thursday, april 12th, 2007, 5:30. p.m.
Trevor Kenny – Tree – drove into Bryden Falls Baseball Park after the hour trip from River’s Bend, south of the border, with three of his teammates, parking his ’02 F150 crew cab away from the diamond to protect his windshield from foul balls. He liked coming to this park. It was usually an easy win, but that’s not it. He liked to strike out Christians.
Tree hated God. God was someone a way up there who got a buzz from watching little earthlings, same as people who like staring at creatures in the zoo. Same as those who followed ambulances hoping to see a good accident, maybe a kid lying injured beside his bike. God is the One who could give a guy a break, but wouldn’t. Tree knew people like that. Passed the guy broken down on the side of the winter road, wife and kids freezing in the car. No business of mine. No one to coach midget baseball? Gee, that’s too bad.
God stood by and watched – just watched! – Billy and Jesse get gunned down with an AK-47 one month – one month! – before their time in the marines was up. Billy was engaged to be married. His girl was home making wedding plans. Ended up marrying a jerk. And it got better! Here comes Pete and Greg to their rescue. God must have thought, This is getting good! Are they going to set off that booby trap and blow themselves up? Boom! Gone. Blown to pieces.
Better shut up, Tree scolded himself, knowing thoughts like these could set off dreaded flashbacks.
Tree got a real bang out of striking out Christians because they loved the One he hated, just like he enjoyed harassing “God-lovers” at work. Being a foreman at the glass plant gave him leverage; if they came in late or made a mistake they suffered his bias. Call it revenge.
He liked to beat the Challengers bad, and the Grizzlies he coached always managed. Today would be no exception though wins were getting more difficult. The Grizzlies were named after the ferocious grizzly bear occasionally spotted in the region’s high-up country. They were also called less endearing names behind their backs. They were a rugged bunch taking pride in their coarse mannerism and appearance. Spike, Tree’s assistant coach, was so nicknamed because of his tendency to spike the opposition with his cleats when they dared get in his way. Belch, first baseman, belched noisily whenever he figured the ump made a bad call. Pig was named after the pigs on his rundown pig farm. Or was it because of the beer stains dirtying his rusty-red sweater, and the beer belly testing his shirt buttons? Most on the team needed a shave, and some a bath. It took someone as tough as Tree to manage this horde; the ex-marine could stare down any one of them.
Warm-up over, infield practice done, team’s batting orders exchanged, time to get to work. Half of the first inning over, the Grizzlies already got two runs off Mac’s pitching. Thought Mac said they practiced all winter, Tree was thinking as he approached the mound. Didn’t seem to do them much good.
“Leadoff batter, number 33, left fielder, Kyle Maclin!” the announcer declared on the sound system.
Mac’s boy. Don’t like this, Tree thought. Mac was his only friend. Yeah, lots of beer buddies, but only one he called friend. I’ll go easy on this one. He pitched three times in the same place, right down the middle, fast but not too fast. Sure enough, Kyle connected, a high fly ball into the right fielder’s glove. No harm done. He glanced over to the Challengers dugout to see if Mac noticed his act of mercy.
“Second batter, number 8, first baseman and assistant coach, Phil Ferguson!”
Where does Mac pick up these guys? “God keeps sending us baseball players,” Tree remembered Mac saying. Well, mercy time over, pal. Tree was exceptionally tall and over the years learned to put all six-foot-six to his advantage, using his body as a long sling, often whipping out eighty miles-per-hour pitches, enough to scare most in this league. He expertly mixed fastballs with curves and change-ups and sinkers. The fact he was a lefty gave him a real advantage; most were used to hitting right-handers. Some had thought he had a good chance at pro ball after the marines, but serious beer drinking got in the way.
The change-up completely fooled Phil who nervously anticipated a fastball, and all he hit was air. Embarrassed, he let the next one go by, hoping it would be a ball. It wasn’t, strike two. Tree knew Phil would swing at the next one, hoping to redeem himself, so he threw a ball outside. Phil swung and missed. Have a seat, Pastor Ferguson, Tree muttered to himself. Two out, one to go. Who’s the next victim?
“Third man to bat, number 16, short stop, John Tanner!”
Roo’s boy. I’ll show him what it’s like to play with the big boys. John’s timing was right on, but missed Tree’s fastball by a few inches. The sinker never fooled him, and John let it fall to the ground. Tree purposely pitched outside, thinking the boy would chase it. John let it go, a strike and two balls. Mmmm, this kid’s smart. How about a fastball just above the knees? John fouled it, two balls and two strikes. John took a chance, letting the next ball go by, thinking his opponent would throw one just outside the strike zone. He was right, a full count.
It’s hard hitting a ball when you don’t know if it’s going to come a eighty miles-per-hour or sixty. Pitcher and batter try to outwit each other. Experience was on Tree’s side; he could read John’s expectation better than John could read the pitcher’s intention. The change-up fooled John, and he swung and missed, the ball landing in the dirt at his feet. Fortunately, the catcher missed the ball as it bounced crazily away from his awaiting glove, and John, allowed to run because the catcher missed the third-strike ball, made it safe to first base. The kid got a break!
“Next batter, number 21, back catcher, Reuben, Roo, Tanner!” “Roo! Roo! Roo!” The Challengers fans always chanted when Roo came to bat. Many times a hit to the outfield, or occasionally over the fence, won them the game. No one in the league could match his reliability. He was their man, and they loved him.
Best hitter in the league, Tree reminded himself. Last year hit an incredible four-ninety average. Tree had faced this worthy opponent many times and was wary. Common sense told Tree that he should purposely walk Roo, figuring he could easily strike the next batter out, putting an end to the inning. Since he didn’t intend to let Roo hit, Tree thought it a good opportunity to make a statement.
Reuben had an aggravating habit of crowding the plate. Often the umpire would mistakenly call an inside strike a ball simply because it came so close to the batter. Tree wanted to give Roo the message that he would not tolerate it this year. He purposely aimed for Roo’s wrists, but not so fast that Reuben couldn’t avoid the ball. It was his way of saying, Step back! But Roo held his ground. Damn! Tree mumbled. So Roo wants to do battle. Okay buddy, you’re on. Tree threw his hardest pitch, just inside the plate, Reuben had to jerk back to avoid the missile. Still Roo ignored this second warning, stepped up to his original position, his body touching the strike zone. Damn Christians, Tree thought to himself. Tree could not back down now. The next pitch would be straight at Roo’s head.
Pitcher and hitter understood each other perfectly. Roo knew Tree was telling him to move back, and Tree knew he knew. It was a game within the game, a test of the will. Roo realized Tree would not back down. And he knew his fastball could do serious injury. Mac, watching from the third base coach’s box, was fully aware of the battle between his best friend and his back catcher. And everyone on both teams and anyone in the stands who had even a little baseball savvy picked up the drama. John watched his dad helplessly from first base. Tree knew that many players on other teams would charge the pitcher’s mound in rage if they thought the pitcher would intentionally injure them. He also knew Mac strictly forbade any unsportsmanlike conduct.
Roo fended off the fastball with his bare hand, it hurt bad, the umpire called time-out, inspected the injured hand, sent the batter to first base, walked to the pitcher’s mound, gave Tree a stern warning, and angrily shouted, “Play ball!” Tree struck the next batter out, ending the inning.
Tree felt like a real jerk, hitting someone he knew would not hit back. But he was not going to be bested by a Christian. He threw his glove hard on the bench, hoping his team would think he was mad at the Challengers, and not himself. He sat in the corner of the dugout and brooded. Any other team would get even, but not these clowns. Tree was thoroughly revolted by their sportsmanship. There was an unwritten rule that Mac, the Challengers pitcher, was to purposely hit the first one up to bat to even the score, but Mac would never do that, and everyone knew it. Tree learned from his pal that the Challengers were here as an outreach into the community, to be an influence for God, to set an example of Christian behavior. How disgusting, Tree thought. Should never have let them into the league. They don’t belong. They’re so……different. No swearing, no dirty jokes, no beer after the game. They don’t even get mad when they’re supposed to.
Tree well remembered Mac approaching him about getting into the league.
tuesday, january 7th, 2002, 10:00 a.m.
“What! A church team? A Canadian church team? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Ain’t kidding, my friend. We’ve got some good ball players, and nobody to play. The mountains isolate Bryden Falls from other Canadian cities and towns.” Mac could see Tree was not at all impressed, so he said, “So we thought we would come south of the border. The competition may not be as good, but at least it’s much closer.”
“The competition not so good!? Baseball is our sport! We are the best in the world.”
“Hey, you’re forgetting I’m an American too.”
“Just because I’m a dual citizen doesn’t make me half American.”
“Not sure what it makes you,” Tree conceded.
“And there are a few other Americans at the Center who play a pretty good game.”
“Well, I guess I can’t refuse my American brothers. Or my half-brother. Okay, you’re in. But there will be conditions.”
“Yea. Like no prosteli……what do you call it?”
“You mean proselytizing.”
“That’s it. None of that stuff. No handing out religious literature. And nothing free. Sell your hamburgers and hot dogs and junk food like everybody else.”
“Is that it?”
Tree thought it time to lighten up. “Be nice if you people weren’t so……content. You know, leave your Christian smiles at home. Be miserable like us heathens.”
monday, february 5th, 1990, 9:30 a.m.
This was the fourth time Jeni stopped to talk to the pair of Jehovah’s Witness ladies who always stood under the store awning marked Harvest Time Bakery. Over the months she was attracted to their smiles and warm good mornings. Were it not for the hurt from her husband’s uninterrupted cynicism she would never have stopped to talk, or accepted their literature. Now she was desperate for any solution, even a spiritual one. Jeni believed in God, and seemed to occasionally sense His presence. She read their material and returned to the same spot, baby John Douglas in her arms, again and again and still again, drawn by their friendly manner and seemingly legitimate concern for her well-being. She accepted their suggestion they bring a ministerial servant for a home visit to further explain their organization and beliefs. The only thing hindering them was the snow. The first sign of spring, they promised. Yes, we will be sure to come when your husband is at work.
Jeni was sure she allowed plenty of space between herself and the car ahead as she was pulling away from the curb and the friendly ladies, and could not understand how she clipped the fender with the front bumper of her pickup. She flushed with embarrassment as she inspected the damage; the tailgate light of the car was smashed. Suddenly a young lady, slender and smartly dressed, appeared offering her hand. “My name is Vivian Maclin, and I am pleased to meet you.”
“Is this your car?! I am so sorry!” and meekly shook her hand.
“Yes, this is my car. But please don’t be upset. I have seen you and the little one – he really is so cute – in Marlin’s Marketplace a few times, and really am pleased to meet you. Please, could we go into the coffee shop – there’s one in this bakery – and exchange phone numbers, or whatever people do when there’s an accident.”
“Well, yes. I will back up and we – my baby and I – will be right in.”
When Jeni and baby John entered the bakery there was a coffee waiting for her. “You do drink coffee?”
“Yes. Thank you. I am so sorry about your car. I will cover the cost of repair, and also extra for the trouble. I feel so clumsy. I thought I allowed sufficient space between our vehicles.”
“You know,” Vivian replied, “it’s no big deal. My husband has connections. I mean, there are people in our church who can fix the problem. My husband is the pastor, you see. He is always coming to peoples’ rescue and they come to ours. Anyway, let’s start all over. My name is Vivian Maclin.”
“My name is Jeni Tanner. This is my son, John Douglas. He will be a year old in a few weeks.”
“My twins will be a year old in a couple of months.” There was no hint in Vivian Maclin’s physique that seven months ago she was pregnant with two.
“You’re the lady with the twins? Now I remember! I saw their pictures in the paper. They are beautiful.”
“Kyle and Katie. Terry – that’s my husband – looks after them Monday mornings. I appreciate the break. Does your husband work in town?”
“My husband owns a plumbing business, a one-man business, Reuben’s Plumbing.”
“Oh! Does he own a blue van? It seems to me I’ve seen that name on a van.”
“Yes, that’s the one. We moved into town about three years ago. We live just north of here on some acreage.”
“Sounds real nice.”
“Actually, it is.”
“I noticed you were talking to those ladies outside. Are you a Jehovah’s Witness?”
Jeni thought she saw a look of relief when she answered no. “Reuben and I are both Catholic. Sort of. We were married in a Catholic church, but we aren’t really anything. The ladies were kind enough to give me their literature. I guess I am interested in that sort of thing. They offered to come see me when the snow melts, and bring a ministerial servant, whatever that is.”
Vivian wisely changed the subject. “Tell me, have you made many friends in Bryden Falls?”
“No. No, we haven’t. We don’t have neighbors close by. We both left our families after we were married. We spent the first year building our log house, and Reuben’s been busy trying to establish himself.”
“I would like to offer you our friendship. We also moved to Bryden Falls recently. Perhaps our husbands could meet. Perhaps the four of us could get together.”
“I cannot speak for my husband, but I accept your offer of friendship. You seem to be a very kind person. I smashed the tailgate light of your car, and you invite me for a coffee.”
“I am a Christian, Jeni. I met Terry in Bible College and we married soon after. We moved to Bryden Falls because we wanted to be a blessing to the people, to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ whenever we had opportunity. We started with a Bible study in our home, and now we meet at Bryden Elementary School. Perhaps you and Reuben would like to join us.”
“No. Reuben does not share my interest – perhaps a better word is curiosity – in religion. And I don’t think he would appreciate me driving the winter roads more than what is necessary.”
“Perhaps Terry and I could come to visit.”
“Do you have a four-wheel drive? The roads can be scary.”
“We can borrow one. Like I said, my husband has connections.”
They chatted freely for a half an hour or so, the initial bonding of friendship, and agreed Wednesday morning would be a good time for the Maclins to come to the ranch.
“Tell me, Vivian. Should I write you a check now to cover the damage or wait to hear from you?”
“You know, I really don’t think it’s as serious as it looks. Terry will look after it. Please, just forget about it.”
“Really. Let’s call it a token of friendship.”
thursday, april 12th, 2007, 6:15 p.m.
Tree sat despondent in the dugout, pulling at his mustache, waiting his turn to bat. Maybe it was a mistake letting these guys in. This was not the first time he thought the thought.
Generally, Tree was pleased with his decision to let the Challengers in the American men’s league. Every baseball player likes to play before a large crowd, and the Challengers always provided one. The Grizzlies drew maybe forty people for a home game, and that was average for the other teams as well. The Challengers drew two hundred and fifty. When playing on the road they often outnumbered the home team fans, traveling into the States in a rented bus or in vans. Looking into the stands, Tree could see that today, the first game of the season, an April chill in the air, was no exception. With their ticket sales the Challengers brought more money into the league than any other. And Tree had to admit, it was more than that. He liked the change of being around people who didn’t complain so much, who weren’t so critical and unhappy. No, he wouldn’t want to be part of that crowd, but it was okay for a couple of hours.
Tree realized his hard feelings against God lessened in the company of these people, and he didn’t like that. Hate and beer had long ago become his pastime and friends. Mac dampened his hate more than anyone, but he long ago decided Mac’s friendship was worth it.
And Roo! What’s with that guy? Couldn’t he have rushed the mound? At the very least stared me down? When it’s my turn at bat he will say, Hi, Trevor, like nothing happened. “Roo had a dark side,” Tree remembered Mac saying. Mmmm. Would like to have known him then. We could have been buds. Gotta admit, the boy’s got guts. Not many wouldn’t back up for me when I wanted them off the plate.
“Next batter for the Grizzlies, number four, pitcher and team coach, Trevor, Tree, Kenny!” Here we go again. Another strike out, Tree said to himself walking to the mound. A great pitcher, but by his own admission, “lousy at bats,” a dismal 220 average. A runner on first base, one out, a hit would be nice.
“Hi, Trevor.” Roo greeted everyone the same, having memorized names and uniform numbers.
“Roo.” What else can I say? Tree thought. How you doing, Roo? How’s your hand, Roo? Sorry I was a jerk, Roo? He really wanted to say, Tell me about your dark days, Roo. You know, the days when you were a real jerk, like me. How did you get out of it?
Tree was embarrassed facing his friend Mac on the pitcher’s mound. Injuring one of his people was like hurting Mac himself. And nothing was gained from it. Well, it’s a man’s game, pal. Being so tall, Tree offered the pitcher a huge strike zone. It was hard to get a walk, and he never did learn to master the bat.
Feel funny up here, Tree said to himself. How do you hit against the guy who saved your life? And his thoughts involuntarily went back twenty years. Oh no! Tree knew he made a serious mistake, letting his mind wander into forbidden territory, but it was too late. Combined with the conflict he had with Roo and the guilt of purposely injuring one of Mac’s people, the thought of Mac saving his life twenty years ago opened the door, and in rushed the hated flashbacks.
Ratatatat. Ratatatat. Ratatatat.
The AK-47 machine guns were all around them. His squad had walked into an ambush, marines were falling.
“Tree! Where are you? Tree!”
“Over here, Mac. I’m hit bad! Right leg, arm and shoulder. A bomb.” The rest of Tree’s body was protected by a tree.
“Billy and Jesse are down! Can you get to them?” Tree shouted over the deafening madness.
“Dead. Both of them,” Mac shouted back. “Billy took a bullet in the neck. Jesse got his guts blown out!”
Tree’s bulky mustache collected most of the sweat pouring from his forehead and face. Staring stupidly at the pitcher’s mound, Tree backed out of the batters box. He banged his cleats with his bat as if to clear them of mud. He retied his shoes.
Ratatatat. Ratatatat. Ratatatat.
“Play ball!” The man in blue was getting impatient.
“Hang on, Tree! I’m coming!”
“No, don’t! There’s too many! Pete and Greg are blown to pieces! A booby trap. Same one that got me. Run for it, Mac! See you in hell!”
Mac could see his friend was in trouble and took his time, rubbing the baseball in his hands, hoping the flashbacks would soon pass. Roo also knew something was wrong. “Hang in there, big guy!” he whispered, signaling for an outside pitch.
Ratatatat. Ratatatat. Ratatatat.
“Leave me, Mac! Run for it!”
“Not a chance!”
The thirty-man platoon had walked into an enemy force that was not supposed to be there, waiting for them, spread out in a horseshoe. The first into the horseshoe was Tree and four of his buds, Mac not far behind. Tree’s world suddenly went crazy as the enemy opened fire. Hardened marines fell all around him, screaming like little kids, grenades blowing up the terrain, blood splattering trees and rocks, officers on both sides of the war screaming orders in different languages.
“Two balls, one strike!”
Ratatatat. Ratatatat. Ratatatat.
Mac decided not to walk his friend, putting him on first base, but to strike him out and get him back to the safety of the dugout. Tree barely noticed the baseball flying over the middle of the plate.
The platoon started pulling back, firing their rifles and heaving grenades as they retreated. But Mac, leaving his rifle and ammunition behind, crawled in the opposite direction towards his bud and towards the enemy.
“I’ve got to stop the bleeding. It’s going to hurt.”
“Mac, you’re crazy!” Tree was ashamed of his broken voice and the tears of pain streaking his young muddied face. They spoke in whispers now, the enemy creeping towards them. “Get out of here, Mac!”
Wounds wrapped, bleeding stopped, Mac rolled Tree towards the hollow made by the bomb that killed their friends and shot shrapnel into Tree’s body. The cavity was beside a large tree that hugged a muddy riverbank, exposing its roots.
“What are you doing, Mac?!”
“I’m going to bury you.”
“It’s your only chance. If I try carrying you out we will both be dead in seconds.”
“Two balls, two strikes!” Tree backed out of the batter’s box again, wiping sweat off his forehead, fighting the demons choking his mind.
Roo was trying to read Mac’s intention. What was his plan? Catcher and pitcher developed an uncanny communication over the years that went beyond words and signals. They seemed to be able to read each other’s mind. Roo deduced Mac wanted to strike Tree out and get him off the field without embarrassment.
“Hang in there, big guy. Hang in there,” Roo whispered so softly even the umpire behind him couldn’t distinguish his words. But Tree was thousands of miles away being buried in a smoking pit with dirt mixed with his friends’ blood and body parts.
Mac rolled his bud into the hole in such a way that his head was hidden under the roots allowing him to breathe, but not be seen. Mac quickly shoveled the bloodied dirt with his hands to cover the rest of his body. He could hear enemy soldiers drawing closer.
“Now listen to me!” Mac whispered. “Don’t move! They won’t see you if you don’t move! If you move a muscle you’re a dead man. Don’t groan, don’t cough, don’t sneeze!”
“Got it! Now get the hell out of here!”
“I’m not going anywhere, pal. Got it? I’ll be right beside you hiding in the river. You won’t see me or hear me, but I’ll be no more than six feet away. Quiet now, they’re coming.”
Mac grabbed a pipe that looked like it could be from Pete or Greg’s rifle, slid into the murky water of the small river, lay on the river bottom on his back, pulled a heavy rock on his stomach so he wouldn’t float to the surface, and used the pipe to breathe air above the water’s surface. It was a trick he learned as a kid back home on the farm. He would not surface until dark.
Tree lay motionless and silent. Face pressed sideways in the dirt, he could still see through the roots with one eye camouflaged figures emerging from the dense foliage. The hate for the enemy soldiers who mercilessly put an end to the lives of his friends stifled his fear though they came within a few feet. He wanted to kill them, at least some, but knew he was helpless.
“Strike three! You’re out!”
To distract everyone’s attention, Roo feigned a pick-off of the runner at first base, intentionally throwing the ball high above Phil Ferguson’s glove. Everyone watched as the runner rounded second base heading for third as Phil and the right fielder scrambled for the ball. Only Mac noticed Roo gently taking Tree’s bat and directing him to the dugout.
The flashbacks withdrew as quickly as they came. Tree would be okay now. He was grimly aware of what Mac and Roo had done for him, saving him public embarrassment, and he felt more the jerk than before.
The Grizzlies won again, 8 to 5. Tree had trouble looking Roo in the eye when the teams lined up to give low fives. Need a beer, he thought to himself.
monday, april 16th, 2007, 9:00 a.m.
Terry Maclin felt at home at Bryden Falls Baseball Park, both when it was crowded with baseball enthusiasts and when near empty as it now was. Resting in the bleachers after jogging his ten rounds around the park, he counted his blessings. It was good having the Center next to the park, not just because it was convenient, but the greenery it provided. Baseball fields of varying sizes and quality always provided a backdrop for his life whether shagging balls for his older brothers, playing little league, or serious ball for rep teams.
Sitting in the stands, he went over Thursday’s loss against the Grizzlies. Perhaps it was too much to hope for an upset against the number one team, but he had to admit he just didn’t like losing, whether it was baseball, or chess with his son Kyle, or Bible trivia with the family, or horseshoes at a church picnic. He often wondered if his severe competitive spirit was a flaw or strength. His strong will seemed to make him more successful than most.
He went over the conflict between Tree and Roo. Tree was in the wrong, but he hurt for his bud nonetheless. Cursed flashbacks. Tree could not escape his past and his past prevented a tolerable future. He wondered why Roo didn’t back up from the plate; why make an issue out of it? Was that turning the other cheek? Was he just plain stubborn? What would he have done? He knew Roo crowded the plate so he could hit outside pitches. When he connected, the ball usually arched over the first baseman’s head and curved towards the foul line away from the right fielder; a runner on second, and even first, could score. Mac couldn’t decide if Reuben did right or wrong by not backing down to an intimidator.
Baseball wasn’t his priority this morning, however. Mac asked Vivian to direct Roo over here when he showed up for his 9:00 a.m. appointment, sure that Roo, like himself, would favor sunshine to a stuffy office.
Never in all his years as pastor has anyone asked for his pulpit. There were times when a traveling minister, usually one endorsed by his denomination, would make it known that he was available for preaching, and Mac would often accommodate; if Mac closed his pulpit to other ministers, they would close theirs to him. But a layman? He could not remember such an occasion. Yes, he had heard of seasoned laymen being given the pulpit if their spiritual maturity and insights were pronounced. But no one actually asked for the pulpit. It was out of place. Everyone knows the rules, unwritten though they are.
Am I possessive or protective? Mac asked himself. He knew he hated to pass the pulpit – and the power and influence the pulpit affords – to anyone, except for those occasions when he was invited to another. But that didn’t mean he was possessive, he reasoned. He had a shepherd’s heart and a shepherd protects. Winds of doctrine come and go, they always have, they always will. And they come most often via the pulpit.
Mac was disturbed by Roo’s inference that God wanted him to speak a word to the congregation. In other words, God wants me to surrender the pulpit, Mac concluded. Funny, why didn’t God tell me? Am I to be intimidated by another man’s discernment?
“Are you saying you received a prophecy?” Mac had asked Roo during their last meeting.
“But you seem so sure that God wants you to preach to the assembly.”
“The will of God grows on you,” Roo had responded.
The awkward conversation over, Mac promised Roo he would give the matter consideration and give him a call.
“I prefer another appointment rather than a phone call,” Roo had replied. “Will a week be sufficient?”
Pushy, Mac said to himself. I thought I was the pastor.
A week having passed, Mac could see Roo approaching him from the direction of the church.
“How’s your hand.”
“It’s sore, but okay.”
“In the mood for walking?”
“I would like that.”
“Hope my B.O. won’t bother you. I’ve been jogging.”
“I’m a plumber, remember?” And they both laughed.
“Thanks for your kindness to my friend, Tree. I know you purposely threw a wild ball to first base to distract everyone’s attention.”
“Do you think it worked?”
“Seemed to. Even his team didn’t seem to notice Tree’s predicament. He would be highly embarrassed if they did.”
“He’s been through tough times in the marines?”
“Real tough. Killing does something to you. And four of our buddies lost their lives in a matter of seconds.”
Mac decided to get right into it. “So I gave your request serious consideration.”
“I knew you would.”
“I’ve decided no.”
“Please, don’t take it personal.”
“May I speak freely without hurting your feelings?”
“I respect you as a person. I’ve seen spiritual progress over the years. You certainly seem to be morally strong. People speak highly of you. But I must say, I don’t really know you. You and I have not been together over the last several years. I don’t know why that is.”
Mac gave Roo a chance to respond. When he didn’t, Mac continued. “I have strong reservations about opening the pulpit to the congregation. If I open that door, how could I close it? Surely you can see the chaos that could occur. Others would want equal opportunity; on what basis could I deny them?
“And there are other reasons. How do I know if you are doctrinally sound? I am not saying I have reason to believe otherwise; I just don’t know. You do not attend Wednesday night Bible study. If you did I would know through group discussions what you believe.
“As pastor of the Center, the people look to me for protection,” Mac continued. “They respect the fact that I am endorsed. You are not endorsed. Not by the denomination, not by the board of elders, not by myself. I am responsible before God to protect the unity of our church. We are a team, united to do good works. I am not bragging when I say we do more for this community than all other churches combined. Division among ourselves would seriously diminish the positive effect we have here at Bryden Falls. Many would get hurt.
“Now please understand, Reuben. I am not saying I doubt your sincerity, or your discernment, or your doctrine. I respect and appreciate you and your family. I look forward to many years growing together and working together.”
And now it was Roo’s turn.
“I likewise ask permission to speak freely.”
“I understand your dilemma. Now I want you to understand mine.
“I say again, I believe the Lord wants me to give a message, an important message, to the congregation, His congregation. I have searched the New Testament to test what I believe to be a prompting of the Lord, and I find no reason why I should not be heard. I must be obedient. Therefore I ask that this matter be brought before the board of elders. I understand the board is the final authority of the Center, am I correct?”
“Correct.” Mac was feeling squeezed. And angry. And insulted. And perplexed.
“Will you bring this matter before the board of elders at the next meeting?”
“Yes. The next meeting is Wednesday, in two days. I will let you know of their decision.”
“I will make another appointment soon after that.”
“Okay.” Mac had trouble maintaining his cool. It was not okay like everything is okay, but more like okay, if that’s the way you really want it.
“I’ll walk you to the parking lot. I’m going that way, anyhow. Time to hit the shower.”
Mac was angry. Trouble can do that when helpless to dodge it.
wednesday, december 23rd, 1983, 3:00 p.m.
Terry Maclin walked abruptly through the door marked, “G.F. Bennett, Doctor of Psychiatry,” not bothering to close the door behind him.
“I’m here to see the shrink,” he said to the middle-aged, overweight receptionist.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“General Terry Maclin.”
“Yes, Corporal Terry Maclin. Unfortunately Dr. Bennett is away for a few days. A family matter. I could reschedule you, or you may see his temporary replacement, Joshua Morgan.”
“Not Doctor Morgan? The guy’s not even a shrink?”
“Actually, it’s Reverend Morgan. He’s a licensed councilor.”
“I need a doctor to sign a release form. I won’t get out of the marines until I get a signature.”
“Joshua Morgan can sign it for you.”
“Well bring him on.”
“He will be a few minutes. Please have a chair.”
“My appointment is for three p.m. It is now three p.m.,” Terry said, pulling a chair immediately in front of the receptionist, straddling the chair turned backwards, leaning his crossed arms on the backrest.
She was not intimidated. Anger was not uncommon in this office, nor distress and hate and sarcasm. “I know you have been through a lot, young man.”
“You don’t know the half of it, lady.” Maclin was annoyed at the receptionist because she was there. Soon his family back in the States would take her place. Friends would taste his sarcasm. The yuck within would not be bound. He would look for an argument, and never back down from anyone. Life lost its value. He was less than half. He had seen too much.
“Joshua Morgan.” The voice had a southern drawl, head lots of grey, face unusually kind, handshake surprisingly strong for a man who seemed to top seventy. “Please call me Josh.”
“Reverend Josh! How good to meet you! I’ve been looking forward to this for,” and he looked at his watch, “yes, for three minutes now.”
“Come into my office, please.”
“Sign these papers and I’ll be out of here, Rev. You’re not a shrink, I don’t feel in need of counseling, and I know you must be a busy man.”
Looking over the papers, Joshua Morgan replied, “Yes, I am authorized to sign these papers. And I will as soon as you tell me your story.”
“Yes, Terry. That’s all you have to do. Tell me your story and I’ll sign your papers. Deal?”
“Coffee? Cream or sugar?”
“I’m a marine.”
“Black it is. Now start from the beginning,” Josh said, reading his file through thick-lens glasses. “You’re seventeen years of age, a clean-cut kid with a decent brain, at home on the farm. Sounds like a dream. Then you got thoughts of joining the marines. Now you take over.”
“Okay, I’ll make it quick.”
“No, please, take your time. I really want to hear your story.” Terry saw in the old man something more than indifferent professionalism. Was it interest? Could it be compassion? He felt safe and began to talk. About the duty he felt to do a stint in the armed forces before enjoying privileged adulthood in America. About the pride of being a marine just like two of his brothers. About the friendships he made – Tree and Billy and Jesse, and half a dozen others. About being on the wrong ship at the wrong place at the wrong time, and fighting insurgents on the tiny island of Granada in the Caribbean. About the panic and anguish in a teen-aged rebel fighter stunned by his sniper bullet. About his friend shot in the neck, disbelieving eyes staring into nothingness, and another lying dead, inner parts hanging out where his belly used to be. About his closest friend, wounded and in serious pain, who he buried to hide from enemy soldiers. About the hate he felt for an enemy so heartless, and love for friends equally so.
“It says here you refused a medal for unusual bravery.”
“I refused to take a medal for saving a friend. I thought it would be an insult to the both of us.”
“Want to tell me about it?” Josh asked while signing Maclin’s release papers.
“Tree took shrapnel in the leg, arm and shoulder. Tree is my closest friend. We are from the same town, River’s Bend, out west, just south of the Canadian border. A booby trap set off a bomb. The bomb killed Pete and Greg immediately, and wounded Tree who was twenty feet away, partly protected by a tree. The platoon started to pull back. I left my weapons, crawled to Tree, stopped the bleeding best I could, and buried him in the cavity made by the bomb. I tucked Tree’s head under the roots of a tree in such a way that he could breathe but not be seen. I hid submerged in a narrow river just a few feet away, breathing through a pipe. I came up when it was dark to find a dog sniffing where Tree was buried, growling like something was wrong. The dog couldn’t smell me because I was covered in river mud. When he came close I grabbed the dog by a hind leg and yanked him into the water, drowning him under the weight of my body, and then I remained submerged for a few more hours. Tree told me the sentries heard the dog’s surprised yelp and came within inches. They whistled for their dog, and went back to their camp only fifty feet away. Tree was within hearing and able to gather intelligence that would prove useful if we could make it back to our unit. I knew I had to get him out of there or I would lose another friend.
“So I pulled him upstream a couple of miles under the cover of dark back to our unit. The intelligence proved useful. We got to their ambush sight before they did, and killed them all. I got a few before taking one bad in my left arm. Three nearly escaped but I went after them, pretending not to hear my sergeant’s orders to regroup. The first guy I caught up to was early twenties. After the kill I never slowed down, and was soon exchanging fire with two young teens, yelling at each other in Spanish. Seemed to be brothers. They were too scared to shoot straight and went down easy. The last dropped his gun to his side, hoping for mercy. He looked at my bloodied uniform and then into my eyes, and knew he wasn’t going to get any mercy out of me. My arm’s damaged but I’m not too excited because it’s not my pitching arm, and it’s my ticket home. I had enough.”
“Yes, you had enough,” the Christian councilor agreed. “Your papers are signed, and you may go. Or…… you may listen to an old man’s insights.”
“I’m listening…… sir.”
“You have seen things no young man should see. You have experienced the nightmare of combat. You have terminated peoples’ lives, and wounded others. Unfortunately survivors such as yourself are usually scarred for life. You will bring the war home with you; you will not be able to shake it off for years, perhaps never. Your family and friends have lost the person they knew, and will not understand the person you have become. They will not want to share your grief, and wish you would just get over it. You will make monthly trips to the pharmacist, but your meds will simply make you sleep through your nightmares. In my honest opinion, you have but one hope.”
“I’m listening.” And he was. Intently. “What is that one hope?”
Joshua Morgan was a southern preacher of many years who interrupted his retirement to volunteer for the marines as a chaplain and councilor. More than once he was reprimanded for conveying his religious beliefs. More than once he ignored those reprimands and presented Christ as the only hope to psychologically damaged young men about to return to the United States. He presented the gospel message to Terry Maclin that afternoon, beginning at Genesis telling of the fall of man through sin, to various Old Testament promises of a Messiah, the coming of that Messiah through the virgin birth as revealed in the gospels, the payment for man’s sins at Calvary, and the promises for all who entrust their lives to Christ.
“I’ve heard all this before,” Terry responded, much subdued. “But this is the first time I listened.”
“And I hereby make a decision to believe in, to receive, Jesus Christ.”
“You do?” Joshua was surprised at Terry’s pronounced decision. The most he hoped for from a young man so angry and disillusioned was that he would consider the matter of his salvation.
In tears that would not be checked Terry repented of his many sins, and embraced the lordship of Christ. Corporal and councilor hugged each other as the new birth swept over the young man’s spirit, and the horrors of war poured out of him in gushes of sobs and loud groans, never to return.
Before leaving the old man’s office, Terry inquired, “Did you see my friend, Tree. He had an appointment yesterday morning.”
“No, he would have seen Dr. Morgan just before he left to attend to family matters.”
wednesday, February 28th, 1990, 9:30a.m.
Sitting in front of her canvass on the porch, Jeni was happy to see the familiar white s.u.v. in the distance. Here they are again, she marveled, watching them wind their way over the slippery, makeshift road. It snowed five inches overnight, yet here they are. She expected a phone call from the Maclins saying the roads were too slippery to chance, and could they cancel their Wednesday morning visit this week. But they always came, four consecutive Wednesdays now, securing a babysitter and borrowing a four-wheel drive. Why did they come? Why thoroughly inconvenience themselves to befriend me?
She happily turned inside to put the coffee on. Mac loves his coffee, Jeni had learned. Soon the three of them were sitting around the living room fireplace, tamarack and pine crackling, hands outstretched to catch the warmth, talking about the ranch.
“I see Reuben is about to do some fencing.” Mac had noticed the pile of five-inch pressure-treated posts and three-inch stringers.
“Yes, he figures six or seven Saturdays when the ground thaws in the spring and he will have the fencing done.”
“Is he building a corral?”
“Three corrals, actually. We hope to board horses soon. There is a demand for that, we understand.”
“Reuben must be a hard worker,” Vivian said.
“He is that.” Jeni was wanting, even desperate, to get to where they left off after their last visit.
Their friendship established, Jeni had poured out her troubles to her new friends two Wednesdays back, the first time she spoke of her hurt to anyone, more than a little embarrassed by her intervals of weeping. She trusted them, warmed by the love and respect they showed each other, concluding it was indeed genuine. Vivian once said their love for each other was a natural consequence of their mutual love for Christ. Last Wednesday Jeni was quite candid with Mac and Vivian.
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach they are God’s true spokesman on earth, and the Christian churches are so divided they cannot possible be the people of God they claim to be. I can see for myself several denominations right here in Bryden Falls. Each seems to have its own brand of Christianity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are united. They say this unity gives credibility to their claims.”
“I can see you have been reading their literature,” Mac responded. “Now let me ask you: what country would you think would be one of the better ones in the world?”
“Canada. Perhaps the U.S.”
“Do the people seem to be united, or is there diversity?”
“There is much diversity,” Jeni answered.
“Now think of a nation you would least like to live in. Would you say that country is united?”
“Yes. Very. I get your point.”
“If I may carry on, Christ did not come to establish an organization by which people may be saved. He gave Himself. No denomination, no church or religion can save anyone. But Christ will save any person who puts his or her trust exclusively in Him.”
“I don’t doubt your sincerity,” Jeni responded. “But can you understand my confusion? So many people reading the same Bible seem to come to different conclusions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses I talk to seem to be equally sincere.”
“There is a way of knowing the truth,” Mac said.
“Anyone? Are you saying anyone can find truth? That’s hard to believe.”
“Yes, I believe anyone can find truth.”
“How?” Jeni wanted to know.
“Ask God for the truth.”
“You make it sound simple. Why then doesn’t everyone ask for truth and be in agreement? Surely everybody wants truth.” Jeni was not being argumentative; she really wanted to know.
“No, that’s not so,” Mac gently responded. “Many want that which they already believe is the truth to be the truth. Truth will bring change, and people are not willing to accept change. If you embrace the truth of Jesus Christ, your life will change radically.”
“I want truth.”
“I assure you, if you sincerely, and I emphasize the word sincerely, ask God for truth He will give it to you.”
“Really?” Jeni looked to Vivian for assurance.
“Try it, Jeni.” Vivian responded, her tone always soft and caring. “Ask God for the truth about Jesus Christ. We cannot say how long God will take to answer your prayer – maybe a day or a week or a month. But answer He will.”
And so, later in the week after some hesitation, Jeni did just that. She simply asked God for truth. Soon afterwards, thoughts came. And insights. For the first time she could see inside the ladies who gave her the Watchtower literature. Talking to them outside the bakery the following Tuesday, yesterday, she discerned they were as hollow as she was. The Maclins were not hollow. There was life there, undeniable. She recalled Scripture verses Mac and Vivian showed her, and knew – how did she know? – the words were true. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” She was prepared to entirely place her future on these words of Christ. Truth had come just as the Maclins said it would. But now what?
She was so glad last night’s heavy snowfall did not deter her friends. And yes, she was happy to be sitting around the fireplace, sipping coffee, nibbling on homemade cookies, making small talk. But her heart was spilling over with a hopeful anticipation she never before experienced. Mac was telling a funny story about a lady who locked her keys in her car at the church last Sunday when Jeni interrupted, tears streaming down her face.
“I’m sorry…… I don’t want to sound rude…… I was afraid you wouldn’t come because of the heavy snow…… I want to…… do it…… now!”
“Do what, Jeni?” Vivian and Mac both asked.
“I don’t know what!” The Holy Spirit was all over her. “I did what you said,” she blurted out. “I asked for truth, and did I get it! I know you are right. About Jesus, I mean. But now I don’t know what to do.”
“Ask Jesus to forgive you your sins,” Vivian replied. “Invite Him into your life. Tell Jesus you want to live for Him. Tell Him……”
Jeni Tanner was born again of the Holy Spirit that Wednesday morning. Her conversion to Christ went deep. Unlike most Christians, she did not fade into and out of lukewarmness as the years, with their assortment of upsets and distractions, rolled by. satan acquired a formidable enemy that day. Jeni was a gentle warrior. No longer would she shy away from her husband’s ranting. No longer would she entertain thoughts of escaping. She would not fear him. She determined to confront his sarcasm with the peace of Christ that passes all understanding. When he belched his scorn she would sing praises to her lovely Jesus in her sweet alto voice. Reuben would insist she not attend Bryden Falls Community Christian Center; Jeni would go, and invite him to join her.
“Tell Reuben I will be here when the ground thaws to help him with the fencing,” was the last thing Mac said just before driving off.
“But…” was all Jeni got a chance to say. There could be a clash, she wanted to warn Mac. She knew Reuben would be furious to learn of her decision to follow Christ, and of the Wednesday morning meetings with the strangers that brought her to this decision.
Hmmm. Think I’ll bake him his favorite apple pie.
monday, april 16th, 2007, 11:45 a.m.
Terry Maclin could not pace his concerns away, but somehow it eased the tension. Pushing the long table in the boardroom against the wall increased his pacing space, and occasionally he stopped in front of one of the windows to stare in the direction of the baseball field. In his mind he could see himself and Reuben walking around the field, and he went over, again, their uneasy conversation. Perhaps it would have been best if he said, “Sure Reuben, no problem,” when Roo first requested the pulpit. But now it had become an issue. Now the board of elders would have to be involved. Embarrassing.
Mac had no doubt the board would back him up. They always did. Yes, they would ask pertinent questions and try to give intelligent input, perhaps even make a suggestion – that’s what board members do. But in the end they would express their confidence in his leadership and leave the final decision to him.
Though the leader, Mac actually had less to say than the others. He learned he didn’t have to talk much to get what he wanted, because usually everyone wanted the same result. He would give a list of business matters to the elder he appointed to chair the meetings, seldom were spiritual issues discussed with the elders, and the matter would shoot back and forth over the table. When he approved of what was being said, which was most of the time, he would smile a knowing smile while making eye contact with the speaker. When he disapproved he would smile the same smile, but look down at the table. In this simple way he steered, when steering was required, the board to an acceptable conclusion. Of course, this only worked because of the leverage he had as pastor.
Mac never asked for leverage, he never worked for it; it came with the job. And he understood it, and his superiors expected him to use it for the betterment of the congregation. Every person at the Center, elders included, was reliant upon a favorable standing with the pastor to be successful, socially and functionally. Not one of the elders would be an elder without his endorsement. The same was true with every ministry at the church; Pastor Mac’s approval was required, another unwritten stipulation of church life. Organized ministry outside the church insists everyone has the pastor’s endorsement. A poor relationship with Pastor Mac would be interpreted by everyone, Pastor Mac included, as having a sub-standard relationship with God. This all made for very good leverage.
Proficient use of leverage is the ability to use it unnoticed. It could be argued that, morally, one should not use leverage at all; everyone should be on the same level playing field. But it is most tempting to use what you have when the welfare of the church is at stake.
A board is to provide checks and balances so that one does not have excessive control over many. Power does corrupt, not always, but usually. However, the elder is in a tight spot. He wants to, needs to, please the pastor, and at the same time hold him accountable. Now an elder is an elder because he likes being an elder. As a layman, it is the highest position he could hope for. It gives him status, plus an opportunity to serve God. If he proves to be supportive he will likely be asked to serve again. His reinstatement is determined, most often, by the pastor he is supposed to hold accountable. Leverage is against him.
Mac has, on occasion, used leverage to weed out those he felt would be detrimental to the church, but only after subtle hints were ignored. Some refused to tithe, and that would be acceptable, barely, if they just kept their mouths shut about it, if they didn’t negatively affect others. To protect unity, to protect the financial base, such people must be weeded out.
Pastors quickly master the art of giving non-verbal messages to dissenters, letting them know their attendance is no longer welcome. This can be communicated subtly by ignoring those persons and withholding warmth given to others. If these don’t work a disapproving frown no one else sees will probably do the trick.
Mac never used the pulpit to weed out undesirables, as some pastors did. The pastor might use the this-church-is-not-for-everybody sermon, proven effective against nonconformists. The bottom line of this message is: if you are not happy here, if you do not agree with the way we do things, perhaps it’s time you found another church more to your liking. Faced with the threat of being uprooted from relationships, of having to start all over somewhere else, the dissident could quickly become a conformist, though an injured and disgruntled conformist.
Mac knew many, perhaps most, pastors in the denomination would not tolerate anyone challenging their wisdom and authority by appealing to the board. That person would never be made to feel welcome again. But Mac was a scrupulous pastor …… mostly. Rarely did he use dirty tricks. True, he was a bit of a controller. He liked to keep everything under control, and it is impossible to control circumstances without controlling people. If he didn’t control, he reasoned, chaos would soon invade. It’s not easy being on top.
Mac loved the seven elders. Each had a heart to serve, each was committed to the welfare of the Center, each a faithful tither. Two he bowled with, others he worked with in various ministries, everyone he gave a helping hand in one way or another, and they were equally eager to reciprocate. Every time there was a change in eldership he had a plaque, listing the elders, made at his own expense, and hung it in the boardroom.
Brent Anderson: owner of a car dealership…… financially the most successful in the church…… avid bowler…… much nervous energy…… overworks…… solid marriage…… one son, one daughter…… first two-year term on the board.
Tony Borric: carpenter…… quiet…… deep…… nice family…… founding member…… fifth term on the board.
Nelson Chesney: American…… accountant…… managed the Center’s books…… wife taken by cancer…… three young daughters…… dating a lady from another church…… first term.
Shaun Edwards: salesman for a meat company…… soft…… wife, a son and two daughters, all married, several grandchildren…… quite knowledgeable in Scripture…… Sunday school director…… third term.
David Tomas: youngest…… perhaps the most spiritual…… always going to conventions…… servant’s heart…… second child on the way…… first term.
Sheldon Waters: owner of an equipment rental…… chairs meetings…… heart of gold…… not the greatest bowler…… leads worship with wife on piano…… third term.
Donald Williamson: American…… oldest, but quite healthy…… retired pastor…… past district elder…… outspoken……second term.
Mac had Vivian fax all seven information regarding Roo’s request for a board decision so they would have ample time to consider the matter. Hopefully, the issue would be brought to a quick conclusion on Wednesday.
early saturday morning, march 10th, 1990
Reuben Tanner rose early Saturday morning to get a good start on the fencing of the corrals. It was spring at last, snow mostly gone, ground thawed, time to get to work. Dressed in his plumber’s overalls and a sheepskin jacket, he marked out the location of each of the corral posts with short wooden pegs, following his dad’s instructions given last night over the phone.
His dad had told him to determine the center of the corral, drive a small pipe into the ground at center point, put a noose on the end of a twenty-five-foot rope, and drop the noose over the pipe. Then he was to tie a pointed stick on the other end of the rope, dragging the point of the stick on the ground as he revolved around the pipe to make a perfect fifty-foot circle scratched on the surface. Next he was to mark the circle every nine and a half feet with pegs, the distance required for the ten-foot long horizontal stringers. Reuben was not surprised the last peg was the desired four feet from the first, exactly right for a gate. His dad knew what he was doing.
After marking out the three corrals, he marked out the post locations for the fence on each side of the roadway leading away from the house. Altogether there were sixty-eight posts to be installed, sixty-eight holes to be dug, each two feet deep, each with a hand-held post-hole digger. It was a lot of work. Combined with nailing the stringers, three high between each post, Reuben figured at least six full Saturdays, maybe more. After just four holes his arms were starting to weary, the ground being a mixture of soil and small rocks.
Off in the distance he noticed a tractor on his roadway, heading towards him. Who can that be? he wondered. Who do I know who owns a tractor? As the tractor got closer, he was quite happy to see a posthole digger mounted on the back of the tractor. The guy driving the tractor jumped off and said, “Hi! I’m Terry Maclin. My friends call me Mac. Thought you could use a hand.”
Reuben was quite aware who Terry Maclin was, the guy who got his Jeni hooked on religion. He didn’t respond to Mac’s greeting, didn’t say a word, ignored Mac’s outstretched hand. Mac broke the awkward silence by climbing on the tractor, turned it around, backed the spiral blade towards the next peg. Begrudgingly, Reuben waved him back until the blade was in the right spot. Mac engaged the machine, waiting for Reuben to signal when he was deep enough, and then, in just a couple of minutes, he was backing towards the next peg. Being a farm boy, Mac and tractors got along just fine. Three hours later sixty-eight holes were dug. Mac shut down the noisy tractor, leaving them both in uncomfortable silence once again.
Reuben turned his back on Mac, walking to the pile of five-inch posts, carrying two at a time, lying each near a hole. When the ex-farm boy jumped on the tractor Reuben thought he got rid of his uninvited visitor. But no, Mac drove to the pile of posts, loading about thirty at a time on the front forks, and drove to where Reuben was standing watching him. Reuben begrudgingly unloaded the posts as Mac drove beside each hole. It was now three in the afternoon, there were sixty-eight holes, each with a post lying nearby, and neither had stopped for a break. Reuben had bottled water but didn’t drink, nor did he offer it to his helper.
From the log house kitchen Jeni was watching with apprehension. The table was set for lunch, but Reuben and Mac didn’t stop working. About three p.m. she considered bringing out coffee and sandwiches, but decided no, let them be.
Mac held the posts in place with Reuben’s long level while Reuben filled the hole, tamping the dirt as he did so. This two-man job would have been awkward for Reuben by himself, but because there were two the posts went in quickly. Mac traded level for shovel after thirty-four posts to make sure he did his share of the tough labor. Five o’clock now, and it looked like Reuben had no intention of stopping for supper. Mac drove his tractor to the huge pile of stringers, and together they loaded them on the forks, distributing them between the posts. It was now six o’clock, both were tired, both were hungry, neither let on they were either.
Now it was time to nail the horizontal stringers to the upright posts. Reuben’s plan was to tie the stringers in place to the posts with wire, nail on the stringers with six-inch spiral nails, and then remove the wire. Time consuming. With the extra pair of hands, one held the end of the stringer in place while the other nailed. Much faster. It was hard holding the post while someone was hammering a nail into it, so Mac drove his tractor against the post, and that took care of that problem.
It was getting dark so Reuben brought his pick-up close and turned on the headlights. They continued to work into the night, neither uttering a word. Reuben was surprised Mac lasted the day, more surprised he worked through the evening into the night, this without food or water or rest. Reuben was exhausted and would have quit hours ago, but he would not be outworked by a Christian. He didn’t know he was competing with a toughened ex-marine as strong-willed as himself.
It was ten minutes before midnight when the last nail was hammered in place. Mac climbed on the tractor to leave, and then, impulsively, he jumped off again, walking to Reuben leaning on a fence post.
“When my wife Vivian and I visited Jeni I noticed quite a few baseball trophies on the fireplace mantle.”
“Our church has put together a pretty good men’s baseball team. We play against other church teams. We could use your help. There is, however, a stipulation. Everyone on the team has to attend Bryden Falls Community Christian Center.”
“I would like you to join our team. I will make an exception in your case. You will only have to attend Sunday service twice a month.”
No response. Mac turned to leave, hesitated, and then said, “You know, if my wife were attending a church I would want to know who the people are and what they stand for.” He jumped on the tractor and waved good-bye, avoiding eye contact, knowing the plumber would not wave back. He could not remember being so tired, and it would be another hour before he was home in bed.
Reuben’s head was blurred from fatigue, his body ached everywhere. Still leaning on the post he stared at the three finished corrals visible in the moonlight and the fence bordering both sides of the roadway, a job that was to take six or seven Saturdays. And then he watched the tractor lights bobbing on his potholed road heading for the highway, trying to figure out the guy that just matched him in a long, strenuous day’s labor, a pastor no less.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” he said incredulously.