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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 29
Saturday, November 8, 2003

The date of the traditional Canyon Tours post-season party had moved around over the years, at least partly due to preferring to schedule it shortly after the last trip of the season. In past years the season had ended in late November, but in an effort to keep out of the unprofitable late fall trips Al had juggled the schedule so the last trip of the season came off the water in late October. That meant that the party could be moved ahead, too, and it had been tempting to schedule it a week earlier.

Over the years the party had never been so big that it couldn’t be held at Al and Karin’s house, although the year it had been combined with Crystal and Preach’s wedding reception it had been just about as large as Al had wanted and then some. This year it would be a lot smaller; several boatmen had already made their departure for the winter and several more would be leaving in the next few days.

However big or small the party, there was still work to do to hold it, and that included more than just icing down beer that had been left behind by customers at the end of their trips over the season. In fact, drinking that beer had been the original reason for the party back in the dim, distant days of the past.

Al and Karin had gone somewhere, so Preach and Crystal found themselves in the kitchen working on making dinner for the party; it was work that had to be done and there was no choice but to do it. The two were among the boatmen who would soon be leaving Flagstaff; they would be getting on the road Monday for the first round of their winter activities, and right at the moment Crystal wasn’t looking forward to it. In fact, it would have been safe to say that if she’d been a cat she would have had her tail in a knot.

“I suppose I can live with it,” Crystal was muttering to Preach, “but I doubt I’ll be enjoying it very much.”

“It does get tedious,” Preach agreed, “but there will only be three weeks of it, and we get a nice show in the middle of it for a breather. Then they will be over and done with, and we get to relax in the Girls’ House by ourselves for a while.”

“I know, I know,” she griped. “I’d sort of hoped we could dump all the church visits and not have to go through that again.”

“Look on the bright side,” Preach temporized. “With any kind of luck this ought to be the last year we have to do it, at least for a while.”

“Unless Pastor Jordan gets his way again,” she snorted.

“There’s a simple solution to that,” he pointed out. “We just have to get our big winter trip pretty well tacked into place before he starts getting bright ideas. If we can be gone two months, that should eat up enough of our time in the winter that there won’t be any time to do church visits.”

“Yeah, there is that,” Crystal conceded. “But I sure wish it was next year right now.”

“All things come in their own good time,” he temporized.

“I know, I know. I’m just being grumpy and I know it. Let’s change the subject. Have you figured out what you’re going to say at the Fellowship tomorrow?”

“In general. I’m going to modify one of my river teachings a little for it. I have to admit that I don’t feel very motivated about trying to throw together something new at this late date. Nanci did very well last weekend, though.”

“Yeah, she did. You know, it’s going to take a long time for me to get used to it, and maybe I never will. I mean, I’m not thinking so much about the stuff she did while I wasn’t watching, but the little snot she used to be in high school. I sure never saw this coming.”

“About all I can comment is that she didn’t either. That was a very good message she gave last Sunday, I think a lot better than the one she gave there in September. She’s going to be a tough act to follow.”

“You’ll do all right. In fact, I think you’ll do just fine. You really enjoy doing that, don’t you?”

“Well, yes. Though I don’t think I want to do it full time, by any means. I think I’m past that. But you know, watching the Fellowship and how it operates makes me think that maybe it’s the way things are really supposed to be.”

“I’m waiting.”

“For what?”

“For you to explain that. Are you trying to tell me that a church should be small and struggling?

“Well, no,” he said as he put down the knife he was working with. Crystal could see one of his mini-teachings come over him and they were almost always interesting – it was part of the reason why she loved him, after all. “If you read the book of Acts and go back to the early days of Christianity, the church wasn’t the big, commonly known thing it was to become. It was made up of small, scattered groups of mostly lower-class people trying to maintain a lonely, often ostracized cult in the face of a world that at best didn’t care what they were doing and was more likely to be actively hostile. But they had some powerful spokesmen running around with nothing much more than their faith to keep them going.”

Preach picked up his knife again and went back to the potato he was peeling. “We call these men the Apostles, and they were, oh, a pastor to the pastors of the local churches. They were the organization, they kept things going. They went from place to place partly to spread the word but also to keep it pure. The best known of them today was Paul, and we continue to read and study Paul’s letters today. Now, in those days there was no big church organization to provide funds for him to live and travel and teach. He had to do it out of his own pocket by the fruits of his labors. Oh, I’m sure some of the people in those small congregations may have pitched in with a place to sleep or the odd meal, but they were poor and sometimes didn’t have much to give in the first place.”

He finished the potato and started in on another one. “Now, tradition has it that Paul was a tentmaker. He would go into the market of whatever town or village he was in and sit there sewing tents. Now, you have to figure that he was also taking the time to talk about Jesus to anyone who came by and wanted to listen, but at the same time he was talking he was sewing.”

As if to make his point, Preach stopped talking for a moment and dug an eye out of the potato with his knife before he went on, “Paul traveled to a lot of places. Some of them we can track, and others we can’t. He even carried his message to Rome, the biggest and most important place on the planet of the day. But except for the period when he was jailed, and he was jailed more than once for spreading his message, Paul remained a tentmaker. Through the hands of a man who worked for a living, the Word of God was passed to us today.”

Preach put the knife and the potato on the counter and looked directly at his wife. “I have thought about that more and more recently, and prayed about it quite a bit. I take that to mean that a person who is serving God should be supporting himself. He shouldn’t be depending on his support from a congregation who may not be able to support a preacher without taking the food from their children’s mouths. And really, it leads me to think that except for traveling apostles and the like, the teachers and preachers who really serve a congregation should be members of that congregation. Others can help, of course, but they should help by giving rather than receiving.”

With that, he picked the potato back up and started peeling it again without comment, leaving Crystal to figure out what he meant. She was silent for some time, just watching him peel the potato, then start in on another one.

Some time went by before she said softly, “That’s why, huh?”

“Pretty much. Not all of it, but pretty much.”

“All right,” she said. “I’ll try to not bug you about it again. Preach, I’m sorry I didn’t have the faith in you that I should have had.”

“That’s all right. Building faith is an ongoing thing, and we have to work at it and that includes building faith in each other as much as it does anything else. But Crystal, one thing.”


“Let’s not tell that story to Nanci just yet, and maybe not ever. I’m sure she knows it, but maybe not from the way I’m looking at it. Just because I happen to feel one way about something doesn’t mean she has to feel that way, and I worry that I’ve let my feelings influence her a little too much in her decision about what she’s going to do. I mean, I have come to realize that I’m a teacher. That’s fine. I’m satisfied with it. But because it’s my calling doesn’t mean that it’s her calling.”

“Yeah,” Crystal replied thoughtfully. “I can see how it could make it more difficult for her, but I think she’s being real careful about making a decision, and I guess I’m just as glad.”

“It’s not an easy decision. I’ve had to face it, so I know it, and you’ve been with me part of the time while I faced it. It’s even harder to make in the face of having spent years working toward it. Her decision will come in time, and I’m glad she’s being careful about it. Far too many people make that decision without thinking it through all the way, so if it takes her years more, it will be all right with me.”

“What a sister,” Crystal sighed. “It’s still hard to believe.”

“She went through many hard times, Crystal. Perhaps it was because she needed to learn something, but it looks to me like she learned it.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right at that,” Crystal replied as she heard a car drive in. “And I’m glad we got that discussion out of the way now, ’cause guess who’s here?”

“I expected she’d be here sooner or later.”

Within a minute Nanci came into the kitchen. “Getting ready for the party, huh?” she said brightly.

“We’ve got lots to do,” Crystal said. “Grab a knife and join in. How are things down in Phoenix, and how’s Billy doing?”

“Billy is doing just what a one-month-baby should do,” Nanci grinned. “He gets fed in one end and you clean up what comes out the other. He sleeps a lot in between times. Tanisha says he’s easier to take care of than Barbie, but maybe that’s because it’s the second time around for her.”

“I’m told that’s how it works,” Crystal smiled, glad to have the heavy discussion of a few minutes before behind her. “I’ve never had much experience with it, but I’m starting to get ‘make me a grandma’ hints from Mom again.”

“Which is kind of funny when you realize that a few years ago I got a lot of ‘don’t make me a grandma yet’ hints from her,” Nanci laughed as she went to the sink to wash her hands. “Other than that things are going pretty well. I’m having a bit of a hassle with my Business Law class, mostly because there’s a ton of reading and a lot of it can put me to sleep real easy.”

“Sometimes I thank my lucky stars and garters that I was a phys. ed. Education major,” Crystal shook her head. “Although some of those secondary ed. classes could put me to sleep, too.”

“I seem to remember Myleigh saying you slept through a lot of them,” Nanci teased. “She used to complain that you were always cribbing her notes.”

“Well, I did,” Crystal shrugged. “Her notes were always more organized than mine were. That’s why I did so well in classes we both had together, even though we didn’t have very many.”

“The truth comes out,” Nanci said as she joined them peeling potatoes. “Anyway, I’m sorry I didn’t make it up here earlier, but Tanisha had a ton of stuff I really needed to help her deal with before I left, and I had to do some studying. Oh, and I stopped off and saw Jeff before I came here.”

“Does that mean you’re going to be speaking again next Sunday?”

“No, but the Sunday afterwards. Preach, since you’re not going to be around for a while, it looks like I’m going to be part of a regular rotation at least until you get back. I told Jeff no more than every other week and not during finals weeks.”

“He told me at the office one day last week he was going to be asking you,” Preach smiled. “I take it you’re still enjoying it.”

“Oh, yeah,” Nanci grinned. “Plus, I had a talk with Dr. Nelson about it, and we worked it around so I’ll get some internship credit out of it. He wants to drive up and hear me speak sometime, but it probably won’t be until after Christmas.”

“Now it starts to make sense,” Crystal grinned.

“Hey, it was his idea, not mine, but I’m glad he thought of it.”

“Well, I’m sorry I’m going to miss it, but I guess we have other things to do.”

“You two are still going to do that church-visit thing again, huh? I thought you were pretty down on it, Crystal.”

“It’s not exactly my favorite thing to do,” Crystal admitted. “We’re going to come back here before we head down there. We are hoping to make it to Costa Rica before Scooter and the others get back but that’s not a done deal.”

“So what happened to the idea of going to Israel? You were all hot about it last summer.”

“It came down to two weeks in Israel or two weeks in Costa Rica, and the coin came up tails. I don’t mind. I miss the trips I used to make with Scooter, and we haven’t been as close the last couple of years since we all got married, so it’ll be good to renew some ties.”

“You’re going to be back for Christmas?”

“That’s the plan,” Crystal said. “We get a week or so to breathe easily, then we’ve got a show circuit to do for the next month. Three shows on four weekends, up in deep snow country. We’re going to take the extra weekend and swing by to see Randy and Myleigh and the rest of the gang in Spearfish Lake. After the last show we’re going to come back here and do office and rigging stuff while Mom and Dad go to Truk and get their time in the sun. So, whoops, there goes the winter.”

“I’m glad that worked out for them. They need the chance to get away. Are you still planning a big trip for next winter?”

“Yeah, but we haven’t worked out where, yet,” Crystal replied. “We were talking about it before you came in. We’ve got several ideas, but I have to be honest, Randy has done more of that kind of research about big trips in the Southern Hemisphere than I have, so it’ll be good to pick his brain. He and Nicole will be doing a pretty big dream trip over Christmas, so they won’t have been back long before we get there.”

“I thought she was pregnant.”

“She is, or at least she still was the last time I talked to him a few days ago. It’s not going to be a huge adventure, just day-trip sea kayaking off a mother ship way down at the southern end of South America. It sounds like fun, even though it’s probably not the kind of thing Preach and I are going to be planning.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you much on that one,” Nanci shrugged. “Now, bearing in mind that I’m a Grand Canyon boatman when I’m not hitting the books or wiping babies’ butts, I’m really not much on big adventure trips like you are.”

“I’m forced to come to the conclusion that it may be the last big one for us,” Crystal sighed. “You know, growing up, accepting responsibilities, and that sort of thing. Sometimes it takes the fun right out of life, but it’s become clear that it’s what we’re going to have to do. I can see a lot of my time down in the Canyon coming to an end, too. There’s too much that I’m going to have to do topside.”

Preach spoke up, “All right, that’s it on the spuds. What’s next?”

*   *   *

The party later that evening had a better turnout of boatmen than Al had expected, but it still didn’t fill the house. Even with the addition of the college kids, most from Northern Arizona University along with a couple from down in Phoenix, it was far from the whole summer crew; several of the regulars were elsewhere for the winter. Still, it was a pretty good collection of friends, even though some of them had been on different crews for years and didn’t know all the other boatmen from the company.

But there was beer – not great oceans of it, but enough. Customers usually left a little to a lot of beer behind when they went up the hill on the ride back to Las Vegas. While some of it was usually consumed during the de-rigging and loading of the rafts down at Diamond Creek Wash, there was usually enough left over to fuel the end of season party. However, for whatever reason there wasn’t as much being consumed this year as there often was at these parties. The White Team, of course, didn’t make much of a dent in the beer supply, and there were others who had backed off on their consumption. It possibly could have been because they weren’t in the Canyon where it was a hundred and ten degrees in the shade and no shade was to be found.

With the addition of a few friends, spouses, and others, there were about thirty people around the house in the party. There were plenty of conversations going on, although not unexpectedly the teams often gathered by themselves despite the urgings of Al to circulate and talk to others.

At one point Crystal, Nanci, and Angie found themselves in the kitchen; Angie was the only one holding a beer and she hadn’t been hitting it heavily. “I’m a little surprised to see you around town this winter,” Nanci commented to Angie. “I thought you were going to Los Angeles.”

“I thought about it real hard,” Angie reported. “But in the end I decided it was too much of a long shot to be worth the trip.”

“So what are you doing this winter?”

“I talked to Al,” Angie reported. “He decided he could use an extra set of hands around the office since everybody is going to be in and out so much all winter. I’m mostly working with Dan on taking reservations for next year, and when I can I’m out working in the shop with Jeff. We’re trying to get a little bigger head start on raft maintenance this winter. Whenever it warms up enough, it seems like we’re out in the paint shed painting a raft.”

“Boy, there’s one job I’d be happy if you got done for me,” Crystal shook her head. “That paint is nasty stuff, you have to wear a respirator, and protective clothing is a real, real good idea. Plus, you have to lay it down just right or it looks like crap.”

“Jeff has the touch for it, that’s for sure,” Angie agreed. “But I’m starting to get a feel for it. It’s kind of nice when a raft comes out of the paint shed all clean and good looking.”

“Yeah, some of them get looking pretty ratty by the end of the season,” Crystal agreed. “The good news is that there are four new rafts on order, so they won’t have to get painted. The plan is to replace those four that we got from GCR a couple years ago and make them spares.”

“I guess that means I get a new raft next spring,” Nanci sighed. “I’d kind of gotten used to my old one.”

“We decided to stick with the slightly smaller rafts, at least to replace those four,” Crystal told her. “So there’s a good chance you may wind up with one of them.”

“Well, if I have to, I have to,” Nanci shook her head. “I’m stronger on the sticks now than I was when I started, but I’m still going to have to hit the gym pretty hard this winter so I can be ready for next spring. So, Angie, where are you staying this winter?”

“With Jeff and Marjorie,” she reported. “They have a spare room that I’m told Dan used to use when he was living with them. Marjorie is glad to have a little help with the housework, and I don’t mind helping out.”

It wasn’t exactly news to Crystal, of course; she’d known it since the end of the season. It wasn’t the first time that Jeff and Marjorie had offered a winter home to a boatman, but it wasn’t something they offered to everyone who came along either. Dan had been something of a special case; after his brain surgery two years before, he’d literally had no place to stay while he recovered, and he had been grateful that Jeff and Marjorie had extended their hands to him. He’d lived with them for over a year while he got his health and finances together, even after going to work topside for Canyon Tours.

Dan had been a nice guy when she knew him on the river, although he’d been one of those boatmen who usually had bad hangovers on the bus up to Lee’s Ferry. However, his doctor had cut him off from drinking, which had made a further improvement in a guy, who while not the smartest one to ever come down the block, was a good and loyal worker and pleasant to be around. Knowing that Jeff was starting to fade a little, Crystal could believe that she would be working with Dan for a lot of years.

Nobody had ever said anything to Crystal about it, but she realized it was just another reason why the company had been so close. Dan had extended a lot of loyalty to the company, so when trouble came to him, it was only logical to extend some loyalty to him rather than cutting him off as a useless hand. It was, she realized, just another one of the thousands of little lessons her father had to teach her in the next few years.

It was clear that running Canyon Tours wasn’t going to be as simple as she’d once imagined it to be.

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To be continued . . .

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