Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, Part 2: Clouds, Horses and a Plan

The mysterious beautiful guitar-strumming girl spoke to me. She told me her name was Cher--short for Sharon. She said she lived in the little house behind us with her mother and older sister. She talked of God. Her sister had recently become a Christian and now she too had come to Jesus and been born again as well. Of course I'd heard of and seen Jesus People before--had even argued with some of them in my senior year at continuation school. I softened my usual off-the-shelf anti-religion, anti-God handy arguments in an effort not to offend her and instead introduced her to my deeper, thoughtful, philosophical-seeker side. I listened to her tell of God's love and his sending Jesus and I in turn told her how, when I was in a cynical frame of mind, I didn't believe there was a God, but that sometimes, in a better mood and looking at the beauty of nature--especially a blue and cloudy sky--I felt like some sort of a Creator just might exist after all. I suppose I was desperate to find some common ground with her, no matter how small, so that this Jesus girl would not write me off and want nothing more to do with me.

The something we did have in common was horses. Her mother had a big Tennessee Walker and her sister had a Quarter Horse. They were all experienced riders. I was a novice, having just bought my first horse, a Palomino mare I'd named Joplin. Before long Cher and I had arranged to go on a ride together. This was the first time I'd ridden bareback--or barefoot. This was new to me--more like hippy horseback riding than cowboy style riding. As we leisurely walked our horses through a field of soft sandy soil, my horse paused and began pawing the dusty loam with her left front hoof. Before Cher could finish saying, "Hey, don't let her lay down" Joplin had rolled over on her side, I'd slid off her back and fond myself holding the reigns of a horse who was joyfully rolling back and forth in the soft soil, snorting with delight and creating a shallow bowl-like impression in the soft ground. While I was still trying to figure out what had just happened, Joplin decided that, since her itch was now sufficiently scratched, and she'd gotten enough tan powdery dust worked into her coat, she would get back on all fours and let us continue our afternoon ride. I picked up the crumpled bareback blanket from the ground and, with a leg-up assist from Cher, managed to get back atop Joplin's back. I was somewhat chagrinned and humbled; I know Cher got a good laugh over my little equine behavior surprise, as I suspect Joplin did as well.

On our horseback ride I learned that Cher's sister was a singer in a new Christian church-based group named Koinonia who had just released an album. I could tell she was proud of her sister, but I sensed a little sibling rivalry there as well, especially since both of them played guitar and sang. Even as I was becoming increasingly attracted to her, I learned that Cher had a serious relationship with a young man who considered them as good as engaged. Of course this new information only made the Unobtainable all the more deeply desirable to me.

I'd only known her a few weeks and, living only a few houses apart, we had not exchanged phone numbers. I would often walk past her house hoping she'd be sitting out on the lawn playing her guitar and indeed I often did find her there, under the same little tree where we'd first exchanged words and first made eye contact. These walks allowed me to stroll over as if I'd just happened to pass by on my way somewhere. The first time I got up the nerve to ask, in a very offhand way so as to protect my ego, "Do you want to go get a Coke or something later this evening?" Her reply was, "OK, but do you think you could give me a ride to church too? There's a service tonight at seven." "Sure, why not? Where is it?" I asked. "It's in Riverside--at All Saints Episcopal." "OK, I know where it's at, I'll pick you up about six-thirty." I didn't show it, but I was a bit flummoxed. My folks had been members of that church in the 50's and we'd gone there most every Sunday back then--before my dad left mom for a younger woman in 1965. I knew it as a formal, rather stuffy, upper-crust sort of place. I'd sit there on the hard old wood pew, in my starched white long-sleeved shirt and clip-on bow tie and look at the big brown wood beam work up by the ceiling as a voice far up front intoned something like, "We most humbly thank and praise Thee, Almighty and Gracious Gawd, for Thy exceedingly great and precious gifts which Thou, in Thine great mercy and compassion, hast so lovingly bestowed upon us..." I just could not imagine this Jesus Person girl, with her bell-bottom jeans going to that church. On the other hand, it didn't really matter much why she went there--the important thing was that I'd be with her for a precious half-hour as we drove there. That's what really mattered. I really didn't want to go to a church service there though. I came up with a plan...