Christian Short Stories
By Web Ruble
Web Ruble of Fairview, OR is a retired newspaper reporter of some 40 years, is now a book author, and is a lay leader in his Portland-area church.
It happened just short of Chehalis. Dad saw a sleeping bag fly off. “Whoa!” he said. “Stop!”
We then both felt the load shift atop the station wagon.
Our car dogged to a rolled stop on the freeway shoulder, about 500 yards beyond the blow off.
I went running back -- braving dangerously close-cruising heavy northbound traffic -- to retrieve the down bag. How he (Dad) had seen it go, I’ll never know because he had been dozing in the passenger seat as we cruised Interstate 5, headed north out of Oregon.
Still rolled and tied, the sleeping bag was lying hard against a roadside fence on the edge of what I call pucker brush.
I plucked the bag and its companion pillow and blanket from the shallow ditch, climbed back onto the noisy freeway shoulder and paused. I looked around and determined we were still some 8-10 miles south of Chehalis. After those few miles, it would be another 4 to Centralia and then a few more to Rochester turn-off where we’d pick up Route 12 for the 56-mile drag to the coast.
I strode back for the car with whizzing vehicles blowing me nearly off the shoulder into the barrow pit. Dad – with aching knees and stove up joints from 71 years of hard life – had just emerged from the car and was looking around. The Labor Day Weekend traffic was horrific.
Moreover, heavy clouds were gathering from the Willapa Hills in the west, and the wisp of breeze was turning into a substantial Zephyrus.
We both stood there, gaping at the shifted load atop of our old yellow 1966 Rambler station wagon. After a few comments, grunts and hand signals we decided to repack the load.
Wrestling with hemp, cable and bungee cord – pushing in this mattress, moving that table top and a few other items -- we pulled, tied, and managed to anchor our load.
After moments, it appeared we were done. The whole process had taken less than 10 minutes.
However, for once it really didn’t matter. We were in no hurry. Mom had died six months earlier and there was nobody waiting for us in Aberdeen.
My only concerns were the traffic and the weather.
“Looks like a blow,” I said. “Probably it’ll rain, eh? Maybe we should move on before we get good and wet.”
“Yeah,” said Dad. “But I really don’t mind. The rain and all. Son, I’m just glad we’re goin’ home.”
Profound as his statement was -- he was prone to wow me with profundity -- I was nevertheless a little surprised.
Real home to him, you see, wasn’t Grays Harbor where I had lived most of my life, and he had lived a good portion of his. Home to him was a gold camp in the hills near often scorching Grants Pass, Oregon.
I remember him once braving rare high 90-degree temperature in Aberdeen; pealing down to his undershirt; taking a chair into the middle of the backyard, plopping it down there far from any shade, and then sitting there, soaking the scorching rays.
Everyone else in that gray bay town – where the air temperature seldom stretched to 80 even in the heat of August – spent that most unusual 98-degee day trying to keep to the shadows; or trying to reach the beach, Lake Sylvia, or some other forested, watered place to find “the big cool.” But not Dad, he preferred the scorching sun.
I remember going back into the house and telling the situation to Mom: “Just look at that. He’s finally flipped. When everyone else is keeping to the shadows he’s out there boiling.”
Mom, who never had faired well in the heat herself, asked, “Haven’t you figured it out yet?
“Whazzat” I said.
“Your dad was born and raised in southern Oregon and hasn’t been warm since he left.”
Well, it probably was true. Grays Harbor (Aberdeen, in this case) with its almost perpetual overcast, drizzle or flat out downpour, simply never seemed home to him.
Nevertheless, that is where we were going – “home.”
I anticipated that he wouldn’t like it after he’d been there a few weeks. Once during a November rain storm several years earlier he said, “I’d hate to be buried under all this muck.”
Well, here we were -- returning to what would soon be muck-ville.
Traffic, noise, vehicle exhaust and lunatic drivers were our annoying companions on I-5, but once we turned off onto Highway 12 near Rochester, the trip calmed and we spent the next hour and 15 minutes in uneventful routine glide.
We had the old abode in Aberdeen. However, I knew I could stay but a few days and then he would be there alone, with his memories and without Mom, to whom he had been so dedicated. Not a good idea.
He needed constant checking and care and probably should be in a rest home. On Grays Harbor -- at least within the towns of Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Montesano – there were not many such care homes.
It would be tough. I told dad my queasy fears. Nevertheless, he wanted to “go home,” insisting that staying in the old house would suit the situation “just fine.”
We spent our several days together. In that time I mowed the meadow (grass), tended what was left of a garden, repaired a roof, and tried to drain the cellar so it wouldn’t be a flood zone in the winter. On the latter, I should have known better, because it’s nearly impossible. Even though the house was on a knoll, the basement always flooded during downpours.
I returned to my job at a can company in Portland, leaving Dad at the Aberdeen house. As soon as I could, I made a trip down to Grants Pass, which was sweltering. I checked funeral homes and cemeteries, and made mental note of two places. I was convinced that southern Oregon, to him, would be really home, and that’s where he should be.
Many Grants Pass folk agreed. I figured time was short and that he wouldn’t live long. I anticipated that after a memorial service in Aberdeen -- although not too many of his peers would still be alive to attend it -- I would transport his body some 390 miles south for burial in sunny Grants Pass, or maybe even 44 miles further south in Ashland. The latter was the bake-oven “in-town” place where he lived part of the time when his mother tired of grueling mining camp life. Moreover, buried in that peaceful graveyard glade was Dad’s oldest sister -- one he barely knew as she died when he was 5.
Well, he lived more than a year, and I remember the day in early spring when I got that telephone call from a neighbor saying Dad had died on the way to the hospital after a massive stroke.
Boom. There it was. Over. Now ‘twas decision time.
His minister, the Rev. Treb Natur, called soon after I and my family arrived at the house in Aberdeen, and said he wanted to talk.
When he arrived the next day, he came armed with a dog-eared shag of paper that he placed in front of my eyes. On it was written a crude note in my father’s broken handwriting: “When I die, put me on a sunny slope, but please do not send my remains to southern Oregon as my son is wont to do.”
“That’s a contradiction in a way,” I said.
“Well, it’s what your father wanted,” said Rev. Natur. “I talked to him about it several weeks ago. We should do it.”
“Why not just send his body to Grants Pass and there his grave will have more warmth and sun than it ever will here? After all, the undertaker, Mr. Jones, said he knew my father well and that he should have his final place in the sun.”
Well, he (the Rev. Natur), my two sons, daughter, wife, Jones, myself and a variety of well-meaning friends spent the next 24 hours arguing. Every scenario imaginable – and some a little beyond mortal fancy -- were mentioned.
Finally, it was decided to bury Dad at a sunny spot in Aberdeen’s Fern Hill cemetery. I was a little unhappy about it. We did it, though, just the same.
The problem was from that day forward -- because of omnipresent overcast -- there was no sunny slope or spot in all of Fern Hill. Moreover, the overcast turned to rain which continued for nearly a month.
Saying I was next to furious might be a little overboard. However, I could easily say that I was as unhappy as a desert Gila Monster on an ocean spit.
I was prepared for exhumation and transport from Aberdeen’s primeval, well-ferned, evergreen-fringed cemetery to relatively arid yet treed Grants Pass. I was about to make arrangements to do so when I got another call from Rev. Natur.
He came by. We got in his beater. But instead of having our tete-a-tete in his lead-glass windowed bit of ecclesiology, we zoomed up I Street hill for a soulful walk in Roosevelt Park.
He was saying that Dad’s few remaining friends wanted him here, but I continued to grumble that he should be where the sun shines and cheer abounds.
“Well, where did he live most of life?” said Rev. Natur. “Right here in this gray land . . . on this Grays Harbor.”
Then he made a stirring statement, something that I’ve never forgotten:
“Really, Walter, you know it doesn’t matter where his earthly remains are. You see, your dad really isn’t here. He is with God in Beulah Land that outshines the sun.”
(© 2010 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
Return To Christian Short Stories
Return to Praise and Worship Home Page