by ♫~ Kenword~♫
Enter into the Kingdom by the Blood of the Lamb
In many dissertations, parables, and examples Jesus, God the Son, declares the nature, reality and overshadowing presence of the Kingdom of God.|
From the time I received Jesus Christ as my Savior at the age of five and through the precious washing of the Lamb through baptism when I was twelve, I have been on a journey to find my mission, purpose and ultimate deliverance in God's ever present Kingdom.
Beyond our primary purpose, which is to Worship the Lord our God in Spirit and in truth, their is for each of His disciples a mission. For those who have entered into the Kingdom of Light since 1948, the year the reformation of Israel as a Nation occurred, we have been hyper aware of the historical empires who have tried to take the Kingdom of Heaven by force, and even more aware in these "Last Days" of those minor empires and warring factions both domestic and abroad, who are burning down everything to take Heaven and make it their own. But even as Lucifer failed and was cast out of heaven, so are pagan emperors failing even as their lives are wasting away to nothing.
Our last mission as the Church of Christ is to invite men and women to give up their own devices for creating a "Heaven On Earth," and come to the One who actually rules everything. Jesus is coming back. He may return in the next moment, the next hour or the next day. No one knows. But we are the generation that has seen the fulfillment of nearly all the prophecies that proceed His coming back for His Bride. To God, the Sovereign and all powerful God of the Universe be all praise, honor and glory.
May God bless all those who read, understand and are putting into action the applications for life that may be found written in God's scriptures.
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which is indeed the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches."
Jesus around the Sea of Galilee [Matthew 13:31-32 English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.]
Psalm 137:1 There we sat down by the rivers of Babylon; also, we wept when we remembered Zion.
2 We hung our lyres on the willows in its midst. 3 For there our captors demanded a song from us; and our plunderers demanded gladness, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. 4 How shall we sing Jehovah's song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget. 6 If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; if I do not ...if I do not prefer Jerusalem above my chief joy. 7 Remember, O Jehovah, the sons of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Make it bare! Make it bare, even to the foundation of it! 8 O daughter of Babylon, O destroyed one! Blessed is he who will repay to you your reward which you rewarded to us. 9 Blessed is he who seizes and dashes your little ones against the stones.
I was taught as a boy to open the car door for my mother. At first I thought that an odd work for me to have on my to-do list because the handle of the door of our yellow 1957 Ford Ranch wagon was just below my eye level, a level at which my mother's hand could have more easily reached and opened for herself. The door was huge and heavy and I had to make sure I got to the car long before my family because this chore could take a few awkward minutes to accomplish with my slight body and skinny arms.
It took time to learn that "door opening" was a courtesy and did not just apply to cars, but also included house-doors, store-doors, and church-doors. It was not in my intuition to naturally do courteous tasks. In fact it was more in my nature to avoid work and play hard at all costs. It was years of hard coaching from my parents to shape a world view that mankind was created to be for other people. It was through the church-doors that I learned this truth and one thing more, the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now.
In my little church in a valley of many churches our family, with all the other members of our congregation, would say these words of prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples:
"Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your Kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven"
When I open the car door for my wife now, she smiles sweetly at me and thanks me. It turns out this courtesy is one of those things in life for which she has great appreciation. My heart to be courteous at all costs has made our relationship a loving and kind one. I would not have guessed it in all the years praying those words " Your Kingdom come" that these precious moments of giving kindness and receiving kindness are in truth part of God's plan for those who must dwell in an evil, corrupt and dying world.
For those who run to the disasters and throw themselves in harms way, it is often as though they have the shield of heaven about them to rescue others while being themselves spared the ravages of plague, disease, and natural disaster. Through video capture devices we can even see the faces of those fighting the fires, cleaning up debris, tending to the injured, sick and dying. We can actually witness a bit of heaven at work here on earth.
From a simple act of courtesy to amazing acts of heroism and selflessness, we witness and experience the answers to the prayers of generations of Christians who for hundreds of years every Saturday and Sunday lifted up their voices to implore the Creator of all things, the Father of Lights, to bless us here on earth with the monumental beauty, peace and majesty of His glorious heaven.
For those who know Jesus as their Lord and Savior there is a place where all "good works done in secret" have become treasures stored up for an eternal life with our Father. (Matthew 6:19-20) And while this is an extraordinary revelation opened up to mankind during Jesus' teaching here on earth, the greater wonder is that there is a place called heaven where God lives, beyond the one bit of it we live in here on earth, where followers of Jesus will have eternal life with riches beyond the imagination of mankind.
There is only one requirement to enjoy the eternal riches now and forever more and its not that hard. Call on the name of Jesus and be saved. He brings heaven to earth for those who ask.
The hum of mom’s Sunbeam mixer roused me from reading my Donald Duck comic book. It was a Saturday. Mom never baked on Saturday. It took me just five seconds to toss my comic and materialize in the kitchen. She smiled at me and gave me one of the beaters to lick. She took the other. The love for chocolate cake batter was something we shared. But I could not ever recall my mom baking on a Saturday.
Mom could always read my mind so she said with an unusual amount of tenderness, “I am making cup cakes for Reverend Foster’s memorial service. You remember we talked about the day he went to be in heaven?” I did recall the conversation. It had not occurred to me that there would be more to it than the sad prayer my father had made at dinner that night hoping that God would comfort Reverend Foster’s family and everyone in his flock. Amen.
No one actually took me aside and talked about death and how it all works here on earth. But I had heard plenty about heaven. Growing up in a small town, it was the hottest topic in Sunday school. Thinking back on it now, I am not surprised. Many of my teachers and people we fellowshipped with at church had lost loved ones in World War II and the Korean War. One young couple’s child died with his aunt and uncle in a car accident. Heaven was a big thing when I was growing up, because in most towns in America in the sixties there were as many memorial services on a Saturday as there were weddings.
The most classic teaching on heaven was done by Doc Withrow in my fourth grade Sunday School Class. It was from the book of Luke in the Bible. Jesus is talking to a lot of people who want to know what he is all about and he keeps deferring them to parables about this person or that person. Usually one gets the message and meaning of his teaching while the others do not. Doc Withrow always emphasized in his teaching that people could choose to accept a teaching or reject it.
In Jesus’ day many applauded his teachings and came to know him as the son of God, many did not. Beginning in verse 19 in chapter 16 of the book of Luke, Jesus talks about heaven this way: There was a beggar named Lazarus and there was a rich man. They both die. Angels come and take Lazarus to be with Abraham, and as Doc Withrow explained, that means that the Angels took Lazarus to a wonderful place called heaven.
There were many things to learn in this lesson, and, as Doc reminded us, Lazarus would have only been escorted by angels to heaven if he had received Jesus as his savior.
So it became clear to me two things. First, there is a heaven where people who believed God’s promises to save them, are now living. Second, at the moment we take our last breath on earth, Angels come to take us directly to that place where Abraham now lives and that place is heaven.
Jesus said in John 14:1-2
“Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. And trust in me. 2 There are many rooms in my Father’s house. I would not tell you this if it were not true. I am going there to prepare a place for you."
It is not hard to know that heaven is a perfect place prepared for those who have put their faith in the loving son of God, Jesus. He came to give us life and life eternal. For now the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where the believers who have passed from this life, now experience a holy, just, true and perfect God face to face. It all happens in a moment.
I did not go to Reverend Foster’s memorial. But I did have two of mom’s cupcakes. To this day cupcakes remind me of heaven, the place where my mom now calls home.
My first suspension from school (November 1957) for fighting put me quite unintentionally into my mother’s week day routines one of which, having coffee and chat with three ladies from church, was the most excruciating. Tuesday and Thursday I was fawned over by two of the oldest ladies on earth during the commercial breaks of their favorite day-time Television shows. When they weren’t commenting on my precious looks, personality and manners they were scolding me for fighting at school.
The rest of the days I sat near my mom in our claustrophobic living room with its browns, lavenders and teal furnishings and watched television. It was a dreary programming for an nine year old boy. “The Price Is Right,” "Queen For A Day" “Secret Storm,” and the “Edge Of Night,” merged their various sorrows into one single voice that always seemed to whisper, “watch me, buy me, possess me.”
By Friday, 4 p.m. I was aware, deep in my soul that Sunday was coming and that Doc Withrow, Mr. Fourth Grade Sunday School Master, would have something to say about the new god of America – materialism. I was right. Of course I was.
Mrs. Esther Withrow was the treasured wife of Doc and had relayed with intricate detail the gory story of my suspension from school. He was also informed of the nature of my punishment and was concerned about what kind of useless, materialistic voodoo had infested my brain cells and thought waves.
“Your life is not to be given over to the things. We will accumulate things. You'll get things. But no thing must ever own you. To crave things is to forget the one who owns all things. He is a good Father and will give you what you need along the way. But God has made a place for you in heaven and that is where your treasure should be. Where your thinking should be.”
He opened his Bible and read from chapter 13 and verse 22 of Matthew. The parable of the sower. It was one parable I understood perfectly. But I did not do much to act on it. Doc read with passion what Jesus said about the destiny of the seeds and then focused on the seeds that fell among thorns.
“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful."
“We know about 'deceit' don't we?” asked Doc. He met my eyes soberly as he did each of the other eight boys in the class. “It is like a lie, only it has a lasting impact on who you'll become in life if you swallow it. Today it may be the candy you want, tomorrow it may be the snazzy shoes, or it may even just be about having some time to yourself, but once that selfish deceit grows inside you it will begin to be sour and distasteful to the people you care most about, and it will certainly displease your God and Creator and King of the Heavenly Kingdom to come.”
“Warn these boys!” Doc Withrow prayed, “Not to be filled with the greed and lust for the things they see on this TV everyone seems so preoccupied with. Show them Your one and only true path into Your Kingdom! Amen.”
We all said amen and in a shot I was out the door and into the car. Mom was taking me to buy my own transistor radio. I could hardly wait to hear the play by play announcers for the Golden West network describe the 1 p.m. baseball game between the Giants and the Dodgers.
It would actually be many years before my thoughts of the Kingdom of God would eclipse my obsession with things and the San Francisco Giants.
Her name was Margie May and for one gosh awful moment in time she was my pearl. My buddy Ricky, greatest friend of all times, got his mom to take me with him to their church group one Sunday night. It was one of those nights when my parents didn't feel like taking me into town for my usual church youth group meeting.
He introduced me to Margie. Ricky went to be goofy with some of his other pals and I fell into instant conversation with her. To this day I don't know why. From the age of 7 to 11, four precious years of male macho development, girls were taboo. But there was something about Margie May. She was a tomboy with short blond curly hair, bright blue expressive eyes, a smile that never seemed to leave her face and a devastatingly coy way of keeping me close to her. She seemed fascinated by every one of my stories and laughed with a sincerity that sparked within my heart a love and devotion for her that I would not experience again for a long long time.
As we said our good-byes that night I knew that I had found my new church group and all I had to do was convince my parents that going with Ricky to Sunday night church would make their lives so much easier. What I didn't know was that what ever was happening for me about Margie May on the inside was showing on the outside, and while thoughts of my new girl friend were held secretly in a place I would never speak of to another person, my mother knew. Somehow she knew.
When I suggested Ricky's church group would benefit everyone, especially my spiritual growth, she smiled and said, “I'll think about it. Don't say anything to your dad. I want to talk to him about it first. We'll think about it.” Her smile was reassuring and I knew that dad would be for me in this since he didn't like going into church on Sunday nights.
With these assurances in place I let the memories of Margie May's laugh, and smile and sparkling eyes linger for hours out of each day. So occupied was I with my dreams of Margie, I failed to notice that my mother was watching me and somehow reading my thoughts. I think my dad began to notice it too and sometimes I could over hear their chuckles after some of their “soft talk.”
I spent each day in the wonder of what it would be like to spend time with Margie. And I think it all would have went along just fine, but on Wednesday evening, before I could secure a promise to go to Ricky's church, Margie called me. My mom picked up the phone, listened and then turned to me. Holding out the receiver she looked at me with the queerest expression on her face I had ever seen. “It's someone named Margie May, and she wants to speak to you.” I'm sure my face burned hot, throat, chin and cheeks turning apple red. I could see my mom's head shaking an emphatic, “no!”
The voice on the line was sweet and exuberant and expectant. Would I come to her party on Saturday afternoon? She just knew we would have a good time. In that moment and for months after, maybe even years, I wanted nothing more in the entire universe than to go to Margie's party.
I longed to see her again, like I had never longed for anything in my life. I had been cruel to dopes that had expressed such feelings when we hung out together and now here I was, one of those dopes. The urge to be with my new friend consumed me. “I'll ask and call you right back,” I said. But I never did.
My mother's “no!” rose up from somewhere in her gut. Her eyes seemed on fire, and I had never seen such cruelty in her eyes before. She gave me no reason or assurance that this was just a momentary pause in my friendship, what she said was, “You are to never see or talk to that girl again. Go to your room now.” My eyes burned. Even before the tears broke out, it was like all the salt in my body mounted an attack on my tear ducts. My sight was blinded by salt and tears. From my room I heard my mom on the telephone talking to a parent in Margie's home. Her voice was stern and with a few clipped syllables declined the invitation to the party and asked that Margie not call our home again. “Good-bye.”
I couldn't stand it anymore. Mom had to know how disappointed I was. I ran into the kitchen, balling my head off and screamed: “Why?” With no answer and no mercy she watched me stammer, and whine and cry as though some vital organ was being ripped from my body. I stood before my mother unashamed of my emotion and wrath and poured it all out while she coolly observed my tantrum. Then, mysteriously I was done. I mean not just done with my tantrum. Done with something else. “Dinner will be ready in several minutes,” my mother finally said, “why don't you go wash up.” We were done.
As the days went by I regained control of my inner most thoughts and feelings. Something dreadful was playing out in real life that could not bear a young boy's happiness or self expression. I could be happy, glad, or sad, it didn't matter what, but everything had to appear cool on the outside. With cunning and well executed plans I began to succeed where in the past I had failed.
I still had emotional outbursts but it was in the war with my internal secret vaults that had to contain all evidence of my feelings. One could hurt me, but I was in the process of shutting off any outward expression of the pains. I could even be happy. But there would never be an outward sign of it again. I created a vault for all things labeled emotion in the deepest part of my soul. In that process I also curbed my passions for anything and everything. I would want for nothing ever again. I would continue to strive for this or that, but it no longer mattered whether I took possession of anything. I no longer cared. I shut myself off from potential friendships. What I cherished were my own thoughts and every one of those went into the vault marked: "Top Secret."
Being at the ripe old age of twelve I had advanced into a new Sunday School class with an entirely new kind of teacher. Mrs. Bollinger. She was younger than most of the mom's at church and wasn't impressed that there was a heaven and a coming King. Her Bible seemed newer and shinier and matched her purse, lipstick and jewelry.
Her teeth were blessed with a magical florescent glow that matched the shimmer and shine of the string of pearls she wore around her neck. Most of the time in class she would talk to the girls about school, and pop music and parties and other such nonsense. The number of boys in the class dwindled and the number of girls increased. I had nothing to contribute so just listened to the chatter knowing it was the new background music for my life.
Mrs. Bollinger, one Sunday in February 1961, handed her Bible to Linda G. and asked her to read Matthew 13:45. Linda in a clear voice read:
“Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Before a clarification of what the parable meant could be given the girls were soon chattering about shopping, dresses and an upcoming wedding.
I didn't need anyone's interpretation of that parable. I had met my pearl and I would have given everything for her. Discovering that the Kingdom of Heaven was the true pearl took many lonely years. In fact, it would be a long, horrifyingly long, time before I gave up everything of this world to make King Jesus the Lord of my life. My problem was I had nothing in this world I cared about, that is nothing but the one thing that mattered more than life itself - my secret vault for all my thoughts and emotions. That vault had become more and more valuable with every passing year. It was my Pearl and it was the price my Lord required. I held it out to Him and He took it. At last I was able to give God my "Pearl" and obtain the Kingdom.
With the loss of my first love, I developed an extremely morose countenance that helped divide me away from troublesome beings who might have wanted to be my friend. Not that I didn't have a few friends, but generally they were diagnosticians come to investigate what my problem was. My family knew what my sullen attitudes were about and chose to ignore my darkening moods.
My father's answer to everything was to “work-it-out” on the farm. I dug trenches, plowed the fields, tended the orchard, raised a lamb, cut and pitched hay. But rather than be the antidote, farm work gave me time to furnish my Top Secret Soul life with idols that I could bring to life in ever increasing exotic scenes. Farm work also gave me the one thing an underachieving 8th grader needs at school, an excuse for why my homework was not being done.
A starlit night arose over the dark road of my soul on the day after my Spanish teacher, Mrs. McNalish, died. Her name was Miss Maria Montoya. She would be the interim 8th grade teacher for the rest of the year. Beautiful, graceful, and young, I had never imagined a teacher could be so full of life and light. She became central in my fantasy world and the cause of even more scholastic underachievement. By unburdening myself from the rigors of scholastic achievement suddenly the mysteries of poetic expression were revealed. Love songs from my parent's generation became intoxicating. I had no aptitude for Spanish but as a tribute to Miss Montoya I became obsessed with all things Mexican and all things beautiful.
Her eyes were made of the deepest darkest chocolate ever created and were precious jewels that sparkled in a soft round face belonging to another realm. She took a throne in my soul where she became guardian of my Secrete Vault of thoughts, dreams and fantasies. Her voice, rich, full and melodic was hypnotic and while I could not assimilate and make mine the knowledge she possessed I embraced her warmth and sincerity with a new level of love and devotion that displaced my feelings for Margie, mother, home and family.
She was only a dream, remote, ethereal and unattainable but thoughts of her comforted me in a way that nothing else in life could. I began to write. I began to draw. I wrote secret notes to her and drew brilliant pictures of the eyes that were often the last vision of my day before going to sleep. In those days girls seemed to be saying things to me but I could not imagine that they would one day be remotely as womanly and precious as Miss Montoya and I did not return their kindness with anything but blank detachment.
Several weeks after taking over my Spanish class, Miss Montoya asked me to stay after school. My facade of cool almost burst into flames and my love for her nearly revealed. It was the greatest test my Secret Vault would have to endure. But without even the slightest blush I simply said, “Yes Miss Montoya.”
There is no way to explain our little conference. Mariachi music filled my ears, and my heart beat to the rhythm of the guitars and bass. I believe she wanted me to know that I was an awful student. I think she wanted me to apply myself and show her more aptitude for one of the most romantic languages on earth. It is even possible that she promised to not age a day and would wait for me when I graduated high school and we would run off to Mexico City where I would become a circus clown and a bull fighting novelist and she would be a teacher in a private school for over achieving rich kids. Who knows. I was just thrilled she actually knew who I was. Her place of reverence in my soul would last at least another week or two.
That same day the school bus home bound routes changed. They pushed my departure time back twenty minutes and my bus went directly to Walt's Superette where we met a bus dropping off high school students. I rarely looked up from my writings and drawings to witness anything that might be stirring the universe around me. I did not see a blessed force forming to build a new roadway in my soul.
She was a girl. But this girl was on the border of becoming a woman and she had the impropriety that is born into the master race of humanity that are destined to become actresses, movie stars, and great singers. The Debbie Reynolds, Doris Days, and Sandra Dees of this world. With a wry smile and three quick sliding steps she took me into her world, offering to be my bride if she could sit next to me. I may have nodded, but I'm sure she was sitting down before our engagement had been fully arranged.
As she settled into my life she slipped her arm through mine and took my hand. I smelled the apple/cherry blossom perfume she wore as she leaned her head on my shoulder. “I'm Kim, what's your name?” I told her. “You know that name suits you, it means handsome you know? And you are one of the cutest men I have ever met.” Internally I squirmed but outwardly I stiffened my spine.
“Now about our engagement,” Kim continued, “I want a June wedding but I think we should wait until I graduate high school and have gotten a part in a Broadway show. I am breaking my neck for our choir director Mr. Johnson to learn my part in our production of Carousel. I mean the singing is great. I'm an amazing singer. You'll have to come and see the show, I've got a real cool spot in it. But the dancing. Do you like to dance? I bet you do. You seem very athletic too. And those eyes and eyelashes. I'm surprised the cute girls on the bus haven't swooped in to take you away from me.” I heard some shrieks of laughter behind me and I was glad that I had developed a hard outer shell because I could feel the heat of severe humiliation rising in my soul. “Now listen...you know I love you with all my heart and I think our marriage will last an eternity, but I think we should have separate beds after were married, don't you? I mean I love being close to you darling, but when I sleep I really need my space.”
The bus ride that day seemed to go on forever. It was time enough to establish Kim's likes and dislikes about everything, (or so I thought) and to elicit from me my undying devotion to her though I had no idea what she was talking about. These things would grow crystal clear in the weeks to come.
I had never really appreciated the sight of my family's farm as much as I did that day. As we rolled into the huge “S” curve where the road skirted our back ten acres I just barely croaked out the words, “this is me!” I was ready to jump to the front of the bus a good hundred yards before the bus stop, but Kim held me close.
“I'll see you in the morning handsome,” she said and as she let go of my arm she leaned into my face and put her lips ever so lightly on my cheek.
Over the next two years my engagement to Kim would be our secret and one that I would come to cherish. It was a long time before I could be as free with her as she was with me, but she always seemed captivated by my joys, sorrows, pains and frustrations and often drew out of my Secret Vault a humorous way of looking at my vow to be a secret agent in the world of despots, fascists and abusers.
I learned through Kim that a spouse should be your best friend. I learned that love could be chaste, and pure and reverently holy where you truly want the best for the other person. I learned that your spouse would be the one to place you on a pedestal even though there is no way in God's great universe you deserve it.
And one other thing I learned through Kim and that was I think she was an Angel sent to me by the Lord God Almighty to save me from taking my own life. As my relationship with my family grew distant and cold, Kim was always there to help me through it. And there were a few times when I held her as the disappointments in her life became to great for her to bear. We laughed together and cried together. Then one day, as oddly as she had entered my life, she made her exit and I would never hear from her again.
I would learn under the careful tutelage of my youth pastor Harold that in the Kingdom of Heaven there are Angels. Scripture illuminates the many roles Angels perform. They are emissaries, warriors, and worshipers of the Most High God. They are also guardians of his beloved creation – mankind.
It was spoken of in the writer's exaltation of God the Son Jesus Christ-
Hebrews 1:14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
It is revealed in a warning Jesus gave to all mankind -
Matthew 18:10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones (children). For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
God Himself said of His relationship with us and His Angels -
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
My actual God assigned Angels would be vigilant to protect me in the many years to come and to the Lord God Almighty who created me I give my praise, honor and worship. And I pray His blessings to be on Kim, my teen Angel, where ever she may be.
I played clarinet in the school band. I sang in the choir. In honor of my 14th birthday I was given a guitar, a book of the 100 great folk songs of America, and the 1962 number 1 hit album “Peter, Paul and Mary.” My destiny was sealed.
By my sophomore year in high school I had taught myself to play guitar and sing like Glenn Yarborough. I added twenty-seven of the dreariest, darkest most depressing songs ever written to my repertoire. I was a hit at church summer picnics playing for the potato salad, baked bean and hot dog crowd. I even performed at a few ice cream socials. Eventually I was booked into a Sunday morning service introducing, what would become my signature song for the next decade: “Early In The Morning.”
My friend Kim urged me on in my endeavors helping me to write a few morose tunes of my own. And when it seemed I would perish in my Junior year Chemistry class, she encouraged me to change my major from “College Preparation” to “Music.” By some miracle my parents agreed. Instead of learning useless experiments I found myself in the high school Acapella choir singing tenor.
In the spring of 1965, preparations were underway for the high school acapella choir presentation of “The Sound of Music.” Kim, who spoke less and less about our engagement and more about how great it was to have such a great brother like me, was playing Maria. Actually she was Maria. It was a mixture of joy and sorrow as I saw her star rising. I had not thought of her as beautiful, but something vibrant and joyful was beginning to blossom in her. She was in fact morphing into a total beauty. Her voice, angelic, sweet, sultry and pure made me smile as few things could. Between my growing narcissism and Kim's growing celebrity status there developed a distance between the two of us that tried our friendship. There were fewer rides together on the bus. Our intimate conversations were growing fewer and far between.
When we did meet she seemed to look at me with a sadness that reminded me she was going away soon.
“Did you like the play?” she asked me on the Monday morning bus ride after the weekend performance.
“Not really. I mean I was moving scenery all night long,” I said, “I didn't get to see much of it.”
She took my hand and waited until I turned to look at her. “You thought I was great though, didn't you?”
My eyes burned with the tears I was fighting back. My throat was tight as if my body had produced something to cram up into my esophagus. This was the moment. I had rehearsed a thousand times what I wanted to say to her, but instead of coming out of my mouth it all seemed to want to gush out through my eye gates.
In misery I only thought once more of the words I wanted to say, “You saved my life Kim. You're like the best sister I could have ever had and I don't want you to go. Not now. You are beautiful, gorgeous, amazing and the truest friend I have ever had. I can hardly wait to see you in the morning and I pray for you every night. I know you are beyond me in every way and you have a big life out there somewhere, but I will always love you because you rescued me from teen-hell. You made me feel worthy of love and kindness. You own my heart and you always will. My dearest sister please don't leave.”
Instead I bent my head towards her and mumbled a, “you were very good.”
I felt her stiffen. Our one moment of truth was passing as we rolled into the industrial end of town. The pear orchards were in full bloom. The hills around the town were a lush green for the first time in months. The temperature was to be in the mid-eighties that day. I had smiled when I saw Kim dance up the stairs of the bus. She was wearing her favorite white skirt and a floral print blouse. Her hair, which she said many times “drives me crazy,” was full of life, cascading in vibrant shades of gold, auburn and bronze.
“Look Kim,” I finally said, daring to look into her face that was streaked with a few of her own tears, “I thought you were cool. Better than that Julie person. Way more cool.”
Thankfully she laughed and wiped her cheek with a tissue that appeared from no where. “I was pretty good wasn't I? Not as good as that Julie person, but I'll get there.” She let her smile linger as she searched for what more needed to be said. I'll write you when...well you know, when I'm on my way.”
“I know you will,” I said, having heard it a thousand times now.
As the bus rolled into the school parking lot, Kim squeezed my hand.
“Listen, Carl is going to be picking me up and will drive me to and from school now. You know now that he's my...”
“Carl? Mr. Christopher Plummer!”
“Yes Carl. We've started dating, I told you that.”
“I know you told me. But I didn't think you meant it. And as a Captain Von Trapp, he was pretty lame!”
“I thought you didn't see the show?”
“Well I was kind of drawn to the bad parts so I saw a lot of your “Captain.” Kim laughed and gave me the look I had seen for the last couple of weeks. It was her version of cute and she puckered her lips as if to kiss me.
“I will miss your dark moronic ways of looking at life,” she said.
“And I'm gonna miss you sis,” I thought.
“Anyway I'll see you in choir and at lunch with the gang though, right?”
“Right.” But she was truly Carl's girl now, and her conveyance out of my life just served to affirm that I was right to stay cool. Never want anything too much or count on having anyone to have and hold in this life forever. I knew in the days of preparing for Kim's inevitable exit from my life that the “Sound of Music's” happy ending was total bunk.
That evening, with these affirmations tucked safely into the Secret Vault of my soul, I began working on the message I was to bring to the Sunday night youth group at church. As a senior member of that group I traded off giving the message with youth Pastor Harold.
My text was from Judges 16:4 – 31, the story of Sampson's betrayal by Delilah, his being made blind and his ultimate destruction as he, after twenty years of battling Israel's enemy the Philistines, finally killed more of them in one moment than he had in all of his life.
I had thought of ways of making the message relevant for my group. But on that Sunday night, casting off the last tie I had with Kim, I did not even try to find an application. I just read the verses that meant the most to me:
28 And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
29 And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
30 And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
My message, not finding much to hope about, or expound about, only served to introduce, “If I Had My Way,” a song I had wanted to perform in front of a young, impressionable audience for a long time.
As I viciously put my fingers to the strings of my guitar, my voice growled out the words with such an intensity that I was physically gone at the song's end. Without so much as an amen, I packed away my stuff and left for home.
Kingdom – A Last Performance
In the shadows of the sanctuary, as she had been for the last three weeks, Kelly sat with her usual look of detached disinterest. Pastor Harold was a relentless bull dog chewing on the scriptural text for that evening's gathering. Harold nibbled at the bottom line of his talk for nearly fifteen minutes until he savagely bit into the meat contained in Jesus' own words: Luke 12:3-5
3 Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
4 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
Harold nodded to me as he closed, “If God is watching your every word and loves you enough to give you this warning about what you say, how much more will he be watching your every action? Fear God! Fear God! Fear God! Not just tonight listening to me, but fear Him in every part of your life. He will judge every one in the end, and those who are lawless will not have a place in the Kingdom of God.”
On cue I stepped up to the podium and ripped into the song I had been practicing for a month. It was a sweet little cover of Bobby Fuller's “I Fought the Law.”
Voice, fingers, strings, and rhythms strummed to the beat of another realm that converged with my hates, loves, sorrows, joys and hungers. For two minutes I was out of my body and head and drew from the shadows of the sanctuary the one girl who I would have never expected to be moved. Kelly. As the last moments of concussive pounds on the guitar rang true she rose from her chair and walked towards the front.
“I never knew,” she said as she joined me at the front. The meeting was closed and the other kids were applauding and laughing and shouting out the last lines of the song.
Her hand touched mine for a moment as her tormented face, young and pretty seemed to peer through her own place of darkness directly at me. “I didn't know you could do that.”
“It was nothing,” I said pulling my hand away from her as though my skin had been burned. I searched her face. In an instant I recognized what I had done. It was something I had been working on for over a year. I wanted to produce out of nothing a devoted fan. I had drawn her out of the shadows. It seemed she had been unaffected by everything in this world until tonight. And then... All the chords, notes, scales, lyrics, pretending, acting, and choreography brought her youth, adoration and vulnerability into my sphere of influence. For good or bad, she was opening her life to me. I never despised myself more than I did at that moment. I'm not sure what I said to her after that but the result was I never performed again as I did that night.
Twelve miles away, my mother sensed some disturbance in my universe and was prepared for me when I got home. “I don't think you should be a part of that youth group anymore,” was all she said to me. I added a dab of depression to my already forlorn appearance.
“Alright,” I said and went to my room. There was nothing left in the world that I cared to fight for anymore. The one thing I had been working towards in music seemed vile to me now. There was nothing in this world I wanted. I didn't realize that I could be more resigned to the things around me more than I had been the week before. But it turned out I could and so I was.
It would be years before I truly understood what happened that night, but now I know. That night, during my performance, and for the first time, the Holy Spirit of God had come to give me direct guidance. He used my feelings to show me graphically something repugnant to my Father God.
I believe God had shown something to my mother as well. All of the fullness of who the world could say was me was now crammed into my Secret Vault. But mom knew there would be girls. She was determined there would be no girls. To that end, every avenue that could offer an interaction with the opposite sex, outside of school, had been cut off except “Youth Group.” That now too was closed.
Despite her efforts, I was learning ways to get past my parental imposed sainthood. In fact I was bending more and more of my law constricted will to embrace all of the libertine ideas and fantasies of my day and age. The 60s.
For one moment, horrifyingly surreal, God did in fact show me that I could trust Him to lead me only into “paths of righteousness.” If I would listen and obey. So much pain would have been avoided in my life if I would have continued to obey the Holy Spirit's leading. But instead I “dumbed” myself up to God's Word and learned to over-ride the soft voiced counsel of the Holy Spirit. In time my heart would be as hard as the granite walls of my Secret Vault and void of all peace. And the Kingdom of God slipped away from me, out of my grasp, further and further away.
When Burger Chef rolled into town, I, to my great surprise, got a job flipping hamburgers. I worked after school three days a week and every other Saturday. It was here the senior pastor of my church, Jacob Willis, agreed to meet me and the Burger Chef super deluxe dinner special. The afternoon crowd was small and with the promise from my manager of an extended break and a chocolate shake in hand I went to sit across from Reverend Willis near the front windows.
“I see Burger Chef is treating you well,” Pastor Willis began after sampling a few french fries and a hearty bite of his burger.
“Work here definitely has its perks.”
“And how's everything with school?”
“Just about average I guess.”
“Pastor Harold tells me you've been doing a stupendous job leading youth group but that you had to step down now. Was it your job, or school?”
I felt cornered with the question. I didn't want to get into my strained relationship with my family and I didn't want to lie either.
“I think my family was a bit concerned,” I finally said.
“Well I understand the need to make some spending money and of course you need to focus as much time on your studies as you can, but I'd like to talk to your parents about you coming back to the youth group.”
I smiled at the spiritual leader of our little flock. I would have loved to have heard that conversation.
“Would you mind waiting until after I graduate? I might be able to convince them to let me come back once I'm complete with school.”
“Well, that would be fine except I would like to tie it into another conversation I want to have with your parents. I've talked a lot to Harold and some of the other youth leaders who have visited our church as you led the youth group and there seems to be some consensus that you would do well in the ministry. Perhaps as a missionary, or music pastor or even a youth pastor. What do you think? Have you ever considered that you might be called to be a leader in the church?”
The base of my neck at the top of my spine experienced a slight spasm.
“Sure,” I said. “Well no. Maybe. It was a long time ago.”
“You should think about it. I think God is calling you to be a pastor. You know it's a calling right?”
“Sure. Well? Maybe...are you sure?”
“Let me give you the pitch okay?” Reverend Willis had some mechanism in his head that rolled out words like a frenetic "Bingo Announcer" conveying the truth in the caged letters plopping mysteriously into his opened palm: “B7. O63. N39”
“I think you'd be great. Our denomination's college is in Eugene, Oregon right? Well I have family there. I've already talked to a third cousin of mine up there and he would be glad to give you room and board for almost free.”
“Really?” The spasm in my neck migrated to a spot in my right shoulder.
“I checked with the Burger Chef people and they expect to have several openings in their Eugene store in the fall. They made it clear that you could almost transfer from this location to that one with no problem.”
He paused and seemed to evaluate my unspoken language. I'm sure I hadn't blinked since he said the word “missionary.”
“The school tuition would be paid for by our church's denomination. You could complete the whole course work in under three years. Then who knows? By then we may even be able to bring you on here full time as an associate pastor. How about that?”
“Sure,” I said, “well...okay, maybe.”
My list of objections to his plan was a long and fully detailed one, but it didn't need to be. Number one on the list was the most obvious and would have been enough to keep me from considering his proposal. I wasn't perfect. In our church's denomination a Reverend was perfect. A Bible scholar and sin free. I was a sinner, a pretender, and a joker. A fake. I was also advancing towards a hedonistic life style that would only need three years of military training to perfect.
His pitch done, a serene look of complete contentment arose from somewhere in Pastor Willis' heart. The look he gave me never wavered. It was filled with so such compassion I felt the love of God in a way I had never experienced before. The stress in my shoulder and neck vanished. “Maybe I don't need to be perfect,” I thought. “This man knows God. I'm sure all of the vile stuff in me could be changed. We're talking about God after all. If he wants a flawed teen-aged boy to be a preacher man can't He change them?” Unbelievably I was beginning to wonder about Reverend Willis' proposition.
Another consideration arose in that moment. A far less altruistic consideration. It was 1966 in America. American youth were being drafted by the truck load. There was one honorable way to obtain a deferment. Stay in school. Reverend Willis' suggestion was more than a response to what may or may not have been the call of God. It was a life boat to ferry me to safe ground far away from service in the infantry.
Reverend Willis never got to share his proposition with my parents.
His message that next Sunday, either ironically or with incredible foresight was based on one of Jesus' most searing parables which I have come to call: “The Weeds In The Wheat.” It was a short message.
First he read Matthew 13:24
The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
“We know who the tares are in our life don't we?" Reverend Willis attacked in a stern voice. "They are scoffers concerning the things of God and His Holy Spirit, as if Jesus wasn't truly God and Man! and as if the Holy Spirit does not live in the heart of every Christian man and woman. Hah! They mock the things of God, not just with their foolish empty-headed notions, but with their venomous speech and murderous actions.”
Reverend Willis summed up a few thoughts about the “tares” and then closed with Jesus' own words with no prayer to explain the final fate of those among us who insist on being evil:
(41) The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; (42) And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (43) Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matthew 13:41 – 43 KJV)
After Reverend Willis left the pulpit, there was no closing hymn or announcements, and the entire congregation remained seated. Among the youth, who were perpetually in the dark about adult matters, there were some who repeated bits of the gossip they had overheard. “There is going to be a vote.”
I had not been let in on all the details of what dreadful thing Reverend Willis had done to unhinge the minds of over half of the church board, but never before or ever since had I experienced such a turbulent church meeting.
After the opening accusations, like the ferocious “Caaawww! Caaawww's!” of an enraged crow embodied in an ancient elder, were blasted at the Senior Pastor Jacob Willis, an even older and nastier crow-elder rose up to take a stand. With even louder “Caaawww! Caaaawww's.” he exhorted the forum with more venomous accusations. By the time a third crow-elder arose to testify, my mother was sobbing. As I looked around the sanctuary, a place of worship, comfort and peace, I noticed that many men and women in the church were hunched forward in the their pews crying with no restraint.
The children who were in the congregation picked up on the emotions of their parents and many of them were crying as well. As for those who agreed with the elders, their faces looked straight ahead at the tribunal and never blinked. They had barely been patient enough, but they could easily wait a few more minutes before hanging their shepherd, their buddy, their chum.
The chairman of the elder board announced the time to vote, counted the votes and announced the results. Reverend Willis was dismissed. When the convicted felonious ex-Senior Pastor of our renowned Christian fellowship offered gently and serenely to offer a few words of consolation and comfort to the congregants, he was politely told to “shut up and shove off,” which he did with an amazing amount of grace and even, what seemed to me to be, a bit of joy.
The congregation split after that. My parents never again darkened the door of that church. And I never was enlightened as to what had caused the dismissal of a beloved servant of God.
It wasn't long after the departure of the Willis family that I sensed there was a similar bullet waiting for me if I answered the “call.” I wasn't a praying man, but I had been in communication with God since my first encounter with the meanness of this world. Those communications were in the form of vows. If I was hurt by someone I would make a vow to not be like them. When I realized the amount of pain children caused their parents I vowed to never have children. When I saw what poverty was doing to decent men and women I vowed to be rich. When the sheep of a small congregation in my home town skewered their shepherd, their spiritual leader and friend, I vowed to never be a pastor.
I prepared to join the United States Army.
“I got four little verses for you here Skip.” Jerry pushed his Bible towards me. I had many other names, militarily speaking, but it was “Skip” that Jerry chose to call me as did most of the other guys in the Headquarters company of the 502 Infantry, Phu Bai Vietnam 1968-69.
There were “four little verses” waiting for me every day.
There were a lot of reasons why I never rejected his efforts to reform me. But I guess the main one was he was the best friend I'd had since Kim and I had a feeling he would be the last one for a long time to come.
Jerry, wounded in a battle several months ago, served as a cook with me and eight other soldiers. He hoped to get healed up enough to rejoin his unit. In the mean time he was an agent from the Kingdom to remind me of the call that was on my life and the really, really, really big deal that it was to have such a call.
His contribution to our hovel was a picture of his Mustang Mach 1, a picture of his girl friend Sheila, a record player, an album by Johnny Rivers and another by the Kingston Trio. In addition he had acquired a guitar and a Woody Guthrie songbook, by which he had learned to play and sing one song. This song I eventually began to hear even in my deepest moments of sleep.
And of course there was his thirty-two pound King James Bible with which to enlighten my darkening soul.
“Alright,” I said, “What's so important today?”
“I thought about some of our conversations lately and I think you are making a mistake pealing off from the church.” Jerry was a church man. Like me he had grown up in church. Unlike me he was nearly a hundred feet tall and weighed almost 4 tons. He was clumsy with most things, but when crates, boxes and machinery needed to me moved he was a planetary force all his own.
His thumb crumpled the page before me, but I could see he was pointing to 1 Timothy 4:13 – 16 so I picked up the book and read it out loud:
“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
I looked at my friend with “The Sneer” I had been practicing since joining the army but had thus far failed to perfect; so I suppose it was just my usual goofy stare.
“Yeah,” I said. “So what. Paul was writing to Timothy not to me or anyone else.” I started to close the Bible but the meaty palm of his right hand stopped me.
“Actually I think it is for you. It wouldn't be in the Bible if it was just a historical moment in the formation of the church. These verses seem to fit your situation perfectly.” Jerry picked up his Bible and stood up to his full gigantic height, his head just clearing the main beam of our hut. He read it emphatically back to me.
“I'm telling you man, maybe the church you grew up in was overloaded with self righteous bigots who couldn't discern something in the Spirit if they had too, but your pastor had enough on the ball to see the gift that is in you.”
A wry smile came over his whole face, like clouds clearing away before a full moon.
“So it wasn't the “laying on of hands” or a “prophecy,” you experienced, but what if God was actually using him to speak a truth right into the middle of your life? What then? You shared a burger and a milk shake didn't you? That's a most holy presbytery in my book?”
“Your a nut. You know that right?”
“And you're a tough case. But I've got another dozen verses that will prove my point. You believe the Bible don't you. That its the truth. God's word and all that?”
I wasn't sure. I certainly wasn't sure that something as holy as a communication from God would be coming from an ex-machine gunner like my friend Jerry. Besides I was pretty sure God was okay with my agreement with him that “someday I'd do what he wanted me to do.” At that moment I had one mission: to get back home with no additional holes in my skinny frame.
As I was about to make my position clearer to my friend, Sergeant Blaine stuck his head in the back door of the hut and hollered at us.
“Preach – you and Skip are on bunker 9 tonight. Relieve Delta's boys by 1800. Got it?”
“We got it,” Jerry replied putting his Bible away. “Let's get chow.”
Dinner was uneventful except that Jerry went back through the line three times, hoarding fried chicken parts and half a loaf of French bread in his back pack. I grabbed a couple of extra cupcakes myself. By 2200 hours we were content to listen to the guns firing a way off in the distance and finish up our early dinner. Flares had been popping off along the parameter since dark.
“You sleep first,” Jerry said.
This was my third watch with Jerry and I was comfortable with his direction. I had pulled guard duty with every other cook, clerk and motor pool guy in the battalion and they were all flaky in their knowledge of what to do if the enemy actually did show up some night. And with the growing acceptance of “dope smoking” and hard liquor drinking, I was truly glad to be on watch with the most sober person I had met in a long time.
The first five rockets came into Camp Eagle at a little after 0100 hours. Before I was fully awake, six more hit, knocking out bunkers eight and seven to our right flank. The two rockets intended for our bunker fell short blasting dirt and steel straight into the upper sandbags of our pitiful outpost. Jerry shouted something that sounded like: “Praise Jesus Boy!” But I'm sure that couldn't be it.
His weapon of choice was an M60 machine gun. He grabbed me up from the last garments of sleep and motioned to the pallet of ammo. “You keep the belts moving straight up out of those cans boy and reload the gun. Got it?”
“Got it!” I shouted, and he took the massive weapon that looked like a play toy against his massive frame and soon the dirt at the base of some bushes a hundred yards down range was plowed and then the bushes themselves were pulverized by 300 hundred bullets. As the steel left the red hot barrel the bunker filled with acrid smoke. In seconds another hundred rounds sprayed his field of vision.
“Do you see anything?” I yelled up to Jerry's position.
“No. But we'll keep laying down fire. Gunships should be responding in a few minutes.”
Actually it was seconds. Three Cobra gunships hovered above our bunker and the 2 bunkers to our right. They lit up the whole combat arena with the wrath of America and the frustrations of pilots too long away from home. Whole dragon-fly shaped dancing arsenals unleashed hell fury on whatever was left of the Viet Cong assault team.
Relief from the M60's smoke came as a soft breeze blew through Bunker 9. Jerry knelt in prayer too soft to hear above the whop, whop, whop of gunship rotors and the blazing gunfire, and occasional explosions. But it seemed as though he was praying the Twenty-third Psalm. I whispered it myself, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...”
I had been spared, once again, a direct encounter with the enemy. I was a short-timer now (under 60 days before going home) and this would be the last time of being in harm's way. It was years later, long after saying good bye to my friend and comrade, that I realized God had given me another angel to save my life. And even now I smile at that revelation. Instead of the usual stoners, alkies, and hop heads I usually pulled guard duty with, God gave me a mighty warrior whose heart broke for the enemy under his weapon's scathing fire, but who never-the-less protected valiantly his brothers in arms.
So Jerry, my brother, even as you cruise California Highway 1 in your Mustang Mach 1 with your girl Sheila by your side, I remember you with this prayer and your favorite song.
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, bless you and keep you. May He cause His Light to shine upon you, your children and your children’s children. Be prosperous in all you do and I will surely see you on the other side, as the Lord wills. Amen.
I returned home from “the war” just after Independence Day, 1970. I didn't expect bands or celebrations of any sort, but I certainly didn't expect to find a note written in my dad's hand on my old bunk either. The note explained that he and mom would be coming back from a Hoe Down in Eureka Sunday night. “And oh, by the way, could I cook them up one of my favorite recipes from the old days?”
It was hotter than the surface of the sun in the valley that Wednesday I arrived home. Now it looked like I had four days to get a few things settled. Family reunions could wait.
I walked the old homestead for a few hours that afternoon rehearsing in my mind my assault on the academic world. I had always been a good learner, but I had lacked the desire to excel. I found that desire somewhere in Southeast Asia. I wasn't going to be a pastor, but that didn't mean I couldn't be a teacher. A teacher was what I would be.
No. Wait. A teacher with a red Firebird convertible. That's what I was going to be. A teacher with a red Firebird convertible would be very cool.
The Firebird part of my plan was easy. I found a used '67 in pretty good condition on a small lot in Laytonville. My neighbor worked in the lumber mill there and gave me a ride to the lot. The dealer was asking too much, but with a few trinkets and souvenirs from the war and a lot of begging I got his price into the narrow range my budget could handle.
On Friday I enrolled for the fall semester at a college south of my home town; shopped my home town like a tourist, and went about preparing for my parent's homecoming.
The greetings from my parents when they came home Sunday were most cordial with happy hellos and a handshake. We settled into a nice meal of Lasagna, salad and French bread topped off with apple pie and ice cream.
I was cordially complimented on my culinary skill. Cordially complimented on my health. Cordially awarded praise for my choice in a fine American made automobile. (My brother was the scourge of the family for buying a Volkswagen.) My heart swelled with the warmth of hearth and home. Who needs the joys of being a son, when a person can be the head chef for some strangers from another planet who admire great America cuisine from Italy.
My mother looked at my dad throughout our quiet dinner. A crucial moment in mom's conscience finally materialized.
“Didn't Walt and Judy look wonderful at the dance last night dear?”
“You remember Walt and Judy don't you?” I felt my mother's eyes on me and was a bit surprised. She hardly ever looked directly at me. I could not even remember if she looked at me in our last conversation when I said, “good bye. I'm going to the war now.”
“Walt's the real estate agent you met when you were home last,” my father said.
“Their son went into the Navy about the same time...well you know, the same time you went into the Army.” It seemed mom's voice was losing some strength, though as I looked at her face I could sense she was trying to express some joy.
“Anyway son,” dad continued, “Walt found a beautiful piece of property just above Ashland, and it was the perfect place to build our retirement home.”
“We didn't think you would mind,” my mother smiled and pushed a pudgy hand towards mine, “so your dad and I thought why not use some of the funds you were sending home. So there. We've bought a bit of heaven and you have helped us do it.”
Every month for the 36 months I had spent in the Army I had sent home a $25 savings bond. As instructed by the military each bond was purchased in my name and in my father's name in case I wasn't able to return. Either of us could sign for the money at maturity or cash out the bond immediately and forfeit the bond's full value.
Dad left the table for a moment and returned with a photo album.
“Here are some of the pictures of the property.”
“It really is a beautiful spot, and it is the perfect place to build a home or put one of those new mobile homes on.”
“We put our camping trailer up there for now,” my dad said pointing to the picture of it tucked into a massive stand of fir trees.
“How much?” I finally managed to ask.
“We had to come up with $700 for the down payment,” mom said.
“So we used all but six of the bonds you were sending home,” my dad said, apparently wanting a pat on the back for his amazing financial management skills.
One of my great failings at school was in the area of mathematics. Economics was another. But it didn't take me long to figure out that instead of living in a nice dorm at college I would be sleeping in my Firebird and getting a job.
“Now I know what you're thinking son,” my dad continued, “but we had to move fast. The price of real estate has been going through the roof and we have to be prepared for our future.”
Our future. Actually I was thinking, and I don't know why, I was thinking of a night. It was a night I spent out in the boonies of Viet Nam with an infantry patrol because company "C", during the serving of their dinner came under fire and the UH 1 “Huey” Gunship that was to be my ride back to base camp could not come back to pick up a lowly cook for fear of being shot down.
I was thinking how on that particular day it was 110 degrees in the shade and there was no shade, and how I had dressed in the lightest uniform I could get away with. I was thinking about how on that night a squall came in from the north and within minutes I was drenched. I was thinking about how I shivered in a shallow sandy hole all night long while the GI next to me kept muttering, “They're out there. You see 'em? I tell you they're out there.”
I was thinking about how much my gut was knotted up with so much rage for being left behind. For having to deal with my cowardice; to deal with all of my nightmares of being blown to bits and never knowing what life would be like with the perfect girl, job and home. And what would it be like for my soul after my death? Would I meet God in his glorious Kingdom in Heaven or be sent to the fires of hell with all my faults and iniquity for eternity.
I'm pretty sure dad had no idea what I was thinking.
A shiver went through my body as I looked at my dad and smiled. He would never know the devastation he had just unleashed in my soul. I wouldn't say. I wouldn't show. I just smiled.
My mom watched my reaction to dad's explanation. Her cheeks swelled up with her best chipmunk impression satisfied that I was taking it well. She switched on her “have-I-got-deal-for-you” face and pursed her lips making her words sharp enough to pierce armor.
“You have a wonderful skill now. It's what you wanted to be before you left home. I mean that's what you wanted right? A way to make a good living. And you know what we found out last night?” mom looked at dad to make sure he was in the monologue. “Judy said her brother's restaurant is looking for a cook. Its at their lodge in Regina Heights. And guess what? The job comes with room and board. It's perfect. I mean its exactly what you hoped for right?”
“Walt is suppose to get back to me tomorrow,” my dad added. “He said all they needed to do was set up an appointment for you to go and see...what was his name, Lil?”
“Brandon. Brandon Wilkes.”
I wasn't completely sure but I felt that I was complete with everything to do with family. At least for one evening.
“Well it sounds like it is all working out the way its suppose to,” I said. "Would anyone like some more pie or ice cream?”
“This was really a superb dinner son,” my dad said. “You've really developed your gift. Lil?”
“I'll have a bit more ice cream.”