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Story #3 A Clanging Cymbal (1952)
Though Jacob Peterson was and is a man of disordered desires, he is not a liar. Not anymore. You may think a man of disordered desires is a liar since his disordered desires are sometimes only achieved by lying. But if a man is aware of his disordered desires and seeks to have them reordered, then he’s telling the truth about the most important thing. Damn, it’s more awkward writing in the third person than I thought it would be. I mean, more awkward than Jacob thought. Remember he mentioned the third-person business in the first story?
Jacob got this idea from Bob Dole (not that he knew him). Dole, some of you may remember ran for president in 1996 against Bill Clinton. Funny as hell! Dole would say, “Bob Dole’s not gonna lie, Bob Dole is not slick talker,” etc. Bob Dole actually got the idea of talking about himself in the third person from John the Apostle, who in his account of Jesus called himself “the discipline Jesus loved.” Now, Jacob’s mother said that John was not bragging. He knew Jesus loved other people too. It was just how John perceived himself as one who received more than he’d achieved. Anyway, sorry about that. Jacob is avoiding the following two stories.
The list of people had become short who could provide Jacob with eyewitness accounts of what went on in the early 1950s. He heard the following story from a woman whose mother told it over the years at family reunions.
Shortly after Walter and Minnie Peterson moved to their new home at Sanctuary Ridge, they started attending the Sunday service at St. Andrew’s. An Anglican church built in 1891, St. Andrew’s was a cathedral-like structure of gray stone with a high vaulted ceiling. As they entered the first time, Minnie stopped and looked up, marveling at the light coming through the countless multicolored mullions of the circular stained-glass window. “What a rose!”
J.S. Bach’s Passion of St. Matthew sounded forth from the pipe organ. A floor-to-ceiling mural of the Last Supper adorned the wall above the communion table. “Oh Walter, can you believe it?”
Walter smiled and pointed to an open pew. As they sat in the third row from the front, a woman read a poem. According to the worship bulletin Minnie received, the poem was “The Pulley,” from the seventeenth-century English priest George Herbert. The woman slowed down her reading pace for last stanza and spoke softly:
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.
“The Pulley” deeply moved Minnie, but not in a way she could explain. She quoted it often over the years, but people felt uncomfortable. When he first heard this story, Jacob was confused by the poem, as he had not yet owned his restlessness. As Minnie wiped her tears and made a note about the poem on the worship bulletin, a short and skinny man in green vestments stepped behind the massive wood podium. It was the new priest, the boyish-looking Thomas Aquinas Louis. He was fresh from seminary, only at St Andrew’s for two months. Aquinas was on a crusade against those he called “whiny, ungrateful Christians who complained.”
That morning, the long-winded and high-pitched curate was harping in his sermon about people who felt sad or disillusioned. “If you are disappointed with God,” he bellowed, “you should be ashamed. He’s given you everything! Happiness is a choice!”
Minnie gasped, then whispered to Walter, “That’s a crock of shit.” She might have meant it only for Walter, but the necks of many in the first two rows went rubber, looking at Minnie with disapproving eyes. Minnie walked out, the sound of her heels reverberating in the sanctuary as Aquinas continued his rant in defense of happiness
After the service, Walter tried to smooth things over. “My wife and I have nothing to complain about. She knows we’re blessed.” Through Walter was a positive and grateful man, he was more practical than prayerful. And though he was offended by the priest’s smugness, he kind of agreed with his disdain for negative thinking.
That was the last time Minnie attended St. Andrew’s. Walter assumed, without asking Minnie, that she had given up on God. They did not speak of the matter, and Walter halted construction on the chapel he had promised Minnie.
Story #4 A Voice Crying the Wilderness (1975)
One afternoon about six months before he got his driver’s license, Jacob Peterson hopped on his yellow Schwinn ten-speed. He rode down the steep hillside from the commanding heights of the house on Sanctuary Ridge, skipping the driveway, dodging trees and rocks, then flying the edge of the steep bank and onto the Price Mill Road. A half a mile later, Jacob turned into the Ewalt Park. There was a lake on his left and a tennis court area on his right. He leaned the bike against a tree, looking around as he went into the vending shack next to the tennis courts. He put seventy-five cents into the machine and pulled the knob. Out came a pack of Marlboro. In the box. (If you were around in the 70s you know that a cigarette machine was perfectly compatible with a tennis court!) Jacob looked again to see if anyone was watching, then quickly stuffed the red and white contraband in his underwear in case he was asked to show what in his pockets.
He jumped on the bike, rode home faster than he rode in, looking behind him a lot. He parked his bike in the garage and ran to the mowed path, past the trap shooting range, and onto another path that straddled a creek. He lit up a smoke once he was sure no one was around.
After walking a couple of minutes through a muddy stretch, he heard a voice. It sounded like a woman screaming. He stepped closer, careful not to be seen. He knelt behind a fallen maple watched. It was Ruth on the bank of the creek yelling and crying. He heard her yell, “I hate you! I hate you!” But there was no one around. “You don’t love me!” She stomped in the creek and threw rocks upstream.
Jacob was not about to show himself. That would be too uncomfortable.
Ruth started gesturing toward the sky and cursing. Then she dropped to her knees and said, “I’m sorry, Lord. I’m sorry.” She then lay face down and sobbed.
Jacob was afraid to make a noise by moving, so he waited until Ruth left, then waited some more, and went back to the house. He wondered what had made Ruth so angry. Was it her mother’s death two years earlier? Maybe, but in those two years she had lived at Sanctuary Ridge, Jacob had never seen Ruth upset. She often joked around with him about adult matters like sex and drinking. Though he was curious about how Ruth felt and missed Aunt Delores a lot himself, he avoided talking to her about such a sensitive subject as grief.
When he saw Ruth back at the house, Jacob asked, “How was your day?”
“It was good. I had a good walk.” She whispered, “I’ve got some weed.”
Two months later, when Ruth turned eighteen, she left Sanctuary Ridge to look for her father. That morning, Ruth strapped on an army green Kelty frame backpack. The thing rose at least a foot over her head, making her look like a turtle with a shell. Attached to her rig were a sleeping bag, canteens, and cooking pots. She wore cut-off overalls, “waffle-stomper” hiking boots, and a red bandana to keep her long unruly hair out of her eyes. She was hitch-hiking to upstate New York, where Homer was rumored to be living. Jacob was unsure why his uncle had not come to live with the family as his parents had expected when they moved from San Mateo.
Jacob walked Ruth to the bottom of the driveway. He didn’t want to say goodbye. He wished so bad he had asked her about that day she was crying. He also felt that he somehow failed Ruth. Why would she want to leave? Does she not think we love her? Will she into trouble if she goes to the Big Apple?
“Peace, Cuz,” Ruth said as she left him and began her journey. She turned around, the backpack one with her, the cooking pots clinking. “Go easy on the porn if you want to love a real girl.”
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