The Vicar of St. Dunstan's Ep. 10byNigel Debonnaire©
J. R. R. Tolkien said in the Fellowship of the Ring that any exile would have a deep desire to look on their ancient home again, even if it became the abode of dragons. As you can imagine, the Vicar has very mixed feelings about returning to his Great Plains home from England, mostly ambivalence, and getting him to make this journey was difficult. We resist taking up the identity we left behind there, for it is difficult for the people we grew up with to see us as anything but the child we were, but like most of us who return from exile, even for a short time, the dragons we face there are of our own creation.
It was a view from the top of the world, or at least, the top of Chicago. We were lucky and had a clear day for our visit to the Sears Tower; Mary Sterns and her granddaughter Agnes were rapt. We were dressed in t-shirts, shorts and sandals; Mary and Agnes carried huge handbags and I had a backpack. Agnes was snapping picture after picture while Mary and I stood looking at different points of interest near and far. It was one week into our American sojourn: the first ten days were in Chicago, one of my favorite cities for its museums, the opera and the many neighborhoods of architectural interest. We had spent time in the Art Institute, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and a couple of smaller galleries. Cosi fan tutte was playing at Chicago Opera, and we caught an evening of Beethoven and Mahler at the CSO. Agnes was hanging with us remarkably, but seven days of celibacy with the delicious Mary at close range without touching her was getting frustrating. The sultry, twenty two year old Agnes was a continuing temptation as well.
Agnes was on the Lake Side of the Tower as I stood opposite; Mary came up and snuggled into me, seriously compromising my control. Her head was next to mine, and I whispered in her ear: "I'm going mad being this near and this far. We need some time alone."
Mary smiled and whispered back: "This afternoon is a possibility, luv. Agnes met some young people from the parish on Sunday, and they've invited her to an afternoon on the North Shore Beach. She's been dying to get some sun, and get away from the elders. If your mate Father Tony is out, we may have a chance to spend some quality time."
Her bag was on her right side and I was on her left: the view of my hand and front below my waist was blocked to all viewers, and I turned my hips to form a triangle to block the other view. As we stood close to the window, I was able to slip my hand down unseen to cup and fondle Mary's left bum and play with her vertical smile. She sighed and leaned back against my hand without making too big a show, and I continued to softly knead and stoke her still tight, shapely curve. "Now it's my turn to be frustrated, and I don't think I'll make it back across the Chicago River," she whispered. I risked a deeper thrust and reached underneath for her slit, finding it damp through her shorts. Tiny circles from her hips greeted my intrusion, and we kept this up until I saw Agnes working her way around the exterior of the Observation Deck toward us. "Rats," came the almost inaudible whisper.
Agnes was twenty two years old, around five-six, like her grandmother, with fiery red hair, shapely legs, and a small, tight, very curvaceous posterior like her grandmother. Her t-shirt had found its way into her bag, revealing a dark red tube top that displayed her 34 C breasts; the nipples were hardening and revealing the rings she chose to wear in them that day. After taking some shots straight down at a barge in the South Fork of the Chicago River, she turned toward us and said: "Vic, why don't you get some shots of Gran and I over by Lake Michigan? It would just rock out loud."
"Rock out loud," I repeated faintly, tasting for the meaning of the phrase. "Sure, Agnes. Are you game, Mary?"
Mary gave me a look that should have slain me on the spot. "You know the answer to that one, but I'll be happy to pose with Aggie by the Lake. Show us where you'd like to be, honey." Agnes rolled her eyes and led us around the deck to a spot where the John Hancock building would be off in the distance behind them.
As she directed me to my spot, she said: "Gran, why don't you take off your t-shirt and show off the halter top I gave you for Christmas? It'd be dead sexy, Gran." Mary nodded and peeled off her shirt, showing off a halter that displayed her teardrop breasts to good effect; her nipples immediately hardened and showed off the bars that she was wearing in them. They stood side by side, their arms around each other, and could have passed for mother/daughter. The only differences were that Mary's red hair color clearly came from a bottle, and her twin peaks hung about three quarters of an inch lower than her granddaughter's, which stood out proudly straight ahead.. I took some shots from straight ahead and then moved around to different angles. Some of the other guys were surreptitiously take shots of them as well; they were sports and turned to smile at them when they noticed an admirer. The down elevator arrived and we went immediately to return to Terra Firma.
Lunch was at a wild place called Ed Debevic's on the near North Side that featured Fifies atmosphere and music, down home artery-hardening American food such as hamburgers, French Fries and Milkshakes, and a cast of abusive waiters and waitresses that periodically gave floor shows on the counters. The girls loved it, and teased me about my home culture at its best. We then walked northwest past the elegant buildings and the trendy inhabitants toward the Vicarage where we were staying. We arrived at our lodging, four blocks from Lincoln Park, at a parish nestled amid apartments and condominiums.
Going through the front door, I saw that Terry left me a note. It read:
Gerry and I are at the beach this afternoon, then off the Evanston for dinner with Dr. Marcus. You can catch up with us or stay home, whatever you want. We'll be back late.
Agnes read the lovely script with interest and asked: "How did you meet Father Terry?"
"We went to Seabury together up in Evanston, same graduating class. Dr. Marcus was one of our profs; he was Terry's advisor, but I did less than well in his New Testament Greek class. Terry and Gerry are both from the North Side, and they took my ex-wife Janet and I into their hearts and all over Chicago when we showed up here as Western Kansas refugees. We spent a lot of time at North Beach, Wrigley Field, Berghoff's, and a lot of other places; they made our stay in Chicago a delight. Janet lost touch with them after we divorced, but I kept in touch and when I told them about coming home, they insisted I stay with them and bring anybody I wanted with me."
Mary nodded. "Lovely hosts they've been. I was up early yesterday; Gerry and I had a delightful conversation and we exchanged e-mail addresses. Tomorrow at Wrigley field sounds like a lot of fun, and I still don't understand baseball."
Nodding, Agnes agreed. "The Vicar and his Missus here are first rate. Do they have any children?"
"No, but they're trying. If nothing happens in a year or two, they'll adopt."
"Where did your Janet end up?"
"Agnes Mary Jane Sterns," Mary injected severely, "that's a very rude and insensitive question."
"It's all right, Mary," I said calmly, "it's water under the bridge now, and I'm happy with my life as it is. Janet went back to Western Kansas; my mother told me she married an accountant from Hays around Christmas time a couple of years ago. My anger with her has passed, and I'm glad she's found some happiness she couldn't find with me."
Agnes shrugged and went upstairs to the room she was sharing with her grandmother. A look that could maim followed her from Mary's eyes, as she patted her foot on the floor. "Cheeky girl," she said at last, "I'm going to have to give her a talking to."
"Mary, I don't mind. Let it pass. The kids in the Choir School asked me that question for six months after she left England, and every now and then a parishioner brings up the subject. It's hard to hurt me there"
She calmed down. "All right, I guess, but she needs to learn to respect other people's feelings."
I took her hand and kissed it. "It's been tough raising her and her brother Derrick since the accident, hasn't it?"
"Ooh, don't I know it, and those children aren't finished with me yet." There was coffee in the pot, and she poured herself and I a cup.
About ten minutes latter we heard a clatter down the stairs; Agnes entered wearing a blue, one piece bathing suit, a matching wrap around skirt and flip flops. My libido did a couple of somersaults: she was stunning even in plain, causal attire. She carried her bag with its necessary cargo. "I'm off to meet my friends at the Lake. Should be back by sundown unless I give you a buzz."
"All right." Mary sat motionless, holding up her cheek for Agnes to kiss. I waved at her, which she returned before she bounced out the door. Mary was still unsettled, took a sip of her coffee and looked off into space. Looking at me eventually, she asked, "Is there something you want?"
"Yes," I said as calmly as I could, "I was remembering a moment earlier today in the Sears Tower when you were uncertain that you could make across the Chicago River without losing control. We have the house to ourselves this afternoon, as well as a week of celibacy to recover from, and it's all I can do to keep from throwing you over my shoulder and hauling you upstairs to ravish you."
"Oh," she said, blinking several times. "I wondered what I was forgetting." So I threw her over my shoulder and hauled her upstairs to ravish her most of the rest of the afternoon.
Four days later, I was driving them in a rented car on I-70 across the great state of Kansas. The flight from Chicago to Kansas City was smooth, and I had the pleasure of getting an upgrade from the car rental agency to an SUV. I would have preferred a convertible, but the amount of luggage the girls brought made it impossible. As we passed Junction City at noontime, a storm was a distant smudge on the horizon, and after lunch we had a great view of its progress across the Great Plains despite having to pull over for the worst of the downpour. We sat there, and I wondered: "I still don't understand why you want to visit Hays. Most people can't wait to get past it on their way to Denver or Kansas City, and there's little of interest other than Fort Hays State University and the old frontier fort on the south end of town. The few people I counted as friends growing up are long gone, like I did, because there's not a lot out here other than cattle ranching and farming."
Mary touched my shoulder. "It gave us you, and that's the main reason we want to see it."
"I'm also interested in all those long, flat roads," Agnes added. "For an islander, the prospect of a flat land that goes on forever is exciting, and I can't wait to go biking."
"You said something about a night sky full of stars. . ." Mary added.
I relaxed. "There are fond memories of the Plains for me. My pride tells me that I'm in a universe far beyond what anyone in Hays can imagine, but I am getting excited about seeing the ranch again. My father got it from my grandfather, who got it from his father, who claimed his land according to the Homestead Act after the Civil War."
"Does any of your family still work it?"
"My oldest brother, Jonathan, basically runs the operation right now, 3000 acres of cattle land southwest of Hays, but his two boys aren't interested in the family business. When my brother grows old, he'll have to sell the family ranch if none of the relatives are interested in keeping it going."
"That's sad," Agnes said very softly.
I reached back and patted her knee. "Hey, that's no way to think. We survived a lot of hard times out on the Plains over the years: Indians, drought, floods, blizzards, tornadoes, hailstorms, crooked traders, and lawyers. When things look darkest, something always turns up to keep you going: we'll survive. Even if we have to sell the family ranch, it'll surely be to people who will love the land and use it as we did. It's way too far out to develop."
The SUV took an exit west of Hays; I wasn't ready for a trip down main street quite yet. The girls were fascinated by all the things I took for granted on the back roads; huge bales of hay, occasional oil wells, cattle grazing in the fields, endless expanses of wheat ripe for harvesting. The storm that just passed sent up a strong rainbow that stretched from northeast to southeast and gave off two faint reflections. "That's a sign," Mary said. "Something special is going to happen here."
At last, we turned into the farm lane that led to my folks house, and the girls stretched in anticipation of finishing the trip. "Don't get out yet," I warned them, "the house is two miles away."
"Really?" Agnes said.
"Really," I replied, "the house was built before the main roads, and my grandfather didn't want the main road closer than two miles to his house. Said that if you couldn't walk around in your front yard in your underwear with being embarrassed, your neighbors were too close." The girls laughed heartily at that.
"I can't imagine not having a neighbor twenty feet away, much less out of sight," Mary chuckled. Five minutes found us pulling up to the house, and my mother waiting to welcome us with iced lemonade and fresh cookies.
My mother is a long, tall and lean woman, six foot even in her youth, bronzed in the Western Sun, mother of six children who had given her fifteen grandchildren so far. She stood on the porch as we arrived, her arms across her body, wearing a light blue dress and a clean white apron, her long grey hair down around her shoulders and her black shoes on her feet. Her face was lined and her green eyes still held fire after eighty years. My father sat beside her on the porch in his wheelchair: his full head of thick, long white hair was brushed back away from his face, like a revival preacher or a biblical prophet, but his eyes were watery. He was six four in his younger days, but height didn't matter to a wheelchair patient. In his prime, he ran the ranch during the day, doing some night work sweeping the local schools when it was tough making ends meet, and his torso still proclaimed the strength he needed for bucking hay bales, wrestling recalcitrant cows into a trailer, and maneuvering fifty pound bags of feed from the pickup to the barn.
Mom greeted me with a big hug as I neared the porch. The girls came up behind me and I had a chance to introduce them. "Mom, I'd like you to meet my special friend Mary Sterns, Chair of the Vestry of St. Dunstan's, and on of my traveling companions for this visit."
Mary offered my mother her hand in introduction. "Good afternoon, Mrs. . .",
My Mother bypassed Mary's outstretched hand, rushing past it to embrace her embrace her and cut her off. "It's Wilma, Mary, call me Wilma. You're most welcome here in Western Kansas" My friend responded stiffly at first, then warmed up and relaxed as Mom was slow to break the embrace.
"And this is her granddaughter, Agnes Sterns, assistant organist at St. Dunstan's and graduate student in Organ." Agnes came up slowly as Mom released Mary from her grasp.
Mom turned and embraced Agnes warmly as well. Releasing her, she said, "What a lovely young lady you are, Agnes. It's a pleasure to meet you as well. I hope that you and your grandmother will make yourselves at home while you're here; any friends of my son are always welcome here."
Waving like a maniac as we approached, my Father sang out: "My name's Fletcher, but you can call me Fletch. I'll give you a big hug when you get here, but don't start anything I can't finish."
"Flet–CHER!" my Mother objected, as she came up the walk behind them.
Dad hung his head. "Just kidding, Wilma, just kidding. Can't an old man flirt a little?
After we got settled, and my Mother started to get to know Mary and Agnes, I called Reverend Harris at St. Michael's about the weekend's liturgies. He was my pastor as a teenager and always encouraged my vocation. He was also ecstatic about he was getting two weekends off unexpectedly, and wanted to brief me about where everything was at St. Paul's: "It's not like your fancy liturgies in Blighty, my lad. You remember: we're simple folks here at St. Michael's, and although we can still sing and we're very reverent, we're down to earth."
"That's fine by me, Father Harris. I'm happy to help you, really."
"Thanks, lad. Your mother has a note for you about a couple of baptisms that's scheduled for next weekend. I can come back and do them if necessary, but read the note and think about it, first."
"What are you talking about?"
"Just read the note. Later, Alfred."
"Later, Father Harris."
Rev. Harris' mystery went on hold as I entered my father's study. "How're you doin', my boy? It's good to have you home." he crooned. He was sitting at his desk in a wheelchair; arthritis brought on by too many long workdays in the cold and wet had crippled him, but his face was bright and he beckoned me near. Reaching up his arms, he embraced me for a long moment, which also disturbed me since he was a classic stoic American man who was physically distant with his sons.
"Are you all right, Dad?" I asked when we finally broke the embrace.
"Fine, son, fine."
"How come the hug? You never hugged me before, even on the day I married or the day I was ordained."
He smiled for a moment. "I realized that life was short, and I needed to show people how I felt about them. You remember I had that heart attack a couple o' years ago, just after your last visit? I almost crossed over to the other side, had a near death experience like the book says, complete with approaching the Light. It changed me, Alfred, and it changed me for the better. I now know what's important in life, and I'm not afraid to do or say anything to anyone. Time is short, and you should always live each day like it's your last. But you know this from all your fancy education and theology, don't you?"
"Sure, Dad," I said slowly. "I know that, but I don't always remember it."
"Remember it, son, remember it. And like our Savior said, it's how we treat others that really matters."
My father caught me up with the situation about the ranch and the oil investments. There were rumors that they would start pumping the oil wells again, which would mean a little more income, but Dad wasn't counting on it. He updated me about my three brothers and two sisters, all older than I and all busy with their own families. I asked him about Janet, and he said it'd have to wait until I got to talk with Mom.
Farm meals haven't changed much over the years, and my mother put together a spread in that great tradition. She had great success with her garden, so we had fresh green beans, lettuce and tomatoes along with a genuine, locally cured ham the neighbors gave them, mashed potatoes and Sawmill gravy, and fresh cornbread. Mary and Agnes ate sparingly as usual, but the tastes of home whetted my appetite like no other, and I savored three pieces of cornbread with my mother's home canned applesauce on top. The tradition of saving dessert for an hour or so after supper was also observed, and Mother said she had homemade ice cream to go with a classic apple pie.
I helped her with the dishes; she shooed Mary and Agnes off to keep my father company in order to she have me to herself. After we put everything away, she beckoned me to sit at the table, and handed me a handwritten note from Janet:
I hope that the years have been kind to you: you really found yourself in England and I'm
glad you're happy there. It's a pity that I couldn't find my way there, but sometimes