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

Chapter 37
Saturday, December 18 – Saturday, December 25, 2004

“May God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bless, preserve and keep you. May the Lord look graciously with his favor upon you, and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and love that you may so live together in this life that in the world to come you may have life everlasting. Dan, you may kiss your bride.”

As Dan and Angie wrapped their arms around each other and settled in for a serious kiss, Nanci looked out at the spectators. There weren’t a great many of them, and most of them were rafters, not all of them from Canyon Tours. Dan had worked for the company for a long time, and he’d gotten to know several people from all the companies in town. As far as Nanci knew he had no relatives present, but his many friends more than made up for that.

It was, in fact, a better turnout of Grand Canyon boatmen and other river people than had been at the post-season party more than a month before. Among those present were Duane and Michelle MacRae. Duane hadn’t been able to be at the party, although he would have been welcome; he’d been at a training session at the Albright Center of the National Park Service up at Grand Canyon Village. In early October he’d been offered a position with the Park Service working at Grand Canyon National Park, and it had been much too good in many ways to turn down. Barbie Tompkins, who had been the assistant leader all summer, had led the last Gold Team trip of the season. By all reports, she’d done well at it.

There were others – Al and Karin, of course, and Crystal and Preach among them. Nanci had been a little surprised to see Michelle at the wedding. She was hugely pregnant, and her due date was “any time now.” They’d decided to stay with one of her relatives in Flagstaff until the baby came, since it was a long drive to the hospital from their new apartment in Grand Canyon Village. As far as Nanci knew, Michelle didn’t plan on working as turnaround supervisor again next summer, but would take care of her baby and work in her parent’s gift shop. She would probably be back on the river sometime, at least for the occasional trip, but she said she expected she probably wasn’t going to be a full-season rafter ever again.

There were many others present. Even Angie’s parents were there, and Nanci had been amused that they had been just a little miffed that the couple was being married in the Hillside Methodist Church, rather than a Baptist Church like they thought proper. Angie’s mother did concede that at least the two of them were getting married in a church, which was going to have to satisfy her.

Angie was wearing a white bridal gown, of course; it was nothing special or expensive, and had come from a secondhand shop in Flagstaff. She hadn’t wanted to spend the money on an all-out new outfit that would only be worn once, although as far as Nanci could recall it was the first time she’d seen Angie wearing a skirt or dress of any sort, period.

Just as unaccustomed was seeing Dan wearing a suit; Nanci hadn’t known he even owned one, but she realized he might have borrowed or rented it. It seemed strange to not see him wearing a Canyon Tours T-shirt or sweatshirt, and she wouldn’t have put it past him to have one on as underwear, anyway.

Finally, the newlywed couple broke apart, and turned back to the minister, who was standing there wearing a conservative medium gray suit with a black shirt and white clerical collar. The minister turned them toward the small crowd.

“It is with great honor and pleasure,” Nanci said with a big smile on her face, “that at this moment I introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Plemmons.”

*   *   *

Several hours later Nanci parked the Camry in front of a house only a couple of blocks away from Canyon Tours. She was no longer wearing the business suit with the clerical collar, but a set of old stuff so beat-up that it had been retired from river duty and rescued from the rag bag at Al’s.

The white single-story house was an older one and not in perfect shape, but it appeared solid and comfortable, and at least three times bigger than the Girls’ House. It was going to need some work, but Crystal and Preach had been working on it every spare moment they had, although they were still living at the Girls’ House and planned on being there until the mess in the new place subsided. Since this was her Christmas break Nanci had come up from Phoenix to help them out with it. Crystal and Preach had been there for a while, and the place smelled of fresh paint.

“Where’s Preach?” Nanci asked as she came in the door.

“He went out to get some more drywall mud,” Crystal answered. “So what happened? We thought about going over there with you, but we figured it would be a little crowded.”

“It was,” Nanci grinned. “There were several other people waiting, including Al and Karin and Michelle’s parents. But I have to say that’s going to be a memorable wedding reception.”

“No fooling,” Crystal shook her head. “I’m glad Preach was there with his EMT training when Michelle’s water broke. Did she have it yet?”

“Yes, a little boy. They’re naming him ‘Hance,’ after the rapids. Eight pounds, four ounces, twenty inches. He and Michelle are doing fine. I was given a moment to pray over him and his parents.”

“Hance, huh?” Crystal grinned. “There’s a tradition for you. Ever since I became a boatman I’ve been a little sorry Mom named me after the rapids, since it makes it a little hard to swear at. I’m surprised they let you in to see them so soon.”

“It helps when you’re wearing a clerical collar,” Nanci grinned. “After all, I am more or less their minister, as much as they have one.”

“You know, you looked just a little scary in that outfit. I mean, you really looked like a minister.”

“I am one, at least sort of,” Nanci nodded. “I mean, I still am the associate pastor at Hillside, even if it’s a little irregular, but I’m licensed and everything so I could do it even if that’s the first time I’ve ever married anyone. I was really a little surprised that Dan and Angie asked me to perform the service, but I was very honored when they did, so I decided I’d better look the part.”

“Yeah, but that’s not quite what I meant. I guess I’m thinking back to when we were kids, again.”

“You know, I had a thought about that myself while I was getting dressed,” Nanci snickered. “A year from next spring it’ll be ten years since I graduated from high school. I haven’t heard a thing about my old high school class for years, since well before I left Chicago. But, if I find out they’re going to have a reunion, I might just be tempted to go to it in the outfit I wore this morning, clerical collar and all.”

“No one would ever believe it. No one. They’d think it was a put-on or a costume or something.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, and that might be a good reason not to do it. But it is fun to think about.”

“I’ll grant you that,” Crystal smiled. “You know, I sort of wondered why they asked you to do the wedding, rather than Preach.”

“I think Reverend Miller would have allowed it, even though Preach is a Baptist, but I’m pretty sure Dan and Angie were sending a little message to her parents. I mean, a Methodist Church instead of Baptist? A woman minister, and a young one at that? They don’t really approve of any of those. They were not real happy with their daughter but they couldn’t say much. I think Dan and Angie were subtly declaring their independence.”

“Could be, but if they’re going to be here rather than Georgia or wherever it is she comes from, maybe it doesn’t matter that much.”

“True, but it’ll be more contact than she had with them in some time, so I suppose that counts for something. Angie was just about as isolated from her family as you were when you first went to work for Canyon Tours.”

“Yeah, that was pretty bad, wasn’t it? I’m glad that got ironed out over the years. I’ll tell you what, I much prefer to have a family around me and a little sister who I love, rather than being away from everybody and hating a bunch of them, including that little sister.”

“It is pretty miraculous, isn’t it?” Nanci grinned. “I mean, God had to work overtime on that one. So what do you want me to do, or do you just want to stand here and talk?”

“We can stand here and talk, so long as you have a paintbrush in your hand,” Crystal laughed. “We’re still a ways from having this place ready to live in, but at the price we couldn’t afford to turn it down. We were just lucky that Al knew someone who wanted to sell out and not have to pay a realtor, so we managed to work out a real good deal. We’re going to be in here before the gang comes back from Costa Rica, even if we have to sleep on the living room floor in sleeping bags.”

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty neat, too. Where do we start?”

“We’ve got the far bedroom ready to paint and the ceiling is done, so let’s get started on the walls.”

The two busied themselves with paint rollers and other tools for a few minutes, then got started painting in the bedroom. The light yellow color seemed a little strange to Nanci, and she said so. “It’s going to be the baby’s room,” Crystal explained.

“Crystal, are you telling me something?”

“No, not yet, but probably soon,” she replied. “We figured we might as well get it out of the way now and not have to do it in a rush when Preach is out on the river somewhere. It’ll serve as a spare bedroom until then, but in a year or two you could be an aunt again. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Well, I might be around to see it,” Nanci shrugged. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that, too.”

“You’re thinking you might not be around?”

“It could happen,” Nanci sighed. “I’ll be graduating next spring, but after that is still a little fuzzy.”

“You still can’t make up your mind about seminary, huh?”

“I’ve made a little progress on it, but not as much as I’d like. It’s getting to be time to get applications in, so I’ve been sending out a few all month. That doesn’t mean I’m going to go, and it doesn’t mean I’ve decided on whether I actually want to be a minister or what. But if I don’t get some applications out it means I won’t be going next fall, so getting them out leaves my options open.”

“Well, yeah, there is that. Are you planning on running the river again next summer?”

“At this point, yes. That’s the one solid thing in my future plans. If I decide to go to seminary, and if I do it won’t be close, then I may have to get off the river early. I may not know on that for a while.”

“So the wedding today didn’t make things any clearer to you?”

“Not really,” Nanci sighed. “Look, although I acted as a minister today, and I am technically a minister and have been since last spring, I’m still not ordained like Preach is. I still haven’t made up my mind if I want to be. Crystal, there is a lot more to being a minister and having a church than Sunday services and the occasional wedding. When you get down to it, that’s the fun stuff, the easy stuff. It’s skimming the cream. The hard part is the ongoing responsibility a minister has toward their congregation, and sometimes that’s not easy or pretty. I shouldn’t have to lecture you on this, since I’m sure you’ve heard more about it from Preach than you want to, but it’s the reason he shied away from it.”

“Well, yeah,” Crystal replied thoughtfully. “Actually, from as much as we’ve talked about it, there’s more to it than that, but what you said still is pretty much the core of it. You know he was asked to be the official minister at the Fellowship, don’t you?”

“I’ve heard talk about it, but nothing solid.”

“He was, and he turned them down, even if it was just going to be a paper thing. Even if he did it, he still could only be part-time, and he figured they needed more than that. It really is a sore point with him.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Nanci shrugged. “I think they figured it was going to be a long shot anyway, but they felt obligated to ask.”

“You wouldn’t happen to be thinking about it, would you?”

“Not really, and for much the same reason as Preach. It would only be part-time for me, since there’s no way they could pay me as much as Al pays me to be a boatman, which when you stop and think about it isn’t that much, even if I were to run full seasons. But if I did, what would happen if someone in the Fellowship were to die? He’d need his minister at the funeral, and to console the family. If I tried to do both being a minister and a boatman, there’s a pretty good chance I’d be out on the river when I was needed. I’m sure Preach feels the same way. In fact, that’s a pretty good example of the duty ministers have to their congregations.”

“Yeah, I see your point on that,” Crystal replied as she got a roller full of paint from the tray.

“Crystal, that’s the core of the reason why I’m still not sure if I want to be a minister to a congregation or what. If I am to perform that duty, it has to be pretty close to my first priority all the time. I mean, if I ever get married and I’m a minister, I think my congregation would have to come first unless it was a real crisis.”

“You take that pretty seriously, don’t you? I mean, I can say that, because I’ve heard Preach say pretty much the same thing.”

“Yes, I do. Crystal, you know I’ve never even come close to having a regular church I attend in Phoenix, but I visited a lot of them before I was coming up here so often to go to either Hillside or the Fellowship or both. I saw a lot of cases where ministers didn’t put their congregation first, whether it was through laziness or avarice or hypocrisy or whatever, but I don’t think I could ever do it that way. I see a minister’s taking care of a congregation as part of a duty to God. He comes first in my life, and if I take on the job of being a minister, what I would be doing foremost is serving Him by serving his people. I’ve said it before. If I’m going to do it, I want to do it right or I don’t want to do it at all.”

“Yeah, you’d better not,” Crystal grinned.

“Not become a minister?”

“Not wear that clerical collar and outfit to your class reunion. Anyone who remembers you from those days would never believe it.”

*   *   *

The next few days were easy and joyful ones for Nanci. She spent most of the time working on Crystal and Preach’s new house, painting and cleaning and such. Sometimes Crystal was at the office working on things there, so often it was just Preach and her.

The house was coming together nicely, and more quickly than Crystal and Preach had hoped; some things hadn’t been quite as bad as they’d seemed at first glance. They had hopes of being able to move in sometime before they did a couple of show dates in the east in January.

Although they didn’t have much in the way of furniture yet, some was starting to appear – not necessarily good stuff, but things they could live with until they could afford to upgrade it. Al contributed some castoffs, and one day Preach and Nanci drove Al’s pickup down to Phoenix to scavenge a few things from Jon and Tanisha. Most of it had been stacked in the living room under a plastic tarp since there was still cleaning and paint and drywall dust in the house, but it didn’t matter. Crystal and Preach figured they could at least camp out when it came time for Scooter and the gang to get back from another winter in Costa Rica.

Nanci didn’t spend all her time working on the house, although she enjoyed doing the work and enjoyed seeing her sister and brother-in-law moving on to a new level in their lives, so she was glad to help. But since Black Mesa was on trimesters, it was in the middle of the term even though school was out for the holidays, and that meant that Nanci had studying to do and some papers to write. Mostly she concentrated on them in the evenings in her familiar room at Al and Karin’s house.

As the week dwindled down, that came to an end for a few days. Jon and Tanisha were planning on coming up for the holidays and staying with Al and Karin for a while, at least partly so Karin could spend a little time playing grandmother to the two toddlers. Since having them around with no chance to retreat to her room in the basement like she did in Phoenix, she decided to move into the Girls’ House with Crystal and Preach while Jon and Tanisha were there. After all, it wasn’t as if she didn’t see Barbie and Billy most of the time when she was living in Phoenix anyway, and that would make for more room at Al’s house.

For several years Al and Karin had hosted a Christmas dinner for the recovered family, and any Canyon Tours employees or their families who happened to be in town with nothing special to do. There were always a few, sometimes college students who didn’t want to make a long trip home for the holidays, and sometimes just employees who had no place else to go. There were a few of them this year as there were every year, and, as the previous year, Dan and Angie were among them.

Nanci hadn’t seen much of the two newlyweds since their wedding. She knew they’d decided to forego a normal honeymoon, and just go back to Dan’s apartment, close the door, and call it good enough. Both of them admitted that they’d come to enjoy the married life, although they were just getting used to it.

Christmas dinner around Al and Karin’s was a little different, at least partly because so many of the people attending were boatmen who were used to putting together big meals with little fuss out on the river, so there were a lot of hands pitching in on things. Just for the sake of something different this year, Al had purchased a rig to deep-fry a turkey, and that was going out on the back porch. In case that didn’t turn out as well as expected, there was a roast beef in a crock-pot, and a ham in the oven; nobody expected to go away anything less than well fed.

Over the years some traditions had arisen at the dinner. One of them was to gather in the big living room to have a sing-a-long of some of the standard Christmas favorites. Ever since the first year she had been present at one of these shindigs – well before Nanci had appeared in Flagstaff on a tank full of fumes – Tanisha and usually Jon would sing some of the old-time gospel music she’d grown up with in her church in St. Louis. It was one of her few connections with those days, and she knew how to sing some of the old favorites in a soulful alto, in a style hardly ever heard around a Methodist Church. They were things like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Go Tell It on the Mountain. In more recent years Nanci had joined in with her on some of them, especially Down By the Riverside, which always seemed especially appropriate for this group.

Some of the older-timers among the group remembered the year Crystal’s old roommate Myleigh had shown up, bringing her favorite harp with her. Myleigh wasn’t present this time – she was with her family up in Spearfish Lake, where Crystal had learned in a recent phone call that there was going to be a similar gathering at Randy’s big lakeside house. Crystal would have liked to have been there; she’d found out back in the fall that her old roommate was pregnant, something that totally astounded her – she’d never thought that would happen, but then she’d never thought she’d be contemplating it herself until fairly recently.

It was good that they got the singing out of the way before they got down to the eating, because the combined efforts of several cooks had made enough food for a small army, and everybody more or less stuffed themselves. Afterwards, there was more standing and sitting around talking casually; there were river stories, of course, but also talk of the upcoming season, not far away.

In the next few days Angie would be painting the new bus Al had purchased down in Phoenix a few weeks before; it would be Canyon Tours brown, of course, not school bus yellow. She had proved to be as good with a paint sprayer as Jeff, and was considerably more nimble, so no one expected anything less than a great-looking job. The old bus that had been the starting and ending point of many, many river trips was no more, and virtually everyone felt a small sense of loss of a company tradition, but then, everyone expected new traditions to start, too.

Al and Crystal talked about the new schedule for next summer. It wasn’t complete yet and there were some complications they still had to iron out, but it looked like it was going to be less troublesome than the last summer had been, and the crews would have a little more time off. Everyone had run the fourteen-day trips enough last summer to believe it would be no real problem in the future, and it looked like each team would get the chance to do at least one of the tow-in trips rather than taking out at Diamond Creek.

Al showed off some samples of the new promotional material that would be used at the shows after the first of the year, posters and brochures and things. One of the posters was from a photo one of his photographer friends had taken of Nanci in a raft going over one of the huge backrollers in Hance; the bow of the raft was high in the air as she struggled to keep the raft straight. It had been a little bit intentional; the photographer on shore had asked them to make it look spectacular, and it did! Nanci resolved she was going to snag one for herself.

But only some of it was shop talk; most of it was friendship, just enjoying being together for this special holiday. It may not have happened often, but it was why Canyon Tours was more than just a job to these people.

Nanci didn’t say anything to anyone about it, but deep down inside she realized that she’d better be enjoying this gathering of the clan, because she was aware that it could be the last one for her, perhaps for a while, perhaps forever. There was nothing she could put her finger on, but her upcoming graduation from college seemed to indicate to her that she would be taking the next step in her life, much like Jon and Tanisha had done when they’d had Barbie, then Billy. And, for that matter much like Crystal and Preach had done when they’d decided to give up some of the life of adventure they had sought, buy a house, consider starting a family, and getting a semblance of a regular life.

It was time for Nanci to think about moving on with her new life, as well. She’d had the feeling for some time that this was only temporary for her – the life of being a boatman and a college student. Flagstaff, Canyon Tours, Black Mesa and Phoenix had been places where she could put away her past, lick her wounds, and reset herself to face the world again.

While she didn’t know – couldn’t know – what her future would bring, she knew that a decision was not far off in her future, but she wasn’t quite ready to make it.

Not yet.

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To be continued . . .

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