11
Dec
08

An Unanswered Call

I was sitting under the pie cherry tree, trying to puzzle out where I’d purled and should have knitted, when a shadow fell on my work. I looked up to see the old man from across the street with a coffee mug dangling from one hand.

“Whatcha makin’?” He said.

“It’s a dishcloth.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one quite like that before,” he said. “But you know, if you made the holes smaller and closer together you could always pour coffee through it instead of using a filter in the pot. Or you could use it to keep your egg salad from being too runny.” I pulled one of the needles from the mess on my lap and started frogging it. “Why don’t you just buy ‘em at Wal-Mart like everybody else?”

“I wanted to make Christmas presents this year instead of buying them so I could save some money and give people something they’d really appreciate,” I said.

“Now if you were really smart,” he said, “you’d be spending your time making something you could sell for a lot of money. If you had money you could take your whole family to the beach and dig for clams and I guarantee they’d appreciate fresh clam chowder more than a handmade egg salad filter.”

“A lot of money?”

“Guaranteed.”

“And where would I sell this thing?”

“Anywhere. The feed store. Country Home magazine. E-Bay. You know people make thousands of dollars on E-Bay. I’ve got a nephew, Charles Trask, and he made $150,000 on E-Bay last year selling duck eggs and the tubes out of old radios.”

“Wow. What’s this thing I’d be making and selling?” The old man held up the mug.

“I don’t suppose you happen to have any coffee? I could sure do with a cup while I explain all this.”

“Of course. You sit down right here.” I got him settled into a chair, filled his mug and one for me, then returned to the porch. He likes to have our chats out where everyone can see. The invisible is always more controversial than the visible. That’s why there are so many fights about God and oil and so few about grass and cherry Tootsie Pops.

The old man took a long sip, gave his lips a satisfied smack and said, “Goose clothes.”

“What?”

“You should be making and selling clothes for geese. Everybody’s buying them in the stores.”

“Clothes for geese? But geese have feathers, don’t they? I mean, they molt and the feathers fall out or people pull them out and put them in pillows but it’s hard to believe there’d be much call for actual clothes. Couldn’t they just put those canvas things on them like they do the sheep at the Fair?”

“These aren’t real geese. They’re pretend geese.”

“Pretend geese?” The old man shook his head and drank some more coffee.

“I guess we ain’t got all the city out of you yet. You mean to tell me you’ve been here all this time and you’ve never seen a goose dressed like Santa with the eight antlered geese pulling his sleigh?”

“Umm…no.”

“Dressed like a nurse?”

“No.”

“I know you saw the goose over at the Custer’s place that was dressed like Uncle Sam.”

“No. I’m sorry. Was it cute?” The old man set his mug on the arm of his chair and some coffee sloshed out of it.

“Cute? It was darn right inspirational. Bill Custer said he could barely sleep nights for all the members of the VFW hall driving by with tears running down their cheeks. Those men gave a lot for their country and they were mighty proud to see that goose there representing all they’d fought and maybe died for.” He leaned closer to me and said quietly, “But you see it’s the clothes that make the goose. And you could be making the clothes.”

“But I don’t know anything about goose clothes and even if I made them how would I sell them?”

“Well,” the old man said, taking up his mug again and tilting it to check the level of the coffee still inside, “That’s the easiest part of all- getting the word out. You see my wife-“

“Former wife,” I said.

“Yes, yes. My former wife, who lives next door there,” he indicated a peeling lilac single-wide with his head, “she has a birthday coming up in about three weeks. I happen to know that she would dearly love a dressed-up goose of her very own. I done some research on that Internet and I found out that a painted goose runs about $60.00 and an unpainted goose will run you about $50.00.”

“Gosh,” I said. “For that much money you could just take her to the beach and dig some clams.” The old man shook his head and his coffee mug. I got refills for both of us and he said, ”I don’t intend to spend anywhere near that much money on my as you say ‘former’ wife.”

“Then how will you give her one of those geese? Are you going to carve one out of wood?”

“Now, never you mind how I’m going to handle the goose end of this,” he said. “Your job is making the clothes. I’ve been thinking about this and it seems to me we should keep it simple.”

“Seems that way to me, too.”

“But at the same time since this is gonna be your first goose suit for people to see you want something to really make an impression. Lucky for you we have the holiday coming up.” The holidays just ahead were Easter and April Fools Day. If I couldn’t knit a basic dishcloth there was no way I could produce a Harlequin costume. Maybe one of those long hats with the bells on it?

“And you know my wife spends a lot of time down to the church,” he continued. I did know that. Since the church was at the end of the road on one side of me and the old man’s former wife lived at the end of the road on the other side of me I saw her go by and wave each way of each trip. She was seriously religious. Not only did she go to both services on Sunday, she went to prayer meeting and Bible study on Tuesday night. I’d always thought of Wednesday as being the night designated for this activity so I was kind of surprised. Maybe they wanted to get their requests in early so they’d have a jump on the other Protestants. But what would that have to do with dressing a goose? A light bulb started to go on over my head but I quickly hid it under a bushel. No…

“So I was thinking what could be more perfect and inspirational than Jesus,” he concluded.

“Jesus?”

“Couldn’t be easier. All you got to do is make one of those dishcloth things like you’re making now except longer and without so many holes. I can whittle a crook out one of them grape branches in about fifteen minutes. We put the rod part in one of his hands and wrap your swaddling cloth around him and over one shoulder and that woman over there has a happy birthday and you have more business than you can handle.”

“Well…”

“There is no reason why this won’t roll smooth as water off a duck’s back,” he said. He stood, handed me the cup which now contained one-sixteenth of an inch of coffee and a dog’s hair, and said, “I’d better let you get to work.” When he was halfway across the yard towards his house he turned and yelled, “Blue. Her favorite color is blue. This is going to be a day to remember.”

The old man was right about his plan as far as it went. There were no obvious flaws in it. Unless you count gifting someone with a faux cement goose who has no idea they’re getting anything of the kind. I just want to be clear right here that the shameful thing that eventually happened could not have been foreseen and as such cannot really be blamed on either the instigator- the old man- or the instigated- me.

A couple times a week for the next three weeks, I carried my growing Jesus dishcloth across the street so my co-conspirator could make approving clucking noises over it. The blue was just the right shade, he told me, and there were, in fact, a lot fewer holes than in my earlier work. Several times I prodded him about the bird he’d be providing but he remained mysterious.

Easter Sunday arrived bright but overcast. The old man was soon at my door with an empty cup and some questions.

“Did you finish the robe?”

“The what?”

“The dishcloth. Jesus’s dishcloth.”

“Oh, yeah. I finished it last night.”

“Do you have any brown yarn?”

“Brown? The robe is supposed to be blue, right?”

“Yes.”

“But now you need brown?”

“Yes.” The old man was tight-lipped except for the space through which my coffee was disappearing.

“Will I find out why?”

“Soon,” he said. He refilled his cup, took the skein of java-colored worsted from my hand and departed.

When you spend as much time- and money- at church as the woman in the lavender mobile home did, you tend to become pretty highly thought of. The more you contribute the more you are likely to be held up as someone for others to aspire to resemble. It is not inconceivable that altar calls will be held in your honor and just such an event occurred this particular Easter morning.

For those who have never experienced an altar call, perhaps it is best described as being something like an infomercial on the Home Shopping Channel. The minister gives an impassioned and sometimes tearful speech detailing the benefits of salvation. He goes on to explain that salvation may be something you haven’t had and haven’t known you needed until now. He winds up by saying that now that you do realize the necessity of salvation you should really get some and, if you’ll only get out of your seat and come forward, people are standing by to help you. Then he clasps his hands and looks prayerful and the choir sings something encouraging but nonintrusive and folks start walking up the aisle. Usually there’s just one or two at first but then they start coming in bunches. Whole families sometimes. But not this Easter Sunday morning. This day the preacher prayed and the voices chorused but not a single soul responded.

“If you’ve been thinking about this for a while, I urge you to make the decision now,” the preacher said. “Don’t let another moment pass before you claim your salvation.” The choir sang “Blessed Assurance”.

“I am waiting. Salvation is waiting. Our sister here, who could become your sister, is waiting. Don’t wait any longer.” The choir sang “Rock of Ages”.

“They say that opportunity knocks once but Jesus keeps knocking until you answer. Will you let Jesus remain outside on the porch of your heart or will you invite him in?” The preacher turned to the choir and hushed them. The church was silent except for the breathing of the congregation and the scritch of the pencil someone was using to play connect-the-dots on page 427 of their hymnal. The sound that came next was all the more horrible for the quiet that preceded it. The minister’s wife had just taken two steps towards her husband and said, “You may be wondering what’s going on today” when we heard it. A great rending and slurping first. The slam of a screen door. Someone with a stick flailing wildly about in a multitude of yelping dogs. A stream of Bowdlerized and strangled oaths. A pencil and hymnal thumped onto the carpet, the church door slammed, and a little boy was on his way to view the carnage. Suddenly the old man shoved his way through the door. He strode to the front of the church, grabbed his former wife by the arm, dragged her along behind him, all the while shouting, “Hurry up! Hurry up! Those damn dogs are eating Jesus!” Thrusting her through the door ahead of him he yelled, ”Happy birthday! Oh, those damn damn dogs!”

Jesus’s blue dishcloth robe and the wig of brown yarn had been shredded and the bits were strewn on the grass like a tailor’s ticker tape parade. All that remained of the fine carcass they had adorned was a few chunks of the white plastic of the outer bag and the yellowish plastic that had held the giblets.

With an eye towards economy, the old man had suited up a frozen turkey intending to allow it to thaw on display and to cook it that afternoon. The thawing time ran long because the altar call ran long. The altar call ran long because, unbeknownst to the minister, he shared the former wife’s birthday and as soon as the sermon was over he’d be given his presents and pictures would be taken and no one wanted to be up front for that.

As it turned out the old man was right and wrong: I didn’t get any business but we surely made an impression. And it was, indeed, a day to remember.

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