The band had taken the name The Jaybirds, apparently because the two types of jays native to Oregon, the Scrub Jay and the Stellar Jay, were understood to be smart and cocky. Will thought it was cool, and so did the rest of the band.
The Junior Class dance was held in the gym at school, and the bleachers had been folded up and the class did a nice job on the decorations. Jackson gave me a full report when he got home about midnight. It turns out that the equipment and sound system set up takes as much as a couple of hours, and the take down and packing up at the end can take as long, so playing a two hour gig somewhere can end up being five or six hours, not counting travel. Still, he was pumped and full of energy as he settled down on the couch with his head in my lap.
“So, am I to assume it went well?”
He grinned widely, dimples flaring. “Yeah, it was great. Will is a good musician, really good guitar player, and a good band leader. I mean we all hauled the gear in and set it up and stuff, did the sound check, and then did the tear down afterward, but when it came time to play, Will had the set list, we’d practiced all the tunes, he was right on cuing us up and all that. He was on key from the start and didn’t miss a beat. I felt like I knew what I was doing.”
“And what was that?”
“Well, singing accompaniment or harmony a lot, but taking the lead on a couple of songs. He made me feel comfortable, you know, like I could do it, and guess what? You were right. Susan was right. Will was right. I just have to quit second guessing myself. I mean, it’s not like I think I’m David Bowie or anything, but I can sing, just like Will can, so it’s just about doing it and doing it well. Once I got over the initial jitters it was fun. How about that?”
I leaned over and kissed his forehead. “My beautiful boy. I bet there were tons of girls out there swooning…and probably a few guys too. Did anyone hit on you?”
He acted offended. “No!”
“You know, it’s a compliment, don’t you? It means they’re attracted to you enough they want you to know. Or so I’m told! Anyway, what I mean is that it’s part of leaving the Invisible Kid thing behind. You’re good looking, you’re sexy, you sing, what’s not to like?”
“No, I mean it, in all the best ways. You don’t need to let it go to your head. Just understand that there’s a lot more to you than you used to think there was. I think that’s why you were nervous before. You were still wrestling with that Invisible Kid. Can we say he’s done now?”
“I had thought of that. Yeah, he’s gone. Guess what? Will wants me to sing Heroes at our next gig. How far out is that?”
“That’s pretty great. You’ll be introducing a new song to the locals. When will that be?”
“Next month some time. But I don’t want you to be there the first time, Okay? That song is special for us, and I want to be sure I’ve really got it down before you’re there…because I know I’ll be singing it for you and to you. Can you do that for me?”
“For you, of course. But only if I get a kiss right now that includes some serious tongue!”
When we came up for air, he asked, “What are we doing tomorrow?”
“You mean besides sleeping late in the morning? You know it’s after midnight?”
“Well, yeah. I have to study on Sunday, but can we do something tomorrow?”
“Let’s see what the weather is like in the morning. If it’s not raining let’s drive somewhere, just to get away and out of town for a bit.”
I’d been playing with his treasure trail and now slid my hand under his belt and was playing with his pubes. “It’s feeling pretty sexy down here. I think I can see a hard on down there. I’m thinking we should go upstairs I can relieve the pressure in your pants.”
He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “You’re my Sexy Man, it looks like you’re driving tonight. Let’s go.”
Saturday dawned with high clouds and after breakfast we decided to make a run to the beach. We knew it would be wet, but at least it would be open. Trying to go for a hike meant bushwhacking through soaking woods and that wouldn’t be fun. Gary was spending the day with Lois, and we told him we’d be back by late afternoon.
We threw our rain gear in the back and decided to go to Cannon Beach where the town is beside some large expanses of open beach. On the way Jackson was in his favorite position, back to the door and his socked feet on my thighs. He said he’d rather ride like this on the way out and would drive back.
“I can’t believe we’re going to Lewis and Clark next Saturday. It still seems hard to believe. Do you really think there’s a chance of getting accepted there? I mean I never would have thought a college in Portland was possible for me. Not something beyond a state college before this.”
I squeezed his ankle. “I don’t know. You got really good grades last quarter and proved you can do it. We got lucky because I got to know Prof. Higgins but remember that this is just a campus visit that he’s arranging because he’s a nice person. It’s nothing formal, just letting you see the campus and how the college works to see what you think. I wouldn’t get too excited about it yet. We’ll go see University of Oregon and Oregon State and some smaller colleges too, then you decide which you want to apply to. At this stage the first thing is making a list of the schools you like, where you think you’ll fit in and be happy and where you can achieve your educational goals.”
“What are my educational goals?”
I grinned at that. “You sound like most other seniors. Very few know what their majors will be when they start college or university. Most people take their freshman or even sophomore year to decide. The advantage of a liberal arts college program is that it’s diversified, and you get a wide sample of course work. Actually, kind of like you’re getting this year in school Then you can decide on a major. I think it starts with where you think you’ll fit the best and do the best.”
“Sounds like a plan. Did you talk to my Psych teacher?”
“Yes, actually, and we had a pleasant conversation. She doesn’t feel comfortable doing the identity and belief subject because, she said, religion isn’t her area. That probably means she isn’t religious, and she wants someone who can speak to both. I’ve got to think about that. I want it to be informative, but not blow anyone out of the water. What do you think?”
“I’m probably too radical to ask. I mean, if you weren’t the minister I probably wouldn’t be going to church, even though I learn stuff from your sermons. For me you don’t have to be religious to sort out your identity. That’s what you helped me understand. I don’t think most people know how much of their identity is given to them. What was that verb you used about it?”
“You mean bestowed?”
“Yeah. If you just help the kids understand how much of their identity is bestowed on them and that it’s tied to their belief system and a lot of that is bestowed too, and that they’ve got to figure it out for themselves and make their own decision, I think that’d be a big help.”
“Do you think that’s what the teacher’s really after?”
“Yep. It’s Psych class, and her goal is to get the students to understand how it works, where the problems come from and how to deal with them. That includes our own problems.”
I pulled over into a parking spot on Highway 101. ”Look. There’s Haystack Rock. Are you ready for a long walk along the beach?” We were in Cannon Beach.
We walked for over an hour, hand in hand at the farthest end, and then had a late lunch at a nice restaurant that overlooked Cannon Beach’s famous sea stack. We’d been lucky and the clouds had stayed high, and while we needed a jacket, we weren’t rained on.
It was an out and back trip, but pleasant because we were away and spending time with each other. As we walked back to the El Camino, I tossed him the keys, and he grinned and winked. “I can’t do that back-on-the-door sitting thing, you know, but that doesn’t mean I love you any less.”
He wiggled his eyebrows and we headed home.
We stayed close Saturday evening. I was behind on my sermon preparation and needed to get it together. We had dinner and Jackson was up for starting his homework while I finished my sermon prep, which meant we were both ahead of schedule later that evening when he walked up behind me, nuzzled the back of my neck while reaching his hands around to stroke my chest and whisper, “Are you done yet?”
I chuckled and whispered back, “When it comes to you, I’m always done. Am I hearing a suggestion of a certain type of activity that is best to happen upstairs on that new bed?”
He giggled and hugged me tight. We turned off all but one light, leaving it on for Gary, and headed upstairs. It had been a placid day, and the tone continued with our love making.
I woke up feeling disjointed. Not like I had a cold coming on or anything, just a type of feeling out of sorts, like something wasn’t fitting properly anymore. We all had breakfast and I got ready for church. Gary was heading off with Lois, doing something in the morning, then studying together in the afternoon.
“Are we all going to be here for dinner?”
“If you’re up for it, that would be great. We haven’t seen much of each other this weekend.”
And so, dinner before Youth Fellowship was agreed on. The Gospel lesson was John 1: 29-34, where John the Baptist sees Jesus coming to be baptized and proclaims “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” I’d struggled to figure out how to preach about that after Wednesday’s study group on the development of religion. I decided that I’d settle on the “descent of the Spirit” part, expanding it to not just the idea of the Holy Spirit descending, but the notion of the spirit of peace descending on those who acknowledge and accept the coming of the Kingdom of God.
I didn’t feel good about it, and asked Jackson on our way home.
“I got what you were saying about the verses in the passage. But it didn’t hold together. You usually are able to talk about a passage, pull out a central theme, develop that theme and then apply it to life. You know, apply it today, where we live, how it relates to us. You’re having a hard time doing that, aren’t you David?” He reached out his hand and set it on top of mine on the console.
It took a while before I could respond. “Yeah, I am having a hard time. I can’t stand the idea of being a hypocrite and with what I’m going through right now, producing upbeat sermons on Bible texts that I’m struggling to accept and believe just gets harder and harder. I hope it’s good enough to get by for the folks in the pew.”
“I think you can count on that. I’m just worried that it’s not up to your own standards and you’ll end up beating yourself up about it.”
“I’m trying to avoid the auto-flagellation part in this, not taking it out on myself. I also want to make sure I don’t take it out on the folks in the pews. They’re the innocent bystanders in all of this.”
“No worry there, Rev. Your sermons are generally great, so when you’re off a little they’re just good, and for most folks that’s better than they’re used to!”
I smiled at him, appreciating his efforts to bolster my spirits. My spirits lifted considerably when after lunch I asked him what he wanted to do and he said, “Take a nap…with you.”
That was easy and attractive. We went upstairs, and he said, “Naked. We’re napping naked. Take off your clothes.” We got in bed with just a light quilt over us, snuggling and kissing and relaxing, and I felt comforted. After a few more minutes, I felt him throw the quilt back and say, “Stay right there.”
He moved down the bed, and said, “Raise your leg.” Which I did, exposing my thigh, on which he promptly laid his head. His face was now just inches from my cock, and I felt him running his fingertips through my pubes. From down there I could hear him say, “During church I was thinking I wanted to do something to make you feel better, and this is what I was picturing.”
I decided not to try to analyze, but just go with the flow.
“I like the feel of your head on my thigh.”
“Is that what you like, or is it this?” He intensified his fingers running through my pubes and was touching the base of my cock. “It’s still not really hard yet,” he whispered, “but it’s beautiful, just laying here in its natural state, draped over your thigh. I can see it twitching a little, and the head is starting to engorge. I think that means you’re getting excited. David, do you know how beautiful you are. You, my Sexy Man. And this beautiful cock you have. And, oh, look, it’s getting larger by the second, right here in front of my face. What am I supposed to do?”
He had me going by this time. I could feel I was getting hard, and he took hold of my shaft to keep my cockhead where he wanted it, within reach of his tongue. I felt him scoot up and lick my slit, starting to work his tongue on me. I reacted as he expected, and then I felt him roll me on my back and move between my legs and begin to seriously work on my cock with his mouth. It didn’t take long. Somehow, he knew I needed something today, something to make me feel better and some kind or release and he was providing it. He worked slowly and the result was a tremendously strong climax. After I’d recovered and took him to the same place, we pulled the quilt back over us and just hugged, feeling each other’s warmth, drawing energy from one and other for strength.
As I fell asleep in his arms, I remember having a kind of dream, not the deeply graphic ones that happen during the night, but more of a light visualization. The images were general, but it was clear that it was about a separation, a coming fork in the road on the highway of life, one that would require a major decision about the direction to follow.
When we woke, I was at peace with the world! Preparing dinner was a joy, and it wasn’t hard. We were having lasagna again, and Jackson and I chatted away while I prepared the pasta and made the sauce, then we assembled it together about the time Lois and Gary came in. Jackson made the salad, and we had a pleasant dinner before we headed down to the parsonage for Youth Fellowship.
It was the usual format, but when it got to the discussion portion, I started to ask the general questions about how the first week of school had gone, and I saw Jackson kind of raise his hand and ask if he could say something. We hadn’t discussed this in advance, so I was a little surprised, but happy.
“I don’t know how everyone else’s week went, but I want to tell you all something that happened to me, because it has to do with what we’ve been talking about. I mean about the fellowship and helping each other out and stuff. Last month I got jumped by one of those jock bullies who called me a fairy for wearing this bracelet.” He showed everyone his bracelet and got a lot of positive responses.
“Anyway, I told Will about it and he couldn’t believe it and said he’d wear one too, just to support me. Well the other day the same guy started giving me sh,,,, I mean calling me a fairy again about the bracelet when Will and I were leaving school. You know what happened? Will told the guy he was a loser with no taste and asked who the fairy was since he was wearing one too.”
Jackson looked at Will, and he pulled back his sleeve and showed everyone his bear bracelet. There were Oohs and Aahs, and Jackson went on. “Point being, I was talking about fellowship and standing up for one and other, and I want you to know that this guy,” and he pointed at Will, “did it, and it worked. The jock backed down and took off. So, the point is just that together we’re stronger than we are individually, and if we’re serious about it we can take care of each other.”
He looked at Justin who was smiling broadly at him. Jackson sat down and I made a couple of comments about being serious enough about what you believe to actually do something about it, and left it there not wanting to detract from what Jackson had said and what Will had done. Fellowship wrapped up with a couple of songs, and everyone headed home to get ready for the second week of school.
We walked home together, fingers brushing together between us, not wanting to get too carried away in public, but enjoying the experience. Lois and Gary had cleaned up after dinner, and she’d gone home, and Gary was reading in the living room when we walked in. He looked up. “All good?”
“Better than good. Your brother and his friend Will just gave some living proof to those other kids of how sticking together and being a fellowship can work to help everyone.”
“What?” Jackson told him about the confrontation. Gary’s response was, “I know that turd, and if he keeps it up, or pulls in any of his jock buddies, you let me know. I can take care of them. I’m serious, Jackson. I don’t want you or Will to get hurt.”
“Thanks, Gary. I hear you, trust me. I don’t think it’ll get to that because the other two guys in the band got pissed that it was about picking on musicians, you know, guys that aren’t jocks, and they want bracelets too. What are they going to do? Beat up everyone that wears one? I don’t think so. Anyway, now we know we’ve got you and your friends for back up if we need it. Far out!”
I was a little nervous going into Jackson’s Psych class. Yes, I pretty well knew my stuff on identity and belief, but this was different. This was school, not church. The risk was that I’d be seen as laying some message on these kids that was at odds with what the school system or their parents wanted or would tolerate, and then what?
I used the identity chart as a point of departure to get into the subject, and then turned it around and asked the class, who’d been studying this for some time, what they thought Identity was and why it mattered. Most of the answers were about descriptions or definitions of the self. Fair enough. We talked a little bit about the identity that we showed the world, the one that conformed to our culture and society, in contrast to the deep seated, absolutely truthful identity of who we really are. A couple of students commented on how the teacher had talked about that and why the identity chart was private and shouldn’t be shared.
Then I turned to the question “Why does identity matter and where does it fit in the scheme of things? What does it have to do with belief?”
There wasn’t much response, and I hadn’t expected it. The questions were a stretch beyond studying the concepts as part of Psychology. I spent a few minutes discussing mythology and how it is the large-scale concept by which we understand life, and that it directly shapes our beliefs, and then asked them if they had any idea why mythology existed? Why would human beings come up with this thing, given that there was so much else to do. Like, survive, grow food, have families, etc., etc.
There were no takers, and Jackson had agreed not to jump in with the answers he knew. My point was that this was precisely where mythology and belief came into play with identity, because as the principal writer on mythology, Joseph Campbell had said, mythology came into being to answer three questions: Who Am I? Where Did I Come From? Where Am I Going?
I paused then went on, “Those are the big, as in really big, questions about life. Then I asked the class, “What was the first question?”
A couple of hands went up, and both repeated back “Who Am I?”
“And what is that,” I asked?
It was quiet. “Who Am I? Is the identity question. The answer to that question is your identity. So, a core part of mythology is describing your identity. And related to it is Where Did I Come From? And related to that is Where Am I Going? Do you see how the second and third question move from Identity (who you are) to belief (what you believe about where you came from) and then on to where you’re going?”
Half the faces were blank, and other half had a range of comprehension and expressions of struggling to connect the dots.
“I think the most important thing to understand is that all humans believe because we think, and we ask questions. You can’t ask those three questions and formulate an answer without beginning to create a belief system. Everyone believes…something. We do it just because we’re human. Then the question is what we believe and where it comes from and if it is specific to us. Is everyone following me so far?”
Most of the students were nodding their heads, and I went on, “That’s an overview, and that’s all that is appropriate for a Psych class. I didn’t come here to pitch a specific belief system of faith. But the takeaway point should be that these things are all connected. What I hope you discovered from the Identity Chart exercise is that much of your identity isn’t chosen. Rather, it’s bestowed on you by your immediate and extended family and by your culture. By extension, the same is true of the mythology you carry with you, and then by extension your beliefs and your belief system. What makes us unique as people living this side of the Enlightenment is the idea of the individual, that each of us is unique. What comes with that concept is the opportunity and responsibility to sort out our own identity and make choices about our own beliefs, making them something we chose for ourselves, rather than something that is given to us or forced on us. It seems to me that a big part of mental health is being able to get to a place in our lives that we understand this and can make those decisions for ourselves.”
I left it there, took a couple of questions and stopped when the class didn’t have anything else to say. The teacher did and was effusive in her thanks and positive comments.
Later Jackson said, “Not to worry about the silence. The class is still figuring out how radical what you said was. It’ll start coming up in discussion in the next class.”
Saturday saw us at Prof. Higgins home about 10:00 AM as we’d arranged, and we spent twenty minutes or so introducing Jackson to him and his wife, and all getting to know each other a bit. They lived two blocks off campus, and as it wasn’t raining, we walked onto a quiet weekend campus. It was an uphill walk, and upon arriving on campus the sense was like reaching the summit of a mountain, given the open views to the east down toward the Willamette River, and across east Portland to the Cascade Mountain Range with Mount Hood standing high and proud.
Prof. Higgins turned to Jackson and said, “You know the saying about Mount Hood, don’t you?”
Jackson shook his head. “I’m from Newberg, we can’t see it from there.”
Higgins grinned. “If you can see Mount Hood it’s going to rain. If you can’t see Mount Hood, then it is raining! Of course, that only applies in the winter, because we have beautiful summers.”
We all chuckled, and Higgins told us that to the Native Americans the mountain was known as Wy’East. He explained that the campus was 137 acres sitting atop the Palatine Hill in a neighborhood south of Portland, and that most of the campus had been the original estate of M. Lloyd Frank of the Meier and Frank Department Store. He pointed out that the campus is next to a 645-acre State Park called Tryon Creek, and had lots of notable architecture including the original Frank Manor House and Rogers Hall that was formerly a Catholic convent.
He then showed us the Student Union, the main classroom buildings, a quick tour of the dormitories, and the Agnes Flanagan Chapel. The chapel is named after a former trustee whose vision and generosity made its construction possible. It was dedicated in 1969, and its contemporary lines and conical shape incorporate a strong Northwest Coast Native American influence. He made a point of letting us know that it was designed by the architect Paul Thiry.
There was not much to say. It was such a beautiful setting. Newberg was a pretty town, but it was in a valley at the base of some small mountains. Here we were on those mountains, with stunning views, and standing in a highly forested campus.
Higgins grinned widely. “Do you like it? Can you see yourself going to college here?”
Jackson, usually quick on the reply was kind of muted. “It’s so beautiful and so different that what I’m used to in Newberg. I guess I just didn’t know it existed like this, especially so close to Portland.”
“It is beautiful, and it does take a while to get used to it. Let’s head back to the house as I expect my wife has lunch ready, and then we can talk about college and education and majors and all that other fun stuff.”
We walked off campus and past a large house that he pointed out to me as the Campus Ministry & Student Counseling Center, and then on down the hill to the Higgins home. Mrs. Higgins had a very nice lunch set out of salads and cold cuts. Among the décor on the table was a small pumpkin she was using for decoration.
Jackson leaned over to me and said, “Think you could stuff that one?” We both laughed, and I saw Mrs. Higgins watching us. “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to leave you out of the joke. Jackson was taken by that small pumpkin you’re using for décor.”
Jackson looked at me as if to ask “What?” Then he said, “That’s not what I meant at all. What I was getting at was that we had a dinner party for New Year’s and the entrée was a country French dish, a stuffed pumpkin. I was kidding David if he thought he could stuff that pumpkin!”
Mrs. Higgins smiled along with the humor and then said, “A stuffed pumpkin. I’ve never heard of it. Tell me more.” Jackson filled her in on the recipe, how we prepared it, and the reaction of the guests, even those who were good cooks.”
She was thrilled. “Will you share the recipe?”
I said of course, qualified by the fact that we have different pumpkins in the US compared to the larger heirloom pumpkins in Europe, but that they would still do. We then settled into lunch, and with the ice broken, the discussion of college and course of study turned out to be surprisingly easy.
Higgins went to work on Jackson in the same easy-going but penetrating way he had done on me only ten days before, this time about educational interests and the like. What came out, that Jackson hadn’t told me and I don’t think he had even told himself, was that as a result of what he’d experienced in the most recent part of his life he was really interested in helping other kids understand that they don’t have to be trapped in their situation, that there were options, they could go in new and different directions. I was proud and happy to hear him say things like that, and it appeared Prof. Higgins was also. They talked about the classes he was taking, what interested him most about each one, and when he was talking about the Psych class he mentioned the identity chart and how talking to the teacher had ended up with her inviting me to talk to the class, and how much it has helped him understand the importance of that fundament part of the mythology questions.
Higgins was smiling wryly, and said, “Tell me more.” Jackson filled him in on how after seeing Star Wars we’d talked mythology and I’d shared much of what I learned at his lecture, and how he was learning that mythology is the big picture explanation of life that’s behind religion and that the identity question Who Am I is one of the three fundamental questions that Joseph Campbell said mythology came into being to explain.
To say he was impressed would be a bit of an understatement. He then quizzed Jackson about music class and his involvement in choir. The conversation was easy, and after coffee it was approaching 2:00 PM I realized we had to be on our way home. We begged off, very thankful for the meal, the time and the conversation we had shared with them. Both Jackson and I said we would like them to come down to Newberg for a visit and dinner when their schedule and the weather allowed. With that we were back in the El Camino and heading home.
His socked feet were on my thighs, kneading away, and we were heading south on Highway 99. “What do you mean ‘well?’ They’re really nice people. They were so easy to talk to. And man, is it a cool campus. Had you seen it before?”
I nodded, “Yeah, that’s where the Star Wars lecture was when I first met him. But somehow, I didn’t get the big picture. I mean I just pulled in and parked and went into a classroom building. I didn’t even see the chapel. How’d you like the campus? Can you see yourself there?”
“Oh yeah. It’s so different than anything at home, and just, I don’t know…just cool.”
“Nice views too, huh?”
“Oh yeah. It makes me want to hike in the Cascades with you come spring. What happens next?”
“Well, you add it to the list of colleges you like and that you think you’d feel comfortable attending. That list becomes the ones you apply to. Then we’ll see what happens. Applying and being accepted are two different things.”
I didn’t say anything about Higgins’ comments regarding Presbyterian preference and the hints that he’d dropped when we’d spoken previously, or that he’d slipped me a blank application form before we left. When we got home, Gary was back from working at the bike shop, and he and Lois were waiting for us. We decided that eating out was more attractive than cooking dinner in.
The weeks that followed were routine, focused on school and homework, and punctuated by trips to colleges on Saturdays. Jackson already had the application to Lewis and Clark mailed in, and by mid-February we’d visited the other campuses that were on Jackson’s list. I’d pressed him to include U of Oregon and Oregon State so that at least he had some large university campuses to compare and contrast to the smaller liberal arts colleges that he seemed more inclined to. Having my view of letters of recommendation affirmed with Gary’s experience at community college, I wrote one, and asked Susan as his choir director, and Spencer as a Session member of his church to write one as well.
Jackson had called JC about buying two bracelets for the other band members, and he’d done that and come down for a weekend visit in January. He easily fit into our household routine, and we had all three other band members over for dinner on Saturday where Will made a big deal out of letting Tom and Steve make their choice and declaring unity of artists in the face of bullies. Somehow, I knew this was going to build to a confrontation of sorts, at some point, but hoped it would be manageable.
Wednesday night was study group, and Mrs. Higgins was the gracious hostess as ever. When Prof. Higgins got us all assembled to start tonight’s discussion I asked if we could begin with a question. He nodded, and I pointed out that it was February, and after tonight we had three months, that was to say, three more study groups before summer and the schedule changes and vacations that came along with it. I pointed out that there were six remaining chapters in the book, and if we doubled up the reading and then discussed two chapters per study group, we’d finish the book before summer. The students and professors were smiling and nodding, for the ministers it didn’t seem to be that big a deal, but we all agreed.
Prof. Higgins began with a big question that Campbell had touched on early in the chapter when he referenced Oswald Spengler’s historical work about the decline of the West, covered the decline of Greece, the militarism of Rome before its fall, and the decline and fall of other civilizations into violence and brutality. “Shall we begin there, and the question it raised about where we, in western civilization, are in that cycle, because as Campbell pointed out, he was surprised to be observing not a gradual coming into fulfillment of Spengler’s prophesy about western civilization, but a very rapid process?”
We all agreed, and a fair amount of time was spent discussing the time cycle for the rise and fall of civilization, the causative factors, where we were on the timeline, etc. Finally I asked, “Relative to mythology and the practical matter of myths to live by, I would like us to focus on what’s practical and consequential for us, which for me came a bit later when Campbell said, ‘Moreover, when we turn our thoughts to religion, the first and most obvious fact is that every one of the great traditions is today in profound disorder. What have been taught as their basic truths seem no longer to hold.’ Am I the only one here to feel that Campbell has absolutely captured something profound there?”
That was a bit like tossing the cat among the pigeons, as the old British saying goes, and led to an animated discussion of whether or not all religious and especially Christianity, were really in profound disorder and no longer holding.
It seemed to me that Prof. Higgins saw that discussion as an opening, and I saw him page ahead in his copy of the book, and then say, “One really can’t discuss this without being realistic about one of the follow-on points Campbell makes, when he discusses the symbolism and worldview of religions, and makes the very telling point about Christianity compared to the others.”
He had everyone’s attention with that, and went on, “Remember that he reviews religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and their symbolism and points out that that they have a worldview described in hundreds of thousands or millions of years, and Christianity like Judaism has one that spans 6,000 years, and then says ‘is it not ironic that our great Western civilization, which has opened to the minds of all mankind the infinite wonders of a universe of untold billions of galaxies and untold billions of years, should have been saddled in its infancy with a religion squeezed into the tightest little cosmological image known to any people on earth?’ I find that striking.”
He looked up and we were all quiet. “It strikes me as a form of cognitive dissonance. Western civilization has accomplished these amazing scientific advances, but the religious worldview that comes with it has a creation narrative that’s only 6,000 years. Yet science is telling us the universe is billions of years old. Is that not a major conflict?”
I was the only one willing to pick up his point. “I think it’s telling. He alludes to another point, that I assume he’ll develop in later chapters, that a fundamental problem for modern humanity is that we have an outdated mythology. That is a very telling observation. He says we need to create a new mythology, one that corresponds to what we have discovered and now know of the universe. Who’s going to do that? How do we even begin to disassemble and recreate the one we’ve got?”
The students were agog, the ministers looked at me like I’d farted in church, and the professors were smiling wryly. I looked around and realized I had two choices, dance around what I’d just said as if it was some academic exercise or be honest about it. I chose the latter. “I’m dealing with what some might call a crisis of faith right now, and that’s why this subject is far more to me than an intellectual exercise. It’s also why I probably seem to be jumping ahead to conclusions and consequence. That’s just where I am. But, if Campbell is correct, then we’ve either as a society or civilization got to get to work on a new mythology or we’re looking in fifty or a hundred years, at the kind of societal conflict that comes out of the cognitive dissonance that Prof. Higgins alluded to a few minutes ago.”
Everyone was quiet, until Prof. Higgins said, “That, David, was an exquisite summary and a superb conclusion for tonight’s session. Per your suggestion, everyone remember we’re discussing two chapters a month, so we finish by summer.” And with that we left.
It was mid-February, on a Saturday morning during breakfast, when the phone rang, and it was my brother Michael. He was distraught. “David, oh my God, I’m so glad you’re there to answer the phone! Mom and Dad were in a car wreck on the way home from the club last night. Dad died and Mom is in the hospital and it doesn’t look good. ”
“What? Oh no. How did it happen?”
He told me the weather had been snowy and kind of treacherous, but had cleared and the roads had been plowed, but what couldn’t be anticipated was patches of ice, and my father had lost control on an ice patch, the car had gone off the road and rolled before hitting a tree. He’d died in the accident and Mom had major head and chest injuries and wasn’t expected to live. He said the State Police had called him, he’d been at the accident scene and then went to the hospital, and only got home about 2:00 AM to get some sleep. He asked how soon I could be there?
I was stunned, but replied I’d have to see about flights and coverage for the church and would try to get that organized quickly and call him back.
“What do we do? I mean Dad’s body is at the hospital, they don’t know if Mom is going to live. Dad’s dead.” I was silent. “Did you hear me, Dad’s dead, for God’s sake. What if they both die. What do I do? I mean I haven’t had to deal with this kind stuff before.” He was sounding panicky like he really wasn’t thinking straight.
“Michael, calm down. Take a couple of deep breaths. I know you were there and had to deal with it all last night, but you’ve got to calm down. We’ll figure it all out, Okay?”
He went quiet and I heard him struggling to control himself, and I thought he was going to break down, but then it was like he got hold of himself. “You’re right. We’ve got to be responsible. I can’t let myself get too emotional. Thanks for saying that to me.”
“No worry, Michael. Things like this are a real shock. Now tell me what happened again, from the start with all the details.” He walked me through the events from when the State Police had called and ended by telling me that he’d be home for two hours then was going back to the hospital, and if he didn’t hear from me before he left he’d call me back later.
When I hung up the phone Jackson was right behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist. He didn’t have to say anything.
“My parents were in a car accident last night. My father died, and Michael says it doesn’t look like my mother will make it. I have to go back to Philly.”
I heard him whisper “Oh, David, I’m so sorry,” as he kissed the back of my neck. I was just standing there, almost in shock. Finally, I turned in his arms and hugged him back. “Thanks for being here for me. I’ve got to get organized and make a reservation and get pulpit coverage for tomorrow. What about you guys? What are you going to do?”
“David, slow down, like I just heard you tell Michael. We’ll sort this all out. What’s the first thing to do?”
“A substitute minister for tomorrow and then reservations.”
“Okay, I’ll clean up breakfast. You go to the office where all your phone numbers and stuff are and start to work on it. I’ll come over in a little while.” With that he kissed me and hugged me tight.
I was able to get Roger Talbot on the phone and explained the situation and that I’d need a substitute for the next day. He extended his condolences and said he’d do what he could though it was very short notice, but said he’d call back in an hour or two. I was pretty certain it was too late to book a same-day flight, but when I called the airline was able to get on a Sunday morning flight at 8:00 AM, that arrived around 5:00 PM. I called Michael and got him before he left for the hospital and he said he’d pick me up when I got in.
Jackson came in the kitchen door, and I heard the familiar sound of him closing the door and walking across the kitchen. As he came into the office I smiled. “Feeling better?”
“Not really, but hearing you come in the kitchen door and walk across the kitchen brings back all kinds of memories, and they’re all positive.” I stood up and stretched out my arms, and he walked into them and held me tight.
“Okay, fill me in on what’s happened so far?”
“I called Talbot and he’s working on a substitute minister. I have an early morning flight to Philly. Will you take me to the airport?” He nodded.
“If Talbot can’t find a substitute on short notice, I’ll call some other denominational ministers around here, I don’t know what we’ll do if we can’t find someone.”
“Maybe they have a worship service without a sermon! I bet Susan could handle the service and just get someone to do a reading or something.”
I smiled at him, and we walked into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. “How long will you be gone, do you know?”
“Not yet, I think that will depend on my Mother. Michael said they told him her injuries were severe enough she wasn’t expected to live. We’ll just have to wait to hear. God, this sure came out of the blue.”
“It sure did. I don’t know what to say. It’s one thing if someone is sick like Mom was and then they die. You know it’s coming even if you don’t expect it to actually happen. But this, this is like a total shock.”
“At least Michael is there to handle organizing things. It would be a nightmare having to try and do it from here. He sounded pretty panicked on the phone though. I don’t think he’s had to deal with much major trauma in his life. I’m trying to sort out what has to happen, but my head is just spinning about what’s next, and if this…then what?”
“It’s all part of it happening so fast. Here, the coffee is done. You want cream, right?” He poured two cups and we went back into the office. The phone rang and it was Talbot. When we were done speaking, I smiled at Jackson. “There’s a retired Presbyterian minister who lives in Beaverton, remember where we went to see Star Wars? He’ll cover the service tomorrow. I have to call him next.
First, I called Susan and told her what had happened, and then filled her in on the replacement minister and gave her his name and phone number. She thanked me for taking care of that part for the Sunday service and then said, “Now, stop thinking about church. Start thinking about you and your family. We’ll take care of things here. I’ll talk to you later today, but assume we’ve got things under control here.”
I thanked her and then called the retired minister, explained Susan’s role as choir director and how she could be counted on to organize the worship service and he would have to do no more than conduct the service and preach the sermon. I provided him her contact info. He extended his condolences and wished me God speed.
Jackson had been standing behind me, rubbing my shoulders, clearly concerned and not knowing what else to do. When I hung up the phone, I reached my hands up and placed them on his and said, “Do you know why I’ll get through this? Because I’ve got you. You’re already making me feel like I’m not alone, like we’re facing this together.”
He leaned over and kissed the top of my head and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. “We are, and we will. We always will be. I love you more than anything, and we’ll get through this together just like you got me through the stuff with my parents.”
“Where’s Gary?” It had suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t even thought about him.
“I woke him up and told him before I came over. He’s working part of the day at the bike shop, but he’ll be home this evening.”
“Great, and thanks for that. I totally spaced it. I’m going to be gone at least four or five days. What are you guys going to do?”
“What do you mean ‘what are we going to do?’ We’re both emancipated, we can take care of ourselves for a few days. Lois is in the picture. So are Susan and Ellen. We can both drive and we’ve got cars. We can buy groceries. We can cook. We’ll be Okay. Stop worrying about us. I bet when Susan calls later today, she’ll have it all planned out.”
I had to smile at that. He was probably right. We were talking about the school schedules and homework when the phone rang, and it was Michael with the second round of bad news that our Mother had died. The head and chest injuries were too severe. We talked for a few minutes, and he said I’d be staying with him and his wife, he started to say that he would try and have things organized by the time I got there, but then mumbled off into silence.
“Michael, are you there?”
“Yes, but what are we going to do. They’re gone. They’re dead. Just like that we don’t have any parents. What am I going to do without Mom and Dad?”
“We’re going to do what everyone has to do with their parents die. We’ll adjust and get through it. There’s no choice. It may have been a horrible accident and a tragedy, but we’ll get through it. We just have to start doing the things that need to be done.
“I haven’t done this before. I don’t even know what to do.”
I swallowed and said, “Can I walk you through it, and then I’ll help when I get there?” He said ‘yes,’ and I went on.
“The first thing is scheduling the funeral. Because it was an auto accident you might have to obtain death certificates under Pennsylvania law first, and then coordinate with a funeral home for them to pick up and prepare the bodies. I know it sounds morbid, but those are the facts. Then you need to call the minister of their church to inform him and schedule the funeral. Do you want me to do that part?”
I heard him thankfully say yes. “Okay, give me the minister’s name and phone number and I’ll call and work on the funeral part. You’re still at the hospital, so see about death certificates before you leave. We’ll need them sooner or later anyway. Then you call the funeral home. Because it’s winter, the odds on having the interment at a cemetery following the funeral are slim. The ground is frozen and covered in snow and all that. I’ll call you later about the funeral details, and then we’ll need to write an obituary for the paper. That’s how most people who aren’t friends or in the same church will know.”
He was quiet, then said, “God. Do you have to do this all the time?”
“Not all the time, and I’ve only had one funeral so far since I’ve been here, but I’ve done a few. Usually the family does most of this stuff. But they usually haven’t done it before and need guidance. What time to you think you’ll be home? Oh, also, do you know Dad’s attorney, whoever would handle his personal affairs?”
He told me the name of the lawyer and that he thought he’d be home by evening. I suggested he also call the attorney instead of waiting until Monday, and that I’d call him after 5:00 PM his time and we could stay coordinated.
Jackson came over and hugged me again and said he was going home to make a few phone calls while I called the minister in Philadelphia. That call went smoothly, although the minister was totally shocked. My father had previously been on Session and was well known, and where we left it was that assuming no complications with the funeral home, we would have the funeral on Thursday. As I’d told Michael, interment was an open question, and would probably have to come later when the ground thawed.
I drafted an obituary for my parents, guessing that Michael wouldn’t know where to start. I’d read it to him later and he could start with that and go from there. Jackson came back in the parsonage and as he crossed the office said, “Hello, my Sexy Man, how are you feeling?”
I stood up and hugged him, kissing his forehead and said, “I think I’m on auto pilot. I don’t think I’m feeling anything right now.” He hugged me hard. “Did you feel that?”
“That’s me telling you how much I love you. Maybe that’s all you can feel right now, the physical stuff, but I plan on sending lots of those messages your way.”
“That will be good medicine, I’m sure.”
“Guess what else?”
“I called Dad to let him know, and he said he’d rearrange his work schedule and take vacation and stuff to come down and stay here. He’ll drive down tomorrow if he can. He’s got a flight shift this afternoon and evening.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“No, like he said, we’re building a family here, remember?”
“That’s pretty awesome. What a guy.”
“Are you done here for now? Want to go home and have some lunch?”
“Good idea. I can write the obituary there as easily as I can here. Let’s go.”
When I called Michael, it was closer to 6:00 PM eastern time, and he sounded a lot better. He said he’d had a nap when he got home and didn’t feel so frantic. He gave me the run down, namely that he’d requested death certificates and the hospital would have them on Monday. He’d called the funeral home and that was under control, and that I’d been right—they would need the death certificates to pick up the bodies. He also said he’d contacted the attorney, who said he would review all the details on Monday and have some information for us on the estate by the afternoon.
Then I told Michael about the minister call, the tentative schedule for the funeral on Thursday, and that I’d drafted an obituary. I read it to him and told him it was just a draft and he should feel free to edit it and add what he wanted. When I asked him if we wanted me to re-read it slowly so he could write it down, he asked if he could put his wife Jane on the phone since she typed fast and could just type it as I read it. I agreed and told him if there were any delays with the flight in the morning, I’d call him at home, otherwise I’d see him at the airport when the flight landed.
Jane was pleasant and sympathetic, and she was a fast typist. I could hear her flying along as I slowly read it to her. I emphasized that it was a draft and she should make sure Michael understood that. He was much closer to our parents than I was, and probably knew details that should be included that I’d left out, and urged her to be sure to make him understand he shouldn’t be offended by any omissions and to make sure he added what he wanted. She seemed pleased with that comment. We’d never been close either, and I’d only met her few times, so it was important that we not have any bad communications about something like this.
I plopped on the couch after that, thinking about Michael and how he was handling the turn of events. He’d not just been the star athlete and amateur actor, but also the first born and doted on, more like spoiled I’d always thought, so this would be a real test. The I heard the phone ring and Jackson answer it. The conversation went on for a few minutes, and then he came in and joined me on the couch, laying down with his head in my lap.
“That was Susan. She and Ellen are coming over about six, and they’re bringing dinner for everyone. She said you’re probably in no emotional state to be cooking and have to plan to leave tomorrow.”
“That’s very thoughtful of her. What great people.” I was stroking his face and leaned over and kissed his forehead.
“You know how much I love you, David, and we have no secrets, right?”
“Can I say something to you? You may not want to hear it, but I think it’s important.
I nodded again.
“I almost said to her that you’d have no problem cooking dinner tonight because you’re not in an emotional state. You’re marching through this like you’re not feeling anything. Like a machine. I know there’s lots of stuff to do, like you did it all for Mom and then for Gary and me, but you can’t turn off your feelings.”
What he said didn’t offend me, it was too much like what Prof. Higgins had said. It was essentially true. I sat quietly, because what he said was true. He might as well have said you’re acting like you’re turning off the water or the electricity. He reached up his hands and clasped my face and turned it down towards him.
“You know I’d never say something like that if I didn’t love you so much.”
“I do. Like I said earlier, I feel like I’m on auto pilot. I guess that’s how I cope. Thanks for being you and being here. Just hang with me and help me get through it, Okay. Something started to change in me after I had that talk with Prof. Higgins. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got to get through this. Michael doesn’t know what to do, how to handle it, so I’ve got to keep it all together and drive this train for a while.”
We sat quietly like that for a while. I was numb, and did wonder why I wasn’t feeling more, but I also knew what I’d told Jackson was true. I was on auto pilot and that wouldn’t change till this was over and I was back home.
Jackson let me sit quietly, just being with me, and finally he looked up and said, “Come on, let’s go get started on packing your stuff. If you’re going to be back east for five days, you’ll need to pack more than when we went to Seattle, and its real winter back there. Do you have a heavy coat?”
That woke me up and got me thinking, and I said, “Good question and good plan. You’re right, we should get started, and I can finish later. With the flight leaving at 8:00 AM, we’d have to be there by 7:15, and that means leaving the house by 6:15. There won’t be time to do much in the morning.”
We’d dug out a winter coat and had the first round of clothes in my suitcase when we heard Gary and Lois arrive and come upstairs. Gary walked in the room and looked right at me, like he was in pain. “David, I’m sorry man, this is terrible.”
He walked over and pulled me into a hug, and Lois joined him. I could feel their emotion as they held me, and I really appreciated the warmth, the empathy and the sympathy. When we stepped back, I could see they were red-eyed, and I knew what was going through their minds.
“I’m kind of on auto pilot. Jackson’s already told me I can’t hold all this in and be Mr. In-Control. My brother has been in a panic today, this is minister stuff and I know how to do it, so I’ve got to do it. The funeral is on Thursday, so I should be able to fly back on Friday. I’m pretty sure I’ll need all of you when I get back. I meant what I said a few weeks ago, that you guys, all of you, are the most important people in my lives.”
I didn’t know what to say after that. Jackson stepped in to let everyone know that Susan and Ellen were coming over with dinner. “David’s got most of his packing done, and we’ve got to leave at 6:15 for the airport. He’ll drive the El Camino and I’ll drive it back. It’s Sunday morning, so it shouldn’t be a problem with traffic and stuff getting out of Portland and back here.”
Lois said she’d looked at the map and it looked simple: I-5 to I-84 to the airport exit, and then reverse to get home. Jackson grinned, “I hoped it was that simple. At least it’ll be daylight when I drive back.”
We all headed downstairs and before long Susan and Ellen arrived carrying a couple of hampers. They headed straight for the kitchen with Lois, leaving the guys sitting in the living room. We did a sanity check on school for the week and homework and if they had enough cash to go shopping and Gary assured me that they were covered. He and Lois had already talked about it, and they’d go grocery shopping Sunday afternoon. He smiled widely when Jackson told him JC was coming down from Seattle to stay with us. “We can do this ourselves, but I like him, and it’ll be cool to have him here. You know, to keep us out of trouble and crack the whip on schoolwork and stuff.” He looked at me, “You’re probably worried we’ll slack off with you out of town, right?” I grinned.
When the ladies rejoined us, Susan and Ellen expressed their condolences and asked what they could do.
“You’re already doing one big thing, organizing tomorrow’s worship service. Basically, beyond that it’s sounds like keeping an eye on these two, so they stay out of trouble. They’re already accusing me of having a panic attack about them slacking off on schoolwork”
Both Jackson and Gary raised eyebrows at that. “Seriously,” I went on, “we were just talking about that, and it sounds like there’ll be plenty of schoolwork and homework. JC is driving down tomorrow from Seattle to stay while I’m gone. Lois and Gary are going grocery shopping tomorrow.”
I walked them through what I knew so far, how the funeral was planned for Thursday and that should mean I would fly home on Friday. The conversation turned to what Jackson and Gary might need, and Lois said she’d already talked to her parents and she planned on being here every evening to cook dinner. “Can’t have starving boys eating junk food or leftovers.” Ellen jumped in and said she and Susan had discussed it too, and that they’d alternate with Lois on the dinner preparation. And with JC staying there’d be plenty of hands and probably too much adult supervision!
Everyone laughed at that, and Susan and Ellen said they would be personally checking in and were available for anything that might come up. It was quite clear that all local concerns or problems would be handled easily.
Then Susan announced that they were going to serve dinner, and that we all better get our appetites working for some fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Lois and Ellen joined her in the kitchen, and we helped set the table and put out the serving dishes. The meal was great and both ladies were such great conversationalists that there were no quiet embarrassing moments. We just all enjoyed each other’s company, helped clean up together, and then they said they should be off so we had time to get organized and I could finish packing.
I don’t remember Saturday night apart from finally falling asleep with Jackson spooned back against me, my arms wrapped around him for comfort. I insisted that he drop me off curbside at the terminal. It was too complicated to park and escort me in and would be faster and simpler to say goodbye at the curb. I put the El Camino in Park, got out and walked to the rear to get my suitcase out of the bed. Jackson closed the tailgate and I set my suitcase on the curb. We turned to each other and I grasped him to me.
“I love you desperately. I’ll call you every night. You know how to reach me if something comes up here, but you have a cadre of adults that are going to make sure you and Gary are very well taken care of.”
He was hugging me so hard it hurt. “I know. Are you feeling this hug, this really physical one? I love you too. Don’t forget to call. I need to talk to you every day. And you don’t know it yet, but you need to talk to me too. Okay? I love you my Sexy Man.” He hugged me again and I stepped on the curb and watched as he walked to the driver’s door and got in. A few seconds to adjust the seat and the rearview mirror, and he drove away with a small wave.
I just got back from the airport and thought I’d better put some stuff in my journal before I forget. I remember hearing someone somewhere talk about the whiplashes in life, maybe it was in English Lit, and that’s how this week has gone.
David pulled off another amazing thing because he’s gotten to know Prof. Higgins through the study group and asked for a campus tour and Prof. Higgins said he’d do it himself. Unbelievable! A senior from Newberg he’s never met, and he’s going to give me a tour of the campus and then we’re having lunch at his house! How does stuff like this happen? Anyway, it was cool and outrageous. The campus is amazing. Like a beautiful park sitting on the top of a hill surrounded with the most beautiful forests, and a giant lawn that opens to a view over the river to east Portland. And it’s got cool school buildings, some of them old and really classy, and a totally amazing chapel that has a really cool dome shape to it. Not that I think I’d spend any time in a chapel, but the architecture is cool. Prof. Higgins told me the name of the architect, but I can’t remember that.
Lunch with him and his wife was neat too, and we talked about school and my classes and all that. He seemed really interested, which I thought was weird, but then he’s a professor at a college, so it makes sense he’s interested in the classes high school students are taking. They were both really nice to David and me, and on the drive home when we talked, it’s for sure I’m going to apply there. It would be like going to college in some kind of forest reserve.
Then, yesterday David’s brother calls and there’s been a car wreck and David’s father is dead and his mother is in the hospital and before the day’s over she’s dead too. Like, boom! Out of the blue, our world is rocked, and David has to fly back to Philly tomorrow to work with his brother and do the funeral and all that. After what we went through with my Mom dying and that funeral, it’ll be heavy.
I’m already worried because he’s shifted into major Mr. Minister role, like on top of all the details, and I can tell he’s stuffing his feeling. His brother is like losing it, and David has to be Mr. Cool or something. This can’t be good. I mean, it’s his parents who just died for god’s sakes! Anyway, he’s a minister and says he knows how to do the minister thing! That’s for sure! He was lucky it all came together with a substitute minister for church today, and Susan and Ellen stepped right up and cooked dinner last night and brought it over. They’re amazing! And then Dad said he’d come down to be with me and Gary.
Go figure, I mean we could get by ourselves, no worry. But here’s this guy changing his schedule around and using his vacation time to come down here and spend time with me and Gary. We’ll be in school so what’s he going to do? That’s what’s so mind-blowing. He just wants to be here, to spend time with me.
I thought about that a lot on the drive back from the airport. The drive on two freeways where I was driving the El Camino alone and didn’t get lost or have a wreck or anything! I remember David telling Gary a while ago that he was a good guy and deserved good things to happen in his life, and he’s told me the same kind of thing. I guess I have the same kind of problem Gary has in believing it.
It’s one thing if it’s David telling me. He’s my boyfriend. I mean, there’s something in it for him, like our relationship and we make love and have sex. So that’s a different thing. But I mean, here’s my Dad, who I’ve known for like two months, and I know he doesn’t do guilt trips, but he’s coming down here to be with us. Mind blowing. I guess he really was serious when he was talking to David and me after Christmas about building a family.
I made David promise to call me every night, and I’m going to hold him to it. I don’t want him back there feeling alone and getting all weirded out. I know he doesn’t get along with his brother, kind of like Gary and I used to dislike each other. Anyway, I’ve got a new angle. I started squeezing him real hard, till like it hurt, and then I’d innocently ask him if the was feeling anything. Like “did you feel anything, ha, ha!” He got the point about being in touch with his feelings! So, I’m going to keep it up. I have to figure out how to do that over the phone, though. Anyway, got to go. There’s stuff to do before JC gets here. I hope David’s flight goes Okay and arrives on time.
I fell asleep as the plane took off and gained altitude and woke when the flight attendant asked if I wanted breakfast. I hadn’t thought about that, and it was a welcome offering. After the tray was cleared, I pulled out the Campbell book that I’d brought with me, but when I tried to read it I found it was just words on a page, words that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I finally realized that I had enough turmoil going on in my head that reading something serious like this wasn’t going to work. I pulled out the airlines magazine and found my refuge in the photos and light articles. I had a connecting flight in Chicago, and an on-time arrival in Philadelphia. Michael was waiting for me at the gate, and he not only looked happy to see me, but like he needed to see me. That was a first.
We talked about basic stuff while waiting for my bag, then as we were driving to his home, he thanked me for drafting the obituary. He was very clear about what Jane had told him I said about it being a draft, and he’d added a few things and he wanted me to read it when we got to their home. “Thank you for telling her that and making sure that I didn’t get offended because you’d left out some stuff you wouldn’t even have known about. I probably would have gotten bent out of shape for no reason, and that would have been a shitty way to start this week. I appreciate your consideration.”
“You don’t need to thank me. We’re in this together, and it’ll take the two of us working together to get through it. What’s the plan?”
He said Jane was cooking dinner and we’d eat when we got to their house. Tomorrow we’d go to the hospital and collect the death certificates, then to the paper with the obituary. I pointed out we had to confirm with the funeral home and the church for the funeral time before we dropped off the obituary. It sounded like that would take care of most of Monday.
I called Jackson about 6:00 PM Pacific time, and he was happy to hear my voice. It hadn’t dawned on me that I would be happy to hear his, but I was. I could hear background noise and he said it was Lois and Gary in the kitchen cooking up a storm! I chuckled at that, appreciating that she’d stepped up and was making the household work. “Did they get the grocery shopping done? Is JC there?”
“Oh yeah. It was wild. You should have been here. When they got back, Lois had Gary carry in most of the grocery bags and was telling him where to put everything away. I mean, she’s a real organized person, you remember from the Harvest Festival. Anyway, I think Gary got a first taste of married life.” He cracked up at that, and I had to join in the laughter.
“Is he acting irritated by it?”
“No, that’s what weird. He hated doing chores and stuff around here before, but now he seems to enjoy it. It’s pretty strange. Gary enjoying doing what he’s told to do.”
“Yeah, but he’s being told by someone who loves him and whom he loves. That makes a difference.”
“I know, but still, this is Gary, my brother, who gave our parents every excuse in the book why he couldn’t do this stuff before. It’s just too funny to watch. JC’s in there too watching and talking, but Lois won’t let him do anything! Too funny!”
“Was the drive home Okay this morning?”
“Oh yeah, no issues. And no traffic. It was a gas driving the El Camino on the freeway. No scratches, no dents, no speeding tickets!”
“Are you going to be Okay sleeping alone tonight? Because I can tell you I’m going to be very lonely. Remember what you said about giving the physical feelings? That’s what I feel like I need now? A bunch of your really strong hugs and then some of those special Lover Boy kisses.”
We jabbered away for a while longer, then he said Lois had dinner on the table and he had to go. I told him I loved him and would call Monday night.
Monday unfolded much the way we expected. I called the church and Michael called the funeral home in the morning, and we got the funeral time confirmed, updated the obituary, then went by the hospital and then the newspaper office. When we got home, Jane told us that our father’s lawyer had called. Michael called him back and came in to let us know that we had a meeting with him the next afternoon.
We decided on dinner at a local restaurant, and afterwards when we got home, we chatted for a while, but once we got beyond the immediate subjects of our parents and our family, I felt there just wasn’t much to talk about. Their lives were so different than mine, we just didn’t relate. I begged off saying I needed to call home and then wanted to get to bed early, knowing that tomorrow morning we’d be going to our parents’ home to start the sorting and clean up in advance of meeting with the attorney.
Jackson answered the phone when I called, and it was just pure joy to hear his voice. “Hello, Lover Boy, you don’t know how good it is to hear your voice.”
I heard him exhale deeply, and then say, “I’m so glad you called. I’ve been worrying all day that everything was Okay. How’s it going? How are you doing?”
I walked him through the day’s events, basically that it was doing all the stuff that goes along with handling a person’s death, and then told him that tomorrow promised to be the emotional roller coaster with going to our parent’s home and then the lawyers.
He was very sympathetic. Then he said, “Can you feel it?”
“Can you feel it?”
“Can I feel what? Am I missing something here?”
“Can you feel the hug I just sent you over the phone?”
I paused, confused, then realized what he’d said, and cracked up. “You are too much. Wait a minute, let me see. Oh, now I see what’s happening. Those physical sensations take longer to move over the phone line than voice does. I think it’s slow getting here. No, no, wait! I think I feel it coming over. Oh, here it is. Wow! It just hit me. It feels like you’re going to break one of my ribs you’re squeezing so hard. Lighten up, will you?”
I heard him giggling on the other end. “You’re a ham, you know!”
“Yeah, but you’re a real lover. Now, you’re not done. Send me one of those wonderful kisses you do.”
I heard a smooch from the other end. “I heard it, but I can’t feel it yet. It’s slow coming over. Oh, wait a minute, I think I feel something starting. Oh, wow! Here it is. It just hit me, and it has a lot of tongue too. Wow! That’s great. I think I’ll be able to make it through the night now. Thanks, Love Boy, that was stupendous. Just what I needed.”
He was still giggling. “I didn’t know you were a comedian.”
“Neither did I, but what you just did wasn’t comedy, it was real, and I love you for it. I wish you were here with me so I could just hold you close and feel your warmth in my arms.”
“That’ll be in four more days. You plan on that. When we get home that’s the first thing we’re going to do, get into bed naked and just hold each other. Kind of like batteries recharging each other.
“Where do you get these ideas?”
“I have no idea, but it sounds fun, doesn’t it?”
We finally had to hang up, it was getting too silly. I told him I’d be sure to call the next night.
We spent all morning at my parents’ home. I hadn’t been here for almost three years, and it seemed like visiting a foreign place for me. My father’s study had part of a wall and a couple of bookshelves with Michael’s sports awards—a compliment to the awards Michael had in his own room at home. We started with the usual question of what of our parent’s things we wanted to keep…the end point of that question being an estate sale for the rest. Clothes would go to Good Will, and probably a lot of other things. Mom had a nice jewelry collection that Michael indicated he’d like to give to Jane. I nodded my agreement. My father had a small jewelry case with cuff links and tie clips, nothing really expensive. They’d both live through the Depression and were modest in their lifestyle, and this showed it. I asked Michael if we wanted to keep them as a paternal connection. He nodded and set it aside as well.
Most of the rest of the study was old law books, writings on foreign business practices, and a collection of westerns that included every book by Zane Gray and all the Western’s by Louis L’Amour. Again, my taste was sci-fi, and I wasn’t interested in the westerns. Michael said he’d figure it out. We went through the papers in my father’s desk, and realized they were pretty limited, and that apart from his check book most of the important stuff would be in the safe deposit box, the key to which was in his top drawer. Accessing the safe deposit box would require a copy of the will, so that would have to wait till we met with the attorney.
Michael didn’t say anything, but I could see he was puzzled, and I had to think it had to do with why I wasn’t interested in anything from our parents’ home. He even asked in an encouraging way about some of the small things and collectibles from foreign countries we had lived in. I demurred again, commenting that most of them didn’t bring good memories. To his credit, he left it there, and finally suggested we get some lunch and then take the things he’d set aside home and then we’d be off to meet with the attorney. It turned out there was one thing I was interested in though, and I told Michael that. It was a turn of the century Funk and Wagnalls Dictionary. It was leather bound, and at least eight inches thick, and sat on a rotating book stand. I remembered admiring and using it a lot as a kid, getting definitions to words that occasionally I talked to my father about. Michael said it was too big to carry home on a plane, but he would send it to me.
The attorney meeting was in a law firm downtown, nicely outfitted, and we were seated in a small conference room where my father’s lawyer met us, expressed his condolences and then began discussing the estate with us.
“You are both joint executors of your parent’s estate and are jointly proportional heirs. In practical terms that means than you both decide how the estate proceeds are to be distributed, and you both share equally in the value of the estate.”
We both looked at him waiting for more. He paused, then kindly said, “In my experience, because you are only children and the only two named in the will, estate structures like this can go very well, depending on the level of trust and communication between the executors and heirs. Where there is little trust or communication it can become problematic because as equal heirs both have the same say, and there’s no one to break a tie vote. That can often lead to the need to bring in an arbitrator. On the other hand, it’s not unusual that there are questions or points that need to be clarified, and that is certainly part of my role.”
I knew right then that something like arbitration wouldn’t be necessary. I’d built a new life of my own. I wanted almost nothing physical from this estate besides the dictionary. I explained that I lived in Oregon, and would not be physically present for settling the estate, meaning the sale of our parents’ home, distribution of assets, etc. and asked if he would handle that? He said he certainly would if it was what we both wanted. I looked at Michael, and he nodded.
“What do you know about the assets? I mean, we found the safe deposit key in our father’s desk drawer, but without a copy of the will naming us as joint heirs we can’t access it. Do you have a list of assets, or do we have to go see what’s in the safe deposit box and then bring the contents back to you?”
“That would be best, as I don’t have a list of assets, just the will and the document designating you joint executors. Can you access the safe deposit box tomorrow, and then we can meet again tomorrow afternoon?”
We agreed and told him we’d call from the bank once we knew what the contents were. When we got back to Michael’s house it was after 5:30 and we had a drink before Jane served dinner. We filled her in on the day, and I said to them that a lot of the emotional duty would be falling their way, namely cleaning out our parents’ home so it could be sold. They nodded but acknowledged the simple reality that I lived on the west coast.
I called Jackson after dinner, and he said that Lois had just arrived, and Gary hadn’t had classes today, and spent most of the day studying and planning his greenhouse projects. He’d had the regular classes, and tomorrow was band practice, so he’d be home later, and maybe too late for us to talk. I told him that staying up late to hear his beautiful voice was the least I could do.
We chatted for a few minutes, then I heard him shout and he handed the phone to Gary who wanted to know how I was holding up. I told him what we’d been doing and that I was getting through it, and he asked if I wanted to say hi to Lois. “Of course, we’re the Fellowship of the Four. Put her on.”
It was a pleasure to hear her voice, and she basically told me both of the boys had been doing what they were supposed to, studying and being responsible. She sounded very maternal. I thanked her for being so great, and especially for being there to cook dinner last night and made sure she knew she couldn’t skip her own homework. “Don’t worry, I won’t. On the cooking front they think they can do it themselves, but they’d probably just end up with salad and a chopped onion! Susan and Ellen are due anytime to cook dinner tonight. Jackson and I have her for a teacher, so it might turn out to be an extension of school!”
We laughed about than and I told her I doubted it, and she said she that there was this pesky kid that was hassling her for the phone and handed over to Jackson. He was giggling and want to make sure I’d received the hug he’d just sent me.
“You mean the one that is making my ribs hurt again?” The giggling continued.
“Just so you know, I can still feel. I’m mainly functioning on auto pilot in all other ways, but thanks for keeping me honest about my feeling. I sent him a kiss and a hug down the line, and then we rang off. I was ready for bed.
The visit to the bank went smoothly, and with copies of the will and the documents as executors of the will we were able to access the safe deposit box, which was mainly documents in various envelopes, and a couple of small but heavy boxes.
“What do you suppose those are,” Michael asked?
“Oh, they’ll be gold coins! Don’t you remember Dad losing it about America going off the gold standard and how it would be the end of the world, or at least the total devaluation of American currency and how he was going to hedge his bets by buying gold? I bet they’re either Krugerrands or American Gold Eagles.” It was both, and we put those small boxes in the large box we’d brought and added the rest of the papers.
We’d called the attorney and told him we’d be by his office after lunch, and then presented him with the contents of the safe deposit box.
“Right. First, we’ll do a complete accounting of the contents for you both, listing everything in here. That won’t take much time. Then we’ll have to do a valuation assessment, and that will take longer. For instance, the value of the gold coins is straight forward in as much as they’re a traded commodity. The value of the home will take some time to have assessed. I can see here that that are some stock certificates, and we’ll have to value those, and there are also some investment securities, and we’ll get those valued too. I could take a week or more to complete that, but as soon as we do our office will send you both an estate valuation statement, and then we can proceed with the matter of the disposition. Is that agreeable to you?”
It was, and we signed a document authorizing the law firm to proceed.
As we were preparing to leave, the attorney said, “It will take some time to get an accurate valuation, but I can tell you at this point that your father may not have been wealthy, but he was financially successful, and you will both receive a substantial sum when the estate is settled.”
I didn’t know what that meant but accepted it at face value. I called home late, and Jackson had just gotten in from band practice. He told me it went well and quizzed me about the day. I filled him in on the details and that funeral planning was the next day. He said, “Oh yeah, I remember that. I hope it goes well.”
“Probably will. I’m not planning on pulling rank.” We talked for a while about school and missing each other and then he heard my yawn and said I should go to bed. “I’d love to be there in that bed you’re about to get in to. I’d make it all warm and comfy for you, and then you could just collapse into my arms and I’d hold you and make you feel whole. Did you hear me? Feel whole!”
“Wow, Lover Boy, what an image. I think I can go to sleep peacefully with that image in my mind, and probably sleep through the night.”
I sent a kiss down the line and felt one coming back.
We met Wednesday morning with the minister at our parents Presbyterian Church, and discussed the funeral itself. I decided to wear regular clothes and not come off as a competing minister. I think the senior pastor appreciated that. He acknowledged I was ordained, and I made sure he understood I was a son attending his parent’s funeral, and it was his service to conduct. Michael nodded his agreement.
That evening we went out to dinner again, and the conversation was pleasant if neutral, and we discussed the funeral. I outlined the service for them, how it would go, that the senior pastor would conduct it and we just had to be there early to say our goodbyes when the pall was placed on the caskets. Then the minister would conduct the funeral service, that when it was over, we’d process out with him, greet those who attended and that would be that.
Jane looked at me. “It sounds so mechanical. Do you do this all the time?”
“Not all the time, but people die, and funerals have to be held, and they have to be organized like anything else in life. The fact that we’re talking about the structure and the organization doesn’t mean we’re insensitive or clueless. Rather it means that we recognize that there has to be structure in order for people to pay their respects and grieve properly. That’s all. It was much the same when I conducted the funeral for Jackson and Gary’s mother. They thought it was pretty mechanical as we organized it, but when we got to the service, and it went off smoothly and they were able to say their goodbyes, they understood. For them the most striking thing was finding out that most of the people in the church who expressed their condolences to them were really sincere, and really concerned about them as people.”
That seemed to open a door for Michael. “I’ve heard you mention Jackson and Gary, like you just did. And you’ve told us you were calling home each night since you’ve been here. What does that mean? I thought you were living in the parsonage where Mom and Dad stayed when they visited you last year. What’s with the ‘calling home’ stuff?
I’d realized on the trip out that there was a fifty/fifty chance I’d be quizzed about my life in Oregon, and then I’d get to choose to tell them half the story or the whole story. Now I had to decide.
I started with the fact that I was under no obligation to rush into an answer. So, I picked up my wine glass and swirled the wine and took another sip. When I set it down, I had decided how to proceed.
“Do you want the whole story, or the politically correct version?”