Saturday, June 13, 2009

Little Big Foot: Afterwards

The Reverend Gene Young was tired. Knowing the meeting at North Woods Chapel might run late, he had made a reservation at the Little Big Foot Motel. After the business meeting had concluded he had spent a few minutes with the three deacons. Now he sat on the side of a squeaky double bed, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to unwind. It was after 10 p.m. he noted, staring absently at the digital alarm clock on the nightstand. He wondered if he should set the alarm or if he would wake up in time to get a reasonably early start. He pondered the merits of a shower, decided to forgo it till morning, and bent to untie his shoes.

What an evening, he mused as he undressed. Moving to the small bathroom, he washed up and brushed his teeth almost without thought. Folding his clothes neatly on a nearby chair, he donned pajama bottoms and pulled the curtains open so the morning sun would wake him. It had been pleasantly cool when he'd left the church, so he decided to open the window. Then he climbed between the sheets. Ah, he thought, it feels good to stretch out. Yawning, he listened to crickets. Was that an owl?

He wondered if he should call his wife and then decided it was too late. He closed his eyes with a sigh and in his mind saw the church sanctuary as it had looked earlier that evening. He tried to empty his thoughts, but was unsuccessful, thinking of the various questions, comments, concerns. Annoyed, he wondered why he always had to rehash everything--as if there was anything to be done one way or the other!
"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee" he quoted from the King James. He always thought in King James when recalling a verse. "Lord, I'd like a peaceful night, please" he said aloud.

Had he been too blunt? he wondered. Not blunt enough? Well, judging by the questions and comments that had followed his little speech he had at least got them thinking. He wondered about the deacon board, wondered about the initial question from the short, blond man, wondered about the concerns over Dee Anna's single status, wondered how Dee Anna would take his report. Would she be relieved?

He turned over and fluffed the pillow. Okay, he thought to himself, enough already. It's done. Well, done for now, anyway. What would come next? Had he been right to suggest to his former student that she take a harmless trip to Little Big Foot? He thought of her late husband, his friend Michael, and felt a gentle wave of sadness. Dee Anna had adjusted well, he thought, after the initial shock, but how long would she want to stay in the Eastside manse that held so many memories of their life together before Michael's tragic accident? He wondered about Madeline. She seemed to be all right, though he knew she missed her daddy.

Remembering he hadn't set the alarm, he decided to chance sleeping till he woke on his own. Leaning sideways, he turned out the light and felt the darkness surround him like an embrace. Silently, he prayed for Dee Anna and her little daughter, for the congregation of Eastside Methodist Church, and for the people of North Woods Chapel. "Oh, dear Lord, may your will be done, Amen" he concluded aloud. He pulled up the quilt till it lay under his chin.

He faintly heard the clock in the Episcopal steeple chime eleven. A few minutes later he was asleep.

Next morning, Gene Young awoke to the sound of his cell phone playing a manic version of the 1812 Overture. Disoriented, he sat up and blinked. Sunlight streamed across the rust-colored carpet and illuminated the little motel room. It was hot. The phone stopped ringing. Rubbing his eyes, he slowly swung his feet over the side of the bed, which responded with a creak. What time is it, anyway, he thought foggily.

On the wall opposite the bed hung an oil painting done in improbable greens and blues, a lake scene with pine trees and reflected pinkish clouds. A buck stood under a large tree and geese flew in the sky. Ah yes. Little Big Foot.

The clock on the nightstand said 8 a.m. He usually didn't sleep past 6:30, he thought to himself. He must really have been tired. Business meetings could take it out of a guy. As he stood and padded to the bathroom he wondered who had called.

Emerging from the shower, he was awake and clear headed. He pulled on his clothes and then checked the voicemail on his cell phone. The call had been from his wife. Well, he'd call her from the restaurant, he decided. As he ran a comb through his abundant silver hair, he looked out the window. Last night he'd pulled into the front parking lot of the old-style motel. He hadn't know what was behind the building, and it had been too dark to tell when he'd opened the curtains last night. Now he gazed at a wide swath of green lawn that was bordered by a strip of weeds and wildflowers. Beyond the weeds was a dense woods of pine and hardwood trees. I could get used to this place, he thought, as he turned to arrange his suitcase.

Not long after, he sat in a booth at one of Little Big Foot's several "mom and pop" establishments. This one was called Wilderness Cafe. After giving the pleasant young waitress his order he sipped a cup of black coffee and dialed his home number.

His wife's soft voice answered on the first ring. "I saw it was you calling," she said without saying hello. "So how did it go? What happened? Are you calling Dee Anna Hanson this morning? Are you on the road yet?"

He laughed. "Okay...plenty...yes...and no, I'm about to eat some breakfast. I sort of slept in." He spent a few minutes in further conversation before a plate of golden pancakes arrived. Sniffing appreciatively he smiled at the waitress as she refilled his cup, a heavy ceramic mug with a deer depicted on the side. "Well, breakfast is served, babe. I'll be home in a few hours."

His chair faced the entrance to the little cafe and afforded a good view of some of the town's folk as they entered the building. The restaurant seemed to do a good business. Always interested in people, Gene Young noted that most of the patrons were men. Several sat at a long breakfast counter and read the newspaper or joked with the wait staff. Most of them wore baseball caps, some with the Milwaukee Brewers or the Green Bay Packers logo, some said John Deere and some advertised corn or seed. Most of the men, and the few couples, seemed to be working-class people. It was Saturday, however, so maybe they just were dressed casually because they were about to start of day of fun--or work around the house. Everyone was white, except for a couple of men in jeans and tee shirts who appeared to be Native American. He briefly thought of Dennis Whitewater and his lovely wife. Was it Marla? Such nice people.

In addition to what were clearly regulars, several families sat at tables. Judging from the clothes, the kids, and the way they looked around when they first entered, he guessed these were tourists spending a few days in Wisconsin's northern vacation areas.
Dee Anna and Madeline were spending the day in Door County, a beautiful peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan. They had driven up the length of the county after a night in an Algoma motel, stopping in several of the little towns. "Tourist traps" thought Dee Anna. The little highway had been crowded--many people having decided to take a last-minute trip before summer vacation ended. In Egg Harbor, Madeline had bought a snow globe for Mrs. Herndon. It had a light house inside.

Now they sat in the sunshine at a picnic table, licking ice cream cones. It was tradition that when they reached the tip of the peninsula they would stop at the fish store. It was not to buy fish, it was for ice cream. It was always odd, thought Dee Anna, to buy ice cream in a little shop that reeked of fresh fish. That was why they always ate the ice cream out back in the little park. Gulls soared in the sky, filling the air with their shrill calls. Madeline chased one across the lawn. Children laughed. A baby cried.

Madeline returned to the table and her ice cream, chatting happily, "Mommy, Door County is a funny name. Where is the door?"

"Well, kiddo," answered Dee Anna, "actually the name was "Door of the Dead." Madeline stopped licking her ice cone to stare at her mother.

"Early French explorers named it that because the the passage at the tip of the peninsula was so treacherous. It later was shortened to just Door County."

Madeline turned her globe upside down and chattered about whether Mrs. Herndon would like it, adding, "There's lots of lighthouses around here, huh, Mommy?"

Dee Anna nodded. "There were many lighthouses because there were many ships. The one in your globe is the one in Sturgeon Bay, but there are ten in all. Maybe some day we will come up here and take the lighthouse tour."

As she listened to Madeline talk about lighthouses and wonder how it would have been to live in one, Dee Anna's thoughts were about the meeting at North Woods Chapel. As she wiped ice cream from Madeline's chin and tossed their napkins into a trash can, she determined for about the tenth time, not to think about anything but what they were doing at that moment.

They walked to the pier and looked at the Island Clipper, one of the boats that made the short voyage to nearby Washington Island, waving to a group of women who stood on the upper deck.

They bought some jars of Door County cherry jam, one for them, and several to give away. They sat by the water and laughed as the wind blew their hair. After a while they headed for the parking lot and located their car.

Dee Anna's cell phone rang.

She had been waiting for a call, but when it came she wished it hadn't. She struggled to get her cell phone out of her purse before it stopped ringing.
"How ya doin,' girl?" It was Brother Young's hearty Texas-style greeting. With a sudden lurch in her stomach, Dee Anna did not immediately reply. "Hello? You there, Dee Anna?"
She swallowed. "Yes. I'm in Door County with Madeline. Let me sit down in the car. Please, hold on." She settled Madeline and helped her fasten her seat belt, and then she climbed behind the steering wheel. "Well," she asked quietly, "How did it go?"
"Well, Dee Anna, there was a good turn out, lots of discussion--an' only two "no" votes in the whole count. Not bad, you know. Unanimous is nice, of course, but this is not bad. Not bad at all."
Dee Anna rested her head on the steering wheel. She didn't know what to say. "Mommy?" said Madeline from her car seat. "Dee Anna?" said Gene Young on the cell phone. In unison, she heard both voices say, "You okay?"

She laughed a little breathlessly. "I'm fine, sorry. Just not sure what to think."


much2ponder said...

Love that picture of us on the clipper. This was a good post, though I missed a couple in between. I think I can see what has been going on. Very nice, very nice indeed. You have a gift with the written word. I like it a lot. PS...I love you

Ruth said...

Sturgeon Bay! My uncle, Johnny's, first pastorate was in Sturgeon Bay in the mid-1960's. It's always had a soft place in my heart because of that.

I'm enjoying this story very much. You've done a good job of capturing the thinking that goes on in a small church when they're looking for a new pastor...and the pastor's thinking as well!

Gilly said...

Great Story! You are a brilliant story writer!

And I love the lighthouses!

Betsy said...

More! More!

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

blushing :-)

LisaShaw said...


I came on over from Pat's blog (much2ponder). She asked me to come on over and visit with you and I'm glad I did. I said a prayer for you while I was here and I look forward to visiting with you again.

God bless, keep and strengthen you as you continue on your precious Christian journey.

Blessings and love,

Gayle A. Brostowski said...

Is this the end of the story?

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

No, I just haven't had time to sit down and think long enough to write the next chapter. Thanks for noticing! ;-) I hope Pastor Dee Anna will be back very soon.