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.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Broken Chain--a story (conclusion)

The neighbor told John's parents his side of the story. Now his mother and father have to choose who to believe. 

No one mentioned his walking away from Henry DeRegt's cornfield until after Sunday dinner several days later. DeRegt and his wife had stopped for coffee after morning service, as was their custom, but John stayed away from the table and the conversation, as he normally did. It would have to be said--what happened that week would have to come up, he knew.

After lunch, Peter left the table quickly, but rather than begin to clean up the dishes, John's mother sat waiting for what was to come.

"I thought it was a good sermon this morning," his father said. "I think I like this new dominie." 

John understood that, oddly enough, his father's observation was intended to prompt a reply.

"And what do you think, John?"

"Ja, it was good." His father rarely spoke of the sermon to him. Even thought it wasn't at all strange for him to talk about the sermon, often enough it was simply a kind of recitation of what the minister had said at the morning service.

"You believe what he said?" It was a pointed question for which he had no answer. He hadn't been thinking at all about what the dominie said that morning from the pulpit. "A good sermon--sure," he said. 

"Didn't disagree with a thing, I guess?"

John pushed his chair back from the table as if to make to leave. "No, I was good with it--all the way through, you know?" He was caught, and he knew it. 

"All about the Lord's control over all things, yeah?"

John nodded.

"His hand is ever over us," he said, pointing to imaginary spots on the table "In all we do, he is behind us, beside us, before us, huh?"

"Always there," John said, "even when we forget."

"Even when we wish he weren't," his father said. But there was a smile on his face. He was being playful somehow, which wasn't like him exactly.

He stopped, lifted his cup to his lips, took a long sip, kept the cup there, kept nodding, first toward John and then at Ma. "So we spoke to Henry today ... about you, about what happened." He looked up. "He said you worked hard. He said you were a good worker. He couldn't expect more, really. He had high praise, John."

"I did--I worked hard," he told them. "I was angry with him, and I worked very hard--maybe even because I was so mad."

"He said you were very angry all right." He stopped, shook his head a bit, and continued. "He said that's why he fired you."

"He fired me?" John said. "He fired me?--he said that? for what?"

"For being so angry about the chain, and for swearing at him."


"He says you took the name of the Lord in vain," his father said.

When John tried to look into his mother's eyes, she turned away. "I said no such thing, Pa," he told them. "I never did. I didn't cuss him out."

"Henry DeRegt claims that you said, 'Goddammit, Henry--fix the damn chain,' and right then he fired you because he couldn't have someone so shameful on his land. That's what he told us. 

"He's lying," John said, slowly, as slowly as he could. "I never said such a thing."

"Are you sure, Johannes?" His mother waited.

"When he didn't fix the chain--I told him the night before that he had to fix the chain and when it wasn't, when he looked at me as if to say that he was boss here and that was all there was to it, that's when I walked away. I turned around, Mother, and I walked home. It all happened like I said."

There were tears, but he wasn't sure whether they were flushed from her belief in the story he'd told or her unbelief.

"I didn't cuss him out." He turned to his father. "I said no such thing. I didn't. You have to believe me."

His father laid out his hand on the table, as if John were a child, as if he were still a little boy who wanted to hold it. So he put his own there, his left hand into his father's right, a hand stained by shadowy grease from the garage downtown. 

"I didn't say those things," John said again. "I never did."

His father squeezed it like a long handshake. "I believe you," he said in a voice that was steady and convincing. "I believe you and I don't believe him," he said quietly. "Henry DeRegt wasn't telling the truth, I'm sure of it. I don't know what you said exactly, but I think Henry lied to me just like he lied to you." He reached over to his wife to try to steady her short and uneven breaths.

She looked up at her son, stood up from the table, walked over and kissed him lightly on the forehead, then smiled and left the room. 

He turned to his father. "But she doesn't believe me, does she?" he said.

"She believes you, too," he said, taking his hand away.

"Then how come the tears?"

He grimaced, as if what he was about to say was causing him pain too. "You still have things to learn--trust me. Those tears she's carrying are for Henry and for his wife and for his family." His father stood from the table. 

"Time to get ready for afternoon church, Peter," he said to John's brother who was busily engaged with something in the front room. 

"And you?" his father said. "You'll be coming with us?"

Not once in his life had his father ever asked him a question like that. 

He turned to the stairs, looked back once more at his father and nodded, then climbed the stairs to his room.

In part, I thought it a marvelous story because my wife's grandfather thought it was. He was, without a doubt, proud of his father back then, somewhere south and west of Ireton, Iowa.

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