Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The dew was heavy on the grass as they got up the next morning; it looked like it was going to be a hot day. They brewed coffee under Rocinante’s wing, where the dew on the ground wasn’t quite as heavy.
It had taken them a while to get to sleep. Even at the distance their camp was from the church, they could still hear the singing off in the distance late into the night – not loud, and not intrusive, by any means, but enough to know it was there. "They sure like their singing," Mark had said as they lay on their backs in their sleeping bags, once they’d gotten the tent set up.
The woods were quiet this morning, but there was a smell of pine and wood smoke in the air – a sweet smell, and a familiar one, a smell that somehow reminded them of their home far away.
Mark sipped at his coffee and surveyed all the debris on the runway. "I suppose we’d better get started on it today," he said. "We don’t waste our time before the repair material gets here."
"Mark, I don’t know if the two of us can get it all cleaned up," Jackie replied quietly. She looked out at the mess; there was a lot of work there. Most of the debris was trees and bits of trees, branches, and the like, but there was also plenty of sawn lumber and junk strewn about. "It would take the two of us all summer to pick it all up."
"Probably so," Mark agreed. "But, I don’t see where we have to move it all. If it’s just for the one takeoff, all we need is a narrow path, so long as it’s fairly straight, and we don’t the need the whole length of the runway."
"You’re saying clear just enough to take off from, and the heck with the rest?" she asked.
"Yeah," Mark told her. "If we get Mr. Thibodaux or someone to take you and the gear over to Perry, maybe seven hundred or eight hundred feet would be enough. I’m pretty sure I can get it off that quick in still air, and maybe less if there’s a breeze blowing."
Jackie nodded. "That does make it a little simpler," she said.
"First thing we’ve got to do," Mark said, "is figure out which seven or eight hundred feet we want to clear. In other words, what’s going to be the easiest? With that roof out there in the middle of things, and those downed trees, it may not be as easy as I hope."
They finished their coffee and went out to look the situation over. The tornado had crossed the western end of the runway, and the situation there was hopeless; but back to the east, it looked more promising. There was still plenty of debris all over the place, but it was smaller, in sizes they could handle. After quite a bit of pacing off and checking sight lines, they settled on a promising line. While there was a fair amount of limbs and boards and trash along it, it was the least marred by larger trees. "Maybe we can borrow a chain saw or an axe from Mr. Thibodaux or someone," Mark said. "If we can cut those trees up into three or four pieces, we ought to be able to move them ourselves. The rest of it’s just going to be hauling crap off the runway."
They paced off the line they had chosen. Starting right at the end of the runway, there was about nine hundred feet until they reached what was left of the church roof. "That ought to be plenty, if I’ve got the plane light," Mark said. "We’ll have to find a way to get you and the gear over to Perry, whatever direction it is, but that shouldn’t be a problem."
"That’s not going to be enough for the both of us and the gear to get off, then?"
"No," Mark told her. "If the roof weren’t there, we could probably clear another three or four hundred feet on the other side of it, and we’d be pretty sure of getting off all right fully loaded, especially if we have any sort of a sea breeze."
Fortunately, they still had brown jersey gloves in the plane, left over from the cold weather in Spearfish Lake. They put the gloves on, went out to a point a few feet from the church roof, and started hauling debris.
They had been at it about an hour when they heard a voice call to them, "Good mornin’, Mist’ Mark, Miss Jackie."
They looked up to see Brother Erasmus standing over by the church roof. "Good morning, Brother Erasmus," Mark replied. "What brings you out here today?"
The black preacher shook his head. "I talked to Mr. Cowgill last evenin’, and he said he didn’t want me usin’ them boards from the old teppentine camp. ‘Devil’s in them boards,’ he said. So, I reckoned I’d better come over and start to get what boards I could off the old roof."
"Kind of a mess, isn’t it?" Mark commented.
The preacher shook his head. "Devil’s wind didn’t leave much we can use, but we’d better use what we can."
"It’s all stuff that’s got to be moved so we can take off," Jackie said, not quite truthfully. "So we’ll be glad to help you where we can."
"I’m much obliged for any help I can get, right now," the preacher replied. "I was a little disappointed in Mr. Cowgill last night. I know that teppentine camp lumber ain’t much good, but everything counts."
Mark shook his head. "Afraid we haven’t got much in the way of tools that’ll help much, but we’ll do what we can."
They set to work. The lumber was pretty broken up, and there wasn’t a lot that counted as good for salvage, Mark thought. In the back of his mind, the thought arose that two or three hundred bucks worth of good lumber would go a long way toward putting a new roof on the church, especially if it were locally sawn stuff, and Thibodaux had said something about a sawmill around here. Two or three hundred dollars was two weeks’ traveling money, or so. In the long run, he wouldn’t miss it. He wasn’t ready to mention it just yet, but the guilt of being on the trip – just playing, really – was heavy on him, compared to the plight of these good folks. Maybe he could dicker with that sawmill some.
"That E.J., is he your son?" Mark asked, to make conversation as they worked.
"He is, and he ain’t," Brother Erasmus said. "His daddy run off before he was born. He was a teppentine worker, over to the old camp before they closed it down. Then, his momma decided she had to go up to Mobile for a while, and she ain’t never come back for him, and I don’t guess she’s ever gonna."
"He seems like a real nice kid," Jackie said as she pulled a loose board from the wreckage and carried it over to the pile they were establishing at the edge of the runway. "Very polite."
"He didn’t pester you none for a Dr. Pepper, did he?"
"No," Mark said. "He was just nice and helpful, and I gave him a dime and told him to go get one, just to thank him. You’ve done a nice job of raising him. Is he in school, now?"
"He’d be in school, down in the village," Brother Erasmus said. "He’s a smart boy, gets good grades. I hope he can stay interested in school long enough to go to high school, so he could get some of the schooling I never could get in a teppentine camp."
"How far did you get in school?" Jackie asked.
"Sixth grade is as far as they had in the teppentine camp where I grew up. Not the old one here, but over the other side of Perry. I was already workin’ in the teppentine when I got to the sixth grade, so I only went to school the last year when it was cold, and the sap weren’t runnin’."
Mark’s crowbar popped off a nail. He wanted to cuss, but decided he’d better not. "How’d you get to be a preacher?" he asked as he tried for a new bite on the stubborn nail.
"That’s kind of a long story," Brother Erasmus said. "I worked in the teppentine camp till I was seventeen. Now, teppentine’s hard work, and anybody that works teppentine wants to work at somethin’ else. When I was seventeen, I run off to Jacksonville, and got a job on a construction gang. That was all right, the pay was good, but after work and Saturday nights, I spent my money in the juke joints. I was a young man, and I run a little wild, I guess. Well, one mornin’, I woke up in jail after a fight, and I thought that weren’t no place for me. I was ashamed of myself; I was a sanctified boy, I’d been saved when I was little, and the sins I’d made of my life was a sore in the eyes of the Lord. Preacher man come through, and gave me a Bible. I didn’t read too good then, but the words on them pages come clear to me. Well, after I got out of jail, I quit goin’ to the juke joints and started goin’ to church. It was maybe four, five years later that the minister said they was gonna be a lay preacher’s course, and by then I was so deep in the Word of God I wanted to take it, and I guess the Lord was movin’ my soul. Well, after that course was over with, the church felt the Spirit of the Lord on them, and decided to help me pay to go to a church school up in South Carolina. They was too poor to pay everything, and I had to get a job washin’ dishes up there in South Carolina while I went to school, but they graduated me after a year, and the church in Jacksonville ordained me."
"How’d you wind up in Twillingate?" Jackie asked, levering a board free.
"They was a man from Twillingate went to the church in Jacksonville, and said there was some people here that had a little church, but they could only get a circuit rider but once a month. So, I come over here, went to work in the old teppentine camp to feed myself, and took over the church. I met Ethylene over in the teppentine camp, and we been here ever since."
Mark shook his head. "Doesn’t seem like a little church in a tiny town like this would pay you enough to live on."
"They pay me a salary," Brother Erasmus said. "They cain’t pay much, and I give most of it back to the poor. See, in the Good Book, you read about Paul, travelin’ around Greece and what’s now Turkey, spreadin’ God’s word and God’s wisdom. Well, all the while Paul was spreadin’ God’s word, he was makin’ tents so he’d have food on the table, even when the Romans had him in chains. See, Paul was a tentmaker, and he knew it wasn’t right expectin’ other people to support him for doin’ God’s work, so he stayed bein’ a tentmaker. Now, Paul was a great man of God, so who am I to think I’m any better than he was?"
Mark was impressed. Previously, he’d thought of being a minister as being an easy job, one that didn’t involve a lot of work. It took a lot of faith, a lot of motivation, to take on being a minister on top of doing a hard day’s work for a living. "What are you working at now?" he asked.
"I worked at the teppentine camp till it closed," Brother Erasmus said, "But then, I decided that I’d better try to get along at other things, so if the Lord needed me, I wouldn’t have to answer to the boss. I fish a little mullet, fix people’s houses, work for Mr. Cowgill when it gets busy for him on the shade ’bacca. Just whatever comes along. Sometimes I don’t know where my next meal is comin’ from, but so long as the Lord has got it figured out, I don’t figure it’s my place to worry about it, and he’s always provided for me. ‘Have faith in me and I will provide,’ it says in the Good Book."
"Brother Erasmus!" a man’s voice called from behind them. All three of them looked up to see a short, thin man, with thin red hair and a red face, sitting in a pickup truck.
"Mist’ Cowgill," the black preacher said. "I didn’t expect to see you here today."
"Didn’t expect to see you here at all," Cowgill said. "Been looking all over everywhere for you. Didn’t find you there, so I knew you had to be here. Is this those people with that little plane over there?"
"This is Mist’ Mark, and Miss Jackie," Brother Erasmus said. "They been helpin’ me salvage lumber off our old roof."
"I told you I didn’t want you using that old stuff," Cowgill said, shaking his head.
"I kin understand why you don’t want me using that old stuff from the teppentine camp," Brother Erasmus said. "Devil’s in them boards, sure, but this is different."
Cowgill shook his head. "Can’t figure what you’d want to use that old junk for when I’ve got Samuel down at the church, unloading a load of new wood from the sawmill."
"Why, now you’ve shamed me in front of these good folk," Brother Erasmus smiled, with a big grin on his face. "I was just tellin’ them to have faith that the Lord will provide, and I guess since I was out here my faith was a little weak."
"That’ll be the day," the man in the pickup said. "Lord made me feel a little guilty last night, after all the good you’ve done around here, so t’wern’t no reason I couldn’t come up with a truckload of wood and some odds and ends."
"I’m much obliged, Mr. Cowgill. The Lord does provide."
"Well, let’s go provide Samuel with some help unloading that wood. We loaded it with a fork truck down at the mill, but we’re going to have to unload it by hand." He turned to Mark and Jackie. "If you’d like to come along, there’s room in the back."
There was a lot of wood on the stake truck sitting in the churchyard, but, with the five of them working at it, the job went quickly. "I throwed in a few other odds and ends I had laying around, getting in the way," Cowgill said. "Maybe you can use them." Mark smiled; the "odds and ends" included six rolls of tar paper and close to a hundred pounds of nails, all still in fresh boxes with the price tags on them.
The sun was up high, and all of them were sweating hard by the time they finished unloading. "Ya’ll want to ride down to the store, I’ll buy us a Doctor Pepper," Cowgill said as the last board was stacked. "I wanted to talk to these folk, anyway, and they been a big help."
The cool breeze coming over the back of the pickup truck was refreshing as they rode into Twillingate. Brother Erasmus rode in front with Cowgill, and Mark, Jackie, and Samuel, a young black man who didn’t have much to say, rode in back. It felt good to sit in the shade of the porch of the general store, sipping on the bottles of pop.
"I know you young folk didn’t have much choice about landin’ here," Cowgill told Mark and Jackie. "And, I don’t mind you campin’ out there as long as it takes you to get your plane fixed. But I just want you to know that this is the busy season for me, and there’s no way I’m going to be able to get a crew out there to pick up all the junk until next fall, before quail season."
"We kind of figured that," Mark said. "We’ve already started work on clearing a path through it. If we can get a path twenty feet wide, maybe eight or nine hundred feet long, that’ll be all we need."
"Kind of figured when I saw that little plane of yours that you wouldn’t need every bit of the runway like those two-engine jobs those Yankees fly down here quail hunting," Cowgill admitted.
Mark nodded. "The only thing is," he said, "There’s a couple of logs out there that are too big for Jackie and me to move, and we were wondering if there were some place we could borrow a chain saw for an hour or two."
Cowgill thought about it for a moment. "Well, pulp is pulp, I guess. I’ll tell you what. There’s probably a day’s work for the pulp crew just cleaning up some of the bigger logs out there. I’ll have them come out there tomorrow, rather than out to the woods. They’ll leave a lot of slash laying around, but it’ll be stuff you can move. That be all right?"
"Sounds great to me," Mark said.
Cowgill took a sip of his Dr. Pepper. "Sorta thought so," he said. "I can see you folks are people who don’t mind getting your hands dirty, not like the Yankees that come down here and expect everything to be done for them, or them college kid hippie liberals that think they know everything and come down here to stir things up. You see some work that needs to be done, you don’t mind doing it. I heard about you helping out Paul Thibodaux yesterday, and I realized you was working folk."
"I’m a phone man," Mark said. "I wanted to make a phone call, and that was what needed to be done. After yesterday, I was glad to be working at something, rather than thinking about the tornado."
"Thibodaux is a good man," Cowgill said. "Like everybody else in Twillingate, including me, he ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, but he keeps the phones going with chewing gum and bailing wire, somehow or other. What do you think of Twillingate, anyway?"
"It’s not much to look at," Jackie admitted, "But everybody we’ve met here has been real nice. I guess it’s not what I would have expected."
"You mean, like nightriders and civil rights demonstrations and like that?" Cowgill said, frowning.
"There’s been an awful lot of it on TV," Jackie said, trying to be honest as well as diplomatic.
"That there has," Cowgill admitted. "But, there’s been none of that stuff here. What you got to remember is that we’re a real small town. That means everybody knows everybody else. We’re a poor town, always have been. Everybody has to work together, or we all starve. You get into bigger towns, even towns up north, and it’s niggers and honkies and trouble. In Twillingate, the colored folk and the white folk are friends. Am I right, Brother Erasmus?"
"Is anymore," the black preacher said. "There once was a time when the teppentine camp was open that it wasn’t quite like that, but mostly it was the teppentine folk that caused the trouble."
"That’s part of the reason I got out of the teppentine slashing business," Cowgill said. "Got to the point where the only people you could get to slash teppentine for you weren’t worth the trouble or the money. Why lose money and invite trouble? We still grub out light stumps for teppentine, but that’s with bulldozers, and it’s a whole ’nother business."
Brother Erasmus agreed. "Black folk and white folk work together a whole lot better since you quit the slash teppentine," he said.
"That’s only part of it," Cowgill told Mark and Jackie. "We’ve got along a whole lot better since Brother Erasmus has been here, and I don’t mind him hearing me say it. Now, I’m a bidness man, and I care about the people I’ve got working for me. Since this is a small town, I have to care about them, since no one else will. I’d rather have my workers sober and providin’ food for their families than I would have them getting drunked up at the juke joint and letting they families go hungry. Brother Erasmus here can’t keep ’em all on the straight and narrow for me, but he can help with some of ’em. That’s why I don’t mind donatin’ a little lumber and a few odds and ends to rebuild his church."
"Like I told you," Brother Erasmus said. "The Lord does provide."
"Would you mind if I see if I can provide a few people to come to a raisin’ Saturday?" Cowgill asked.
"I’d appreciate that," the preacher said. "Mist’ Mark, Miss Jackie, I think what Mr. Cowgill is trying to say to you is that you shouldn’t believe all the things you hear on TV about these parts. Now, they is nightriders, and they is Klansman, and they is places where they is trouble. But for every place that they is trouble they’s a lot of places where they is people that are friends – people who don’t like to see things like that on the television."
"That’s right," Cowgill said. "They’s been less of it since this Vietnam thing was going, but I pity the folks that had to go there."
"I spent eighteen months there," Mark said. "I didn’t have it real bad, but I knew people who did. What you see on TV isn’t like it really is."
"Same thing here," Cowgill agreed, upending his pop bottle. "Well, I got to get some work done today, but can I drop you people off back at the church or the airstrip?"
Mark and Jackie decided to get off the back of the truck at the church with Brother Erasmus. "You folk be havin’ a good day," Cowgill told him as they got out, and Samuel went over to the stake truck. "Brother Erasmus, would you be tellin’ your people that if they need any firewood, I’d be much obliged if they’d pick it up off the airstrip."
"I sure will, and I thank you, Mist’ Cowgill," the preacher said.
"Good to meet you folk," Cowgill said to Mark and Jackie. "Knew you was northerners, but I kind of had a feelin’ you weren’t Yankees, and they’s a difference."
"Good to meet you," Mark said. "And thanks for your help."
Cowgill drove off. "He owns what you call the plantation, right?" Jackie asked.
"He do," Brother Erasmus told her. "That, and a lot else around here."
She nodded. "That’s not quite what I would have expected a plantation owner to be like, either," she said.
"The man may have a little more money than the rest of us," the preacher said. "But not all that much more, and it sure give him more to worry about, too. I’ve worked in places where the owner ain’t like that aytall."
Mark shook his head. It was not what he had expected, either. "Is there anything we can do to help you this afternoon, Brother Erasmus?" he asked. "We’ve got to get up and work on cleaning off that airstrip, but I suppose it won’t matter if we put it off a day."
"If we goin’ to be havin’ a raisin’ Saturday, I s’pose we ought to be layin’ out some rafters. Let’s go back up to the old roof and get the measurements we need, and start layin’ them out."
Mark wasn’t exactly the world’s greatest carpenter, but he had the basic knowledge of the subject and knew what to do when he had a hammer in his hands. It proved that Brother Erasmus was a pretty good carpenter, though; he knew what he was doing and how to get it done. Mark learned more than he’d ever known about laying out a roof that afternoon. "Where’d you learn this?" he asked Brother Erasmus.
"Picked it up here and there," the black man said. "Now, Jesus was a carpenter, and that work was good enough for him, so I learned it where I could."
They worked through the afternoon and made good progress on building the trusses for the church. Brother Erasmus was an interesting man to talk to, and Mark and Jackie learned a lot about a kind of life they’d never dreamed of. They noticed most of the stories Brother Erasmus told, somehow or another, led back to points from the Bible, and Mark and Jackie didn’t mind listening to him talk about it, either. They soon learned they’d had only the shallowest conception of what being a Christian was all about, and realized they were learning a lot more than carpentry or what it was like to be a black man in the south.
The black man was never pushy, but he soon was able to get Mark and Jackie to confirm they had never been church people. Mark told him he and Jackie had agreed to start reading the Bible a little, but they hadn’t gotten around to starting yet.
"They’s a lot that’s in that Book," Brother Erasmus said as he sawed a miter with a handsaw. "They’s a lot more in there than just the words, and sometimes Jesus has to speak to you to help you understand what they really meanin’."
As the afternoon went on, E.J. came home from school, and started to help out. A little later, Ethylene also showed up; it proved she also worked at the plantation. "Sure was nice of Mr. Cowgill to give this to the church," she commented.
"Reckon the Lord will provide," Brother Erasmus told her. "These folk have been a big help all day, too. Reckon they could have some supper with us."
"We don’t want to put you out," Mark protested.
"Bible says, ‘Don’t bind the mouths of the kine that tread out the grain,’" Brother Erasmus said. "You been workin’ hard when they’s no need for you to, and I wouldn’t feel right otherwise."
Brother Erasmus’ house proved to be a little place up in the woods behind the church; somehow, they hadn’t noticed it there before. It was small, but it was neat and well kept. Mark and Jackie both noticed the number of well-tended potted flowers surrounding the house, and noticed none of the flowers needed to be cut back or watered. The house may have been small, but it was obviously a valued home. "I keep workin’ at fixin’ it up here and there," Brother Erasmus told them. "When I was a-workin’ in the teppentine camp, I never reckoned I’d have a house of my own."
Supper turned out to be mullet and corn bread again, the same as they’d had with the Thibodauxes the night before, and, after supper, they sat out on the porch and talked some more, until the light was starting to fade from the sky. "We really need to be getting back while there’s still some light," Mark finally said. "If the pulp crew is going to be out at the airstrip tomorrow, then I suppose we’d better hang around out there, but we’ll come back here the day after and see if there’s anything else we can do to help.
"’Fore you go," Brother Erasmus said, getting up to go inside the house, "I got somethin’ for you."
"What’s that?" Jackie asked.
The preacher came back outside after a minute. "You was sayin’ you wanted to get to readin’ the Word," he said. "But I don’t guess you folks got a Bible to read. You remember how I told you when I was in jail, the preacher man came ’roun’ and gave me a Bible?"
"That was over in Jacksonville, wasn’t it?"
"That it were," Brother Erasmus said. "This here’s the Bible he gave me, and I figure it’s got power in it. I’d like you folks to have it."
"We can’t take that one," Mark protested. "That Bible has got to have an awful lot of meaning for you. It wouldn’t be right for us to take it."
"You take it," Brother Erasmus said. "It had power in it for me, and I figure it’ll have power in it for you."
Mark and Jackie protested a little more, but to no avail. "All right," Mark said finally. "We’ll borrow it from you for a while, but we’ll get it back to you, somehow or other."
"You don’t have to do that," Brother Erasmus said. "You be needin’ the Book."
"We’ll get it back to you, sometime," Jackie promised. "We’ll just borrow it for a while."
* * *
The next morning they were still drinking their coffee when Mr. Cowgill’s pulp crew showed up and started in on the downed trees that littered the airstrip. The crew cleaned up the two trees that had worried Mark in short order, and then started in on the much greater litter of trees toward the other end of the airstrip. Mark had a word with the black man who seemed to be in charge of the crew, and had the crew hook a chain from their tractor to what was left of the church roof, and drag it off to one side of the runway. As they worked, Mark and Jackie turned back to the tedious job of dragging and hauling slash and debris off of the section of runway that they’d decided needed to be cleared.
It was a hot day, but they made good progress in the morning. As the morning grew hot, their progress slowed down, and they decided to take a long break during the heat of the day, and they were just nicely getting back to work when E.J. showed up. "Brother Erasmus told me to come down and see if I could help you folks out," the boy told them. "He said he got to go out to the plantation to tend to a sick lady, but he’d stop by later."
The three of them worked on. It had only taken the tornado seconds to deposit all the stuff on the runway, but it was clearly going to take a lot longer to get it off again. After a while, both Brother Erasmus and Ethylene showed up and pitched in on the clearing for a while, and by the time they quit, they were close to the point where Mark figured he had the minimum needed cleared to take off when they got Rocinante fixed. "We’ll take care of the rest of it," Mark said, and explained his plan to just clear off enough so he could take off lightly loaded. "But now that the roof has been moved, and some of those logs on the other side of it have been taken out of there, we ought to have enough runway so I don’t have to bother finding a ride for Jackie and our gear over to Perry."
"You still goin’ to give me a ride in your plane, Mist’ Mark?" E.J. asked.
"That’s the other reason I’d like to clear off more of the runway," Mark told the boy. "I can’t take you for a ride unless I’ve got more runway clear."
"I’ll come up tomorrow after school and help you with it some more," the boy promised.
"Tell you what," Mark said. "You and Brother Erasmus and Ethylene come up here about the time it gets dark tonight, and I’ve got something I’d like to show you."
The three were back just as it was getting nicely dark. The moon was only a few days old, and the air was still and clear and clean. Mark had the telescope set up when the three arrived, and showed them the moon at a moderate magnification. "Can you see where them Apollo men landed?" E.J. wanted to know.
"Afraid not, E.J.," Mark had to say. "The moon is really a pretty big place, and the lunar lander is not a whole lot larger than a pickup truck. About the best we can make out here are things maybe a mile across. Besides, the place where the astronauts landed is dark, now. The moon is a round ball, just like the earth, and what we’re looking at mostly right now is the part where it’s night."
"Many’s the night I’ve looked up at that sky with that big old moon hanging there," Brother Erasmus said. "I never thought people would be walking around up there. When I was a young’un I never thought I’d see the day it happened."
Mark showed them some of the other things in the sky as the moon sank lower. M-13 was up and quite visible, and so was Omega Centauri. It was a little hard to express any idea of how far away either of them were, or just how big or old they are, but they were pretty, nevertheless. "Lord put some pretty things up there in the sky, didn’t he?" Ethylene said.
It would have been possible to start a debate in response to her comment, and Mark had been in a few, but this time, he refrained from commenting. "He sure did," he said.
* * *
The next morning, Mark and Jackie were sitting under Rocinante’s wing, drinking coffee and trying to get up the ambition to go out and clear more debris off of the runway when Paul Thibodaux drove up in his pickup truck. After they exchanged greetings, Thibodaux got right to the point. "I’m wonderin’ if I can borrow you from Brother Erasmus for a while today," he said. "Had a snag go down last night. Must have been hangin’ on since the storm, and it took out the line out to the plantation."
"Sure, what the heck," Mark told him. "I didn’t really want to work on the runway again today, anyway."
What should have been a fairly simple job turned into one that was tougher than Mark had expected. While only two wires needed to be spliced, the falling tree had pulled down a rotted phone pole, and this one had to be replaced. That meant digging a post hole by hand in the sandy soil, and then wrestling the pole upright with a block and tackle. "Got to do this more or less right," Thibodaux told him. "This is one of them lines we prob’ly won’t replace when we put the dial system in."
Once they got the pole tamped into place, restringing the wire and splicing in a connection was fairly straightforward. Still, it was coming up on midday before they got the job finished. Hot and sweaty, they sat down in the shade to cool off before heading back toward Twillingate. "So how you be likin’ our little place?" Thibodaux asked.
"Everybody we’ve met here has been real good people," Jackie said. "I guess we really haven’t met a lot of people, but we’ve liked the ones we’ve met."
Thibodaux smiled. "Everybody in town knows about you," he said. "’Course, stories travel fast in a small town like this. Some people was thinkin’ you was Yankees down here to make trouble, but people have been seein’ you’ve been workin’ hard and not sayin’ much. Heard a couple of people say, ‘They may be northerners, but they ain’t Yankees."
"Mr. Cowgill said that," Mark said. "The way he used the word, it was like some people use the word ‘nigger.’"
"Ain’t it the truth," Thibodaux smiled. "People always find it easy to hate people they don’t know. You two make sure you come to the raisin’ at Brother Erasmus’ church tomorrow. There’s a lot of people that’s been wantin’ to meet you that’s been lookin’ for an excuse, and a lot of them’ll be there."
* * *
April 30, 1971
Dear Dad and Sarah:
I’ve been meaning to write to you for a couple of days now, ever since Mark called home Tuesday night, but we’ve been so busy that I just haven’t had time to write.
I suppose Mark’s folks told you we had a little trouble with Mark’s plane. It was sitting tied down on the ground when a wind came along, picked up some debris, and poked a couple of holes in the wing. Mark says it won’t be any trouble to fix, once the stuff gets here from Spearfish Lake.
I don’t know if you’ve got a map that will show Twillingate on it; we can’t find it on any map that we have with us. It’s a little town on the Gulf Coast, not too far from Tallahassee. I suppose there aren’t more than about 300 people who live here, and more in the surrounding countryside. It’s just a little backwoods country town, but the people here are real friendly and interesting. It’s a lot different from home in a lot of ways, but in some ways, it isn’t much different from being in the woods at home.
We aren’t much more than a mile or so from the ocean, but this afternoon was the first time we got a chance to walk down to see it. One of our new friends, Mr. Thibodaux, who runs the phone company here, said there was a little beach out there so we walked down to see it, mostly for something to do. It was a pretty walk, and we saw a lot of different birds, and when we got down to the ocean, we found the beach was nice, so we went swimming.
The days here are very hot. I would think it would get so hot and humid here in the summer you couldn’t breathe, as bad as it’s been during the middle of the day.
Tomorrow might be an interesting day. We’ve been invited to a church raising, I guess kind of like the barn raisings that used to happen years ago. Mr. Thibodaux said the women all get together and make a big lunch for everyone, and he says it’ll be the best chance we’ll have to find out what real southern cooking is all about. I can’t wait.
Hopefully, the package from Mark’s dad will be here tomorrow, or maybe Monday, and then it’ll only take us a day or two, and we’ll be on our way. I’m not sorry we stopped here, though, even if the plane did get damaged. Staying here for a few days has given us friends and experiences that we’d have never gotten otherwise.
I’ll try to give you a call about the middle of the week, to let you know we’re back on the move again.