Twin Beeches -- an Illinois Love Story
Author: paul schoaff

Chapter 6
Falsity and Felony; Church for the First Time (R)

(All M.J.)
Falsity in its Many Forms

Warning: the end of this chapter has a rape and its repercussions

 

Mama named me after my Grandmother and my Daddy – Martha Josephina Gonsalves.  At an early age, everybody called me “M.J.”, just like Spiderman's redheaded girlfriend.  My hair, though, was very dark and straight; I seem, now, to have topped out at 66 inches; my eyes, though, were blue; and, though I go up and down a little bit in weight, I still have trouble standing upright in a stiff breeze. Folks generally say I have regular features, though Larry kept saying things about ‘pretty’, and ‘cute’, and ‘very nice’.  Certainly not a ‘knock-out’ like the original “M.J.”

 

  The joke, though, was on Mama.  When I was eight or nine she dug through her old papers to find a copy of her and Joe's marriage license.  First, she gasped, getting my attention, and then she started roaring with laughter, making me very, very upset since Mama had never once laughed at all in all the days I knew her, up till then.  Now, thank goodness, she laughs a lot more.

 

“M.J.”, she finally said, “How would you like to change your name”? , and started laughing again, because Joe’s parents had named him, in fact, “J.O.” Gonsalves -- Jesus Orlando Gonsalves --and Mama had never known it.  She remembered Daddy telling her “Everyone calls me Joe”, so she just assumed….  In fact, I don't think it is worth changing, my birth certificate says that Daddy's name was Joseph (Jose).  Take your pick.  His stone at the cemetery says Joseph.

 

I thought I'd just stick with “M.J.”, thank you very much.  If you want to call me 'Martha Jo', or 'Marty', or 'Marjo', I won't object, but you might think, at first, that I'm hard of hearing.

 

 

You might think from all I have said Mama didn't have a social life.  Okay, I will admit the line of suitors ran short and consisted most of the time of well-intentioned folks being told she didn't have time for their party or Bar-B-Q, or the Church Social, or the fireworks by the church lake.   Men were around all the time – she did have a bookkeeping and taxes business, after all – and some men even made appointments to ask her if they needed her services; a way to meet her, I thought.   An actual shortage existed of eligible men near her age in Woodland, believe it or not.  Once a girl from Woodland got her hooks into a guy, she wasn't about to let go.  Divorces had happened, but they were rare and often because the man left town and hadn't come back.   If a girl wanted to meet a fella, she generally got a job as a waitress for lunches at the Busy Bee or the Subway Cafe, even at the Dairy Dipper.  It wouldn't be long before the countdown clock would start and every girl’s dreams would be fulfilled, usually at least a few months before the baby arrived.  But, if Mama ever had a fling with anyone; no, I don't see how she could have managed it. 

 

Mama did meet one man who interested her, mostly because he would probably never have any money to manage or worry about.  People called him “Reverend Ronnie” Richards, and he had the position of 'Student Minister' at a little town just south of Woodland.  I asked Mama who the nice red-headed man had been after he had talked to her on our front porch and she wasn't carrying her adding machine.  She told me about him being a student minister, a minister still going to school to be a preacher.  Some churches, she told me, were too small to support a full-time 'ordained' minister -- Mama told me ‘ordained’ meant 'graduated' --  so they asked the preacher schools to send over someone who needed to work on their sermons in front of a real crowd.   Yes, they got paid.  No, not a lot.  She said Rev. Richards preached at three little churches in the area, all pretty much the same denomination, and he thought he might stay and become the full-time preacher for all of them when he was 'ordained'.  I asked Mama why they needed three churches.  I guessed then he had to preach the same sermon three times every Sunday?  Mama said two of them were just alike except for one allowed a piano and the other didn't.  They were across the street from each other, so Rev. Richards could sneak out the back of one and show up at the other one in a flash.   The other, an hour after the other two, was 4 miles away at Goodluck, and those folks remained upset with both the other churches because those churches refused to sign a letter to Reverend Harry Emerson Fosdick completely refuting his position on Modernism versus Fundamentalism.

 

 My eyes must have glazed over at that point, because Mama said “don't worry; I don't understand a bit of it, either. If other folks are singing, I sing too.  When they pray, I bow my head.  And, when they say 'Go with Grace', I follow her out the door and head for home.”

 

I badgered Mama why he came to see her.  “Well, someone told him I didn't go to church very often and they were worried about our eternal souls.”  They didn’t want Mama and me to be ‘Left Behind’ Can you imagine how saying something like ‘Left Behind’ makes a little child feel?  So, he just invited us to attend his little church next week out at Goodluck.  I wasn’t real comfortable with anyone, even someone with red hair, saying my mother lacked any of the graces or requirements whatsoever, so I said,

 

“We're not going, are we Mama”? 

 

“Well, he pleaded with me so persistently; I told him we would try..."

 

 

 

“Oh, Mama, you know how much I hate Sunday School”

 

“Well, then, we'll just show up for Services at 11”.   End of story.

 

It turned out Rev. Richards had a nice young lady with him who didn’t wear makeup helping with the 'Service' portion of the Sunday schedule at Goodluck Christian Church.  Her job, so far as I could tell, consisted of singing really pretty and doing the 'chalk talk' part of the service, after which some of the younger kids could go play in the cool basement so long as they stayed quiet.  What is a chalk talk?  The way I remember it, the minister would begin to read a piece of scripture, and the lady with him would start drawing with colored chalk on a blackboard she brought along.  I guess they had classes for chalking at the Bible Institute, because she drew very fast and very well.  Jesus sitting on a donkey, holding a palm frond never looked so good, I don't believe.   When she finished with a flourish, I started to clap, but Mama grabbed one of my hands and shushed me with the other, one gloved finger to her pursed lips.  That became the last part of the service I enjoyed and understood.

 

Soon, the part started where everybody got real quiet and the old men in front by the table with the fancy trays both prayed, and then everyone sat down while the old men who prayed served the young men sitting in front of them some bread crumbs.  Then the old men sat down and the young men served the old men some bread crumbs.  Then they went and passed the trays back and forth among the rows and everybody got some bread crumbs.  One of the old men in front then said “Take, Eat, This is MY BODY” My eyes must have gotten as big as big could be, because Mama gave me the 'shush' sign again, so I sat back to see what other stuff would happen. 

 

Soon, the young men were at it again, serving some funny shaped little cups of what looked like grape juice to the old men, then passing those trays around.  Then, when the young men got theirs, the one old man in front again intoned “This is my Blood.  Drink Ye all of It”.   I hid my face but I could see Mama didn't take any of the grape-juice-looking Blood.  Everyone swigged it down, though, and didn't make a peep, even though they seemed really solemn about it.   Then they cleaned up the dishes and started passing around these wooden bowls with felt cloth in the bottom for the ‘collection.’ I thought, the first time, it might be for the trash left over – extra crumbs and napkins, I guess – but people put money into the bowls -- no envelopes, you modernists -- and the young fellows took the money off into the side room.  Then a song and then almost Rev. Richards said he would reveal to us the five steps we need to be saved, after such he told us the five steps, then told us he had told us and a wise man did what he had learned from the Gospel.  Thereafter, he asked for anyone who wanted to be saved to come forward while the whole bunch sang a slow sad song.  He told us, before the last verse, it might be our last chance, the Lord might come back tomorrow, and wouldn’t we be sorry if we hadn’t walked down the aisle yet.    Nobody stepped out, so I guessed everyone else there was already in the Ark, and I would just have to learn to swim.  You know, nobody really believed the world ends in the next day or two; they might say they did, but they didn’t, really.  Why go to school?  Why plant crops?  Why file your taxes?

 

And, by the way, if you want someone to do something, like jumping out of their seat and sashaying down the aisle, better to  play “Standing on the Promises” or “Stand up, Stand UP for Jesus, you soldiers of the Cross!”, rather than “I come to the Garden alone…”  or “Jesus is Calling”

 

Finally Reverend Richards answered my question one day when I had aged a bit… “MJ”, he said, “The world could end today…it probably won’t…but it will end today for a lot of folks.  When it comes the fullness of time for you, I want you to be ‘ready’.”

 

As we shook hands all around, mostly with the preacher, Charley Poole, who taught Sunday School to the Adults Class, came over and introduced himself to Mom and me.  I had seen him in town with his coal truck, and he once came by with several quarts of fresh raspberries that Mom bought from him.  I didn't know then that he and I would share quite an adventure a few years later.

 

Many years later, after I had gone to church quite a lot, though not steadily like some kids who had pins for 10 or 15 years of perfect attendance, a girl I knew asked me to stand up with her at her wedding, at the same church and after the Sunday Morning Service.   Nan was only 15, and seemed ready to give birth at any minute.   I had heard the story, but couldn't bring myself to quite believe it.  She lived five miles out of town and, a year and a half before, sought a ride to her house one night after band practice at the high school where she had just become a new freshman.   A junior boy she knew who lived in her general direction offered to drop her off so she wouldn't have to call her folks.

 

As they cruised through town, on their way to the street leading out to their farm five miles away, the boy stopped to say hello to three of his buddies who were hanging out by the bandstand at the park.  One of them lived near the boy, and the other two jumped in for the ride for no apparent reason.   Half way home, they stopped at an old abandoned Mennonite church near the county line and pulled around where they couldn't be seen from the road.

 

One boy pulled out a pack of cigarettes and everybody lit up except the girl.  She had a puff or two from one, and another boy blew smoke into her face.  Wedged between two of them in the back seat, she couldn’t hardly move, let alone get away.  One started playing with her hair while telling her how pretty she was.  She suddenly realized she was in trouble and started to cry.  The oldest boy helped Nan out of the car and hugged her and told her not to fret -- they only wanted to touch her and play with her a little before taking her home.   Much, much later, she told me she hadn’t been able to say or shout ‘NO!’  She shook with fright, and just cried a little and sort of let her mind go far away.

 

We needn't be too graphic.  Before long, in about 15 minutes, more or less, she had sex forced on her for the first, second, third and almost fourth time, but #4 chickened out, too shy in front of his buddies to ‘do’ her even though two of them weren't letting her get up from the hood of the car.

 

I don't think it ever occurred to them to kill her or threaten her like you see on TV all the time.  She told the police they even told her 'thank you' when they dropped her off at her house, like she had helped them with homework!   Her daddy was already driving around, back and forth to town, looking for her because she hadn't called.  Her mother could see immediately what had happened and screamed so loudly and so long at Nan that a neighbor came running across the field in the middle of the night carrying a pump-action 12 gauge shotgun.   When they found who the boys were, one man called the county sheriff, while two others, and her brother, took off for the first boy's house.

 

The boys had headed back to town and were lying low to see what might happen.  The girl knew the name of only the one boy, and hadn't gotten a really good look at two of the other three; so the men's thirst for revenge would wind down a bit before the boys were found camping at the church camp at the Railroad lake by the county Sheriff after a tip from one of their friends.  Still, to prevent a lynch mob, the Sheriff got two state troopers to help him transport the boys up to Lewistown.  Then, no sooner were they booked there when someone pointed out the rape might have happened in Schuyler County, and some of the boys and the girl lived in Schuyler.  The county Judge Knowles from Schuyler called the Fulton County Judge Ingersoll and arranged to have the two boys the girl identified tried in Schuyler.  Fulton decided, finally, the girl hadn't identified their two boys well enough to take them to trial, and the other two boys, knowing they were minors, wouldn't rat on their buddies.   In fact, they thought, if teenage boys think at all, the whole thing was ridiculous.  None of the other freshman girls had ever complained.

 

Their lawyer told them to keep their traps shut and went to negotiate with Judge Knowles.  What he didn't know for certain, but thought he might know, maybe Knowles hunted and fished with the father of one of the boys.  The boy's father had a little place near the River where he kept ducks around all winter by feeding them corn.  If you were quiet about it, you could go there all winter long and bag two or three nice fat mallards in half an hour. Knowles took his ducks home for Mrs. Knowles to clean and bake.   Mrs. Knowles made the mistake, later, of giving away one of the extra ducks to her cleaning lady, who cooked it for her husband, who mentioned it to his friend, the town gadabout, who called his buddy on the State Fish and Game Commission, who sent a warden to keep an eye on what Judge Knowles might be up to.   Two weeks later, after filing one weekly ‘nothing-new-to-report’ report, the game warden disappeared, his truck recovered near the river, keys under the mat, rain having washed away any tire tracks or footprints.  His body never surfaced.  No one was ever charged and no evidence ever found tying to anyone, let alone Judge Knowles.

 

Wonder of wonders, Judge Knowles had a sympathetic ear for the boy's lawyer and accepted their plea of three counts of 3rd degree endangerment to the morals of a minor, with a penalty of nine months in the Jacksonville Reform School, suspended, three years probation, released to their parents.  Before he let them leave town, he took them into his ‘chambers’, individually, and let them know if he heard another word about them, he would come personally to them in the dark of night and separate them from the body part they needed to commit such a crime….Surely, though, they would have little time to misbehave because he expected Nan’s parents and their friends to get to them first and they might well take the first, necessary steps to make sex change surgery possible. 

 

One of the boys volunteered to be resentenced, to have the suspension and probation removed, but to no avail.   One of the boys started getting a 15 mile ride to another school district every day.  The resentencing volunteer? Well, two masked, grown men dragged him into a car late one night and took him to the strip mine lake.  They cut off his clothes and made him beg for his life and his manhood.  Then they held him down on the hood of their car and violated him anally with corn cobs dipped in red-hot analgesic balm, before driving away with his clothes, the boy's screams becoming fainter as they pulled away.   When he finally made it home and his father reported the assault to the county sheriff while a doctor irrigated the sedated boy’s rectum with mineral oil, the sheriff told them, “Good, now they had their revenge without killing him.  He got off lucky.  They probably won’t bother him any more.”  And, as it turned out, they didn’t.  None of the local girls would bother with him, either.

 

Guess who she married?  Why, the town boy, #4,  who couldn't rape in front of his friends and who sent her a letter, to apologize, saying he had no idea what the others had in mind and would she let him be her friend and to call on him for anything, anytime.  Her parents didn't know what to say to her or how to talk to her, and she didn't seem to have any close friends anymore at school.  And so, somehow, after showing the letter to her mother, she found herself talking to him, telling him how scared she had been, how embarrassed, how ashamed she still thought about it all the time.  He did too, he said. He thought about it all the time and felt so sorry he hadn't tried to stop the others, but, he, too, kept thinking about her being held down and violated on the hood of that car and how could he ever make it up to her?

 

Before long, Max had a car of his own and they were parking out behind the Mennonite Church and sharing their thoughts about school and after school is done and other kids and finding out their fantasies could become realities, and often do.  They told each other they would love one another forever, and, who is to say they wouldn't have, had they both lived??

 

 

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