Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Mark and Jackie didnít know exactly what to expect at the "raisiní" on Saturday morning, but what they found when they walked down to Brother Erasmusí church didnít quite match with their expectations.
When they talked about it afterwards, Jackie admitted she more or less expected to see a handful of church members. She didnít expect to see the little clearing in the woods filled with fifty or more old cars and pickup trucks, and perhaps a couple of hundred people, black and white together, already handing up the trusses she and Mark and Brother Erasmus had built in the preceding days, and building more besides.
But that was what greeted them as they walked down the sandy road from the airstrip.
Not all of the people around Brother Erasmusí church were working, not even a majority of them. There were a lot of women and children there; the smaller ones were playing tag, running and laughing, and some of the larger ones had gotten up a ball game. A few of the children were attacking the weeds around the church with push mowers and weed whips. A charcoal fire had been built a ways away from the church, and there was a spitted hog roasting on it, turned by kid power. Tables had been set up around, and the white and black women of the community were busy pulling together what already smelled to be a great meal.
As fast as the trusses could be passed up, Brother Erasmus and Mr. Cowgill put them into place, and other men started nailing them off. Mr. Thibodaux was there, scrambling around up in the trusses, making sure they were square and plumb before other men nailed temporary battens in place to keep them straight until the roof could be sheathed.
"Lord knows what Iím going to do in this crowd," Mark said. "But I suppose Iíd better go and look like Iím lending a hand."
"Same here," Jackie said. She saw Bessie Thibodaux, and decided she would be a good person to ask what to do.
"Lots to be done," Bessie told Jackie. "Why donít you give a hand with peeliní these potatoes?"
Jackie picked up a paring knife, and started in, just listening to the conversation of the women around her. The talk was thickly southern; even a couple of days before, she would have had trouble making out what the women were saying through their thick accents, but she had started to get used to it. Several of the women there had seen the tornado, but no one except Ethylene had been any closer to it than Jackie, and, mostly for the benefit of the others, Bessie drew Jackie and Markís story out of her. That led to a discussion of how she and Mark came to be on the trip they were on, and some of the things they had seen, like the Apollo launch a couple of weeks before.
Time flew by; by the time Jackie finally looked over her shoulder to see how things were coming, she saw Mark and perhaps a dozen other men nailing boards onto the roof. Looking closer, she could make out the same thing was happening on the far side of the building, and the hammer blows sounded like a hailstorm.
"Ainít that somethiní to see," Ethylene commented. "They say many hands make light work, and donít you know it when you sees it."
Jackie and Ethylene stood there watching the roof take shape like a time-lapse movie. As fast as a board could be handed up and put into place, it was nailed down; each man only had a couple of trusses he had to nail on, and the men and boys handing up boards had to work fast to keep up with the men hammering. Down behind the men nailing down the boards, other men were unrolling tar paper and tacking it into place, and a course of shingles was already being started along the bottom of the roof. Another crew was busy slapping fresh white paint that had been produced from somewhere onto the weathered sides of the church. It kept them fascinated just watching.
"Land sakes, itís good to see that," said an older white woman Jackie didnít recognize. "Wouldnít want to wish evil on nobody, but itís almost worth having that tornado come through to see this."
"Itís good to see people can work together," Jackie said, thinking of all the horror stories sheíd heard about small southern towns and their race problems. There was no evidence of it here. When Mr. Cowgill had told them the people of Twillingate got along because they all knew each other, she thought perhaps he had been pulling her leg, and that Brother Erasmus had been too polite to argue, but the sight in front of her told her otherwise. As she had listened to the women talk about cooking and babies, she had realized, if she closed her eyes, she couldnít tell if a woman talking were black or white. Twillingate may have been a small southern town, but Jackie wished a lot of people could have seen the sight in front of her.
"You must be the Miss Jackie they talk about," the woman said. "Iím Elsie Sprague; Reverend Sprague, over to the Baptist Church, is my husband."
"Oh, please call me Jackie, Mrs. Sprague. Iím pleased to meet you. Is Reverend Sprague around here?"
"Heís up there, nailiní down shingles," the older woman said. "We got a lot of people from our church over here, to help out our brothers in Christ. Iíd been a-hopiní to meet you. Reverend Sprague and I would be mightily pleased if you were to come to our church tomorrow."
"Iíd love to," Jackie said, "And Iím sure Mark would, too. The only thing is weíve kind of promised Brother Erasmus that weíd be his guests here."
"That shouldnít be a problem," Mrs. Sprague said. "Our church is at 8:30, and Brother Erasmus doesnít start his service till ten. You can ride back over here with us or somebody, since a lot of people want to go to both churches tomorrow, after our little workbee today."
"Weíll be glad to come," Jackie said. "The only thing is, we donít have any nice clothes with us, no going-to-church clothes, anyway. Just shirts and jeans."
"That ainít no problem," Mrs. Sprague told her. "The Good Lord opened his arms to sinners and even to tax collectors, so he donít mind people that ainít got nice clothes."
It wasnít yet noon when the last shingle was being nailed into place, and the last board was being painted. One by one, the men came down from the roof, and stood back to look at the work theyíd accomplished.
Brother Erasmus and Reverend Sprague climbed up onto the steps of the church, where they could look out at the crowd. "I want to thank all you good brothers in Christ for your help here today," Brother Erasmus said. "If it werenít for you all, weíd never have got done what we got done here today, and Iíd like to invite all of you to come over tomorrow to help dedicate our new roof."
Shouts of, "Amen, brother," rose from around the gathering, and Mark and Jackie noticed the words rose from black and white alike, men and women.
After the words had died down, Brother Erasmus continued, "Now, Ethylene and Miz Sprague tell me that the hog ainít quite done yet. So, ífore we eat and celebrate, Iíd like to ask you to help me thank Mr. Cowgill for donatiní the materials for our new roof. You all know that the Devilís wind left slash and stuff all over the airstrip, and Mr. Cowgill is going to need it cleaned up ífore the quail hunters come in. Since weíre all here, letís just all go up there and spend an hour or so at it. Ifín we all work as well up there as we worked here, we should be done just about the same time as the hog is."
Now Reverend Sprague spoke up. "Course, cleaniní up the airstrip is going to be a big help to Miss Jackie and Mister Mark, who youíve all heard about. These young folk blew into town on the storm, and theyíve pitched in and worked like theyíve been one of us, and weíve been mighty glad they been here. Theyíve given of themselves a lot, and the only thing Iíve heard theyíve asked for is the loan of an axe. Mister Mark, Miss Jackie, I think I speak for everybody in Twillingate when I say that weíre glad the storm brought you here, and hope that youíll remember us when you leave. Letís go clean up the airstrip."
Only a few of the women and children stayed behind, to tend to the food. A lot of the people walked up to the airstrip, and others piled into cars and pickup trucks. Mark and Jackie shared the back of someoneís pickup truck with Brother Erasmus. "You donít have to do this," Mark said.
"Mistí Mark, I done told you, have faith and the Lord will provide," the black preacher smiled. "Course, sometimes you got to let the Lord know you ready to be provided for. That ainít in the Bible, but itís one of those things you just got to learn. Have faith, have patience, and the Lord, he do provide."
"ĎCast your bread upon the waters and it will be returned unto you a hundredfoldí also gets in there, too," Reverend Sprague said.
* * *
"I wonder what time the mail gets in," Mark said to Jackie while they were still getting dressed Monday morning. Their package hadnít come in on Saturday, or at least thatís what Mrs. Highland, the postmaster, told them at the hog roast Saturday afternoon.
"Probably not real early," she replied, "But I suppose we can go down and wait for it."
With breakfast over, they walked slowly down the road toward Twillingate. It still seemed a little strange to see Brother Erasmusí church with a roof on it, and a fresh coat of paint. The front door was open, and the sound of hammering could be heard from inside, so they stopped to investigate.
They found Brother Erasmus on a step ladder, fitting wiring into an electrical box. "Buildiní a roof is one thing," he said. "Wiriní is somethiní you donít want fifty people all doiní, on account ía no one knows whatís been done."
"Same way with phones," Mark agreed. "Anything we can do to help?"
"Not much right now, ícept maybe you can hand me up that bag of staples there by your feet."
Mark handed Brother Erasmus the bag, the black man took a couple and fastened a wire into place. "So how was dinner over to Reverend Spragueís house yesterday?" he asked.
"Pretty good," Jackie said. "This was quite a weekend."
The black man stopped what he was doing and smiled. "One thing you got to understand, Miss Jackie," he said, "Every weekend in Twillingate ainít quite like this one was."
It had been quite a weekend. After the assembled workers made short work of clearing off the airstrip Ė not just a path, but the whole thing Ė they went back down to the church for the hog roast. Mark and Jackie were amazed at the food; there was a lot of it, some of it unidentifiable to their northern tongues, but virtually everything was good. After the eating was over, someone started a softball game among the adults Ė not black against white, or church against church, which would have been the same thing, but plantation workers against everybody else. The plantation workers had a some good hitters, but then so did the other team, which also had a young black man who worked on a fishing boat and had a deceptive dropping curve ball that virtually no one could get a piece of. There werenít exactly nine men on a team, and substitutions were wide open; even Mark was called to bat once, but fouled out on a short blooper to right field.
After "everybody else" won 9 to 7, somebody produced a fiddle, and there was square dancing. Mr. Thibodaux proved to be a pretty good caller, and proved he could play the fiddle, too. There was hymn singing, and it showed the Baptists could sing a hymn pretty well, too. As it was getting dark, Brother Erasmus suggested to Mark that people might like to have a look at the moon through his telescope, and a young white man offered to take Mark up to the airstrip to get it. As soon as Mark had the telescope set up out on the edge of the crowd, there was a long line of people of all ages to look through it, while the dancing and the hymn singing went on. It was late before the party died out.
About eight the next morning, as Mark and Jackie were still pulling themselves together, Mr. and Mrs. Thibodaux showed up at the airport in his pickup truck. They rode over to the Baptist Church, where they were amazed to see how many people there were they knew from the day before.
During the announcements, Reverend Sprague said, "I know a lot of people want to go over to the dedication of Brother Erasmusí roof this morning, so weíll keep this short today." Even so, it was something of a rush to get over to the other church for their second church service of the morning. Judged objectively, Mark and Jackie thought the Baptists ran a close second to the black church for the quality of hymn singing.
They had Sunday dinner with the Spragues, a dinner that kind of grew into an afternoon open-ended discussion with several people who dropped by the ministerís house on courtesy calls. As Mark and Jackie walked back out to the airport later, they saw the evening service was getting under way at Brother Erasmusí church, so they stopped off there, as well, and it was late before they finally got to bed.
"I think I see that," Mark said. "after working all week, a weekend like that very often would just about kill a person."
"Oh, these things happen everí now and then," Brother Erasmus smiled. "Usually, it ainít a raisiní, or somethiní like that, but somethiní like a weddiní. Town like this, we have to get our fun where we can. I doní know if you saw some of the young men sneakiní off into the bushes Saturday night to sip at the moonshine, and they was some of the young men and young women a-sneakiní off into the bushes for some other things. I sípose I shoulda said something about it to my folk yesterday, about how it ainít proper to be doiní somethiní like that at a church raisiní, but it wouldnít have solved nothiní. It wouldnít be the first raisiní or weddiní around these parts thatís led to a weddiní or two."
They heard the beeping of a horn outside, and Mark went to see what was going on. Outside, Mr. Thibodaux sat in his truck. "Thought you mighta been here when I couldnít find you out to the airstrip," he said. "I brung your package from Miz Highland."
"Hey, thanks, we appreciate it," Mark said. "Brother Erasmus, weíll be seeing you. Weíve got work to do."
"If you donít mind," the preacher said, "Iíd kind of like to see how you do this."
Thibodaux joined Jackie and Brother Erasmus watching Mark as he opened the package. "Dad sent more than enough of everything," he said. "Thereís three times here over what Iím going to need, although I guess itís better to have too much, rather than not enough."
Mark worked slowly and carefully; this was going to be a patch on Rocinanteís battered wings, but he wanted it to be a permanent one. Using the pinking shears, he cut patches of Ceconite to fit. After doping both the fabric on the wing around each of the holes and the patches heavily with clear dope, he pressed each patch into place, working it as tight as he could. "This stuff doesnít shrink as well as the old cotton used to do," he said, "So you have to make sure each patch is as tight as you can make it."
It was a couple of hours before he finished up. "Is that all there is to it?" Mr. Thibodaux asked.
"No," Mark said. "Thatís just the hard part. Iíll have to wait for this to dry, and then put on another coat. Itís going to take at least eight coats total of clear dope, silver dope, or enamel, with some sanding in between, and it could go ten coats or more. Itís going to take a couple of days."
While they were waiting for the first coat to dry, Mark and Jackie went back to the church to help Brother Erasmus with more wiring. It was the first afternoon since they had come to Twillingate that time had dragged for Jackie; they had been busy most of their stay, but there just wasnít much she could do to help in this new project.
Late in the afternoon, E.J. got home from school. "Remember, Mistí Mark," he said, "I want to help you fix your plane soís you can take me for a ride in it."
"Well, come on," Mark told him. "You can help me with painting another coat onto the patches."
Mark let E.J. brush on some of the clear dope, and he was pleased with the neat and careful way the boy worked. The job didnít take long, but while they were working on the plane, Mr. Cowgill drove up in his pickup. "The missus and me would be pleased if youíuns would come to supper with us tonight," he said. "Itís probably too far to walk back, so Iíll bring you back."
"Weíre just finishing up," Mark said. "As soon as I clean the brush, weíll be ready to go."
Mark and Jackie had heard a lot about the plantation since they had been in Twillingate, but had never seen it. "Gone With The Wind" had colored their imagination, and they had pictured a big white house, with pillars and a wide porch, and were a little disappointed to see what would have been just a more or less typical house for Spearfish Lake. It was nicer than the homes in Twillingate, but nothing particularly special. There were a handful of smaller houses nearby, and several barns and outbuildings, but it was obviously a place where people worked.
Mrs. Cowgill proved to be nearly an invalid, getting around with a walker; the cooking and housekeeping was done by a black woman from Twillingate. Mark and Jackie could remember Ethylene talking about helping with the cleaning at the plantation.
Over dinner, Mr. Cowgill commented, "You remember what I said about this beiní a small town and weíve all got to work together."
"Yeah," Mark agreed. "I see what you mean."
"Ainít nobody here got much money, including us," Mr. Cowgill said. "But we all do work together, and we respect each other. You folks will be leaviní soon, and Iíd just hope that youíll remember the folks of Twillingate beiní poor in dollars, perhaps, but rich with friends."
"Weíve been impressed," Jackie said. "We wonít forget this place."
By the time they got back to the airstrip, it was too late to put on another coat of clear dope, but Mark was up early the next morning to get the new coat on Rocinanteís wing patches. "I suppose we could go back down to the church and help Brother Erasmus with putting the dry wall on the ceiling," he said. "Thatís a miserable job to have to do by yourself."
"Iíll catch up with you," Jackie said. "This might be a good time for me to take a sponge bath. Iím just not up to sitting around watching you work."
Feeling cleaner for having freshened up, Jackie cleaned up the tent, and repacked a few things. The boredom of the previous afternoon had depressed her, and she wasnít looking forward to another day of it. Then, she realized there was something she could do.
Mark was holding a panel of dry wall in place while Brother Erasmus nailed it off when Jackie walked in, bringing a couple of bottles of pop she had gotten from the general store. "You two look like you need a break," she said.
"Right good to see you, Miss Jackie," Brother Erasmus said. "Letís just get this panel nailed off, Mistí Mark, and Iíll be glad to sit down."
They sat down on the shady side of the building to cool off. It was already getting hot, and it looked like it was going to be a long day. "Brother Erasmus," Jackie said. "Thereís something Iíve been wondering about. Weíve just been calling this church Brother Erasmusí Church, and we donít know what the name is."
"I guess everybody calls it that," the preacher said. "This is the Twillingate Bethel Church, but donít nobody hardly call it that."
After a while, Mark and Brother Erasmus went back to work, leaving Jackie outside. Time slipped by, and the men had gotten several more sheets of dry wall into place when Mark realized it was long since time the coat of dope should be dry on the patches. "Iíll be back in a little while," he told the preacher.
Mark should not have been surprised at what he saw when he went out the front door of the church. Jackie was there, a silver-painted board in front of her. She was partway through lettering "Twillingate Bethel Church" on it in white enamel, freehand in old English lettering. "You said we had plenty of silver dope and enamel," she said, "So I didnít think youíd mind."
Mark shook his head. "Where did you learn how to do that?"
"Oh, I just picked it up," Jackie said. "I got to playing with calligraphy back when I was in school. Old English is one of the styles I can do from memory, but I can do almost any style if I have a sample in front of me. I just have to be careful when Iím working freehand."
"Brother Erasmus," Mark called, "Come look at this."
The preacher joined Mark, looking at Jackie work on the sign. "My, thatís nice work," he said. "The Lord must guide your hand."
"It takes a little practice," Jackie said. "But I just wanted to leave a little something behind to thank you for what youíve done for us."
"Lord give you a talent," the preacher replied. "You want to put it to work."
It was Wednesday afternoon before the last coat of enamel on Rocinanteís wing was dry. That morning, Mark and Brother Erasmus nailed Jackieís sign onto the front of the church. "Weíll stay around until E.J. gets back from school," Mark told the preacher. "Soon as he gets home, tell him to come out to the airstrip if he wants a plane ride. Why donít you bring him down, and Iíll give you one, too."
After that, they walked into town to mail the unused repair materials back to Spearfish Lake, then went back out to the airport to wait for their friends. As they waited, Mark and Jackie walked up and down the airstrip, looking for nails or small debris that might have been missed during the cleanup on Saturday afternoon, but they found almost nothing. The job had been thorough; it was almost as if there hadnít been a tornado there a week and a day before.
E.J. was wide-eyed as they helped him into the plane. Mark fastened the E.J.ís belt, then got in the left side, and cranked Rocinante up. This would probably be the only time the boy would ever be in an airplane, he thought, so he decided to give him a good ride. Once they were in the air, they flew over the church and the town, over the plantation, and out over the gulf a ways. E.J. was glued to the window for a time, and Mark let him handle the controls a bit, just to give him a taste of what flying the plane was like. It was a while before they landed.
"Mistí Mark, thatís fine, seeiní like a bird sees," E.J. said when they were back on the ground. "You think I could learn to fly some day?"
"No reason why not," Mark told the boy. "Youíve got to work hard in school and not throw away your time or your money, but when you get older, you can do anything you set your mind to."
Mark took the time to give both Brother Erasmus and Ethylene a ride around the area, too, and both of them enjoyed it as well.
Finally, it was time to go. Mark and Jackie loaded the last of their gear into the luggage compartment, said their goodbyes, and waved back as they saw Brother Erasmus and his family waving goodbye to them. Once in the air, Mark turned north. He still wasnít too sure where they were, but he knew if he flew that way far enough, sooner or later theyíd pick up the highway and be able to follow it west. They turned back to watch Twillingate disappear behind them, until it became invisible in the forests below.
"I kind of hate to leave," Jackie said. "That place started feeling like home, real quick."
"Yeah, thereís some good people there," Mark said. "Who knows? Maybe someday weíll go back to return Brother Erasmusí Bible to him. Thatís as good a reason as any."
"Thatís not a reason," Jackie said. "Thatís an excuse. But itís as good as any."
* * *
May 8, 1971
Dear Dad and Sarah:
Weíve been gone from Twillingate for a couple of days now, but we really havenít had the chance to write. We flew up to Pensacola and visited the Naval Air Museum, and thatís kind of an interesting place, although it meant more to Mark than it did to me.
Right now, Iím lying in the tent on this sopping wet airfield. Itís been raining steadily, and itís wet all around, and we havenít been able to fly today, although I hope we will tomorrow. Mark says the weather reports show this stuff lifting. Weíre heading west from here; weíre going to the Texas Star Party, which starts the week after next. Thatís one of those things Mark really wanted to do.
Twillingate was an interesting town. We were there a little over a week, and we made a lot of friends. Both Mark and I agree weíd like to visit there again. Weíre already learning we have more fun, meet more people, and learn more, when weíre in a place for a few days, rather than just making a night stop.
Weíve had a lot of fun on this trip so far, and weíve met a lot of interesting people. Weíve only been gone for a month, now, and if the trip continues like this, it will be something to remember for a lifetime. Maybe I disappointed you by running off with Mark like I did, but I had to take the chance when I had it, and, so far, itís been worth it.
Mark and I have just decided we donít want to try cooking under the wing tonight, so weíre going to get our ponchos on and go try to find a place to eat. Maybe I can find a place to mail this while weíre out, so Iím going to wrap this up.