Building a CommunitybyScorpio44a©
[This is what a teacher of mine would call a lesson story. Not a sex story, a cheating wife story, BDSM or anything like it. I found out six years after my previous wife cheated. When I found out I also found out that there were at least a dozen "friends" of mine who had known all along. They weren't family or in community with me. They aren't with me at all, now.]
"I think of all of you as my family. I look at each of you and my heart fills with hope and prayers for your best good." The pastor stood at the pulpit, speaking to the seven hundred people who sat facing him on Sunday morning. "I used the word family. There are other words that are almost family that we should also look at and use. We could say we are a community."
My thoughts went to what I thought a community could be like. They would help each other. Other things come along with being a community. Things like companionship, involvement, support. The pastor had just called us a community, but it didn't fit. I raised my hand.
I'd known our pastor from the day he came to get the job here. I considered us friends. I knew he wasn't so traditional that he would get upset if I asked a question.
He saw my hand and smiled. "Pete, did you have a question or a comment?"
"A comment. I think we could be a community, but I don't see it. We act like a community when we do a potluck dinner, or a car wash for the scout troop, or when we sit here. But, it seems to me there is so much we aren't doing as a community that I don't honestly think we can say we are one."
"Pete, are you willing to assist me for a while?"
"Yes. What do you need?"
"Come up here. Let's sit and have a conversation." He looked at the rest of the congregation and said, "You've wondered what happens when someone is in my office with me. Now you can watch. Pete and I are going to discuss the concept of community. Our goal in the conversation is to look at what we can do to create community, define it, make it strong and loving."
He and I sat in those metal folding chairs with our knees a few inches apart. The congregation was to his right and my left. A microphone was put between us on a stand.
He began. "So, can you tell me some of the things you think would be seen in our community, if we were one?"
"Sure. The word that came to mind first was companionship. There is a little, but it isn't what it could be."
"What could it be?"
"Two months ago I went to Jack Gilbert's funeral. He and Mildred were married forty-seven years. After the funeral I heard at least twenty-five people say to Mildred, "If you need anything, give me a call." I turned and faced the audience, "How many of you did she call? Raise a hand if she called." No hands went up.
"Jack loved taking care of their flowers and yard. Mildred has arthritis. Jack did it as an act of loving Mildred. Every time she looked at the flowers she didn't see roses or sunflowers. She saw an expression of Jack's love. He's been gone two months. In a community, we would go there and tend that garden, not because she asked, but because it is what friends, family, community would do."
The pastor smiled and asked, "Shouldn't we wait for her to ask?"
"No. Our normal society has us thinking we shouldn't bother folks. She won't ask because she doesn't want to be a bother. She knew for over forty years that Jack loved her and said so with what he did for and with her. She doesn't know we love her. He drove them to church. She isn't here today. Anyone offer her a ride this morning? Anyone call her yesterday and say you'd pick her up at nine so you could be here before service started? I think a community would pick up the expression of love and continue it, reinforce it for all of us." I turned to look at my two teenaged children sitting beside their friends. "Kids, after church we're going home, change clothes and we're going to the Gilbert home and we're doing gardening. Don't make any other plans, unless you'd like your friends to come with us. I'll buy pizza when we're done."
Mrs. Whiteman held up her hand. When I looked at her she said, "I'll bring her to church next Sunday."
The pastor said, "Ok. What else?"
"I grew up in a sort of community. A little town in Idaho where everyone looked out for everyone. I fell off my bike riding home one day. I got back up and rode the rest of the way home. Mom already knew I'd fallen. Someone who had seen me fall called her. On another day two cousins and I were sledding down a hill and after about an hour a lady came out of her house and gave us hot chocolate. When I got home, Mom knew about the sledding and the hot chocolate."
"Isn't that because people were sticking their noses into business that wasn't theirs?"
"If you want to live in a community where you don't even know the name of the people who live next door, yes, that's nosy. If you want to be family, community, then we all look out for each other." I looked again at the congregation. The second baseman on our church softball team wasn't in church. His wife and three kids were. I said, "Walter Nelson isn't here today. Sandy, how many people have asked you about Walter since you arrived here this morning?"
"He's home with the flu." She answered.
I smiled. "Was I the first person who asked about him?"
"In a community we'd ask, we'd take him a gallon of our best chicken soup this afternoon. We'd find out what Sandy needs form the market and get it so she could stay home and play nurse Nancy."
The family sitting next to Sandy leaned to her and whispered.
"What else?" The pastor asked.
"I'd bet someone in this room is thinking about painting their house and hasn't done it because it's expensive and too much work to do alone. In a community they would buy the paint, call twenty members of the community and have a painting party. I have brushes and a roller. I have two teenaged kids who need to learn these skills for when they are adults. Someone in this room is good at balancing a checking account and many of us need to be taught how to do it. There are lots of good cooks, are you teaching all the kids how to cook the things you love? I've taught my kids to change a tire on our car, but I didn't teach any other kids, or wives."
"And, in a community, we would just do it?"
"We'd talk to each other. Invite other people to participate with us. Then we could say we were a community."
Our pastor looked at his watch and ended our conversation by calling all of us into action. We sang and finished the service and an hour later we were home, changing clothes. All four of us went to Mildred Gilbert's home and went to work in her flower beds. My daughter got the mower out of their shed and mowed both front and back lawns. Mildred came out on her back porch and cried when she saw what we were doing. Two of Scott's friends (Scott is my son) stopped by and helped. In just over an hour we had her yard looking like Jack had just finished saying, "I love you."
We took Mildred with us to get pizza. She ate a little tiny piece. My kids talked about the experience all week long. When they came home from school on Tuesday they called a family meeting. We had the meeting over dinner. Scott started the discussion.
"On Comstock Avenue there is a house we walk by going to school. It's owned by an older lady and she almost never comes outside. Her yard is worse than Mrs. Gilbert's was. One of my friends lives two houses away from her and he says she gets picked up by a cab on Thursday afternoon and comes home at about six."
Andrea added, "We could go over there Thursday afternoon while she was gone and do her yard! She never has to know we did it!"
"You're in school Thursday afternoon."
"I could miss fifth and sixth periods, for a good reason." Scott said. Andrea nodded.
Mom volunteered too. "I can sit in my car and wait until she leaves, then I'll call and you guys and equipment can come over and we'll do this."
I took time off and we did her yard. It was mowed, edged, flowerbeds weeded and watered. We were home long before she came home. Scott's friend called us when the lady came home. He was outside playing catch with his little brother when she came home. She got out of the cab, turned, saw what had happened and sat down on her porch steps and cried. Then she walked around looking at everything we had done.
Scott called me from school the next day. "Dad, Johnny told me she was back on her porch this morning watering her yard with a smile on her face."
On Saturday I had to drive fifty miles to Riverside to bid on a consulting job. I took Andrea with me. She wanted to go and said while I was in my meeting she could study. I was in my meeting for three hours. When I came out Andrea was very upset. I assumed it was because the meeting had taken so long. That wasn't it.
"Dad, you know Mr. Franks, at church?"
"Of course. He's married to Carolyn and they have two daughters. They live over on Painter Street."
"I saw him go into that motel about twenty minutes after you went into your meeting. That's his car right there." She pointed at a blue Buick. I wasn't sure it was his. Andrea had written the license number down. "Daddy, what do we do?"
"First, how sure are you that it was really him and not someone who looks a lot like him?"
"Do you want to stay here until he comes out and get another look?"
We sat quietly for fifteen minutes and no one went in or came out of the motel. I asked her how long she wanted to stay and she was about to give up when Mr. Franks walked out of the motel. His arm was around a woman who appeared to be twenty or so, blond and barely dressed. At her five year old Toyota he kissed her and groped her ass. He watched as she got in, started her car and drove away. Then he got in the Buick and drove away.
I started our car and we headed home. He had a one or maybe two minute head start. I drove conservatively and didn't catch him until we were almost home. I pulled up alongside his Buick and he honked and waved at us. I honked back.
Andrea asked, for the third time, "What are we going to do?"
"We live in a community. What we know will hurt the Franks family. That was not his wife we saw him with in Riverside. Mrs. Franks is a tall Italian looking woman with dark auburn hair."
"And real boobs!" Andrea added.
"If your boy-friend was seeing someone else and telling you he was exclusive with you, would you want someone to tell you?"
"Yes! They wouldn't be my friend if they'd keep that secret!"
"You know a secret about Mr. Franks. What is the right thing to do?"
"Tell her. But we have no proof!"
"So, what's the right thing to do?"
"I don't know!"
"Then think it over and we'll talk tomorrow after school. We should be able to figure out the right thing to do."
We were home. It was foolish to assume Andrea would stay quiet. When we sat down for dinner Andrea said, "We have a dilemma and I want your thoughts, Ok?"
Scott raised an eyebrow and said, "We?"
"Right now the dilemma belongs to Daddy and me. If I tell you about it, it's you dilemma too."
Mom asked, "How big is this dilemma?"
I answered, "If we do something with what we know a marriage will probably end."
Scott and my wife were very interested. This was a big dilemma.
My wife said, "Ok. I want to know what it is."
Andrea said, "First, I want an agreement that we act as a family. We discuss it and decide what to do as a family. The Lone Ranger doesn't live here."
Scott said, "Then, I don't want to know."
"Then go over to McDonalds house and call me from there. I'll need to speak to Mac or Donna to verify you are there."
"Don't trust me?"
"You know the proverb: Trust God and tie your camel to the tree."
He smiled and went out our back door. We finished dinner and were all in the kitchen doing dishes when the phone rang. It was Mac. "Your boy is here. He;s wearing a blue shirt and jeans."
"Ok, Mac. Thanks."
I hung up and Andrea told Mom what we knew. She asked questions and we had answers. Our discussion lasted over an hour. In the end we decided that I would visit Mr. Franks at the golf course he played every Sunday, early in the morning. Andrea and my wife would visit Mrs. Franks about half an hour after I spoke to Mr. Franks.
Once Mrs. Franks knew we would ask her what she wanted us to do and we would tell her what we thought should happen.
My alarm went off at five Sunday morning. I got dressed and made sure Andrea and her Mom were up and ready to go too. If I found anything in my conversation that would have me stop them from telling Mrs. Franks I would call Mom's cell phone. If I didn't call, they would tell her.
At the golf club I saw Mr. Franks getting his clubs out of his Buick. I walked to within twenty feet or so and said, "Mr. Franks can we talk?"
He looked at me and asked, "You play golf?"
"No. I came here to talk to you. Can I have a minute or so of your time?"
He looked at his watch and said, "My tee time is in ten minutes. You can have five, I still need to walk over there."
"Remember when you saw Andrea and I on the freeway on Friday?"
"Yeah! I honked at you."
"Where were you coming from?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I need an explanation. What my daughter saw you doing led her to believe that you met someone in Riverside. Were you in Riverside?"
"I do some business in Riverside."
"Describe who you did business with that day, if you would. Please."
"I don't have to. Your bitch daughter can believe anything she wants! She probably saw someone who looks like me and made up a story to impress her Daddy."
"What about what I saw? Did she make that up too?"
Three men stood a few meters away, listening. They were quiet.
"What do you think you saw?"
"You came out of the Desert Pines Motel with your arm around a young blond woman. You walked her to her five year old Toyota, green. Kissed her, grabbed her ass and watched her drive away. Then you got into that Buick and drove home. We followed you all the way and just before you got off the freeway you honked and waved at us."
"Look! You're a man. We have needs. If you aren't getting what you need at home you find some somewhere else. Now, I'm counting on you to keep your daughter quiet. Tell her the woman she saw is my cousin."
"No! But that sounds good."
I looked at my watch. Andrea was telling Mrs. Frank in two minutes. "So you have been screwing her?"
"So what? All men get a little if they can." He closed the trunk of his car and turned. His three golf buddies were walking away. He called out to them, "Hey, wait up!"
One of the three turned and said, "All men don't cheat. We let you into our early Sunday foursome because we figured you were like us, loved golf and church. We'll find someone to take your place. You don't play with us any more."
Mr. Franks turned back around and yelled, "You fucked this up for me! You meddling asshole!" He pulled a five iron out of his bag and charged me. I ran for my car and almost made it. The five iron crashed down on my shoulder and I fell to the ground. I knew my shoulder was broken. The three men had heard his yells and saw him charge me. They stopped him from hitting me again. They got both the police and an ambulance. I left in the ambulance and Mr. Franks left cuffed in the back of the police car.
From the hospital I called my wife and she got Andrea to drive my car home while Barb came to the hospital to get me.
We walked into church a minute late. The meeting stopped. The pastor asked, "What happened?" We had been so focused on my injury I didn't know what Mrs. Franks wanted us to do. I looked at Barb and she said, "She said, tell them everything!"
I did. Andrea spoke too. Barb shared about meeting with Mrs. Franks and her reaction. The pastor asked, "But, what happened to you?"
"Mr. Franks attacked me with a five iron and broke my shoulder and collarbone. He admitted he was having sex with the woman we saw him with. He was arrested."
The pastor spoke for a short minute about community and the strength we all got from it. Church was over.
All the kids at church learned a lot about keeping secrets, about community and hangin together. Andrea has been asked to speak to other congregations about what she learned. Standing at the back of a congregation of young people listening to Andrea talk about how that whole thing helped her grow up some more I'm very proud of her and us for behaving like a community.