By John Thomas Tuft
The one lane track cuts off of the county road and winds through trees, dips down then up, and traverses pastures with cowpaths meandering the hillsides like varicose veins. After a teeth-rattling burp over the cattle crossing guard, through the towering pines I spy the farm house. It sits on a rise in one corner of the 120 acres of pasture, paddocks, and tree lined ravines carved by old creeks that run toward the Big Otter River. For those in the know, you park your pickup near the side kitchen door, not the front, because that is where life is lived. The smell of roasting venison stirs my imagination and the sight of mashed potatoes alongside peas with pearl onions, lifts my spirits. The cook is 70 year old Judi, and the chief antagonist is 67 year old Sue, partners in a life of compassion…and a lifetime of love.
Sitting around the table enjoying our repast, the humorous insults and jokes flow, most of which I cannot repeat here for decorum’s sake. They had dropped everything, once again, to come administer care and perform ministrations to a sick friend. Both are former nuns. And they were high school sweethearts. Both sacrificed mightily for that love. I am in the presence of blessing made manifest. Before dessert, I have to go down to the barn and into the paddocks to fill the water tubs and flip the feeding troughs over so the dew won’t wet them. The crack of dawn is not the time you want to discover that the troughs are soaked and try to dry them while three hundred hungry, wooly customers bleat in exasperation and jostle for position.
Sue offers to come along. Judi’s bad knees prevent her from making it to the barn, but she’s a holy whirlwind cleaning and cooking and doing the bookkeeping. “So,” I ask Sue, “how did you two meet?” “High school in Baltimore. She was ahead of me, so cute and so alive. But of course, we couldn’t tell anyone. Especially our parents.” She drags the hose to the next big galvanized tub while I flip the troughs, shrugs as if to dismiss the intervening years. “I married, had a son, got divorced. I was lost and seeking direction. I became a nun.” I waited, but nothing more came. “And Judi was a nun by then, too?” We finish the chores, take note that the flock is settling in for the night in the far fields, and head back. “So,” I said, me being me, “you both married Jesus.” “Yeah, rings and everything, when we took our vows,” she confirmed.
We took off our barn boots, because no person in their right mind wears them in the house, and settled in for apple pie and ice cream and an adult beverage. “Tell me what happened,” I encourage. They exchange a look, a look that comes to mind every time I try to write a love story. “Our love was still there,” says Judi, with an almost shy, but matter of fact tone and a look of delight. “Not exactly Abelard and Heloise,” laughs Sue, “but our love is just as real. We finally had to write and ask the Bishop to be excused from our vows.” I swirl that around in my mind. “So, you divorced God?” They exchange that same look again as the evening breeze whispers its vespers.
“It’s more like we divorced the church,” Judi finally says as they seek each other’s hand. “We are not wedded to anything with vows said with fear and trepidation, but to each other with deeds and actions.” The evening passes with more talk, and much, much laughter, saints and sinners all. Bound by the sacraments of forgiveness and friendship. Based on the hope of acceptance and blessed by the creative smile of each new dawn. We yawn and stretch and head off to bed. Later, I am stopped in my tracks, out in the hallway outside the door to their room. From within there comes a mighty sound, the murmuring of the words of the compline. Spoken with extreme confidence and unfettered humility.
Many, many months later, their friend’s suffering is ended, she has passed. With great care they bathe her body and prepare it for what lies beyond. They welcome strangers who come to bid in the farewell. And abide in the moment of great pause. Then they pack their car and return from whence they came, looking forward to journeys yet to come. Their lives remain wedded until their own end and their touch upon my life remains certain. I climb into the truck for one last trip back out the lane, passing over the cattle guard with one grunt of regret. I forgot to say thank you.
Words are magic and writers are wizards.