Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mason Tender IV

Part IV of a short story set in a small town in the mid-50s.


People said in a hundred years of church life there had never been an official excommunication. Eventually people just left the church if they were angry or if they didn't feel like belonging anymore. But it was like a Vreeman to be stubborn about it. There was no way anyone could understand what was going on in his head because he pushed the church to act, almost as if it were a dare a test of the will of the righteous.

"That's the church I always been in," he told any of the dozens who tried to work with him, just like he told Ed that morning out back on the job.

Dickie didn't turn up for the service. The church was vacant just then, so they had in a preacher from somewhere up north, an old man who did everything he could to make it seem as sweet as an excommunication could be. What I remember best is the irony of talking about Dickie Vreeman (the preacher called him Richard because that was his christened name) without Dickie being there to hear it. That morning he was with Penny and the kids. Maybe he wasn't even thinking about finally being thrown out. Maybe he didn't care.

I walked home that Sunday with a neighbor kid, son of a big contractor. "First time that's ever happened that I remember," I said. "I never saw anything like that before in this church." I wondered what a kid no more than twelve thought about throwing somebody out the way we did that morning.

"My old man says there comes a time that you got to toss out the rotten apples," the kid said.


Dickie came in the next morning at seven, and he wore that same flannel shirt he always started with during the early hours, two buttons left, both of them around the stomach. Dime-sized holes were in the T-shirt he wore beneath.

There wasn't a thing written on his face--no joy, no guilt, no sorrow, nothing to explain what it felt like to be the first man kicked out in a century of worship in a village church. He climbed up the scaffolding and stood there at the edge cupping a cigarette, looking down at me, waiting to start things up.

On Tuesday the crew from the car wash manufacturers came in to check specs for the installation. We were done with most of the block and all there was left was the elevation of fancy red brick, plus a little finish work on the roof. Most the morning Ed spent inside, and since there were no doors or windows, I heard the crew talking about the job. Ed took some notes on the specs, I remember, because it wasn't often I saw Ed with a pencil in his hand.

He hadn't been up there with Dickie all day on Monday. And Tuesday all day it was the manufacturers downstairs.

"Buy you lunch," he says to me just before noon that day. Ed was the boss. I figured his wife was shopping.

The two of us went next door and took the little table next to the men, because the Shoe serves real home-cooking at noon.

The waitress brought up two specials, without us ordering at all: hot beef sandwich with green beans and potatoes with gravy.

"I don't think it's right, Ed. What the church did to him isn't right at all," I told him.

"Stinks," he said. That's all.

Tomorrow: Ed and excommunication

1 comment:

cortru said...

In the 50's when I was a kid in Doon, Iowa, the church there excommunicated a man who came back several years later, confessed his sins and was readmitted. The only excommunication I ever knew about and it worked.