Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
“Heard you had a problem with that old truck of Phil’s.”
Pete appeared at my open kitchen window. I was making a manna cake to break my fast. Somehow I never got around to it last night. When I woke up this morning I was still on the prayer room floor. Something really strange happened in there last night. I didn’t really know what to think about it, so I was trying not to think about it at all. I just wanted to get on with whatever I needed to do in Athens. I had done my best to atone for busting the truck, and now I needed to move forward.
A small pile of sliced tomatoes, peppers and squash lay on a cutting board by the kitchen sink. Blue flames were trained on a small skillet on the stove, a large pat of margarine was just beginning to sizzle.
“Hey, come on in.”
Pete sat down at the tiny dinette by the front window. Seeing him made me feel normal. He was a regular guy. No pretensions or airs. He wasn’t trying to impress me with his knowledge of scripture or grill me about the finer points of my salvation. He just wanted to be friends, and right now that was the best possible thing that could happen to me. I was glad to have him there.
I had some hot water in a small pan and poured him a cup of instant coffee.
“Don’t you worry about the truck. Ain’t your fault,” he said. “That was my doin’, plain and simple. Me and ol’ Phil will work something out. Don’t you fret none about it.”
“I can’t help but feel partially responsible,” I said.
“It weren’t your fault. Phil knows that.”
Pete’s mind was sharp and accurate, marred only by a lack of effective schooling in the hollers of Kentucky. His heart was more pure than most, and though he was humble and self-effacing, there was something stubbornly independent about him. He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would jump on a bandwagon just because everyone else did. He also looked like the kind of guy who would do whatever he thought was right, even if nobody else did.
The morning was warm and clear. It was the perfect beginning to a new day.
“It’s not just the truck,” I said. “The truck can be fixed, and if I had the means, I’d gladly pay for it. But even if I could, it wouldn’t repair the damage to my friendship with Phil, or the potential for friendship. Whether it was my fault or not, that opportunity is gone and probably won’t be patched up in the little time that remains. He’ll be going on vacation soon, and I’ll be gone when he comes back. I hate leaving on such a sour note.”
“I see what you mean,” Pete said. “I’m sorry to see it end that way, too. But you’re a good man, and Phil knows that, even if he’s a little sore right now. He’ll get over it. You can write him a letter and leave it for him for when he gets back.”
“That’s a good idea,” I said, flipping my manna cake in the frying pan.
“What are you making there?” Pete asked.
“I call it a manna cake, like what God gave the Israelites in the desert. It’s what I’ve been living on since I’ve been here.” I didn’t mention I had been fasting for the last seven days and this was my first meal. “You want one? They’re good.”
“I had breakfast, but you go ahead. And I’m not telling you how to conduct your affairs, but I think you need to expand your diet a bit. That little pancake ain’t gonna get you too far.”
“Far enough,” I said. “Plus, it’s all I have. Phil never paid me, which I guess is only fair on account of the truck, but I have no money to buy groceries. I got the vegetables for free from some guy’s garden, so my food options are severely limited.”
“We’ll see about that.”
I sat down across from Pete to break my fast.
“I know you’re bothered about the truck, but it’s over and done,” Pete said. “Phil will get over it. He always does. He can afford to buy a whole fleet of trucks if he wants. He’s just particular, you know. He hates to see things get mistreated or thrown away if they still have some use. I’ve known him a long time. He’s done lots worse to other people when he was young, and don’t think he don’t remember. And there’s plenty of folks around here to remind him if he does.”
“You reckon that’s why he let me stay?”
“Could be. He tries to do the right thing. Turn the other cheek and all, even if it don’t come natural.”
“But what about the truck?”
“Believe me, this is a lot more his problem than yours. You just happen’d get caught in the middle. Sometimes he gets more attached to physical things and ignores the people around him. Every once in a while the lord sends him a little reminder about what’s really important in this world.”
Pete eyed me polishing off the rest of my breakfast.
“As I recall, the Israelites complained about the manna,” he said.
“Sure, who wouldn’t?” I said. “Everyone gets tired of eating the same thing all the time. It is a fact that we derive a huge amount of pleasure by the diversity of foods we put in our mouths. I, however, am not foolish enough to complain, even if this is the only thing I have to eat. I have fasted enough to know better.”
“Well, you don’t need to eat it all the time,” Pete said. “You come over to our house tonight for dinner.”
“That would be great.”
“There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about, and you haven’t been around much this past week.”
“I was kind of laying low because of the truck,” I said.
“Well, I’ll leave you to do whatever you gotta do. Come over for dinner tonight. You know where we live?”
Pete gave me directions and then got up. “See you tonight.”
I made my rounds of Athens, just to see if there was anything new or unusual I should investigate. But everything was just the same. I didn’t meet anyone new to witness to. So I went out to White’s Mill and sat for a long time on the big boulder where I’d had the dream of the red moth. Truthfully, I half expected to find it. Even these many days later, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had really seen it. It was the damnedest thing.
I watched the water rushing by for a long time, and it sort of carried away my thoughts. I recalled everything that had happened to me so far, and it surprised me how much I had already been through in three weeks. I was at the halfway point of the 40-day condition, and it looked like I had finally found where I belonged.
But it bothered me I couldn’t tell them who I was. I felt like I was tricking them, and I hated that feeling. I wanted them to just listen to me, to hear me out, and then they could decide whether to reject me or not. But if I told them first, they wouldn’t hear me out. It was a catch-22 and it was driving me nuts.
I started thinking about going home to Indianapolis, and the thought made me depressed. I didn’t want to leave Athens. I wanted to stay here. I wanted to stay with Desiree. I liked Pete and wanted to remain and be his friend. I started thinking that maybe we could work together, become partners in a home-repair business or something like that. The more I thought about it, the more excited I got about making Athens my home. Nobody could force me to go back to Indianapolis if I didn’t want to go.
And that’s how a plan started to take shape in my head, there on the banks of the Hocking River. I was going to stay. Of course, I’d have to tell them who I was, but by then they would have gotten to know me and they would understand why I didn’t -- couldn’t -- be open with them from the beginning. They would see I was a valuable member of their community. I would join their church. After all, I really didn’t have a problem with their beliefs; they simply didn’t understand mine. I felt certain over the next few weeks I could begin to change their minds, at least enough so they would let me stay.
It was as though all my goals and thoughts and plans went into the fast-moving current and were being carried all the way around the town, preparing the spirit world for the next phase. I quit thinking about this as a 40-day condition and started thinking of it instead as the start of my new life. I was ready to leave the Unification Church and start over with new people in a new place where I could finally be really happy.
The whole thing just captivated my imagination. I suddenly felt liberated. Already I could feel the mental bonds starting to loosen.
Hours had passed and it was getting late. I nearly ran the whole way across town to Pete’s house. When I showed up on his doorstep I was sweating and out of breath.
“Wasn’t sure you were coming. I sort of got the feeling you might not. You been running?”
“Sorry I’m late. I took a long walk along the river. I had some stuff to figure out.”
“Well, you’re here now. We’re just fixin’ to eat.”
He brought me into the kitchen. “You remember my wife, Katie. And Boo. Boo stays with us.”
I had not seen either woman since the potluck dinner, and even then our conversation was limited to a few pleasantries, except for Boo, who had wanted to know if I had been baptized.
Pete and Katie met at church and got married about three years ago. They confided that their difference in age -- he’s 33, she’s 24 -- caused a bit of a stir when they first started dating. But the sniping soon died out. Now everyone wanted to know when they were going to have a baby.
“All I can tell them is soon,” Katie said with a laugh. “But they’re never satisfied. You’d think it was my duty in this world to present them with a child as soon as possible.”
“And then you know what?” Pete said. “They’d start in about having another. And another.”
Unlike many Christians, Pete and Katie and Boo didn’t put on airs. There was hardly any religious talk as we ate. They were just down to earth people, satisfied to be in the here and now and not too concerned about the hereafter. I enjoyed their company immensely, and the possibility that this fellowship would continue past August made me very happy. I wanted to blurt out my grand plan, but I knew it wasn’t time.
After dinner, Boo and Katie put the leftovers away while Pete and I cleaned the dishes, him washing and me drying.
“You said something that night at the potluck dinner that got me thinking,” Pete said. “You said you’re not worried about the rapture or the tribulation, but what comes after. You remember saying that?”
“I think what I probably said was something about the kingdom of heaven on earth.”
“Yeah, that was it,” said Katie.
“I don’t want to offend anyone.”
“Why would we be offended?” asked Boo.
“Well, lots of folks -- Christians -- might not appreciate it.”
Pete pulled the last dish from the soapy water, rinsed it and handed to me. “Try us.”
“Well, everyone speaks about the Last Days as though it’s the end of the world, and I don’t think that’s what it means. I think it simply means the end of the fallen, evil world. So the way I see it, the Last Days are really just the first days of the kingdom of heaven on earth. I prefer to look at it as a time of hope and restoration, rather than a time of horror and retribution.”
“But the Bible tells us it will be that way,” Boo said.
“The Bible says many, many things that can be understood in many different ways. For example, you all agree that two-thousand years ago the Jews were expecting the messiah.”
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“But when Jesus appeared on the scene, the vast majority of people did not recognize him as the messiah. Only a handful of people actually believed he was the one. And in the end, even they, his disciples, had serious doubts and great difficulty keeping their faith. Even Peter denied Jesus. The point is that what people expect, even if it’s everyone expecting the same thing, isn’t what usually happens.”
“But the Bible says those who are watchful and pray will recognize Him,” Katie said.
“Hopefully that’s true,” I said. “But let’s say Christ returned tomorrow morning, just for the sake of argument. Anyone expecting to witness dramatic and cataclysmic events on that day will likely be disappointed. Chances are it will be a day pretty much like any other, and the dawn will arrive on the following day as though nothing much had happened. Devout Christians the world over are eagerly awaiting the Second Coming, just as the Jews were awaiting the First Coming two-thousand years ago, and now just as then, it’s probably not going to happen the way everyone thinks and therefore they could be looking right at Him and not know it.”
“How do you know this?” asked Katie.
“God gave us eyes and ears and brains to figure these things out for ourselves. It’s not mysterious. God isn’t trying to keep everybody in the dark. He really wants us to be ready because the time of the Second Coming is now and He doesn’t want us to miss it. All we need to do is look at what happened two-thousand years ago to see it would be easy to repeat the same mistakes.”
“The Bible says he’ll come on the clouds,” said Pete. “I don’t think that has happened. And when it does, everyone will be able to see it. Even non-believers.”
“Well, think about it for a second,” I said. “When those words were written, suppose the author was trying to describe something that did not yet exist and for which there were no words to describe it, but for us it would be totally familiar and mundane.”
“The Bible might have been describing the messiah arriving in first class on a jumbo jet for all any of us know. The only rational way to describe it back then, though, would be language similar to coming on the clouds. The Second Coming could be a very mundane, ordinary event to our way of thinking, but we’ve been conditioned to believe it will be something fantastic and supernatural. Except we do not live in a fantasy, supernatural world. We live in the real world governed by verifiable laws of nature, like gravity and the speed of light. I believe the Second Coming, when it happens, will seem like an ordinary, everyday event that could be easily overlooked by people watching the sky for some supernatural event. They’ll see an airplane and think, ‘That can’t be it. That’s too ordinary.’ I say, ‘Why not?’ He’s still literally coming on the clouds, right?”
I didn’t expect to win them over with my puny little arguments. People always believe what they choose to believe, no matter how ridiculous or illogical it seems to others. All I had hoped to accomplish was to stir them up a bit, make them wonder about other possibilities.
We talked into the evening, the three of them staunchly defending the status quo, but nonetheless intrigued by my unorthodox perspective. My feet barely touched the ground on the way home. For the first time since arriving in Athens, not counting my practice session with Mooney, I had found people who were interested in what I had to say. Of course, since they were Christians, I didn’t want to sound threatening or judgmental. It required delicate handling, but if I could get them to see their own beliefs from a more down-to-earth perspective, maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t reject me. I didn’t expect any converts to the Divine Principle. I just didn’t want them to turn me away. I wanted to stay here with them.
Pete asked me to come back in the morning. He was anxious to convert his attic into a new bedroom and bath, and my arrival presented an excellent opportunity to get much of the basic work done. So I arrived early the next morning and he took me to the third floor, which was bare and sweltering despite the early hour.
“I’m going to put a couple dormers in, one here, one over there. But first I need to put in the floor. I’m gonna get the siding off an abandoned house outside of town that belongs to a guy I’ve done some work for. It’s genuine tongue-and-groove board. And after that we can put up the insulation. I can do all the plumbing and wiring later.”
“Tongue and what?”
“Tongue and groove,” he repeated. “That’s boards that got a bead on one edge and a groove on the other, so they lock together. The tricky part is gonna be taking ’em off the house without damaging the beads.”
“How long you reckon this will take?”
“I figure we can get the siding on Monday, ‘cuz today I got another job. Then two days to put down the floor, and two days to hang the insulation. So about a week.”
The prospect of working in this wooden oven was not attractive, but I agreed.
“What’s the other job you have today?”
“You ever hang a door?”
“Nope. I blew a hole in one with a shotgun once, but never tried to hang one.”
Pete chuckled at my little joke. “Well, you can come with me and learn how.”
I’d been close to a lot of women in my life, but there were very few men that I would consider close friends. There was only one other man in the world I have ever developed an instant and deep rapport with, and that was Strawberry. Back when I was 18 and hitchhiking by myself across the upper U.S., I caught I ride with a guy named Randy McCormick from New Jersey. He was driving his mom’s 1966 Barracuda. He picked me up somewhere west of Chicago and took me clear to Missoula, Montana, where he was returning to school.
The year before he had a roommate name Strawberry, who was no longer a student but was back in Missoula after spending some time backpacking through Mexico. Strawberry came over to Randy’s apartment and he and I were kindred spirits. We stayed up most of the night, smoking pot, discussing the mysteries of life. He looked like Robert Redford and lived like Carlos Castaneda. We only met that one time, but we clicked on a higher plane.
I had that feeling now with Pete. We had an instant fraternal bond.
Breakfast was under way when we came back downstairs. Boo and Katie had made up a batch of pancakes and a bowl of scrambled eggs, and a plate piled high with crisp bacon. It was a gorgeous summer day and the back door was open to allow in the morning breeze.
“Boo got some raw milk from Mrs. Guthrie this morning,” Katie said, pointing to a large pitcher of milk on the table. “You can taste the butter.”
After breakfast, we sat around the table savoring the moment. I was overwhelmed by the immense pleasure of this simple tableau. I wanted to capture it forever -- the warm sun through lace curtains, the smell of cut grass on the breeze, the cicadas singing in the trees, the rich flavor of fresh-brewed coffee, the satisfaction of a simple but delicious meal.
“You can make butter from raw milk,” Pete said off-handedly.
“How?” Boo asked.
“You just shake it up, and all the butterfat clumps together,” he said. “Of course it takes a while, and it doesn’t look like the stuff you buy in the store.”
“Let’s try it,” said Katie.
Pete grabbed a large Mason jar off the counter and filled it about three-quarters full with milk from the pitcher. “This will work,” he said, screwing the lid down tightly. “Now all we have to do is shake it.”
Instantly, the milk foamed up inside the jar as Pete gave it a vigorous workout. After a few minutes he passed it to Katie, who eventually passed it to me and I to Boo and so on, around and around the table.
“I remember my great-grandmother using a butter urn,” said Pete. “The paddles would collect the butterfat, and then she’d scrape it off into cheesecloth to squeeze the water out of it, then scrape it into butter molds and set them down in the spring house to chill.”
“No wonder nobody wants to bother with it today,” Katie said. “This is a lot of work!”
We kept at it for about 30 minutes, but nothing much seemed to have changed in the jar. Just the same white foam. I was beginning to lose faith in our little experiment. Even Pete’s face seemed to be losing confidence.
“My arms are getting tired,” said Boo. “I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“Be patient,” said Pete. “Once or twice more around the table should do it.”
Katie passed the jar to me. I was skeptical, but kept shaking. And just like that, in the blink of an eye, there it was. A large glob of slippery whitish yellow stuff congealed amid a watery liquid. I continued shaking it as hard as I could until my arms were aching, then I set the jar triumphantly on the table.
“Finally!” said Pete. “Now we can go hang some doors.”
Pete went upstairs to get his wallet and keys.
When Pete was out of earshot, Katie leaned across the table and whispered. “I’m glad you’re here, Glenn,” said Katie. “Pete really appreciates your help on the attic.”
“He really enjoys your company,” Boo added. “We all do.”