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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Voice of the Body--a story (i)

A student of mine from long, long ago told me yesterday that a couple of stories of mine had shaped her sense of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper. When she told me a couple of details, I knew immediately which stories she was talking about. 

In my forty years of reading stories in all kinds of places, this one was performed more often, I'm sure, than any other. For the record, I was the guy selling stickers the day those kids from the city, from Milwaukee, came driving up to the park on the Lake Michigan shore.

"Voice of the Body" appeared originally in The Church Herald, then in two collections--Paternity and Still Life. It remains one of my favorites.

Once our Brad hit high school, he took one look at his older sister, a senior honor student, and opted for a whole different course of study. Mary is bookish, tall and thin, and given to wearing plaid skirts of perfectly medium length. Every day of her high school career, she walked by herself to the bus stop or drove alone to school, and loved the quiet company of solitary mornings. Not once did we yell her out of bed or shoo her out the door. But from the first day of ninth grade, our Brad decided he'd have none of his sister's world. He set out on his own course, and if Ann and I would count the hours we spent wringing our hands about the boy we once wanted so badly, we'd tally enough time for a two year leave-of-absence. But you don't take leaves from your kids.

He sat beside me this morning in church in much the same pose he always takes, slouching with his leg up against a hymnal, face down while he pushes back his cuticles with the edge of a dime. But I knew it was a pose designed to hide--maybe from me, or from himself, maybe even from God. This morning he was in church--I mean really there--even though we'd tugged him along for all the Sundays of his life.

Maybe it's a wonder it's taken this long. At eighteen, he's already a man.

Most anywhere south of here people would say most of the weather we've had this week is still winter. Early June isn't summer at all on the lakeshore. People wear jackets and keep their sweatshirt hoods up around their ears at the state park where Brad works. Damp gray haze lies so heavy along the shore that in the morning water beads on picnic tables all over the park, even though there may have been no rain. Sometimes a whole week of workdays can pass and you can't paint a thing with that kind of moisture. By calendar and climate, early June around here is really late spring. When the sun comes, it's a joy.

Brad was working in the booth at the park entrance Friday morning, maybe the first sunny day in two weeks of gloom. I know the job. Lots of things have changed around that park in the last twenty years--there's nature tours now, a new visitor center with wildlife displays, and the beach is finally coming back after too many years of high water. But some things haven't changed from when I worked my way through college down at the park twenty years ago. Somebody has to sell entrance stickers and register the campers. It was Brad's turn in the booth.

He told me he was outside when that Chevy van came through, an old wreck tugging a rack of Alumicraft canoes. He'd just grabbed a handful of camper receipts from the little box at the exit. There hadn't been much traffic into the park that morning, even though the blessed sun burned through the haze and likely pulled the soft blue-green from the long row of cedars I helped plant years ago down the road to the campground.

Brad let that conversion van into the park and the beach, sold them a daily sticker--two bucks. That was his part. All of it.

Ten kids from that van went out with two social workers, and four of them, delinquent kids from the city, went down, drowned in heavy surf not more than fifty feet off the beach. They made it out quite a ways, I guess, but two of them swamped and dumped, and four kids died. Two of those bodies were recovered that afternoon, and two stayed out, like ghosts floating in the swells.

Tomorrow: a father tries to talk to his son.

No comments: