I woke alone but content knowing being alone was a fleeting experience. That I had gone to sleep with my Lover Boy in my arms, and I know I’d seen him again within two hours. All was well with the world. After showering I headed downstairs reminding myself that Jackson would be coming over for breakfast after his paper route and before our church camp meeting. I figured I had half an hour, made the coffee, and knowing he had ridden his paper route on top of making love and would be hungry, I figured pancakes, bacon and eggs would be appropriate again. As I started the bacon, I realized supplies were getting low, I’d need to go grocery shopping tomorrow.
I’d finished my first cup and had the bacon set aside when I heard the crunch of gravel in the driveway and a minute later the grin that radiated pure joy walked in the back door. All I could say was “Good morning, beautiful.”
It seemed a little shallow to me, but his grin got larger—as if that was possible—and the green in his hazel eyes seemed to flash, and he walked straight to me, grabbed me in a hug and pulled me into a passionate kiss. “Rev, I’ve been out since before sunrise, and it’s a beautiful day, but you’re the best thing I’ve seen so far today,” he whispered in my ear.
“Well then, we’re both happy and having a great morning so far, aren’t we?” I kissed him back and we stood together in an embrace for a minute or two, just swaying and enjoying the intimate personal contact. Words weren’t necessary. Finally, when we released, I said to him, “I bet you’re ready for a cup of coffee. It’s brewed. You pour and I’ll finish the rest of breakfast.”
He did just that, commenting that the bacon smelled terrific. I said I’d have to go to the grocery store the next day, and he asked, “The local IGA or the Food Town?”
“It’s just some groceries so the IGA will be fine.” After I flipped the pancakes I put on the eggs and in a couple of minutes we were sitting down to eat. “No surprises on the paper route,” I asked?
He shook his head.” No traffic, nice sunrise, it was all cool, and then I get to come here afterwards. What a deal!”
We ate, making small talk, and then I asked if he’d seen Gary this morning. He shook his head, “Nope, he was sleeping like normal, not a sound when I came back in the house. 5:30 is usually way early for him. When we’re done with our meeting I’ll go talk to the possible mowing customers, then circle back with him when I know if they’re for sure and what days and stuff. If we can pick up a few more customers, we might get so we have one or two every afternoon, and that would be great.”
I nodded, “Sure would, you’d be occupied instead of wasting around the house, and earning money as well. I have no doubt your charm will work magic when you talk to those customers today. Having the parsonage and Spencer Sullivan as references has to help.”
He nodded, as he pushed the last of the pancakes into his mouth. I don’t remember eating that much or that fast at his age, but it was probably true of me too. After we finished the dishes and cleaned up, we sat back down at the kitchen table.
“Jackson, I want to suggest something.”
He nodded, and I continued. “This is about our pending meeting and working with you as counselor and me as pastor, and all that. One thing I remember from ministry practicum class is that to be successful you have to set aside the time and place for different kinds of work, so it doesn’t all flow together and get all mushed together. It’s kind of like setting aside specific time to do homework. Same thing for church work, especially when the office is in the parsonage. For instance, if you don’t set aside time from sermon prep and other things, it’s easy for it to slip and suddenly it’s Saturday night and you’re on a critical deadline. So, where I’m going with this is that the office in the other room is the church office, you know there isn’t really one down at the church. When I’m in the office I kind of switch over to church mode, you know what I mean? That’s where we’re going to have our church camp meeting, so when we’re in there we’re doing church work, Okay?”
He smiled and said, “Sure, I don’t’ know what the big deal is.”
“Well, it’s not so much that it’s a big deal, just that it’s a deal. When we’re in the office we’re on church time doing church stuff. It’s kind of prioritization but it’s important for us if the pastor-counselor relationship is going to work, and it’s also important because this is the way we have to play it in a lot of places. In the rest of this house we can be totally relaxed and ourselves, but when we’re out and about a lot of the time it will be the pastor-counselor relationship, and we have to be careful, we have roles to play. That may sound trivial or contrived, but it’s true and it’s important if we’re going to protect this love we have. Are you with me? This is important and we can’t be casual about it. I know I would just die if our relationship ended.” I could feel the emotion rising and tried hard to make sure there were no tears.
He looked at me solemnly and smiled and then said, “That’s how I feel too. After what’s happened in the last week, I feel like I’ve been given my life back and I’m free, and I think I’d die too if that was taken or blown away. But, I’m a kid, this isn’t something I’ve done before, so you need to teach me, and I’ll learn. Okay? I will because this is the most important thing in my life. Meaning you, and our relationship.”
I touched my lips with my fingertips and reached out and then touched his lips. “I’m not trying to make this difficult, just trying to create some structure so we’re successful. Successful in working together and also successful in building our relationship and minimizing the risks. Something’s going to happen. I know that and you know that. It’s human nature. We can do all the planning we want, but there’s going to be a surprise or two along the way, but if we establish a working relationship as well, it’ll help with everything else. I’m not talking about anything over the top or anything hypocritical, just defining roles and place. So, when we’re in the office or in church, we’re doing church work. I’m not going to be kissing you or flirting, we’re going to be doing our work. I am, and you are, right?”
He paused and smiled, and it started to become a grin. “Right, no flirting! Like you’re telling me I can’t tell you how I feel, that I love you?”
“Look, I’m not being draconian here—you know what draconian means?” He shook his head.
“It means rules or laws that are excessively harsh and severe. That’s not what this is about. It’s about creating some roles to help us get the work done, and hopefully minimize any complications while we’re at it.
“I’ve got it, Rev. I’m with you on that. Same wavelength!”
“Okay, then, let’s rinse these cups and adjourn to the office for our meeting.”
We did just that and spent the first twenty minute or so discussing what summer church camp was about, it’s purpose and all that. I tried to explain that it was simply an opportunity during vacation to combine some religious instruction with some fun activities so that the result was both group bonding and positive association. He looked at me like he wasn’t sure what I was saying.
“Okay, from what I’ve heard you say in the last ten days, it’s probably a fair assessment that your experience with Sunday School and maybe other church activities wasn’t the most positive. Is that right?”
“Well, that’s a common problem. A lot of it comes down to the fact that most Sunday School teachers are volunteers and aren’t really teachers, and as kids get older it gets harder to teach them and make it relevant and specially to make it fun. Often if gets dry and boring, and that’s the real problem. So, think of summer church camp as a way to connect the two again and make it fun.”
He nodded and smiled this time. “That makes sense. Why just do it in the summer, why not all year long in all the Sunday School classes and in Youth Fellowship? So much of it is beyond boring, it drives me crazy because it doesn’t seem to matter at all.”
Now I smiled. “That is precisely the point. If we can have a successful summer church camp maybe, we can restart the Youth Fellowship on the same premise that it’s fun and positive and informative. That would be a win.”
“Okay,” he went on, “so what’s the plan to do that? I haven’t done this before, so you’ll have to fill me in.”
“It’s simple, really. It’s basically a couple of hours of Bible or faith related material and music in the morning, and then we all go somewhere in the afternoon for a fun outing. Kind of like a field trip.”
“Yep, that simple. Now that doesn’t mean there doesn’t have to be organization because there does, and it does mean there has to be responsible people running it because there are kids involved, but otherwise it’s that simple. The model in my head is that from 10:00 to noon we have a mix of church-centered activities. They can range from Sunday School kind of stuff to crafts to Bible study to sing-along, whatever. Then we hop a bus at noon, everyone eats the lunch that they brought with them on the bus, and we spend the afternoon doing the day’s activity. What do you think?”
“I think I’m not teaching any Bible study, that’s what I think,” he said with a smirk. “But I do have a suggestion already,” he added.
“Why wait till 10:00? It’s summer. All these kids are just sitting around waiting to start. Why not do it from 9:00 to 11:00 and then hop the bus? That adds an hour for the fun stuff in the afternoon, which will be important with the driving we’ll be doing. And, again, I’m not doing any Bible teaching!”
“No worry there, Susan and I will take care of the instruction part in the morning and she’ll handle the music. I think you have a good suggestion on the start time. You and the other two counselors come into it to make sure everyone gets where they’re supposed to be on time, help them out if necessary, stuff like that. More importantly, in the afternoon when we go places, keeping an eye on the kids and making sure they’re all together and no one gets hurt, stuff like that is really important.”
“Okay, I’m getting it, and it sounds good so far. What are we doing in the afternoons, where are we going?”
“That is what we have to decide next. I’m new here and have read a little bit, but you know a lot more about what’s available than I do. And you have a way better sense of whether these kids would have already done these things or not. Like do we go to the beach. Do we take a hike? Is there an amusement park close by? What about a museum? All those things are good options. The last one of these camps I did when I was still in seminary and the big event of the week was an amusement park, but keeping the kids together was a huge challenge, the other big winner was visiting a planetarium. We did a hike but that was hard with kids of different ages and sizes. So, what do you think?”
“Well,” and he paused, “if you’re asking me, like I’m some authority here which I’m not, I think a beach trip is real important because most of these kids don’t get to do it even though the coast is just an hour away.”
“I was thinking that too. What about something else I read about, in Astoria there’s a maritime museum about maritime history at the mouth of the Columbia River. Do you know it’s among the most dangerous stretches of water in the world? And there’s the Astoria Tower there too. That could make a cool trip.”
I could see he was getting enthused. “Yeah, that sounds far out. If we did that, then it would be ocean but no beach, and we could go to the beach further south, down towards Lincoln City or something.”
“Okay, we’re on a roll. How about a hike? I keep hearing about Multnomah Falls and the great waterfall and hiking trails. But it seems like a long way from here up the Columbia River Gorge.”
He paused, then said, “it is a long way, I guess. Another closer option would be Silver Falls State Park where there are different trails and a bunch of cool water falls and a lot more open play and picnic areas. And it’s southwest of Salem, so a lot closer.”
I beamed and said to him, “See how easy this is? We’ve got three days already settled. Only two others to decide on. What do you think? Is there anything immediately local or anything in Portland that would be good? I read there’s a small aquarium in Seaside, north of Cannon Beach, and there’s the Portland Art Museum downtown in Portland. What do you think?”
He was starting to debate the aquarium versus the maritime museum when we heard a car pull into the driveway. He looked at me with raised eyebrows. I glanced at my watch and said, “I’m guessing that’s Susan, precisely on time. I asked her to drop by at 10:00 o’clock so the summer camp leadership team could finalize the plans.”
He just laughed. “This is all a set up, isn’t it?” I put on a face of mock offense.
“How could you think that? Hang tight and I’ll go let her in.” By the time I got to the kitchen Susan was on the back porch about to let out a “Hello in the house” which was by then unnecessary.
I opened the door and said, “Good morning, Susan. Thanks for being here. Come on into the office and join our planning meeting.”
She smiled and followed me through. As she walked through the office door, she greeted Jackson with delight. “Hello, Jackson, how good to see you. I’m so glad you’re part of this summer church camp program. You’ll really make it a success. But more importantly, you have to tell me, did you run our pastor into the ground the other day on your bike ride? How bad was he up at the park on the trails?” She was having to work hard not to break into outright laughter. Jackson was right there with her.
“Well,” he said,” he tried. I have to give him that, but you know it’s not easy when you’re an out of shape older minister type. He kept wanting to race me, and I tried not to embarrass him too much, but it always turned out that he couldn’t keep us, so what can I say. I guess he needs more training.” He was chortling by this point.
“Okay, you people, stop now. This is a church camp planning meeting, not a pile on the pastor session. And Susan, I’ll have you know that he has the advantage not only of youth but of riding his bike on a paper route every morning, so he has this thing called training in his favor. At any rate, he didn’t win my much! Now, can we get to work?”
It was lighthearted, and I appreciated Susan engaging in a bit of give and take with him at my expense. It was turning out that he could engage conversationally with adults and hold his own quite well, in spite of what he thought of himself as the invisible kid!
I explained to Susan that we’d discussed the purpose of church camp, what the structure would be, the role of the counselors, and had started on a list of afternoon activities, and what we had so far. The Maritime Museum and Astoria Tower in Astoria; the Seaside Aquarium and the beach; Silver Falls State park for a hike and waterfalls. “We were just starting to discuss something local and the Portland Art Museum when you arrived. What do you think?”
She beamed. “I think those first three are wonderful choices, and such a variety, and most of these kids won’t have gone to them. When you say local, the thing that springs to mind is the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem—it has a Museum in the original woolen mill, old historic homes, and huge park, really great stuff. And, we could include a ferry ride across the Willamette River. How does that sound?”
I looked at Jackson. He nodded. “Okay, I guess that’s a go, I’ll put it on the list. What about the art museum?”
Susan furrowed her brow. “I’ve been there many times and it’s a terrific museum, but I think it would be a stretch for the kids. It’s a serious art museum. If we’re going to be doing all these jaunts, and we want it to be fun, why wouldn’t we go to the zoo in the West Hills of Portland. It’s actually quite nice.”
I looked at Jackson. “Why didn’t you suggest that?” He looked a little quizzical and said, “I guess it was too obvious. But if we add the zoo, then it shouldn’t be on Friday because of the traffic coming home at the end of the week.” He turned to Susan, “Don’t you think it would be better during a regular weekday?”
She agreed and said we should put Seaside or Astoria on the list for Friday as we’d be coming back home against the traffic going to the coast. And so, we had our list of activities. I got the action item of calling the facilities to arrange the time and cost, and Susan took the task of organizing the morning educational part of the program. Jackson took the task of heading out the door to call on his prospective mowing customers. To be fair, I could tell he was getting antsy and gave him the out and he took it, turning to Susan and saying, “Pastor Dave helped Gary and me get a mowing business going, and Mr. Sullivan signed us up and talked to other people he knows and gave me a list of potential customers that I have to go call on today.”
Susan’s response was predictably positive, and she told him he’d better get on his way before any of those potential customers changed their mind. On a serious note, she stood and gave him a hug and told him how happy she was that he was part of the church camp leadership team, and was thrilled that he’d got his own business underway, and knew that it was going to turn out to be a terrific summer for him. He grinned widely. If only Susan knew. I didn’t think she did.
After Jackson left, she turned to me and said, “That boy is really coming around, isn’t he?”
“He sure appears to be,” I said, “and you notice that he’s pretty much involved, not just sitting back and watching or acting like he’s being dragged kicking and screaming to the party?”
“You can pretty well thank yourself for that, Pastor,” she said. “You’ve extended the hand of friendship and camaraderie to him like no one else, and he’s responding. It’s a wonderful thing to see, especially after watching him go in the opposite direction the last couple of years. He seems to like you too and getting the pastor out for regular bike rides is pretty healthy. You two are good for each other.”
I looked at her, trying to keep my expression completely neutral. I may have my own speculations about her relationship with Ellen, but I had no idea what she thought about a relationship like Jackson and I really had, and she was an education professional, so that was risky.
“Well, it’s working out for the good. Although I have to say, I rode my bike to seminary regularly and did quite a bit of trail riding and he didn’t beat me by much!” I grinned and so did she, and that changed the subject. We discussed the morning curriculum, where music and Bible study would fit in, things like that, and then she said it was coming up on 11:00 AM and she’d arranged to stop by and see Lilly. I told her I planned on stopping over late afternoon following the therapist’s first session and we should compare notes afterward. She agreed and asked if she could leave her car in the driveway and was off.
In the early afternoon I swung by Spencer Sullivan’s office to learn what I could about the current state of legal events. He was expecting me, brought me into his office with a friendly greeting. “Another great sermon yesterday Pastor. I want you to know I’m not patronizing you. I really enjoyed it and learned something about the depth of alternative interpretations in passages you otherwise take for granted. It’s like in the law, that certain attorneys can see completely different options or interpretations in specific laws. I guess that just means we can’t take too much for granted.”
I smiled. “Well, that’s true. The whole point of exegesis is to uncover what the author intended to say to his or her original audience. That doesn’t always mean it’s the same as what we would want to be saying to a contemporary audience. I’m glad you found it uplifting. That’s two in a row. I’m holding myself to an ever-higher standard. What happens when I bomb some Sunday?”
He laughed out loud, “Then, pastor, you’ll have to join the club with the rest of us mere mortals and come back down here where we thrash around day by day.”
I waited a minute, then asked, “Seriously, Spencer, you didn’t think the interpretation about accepting The Other was too far out there for most people?”
“Nope,” he replied, “I bet most of the folks had no idea about women as chattel and pushed to a second-class citizen status. We tend to interpret history through our own lens, don’t we? Also, I’m struck, assuming you know your stuff and are competent in your exegesis, that these two passages in a row significantly deal with accepting the person outside our normal circle or family or tribe. That’ll be a challenge for most folks to expand their perspectives.”
“That’s for sure. Well, if I can just get people to broaden their horizons a little and be more open and accepting then that’s progress. Speaking of progress, any update on Bud Harris? Is there any progress there?”
He paused and tented his fingertips below his chin. “Sadly, not much. I visited him this morning, explaining that it was a difficult position trying to look out for his business interests while also knowing the family through church. He didn’t seem much impressed or concerned, to be frank. He’s still in jail and I tried to update him on the overall situation.”
“He did ask about the family, but I got the impression that it was more out of curiosity than concern. I informed him that CPS had required in-home therapy to work toward keeping the family together and the boys out of foster care, and also that Lilly also had to enroll in AA. He seemed almost ambivalent about Lily filing for divorce. I told him that the boys seemed to be doing alright, and you should have heard his comment about that.”
“What does that mean,” I asked curious about the ambivalence observation Spencer had made.
“Well, I told him that you’d prompted them to start working together and mowing lawns to keep busy and earn some money. I went on to say that things seemed to be improving in the relationship between the boys and that ‘Jackson has become a friend of the pastor.’
“He snorted and said ‘friend of the pastor—more like friend of the devil. Everything was fine around here till that new pastor turned up. I knew we shouldn’t have hired a young guy from out of state, especially from back east.’ What do you make of that, Pastor?”
“You know, Spencer,” I replied, “I’m not surprised by the anger and resentment. Being an attorney, you probably see it often especially with guilty parties. He’s been caught and now is at risk of losing a lot so it’s not surprising that he’s angry and lashing out. In fact, I’ll take him calling me the devil and referring to Jackson as a friend of the devil as a badge of honor.”
He smiled and nodded, “Well put.”
“Do you have any update on his legal situation that you can discuss?”
“There are some things that I can tell you. He still isn’t able to post bail because of the sexual abuse charges. That means he’s staying in jail for now. He has a hearing scheduled later this week, and I’m guessing that because the sexual abuse charges will be hard to prove, and by that, I mean just Gary’s verbal testimony which he will deny, that the DA will likely try for a plea deal. Probably that means if he pleads guilty to the physical abuse charges, they won’t try to charge him on sexual abuse. If he does and is sentenced, it would be a significantly lighter sentence, but he’d be convicted. I’m representing him on the business side, but he’ll be represented by a court appointed defense counsel in court and it’s likely he’ll be advised to take the plea deal. It means he’ll have a cleaner record when he gets out.”
I looked at him questioningly, “That’s justice?”
He smiled bleakly, “Sometimes you have to settle for the best justice you can get. Look at it this way, if it happens the way I described, he gets sentenced and stays in jail for however long. The family is out from under the burden and duress. The divorce can proceed more easily, and the odds on the boys staying with Lilly go up significantly and that means a much higher chance that they stay out of foster care. Those are significant wins in my book.”
“You’re right, Spencer. I understand, and at the end of the day it’s what’s best for Lilly and the boys rather than extracting vengeance on Bud. How do you think the divorce will go?”
“Well, Bud and Lilly don’t have much in the way of savings, so the assets are essentially Bud’s business and the home. The business appears to have more value than the house, but it also has quite a bit of debt. My recommendation will be to split the assets practically rather than based on dollar value, the house going to Lilly and the business going to Bud. I know that means she won’t have an income besides child support after the settlement, but she also won’t have to move and won’t have a mortgage or rent to pay. If she was to try for part of the business, she’d risk having to give up part of the house, and then the business debts complicate matters significantly.”
I thought about the implications of what Spencer had told me for a minute, then said, “Okay, I won’t press you for any more details. You’ve probably told me more than you should, and I appreciate that. Lilly has the first in-home therapy session today, as you know, and I’m going to try and meet with her later this afternoon to touch base. By the way, Jackson is very appreciative of the list of prospective mowing customers you gave him yesterday at church. So am I. That’s very thoughtful.”
“It was the least I could do,” he replied. “They did a great job on my lawn last Friday, better than I do myself, and I hope this helps them get their mowing business off the ground. On the divorce proceeding, I’ll be meeting with Lilly in the next day or two, then we’ll know more about what’s what, the likely filing date, etc. By the way, I’m curious about one other thing, and you tell me if you’re free to discuss it. That is the new piece of info that Bud is not Jackson’s father. What’s the situation there?”
I rolled my eyes. “What I know from talking to Jackson is literally that he suspected something like this to be true based on how different he and Bud are in pretty much every single way. That said, he found out last week when everyone else did, so he’s having to deal with it. I will say that he hasn’t brought it up on his own, and I had to ask him about it before he would, but he seems to be reconciled to the reality. He’s still got to work through the emotional impact and all the questions that it raises.”
“Do you think it would help,” he asked, “if I address it with Lilly when we meet? It’s not anything to do with the divorce, but it does open an entirely new legal question. A child is entitled to know who their legal parents are.”
“That’s an interesting question, Spencer. I’ve thought about it too, and I don’t know if the best approach is yours as attorney, though you are technically representing Bud, or if I should approach it pastorally when I meet with her. What do you think?”
He paused, then said, “I don’t think it matters. What we’re really trying to get at is whether she knows who the father is, whether she’ll share that information with Jackson, and then by extension come the questions about if he’ll ever want to meet his father, etc. It may be best for you to approach it and limit the questions to does she know, and will she share that info with Jackson. Pretty much the rest is up to him.”
We agreed on that approach, he said he’d let me know if there were further developments during the week, and I headed home. About 3:00 PM I called the Harris house and Lilly answered the phone. When I asked her if this was a good time and if she had time to talk, she said yes, and I asked if I could stop over. We agreed on fifteen minutes and I walked over.
Lilly was visibly tense, trying to be pleasant. I felt for her, but after we got past the greetings and formalities, I just asked her how the first therapy session went. She was quiet for some time, then said “It was very hard. There’s been a lot of years, and a lot of water under the bridge, a lot of events and a lot of consequences, and trying to repair all of that is a big task and will be a very difficult undertaking.”
I agreed with her and could only assure her that she wasn’t alone. She had her boys, her pastor, the larger church family, all of whom would assist. I asked if she had any immediate family and she shook her head. “No, I was an only child and both my parents are gone, and that’s it. The remaining immediate family are Gary and Jackson.”
To try and change the vibe I told her that the boys had told me about her decision to stop drinking last week and how brave and impressive that decision was. She looked at me and said, “The boys challenged me to do it since I was going to start AA this week any way, and they were right. It turned out not to be that hard. I missed it for a couple of days, but then I realized Bud was gone my need to drink was gone too. That’s a pretty sad commentary on my life, especially after all these years together. That means I spent most of my adult life with someone who made me drink to cope. You probably can’t get a much sadder situation than that!”
“Lilly, we all get into situations in life that are difficult or unpleasant, and the key is to look ahead and figure out the solution, rather than dwell on what went wrong. That’s especially true in your situation with Gary and Jackson. They need you to be here and be their mother. Isn’t that what you discussed with the therapist?”
She nodded her head. “Yes, it was, along with taking responsibility for being less than present as a mother for years and figuring out a way to make up for it. I don’t know what to do about that.”
“Lilly, I’m no therapist, I’m just a new pastor, but here’s what I do know. Even if you spent all your time trying to make amends for the past, you’d only be successful dealing with some of it. What you need to focus on is being here now for them. It’s about what you do going forward. I’m not saying ignore or deny what happened, but it’s almost like you have to set it aside or think about it as a previous chapter in your life, and now you’re in a new chapter and you get to do and be the person you want to be for them.”
She smiled and said, “I like that, it makes it all easier to take on. It doesn’t feel like such a burden, you know, like have to repair a broken-down car before you can drive forward again.”
“That’s a good way to think about it, Lilly. I think that’s a good way forward. You have to be able to be honest and candid about the past if the boys ask or if there’s a need to, but the key to success is the present and the future.”
I stopped there and could see she was thinking, so I stayed quiet. Finally, she said, “I think we’ll be Okay. If the divorce gets settled properly, we should be Okay financially, the boys will be out from under the burden of Bud, and we’ll be able to go forward together. I’ll have to go back to work, but that might turn out to be a good thing.”
“Lilly, I don’t mean to pry, but I do have to ask you another question, and that’s about Jackson’s father. He and I talked about it briefly yesterday, and I don’t frankly know if he’s dwelling on it or just thinking about it when he’s asked, but he did get some pretty significant news last week when he found out that Bud isn’t his father. When he wants to know, are you able to tell him what happened and who his father is? Usually, sooner or later, people do want to know.”
She was quiet for a long time. “It’s a complicated story and was a long time ago. I don’t know if there’s any value in going into it, but here’s what I can tell you. I grew up in McMinnville, down the road from here, and Bud and I were married in 1957. Gary was born in 1959, and things were already starting to get tough in our marriage. Bud was working as a machinist for a company here in Newberg, he wasn’t making much money, he really didn’t want kids at the time, but I ended up pregnant with Gary and after the birth Bud was even more difficult. I mean like ‘one more mouth to feed, we can’t afford the kid,’ things like that. It got bad enough that late that year I moved home to my parent’s place with Gary. I was invited to a New Year’s Eve party and my parents agreed to baby sit Gary, and I met a new and exciting guy who was a helicopter pilot from out of state. Well, I was lonely, and one thing led to another and we started seeing each other and I got pregnant. I thought I was being careful, but when it became clear I was pregnant, my parents told me I had to go home to my husband. As you can guess, that was the worst thing. Bud was even angrier than before. Now there was another baby on the way, and it wasn’t even his child. So, from the day Jackson was born Bud disliked him. I named him Jackson because that was the name of the helicopter pilot, Jackson Dean. I never saw him again after the week or, so we were together following the New Year’s party. I heard that he later joined the Army and was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam Nam. I don’t think he ever knew I was pregnant, and I never was in contact with him after he left McMinnville. So, I know who Jackson’s father is by name, but I don’t have other knowledge of him, and we’ve never been in touch.”
“I’m so sorry, that must have been devastating to live through. I’m guessing though, that when you had to move back to Newberg, your pregnancy was early enough that it all seemed normal to everyone outside your family. Everyone else thought it was just the second child.”
“Yes, it all looked normal from the outside, I guess, but it wasn’t on the inside. I was able to keep busy with the boys and the marriage was tolerable for a few years, but as they got older and then after Bud started his own company and became independent and successful, he got more and more resentful, and I got more and more miserable. So, I started drinking to cope. You know where that ended up. So at least I’m on the other side of that and not drinking any more, for the first time in years and years. Now I just hope I can put all of this back together.”
I gave her some time after that statement, then said, “I’m here and will help how I can. I’m not going to say anything to Jackson. This is private enough I think it needs to be between you and him when he asks and you’re ready to talk about it. I’m here to help however I can. I’ve gotten to know both boys, and really want to help them move forward too. But, you’re their mother, and a lot of this needs to be between you and them.”
She looked up and smiled, “You’ve helped a lot already, Pastor. Both boys like you and appreciate your helping them, and I can see a big difference in Jackson in just a week. It’s like he’s starting to come out of his shell or something. Being out from under Bud has been a big thing, but your friendship with him is really important, like going on a bike ride with him. Bud never did anything fun with him, just worked him. And convincing him to be a church camp counselor will really help. I don’t know how you managed to convince him to do that. I fight to even get him to go to church, and now you’ve got him being a youth counselor! Truth is stranger than fiction!”
I decided not to pursue that line of logic, and shortly said my goodbyes and took my leave. Gary was out somewhere, and Jackson was still out signing up customers for lawn mowing. I figured he’d come over to the parsonage when he was done.
I heard the crunch of tires in the gravel shortly after I got home. He came in the back door and I could hear him crossing the kitchen and coming into the living room. He walked in with a delightful smile on his face.
“Howdy, Rev. How are you?”
“I’m good, but don’t appear to be as good as you. How was your afternoon? Did you close all the customers on that list Spencer gave you?”
He grinned like the cat that got the canary. “Well, now that you ask, I was able to get most of them signed up.”
“Most of them,” I said, “what does that mean? I want the particulars.”
Now he was grinning, what I’d heard referred to as a ‘shit-eating grin,’ and as he plopped down next to me on the couch he said, “All but one of them signed up. Either Spencer did a good job of pre-selling, or I have the magic charm.”
I smiled back at him, “Maybe you do have the charm. If the mowing business fails, you might be able to get by selling Fuller brushes!” He gave me a dig in the ribs for that one, then turned on the couch and hugged me and pulled my head over for a kiss.
“Seriously, it was a great afternoon. All those people were so nice, and it wasn’t hard to talk to them about what they wanted and what we’d be able to do for them and what we’d charge and stuff. And that all came after this morning. I still don’t know what to make of you and Susan treating me like I’m on the leadership team. I don’t think I know what that is. It always seemed like I was the one needing to be led around, like a cow with a nose ring and a chain, not me leading anyone anywhere.”
He paused, like he’d run out of air. I just hugged him and kissed the top of his head. “I think the point to take away from this is that you have more capability than you know or thought possible, and you just need to keep working at it. You’re discovering the real you, the real Jackson, and he’s a pretty cool and capable person, isn’t he?”
He was quiet at that. Finally, he said, “I have to admit that if I’d been quizzed about this just two weeks ago, I would have said none of it was even possible, like it was totally crazy. But here I am. I know a lot of things have changed, but the biggest thing is that you’re a major part of my life, and I know it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
I hugged him and whispered in his ear, “The feeling is mutual.” We were silent for a few minutes. Then I asked him if he’d seen his mother yet? He said he hadn’t that he’d stopped here first after seeing all the mowing customers.
“Okay, here’s what I can tell you. Bud is still in jail and it looks like he won’t have the option of making bail but will be there till his hearing. I spoke to your Mom this afternoon after the first therapy session, and it appears to have gone well, but it was hard. She’ll need you and Gary to be home tonight and be with her. Let her tell you what she wants to. She’s feeling the pressure, so just try and be there for her and let her lead the conversation. Can you tell Gary that? I think it’s important so she feels she can be open with you two and not feel any extra pressure.”
He nodded his head, which was now leaning on my chest with my chin resting on the top of his head. After a couple of minutes, I asked, “Do you know how good your hair smells?”
He giggled, and I knew we were good. “I think you should head home and spend the time with your Mom. Stay there tonight, don’t risk coming over here. You need to be there, be part of that household. She’s trying to start moving in a new direction, making a new life, and all three of you need to be part of that.”
He finally said, “I know. I hate the idea, but I know you’re right and I’ll do it. Are we on for breakfast in the morning?”
“You bet,” I replied, trying to sound as casual as possible. “I’ll have the coffee ready, and then I’ve got to go grocery shopping. Do you want to come along? Or do you have mowing tomorrow?”
“We’ve got one customer on Tuesday, in the afternoon, so the morning is open, and I’ll tag along with you in the morning. That way I can keep my eye on you and make sure you don’t get into trouble.”
I hugged him again, tipped his chin up and kissed him deeply, and said, “All right Lover Boy, you head home now and start that new chapter of family life with your Mom.”