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Down By the Riverside book cover

Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 15
Thursday, July 4 – Friday, July 5, 2002

Canyon Tours crews almost universally spend the last night of their river trips at one of several campgrounds near Granite Springs, a few miles up the river from the takeout at Diamond Wash. It allows them to get up and get going early, so they can meet the bus as early as possible and have a little extra time in Flagstaff to clean gear before heading to the Burro for a few well-deserved Burroburgers and beers. They don’t have a lot of time off, and there are things to do, so they have to pack as much as they can into a very short time.

It had been a good trip for the White Team. There had been few of the tensions of the previous trip, no matter how well it had worked out in the end. About the only bad thing they could say about this whole trip was that they had a woman customer who talked continually – occasionally interesting stuff, but most of the time just babbling whatever happened to cross her mind. That had gotten to be old very quickly, like about the time they got to Cathedral Wash, not quite three miles below Lee’s Ferry. There was nothing they could do but take turns on the noise, like they’d had to do with Bill Barber on the previous trip.

After the religious intensity of the previous trip, this time they reverted more or less to form, which is to say that they didn’t talk about it very much around the customers, and for that matter, not even a great deal among themselves. This wasn’t the time or the place for it, and they knew it.

There had been a number of people on the trip who really liked hiking in the Canyon, so they modified their trip schedule a little bit to allow more of it. After some discussion, they’d decided to use a strategy Crystal had used on the previous trip, and a trip the year before to do a serious hike of Havasu Canyon. She stopped for the night as near as they could manage above Havasu Creek; the people who wanted to do the hike left early in a couple of rafts. The main party stayed behind to have breakfast and pick up things, then ran the river, making a brief stop at the creek mouth, then ran on down river to grab the nearest open campsite. That gave the hikers the opportunity for a long hike, and then be able to run down river knowing a good campsite was likely only a short distance ahead.

The idea had worked well before, and it worked well again – with the exception that Crystal had twisted an ankle a little the day before, and had decided at the last minute that she shouldn’t go on the hike like she had done the previous year. Larry had already planned on going on the hike, but there were enough customers to make a second raft of hikers. Nanci volunteered to take that raft and go on the hike; she liked hiking in the Canyon, even though she was no pound-it-out backpacker like her half sister, and she’d heard the stories of how neat Havasu Canyon was above the mouth of the creek.

It was a glorious hike through some of the most fantastic scenery in the Grand Canyon. It was a rather rugged trail in spots, and they had to get wet several times crossing the stream, but in the warm, dry air they dried out quickly. They made it clear up to Mooney Falls, farther than Nanci had been expecting, before they turned back. It was getting late in the day before they got back on the river, but fortunately they only had the short run downstream before camping for the night with the rest of the party.

Though they didn’t talk about it much – not that there was much to talk about – on the last half of the trip, Nanci, Crystal, and Preach often wondered about what was happening with Tanisha. Her due date to have Barbara was the first of the month but it hadn’t been pinned down exactly, and besides, babies come when they will. The last word they’d had, during Crystal’s call to the office at Phantom Ranch, was that Tanisha hadn’t had the baby yet, but it clearly was going to happen soon.

Thus, the three were eager to hear the news when they drifted around the bend above Diamond Creek and saw the Canyon Tours bus waiting for them. They hadn’t even landed yet when Crystal’s voice boomed over the water: “What’s happening with Tanisha?”

“She’s having the baby right now,” Jeff replied. “Jon called the office just before I left. Your mother and Al are on the way down to the hospital if they ain’t already there yet.”

“Well, good deal,” Crystal smiled. “People, let’s get this done. Maybe Preach, Nanci, and I can make it down to see them after we get into Flagstaff.”

They didn’t exactly set a record time for loading up but it was pretty quick. Still, it was a while before they were bouncing up the rough road to the top and making the long haul back to Flagstaff. What with everything it was the middle of the afternoon before they made it to the Canyon Tours office, and there was still a lot that needed to be done cleaning, reorganizing, and packing gear for the next trip.

Of course, just about the first thing Crystal did was to call Jon’s cell phone; he reported that Tanisha was still in labor, although things were showing signs of speeding up. “If you do get down here then, Tani will probably be pretty well pooped out,” Jon told them. After some discussion, with Nanci and Preach also involved, it was decided to not make the run to Phoenix that evening; they still had a lot of work to do, and besides they needed showers and clean clothes before starting out.

“I suppose you’re right,” Crystal said, perhaps with a touch of sadness. “I guess the logical thing to do is to get everything we can done tonight, get cleaned up and have a good dinner, then get started pretty early in the morning.”

“I suppose,” Nanci sighed. “I’d sure like to know what Reverend Miller found out about my going to Black Mesa, but with this being the holiday there’s no chance of catching up with him. Probably not tomorrow, either.”

“You might be able to see him Saturday,” Preach suggested.

“Yeah, I’ll have to at least try to give him a call.”

“You know,” he said, “I’m sure that much of our focus is going to be on Tanisha tomorrow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we could find an hour or so to run over and check the place out. We probably can’t do much more than look it over, but it would be something.”

“As long as we’re down in Phoenix we might as well,” Nanci agreed. “I sure wish I knew what was happening there, though.”

After Crystal and Preach got back to the Girls’ House after dark, Jon called again to report that Barbara had been born; she seemed to be a healthy baby at seven pounds, six ounces, and both she and Tanisha were doing well. “I wonder what the odds are of her sitting in a raft in about twenty years or so,” Preach mused after Crystal was off the phone.

“Hard to say, knowing Jon and Tanisha, but I wouldn’t come flat out and say that it’s not going to happen, either,” Crystal grinned. “The odds are that she’s going to be another engineering nut like her parents, but maybe she’ll want a summer job, and her aunts and uncle might have something to say about that when the time comes.”

Early the next morning Preach and Crystal picked Nanci up, and they started for Phoenix, stopping for a good restaurant breakfast near the highway interchange. The coffee tasted a little weak and flat compared to the hearty river brew they were used to, and soon they were on their way to Phoenix again.

It was the middle of the morning before they made it to the hospital, where they found Tanisha and Barbara in good spirits, with Jon sitting in a chair in her room, sound asleep and snoring a little. “I honestly think he was more worried about it than I was,” she said. “He needs his sleep.”

“How are you doing?” Crystal asked.

“I’m a little tired and achy, but I guess I’m all right,” Tanisha replied. “I should be more or less back together in a couple of days, or at least that’s what they tell me. I can see that things are going to be very different for me, though. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have her, and she represents the next step in Jon’s and my life, but she’s really going to change things.”

“Are you still planning on going back to work?” Nanci asked.

“Yes, but I’m going to take a month or two off. I’ll still probably do some work from home. I really don’t want to give up my job. I like it, and I’m good at it. Once things get stabilized a bit, I’ll have Barbara in the nursery at work.”

“They have a nursery?”

“Yes, Lambdatron has a lot of young employees with families. They want their people to concentrate on their work and not be distracted by child-care issues, so they have a nursery and child-care center on the premises. Stan Warshawski, the guy who runs the place, says he thinks that’s important. But then, I expect Karin will decide to be down here helping out every chance she gets.”

“First time grandmother, what do you expect?” Preach grinned. “I haven’t seen her or Al around this morning, though.”

“They were here most of the day yesterday, I think, but I didn’t see much of them. They were in earlier this morning, but they went to have breakfast and get a few things. I expect to see them back shortly. Nanci, I don’t know if anyone has told you, but don’t head back to Flagstaff before you have a chance to talk to Jon and me, but now’s not the right time. I want him to have a little more sleep.”

Nanci couldn’t help but wonder what that was all about, but didn’t want to pry. “Sure, I can do that. While I’m down here, I want to run over to this Black Mesa College and check it out, just to see what the place is like. I take it Mom told you about that.”

“Yes she did, quite a bit, in fact. Why don’t you do that now?” Tanisha suggested. “Jon might be up and running by the time you get back.”

They stood and talked with Tanisha for a few more minutes, but cut it short; she appeared to be more tired than she claimed, and that didn’t surprise any of them. Before too much longer they were back out in Preach’s car, driving across town toward the college, which proved to be only a couple of miles away from Jon and Tanisha’s new house.

“You know, Preach,” Crystal said as they were out on the street, with Nanci in the back seat, “we’ve talked about having kids sometime in the future, but seeing Tanisha and Barbara sort of makes things seem more real, if you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I don’t want to say it makes things more urgent, because it doesn’t, but the time is coming that we’re really going to have to deal with that issue and all that goes along with it. Unfortunately, child care goes along with having a child, and when we have one, it’s not going to be anywhere near as simple for us as it is for them.”

“No fooling,” Crystal sighed. “I know we’ve talked about it before, and I know we’re going to talk about it again, but having a child is going to mean that I’m going to have to cut my river time way back for a few years, if I don’t have to cut it out entirely. Preach, I don’t think I’m quite ready to do that yet.”

“I don’t think you are, either,” he agreed. “But again, I can see the time coming, and I think we have to face up to it. We may be able to get by with trading off leading trips or something, but the bulk of the time on the river will probably have to fall on me, and I don’t think I want to spend that much time away from you or my child.”

“That’s something we’re going to have to work out,” Crystal shook her head. “What’s more, it’s something we’re going to have to work out with Dad. I know he wants me to stay involved with the company, and that’s a given. If I can’t be on the river, at least I ought to be able to do that for a while, but it’s going to take some juggling around at best.”

“Well, we ought to have at least a few years to work on it,” he said as he hit the turn signal approaching a light. “I know in the past I’ve heard Al talk about wanting to expand the list of trip leaders so they can take a little time off and not have to run heel to toe for six months straight, so that may play into it a little.”

“He was working in that direction until we wound up with those six GCR trips, and then all of a sudden it was back to square one,” Crystal sighed. “The last time we talked about it, and that was back in the winter, he was saying that it didn’t bother him to run the college kids heel to toe, but he thought it would make it a little tough with leaders who had families. You and I aren’t the only ones looking at that issue, either. I can see Duane and Michelle having a kid a few years up the road, and maybe Dave and Mary, too. Scooter and Jim, well . . .”

“Yes, I have trouble putting the words ‘Scooter’ and ‘Mommy’ together in my mind, too, but I’m not going to rule out it ever happening.”

“Scooter is older than I am, so if it happens it’ll probably be in the next few years,” Crystal pointed out. “You know, I can see things getting crazy a few years up the pike.” She raised her voice slightly. “Nanci, how would you like to be a trip leader? I can see it happening about the time you’re out of college, maybe even before in a pinch.”

“I’m not going to rule it out,” Nanci said. “But Crystal, you know what I’m thinking about doing, and that could affect the possibility, too. I don’t think I’m ready to be a trip leader now, but in three or four years, who knows?”

“I didn’t exactly expect to see you become a boatman this year,” Crystal said. “In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago that I would have never imagined it ever happening in my wildest dreams. Becoming a trip leader is not going to happen this year and I would guess not next year, but after that, well, it’s up to God and Al. I mean, it’s becoming more and more clear to me that I’m most likely going to be a mommy sooner or later, and then things are going to get weird.”

She turned back to Preach and went on, “I think that means we’re going to have to start getting ready for it,” she said. “I don’t mean buying baby furniture or like that, but . . .”

“We ought to be seeing some hand-me-downs, anyway,” he laughed. “That’s one good thing about Jon and Tanisha beating us to it.”

“Well, yeah,” she said, almost ignoring the joke, “but that’s beside the point. What I’m saying is that I think we’re going to have to be ready when the time comes. We can get along for a while living in the Girls’ House and saving some money, but when a kid comes along we’re going to need a house of our own. That also means we’re going to have to get those big winter trips we’ve been talking about out of our systems, too.”

“I don’t disagree with any of that, Crystal,” he nodded. “I think that means we need to get started planning now.”

“You remember a while back we were talking about a trip to the Holy Land? Maybe we could do it this winter.”

“It sounds like a possibility, although things are getting shaky in that part of the world. I’ve been following the news a little more than you have, and I think the president is trying to touch off another war. If that happens, I’d just as soon have an ocean between there and us.”

“Yeah, you might have a point on that. Look, along the same line of trying to figure out what we’re going to be doing this winter, have you heard whether Pastor Jordan is going to try to stick us with a church tour again this winter?”

“I know he’d love to, but I don’t want to do one, at least have to do it like we did it last winter. I’m not opposed to a couple weeks of it or a little more, but I don’t want to do the death march we did last year, and I think you’re even less crazy about the idea.”

“You’ve got that right. Maybe if we can work in a few shows I wouldn’t mind doing it a little, but I don’t want a repeat of last year either.”

“That’s something else we need to talk to Al about, and we need to talk to him about it this weekend,” he replied. “We need to start thinking about that whole question, and coordinating dates.”

Preach and Crystal talked about their winter plans most of the way over to Black Mesa College, but mostly Nanci tuned them out, since most of it wouldn’t involve her. She knew she would be in college, either back at Northern Arizona or down here.

In her first look at Black Mesa College she didn’t see anything special. It was just another collection of modern masonry buildings like up at Northern Arizona University, or like she remembered from Northern Michigan University during her first, disastrous year of college. The place was quiet, almost deserted, but it was the summer, and the Fourth of July weekend at that, so she couldn’t have expected much else. They drove around the place for a bit, not getting much feeling for either way. It was a college, and that was about all she could tell. She knew from the website that she could learn what she wanted to learn here. And at least here she was interested in learning something, which was more than she could have said when she saw Northern Michigan University for the first time.

This place could be a step in the right direction, if she knew for sure that it was the direction she wanted to go. She was no less interested in investigating the idea of becoming a minister than she had been three weeks before, and she’d thought about it and prayed about it a lot, but she knew she was no closer to a final decision than she’d ever been.

Before long it was clear that considering the holiday there was little more to be learned there today, so without getting out of the car they drove back to the hospital. When they got there, Al and Karin were there, and Jon was awake; Barbara, on the other hand, was back in the nursery, presumably sound asleep.

They spent several minutes just talking about the day before. Tanisha gave a detailed account of it from her point of view, which the women naturally were interested in but which got Jon, Al, and Preach a little green around the gills. Eventually they got off of the subject, to the relief of the men.

“Nanci,” Karin asked, “Tanisha said you were going to look at Black Mesa College. What did you think of it?”

“It’s a college,” Nanci shrugged, and explained how little was happening there. “At least I know where it is, now.”

“Tanisha and I heard about it from Mom a few days ago,” Jon said. “We drove over and checked it out. It seemed like a pretty nice place for a private college.”

“I can see how it could be,” Nanci agreed. “From what little I know, I think I could learn what I want to learn there.”

“Have you talked to Reverend Miller since you got off the river?” Karin asked.

“I thought about giving him a call yesterday, but I figured it was a holiday, so he probably wouldn’t be available.”

“If things hadn’t gotten so crazy yesterday I would have left you a note or something to tell you to call him anyway,” Karin replied apologetically. “You still should call him tomorrow. Nanci, quite a bit has happened on that while you were gone. Since you were on the river and time was tight, we sort of did a few things without your permission, and I hope you don’t mind.”

“So long as you didn’t commit me to something, I suppose it was all right.”

“I thought under the circumstances that you might say that. Since you haven’t talked to Reverend Miller, I might as well fill you in on a few things. First, you have a tentative admission to the college, based partly on your grades from last year and partly on his recommendation. You’ll still have to fill out a formal application, but you should be able to do that this weekend. I did a little independent investigation, I mean, other than talking to Reverend Miller, and it seems their pre-seminary program is small but is well thought of.”

“I’d managed to find that much out,” Nanci replied, wondering just what her mother had been up to, although she suspected she was about to find out. “I still would like to visit the place and talk to somebody before I totally commit myself, just on general principles.”

“I think you’d be wise to do it, but the first chance you’ll have will be the Friday after you get off your next trip, so I went ahead and made a couple of appointments for you. That doesn’t commit you to anything, of course. Also, Reverend Miller has made some contacts about a scholarship, and it looks like you have a good chance at their pre-seminary scholarship, but again, paperwork will have to be filled out. Other scholarships and grants are still a little bit fuzzy, but you also have an appointment to talk to the financial aid people about them when you’re down here for the other appointments. Things are still very unclear at this time, but it looks like you should be able to get a large percentage of your tuition paid.”

“Mom! That’s cool! I figured the money would be the big stumbling block.”

“It’s not cheap,” Jon said. “In fact, it’s pretty expensive in my book, but it looks like it ought to be worth it. Tani and I did some snooping around for you, too. But look, Tani and I talked this over, and we’re willing to help you out a little too. The most important thing is that you’re welcome to stay with us if you decide you want to go there. Their dorms and stuff are pretty expensive, but since you’d be a sophomore, you don’t have to live on campus.”

“Jon, that’s sweet,” Nanci said, a little amazed at the announcement. “I really don’t know what to say. But look, you’re going to have a new baby in the house, won’t I be getting in your way? I mean, it’s going to put you out an awful lot.”

“It will in one way,” he smiled. “But you got one thing right. We are going to have a new baby in the house. What’s more, in a couple months Tanisha will be back at work. We’re already pretty busy, and while we haven’t experienced it yet, people tell us that Barbara is going to make things a whole lot busier. To make it simple, Nanci, we think we could use an extra set of hands around the place, not only helping to take care of our little Barbie doll, but just general housekeeping. There’s a nice room down in the basement that we think would give you a good place to live and be away from us a little so you can study. If you want to do it, Nanci, we’ll be glad to have you.”

“Jon, I don’t know what to say. Yes, that would be a huge help, and assuming I decide to go to Black Mesa at all, I’ll take you up on it. I really appreciate your being so nice to me. You don’t have to do that.”

“I think we do,” he said. “First off, you’re family. Until Crystal, Mom, and then you showed up we didn’t have a family, Nanci, and we learned how much we missed having one. So we owe you for that, if nothing else. More importantly, I remember what you were like in school, and I know a little bit of what you were like in your first year of college. We know you went through a lot worse stuff afterwards, although we don’t know the details, and I’m not sure we want to know them.”

“Crystal told your mom about some of what you said up at Havasu Creek,” Tanisha said, “and I’m happy to have been part of the solution, and even more so now that I know more about what you went through. I want to hear that story sometime, Nanci, but not right now.”

“The important part is that you turned your life around, Nanci,” Jon told her. “In fact, you turned it around more spectacularly than I ever thought was possible. We know a little bit of what you’re thinking about, again getting it from Mom. I’m not a very religious person, Nanci. You know that. You also know that Tanisha is much more of one than I am. Speaking just for myself, even considering becoming a minister is nothing I would care to do, but knowing what you were like, it’s awesome to me that you’re even thinking about it. I never could have believed it, but I’m glad to see it.”

“When I think about those days,” Nanci said, “I’m not sure I believe it now, but I’m not complaining, either. I’ll take you and Tanisha up on the deal, Jon.”

“Good,” he smiled. “I think we can make it work to all our advantages, and we’ll start getting something out of you pretty soon. Because our schedules got so goofed up these last few months, what with the move and Barbara and all, we’ve decided to have a combination baby shower and housewarming party the next weekend you’re off the river. After you get done with your appointments over at Black Mesa, you can come over to the house and help us get set up for it.”

“I’ll be there, Jon,” she smiled. “That’s what family is for, after all.”

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To be continued . . .

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