"Spring" from Life These Days (CD set)
This is what life should be like more often, this April day, lilacs in the air, the sun shining as it has all week, a glorious spring after a gentle winter, and if this were a reward for goodness, one might almost consider being good on a regular basis. It is Palm Sunday, and Carl Krebsbach comes chugging up the street on his John Deere tractor to low up his garden and his sister Eloise's and several of the neighbors; gardens as well. A good day to be out on a tractor. His wife has not spoken to him for two days because of what he said to his daughter Carlene who is seventeen and a member of the Prom Committee that has been meeting all week planning the affair and trying to reach consensus on a band to hire and everyone favors Eldon Miller and His Orchestra except Eric Hedlund, who is holding out for Big Pooty and the Snarks, because they are alternative rock and do all original material, unlike Eldon Miller who comes in a white tux and plays mostly Glenn Miller tunes, and last night Carlene came home in tears and said that she was so tired of the haggling that the Prom had lost all of its meaning for her, and Carl said, "Fine. Stay home. We'll return the dress." And the Duchess turned from kneading the bread dough and shot him a black look and hasn't said a pleasant word to him since. He wears his white Stetson and a red plaid hunting jacket.
He has bulked up some over the winter and burst the button on his pants and the damn zipper won't stay up, he has to reach down and try to lock it in place as he goes chug-chug-chug-chugging along, the engine racket echoing off the houses, a spring breeze in his face, and then he turns onto Washing Street and sees the cars parked by the Lutheran Church and lets up on the gas and the engine backfires as he coasts toward the big white frame church and the glassed-in box, inside wich, in black plastic letters, is the title of the sermon: "God Does Not Need Our Platitudes!" and guiltily Carl takes his hand off his zipper.
The windows are open in the sanctuary and the congregation has heard the tractor approaching for several minutes now since just before Pastor Ingqvist began to sermon, which is about Job and about the terrible tornadoes two weeks ago that caused so much destruction in southern Minnesota. Job lost all that he had, his farms, his wealth, his family, and as he sat covered with boils, too anguished to eat or drink, weeping bitter tears, his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to comfort him and interpret the meaning of his suffering for him and were so smug that God couldn't bear to listen to them. "God preferred Job's honest anger to his friends' easy piety -- God is not worshipped in platitudes!" the pastor exclaims as the tractor backfires, and some parishioners startle as if the church is in a hostage situation and men in ski masks are at the doors.
The pastor shudders at the sound -- there is a mother porcupine and her baby living in an abandoned woodchuck burrow under a pile of lumber beside his garage and he has worried all week that if his neighbor across the alley, Mr. Magendanz, finds out about them he'll get a gun and shoot them, and for a moment he imagines that ---the mean old bastard sticking the muzzle of the fun down the hole and blasting away. And then the pastor's dog barks from next door. The dog had discovered the porcupines last week, the baby in a spruce tree, the mother gnawing on the church sign out front, and barked his head off at two a.m. and the pastor had to come out in his pajamas and collar the doge and drag him in. Porcupines love salt and there must have been sweat on the sign where the custodian had opened it to post the title of the sermon every week.
The pastor has continued reading his sermon, which has now veered off toward Christ riding in triumph into Jerusalem --- how did he get here from Job? he can't remember == and the organist Mrs. Marklund, who has been working a crossword puzzle, was so startled by the explosions that she reached over and switched the organ on and then, as the tractor coasted by, she dropped her pencil and it fell between the foot pedals and now, reaching down for it, she loses her balance and plants her left foot on the lowest pedal and a bass note like a nauseated hippopotamus bursts out and two of the altos burst out laughing, those horrible whinnying laughs that come out when a person is under pressure not to laugh, and Pastor Ingqvist looks up at the choir loft, a patient long-suffering look, and the poor altos stifle themselves, and then one of them gets the hiccups, and her hiccups sound like someone dropping a fork.
The choir loft is well-situated acoustically, and the hiccups ring out, as the tractor fades away and Pastor Ingqvist says, "We think it's our job to find answers, but we don't need to find answers. We need to find God" --- and he pauses and the poor hiccuping alto gets up to go. She is wearing high heels with taps, so she goes click click click click click across the loft and then click click click click click down the stairs to the hall and then click click click click click click to the basement and click click click click click the length of the basement to the women's toilet and closes the door and you could hear her all the way. And Pastor Ingqvist looks down at the line about not needing to find answers, needing to find God, and he thinks, "I'm one of Job's friends. I preach against platitudes and then I come out with one like that."
Everyone knows who that alto is from the cadence of her walk. You just know, from those clicks, and you can see the long lovely legs and fascinating sway of the dress of Marilyn Tollerud, who does not look like the mother of six children and when she walks through the crowd at the fellowship hour, what goes through a man's mind is not anything you could discuss in detail in the Lutheran church. She was working in her flower bed one fall day and the garbage truck came and collected the trash and the driver got in the cab to drive out and saw Marilyn bending down to press the tulip bulbs into the soft moist earth and he hit the gas with the truck in reverse and backed into the chicken coop and knocked it off the footings and three old laying hens shrieked and came flapping out the door and the dog dashed in and ate two of the eggs. The garbage man inspected the damage and here came the old black Lab with egg yolk dripping from his chops and there was Marilyn in her blue denim blouse and her jeans saying, "Are you all right?" And no, he was not.
His name was Arlen, he was twenty-three, he worked for his dad, he dad been a good boy, saving up so he could afford to have a family of his own one day, but his heart was filled with lust and now he was dissatisfied with his work and had a strong urge to quit and go get himself into serious trouble, all because of those jeans, those legs, those tulip bulbs.
Back in their younger years, Marilyn and her sister Audrey got a lot of young men excited. The Swenson girls. They went to dances wherever there was one, big tall good-looking girls with strawberry blonde hair, both of them full of self-confidence, being farm girls who had driven tractors and handled guns, slaughtered chickens, planted apple trees, they had that easygoing hands-on-the-hips attitude that is sexy in a way that you can't achieve by putting on a black lowcut dress and a string of pearls --and they'd walk into the Moonlite Bay or Fitger's or the Palace or the Arabian Nights with big smiles on their faces and in two minutes each of them was out on the floor doing the polka with a young man. The Swenson sisters were full of fun and so friendly, they enjoyed flirting, they looked straight at you with frank interest and appreciation, and so some young men whose brains were soaked in hormones thought that they were the chosen one and they cam crosswise of others who had the same idea and they stalked out the back door and men poured out after them into the parking lot where the two would wrestle around and slap at each other and others would take sides and soon a whole crowd of them was grabbing and gouging and pounding and swearing and rolling in the gravel and meanwhile the Swenson girls would sit in a booth and sip root beer and look at each other and say, "Well, what's that all about? Wheat gets into men anyway?"
Many a man in his fifties or sixties walks with a slight limp from an injury suffered long ago for love of Marilyn Tollerud, including two or three in the Lutheran church listening to her flee hiccupping out the back door and go to the parking lot behind the church and get into her car and slam the door and try to start it and it won't start. Then it does start and she goes to back up but another car has her blocked in and she pulls forward and back and forward and back trying to maneuver around it and you can hear all of this through Pastor Ingqvist's prayer, which he reads aloud, one of those much too grand O Thou Who Didst In Days Past Lead Thy Chosen People Through The Desert sort of prayers, though he too is listening to the gravel under the tires of the car in the parking lot going back and forth, back and forth, the front wheels turning, a car trapped, a sinner inside the car trying to flee from his platitudes and his easy piety, who can't get out.
Twenty years and six children later, this alto still makes a man's heart flutter, and when Carl Krebsbach, at the wheel of his John Deere, plowing his garden, looks up and sees Marilyn Tollerud standing beside her car stuck in the soft ground beside the Luther church because she'd been boxed in and tried to drive across the grass - - Carl Krebsbach turns out of his garden and into the alley and rides to her rescue in his white cowboy hat, his hunting jacket, his pants with the missing button. He pulls up and attaches a chain to her front bumper and he gets back up on the tractor and inside the church, the organ launches into the closing hymn, "Faith of our fathers, holy faith, we will be true to thee til death," and Carl sits for a moment on the tractor to listen to it. He is Catholic, he has never heard this hymn before, and its sweetness moves him. Only this morning did it dawn on him that Carlene has no date for the Prom and that is why she is sick of the whole thing. He awoke this morning and could hear his daughter crying and though of getting out of bed and going across the hall and tapping on the door and apologizing but he did not. He lay in bed and wept himself.
And now he sees that Marilyn is weeping too. Hiccuping and weeping, because her car is mired in the Lutheran grass and her Sunday is now completely shot, and he fires up the tractor and pulls her out of the soft ground, but he is overeager -- his own rear tires are on soft ground, the low part of the lawn where a pond of snow melt stood in early April -- and he guns her a little more and the big wheels sink down a few inches and chunks of wet sod fly up and splatter Marilyn's car and Marilyn and the wall of the church and now the service is over, the first Lutherans emerge and see the turf dug up, Carl has gotten out the chains and stands, his arms full of chains, Marilyn beside him, beautiful, soiled, weeping, the earth ripped raw, the smell of wet dirt, lilacs on the breeze, a man in a cowboy hat whose pants are unbuttoned, the tractor chugging and panting, the tall woman who has slaughtered chickens and planted apple trees wiping her eyes on a tissue and turning away, the men thinking lascivious thoughts, and she tosses the tissue into the weeds where, late that night, the mother porcupine will find it, a Kleenex soaked with tears, and she will eat it eagerly as she nurses her baby.
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