Thursday, May 11, 2006

"Living in Victory," Chapter 13

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

Chapter 13
By this time, I was getting used to making the trip from Illinois to Victory. I learned where the better gas stations were, what exit the Steak & Shake in Champaign was on and what exits to stay off of because they led to bad neighborhoods.
I also learned how to take catnaps to avoid Interstate disasters. I could pull off to the side of the road, turn on my flashers (wish my car was a brighter color than tan) and get out and do jumping jacks to refresh myself. When jumping jacks didn’t work, I would just pull over, lock the doors, turn on my flashers and nap for 10 minutes. After just a 10 or 20 minutes, I would be ready to make the rest of the trip with no problem.
That Saturday was the church’s annual Sunday school picnic. Remember, the church did not actually have its own Sunday school; the town had a Union Sunday school, even though there was only one church in Victory.
I quickly learned people in the church went out of their way to not take advantage of others. In fact, they went out of their way to help one another. In the years I ministered in the community, I never felt a compulsion to preach on the Golden Rule. If it came up in the context of a sermon, I was always uncomfortable.
Some of the members belonged to the township fire department, some to the lodge (and raised money to help needy children), some belong to the county’s emergency management team; none seemed to lack civic pride or a commitment to help their community.
As a minister, I sometimes envied the above-named organizations. I had aspirations to build a great church in Victory, to even move the congregation out of the frame building, a little white church one might find on a Christmas card, and into a modern, brick church building. A large building to hold all the hundreds of people who would be won to Christ and worship in my church.
Then, I would stop and realize it was not my church, after all.
I would pray for forgiveness and try to learn what I could from these people and try to impart what the Bible said, to the best of my ability.
On this particular Saturday night, I arrived at the church, leaving my sleeping bag stowed in the car. Mark Wilkins, the pimply-faced teenager I had traveled down the creek with, was at the church before anyone else. Soon he was joined by another boy who was fooling around with the church’s public address system.
It was a one-box affair, with a microphone (I thought) permanently attached to the pulpit.
I objected when they used a screwdriver to remove the mike from the pulpit, but they assured me all would be well and that Betty was looking for me for supper.
I went without further comment. I had dreamed of her fried chicken all week long. By now, school classes were out and the cafeteria was closed. The fast food restaurants held no allure for me; all I could think about was Betty’s food and the fast food cuisine was poor by comparison.
That night, I returned to the church and found it adorned for a party. The basement was decorated with streamers and balloons and the teenagers seemed up to something. They were whispering and giggling.
I tried to use the rest room in the Sunday school room, but was greeted with a sign that read “Out of order”.
Mark was seemingly waiting to make sure no one challenged the signs (the ladies rest room was also marked with a sign).
I shrugged and made my way to the old outhouse behind the church.
The outhouse had been left standing for such emergencies as this. It was also convenient for the kids to use when they played outside with their friends on warm summer nights.
It smelled bad, like most outhouses. Outhouses have a peculiar odor about them. It isn’t what you would expect, for a deep pit is dug beneath the little building where one sits (or stands) to do one’s business. The smell is a combination of odors: wet wood, wet earth and the material one would expect to find in the bottom of the pit.
The door was hung on two rusty hinges. There was a block of wood inside that could be twisted to hold the door shut when the occupant wanted privacy.
Contrary to all the jokes, modern outhouses do not have copies of mail order catalogs that can be torn apart page by page to service human needs. Instead, this one had a coat hanger, bent to accommodate a roll of toilet paper.
I did my business and returned to the church.
The evening progressed with games and refreshments. Then, about 8 p.m., a woman’s blood-curdling scream could be heard from the back yard.
We ran outside to see Miss Cory running from the outhouse, pulling up her hose on one leg and letting the other hose bunch around her ankle.
“Oh, oh, oh!” was all she could say before swooning.
Miss Cory was carried into the church and laid on the carpeted floor. One of the emergency medical technicians in the church got his bag while two of the women patted her hands and rubbed her wrists.
A few minutes later, she came around and kept mumbling about “the man downstairs”.
By and by she told us that she had made her way to the outhouse to do what she needed to do. She had just got seated when a voice from below said, “Excuse me, ma’am. Would you mind not doing that, we’re painting the basement.”
I remembered the boys who had worked on the P.A. system just before supper. They were nowhere to be seen, but the “out of order” signs had been removed from the rest rooms.
I flushed the stool in the men’s room and found it worked perfectly. I found something else – the pulpit microphone. Its wire ran out of the bathroom window in the general direction of the outhouse.
Miss Cory’s excitement managed to break up the party and after everything was cleaned up and put away, the folks made their way home.
I made my way south, to the Victory Conservation Club.
I turned left onto a gravel road about a mile south of town. A hand painted sign said this was the entrance to the club.
Driving on, my little car churned up dust and dirt, reminding me to check the air filter when I got back to school.
After a few minutes of the old bump and grind, I found myself at the end of the road.
To the right was a building with large windows and a screened in porch. Straight ahead was a strip of black that I took for Sugar Creek. I turned off my car lights.
Then, I saw a small fire and after my eyes adjusted, I could see a boy sitting next to it and a car not far away, but out of the firelight. I decided if he could drive to the fire, so could I.
I got out of the vehicle and approach Mark. He was quiet – even extra quiet for him.
“Hello,” I said, sitting down next to him in the sandy dirt.
“Hi,” he said, and picked up a small rock. He tried to throw it into the creek, but it either didn’t have enough weight or he didn’t throw it hard enough. It fell short.
“She was pretty scared,” I said, getting right down to cases.
He just smiled and I thought I heard a chuckle. That told me all I needed to know. He wasn’t going to be persuaded he did a bad thing, scaring the wits out of Miss Cory that night.
So, I let it go. I knew his parents would find out about it soon enough, even though they hadn’t attended the party.
“Did you bring your sleeping bag?” he asked.
“Yeah.”
I got up and went to he car to get it out of the back.
We made camp. Mark had brought some cans of soda and some hot dogs and buns.
“I thought I still owed you a meal after we dumped ours in the creek last week,” he said.
It was my turn to laugh.
“You didn’t need to do that,” I said. “I’m still pretty full from the refreshments.”
“Yeah, I didn’t stay,” he said, pushing a wiener onto a stick he had cut at the water’s edge and sharpened. He handed it to me before he got his own.
Mark was a good kid.
I took the stick and held the wiener over the fire, trying to catch the heat from the coals instead of the bright yellow flame. Coals cook, flames only burn the outer skin.
“I left right after Miss Cory – um, I left early,” he said.
He fixed himself a stick with two wieners on it – “I’m pretty hungry,” he said – I guess scaring old ladies does that to a teenage boy – makes them hungry.
The rest of the evening was uneventful. It was quiet.
I hoped Mark heard what I said and was thinking it over. He sure didn’t look too happy.
I wondered if it was guilt or the late night hot dog supper.
We turned in and with a full stomach and a busy day behind me, I soon fell fast asleep.
He didn’t have much firewood and the night was getting cold. In fact, there was a distinct chill in the air when I rolled up inside my sleeping bag and cuddled with the fire as close as I dare before going to sleep.