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Spooky Action At A Distance

Waiting for Grace

By Jerry Craven

Ordinary time, the kind measured by clocks and calendars, filled most of his life, and when it did, he felt ill at ease, longed for the ecstasy of grace, sought it and courted it and felt it defy him in its elusiveness. Almost every morning he awoke feeling heavy in his body, a heaviness that made no sense because he never carried extra weight, had been turned down by the military when he volunteered to fight the Germans in World War I, turned away because he was too light, too skinny at a hundred and fifty pounds, given how they stretched thin and long in a frame that stood six feet five inches; and the sting of rejection, the very unfairness of it drove him into despair for months. Still he arose in the mornings feeling heavy, the weight seeming to emanate from his groin, spreading through his legs and up into his chest, and he came to identify this discomfort as a need for a woman.

The need could lead him into grace, for at the heights of loving he sometimes felt time unhinge to create a sense of understanding similar to the grace that gripped him in the gravel pit. But more often than not his longing for sexual touch got him into trouble since he had to deny the need most of the time, making it worse, and he had to deny to others the existence of the need, though not to all others, not to the women who would take his hand and walk into secluded shades while he carried a blanket rolled up under one arm, for such women seemed to understand, to know the profound nature of his need for grace; even the Mormon girl sometimes understood the profundity of sex for she didn't abandon him when the men took him into the stand of salt cedar to ladle hot tar upon him; and she helped him scrub and rub to banish the tar. She lay with him even when smears of tar still clung to him, and she continued to do so until the day she climbed into a black ford with a Yankee, a man from some city back east, a man who wore a shirt with a detachable collar, baggy pants and argyle socks, a man with a white scar running from his nose to his chin, a man who spoke little but opened the door to the Ford and she got in and Andy the preacher man never saw her again.

That left him with Stella, the mother of his boys and someone he thought of as a good woman even if she told him no with firmness and consistency and he resisted her telling him no until he saw the futility of it and told himself the only thing he could do was be with other women, though he might have sought them even if Stella had been different. "More than any man I know," Dad told me during my final visit with him, four months before his death, "your grandfather was dragged through life by his penis."

The need for grace also dragged him, perhaps even more so than his need for sex, and perhaps he could not at times tell the difference. During the period when his family lived in and around a covered wagon, his carrying a blanket into shadowed places with a woman beside him resulted in bands of men inviting him to leave their communities. Such a band of men forced Daddy Andy to move when he was in his late 50s. He lived near Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on a farm with Stella, Truett and his wife Cleo and their children, one of whom was named after Andrew. On Sundays and Wednesday nights the entire family attended a small Baptist church.

sea shore

"I understand," my cousin Andy, named after our grandfather, told me just months before the end of the century, "that we have an uncle who looks just like grandpa walking around in Pea Ridge." Cousin Andy remembered how the Baptist church in Pea Ridge read Daddy Andy out of the church for messing around with a single woman, how he packed up and moved to Sam Norwood up in the Texas Panhandle, then after a year or so went to Friendswood, a small Quaker community near Houston. "He drove to nearby towns," my Cousin told me, "to attend Baptist churches and to preach."

"Sometimes his sermons were hard to follow," Gorman told me. Sometimes not. Daddy Andy preached much like any other Baptist preacher, at least most of the time--but there were times when he talked about grace in ways that both awed and puzzled the congregation.

"Marvin was the only one of us boys not named after a famous Baptist minister," Gorman told me years later when he was Dad to me, to Sue and Carl who were older than I, and Gail, who was born in Venezuela. As children, Truett and Gorman got into plenty of fights because other boys had never heard such odd names, because Daddy Andy moved his sons around the country from school to school, because the establishing of pecking order was an important ritual for boys in rural Texas schools--and pecking order depended on the ability to win at fighting. Any excuse to start a fight with the new boys was a good one, Dad told me, and poking fun at funny names was a better than average excuse to begin the pummeling. By standing together Gorman and Truett survived multiple moves to new schools and pecking-order fights at each one, and they protected their younger brother with a determination and violence that other country boys soon learned to respect.

Truett didn't follow his father to Sam Norwood, though he sent his son there, or did so after Cousin Andy attended Woodman's School near the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, a place that required long bus rides, often over snowy roads. "It was the job of the kids," my cousin recalled, "to watch for mule deer, and when we saw some we told the driver, who stopped the bus, took out his deer rifle, and trudged through the snow to get a better shot." Often the driver asked the older kids or help pull a deer carcass over snow and drag it into the bus.

My cousin joined his grandfather, attended the fifth grade in Sam Norwood, a place he liked, but Daddy Andy sought grace in the arms of Sam Norwood women, and the men of the town invited him to leave, as had men of so many other communities. It was the last time angry men ran Marion Andrew out of town.