I had enough brain function going by the time I saw the bow and the cherry that, wisely, I didn’t startle or say anything dumb, even though I did have a flashback to the night of my birthday when we were first together when he’d wanted me to take him. I still didn’t know what was going on, but I wisely just looked at my Lover Boy and smiled. His smile changed from charming to lascivious, and he said sweetly, “Happy Valentine’s Day, my Sexy Man.”
The lights came on in my brain. I, of course, hadn’t thought about it at all, and then I realized what was going on. He said sweetly, “You have your choice. You can eat the cherry in my belly button first, or you can remove the bow to get to your gift.”
It only took a few seconds and all the neurons were firing, and I said, as dreamily as I could, “You mean that I’m so lucky that I get two gifts?”
The smile turned into a grin and the dimples flared. “Well, my Sexy Man, last year we both spaced Valentine’s Day, but this year, yes you do. But you have to decide which you want first, though.”
I leaned over and kissed him, and whispered softly, “This is easy,” and started slipping down the bed, kissing and licking his neck and chest and nipples. He groaned and said, “If you take the cherry first, you have to lick up all the juice on my belly.”
That made for some erotic thoughts, and I could feel myself getting hard. The cherry was sweet and crunchy, and there was just enough juice in his belly button to make licking it out fun, and then for good measure I licked the rest of his belly and nuzzled down into his pubes. He was groaning more regularly now, and I remembered the bow and raised up to examine it. He was rock hard, the head of his cock glistening with precum, bright purplish-red and full. The ribbon that made the bow looked tight.
“That has to be a little uncomfortable. Would my Valentine Boy like me to relieve the tension for him?” I kissed the head of his cock and he groaned, and I looked up at him. “Yes, please my Sexy Man. I’d like both tensions relieved. That would be a wonderful expression of your love for me.”
I kissed the head of his cock again and carefully untied the bow and let the ribbon fall onto his groin. I looked back up at him and his eyes were wide, and he was clearly excited.
“You’re such a delightful Valentine Boy, and you taste so good up there,” and I looked at his belly,” that I’m betting you taste even better down here. I want you to watch this, because I’m going to consume your cock ever so slowly and try and drive you wild, to show you I mean it when I say that you’re the best Valentine Boy!”
That became the most memorable Valentine Day ever for me.
I later found out he’d set it up with Will, so we wouldn’t be interrupted while he gave me my gift, and he woke us early, so we weren’t late for school. The expression on Will’s face could have been in the movies, it was so contorted as he tried not to laugh, and all the while it was so obvious that he desperately wanted to ask about what had happened.
The next PDA was a fairly open conversation about the question of how safe it really was to come out given how recent legalization was in Oregon and how many biased and bigoted people there were in the world. I pointed out the scary reality that homophobia was part of the motivation for Dan White to assassinate Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk the previous November. A couple of students didn’t seem to know what I was describing, and I filled them in that White was the only person on the City Council in San Francisco to vote against the city’s gay rights ordinance, and Milk was an out and public gay man fighting for gay rights. The discussion pretty well came down to the reality that for the most part campus was a safe and secure place, but everyone had to be careful out there in society in general.
Sam had been quiet, but towards the end she asked a couple of questions, and then looked at everyone and said she wanted us all to know how helpful and meaningful what everyone had said to her last week really was. She ended up telling us that she’d been in a relationship with a girlfriend her senior year, the first person in her life she really loved and who loved her back. Her parents found out and told her they didn’t approve, and she was underage and stopped them seeing each other.
“That’s why it was so hard to talk about it. But thanks, you guys. Just telling Ruth and you that much helped a lot. That and knowing you’re all here for me. Also, I’m still on crutches, and these two with Ruth have been my nursing team and Jackson and Will have been driving me to PT and shopping and stuff. I wouldn’t have made it through this without them.”
Thursday at lunch I buzzed into Portland to the BMW dealership to buy an oil filter for the 2002. While I was the Parts counter, Dieter walked by and recognized me and came over to say hello. He asked how the car was running, and I told him perfectly. He inquired if I was satisfied and happy. I told him I’d never been happier. He paused, a glint in his eye, and said, “That is good to hear, but I hope you don’t find me too forward if I ask you whether the state of your happiness is from the automobile or your boyfriend?”
I started, then remembered the time with him on the day we bought the 2002, and the sincere comments he’d made after he got to know us, and particularly what he’d said about my boyfriend. “Dieter, I’m not put off at all. Truth be known, I’m as happy as I am for three reasons. My boyfriend, my job and my car. Or, as you would put it, my automobile.”
He smiled widely. “We should all be so fortunate. Are you in a hurry to return to campus, or can I interest you in joining me for a quick lunch?” He was being very sincere and so I agreed, and we walked across the street to a sandwich shop. As we ate, I told him about letting Jackson’s Dad drive the 2002 and how that took some of the “why are you driving a foreign car” attitude out of him, and how Jackson had loved driving down to Newberg with a friend in the car. “It’s everything you said it would be. Thank you!”
He accepted the compliment graciously, and we talked about a number of things as we ate. He was really a pleasant person and a great conversationalist. He wasn’t so sure, though, when I told him that I purchased the oil filter because Jackson and a friend were going to change the oil in the car. I assured him Will knew what he was doing, had worked in his Dad’s auto parts store for years, and he reminded me not to overlook the next major scheduled service.
Thursday’s dinner conversation was all about how intense choir practice had become, working over and over on technique and timing. It sounded like it was intense and hard work, but they weren’t actually complaining about it. They accepted it was hard work, but they were both up for it because they understood that’s what it took to get the pieces down and perform well.
Finally, I said, “Okay guys. Can you step back for a minute from being the performers having to do all this work on technique and timing?”
They looked at me with the kind of patience you would when a fifth grader asks a dumb question.
“Good, now that you’ve stepped back from the nitty gritty details, how does it sound to you? Is it all translating into the kind of sound you’d want to hear, the kind of sound you’re happy with?”
They looked at each other and slowly smiled, and then Will said, “We’re getting kind of anal, aren’t we?”
I just smiled. Then he grinned and I could see his eyes sparkle, and he said, “Not that anal is bad, in its place, but I mean anal compulsive, that’s the problem.”
We all cracked up, and that took the edge off things. Jackson commented that it actually did sound good, and that the work was paying off, and like Susan had said, Robert knew what he was doing.
Friday after class they loaded Sam in Will’s car and took her out to do some shopping, and were back in time for Will to clean up for his date. He looked pretty excited, and I raised my eyebrows. “You may have heard that Superman with Christopher Reeves finally made it to Portland. So, we’re going to see it downtown.”
I asked him how come he and Ron hadn’t arranged for us all to go on a double date? He looked momentarily flustered, then I started laughing, and he caught the joke. I gave him a hug and told him to go have a good time.
Jackson had heard the give and take, and came in the kitchen after he heard the front door shut. “Ahh, young love. Or, maybe better said, the energy of young love.”
I smiled at him. “I’m happy for Will, and I know you are too. He deserves a good time and a little romance.”
“Oh, he does for sure, and the best part is that he’s so balanced about it. He keeps saying they’re not in love, but they like each other and enjoy spending time together, so that all sounds good. I’m not quizzing him about their love life. That’s their business, and I had enough of that with him and Kevin. Maybe we should do a double date sometime.”
“That could be fun, and I hear you about Will seeming balanced. Now, why don’t you come over here and slice and then sauté these mushrooms, then we’ll add them to the steamed green beans with a little splash of Marsala and some garlic. Meanwhile, I’ll do these chicken breasts, and we’ll dine in elegance.”
“Do we want salad too?”
“Absolutely, Lover Boy, maybe with that new Caesar dressing recipe you found.”
I poured us each a glass of wine and we had a leisurely dinner, listened to music and talked about end of the quarter and spring break after we cleaned up. Later we flipped on the TV for The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson was pretty funny in his monologue, and we were both cutting up. Then he announced that guests would be David Brenner, the stand-up comedian, and Ray Charles. Brenner did a killer segment of observational comedy, and even had Johnny Carson laughing. They did a short interview, then there was a commercial break to be followed by Ray Charles. Jackson ran to the kitchen to get us both another glass of wine, and was coming back when the front door opened, and in came Will with Ron.
I couldn’t see it from the living room, but heard the hubbub and the greetings, and next thing Will walks in with our two glasses of wine and says ‘Hi’ and Ron somewhat timidly says ‘Hi’ and I said, “What’s with the wine?”
Will replied, “These are yours and Jackson’s. He went to the kitchen to get a couple more for me and Ron.”
“Cool. He’s a good host. You guys grab a seat, because Ray Charles is about to perform on The Tonight Show.”
They were impressed and settled down next to each other on the couch as Jackson handed them each a glass of wine. Johnny introduced Ray Charles by talking about his new album called Ain’t It So, and he then performed an exciting up-tempo version of Irving Berlin’s classic What’ll I Do?” Normally it was sung at a very slow and methodical pace, but Ray added a boppy tempo, accompanied by the Tonight Show orchestra and with a great saxophone solo. It had rhythm and a great vibe, and we were all rocking along with it.
The show was ending with a comedy sketch, so I turned the TV off and asked how Superman was? They both grinned and said it had been great and that we had to go see it, being sci-fi fans.
Jackson softly said, “How were the flying scenes? I mean, remember the Superman TV show in re-runs when we were kids? The flying scenes were so bad, and Superman was wearing that weird kind of wool outfit thing?”
Ron was grinning along with him. “Yeah, that was bad. This was really cool. The flying was believable, and the costume was quite good. Like form fitting and looked kind of futuristic. I mean, I’m starting to do set design, I don’t do costume work, but I can tell good work when I see it, and it worked and was believable. You guys will have to tell me what you think when you go see it.”
I told him we would, and then went on, “And welcome to our home, Ron. We want you to know you’re welcome, and there’s nothing to feel strange about. Will lives here. This is his house too, and he invited you here, and we’re fully on board. Okay? Everything is cool.”
He smiled shyly, “Thanks David. I needed to hear that. Will said it would be Okay with you two, but I still needed to hear it. You know me and all my gay hang-ups.”
Jackson sat up in his chair. “What hang-ups? I thought they were all resolved. I mean you’ve been coming to PDA for six weeks or whatever, I expected you’d be completely sorted out by now!”
“Yeah, right! Anyway, Will told me it would be fine, that you’d told him that. But to have you just say it is so great. No wonder this guy loves you so much.” He poked Will in the ribs as he said it.
“Hey, we’re just glad to have you here. You know, if Will’s happy, then we’re happy.”
We talked for another twenty minutes and finished our wine, and I gave Jackson the visual high sign. “Listen, you two. You’ve probably still got lots of details in the movie to talk about. We’re going to bed. Just make sure the door’s locked and the lights are out. We’ll see you guys for breakfast.”
Jackson grabbed our wine glasses, and softly said “Sleep well, guys.” But I could see his eyebrows working. He wasn’t going to let them just have a free ride.
We were making French toast in the morning when they wandered into the kitchen. Jackson was playing dutiful host, waving them to seats at the kitchen table, pouring orange juice and asking how they slept and who wanted coffee. Ron passed on the coffee, made a quick comment about sleeping well, but seemed quite surprised at the service and offering.
“Oh yeah, Ron, it’s like this every morning around here. Right Will?”
“During the week, the coffee is prepared but you’re on your own for everything else. But these two make it like going to Denny’s on Saturday and Sunday. Living here is pretty great. All I have to do is wash dishes and stuff.”
We actually had a pleasant and fun conversation over breakfast. There were no hang-ups, and more importantly there was none of the weird behavior that Kevin had manifested after he and Will spent the night together. In my mind that was the most important thing that happened. It’s pretty hard to go through something like that, as Will did a couple of times and not believe that you were a cause of some part of it. Ron acted like he took what I’d said the evening before at face value, and it felt totally normal and healthy, and I was happy it had happened and pleased to watch it.
It looked to be a dry day, with broken sun in the afternoon. I told them I had to go shopping and Jackson opted to come with me and leave them alone. Will asked when we’d be back and where the oil filter was. I told him in the trunk, and he said he’d do the Nova when he got back from dropping Ron off at the dorm, because it was best with the oil warm, and then when we got back from shopping, he’d do the BMW. We waved goodbye and headed out.
That afternoon Jackson got his first lesson on automobile oil changes. Will was prepared. In the trunk of his car he had the filter and oil as well as a receptacle to catch the oil and a filter wrench. He showed Jackson how to drain the oil and then remove and replace the filter and refill the crankcase. Pretty basic stuff…unless you’ve never done it yourself before.
Later in the afternoon they both came in, a little dirty and sweaty, and Will headed to take a shower, and Jackson sat down in the kitchen next to me.
“How’d it go?”
“Pretty well. We didn’t break anything, and I learned a lot. I also learned there’s this thing called a creeper, a kind of wood tray with wheels that you lay on so you can roll under the vehicle and don’t get so dirty and stuff. Will needs to get one of those.”
I’d been paying bills, and now pushed them aside and pulled my sweaty and musky-smelling boyfriend into an embrace.
“Don’t you think I’m a little dirty from laying in the driveway under the car?”
“I hadn’t thought about that because I’m totally entranced with the way you smell right now. You’ve got this totally sexy sweaty smell going on that’s driving me crazy.”
“Really? I smell sexy?”
“Just goes to show, neither Brut nor Canoe are required! There’s this weird part of my brain that wants to stick my nose in your arm pit, or maybe in your crotch. See?” I placed his hand on my crotch and he squeezed my hard on.
“Okay, I believe you. Good to know. Next time I want to get laid and you’re not in the mood I just need to go work up a sweat.”
I wiggled my eyebrows. “It’s like a few times during our first summer when you came by the house after mowing. Your skin was gleaming from the perspiration, and you smelled so, I don’t know, so…virile. Speaking of romance, did Will say anything?”
“Yeah, I didn’t quiz him, but it was kind of like he felt he needed to let me know or something. They had a good time together. A lot of hugging and a little sex, and basically they feel good about it and about each other.”
“That sounds like a good formula.”
“Yeah. Will needs some positive experiences after Kevin, and Ron needs some positive experiences to start out, so that’s all good. They’re going slow and I think that’s smart, and they only went as far as some oral. And, he told me. I didn’t grill him, but it all feels good. Like, healthy. I’m happy for him.”
“Me too, and I’m not saying a word.
The next couple of PDA’s ended up focusing on identity and I was happy that most of them were starting to really understand and be clear on the need to understand the elements of your identity if you were going to be able to come out and feel strong and comfortable as a homosexual person. Jackson shared a little more about his before and after identity charts at one point, and that helped move the conversation forward.
Sam asked occasional questions but was pretty quiet for the most part. Her recovery from the ski accident was slow, but she was constantly being encouraged not to rush anything. The risk of bone death had gotten Jackson and Will’s attention, and they were playing nurse and urging caution until early March when they took her back for a two month follow up. She had a complete work up and X-rays, and got the good news that all signs were of a healthy healing with no adverse indications about the head of her femur. The prognosis was for a complete recovery if she was cautious for the next two months. She left with a prescription for twice-weekly physical therapy, after which the promise was that she’d be pretty much back to normal. Without a car, she needed transportation, and Will or Jackson were able to take her after class on Tuesday and Thursday, and they’d study while she did her therapy, and then be back on campus in time for choir practice.
Ron and Will continued dating, on most weekends, and the last Friday in February Judy Collins was on The Tonight Show, and sang the title track off her newest album Hard Times For Lovers, which was striking with its lyrics about so many couples breaking up.
For every other married pair of us
That already split in two
Each of us turning our own lives alone
For sleeping with someone new
Ain't it true
These are hard times for lovers
Everyone wants to be free
Ain't these hard times for lovers
Everyone singing, I gotta be me
The honesty of the song was striking, if a little shocking. Jackson was holding my hand, and when the song ended, he said, “She had such a lyric voice, and it just flows up and down the scale. It’s just beautiful. But you know what? What she’s singing about won’t happen to us!”
He looked absolutely adamant as he said it. I knew it to be absolutely true. “The trouble is that the people she’s singing about never sorted out their identity or found their other half. We have.”
Even though they only dated on the weekends, Will and Ron saw a lot of each other with PDA and the discussion group, and often lunch together, so it wasn’t like they were starved for each other’s attention by the time the weekend came around.
The next Friday, Ron came to our house for dinner, and then we walked to the theater in Sellwood to see The Deerhunter. That was a heavy one, and certainly provided both Jackson and Will a new understanding about the extremes that their father’s might have experienced in Vietnam.
He stayed over that night, and the whole scene had become healthy and happy enough that there was give and take, as in Jackson giving it to Will and Ron the next morning about how they had been so thoughtful and quiet all night long…quiet enough to make one wonder if anything was really going on or not? Ron blushed. Will rolled his eyes and said, “Jackson, leave it!” He turned to Ron and said, “See, I told you it wouldn’t be long. But you have to know he only hassles people like this if he loves them.”
The conversation turned to the intense choir practices they both expected during the week to finish preparation for Friday’s Winter quarter performance. They were happy with the work and the way the performances were going, and were both upbeat. Ron told them he’d be there because he wanted to hear Will sing, support them both, and it would be a nice change for a Friday night date.
The Capella Chorus’ Winter quarter performance was understood to be their “Easter” performance, and was two weeks before finals, so there was quite a bit of pressure building. Mona was becoming Jackson and Will’s biggest music fan, and kept them positive and assured. She and her husband met Ron and me in the lobby, and we waited for Carter and Marcia. I introduced Mona as the lady who kept the Campus Ministry Center running, then her husband, and finally Ron as a close friend of Will’s. Carter and Marcia seemed genuinely pleased to meet them, and then we all found our seats and settled in for the performance, programs in hand.
Capella Chorale Winter Performance – Anticipating Easter
Surgens Jesus composed by Orlando de Lassus
Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana composed by Pietro Mascagni
Haec Dies composed by William Byrd
I monte Oliveti composed by Carlo Gesualdo
Worthy is the Lamb from The Messiah composed by George Frederich Handel
I’d long been a fan of Orlando de Lassus, so was personally happy to see the program open with one of his compositions, but wondered how it would go over. Robert had proven in the last performance that opening with a familiar tune and closing with a strong one was a winning formula. Here was a subtly beautiful composition, but one most of the audience was probably not familiar with. Still, the theme was Easter, and the subject of this motet was the first encounter of Jesus with the disciples after the Resurrection. While a study in subdued polyphony, the rising octaves of the voices in the arrangement are striking, and the wonderful alternation of the male and female voices that shine through at various points in the hymn are wonderful. It set the perfect tone to open the evening’s performance.
The next hymn, Mascagni’s Easter Hymn from his opera was striking, and conveyed some of the feeling of all the performers of an opera belting out a hymn on stage. The hymn began with just solo organ, then is joined by chorus and finally the entire choir. It was totally uplifting.
I now had to give Robert credit for his hymn selection, beginning with a subdued hymn, then moving to a dramatic one, and now with the Byrd hymn, moving to a sublime rendition. Haec Dies (This is the day) is associated with Easter, and sung in the Catholic church at the Mass on Easter. It has a six-voice setting, and perfectly captures the joy of the resurrection.
The program continued with another selection of Renaissance polyphony, Gesualdo’s I Monte Oliveti, comprised of three sets of nine short pieces, one set each for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The composition deftly used dissonance to convey Christ’s suffering, glorious harmonies and collectively is quite moving.
The performance concluded with the next to last hymn from The Messiah, which summarizes the entire Oratorio and triumphantly recalls the death, resurrection and ascension of the “Lamb worthy to be accepted into heaven.” I did find myself having to quell the negative urges regarding the specific historical reality being sung about, and remind myself to enjoy the beauty of the music, and use it to understand the text metaphorically.
As we stood waiting for Jackson and Will to appear, I asked Ron how he thought the performance compared to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? He grinned and said, “Well, first off, if you like big…as in overwhelming…choir sound, then there’s no comparison. There’s how many people in the Tabernacle Choir? It can be hundreds, and they’ve all pros, and they’re loud. Second, this is college and a much smaller choir, and it’s much more delicate with a softer sound. I prefer it, and could actually decipher the lyrics. I mean, they were in Latin and I don’t know what most of the words meant, but I could make out the words. Did you like it?”
I grinned at him. “I liked it a lot, for all the same reasons you stated. Plus, I like Robert Atkins hymn selection and placement. The way the vibe moved from soft and subtle to louder and more dynamic.”
Carter and Marcia had joined the conversation, and he said he concurred, quite liking the hymn selection. “I’m a Handel fan, but to my mind The Messiah can completely dominate Easter music, and this was a very nice alternative presentation. Now, that said, when Jackson and Will join us, Marcia and I are inviting all of you to join us at our home for some light refreshment. Specifically, a toast to the two voices who contributed so well to the magnificent choir sound tonight.”
I could see the surprise on Mona and Ron’s faces. Marcia did too, and immediately stepped in to allay any concerns they might have, and tell them to not even think about not being faculty members. “Tonight, we’re all friends who greatly enjoy the music and one and other’s company. We only live a few blocks off campus, so it’s convenient and will be fun.”
When Will and Jackson finally joined us, they still looked a little flushed, but happy. I gave Jackson a hug, and could see Ron give Will a little less passionate one as well. I also saw Marcia notice it. They were pleasantly surprised to learn we were going to the Higgins’ for a small celebration, but got right with the program. We saw Robert briefly before we left, and congratulated him on a wonderful program. Then we were off to the Higgins home.
We were there in no time, and Marcia, great hostess that she was, made it fun. They had a huge bar and she and Carter made quite a fuss about getting everyone their preferred drink. Carter paused after taking Mona and her husband’s order and looked at the rest of us. “For the record, you David, I know to be over twenty-one. In Oregon one may drink in a residence with a parent or guardian present. Now, you, Jackson, I know to be emancipated, but assume David is your guardian, and likewise for Will since he is living with you under his parent’s permission. Yes?”
I saw a twinkle in his eye. “It appears then, that the odd one out is Ron. It’s too bad he’s not living in your home, because then he would legally qualify.”
Will was looking at me, and I grinned and nodded. He looked at Carter and said, “Professor Higgins, he’ll be living in our home tonight. Does that count?”
Carter broke a huge smile, and I could see the other adults smile as well, and he said, “That counts in my book. Shall I pour each of you boys a glass of Chardonnay?”
They all nodded, and he looked at me and said, “David, I am going to prevail on you to join me for a Scotch on the rocks. Are you up for that?”
I nodded, grinning widely. On what other planet do students get invited to professor’s homes and treated like this.
We only had one drink each, knowing we had to drive home, and that included down the Palatine Hill from campus and over the Sellwood Bridge. It was a fun time discussing the evening’s performance, and Jackson and Will shared a bit about the hard work involved in mastering the technical elements to make it come off well. Carter had spent some time illuminating me on the finer points of good Scotch whiskey.
When we got home and collected in the living room, Ron’s first comment was about how unbelievable what just happened was for a Mormon boy from Utah. “I bet,” I replied, “welcomed by one of your professors into his home, accepting your gay relationship with warmth and a smile, and offering you a glass of Chardonnay to boot. I’m betting that doesn’t happen in Utah too often.”
He just rolled his eyes.
“Here’s what I’m suggesting, since all four of us have had exactly one drink tonight, and we’re home now, and it would be entirely appropriate to do a little more celebrating of the fine performance we heard this evening. I have a bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge, so you three chill out, and I’ll go get four glass and the vino, and we’ll have another toast. Jackson, would you put on some music?”
When I came back, he had The Messiah playing, and we had a very pleasant time discussing music and performance. The only problem was that four people couldn’t fit on the couch comfortably, so Jackson kind of sat on my lap in one of the easy chairs. I told myself a love seat would be a good replacement for one of the armchairs.
Will took Ron back to the dorm mid-day, and we spent Saturday doing laundry and cleaning house, knowing the week ahead was the last before finals, meaning lots of academic work, so we’d deferred both PDA and the discussion group until the start of the new quarter. JC called in the evening and after talking to Jackson about the choir performance said he had a proposition for the both of us. Jackson waved me over and we ended up kind of sharing the phone between our two ears.
“So, here’s the deal. You’ve got Spring Break coming up, and we’ve talked about fishing for a year and never done anything about it. It’s spring chinook salmon season, and I’m suggesting you two come up here and we’ll go fishing for a couple of days. What do you say?”
We were both caught flat-footed, but a quick glance confirmed it sounded like a fabulous idea. “What do we need to do?”
“I want this to be memorable for you two, and a lot of fun. The spring chinook return is early this year, and instead of getting on some big old boat out in the ocean, doing combat fishing with a hundred other people, I think you guys would just love a float on the Hoh River. I’ve talked to a guide I’ve used before, and he’s got some days open. You’d just have to drive up the Washington coast and we’d meet in Forks. That’s a small logging town on the Olympic Peninsula. You both buy fishing licenses when you get there, and that’s all you have to do. I’ll take care of the rest. We stay in a motel in Forks and we fish for two days. The Hoh River runs out of the Olympic Mountains and it is unbelievably beautiful. And if we catch fish on top of that, all the better. Oh, you need to have a waterproof jacket and pants, and a decent sized cooler with you in the trunk of your car, because if we catch fish, you’ll be taking salmon filets home with you!”
We were both grinning like kids at Christmas and told JC he had a deal. We’d work out the details over the next ten days, but it sounded like an outrageous undertaking. I checked in with Will, and he said he’d be fine with us gone for a few days. He wasn’t going to spend Spring Break in Newberg, and could watch the house for us…whatever that meant!
Jackson and Will studied hard over the coming week, and even came home from the final Glee Club practice happy and energized. I was looking forward to Friday’s performance. I knew Mona was too, and Carter assured me that he and Marcia would be there when I told him that they’d be performing an arrangement Will did.
Word had gotten around in the discussion group that Will’s arrangement of Across The Universe was on the program for the Glee Club performance, and everyone said they were going to be there. Ron and I were standing in the lobby, and were shortly joined by Mona and her husband, and then along came Carter and Marcia, who greeted us all like old friends. In a couple of minutes Ruth and Sam came in, and Sam was down to one crutch and moving well on it. We all headed in to grab a block of seats, and Ruth volunteered to shepherd the rest of the discussion group students to the right seats as they dribble in.
We were all seated with programs before the start time, and finally got to see the breadth of the program.
Winter Quarter Glee Club Program
The Lion Sleeps Tonight, composed by Solomon Linda
Shenandoah, folk song ; American Traditional / Unspecified
Sailing, Sailing (Over the Bounding Main); English Traditional / Unspecified
H. M. S. Pinafore (The Lass that Loved a Sailor), from the operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan
Spanish Ladies; English Traditional / Unspecified
Across The Universe, composed by John Lennon & Paul McCartney, arranged by Will Summers
Battle Hymn of the Republic; composed by Julia Ward Howe
Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?, Traditional Spiritual
Hanacpachap Cussicuinin, Anonymous; arranged by Juan Perez Bocanegra
Christ Rising Again, composed by John Shepherd
After the chorus members trooped in and took their places on the risers, Robert Atkins came in and stood in front of them and addressed the audience, explaining that as was typically the case, this was a hybrid performance, with a mix of traditional and popular songs arranged for male chorus, and closing with spiritual hymns that anticipate the Easter season ahead. He paused and then said, “I’m especially pleased to let you know that one of the popular songs we’ll be performing tonight was arranged by our own Will Summers, and that is especially exciting.” He then turned to face the Glee Club, and the performance began.
The first two songs were a study in contrast. The ‘50’s popular song about the Lion Sleeps Tonight, had a great beat and killer harmonies, and most people had never heard arranged for male chorus. It was followed by the much more lyric and traditional American song of the south. Then a major tempo switch, which I’d grown to expect from Robert, with the next three songs providing a rousing and upbeat change of pace.
Then there was a pause, as if the chorus was adjusting for a mood change, and Robert raised his arms and they began to sing Across The Universe.
All of our group was in the know about Will having done the arrangement, but only Jackson and I knew that Will was singing the solo part. It was short part and wonderfully complementary to the whole song, but there was an audible gasp from our small group when he walked forward to sing. Then he faded back into the chorus and the song went on and concluded in a lovely manner with the proclamation that nothings gonna change my world! In my heart of hearts, I hoped that was now true for Will.
The program now took a spiritual turn, appropriate for Easter, introduced with The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the famous song originally written as a poem by Julia Ward Howe, and the sung using the melody an old Methodist camp meeting song. The deeply Biblical lyrics combined with the musical arrangement are certainly stirring:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
That rousing emotion was then contrasted with the Negro Spiritual Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel? Besides turning the focus on being saved by the Lord, it also pointed out that Robert Atkins had a wry sense of humor and knew his history when he could play a popular Civil War song followed by a Negro Spiritual.
The musical contrasts continued with the dramatic switch to Hanacpachap Cussicuinin, that surely almost no one was familiar with, but was a hymn to the Virgin Mary composed in the 17th Century and sung in the Quechua language from Peru, but set to a European music style. It was subtly accompanied by percussion and Latin hand shakers.
The quiet rhythmic nature of the Quechua hymn was a wonder in itself, but it also created the still and settled atmosphere needed to hear and appreciate John Shephard’s 16th Century hymn Christ Rising Again, after which a hush fell on the audience, almost as if they didn’t know if it would have been inappropriate to applaud.
The applause began quietly and then slowly built in volume and enthusiasm, and you could see from the expressions of the singers that they were thrilled. We all collectively waited in the lobby for Will and Jackson, and when they joined the group, looking pumped and happy, Marcia immediately said to the entire group of us, “I understand you’re all friends one way or the other from the Campus Ministry Center, so you’re all invited to our house, which is just off campus, for a short celebration. Are you all coming?”
Everyone said “Yes,” and we gathered in their living room within twenty minutes.
It took a few minutes for those there for the first time to get over the novelty of having been invited into the home of a professor, but the Higgins were pros at disarming people and making them comfortable. By the time Carter had gone through his bar tending routine, making sure that all the students understood that one way of the other, for tonight, I was their guardian and that they were allowed no more than one glass of wine or one beer, the fun was underway.
A lot of it early on was about Will’s arrangement, and especially his solo part. He acted nonplussed and a tad embarrassed, then after he recounted the back story and understood that everyone was supporting him and proud of him on, he loosened up and accepted the compliments. It only took a little time in the spotlight to be enough, and he and Ron retreated to a side of the room where they could be together.
Ruth and Sam stayed pretty close and Mona and Marcia spent quite a bit of time with them, making sure they didn’t feel like the odd young women in the mix. The conversation continued about the performance, then turned to finals in the coming week, and that put just a bit of a damper on the evening.
As our celebration was drawing to a close, Carter made a point of letting everyone know that in addition to the musical performance that was being celebrated here, he and Marcia had been tracking what had been developing in the Campus Ministry Center, and he wanted us all to know it was very positive, that they wished the absolute best for all the students involved, and were thrilled to see this kind of support on the part of the group for a couple of its members.
On the way out to the cars, after we said our goodbyes and thanked the Higgins, Will said “We’ll see you at home in a few.” It felt natural, as it did ten minutes when he and Ron came in the front door. I had a bottle of wine open with four glasses, and we chatted for a while, Jackson mainly making the point to Will that his solo had been magnificent, and that there could now be no further argument that his arrangement had worked exceptionally well. All Ron and I could do was agree.
Finals week. What more is there to say, except that one hopes nothing untoward happens to disrupt the studying and preparation necessary. Fortunately for all of us, it was an uneventful week. Lots of studying and cramming, and both Will and Jackson said they felt they’d done pretty well, or with a little luck that they’d aced it. Either way, it wasn’t a surprise since they had studied and done the work steadily all quarter long.
Thursday evening, I asked Will if he and Ron were planning a date over the weekend, and what was happening over Spring Break? They were going on a date Friday night, and Ron was not going home for break. He didn’t want to be back in Utah, even though he loved his parents, and was hoping a summer intern orientation for the Ashland Shakespearean Festival would come together. That was when I told him to make sure that Ron had his Saturday evening clear because I was taking all of us out to dinner to celebrate.
“Really? You’re serious? You want to do this?”
“That’s what I said. Remember when I took Jackson to Jake’s Crawfish Restaurant for his birthday? Well, the company is now McCormick and Schmick’s, and they’ve opened a new restaurant downtown, and we’ve got reservations there for 7:00 PM on Saturday. So, we leave here at 6:30, and you better tell Ron to bring enough clothes with him tomorrow for the entire weekend!”
We had a great evening, with a wonderful dinner and good service, during which I was able to explain that we’d be leaving on Monday, fish Tuesday and Wednesday with JC, and then be back early afternoon on Thursday. I also made clear that while Will was kindly “watching the house,” for us, Ron was more than welcome to stay there with him. No need to be one of the very few guys in the dorm during the week. They both grinned like Cheshire cats at that, and Ron let us know that he’d gotten the nod and mid-week he was going down to Ashland for the summer internship orientation at the Shakespearean Festival.
We basically laid low and did domestic stuff on Sunday, and then headed out mid-morning on Monday for Forks. It didn’t look that far on the map, but it was over a five-hour drive since almost all of it was on State highways. But the country was beautiful. We were in no rush, and instead of driving as far north as we could on I-5 and then cutting over to Grays Harbor, we elected to drive to Astoria, the site of one of our church camp stops our first summer together. We took the Astoria-Megler Bridge over the mouth of the Columbia River and from there we went north on Highway 101, pretty much following the coast. We got some rain and low clouds on the way, but we also got a decent amount of broken sunlight and loved the beauty of it. The Washington coast is every bit as beautiful as the Oregon coast.
When we got to Forks, it such a small town it didn’t take long to find our way to the motor hotel JC had reserved for us to stay in. This wasn’t a typical highway motel, but a motor hotel, built out of dark wood, with a cedar shingle roof, and a warn Northwest feel to it. Each room had a small kitchen and living room with two bedrooms and a shared bathroom. JC had gotten in earlier than us, and already made a run to the grocery store for the important things, like wine, beer, snacks, and fixings for breakfast! We had a lovely time catching up, and JC put Jackson through his paces making him recount all the details about the choir and glee club performances and finals week. The net of all that was a proud father!
Forks is a small logging town, and the logging industry was already faltering, so the restaurant options were limited, but we went to a local cafe and had a decent steak dinner. JC gave us an overview of the next two days, that we’d be with a very experienced fishing guide, that we’d be floating in a very stable drift boat that the guide would man with oars, and that it would comfortably handle the three of us.
He could see the concern on our faces since we’d never fished before, and allayed it. “Larry has it all under control. He knows the river like the back of his hand. We’ll each have a pole with the right lures, and we’re drifting downstream. He’ll set up the poles and lures for us, maneuver us to each hole, tell each of us where to drop our line and how much to let out. It’ll take a little practice, but you’ll be amazed how easy it will be.”
We grinned, and he went on, “And, the best part is that we have the privilege to fish in this totally amazing and beautiful river. It’s short, because it runs out of the Olympic Mountains to the Pacific, but it’s a very productive river, meaning lots of fish. There are three drift runs on the Hoh, each one about six or seven hours, and we’re doing the Middle run tomorrow and then the Lower run on Thursday. Just plan on having fun and enjoying the beauty.”
Larry was a great guide, mixing patience and humor. He got us outfitted with wading boots, rods and reels, and then made sure we knew the basics about letting out the amount of line he’d tell us to by watching the counter on the reel, understanding that when we had a salmon on, the point was to slowly bring the fish in to the boat. We had to expect them to break and run, and just go with it and start reeling them in again, and most importantly not to lose the fish.
Jackson looked at him. “I don’t understand. They’re hooked. How would we lose them?”
Larry grinned knowingly. “You’ve got a fish on your line and your hook is in his mouth and it hurts, and they don’t want to die. So, they fight. They jump and throw themselves around, and even with a barbed hook, they can pull off, or tear it out. So, the key is set the hook when you get a bite, then keep constant pressure on the fish. Slack line is an invitation to lose the fish. Remember, as you drop the tip of your rod, reel like crazy to pick up the line, then lift the rod straight up to pull the fish closer to you, then as you drop the rod the next time you reel like crazy again and bring the fish closer, then repeat. Don’t worry, JC and I will be shouting at you, right JC?”
“Oh yeah, you’ll be hearing us yell ‘Set the hook,’ and ‘no slack line’ and ‘keep your tip up,’ and ‘reel harder,’ all that kind of stuff. It’s only because this is your first time and it’s easy to get caught up in the moment of having a big fish on and forget what you’re supposed to do. So, no offended feelings. We’re all here to have fun and catch fish. Well, except for Larry, who’s here to make a living and help us catch fish.”
Larry had backed the trailer with the drift boat down to the gravel bed that constituted the launch, unloaded the boat and had us in and settled, and we pushed off before 8:00 am. As we started out, he said, “Look back upriver. You won’t find many prettier views than that one.” The view was the sunrise behind the highest peaks that make up the Olympic Mountains, and they were majestic at just under 8.000 feet.”
We all commented on the majesty of the mountains and the beauty of the scenery, and Larry asked if we noticed anything about the water? Jackson and I were blank, JC was quiet. Larry went on, “See it’s kind of milky color, not clear? That’s because the origin is the glacial moraine up there at the glacier. Glacier fed rivers are like that. The water has a high mineral content from the ice grinding on the rock, and it’s cold which is good for salmon and steelhead. We’re floating the middle third, and by halfway down today you won’t see that anymore as other streams feed in and dilute the main river.”
Half an hour out we approached a mind-boggling scene, at least for me. Scattered in the river were massive stones some twenty feet high out of the water. They were glacial erratics, boulders that had broken lose high above and washed down stream, being smoothed and rounded as they were rolled down by the current until they found their final resting place. They created big disruptions in the flow of the river, and behind them was quiet water where salmon rested as they fought their way upstream. As we came into this section of river, in the soft morning light with giant boulders protruding from the river, I thought of the imagery of the Gates of Argonath at Gondor in the Lord of the Rings. Not that there were giant carved images on either side of the river, but it was a river in a narrow canyon with giant gray boulders scattered in the water. Approaching it in a drift boat was visually impressive.
Larry started rowing backwards in front of a very large boulder to hold the boat in place, and told us we’d start here. He pointed at Jackson and said, “We’re about thirty feet off that boulder and there’s a big hole on the other side. I want you to cast on the left side and let out about forty-five feet of line. That’ll place your lure in the hole on that side. David, I want you to do the same thing on the right side. JC, there’s a small hole just off center on the face of it, so let out about thirty feet. Let’s see if we can find some fish!”
Our casts were undoubtedly pretty spastic, but we learned the idea. None of us got a bite, and after a few minutes Larry said, “No fish there. Reel those lines in and we’ll float on down.” We repeated it three times with no bites till we got to quieter water beyond the big erratics. We came up on what looked like a wave that wasn’t moving.
“That’s a standing wave going over and around a boulder that’s underwater. There’s a hole on the back side,” he said as he pulled on the oars to hold us steady. “Jackson and David, cast and let out about thirty feet of line, left and right side. That’ll get you in the hole. JC, you’ll have to pass on this one.”
JC nodded, and I watched the line run out and set the stop at thirty feet. About a minute later I heard Larry shout, “Jackson, you’ve got a bite. Set the hook. David reel your line in and clear the water.”
Jackson jumped, pulled his rod straight up, with a look of pure exhilaration on his face. JC was sitting next to him talking him through it.
“You’ve set the hook, and now she’s starting to run. Let her go, keep a little tension on the line. Good, good. Okay, she’s stopped. Tip up, start reeling, nice and steady. Don’t let the line get slack, reel more, pull her in. Now tip up. There she goes again, tip down, let her run. Okay, she’s stopped, tip up, reel in the line. Keep the tension on her. Reel in more line as you drop your tip. Now tip up, bring her closer. Reel more. Keep the tension on the line.”
It was amazing to watch, for someone who’d never fished before, and it continued like that a couple of times! It turned out it wasn’t anything like catching fish in a barrel! I wondered if I’d remember to do all that in sequence if I got one on. JC walked Jackson through it, with encouragement from Larry, and they finally got the fish close enough to the boat you could see the silver scales flashing in the water. What a sight!
Larry handed JC a big net, and as Jackson brought the fish alongside, he scooped it into the net, and Larry rowed the drift boat for the shore. As we beached, JC jumped out keeping the fish submerged in the net and Larry stowed the oars and secured the boat. Jackson still had his rod pointed up in the air and Larry told him to sit still in the boat till they had the fish secure. In a minute they had the hook out of the fish and Larry yelled, “Jackson, reel in the rest of your line, then set down your pole in the boat, then come see your first salmon.”
I looked at him, and the grin on his face was radiant, his complexion was flush with the excitement, and his eyes were flashing, and he seemed almost so happy he was beside himself. He looked at me wide-eyed, just grinning.
“Good work, Love, good work.”
He hopped out of the boat onto the gravel bar and walked over to Larry and JC. I followed behind.
He knelt down between them, and Larry said, “She’s a beauty. This is a chinook salmon, and this one is a female full of eggs. See how extended her abdomen is. We’re less than thirty miles from the ocean, so she’s probably only been in the river for a couple of days, making her was up to her native spawning area.”
“What are we going to do?”
Larry looked at him. “We’re going to do what you want to do.” He’d been holding the salmon in the water the whole time so that she was pointed upstream and water was flowing over her gills. “It’s legal to keep females, but you need to understand that if you do, all those eggs she’s carrying won’t get laid and fertilized and that many new salmon won’t get born.”
“What would you do?”
“I don’t keep females like this, one’s full of eggs. They’re the lifeblood of the fish stock. Without them there wouldn’t be more fish in a few years.”
“So, we let her go?”
“In my book it’s the right thing to do, if that’s what you want to do.”
Jackson nodded, his eyes flashing in the morning sunlight. “Yeah, we should let her go.”
“Do you want to hold her first?”
“Really? I can?”
“Yeah, you can. You caught her. You come over here next to me, and first, you put your left hand around her right in front of her tail. That way you’ve got a good grip. We keep her pointed upstream so there’s water running over her gills. Then you put your right hand right here under her gills. Okay, got her?”
Jackson nodded. “Hold her right there in the water. She’s tired and probably won’t fight any more. David, get your camera out.”
I had my Instamatic out in a few seconds, and Larry said to Jackson, “Okay, now, stand up slowly. She probably won’t fight, but you never know. We don’t want her out of the water long, just long enough for a picture. She probably weights twenty-five pounds, so plan on that when you stand up.”
He did, and stood up holding that beautiful fish, dripping water off its silver scales, grinning like a mad man. I snapped a couple of pictures, and Larry said, “Okay, back in the water slowly. Hold her there pointing upstream for a minute so the water flows over her gills.”
Jackson was bent over the salmon like some kind of caretaker, and then Larry said, “Okay, now, push her out into the stream slowly and let her go. She should swim off slowly, and then faster, and then zip the hell out of here.”
That’s just what happened.
Jackson was quiet, just watching the fish he’d just held in his hands swim away. When he finally looked up, Larry extended his hand and said, “Jackson, you’re a good sportsman. That’s what we need to keep the fish stock strong. Congratulations on your first chinook!”
Jackson grinned, and was at a loss for words, but shook his hand in appreciation. We stood there silently for a minute, appreciating the wonder and the beauty. Then Larry said, “Okay, boys. We’ve got to get this show on the road. Who needs to pee to unload that coffee you were drinking on the way to the boat launch?”
The rest of the day was much the same, except for a lunch stop: drift a beautiful stretch of water, pull up above a hole, cast and let the lures drift into the hole and wait for a bite. By the end of the day Jackson and I had each caught a male apiece, and JC had two. We’d tied them onto a line through their mouth and gills, so they were pulled behind the drift boat to keep them alive and fresh. When we reached the pull out, we filleted them all, putting the filets in the cooler and returning the rest of the carcass to the river to feed it and all the creatures downstream from that point. I thought “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” It was the full cycle of nature at work.
As if by magic, Larry’s truck and trailer were at the takeout, because one of his employees had moved it down during the day. We drove back to his shop, put some ice in the cooler, and made plans to meet him the next morning.
Dinner that night was mediocre Chinese in a logging town on the Olympic Peninsula. However, I noticed that all three of us ate every bit of it. JC was most curious about how Jackson was feeling. “I saw how you empathized with the first fish you caught? How you immediately didn’t want to keep her when you knew she was full of eggs and ready to spawn. What did you learn today?”
He paused. “I guess I learned something about life. That I could have been, I don’t know, greedy, maybe, and insisted on keeping my first fish. But that wouldn’t have been right. She was so beautiful, and the way Larry explained it, full of eggs, in other words, full of life. Letting her go was the only thing to do.”
“Larry was right when he said you were a sportsman. Now you understand something about why most hunting and fishing focuses on the males. It’s the females that reproduce, and protecting them is what keeps the herd or the school strong and healthy. You did the right thing. I was proud of you.”
Jackson smiled shyly. “Thanks, Dad. It was just right, wasn’t it?”
The next day was much the same, except we were in the lower Hoh River, out of the boulder fields and white water, in the final stretch of the river as it runs to the Pacific. It was a slow morning, but after lunch the action started. Jackson and I both hooked two salmon, each about thirty pounds, but JC was having a dry day. He was a good sport, though, joking about the difference between fishing and catching, and how you sign up to go fishing and if you’re lucky you catch fish.
About 2:00 pm, as Larry told us we were twenty minutes from the pull out and there was one hole left ahead of us, JC still seemed happy just to be on the river with his son, fish or no. As we approached the last hole, we decided it was JC’s, and Jackson and I would just sit and watch. Larry pulled the drift boat up and held it about forty feet off the boulder that made the hole, and JC cast and let out the line. We watched the lure drop into the hole. It was out of sight for ten seconds, and then the line pulled tight, and JC stood up and jerked his pole skyward. “Fish on!”
Larry started rowing back against the flow of the river, not knowing yet what the salmon would do. In a minute it shot out of the hole and started a run downstream.
“That’s good,” Larry yelled. “No obstacles down there. Let her run and get tired. Just bring her back slowly. Did you see that action? How does it feel, JC?”
“It feels heavy when I’ve got tension on the line, and it was a hell of a buck when it took off. Could be a good sized one.”
In about two minutes the fish realized that it wasn’t winning and turned and ran back upstream. JC was reeling up line like crazy to try and keep tension on the fish. It went thirty feet upstream past the drift boat, then stopped and he tried reeling it in toward the boat. That worked for about twenty-five seconds, then the fish took off on another run downstream.
“Let her go,” Larry yelled, “Just keep the tension on her. He can’t keep this up for much longer.”
The run was eighty or a hundred feet, and JC managed it all the way down, and back after the fish turned and came back upstream. This time the fish was too tired to fight, and JC was able to reel it in and bring it alongside the boat on my side. Larry handed me the net, and I scooped the fish into the net and Larry yelled something about winning the battle and started rowing for shore.
JC’s chinook was the largest of our trip, a male weighing a little over forty pounds. We left it in the net and drifted down the last half mile to the pull out. The fish was big enough it was hard to fillet on the bank with a standard fillet knife. He and Larry got it done, though, as well as the fish Jackson and I had caught.
We bought more ice for the coolers when we got back to Larry’s office, and JC settled up with him. Larry walked over to us before we left and shook our hands. “Gents it’s been a pleasure fishing with you. I was excited about this trip when JC called and said he found out last year he’s got a son and he wanted to take him fishing with me. I considered that an honor, and it was. You guys were great fishing guests, and like I said yesterday, Jackson, you’re a real sportsman. Remember that. It’s important for the sport, you know, maintaining the stock for the future. It’s also important in life. You’re a good guy. I figure you’ll do fine in life and make JC proud.”
We went back to the steak place for dinner, and JC wanted to know what we were going to do with all the salmon. We looked at him somewhat blankly.
“Do the math. You guys caught more salmon than I did. If we split it evenly, and we shouldn’t, then you’re going home with over sixty pounds of salmon fillets. How much salmon can you eat in a week? How big is your freezer?”
We looked at each other with the dawning realization that we hadn’t even thought about that reality.
“The freezer we’ve got is the one in the refrigerator in the kitchen. What’ll that hold? Twenty pounds? Maybe thirty. What do we do?”
JC was laughing. “Well, first off, the best salmon is fresh salmon. Even if you freeze it you want to eat it within a month. Next, you’ve got friends, so you give salmon to them. Maybe you organize a fish fry.”
“That’s a great idea,” Jackson said, “I’m calling Will when we get back to the motel and having him start arranging a party for Friday. David are you Okay with that, grilling all that fish with your old cook’s marinade? We can have all the discussion group and Mona and her husband and Carter and Marcia. Maybe even Robert Atkins. What do you think?”
I grinned. “Sounds like a great idea to me. Better to eat it while it’s fresh. Most of the people on your invite list don’t fish, so fresh salmon will be a novelty. And, it’ll be a hell of a party. Call when we get back and put Will to work organizing it all!”
It was a fond, but little sad, farewell the next morning. We’d had such a good time with JC, and Jackson was able to bond with his Dad in such a new and novel way, one completely outside the realm of his experience growing up. JC hugged us both hard and long, and did a good job of preventing it from getting too emotional, just saying, “Great trip, and you’re both on notice that we’ll do this again. Drive safely, call me when you get home.”
Jackson had told Will we were having salmon for dinner, and he was alone when we got home since Ron had left early to go down to Ashland. “How’d he get down there? He doesn’t have a car.”
“Easy, I drove him to the Greyhound station, and he took the bus. It’s comfortable and not expensive, and Ashland’s a small town that’s easy to get around in. He’ll be back on Saturday. The extra ice you wanted is in a cooler in the garage. What’s the plan for tomorrow?”
He’d confirmed Marcia and Carter as well as Mona and her husband were coming, Ruth was home for the break, but would pick up Sam, and Robert Atkins was coming as well. I told him about bagging some filets to give away and about freezing the rest, and he and Jackson headed out to the garage and put some of the whole filets in large plastic bags that Larry had given us. Our plan was to give Mona and her husband, the Higgins and Robert a filet apiece. Then they set aside some for the party the next night, and cut the remainder into smaller pieces and put them in Zip Loc bags to freeze.
Over dinner Will quizzed us about the trip and the fishing, and I let Jackson answer most of the questions. However, when he asked me, I had to tell him catching my first salmon was just as thrilling for me as it had been for Jackson. “I saw my first salmon with Jackson when we were kayaking at Ash Island a year and a half ago, and I caught my first salmon with Jackson this week. They were both thrilling moments. That’s a pretty good omen, don’t you think?”
Will grinned and nodded his head. Jackson wanted to know how it went during the week with Ron. “It was cool. He stayed here. You’ll be proud of us; we didn’t just fuck off and loaf around. We did some fun stuff, but we cleaned the house, and we did laundry, as in all the sheets on all the beds and the towels and stuff. It was actually fun. For both of us it was a taste of living independently and being responsible, you know? Ron’s funny and easy to be around, so we had a cool time. Thanks for letting it happen.”
Jackson grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “I bet you didn’t just fuck off, but maybe fuck on. But, that’s none of my business. I’m just glad you had a good time.”
A cloud deck came in overnight; it was still March after all, which could mean rain half the time. I woke up Friday worried it would turn to rain, and praying for some sun. We made a run to the grocery store, and also stopped at the liquor store for a bottle of Scotch to make sure Carter was happy. Then we got very lucky, the clouds broke about 4:00 PM, and it ended up a somewhat warm and sunny evening, which made grilling the salmon so much easier. Anyone who wanted to, could stand around the grill and sip their drink and talk without getting wet. Marcia and Mona made a special effort to engage with Ruth and Sam, and I greatly appreciated that. The students tended to stay together even though the surprise of being able to socially interact with professors was over, and yet everyone had a really good time, and the salmon was fabulous.
I noticed that Robert came alone, and while he and Carter knew each other and chatted quite a bit, Carter made sure that Mona’s husband didn’t feel like the odd one out, and so Robert and I talked quite a bit too. The salmon filets were an inch and a half thick at the center, meaning at least fifteen minutes, probably closer to twenty, to cook through. Everyone was out watching the grilling at the beginning, and filtered in and out of the house, and after a while it was just Robert and me standing talking, sipping our drinks as the salmon cooked and music wafted out of the house.
“I know you make your song selections for strictly musical reasons, but I want you to know how important your selection of Across The Universe was for Will, what a major part of him being able to believe in himself again it was.”
He smiled at that, and said, “I chose it for its musical creativity. It was really well done. That’s also why I wanted him to sing the solo part. He’s got the voice, and he doesn’t know it, consciously I mean, but he wrote the part for himself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I don’t think it was intentional, but sometimes that’s the way it is. He knows his voice, doesn’t he? So, it was the natural choice. That said, I’m so pleased that it contributed to his progress. He’s a great person and quite talented. I know he lives here with you and Jackson, so they probably told you I asked them about the musical therapy?”
“I want you to know I didn’t interrogate them or anything like that. I wasn’t after any personal or confidential information, I just wanted to understand the mechanics of using the music as a therapeutic modality. Will told me the boy he was dating committed suicide; I was just as impressed at the way they told me about it as I was when you outlined it to me at Christmas break. Quite an amazing piece of work. One that should be written up in a musicology publication. Or, failing that, in a psychology publication. I’m still amazed. Anyway, it was about the music, and he’s a musician, so he was a natural candidate.”
“Your encouragement in that area is really great. His parents are good people, but music isn’t their thing, so I don’t think he got much encouragement there. Having you tell him to think seriously about a music major and a career in music was really important too.”
He smiled happily. “It was all true, and I’m glad to help. That’s what teachers do with their students, you know? Like I’ve been hearing you’ve been doing at Campus Ministry. This is a lovely circle of friends you have. By the way, I love your house, and the home you and Jackson have made of it. You’re very fortunate to have that young man as your partner.”
The way he said it, and his choice of words was striking. Other than Fred I’d really never met or communicated with a gay man other than my seminary friend Paul. Was there another message here?
“Robert, thanks for recognizing that fact and commenting on it. I am fortunate. Incredibly fortunate to have found my other half, and have a partnership like this. I sense a curiosity from you.”
He smiled, somewhat ruefully. “I had, I mean…well, I lost…. I should stop. That’s my life and my problem. You don’t want to bother yourself about it.”
I paused and looked at him deeply. He met my eyes and I smiled softly. “You never know, Robert. Would you like to get together and talk sometime?”
He didn’t answer immediately, as though he was seriously assessing what I’d offered…as though it was a much more significant thing than just meeting to talk. Finally, he said, “Yes, I think I would. It’s probably long overdue, but I think I would.”
“Great. In the next week or two, when the dust settles from Spring quarter starting, let’s make a time and do just that.”
I’d lifted the lid on the grill, and the albumen was solidifying on top of the filets and I knew they were virtually done. “Will you help me get a couple of serving platters, and then get these filets off the grill?”
He nodded and we stepped into the kitchen and I told Jackson the salmon was coming off the grill, and he grinned and said, “We’ve got the rest under control.”
I handed Robert a spatula, and with the two I had we managed to lift all four filets off the grill whole and lie them on the serving platters and then carry them into the house. The fish fry had begun!
And, fortunately everyone loved the salmon and the rest of the meal, and had a great time together. When we gave Mona and Marcia and Robert a whole fresh filet, they were surprised and quite pleased. We had to assure them that it was a necessary gift since we had brought back so much salmon. They went home with wide smiles on their faces.
The students had a delightful time too, made easier by being in Jackson and Will’s home, which took the edge off rubbing shoulders with the adults. Ruth and Sam were the last to leave, and they helped us in the kitchen do dishes and clean up.
Ruth had her parent’s car and was dropping Sam back at the dorm. “We really want to thank you for including us in this evening. Us along with the other students from the discussion group. We’ve got a pretty limited social schedule, and this was totally cool.”
Sam was smiling too. “I was going to be alone in the dorm tonight. My parents are gone for the weekend and I’d as soon be alone in the dorm as in their house. I couldn’t do much over Spring break with still being on crutches, but this made it all worthwhile, to be part of it. It just makes me appreciate what I said awhile back about everyone in the discussion group being there for me, and especially you guys. You make me feel welcome and accepted.”
We all tried to lighten it up and said goodnight and that we’d see them soon.
After finishing the dishes and clean up, we settled down to watch The Tonight Show, only to find that Carl Sagan was one of the guests. Johnny Carson’s interview was candid and wide-ranging, and got into touchy subjects that even Carson would usually only approach very delicately. The first was that, somehow, they got around to the concept of God! Sagan essentially said that the idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. Johnny was grinning in agreement, and not challenging what Sagan was saying, and then Sagan went on “but if by ‘God’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a ‘God.’ This ‘God’ is emotionally unsatisfying ... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.”
Wham! That was a powerful statement, and Johnny only smiled, looking a little unsure about where to go next. He handled it well, though, and turned the conversation to atheism, starting to ask what the term really means. Sagan had a precisely formulated answer: an atheist is “someone who is certain that God does not exist, someone who has compelling evidence against the existence of God. I know of no such compelling evidence.”
That was a second powerful comment, because the conventional view of an atheist is just someone who believes that there is no God, no divine being responsible for life. The concept that the atheist would have to have some certain proof or compelling evidence was new.
Sagan was now arguing from the negative side of the point, and then shifted the argument again, and went on to say that because God can be relegated to remote times and places and to ultimate causes, we would have to know a great deal more about the universe than we do now to be sure that no such God exists. Now he’d switched the argument to the need for an overwhelming amount of data or information, rather than just belief or faith, in order to draw such a conclusion. His logic was masterful, and he said it all with a wide smile and such an open and accepting expression on his face, being totally logical.
Then he concluded by saying, “To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.”
He’d made a huge point and given Johnny just what he needed, namely a definitive statement that was so profound it left both sides of the argument struggling to understand it!
The next day we slept in and later in the morning Will called home, then came into the kitchen looking panicked.
“You won’t believe it. They ‘expect’ me to move home at the end of the school year. Like they think I’m supposed to spend summer in Newberg with them.”
I could see Jackson was starting to react. “Did they say why they think that?”
“Well, not really, but Mom did say something about not overstaying my welcome, or something like that.”
“Okay, so I think they think you’re back to normal, which is a good thing. Then they’re kind of moving back into standard operating mode…like you’re they’re son who’ll be home for the summer. On top of that, there’s the financial part. I’m sure they feel guilty that you’ve living here with us and they’re not paying for it.”
He was quiet, troubled by it all.
“You do know what they don’t know, don’t you?”
He looked up, confused. “What’s that?”
“That you more than earn your keep by being our laundry lady. I’m willing to bet good money that you do a better job of washing the bed linens than your Mom does.”
They both started giggling over that one, and Jackson said, “Maybe you can start a laundry business on the side. But you’ve got to get better at ironing the sheets, so all the wrinkles are out!”
When it all settled down, I said. “Okay, let’s get serious. You don’t want to move home at the end of the year and live in Newberg and work at the auto parts store, right?”
“So, what are you plans for the summer?”
“Well, I…I mean, I don’t have any. Yet.”
“Time to start planning, don’t you think?”
He looked up at me and smiled. “What do you think, because obviously you’re ahead of me on this one like so many others.”
“Oh, come on. I’m just thinking ahead. If you don’t do that and don’t have a plan for the summer, then it shouldn’t be a surprise that your parents come up with one for you.”
“Okay, got it. I haven’t done that. What are you thinking?”
“That there’s an easy solution, and it begins at the Admissions office.”
“What?” They both said it together.
“Listen you two, this isn’t rocket science. Will, you’ve got a quarter to make up in order to graduate on schedule, right?”
“Okay, Lewis & Clark has a summer term, even though most students are gone. You should go to Admissions, try to see the Dean and find out what course work is available in the summer term that would let you make up for Fall quarter. Then when you start your sophomore year, guess what? You’re caught up and on schedule with your classmates and you graduate when you’re supposed to.”
He was grinning now, and Jackson was right there with him. “That’s a devious plan, because besides the make-up part, I’d just have to be here close to campus to go to school, wouldn’t I?”
“Like I said, it’s not rocket science. You need to have a curriculum you can present to your parents to make the case that you’re back on the academic track and this gets you caught up before your Sophomore year starts, and all they have to do is pay your tuition. What’s so hard about that? You may even be able to fit in a part time job depending on the schedule.”
Jackson chimed in, “Yeah, this is a no brainer. Your parents will go for it.”
“Great plan. Monday, after registration, I’ll go to admissions and work on it. Now that seems so obvious. Isn’t it amazing how often things that are so obvious have to be pointed out to you like that?”
“That’s what friends are for.”
Jackson looked at me. “What are our plans for summer?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking about taking some counseling and psych classes to expand my master’s to a counseling degree instead of it just being a Masters of Divinity. Somehow, I don’t see myself returning to church ministry. And, what are your plans?”
He stumbled for a minute. “I’m like Will, I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m working on it.”
“That’s cool. By the way, Sam seemed quiet last night. Have either of you guys checked on her to see how she’s doing? I mean personally and the hip healing and all?”
They both shook their heads, but Jackson said he’d go call her, and when he came back he said she seemed kind of down and that as it turned out she’d been alone in the dorm all week and hadn’t been home, since her parents had chosen to go on a vacation trip the same week as spring break! So, in the spirit of good comradeship, he’d invited her to dinner that night. He looked at Will, “Will Ron be back in time, we could all do dinner together.”
Will grinned. “You should be a party planner, man. Like dumping organizing your fish party on me while you’re out of town! I don’t know when he gets back today. It depends on the bus schedule. I told him he could call me, and I’d pick him up. Shit, now that you ask, I actually don’t know what time.”
As it turned out, there was no need to panic. Ron called at mid-day to let Will know he wouldn’t be back till the next day because he’d been invited to a staff gathering that night. He said that he thought it really meant a staff party for the year-round staff because seventy five percent of the festival people are only there in the summer. So, for someone trying for a summer internship position it was kind of great to get asked to stay for the party.”
Will would pick him up Sunday afternoon, and we then debated if we could have salmon two…or was it three…nights in a row? We ended up deciding no, and went to the grocery store to do a little shopping.
In the evening Jackson drove to pick up Sam while Will and I worked on dinner prep. Will told Jackson that since he organized the evening, he could provide the chauffer service! Sam was in a better mood, and we had a pleasant and relaxed evening. No great personal breakthroughs, but just the growing sense that being accepted and cared about by this new group of friends really mattered to her.
The first week of class was a blur of business, getting everything going again, first classes, restarting the PDA and discussion group, as well as first practices for choir and glee club.
Robert Atkins called me the end of the week and thanked me for the salmon, and we agreed to meet the following Friday, since I had PDA on Monday afternoon, and he had choir and glee club practices after his classes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
He came across to the Center, and I heard him chatting with Mona downstairs, both commenting on how good the salmon was. When he arrived in my office, I closed the door and got him seated, and then we chatted about the typical things that happen during the first weeks of class. Eventually I said to him, “I asked you if you wanted to talk, and you seemed a little reluctant, but then it appeared you agreed within yourself that you wanted to or should. How can I help?”
He took a deep breath. “I guess it’s a question of where to begin.”
“Like Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings, you could start at the beginning. But first, let me say something else to put your mind at ease. Yes, I’m Director of Campus Ministry and the general assumption is that Campus Ministry and I are here for the students. They comprise most of who we see, but this Center is here for faculty and staff too. I’m a minister, I’ve done my share of counseling. Everything is confidential. You can discuss with me as much or as little as you see fit about whatever is troubling you, and it seems to me that something is troubling you.”
He hesitated again, then he smiled softly, and it seemed like a fog lifted or a light brightened in his eyes and he said, “I married when I was in my early twenties, before I started grad school. I loved my wife and she loved me, and we had a happy life together. She died over a year ago from breast cancer.”
I said I was sorry to hear that and let him continue.
“I’ve gotten through the grieving process. It wasn’t easy. I suppose it never is. Even with long term illnesses, you think you understand what’s coming and that you’re ready when it happens, but one never is, right?”
“That’s pretty much been my experience. It helps to have the time that a long illness provides to work through it all intellectually, but that doesn’t replace working through it emotionally.”
“Isn’t that the truth. So, David, it’s not her death or the grief or any of that. It’s about me. What I am…or what I really am. It’s why I blurted out what I did about you and Jackson being partners, which was none of my business and I probably should never have mentioned.”
“Why would you feel that way about it? You were commenting on a known fact.”
“Yes, but it’s your personal and private life.”
“Okay, I’ll grant you that: it’s personal and private, but not in the way that it’s a secret. We don’t hide that we’re gay. We don’t hide that we are in a committed relationship and share our lives and live together. We don’t run around broadcasting it, but it’s not a hidden secret.”
He was quiet, the wheels turning in him mind.
“So, tell me why that subject is sensitive for you.”
“Because I think I’m gay.”
He’d just confirmed the conclusion I’d formed in front of the grill based on how he said what he did. Now how open did he want to be?
“Is this something new for you, or something you’ve known for a long time?”
“Something I guess I’ve known for a long time, but denied. I went through the teen experimentation a time or two, but I fell in love with my wife, and like I said, we had a happy life together, but as I got older I got more honest with myself, and I realized I was attracted to men. Some young men, some older men. I’m not talking about pedophilia or stalking students or anything like that. I’ve never acted on any of it. I’m just trying to understand it and…I guess, reconcile myself to it…if that’s the way it is.”
“Robert, there are exceptions to every rule, but in my experience, it pretty much is, or it isn’t. I mean, as Kinsey showed, human sexuality exists on a continuum with hetero on one end, homo on the other and bisexual in the middle. We’re all some place on that continuum, and therefore we are what we are. Understand that where you are on the continuum is a completely separate thing from who you choose to spend your life with. We live in a society that is so influenced by the traditional model of marriage, namely being heterosexual and all that the term implies, that questions of a person’s sexuality almost never get raised.”
I asked if he was following me and he nodded.
“I’ll give you an example. One of my pet peeves when I was in church ministry is the regular lip service given to the idea of helping people ‘discover their gifts.’ You’ve heard that I’m sure, as a musician and choir director. The problem is that it tends to be limited to those kinds of skills. Does this person have musical talent or public speaking ability or whatever? It virtually never extends to personal identity, let alone personal sexuality. Why? Because those are, as the British say, sticky wickets. Who knows what you might find, what trouble might be stirred up, what people might decide about themselves? So, most organizations focus on skills and talents and then pass along a program of expectations or beliefs and behaviors that everyone is supposed to subscribe to and follow.”
He was listening closely, following along and nodding his head. “I’ve never heard it put quite like that before. I was raised going to church, but my family wasn’t really religious. However, I guess I did take on or absorb the traditional belief system. Is that why I’m feeling conflict?”
“Probably. Conflict is one of the things that results, and when accompanied by doubts or guilt, is very difficult to resolve.”
“I can see that.”
“I’m not a therapist or psychologist, I’m a pastoral counselor. However, we have a lot more in common, a lot more shared common knowledge between us than most people do the first time they sit down to talk to a counselor, so I’m going to assume it’s Okay for me to talk about some of these subjects with you. If you think I’ve gone too far, if the subject is out of bounds for you, or you’re not ready to talk about it, you just tell me. Is that acceptable?”
He nodded. “Good. Let me start with two questions. First, why did you marry your wife?”
That surprised him, I could tell, but he didn’t hesitate. “Because I loved her, because she was a musician and we had so much in common musically. We saw a life together with so many things in common.”
I smiled at him. “I can tell you that many people can’t say that about their marriage. What you just described is the reality of shared vision between two people that makes possible a shared life together. Look at the divorce rate, and you have to assume most people never see past the emotional attraction or the sex. If you don’t believe me, I’ll give you an example. To their shock and dismay, my second year in seminary, the school’s administration realized, or maybe finally admitted is a better way to put it, that the divorce rate among their seminary students was just about the same as the national numbers. What does that say about the notion that Christian marriage is perfect, that God has someone special chosen for you, that doing all the religious things assures success, and all the related anecdotes? Not much right?”
He nodded his head and smiled. “Point taken.”
“So, all these Christians are getting divorced at the same rate as the secular sinners, and likely for pretty much the same reasons. They all live in the same culture. What if instead of focusing on skills and talents we focused on helping people understand their identity and their true selves, and empower them to make fully informed decisions about themselves and their lives?”
“That would probably be sociologically disruptive, but make for many happier and fulfilled people.”
I grinned at him. “You’re understanding what I’m saying, and a lot of that is because you’ve seen and experienced similar dynamics in teaching and working with students. I’m sure you’ve seen tons of them make the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. Those can be life altering decisions too.”
He nodded softly, still quiet.
“Most of what I just talked about didn’t apply in your life because you’ve told me you married because you both loved each other, shared a lot in common, appeared from my vantage point to have shared vision between you, and you never divorced. Tragically, your wife died young and preceded you. Now, let me ask you the second question: if you had been able to explore your sexual identity as a teenager and determined that you were gay, would you have married your wife?”