Monday, May 08, 2006

"Living in Victory," Chapter 10

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.
All rights reserved

Chapter 10
My room at school was always a shambles. I liked the spread-out living concept, I told myself.
Our dorm dad had other ideas. One hot day he found a white substance growing in a glass bottle with a screw-on top. The substance vaguely resembled cottage cheese. It had started out as a bit of leftover milk I had stored in an old gallon root beer jug.
Dorm Dad was not amused.
So as soon as I could, I moved off campus found a room into a house owned by one of my professors. He had left the main floor as a an apartment and rented it out to a graduate student. The upper floors were divided into sleeping rooms with a community kitchen and bathroom on each floor.
It was just two blocks from campus and I had a corner room to myself.
The steam heat didn’t work, so I bought an electric heater, against my landlord’s rules. But, I figured, he wouldn’t know. He didn’t live in the house.
My room had a real closet. There were wardrobes in some of the rooms. I fancied one might get into Narnia from one of those wardrobes, just like in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” which had just been reprinted in a paperback collection that was all the rage in our campus ministry group.
I dug into the closet and found my sleeping bag under some dirty clothes I forgot I owned. I sniffed and then held my breath.
The next Saturday I threw my sleeping bag into the back of the Pinto, threw in a paper grocery sack filled with clean clothes, hung my suit next to the window behind the driver’s seat and headed east.
I had learned to put my hang up clothes behind the driver’s seat because that was the only way I could avoid blocking my rear view. If you put hang up clothes on the other side, they are always in the way when you try to back up the car.
I planned to get to Victory by 10 a.m. That was early enough and it still required leaving too early.
I had arranged to meet Mark at the church. As soon as he saw me pull up, he came out of his house and drove across the road.
“I borrowed my Dad’s pickup,” he explained, as if I couldn’t see he was driving a pickup truck. “Get in. There’s been a change of plans.”
I climbed into the seat after looking around to see a rusted monstrosity in the back end of the truck.
“That’s part of the surprise,” he said. “We took the hood of a ’32 Ford and welded it together in shop class. Looks funny, but it will probably float.
“We’re going canoeing first and then camping tonight.”
I had my doubts but decided Sugar Creek, our destination for the day, was narrow enough I could get to shore when it went under. I decided it would not float. If Mark wanted to go down with the ship, that would be his problem.
We stopped at a store and bought wieners and buns for our lunch. Mark had packed some mustard and catsup packs he had lifted from a fast food place and had brought his Dad’s cooler as well.
It was a Styrofoam job I had seen for sale for $3. I was skeptical about it making it down the creek, but decided it would float. Even if we lost everything else, we would have our lunch. Then I realized there was no way to latch the lid.
My doubts proved well founded.
Mark drove up 32, through Yountsville, to a side road that wound alongside the creek.
Clouds were starting to fill in overhead and I made a mental note to leave my wallet and other items in the truck.
Soon, we found a place to park and then came the back-breaking job of unloading the boat.
We wrestled it out of the pick-up bed and down the bank to the creek.
Despite its dilapidated look, the craft was made of sturdy (and heavy) metal.
It made it down the shallow bank and into the water. Mark made sure it was pulled up safely on the bank until we were ready to push off.
Next came the paddles and finally, the Styrofoam cooler.
I emptied my pockets.
“What are you doing that for?” Mark asked.
“Didn’t you say we might overturn?”
He thought a minute. “Yeah,” was all he said and then emptied his pockets, too.
Soon, we pushed off and were floating down the historic Sugar Creek.
The sun was hot, the air muggy and I was torn between sweltering and taking off my shirt. I wondered if I wanted to risk losing the shirt I was wearing or not. It was a white “T” with a huge Superman “S” logo on the front. I had ironed it on myself, and scorched one edge in the process.
I decided to risk melting in the heat, grateful for every bit of shade that we cruised beneath. I was proud of that shirt, despite the brown spot where the iron had burned the fabric.
We would talk for a while and then just float along and enjoy the scenery.
It was easy to imagine Indians first floating along this waterway. There were long stretches where no signs of civilization could be seen. There would be nothing but water and woods on either side of the boat.
Then I heard a regular splashing sound.
Mark had me in the front of the boat. Since he was experienced (and it was his boat) I didn’t mind. Besides, it gave me a better view of what lay ahead.
When I turned around to ask him about the sound, I saw him bailing out his end of the boat with a one-pound coffee can.
“It leaks,” was all he said.
Mark, though a very good student – he would later graduate from Wabash College – was a boy of few words, even when more information would be important.
“How bad?” I asked.
“Well, we welded the two parts of the car hood together in the high school shop,” he said. “I guess we didn’t quite get it watertight.”
So, in addition to being concerned about the boat overturning in the current, I could also count on the possibility of sinking due to a leak in Mark’s end of the boat!
Then, the current picked up speed. And there were rocks. And the creek became a few inches deep instead of a few feet.
“We have to ford some places,” Mark said, as loquacious as usual.
So, we got out of the boat, waded, while hoisting the heavy craft in our bare hands.
“You could take off your shoes and socks,” Mark said.
I had noticed he was wearing no socks, but I had attributed that to his wardrobe preferences, not to the needs of the trip we were taking.
So, we tried to stop the boat. Mark offered to hold it against the current while I lifted one leg up on the side of the boat and pulled off my shoe. Before the sock came off, we learned Mark was not strong enough to hold the boat against the current. The boat swung round and hit me. I lost my balance and my right shoe. But I saved one sock.
My shoe was gone, so I took off the other as soon as I was able, and tossed it into the boat, realizing it would never see its mate this side of shoe heaven (shoes do have “soles”, right?).
We caught the boat, which had hung up on a pile of rocks not far ahead of us. I pulled off my remaining wet sock and decided to risk pneumonia in the icy water.
Even though the air temperature was very warm, the creek was ice cold in spots. I enjoyed putting my feet into the dry boat, though the water line inside the craft had crept up to my seat and soon threatened to take over the entire floor of the.
We soon were floating again and I noticed the sky was dark and the crisp shadows of leaves had given way to no shadows at all.
“We should probably find a place to land and dump the water out of the boat,” Mark said.
So, we hopped over the side of the boat. That is, I hopped; Mark took his time getting out.
Instead of hopping into the knee- to hip-deep water I expected, I found the water was over my head. But, I could hold onto the side of the boat and keep my head above water.
Mark stopped paddling. He was too busy laughing and stomping the bottom of the boat with his feet.
I had found one of the infamous holes that the current had worn in soft spots of the creek bed.
Mark steered us toward shore and I looked at the sky, realizing it was going to storm and I would not be dry before we ended our voyage and I found a warm room.
We landed just as rain began.
“I guess we can’t build a fire to cook the hot dogs,” Mark said.
I was getting hungry but couldn’t guess the time of day.
Forget what you have been told about the sun being straight overhead at high noon.
In the first place, the sun does not get directly overhead unless you are at the Equator. In Indiana, the sun never climbs really high in the sky, even in summer. In Winter – well, the sun doesn’t put in a very effectual appearance at all, which is why we end up with sub-zero nights and days when the temperature doesn’t reach freezing for weeks at a time. I have only been glad I didn’t live in more northern states, like Minnesota, Wisconsin or North Dakota. I imagine Maine can be pretty rugged, too.
Indiana makes up for its lack of sun power by being very humid. I have never studied the matter, but I am sure sinus headaches are more numerous in Indiana than any other state of the Union.
Indiana has more trees, more hills, “hollers” and more vegetation to trap the humid air from streams like Sugar Creek. Still, I found myself enjoying the state more and more.
Mark pulled the cooler and other items out of the boat. I grabbed my socks and remaining shoe, not because they were worth keeping, but because I was self-conscious and didn’t want to look like a spendthrift with more money than brains. I had known people like that and didn’t think much of them.
Then we dumped water out of the boat and left it inverted on the edge of the creek while the rain poured.
I didn’t know what to do if it started storming. Mr. Science taught me on TV that you shouldn’t be near a body of water during an electrical storm. In addition to it being very scary, there was the danger of instant eternity if a lightning strike should hit the water and run through your body.
I decided my ticker didn’t need a recharge of that kind.
I stepped back from the water.
“That won’t help,” Mark said. “If lightning strikes near here, we will get, at least, a thrill.”
After he laughed at me when I jumped over the side of the boat, I didn’t know if he was kidding or not. I was out of my city boy element. That much was sure.
Before long, the rain stopped. The sun came out, but it just made everything more soggy and hot at the same time, if that is possible. I wasn’t drying out, that was sure.
When the rain ended, it was time to start downstream again.
We decided to keep an eye out for any wood that might be reasonably dry and in a location where we could start a fire without drawing the ire of the police or a conservation officer. It might look like the 1800s, but I knew it was the 1970s and people feared fires that might destroy acres of woodland or homes – even in rural Indiana.
Indiana is by and large politically conservative. The John Birch Society is big in Indiana. The people by and large want government to leave them alone.
Even though many counties would pass planning and zoning laws over the next 30 years, many people kept the attitude, “I don’t want nobody to tell me what to do with my land.”
Of course, when their neighbors did something they didn’t like – well that was an entirely different matter!
It was at the next shallow place where we had to wrestle the boat that we ran into trouble. We lost our lunch – literally.
I’m not sure if Mark slipped or I did. I think we both slipped at the same time. The current was swift and we lost our cooler when it fell out of the boat. Before we could recover it, it was far downstream.
I wondered later why we didn’t find coolers other people lost. Did the coolers all get past the point where we left the creek? Or were everyone else just better canoeists than we were? I suspected it was the latter, but didn’t bother to ask.
By the time we were ready to get out of the creek, at Deer’s Mill, I had had it for the day.
I decided there would be no camping under the stars that night for this wet guy.
We pulled the boat up on a sandy spot near the canoe rental office. I stayed with the boat and paddles (we hadn’t lost them) while Mark went and called a friend. Soon, his friend arrived, we loaded up the boat in the back of the friend’s pickup, hopped in the cab and were taken back to Mark’s father’s pickup truck where we had set off on our little escapade so many hours earlier.
Mark took me back to the church, where my car was setting.
“So, are we on for camping tonight?” he asked with a grin.
“Nah,” I said. “Let’s save that experience for another time. I think I’ll just hang out here tonight. See in the morning.”
“How about next Saturday night?” Mark asked.
At least, he was persistent.
“Sure,” I said, remembering Kent Smith’s instruction that I would have to do more than just show up for services.
I was really hungry and decided to drive into Crawfordsville for a good dinner.
A “good dinner” meant a chef’s salad at a restaurant I found on Crawfordsville’s east side. They made the best chef’s salad with blue cheese dressing. It went well with a cup of coffee for less than three bucks. Exquisite.
After dinner, I had to figure out what to do that night.
I had bailed out on the overnight camping trip and didn’t have the money to rent a room at any of the no-tell motels … and the Holiday Inn at the interstate was definitely out of my price range.
So, I figured I would go back to the church, sleep there, and get up before anyone could find me in the morning.
I had asked about a key for the church and had been told there was no need for keys. The church was never locked, which didn’t make me feel any too safe; but I thought that if there had been no vandalism done to the church, I would be pretty safe. If anything, an intruder would mistake me for a tramp and leave me alone. He might even be more afraid of me than I was of him!
So, I drove the half hour or so it took me to get back to the church, took my sleeping bag inside, unrolled it and decided to try to sleep.
It was a cold spring night. I didn’t want to turn up the heat in the sanctuary and waste money. I had tried to sleep in the basement but it was too damp and cold, so I moved my sleeping bag over to a heating duct and decided to sleep on top of it.
Fortunately, I remembered to bring my pillow from home.
It felt comforting, somehow, as if I had no place to lay my head. I had no real home, but that pillow was something familiar.
I dared take comfort in the thought that Jesus had no place to lay his head when He was ministering. I certainly had no right to expect anything more than the Lord had enjoyed.
I finally fell asleep and slept fitfully. It was just too cold. I had not really warmed up after the creek escapade of that afternoon and I found my sleeping bag was not really made for cold weather.
I had taken off my clothes and draped them over a pew, reminding myself to wipe the pew dry in the morning, if my clothes were still wet.
I didn’t manage to get up in time to leave before everyone else arrived.
In fact, I awoke to some of the men in the congregation laughing at me. They had come in, turned on the lights and I had slept right through it.
I gathered my sleeping bag around me, smiled awkwardly and left the church in a hasty retreat.
But my plans to go somewhere – anywhere -- get cleaned up and return, pretending nothing happened, all went awry.
I was greeted by one of the church widows, who had decided to go to the church early that spring morning. She lived one street over and one street down from the church in a small, but comfortable, cottage on the edge of Victory.
“Well, hello, there, Kelly” she said. “You look like you could use a bath and some breakfast. Come with me.”
And I did.