Coming Up Clean

I’ve just put lotion on my ankles to soothe my bug bites and I am tired. I’m in a slow and simple mood this evening, so I’ll just tell the story from the beginning, though it is not spectacular. Perhaps because it is not spectacular.

Last Friday I got up at four forty-five and my dad drove me to the airport in Raleigh. I met Mary in Nashville at about eight-thirty and we set off driving up through Kentucky and Illinois. We stopped at a rest stop around lunch time and made sandwiches on top of her trunk out of rye bread and cookie butter. We laughed so much that some nice people at a nearby picnic table asked us to join them. We are so magnetic. However, we said ‘no, thanks’ and instead walked around and contemplated ousting small children from the see-saw so we could have a go. But, of course, we had already had our turn on that same see-saw when we were their age. We’ve driven this road so many times.

In St. Louis, I unwittingly pulled off at a gas station in a rather shady neighborhood. We got out of the car and did one quiet circuit of the little convenience store, then just climbed back in and kept going. By the time we got up to Macon and turned onto 36 a few hours later, my chest felt light like it always does when I pass through that place at that time of day. The fields stretched wide arms, speckled with hay bales, and the road rose to meet us, leading up into the low, late-day sun.

We got to Grandma’s in time for dinner, and then took a walk with my cousin Hannah up to the cemetery across the highway, where we typed in the secret code at the entrance for old time’s sake. My grandparents have arranged for plots there. Hannah read aloud from To Kill a Mockingbird while Mary and I did dishes.

The next morning Mary and I began the two-day task of taking our grandparents and aunt up to camp. My grandpa is frail. He cannot lift his feet well. He uses a cane and he struggles to lift his head up high enough to look straight ahead of him. His sweaters never seem to go on right and are always hitched up over his collar. He shuffles. Our trip was full of halting steps and slow. We stopped at a Walmart north of the Twin Cities to pick up about ten things Grandma had forgotten. I had to relearn much of that sort of patience which has fallen out of use at college.

And yet, that last thirty minutes of the drive held the same glow. Grandpa started telling us miles beforehand how much the topography looked like camp, then we passed The ICO and a moment later the great big Story Book Lodge signs came round the corner and we were home. It is sixth or seventh on my list of homes, but I knew it was higher for everyone else in the car, so I borrowed from their awe and comfort.

I can’t tell camp in order. You never can, especially a family camp. Mary and I stayed in the Ark, which was very cozy with two beds and its own alarm clock. I spent lots of time with cousins. We attempted a couple games of Monopoly, which will never be enjoyable, but also went kayaking, met Hannah’s friend-boy (not boyfriend,) played Old Maid with Grandma and Sally, and drove over to Virginia after evening meeting one night to see Wolverine. It turned out that it was in 3D, which no one except the boys was pleased with, but giggling and snarky comments have improved many a cousin film.

On Thursday we threw Molly a little family party for her eighteenth birthday. We made Mary Brammer’s Black Forest Torte (a family classic), Faith passed out glow sticks, and when Joe would not come down in time to sing, our Aunt Sally scaled the stairs to retrieve him. (That was our favorite part.) We took lots of pictures. I was impressed with how we have grown up. I don’t mean that we have gotten taller and more employable, though we have, but that I saw in my cousins something better. I saw that they are kinder, more willing, harder-working, more thoughtful, and unabashed (though perhaps, with each other, we have always been that.)

But noticing more than I used to includes the less savory. I saw problems with good people in a good place. I saw imbalances, injustices, frustrations which I knew would go unaddressed, things which made me itch to change and fix them. But that job was not for me.

Instead, after every meal, Mary and Molly and I stood behind the counter to receive the rush of dishes. We scraped and stacked the platters at record pace, consolidated bowls of ranch dressing and emptied pitchers of water and milk. Afterwards we helped with pots and pans—I was always on dry-and-put-away duty. Mary had set up her slackline, which magically attracts people of all ages and sorts in clusters, so she took great joy in knowing the names of all the little kids and their intricate relations. I just liked knowing that the wide rubber scrapers went in a certain drawer in the bakery and that the cutting boards went under the microwave. It made me feel important.

On Wednesday evening my cousin Charity was baptized down in the lake along with three other teenagers. (I can call them that now that I no longer am one.) The sun was setting way over behind the island and I watched as each of them came up clean, at sharp angles with the water, their hair dripping smoothly back from their faces, their arms crossed over their chests, leaning into the arms of their fathers. Then they would slosh back to shore and stand shivering in a towel to be hugged by their family.

I thought about coming up clean out of the water and out of the “soul-cleansing blood of the lamb,” not just once but over and over. The best message of the week was on Friday morning. Ben Scripture talked about trading in excuses for simple confession. We confess and Christ is eager to intercede. We are always needing fresh washing, new garments, but they always come free. They come free and they come strong. I must let my Father cleanse me of frustrations and weights which are not mine to carry. They are His, as I am.

We left camp on Saturday morning. Sunday morning we passed the fields of smooth, white windmills in northern Iowa. I remembered why even when we were younger, my cousins and I always got so quiet at this stretch of highway. They are unimaginably big and rather beautiful, but they are also frightening to me. They call up a small, stubborn Don Quixote out of my chest, ready to fight a hundred other battles which have not, in reality, been given to me.

So I came back to Missouri in peace, handing my grandpa his cane at rest stops along the way, and stopping at a Russell Stover outlet for my grandma. Back to the only place I am comfortable hanging all my laundry out to dry, even my most inexcusable underwear. The pool filter needs to be run. This is the job my Father has given to me, so I will come up clean, tend to those bug bites, and have a chat with my sister. There’s more road before us.

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