with those, who have become important to my life."
Casa's eyebrows raised in unison followed by the corners of his mouth in a slow crescendo. "Have I become important to your life in these past few days?"
"If you had not become so, I would not be here."
"Please, tell me more about your interests."
"Secondly, I care about working with my hands. Putting together bulletin boards in my classroom with colorful designs and words that express the beliefs of my heart are great joys for me. Michelangelo may have painted the Sistine Chapel, but his painting is no more glorious nor more imagined than are my classroom creations. On the weekends I expand on this motif, painting canvases of 30" X 40 " with landscapes that show my love of God's Great Creation."
"I would love to see some of these at your leisure."
"I will consider that as our friendship is painted across the canvas of our lives. Now, it is my turn to ask you a question. Other than your job at the construction site and your doting upon Quest, do you have things with which you occupy your leisure time?"
"Well, I must confess that I enjoy watching American-style professional football on Sunday afternoons. Though going to the games in person is obviously out of the question, I have purchased a rather smallish, used television. Quest has even taken some interest in watching with me during the past couple of seasons."
"Do you have a favorite team that you follow consistently?"
"The Chicago Bears is MY team."
"Why am I not surprised?" Ethelene formed a wry smile. "Anything else? You mentioned needlepoint. Do you do that often?"
"Amazingly enough, when the television is 'on the fritz' and I have to listen to the radio (or maybe I just want to listen to the TV sound, while I am doing something else,) then I am working on my needlepoint crafts while listening to the game."
"Interesting. You mean the game doesn't distract you from your needlepoint?"
"To the contrary, the needlepoint helps me to focus on the game. The rhythmic 'in and out' of the needle & thread provides a 'white noise' sort of task that mellows my nervous energy, releasing me to enjoy the action in my mind with greater clarity."
"Now, that IS a mouthful."
"But it works. The other activity I enjoy is playing the other kind of football with Quest. Americans have named it, 'soccer,' but the rest of the world knows it as 'football.' Their rationale actually makes more sense because their version of football requires that you play it only using the foot with the occasional 'header' placed into the mix."
"Casa, may I be plain?"
"Yes, of course. Please, do."
"You appear to be laboring under an unnecessary constraint. Some females may require certain social niceties. I couldn't care less about those. What is the real reason we are here tonight?"
"Well,...I am interested in developing a lifelong friendship with you, Ethelene. I want the kind of friendship that doesn't have to say, 'Goodnight,' but only 'Rest well'."
"There you go, Mr. Bear. That impresses me and that is the reason that I am here, too. By human standards, I am about 45 years old, which means that every day is important to me. Are we communicating, yet?"
"I believe we are. By those same standards, I would be about 50 years old. I find you to be quite attractive, Ethelene. I can see that you love Quest and would be a great mother to him. Both of us have been quite lonely, due to the death of our spouses. Would you consent to be my wife, Dearest Ethelene?"
"Without any doubt, my answer is 'YES!' And by the way, I thought you'd never ask."
"I confess I was a little nervous about asking you."
"I could see that, which is why I decided that it never hurts to 'prime the pump'. You can be quite charming and precious and even romantic, given the right motivation."
"Thank you, Dear One, for your encouragement. You honor me."
"Well, have you thought of a date? Or do I have to plan that one, too?"
"No, Lady. I got this. What about Christmas Eve? For Quest, it will be the Best Christmas EVER."
"That will be AMAZING. However, you may plump up like Santa Clause, if you want to do so for the occasion, but I will NOT be a Mrs. Claus. I have to watch my figure, you know." A sweet smile danced across her face.
"I already have been. Oops. Did I say that out loud?"
"Flattery will get you nowhere. Well, strike that. But before you see any more of this figure, just remember you have to' put a ring on my finger.'"
"Done. But not a moment too soon for me."
"Cold showers, My Good Sir," Ethelene advised with a wry smile. "That's your remedy, until Christmas Eve. Until then we need to keep this under wraps from all but our closest friends, who are helping us to prepare the wedding. If this is going to work as a Christmas present, then Quest must know nothing of it, until Christmas Eve."
"I agree, but that is no small task," Casa informed her. "Because as you have no doubt learned, during this first week, my son is quite the inquisitive little cub."
"Right. I have learned that already."
"Ethelene, we still have time to plan the details of the day, but for a few minutes with the time we still have, before the restaurant closes and they ask us to leave, I think it would be good to consider what sort of life we wish to create together."
"Wise, Casa. That is very wise. We could live for ourselves. We could work to gain money or fame. We could settle down and build a home on Earth, which is something quite rare for bears to do. What shall we do?"
"Since Quest and I made The Big Choice for D'Oso Reimi, I have had a growing burden to use my life to bring others to the same saving knowledge that we now know. I don't think I am called to be a preacher. That's why I can't try to replace Carl. I hope you don't mind."
"I wouldn't like it if you did try."
"Thanks for that. That takes a load off. However, I know how to encourage people one-on-one, and I know how to build things with my hands. I would like to create an environment in our home in which we can use the ministry of hospitality to love people into the arms of D'Oso."
"I love it. I can make a pound cake 'at the drop of a hat.' My Georgia Pralines are second to none."
"What's a Georgia Praline?"
"Let me show you soon. Let's just say that if you like Butterscotch Morsels, peanuts, and crunchy noodles, then you will LOVE Georgia Pralines."
"So, you are okay with people coming in and out of our home at all hours?"
"We may need to provide a temporary home for orphans and homeless people, occasionally."
"Would you be willing to quit teaching at some point and travel around the world with me in order to rebuild countries that have faced great devastation?"
"When we are married I will be willing to go anywhere with you in ministry, in love, in mercy, in grace and for the providing of hope to whoever may need it wherever they live."
"Thank you, Ethelene. You are a rare gem. Let's begin to pray about our future ministry together, starting right now, since D'Oso has not yet given me the blueprint. He has only given me the initial direction along with the desire. The desire is to please Him. That is first and foremost."
"By all means. Please pray for us now and let's move forward into our future together."
"Dear D'Oso, we belong to You. We can do all things in Your Name and in Your Strength. Our hearts are open to You. Please, lead, guide and direct us, and if I have forgotten any other synonym that means we totally want You to take us by the Hand, then please add that one in...in our stead. In Your Gracious and Wonderful Name. Amen."
Casa opened his eyes and looked up to see Grainger within speaking distance. "Check, please."