From Under the Snow
For Debra, Joshua, and Rachel
FROM UNDER THE SNOW © 2015, by David Beck. All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without permission of the author except in case of selected quotes in critical reviews and articles.
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: 9781502893482
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014918792
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform North Charleston, South Carolina
Although this story was inspired by actual events, I need to stress — to paraphrase Pueblo Picasso — this story is a lie that tells the truth. Notwithstanding that a friend and I hitchhiked to the Rose Bowl in 1961 along the route described in this novel, all the places, characters, and events have either been invented or so grossly modified that any resemblance of any kind to actual persons or places is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Like a field horse knowing only one direction.
Chapter 2: If he doesn’t act, he ceases to exist.
Chapter 3: We’re going to the Rose Bowl!
Chapter 4: Homosexuality is a sin and I think it’s illegal here too.
Chapter 5: Let’s talk a moment about this little incident today.
Chapter 6: You’re not going! End of discussion!
Chapter 7: I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can.
Chapter 8: Well, at least I won’t starve.
Chapter 9: Humpty Dumpty and all the king’s horses...
Chapter 10: An old-fashioned revival hour.
Chapter 11: A hard cock has no conscience.
Chapter 12: Your journey will lead you to new discoveries.
Chapter 13: This was going to be one heck of a scary ride.
Chapter 14: Do you think snakes can talk?
Chapter 15: You boys obviously don’t come from Christian families.
Chapter 16: What is the meaning of Shangri-La?
Chapter 17: He shouldn’t have eaten those tacos.
Chapter 18: You actually believe this stuff?
Chapter 19: I felt the exhilarating power of my wings.
Chapter 20: You’ll be back when the dee-dik returns.
Chapter 21: I could fly a plane like this.
Chapter 22: I’ve had so little contact with Negroes.
Chapter 23: They were brainwashed by their charismatic minister.
Chapter 24: Now let’s not have any trouble.
Chapter 25: I felt like some kind of hero.
Chapter 26: I probably could do just about anything.
Chapter 27: I have her all to myself.
Chapter 28: We hadn’t taken any precautions.
Chapter 29: That you hide in these shifting forms of life.
Like a field horse knowing only one direction.
Don’t get me wrong. I love snow. I’ve known it all my life and actually, if it weren’t for the snow, I probably wouldn’t now have much to write about — but more on that later. I’ll just say that as kids we’d go out into the newly fallen snow, trample out a huge pie shape, and play a game called Fox and Goose. Or, with a shovel over one shoulder and our skates over the other, we'd head to the little pond behind the Tollefson farm where we would clear some space for skating. Or, as the plows came through, heaping huge mounds of snow on the sides of the roads, we’d shovel out forts and tunnels and defend them from neighborhood attacks. Snow was a delight and I welcomed it until it crusted over, hardened, blackened, sometimes slippery, sometimes slushy, but mostly miserably unforgiving. I always resented the truth that lay beneath the snow.
Prairie Town was a small farming town in central Minnesota — not much to boast about, except for the four times the high school basketball team had gone to the state tournament some time before I was born. For the town’s people, there was always the belief that it could happen again and that was what stoked the conversations during those long winter months. The seven churches in town provided the rest of the social life and their activities somehow seemed to complement the high school’s weekly basketball games — one couldn’t really exist without the other. There were the Monday and Thursday night whist games at two of the Protestant churches and Sunday night bingo at the Catholic Church. The other four churches had activities of their own, but I can’t remember what they were. I do know the topic of conversation at these church functions inevitably revolved around the town’s high school basketball team.
The town’s people were united when it came to their basketball team, but when it came to religion, differences festered below the surface — not enough, though, to upset the social equanimity that had existed since their fur trading ancestors had settled in this area some hundred years earlier. There were no racial, ethnic, or other overt religious divides; just Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, and a few French squabbling over the same things they had squabbled over in the old country. The Protestants disputed among themselves whether babies should or should not be baptized or whether Christ’s body and blood actually changed into the bread and wine. Without exception, however, they dismissed as nonsense the town’s French Catholics’ claim that Mary was without sin, or was a perpetual virgin, or ascended into heaven; but even these controversial issues never amounted to anything because the Protestants simply thought Catholics were going to hell and the Catholics simply thought the Protestants were going to hell, which amounted to a nice truce on issues that wouldn’t be resolved in their lifetimes.
It was Thanksgiving weekend, 1961, and it had snowed hard, almost a foot, the Saturday night before I was to hitchhike back to CBA. My chore was to shovel all the walks around the house and church before the parishioners arrived for Sunday services. I didn’t object, as it was one chore for which I got paid — five dollars. It meant getting up early in the morning when it was still dark and the air was brisk. On this particular morning, as I shoveled, I pretended I was creating a maze in which I could hide from a minotaur, a creature with the head of an angry fire-breathing bull and the body of a muscular gladiator, which I had seen in a picture at the St. Paul Public Library a couple months earlier. Although it wasn’t a class assignment, I had read about Daedalus and how he had fashioned wings of wax to escape from the labyrinth that King Minos had built to keep the Minotaur. I shoveled, thinking I needed to create the maze in which I could hide from this child-consuming creature. I couldn’t be safe until I had finished all of the walks.
The sun was just coming up, as Dad, his head down, a dour shadow gracing his face, his lips silently trembling, rehearsing (I was sure) his morning sermon, stepped around the blade of my shovel, knocking snow onto my freshly shoveled sidewalk. I winced. How clumsy. A small thing, but typical for Dad, whose life, to most of the folks in Prairie Town, was beyond reproach: the Ten Commandments there to guide him, Psalm 23 (Though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…) to comfort him, and John 3:16 (And God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...) to assure him of his salvation. He plowed through life, with its set starting point, highs, lows, and ending points, like a field horse knowing only one direction, leaving a straight furrow across life’s bleak landscape. No one was more certain where he came from and where he was going than my father. No need to say, “I’m sorry, Jude.” His calling commanded his full and undivided attention until the day came to reap his heavenly reward. It was left for me to simply follow in the furrow that he had cut.
I envied his steadfast resoluteness. But how could I ever be as certain? My mind was filled with doubt, questions that I asked myself but didn’t dare ask him or anyone else: what was heaven really like? Won’t we get bored singing praises over and over again? Boredom was something I couldn’t tolerate. But then I’d think, maybe there was no time in heaven so we didn’t have to worry about the over and over again. But without time, how could there be anything, anything at all, even heaven itself? Could I imagine an object, an event, or even a thought, existing outside of time? So, time must exist in heaven or nothing exists, and that took me right back to my pressing concern about getting bored singing praises or whatever.
My reverie was broken by Mom’s call from the back porch that breakfast was ready. I completed the last few feet of the walk — the Minotaur no longer a threat. “Jude, you got to come in, clean up, and have some breakfast,” Mom hollered.
In the house, as was the case every Sunday morning when we were all at home, Mom, Martin, and Angie were on edge, frantically getting ready, anxious for reasons that were never quite clear to me, afraid that one or all of them would be late for church, or a button on Angie’s dress had come off and she needed to find a replacement, or someone, meaning me, had left the top off the black shoe polish, drying out its contents, leaving poor Martin with a few crumbling flakes with which to polish his shoes. Mother made breakfast; usually bacon, eggs, and toast, while chopping up the fryer that would simmer during church. She would rush back and forth between the bathroom and the kitchen, taking out her curlers, fixing her hair, applying her makeup, and never failing to tell me “Jude, eat your breakfast, hurry, you must get ready, your shoes need polishing, you should wear the red bow tie Grandma gave you for Christmas last year. Now, hurry, hurry!”
As the German-speaking parishioners left the Church, the English-speaking parishioners filed in. Dad preached the same sermon, but this time in English. It was a mystery to me, but the English-speaking parishioners liked Dad’s thick German accent. It gave him a certain edge on authority, a necessary requirement in Prairie Town, where authority was in ample supply. Mom, Angie, Martin, and I sat together in front, a few pews back from the pulpit. I didn’t like this arrangement and would have preferred to sit by myself in the balcony, maybe with a friend, if I had any, or at least in the back of the church, but I could never find the courage to take that step. Families sat together, not because there was any rule, but because it was a tradition and harder to break than any rule I knew.
“De Old Testament scripture reading for today is from Genesis 1, verses 1-6” Dad gravely intoned. “In da beginning Got created da heaven und ert. Und da ert vas mithout form, und void; and darkness vas upon da face of da deep. Und da Spirit of Got moved upon da face of da vaters. Und Got said, let dere be light: und dere vas light. Und Got saw dat light, dat it vas good: und Got divided da light from da darkness. Und Got called da light day, und da darkness He called night. Und da evening und da morning vere da first day. Und Got said, Let dere be a firmament in da midst of da vaters, und let it divide da vaters from da waters.’ Dus spake our Lord.”
“Dear friends and fellow believers in Christ our Lord and Savior, we are confronting a great evil in our schools. The teachers want to teach something called evolution to our children, which is against the word of our Lord as we have heard in the Old Testament reading for today. The almighty God created this earth in six days and this happened, according to the sainted James Ussher, four thousand years before the birth of our dear Lord and Savior. This is the only truth that should be taught in our schools. We know it to be true not only from the Holy Scriptures but from science itself.”
“Do you know that the big dipper revolves around the North Star every twenty-three hours, fifty-six minutes, and four point zero nine seconds? What precision! No human being can do such a thing. Our master clock makers here on earth set their clocks to the precision of the Lord’s clock that He set down in the heavens above. For it is written in Psalms 19, verse 1, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.’ This is the truth!”
The members sitting near me appeared captivated by Dad’s words, Martin, in particular, as his head bobbed in resolute appreciation.
Dad continued, “Our Lord’s clock in heaven establishes the length of a day and that is the same time it takes for the big dipper to revolve around the North Star. This is a scientific fact. Yet there are atheist and unbelievers who would teach our children that our Lord did not mean a twenty-four hour day and to their everlasting damnation they do not believe what is written in Exodus 20, verse 11, ‘For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.’ In Proverbs 30, verse 5, our Lord tells us: ‘Every word of God is flawless,’ and in verse 6 of the same chapter, He says: ‘Do not add to his words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.’ Our schools want to teach that creation took millions of years, and if this, my friends in Christ, isn’t interjecting our own foolishness into God’s word and subjecting our children to damnation, you do not have any reason to believe one iota of God’s word.”
At this, Martin frowned and shook his head in consternation. Mom put her hand to her mouth in disbelief, as Angie looked on attentively.
“Many of these godless evolutionists point to the fossil record as proof that the earth is more than six thousand years old. These fossils can be explained scientifically to have been caused by the great flood and other natural acts of God, such as earthquakes and volcanoes. Look at the peaks of our mountains; they raise hosannas to our Lord, so many covered in glaciers, which are the remains of the great flood — scientific proof that our Lord created a huge deluge to wipe out the wickedness of the world as it is written in Genesis 6, verse 17, ‘And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.’ This explains the fossils and it is the truth according to the word of God.”
Dad paused, wiped the sweat from his brow, and looked down at his text; the gravity of his expression transformed into a benign smile, alerting the congregants that the bad news was over and that now he would continue with the saving Gospel of Christ’s miraculous death and resurrection.
As the service slowly inched toward the final benediction, my stomach rumbled in anticipation of Mom’s chicken simmering slowly on the kitchen stove and the rich sour cream pie that she had made on Saturday. It was the same meal we had every Sunday, and I never got tired of it. It was almost worth coming home to, but not quite. My father now stepped forward, raised his hands and solemnly said: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.” My mom, brother, and sister, hung around as usual with other members of the Church. I found the nearest exit, eager to get out of my scratchy wool suit and into jeans.
Mom, Martin, and Angie busily chatted as they entered through the back door of the house. I heard Angie say, “But Mom, wasn’t all this settled during the Scopes monkey trial in the Twenties?” I had seen the movie Inherit the Wind with my roommate Race last year, but I never understood its significance. Who prevailed? My buddy Stick told me that Scopes lost, and that was the good news. The bad news was that two years later he got off on a technicality. The whole business of evolution was confusing, people evolving from apes over millions of years and all that kind of stuff. Everyone I knew said it was just a crazy theory, not science at all, but then why would one want to teach it in Prairie Town? At CBA, we didn’t learn about evolution. It wasn’t even mentioned. In tenth grade, I had a year of Biology from Professor Saltz, a very smart guy, and not once did he mention it.
Martin broke in before Mom could answer, and as if quoting one of his professors at the Seminary said, “Every Christian should consider that though the Bible is no text book on natural science, it does not err, not even in the physical sciences. Its chief purpose is much more to teach us the way to heaven through faith in Christ Jesus. Where the Bible refers to natural science, the truth cannot be broken.”
At first Mom didn’t respond, probably thinking the topic shouldn’t be her concern. She had enough to worry about keeping the house: cleaning, cooking, baking, washing, ironing, gardening, canning, and shopping — as she so often reminded us. Dad took on these big issues. But then she said, as though she had been thinking about this for some time, “All eight School Board members are elders in one church or other here in town. Our church has two members on the Board; as a result, we’ve been able to keep the teaching of evolution out of the school. But now a new science teacher has come in and with the help of a couple of parents who don’t belong to any church … can you imagine that … are insisting that the school has an obligation to teach evolution. The whole town is in an uproar, and the pastors of all six churches (she didn’t count the Catholics) agreed to preach a sermon on the evils of evolution. That’s why your father preached the sermon he did.”
“Biblically sound,” Martin replied. “I don’t see how anyone can deny the scientific justification for creation. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.”
Angie spoke up, sounding sarcastic, “I thought our church adhered to the separation of church and state? What business is it of the churches to interfere with what’s taught in the public schools?”
Mom, asserting herself more than usual in such matters, replied, “I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s wrong for them to teach something that’s against God’s word.”
As I listened, I pulled a piece of chicken out of the frying pan, pulled off a bite, and was about to put it in my mouth, when I heard Mom say, “What are you doing, Jude? Get your hands out of the chicken. We’ll be eating soon enough.” How did she know? Could she see through the wall? I ate the piece anyway and quietly walked into the other room.
Dad came home just as Mom and Angie were about to serve dinner and greeting us said, “It smells so good and I’m so hungry. The sermon today took a lot out of me. I’m relieved at what we accomplished, but I need to go back and meet with the elders at two, so we can decide how we can coordinate with the other churches in dealing with this situation.” As we sat down to eat, he looked over at me, shaking his head in dismay. “The children in this town deserve better. You’re so lucky, Jude, you attend Christian Boys Academy, where they teach the truth.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’d kinda like to learn something about evolution. There are so many things that we don’t learn at CBA.”
“Ach! Don’t say that.” Mom said, waving her hand in mid air as if to shoo the thought from the table as though it were a pesky fly. “You learn everything you need to learn.”
Dad solemnly bowed his head and we all fell silent. “Let us pray.” The subject of evolution didn’t come up again.
After dinner, I packed my suitcase from the pile of clean clothes Mom had laid out for me on my bed: darned socks, ironed and folded pants, shirts, underwear, and a fresh tube of toothpaste. This should last me until Christmas, I thought. I said goodbye to Martin, who was driving back to the Seminary in St. Louis. Angie would give me a ride to St. Cloud, where she was attending St. Cloud State and from there I would hitchhike to St. Paul. By now, the routine was so familiar to all of us that hardly a word had to be said.