It’s my day off. I’m by the open window and the catbirds are singing like the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I’ve been riding my bike (Brutus) on the Falling Waters Trail of late. This morning I logged 15.4 miles on a perfect morning. At the moment it is sunny and breezy–a delightful summer day. Lois and her sister are in Kentucky working on the old homeplace, so it is especially quiet here and I am making my shopping list to make a cobb salad with citrus dressing this evening. For my day-off reading I’m enjoying a little book by Phillip Keller, Lessons From A Sheep Dog. I’m also dabling around with a wonderful tome by Robert Macfarlane; The Old Ways. It’s on walking, and the biography of J. I. Packer.
Yesterday I drove to Lowell to watch our oldest son, Kyle baptize our grandsons Kyle Kenneth, Oliver Bruce, and Leland Ralph in an outdoor baptism. Afterward we went to a family cottage on the lake the the men took turns grilling meats, kabobs, chicken, shrimp, burgers. I ate with delight and moderation. We watched the children play in the water. The ladies formed a circle of conversation, the men another. A bright American flag snapped in the breeze over the whole affair, the smell of good food hung in the air, with happy laughter, all on the fringe of a blue lake on a Sunday night. The drive home across the Michigan countryside in June was like a sacrament, except for the part where I had to buy gas. But God is in his heaven.
A few weeks ago I was in my writing loft on a Saturday night
A Michigan Saturday Night
Saturday night preparations were a chore when the kids were growing up. Getting baths and clothes and lessons and songs and messages for a family of ten people was a challenge every week. Not anymore. The memory of it is all sweet and no bitter.
I have lived all the wonderful Saturdays of my life with preparation for the Lord’s Day on my mind. Shine the shoes. Wash the car. Study the lessons. Rehearse the songs. Print the bulletin. Fold the bulletin. Pray. Extend last-minute invitations. Go down to the church and check the set-up. In the early years we would take our turn at janitor duty. I have “burned the midnight oil” almost every Saturday night of my over 40 year ministry. Every message occupies my heart all week, but still al my messages are Saturday night specials—most are even Sunday morning specials. That is just how I work and I’m too old to change and too stubborn to apologize for it. I like to think of my messages as fresh coals from the altar. But Saturday evening has always been a time of preparation for the Lord’s Day.
One of my earliest memories must have been shortly after my Dad’s ordination to the Christian ministry. It was a Saturday night. Dad must have been in his early thirties. He had washed the car and swept it spotless with a whisk broom. It was dusk in the countryside were we lived in a parsonage that was the farmhouse on the Parmalee farm on a country road near Wayland, Michigan. In my memory Dad is squatting behind the rear bumper of the car and carefully affixing a “Clergy” sticker to his back bumper. Soon we will make our way in and fill out our “quarterlies” while Dad shines up the shoes and mom practices the songs.
I still have Saturday routines. I started the day at Bethel, like I do every Saturday that I”m in town, with a meeting of the elders at 7:00 a.m. Three or so Saturday mornings a month we meet to pray. One of those mornings we pray with the men of the church and enjoy a full breakfast. On the third Saturday morning of the month we have our official meeting. This morning was our official meeting.
After the meeting I worked on my message for a couple hours then it was time for me to drive across town for a funeral. The sky is clear today and the temperature has hovered around 70 with a gentle breeze and a hint of cool in it. It’s hard to imagine a more fetching place on planet earth today than a Michigan morning in June. Summer officially begins this coming Tuesday.
The funeral was a graveside memorial for a couple, both of them died late last year during Covid, their children agreed on today for a memorial. I wore a suit and tie and my Straw Stetson Open Road and I was home by 2:00. I fixed some food and then took Brutus (my bike) over to the Falling Waters Trial at Lime Lake for a ride.
I’ve been alone much of the day. When I loaded my bike on the rack on Elliot (my army green 4Runner) an old memory came to me. This happens often on a night like this, a Saturday night. Toward 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday night from somewhere in the mid-eighties until about 2016 Saturday night often included a visit to a town in Minnesota, a fictitious town, Lake Wobegon, the creation of Garrison Keillor, a lapsed Plymouth Brethren who wove stories that weren’t true about a town that didn’t exist for a live show from the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul and broadcast live on the radio every Saturday night for almost 40 years.
We moved to Fremont, Michigan in the mid-90’s and lived there until late 2002. Hope came along in April of 1999 to make our family complete. The spacious brick parsonage at 515 E. Pine Street Pine Street was the only place we all lived under the same roof at one time. When we left for Flint in November of 2002 Kyle went to Chicago and one at a time they found their way out on their own for the next almost 20 years. Our memories from the Pine Street Parsonage are sweet.
The public radio station in that part of the state was Blue Lake Public Radio and on Saturday nights after supper while Lois or the older ones bathed the little ones the radio in Kyle and Wesley’s room, or Chuk and Dan’s room would be tuned to A Prairie Home Companion at 6:00 p.m. and after the intermission and the greetings we would all lean in to hear The News from Lake Wobegon—Saturday night storytelling in the Pine Street Parsonage. The program after A Prairie Home Companion was Michigan Saturday Night—traditional folk music, followed by Thistle and Shamrock with Fiona Richie.
After Prairie Home Companion signed off I would listen with one ear to A Michigan Saturday Night and Thistle and Shamrock, because I had to turn my attention to my message for Sunday morning at First Baptist on Mechanic Street, but I would not tune out until I listened to the opening theme song for A Michigan Saturday Night…
The band played so sweet, that I lifted my feet
As the fiddles and dulcimers rang
As we formed up a square, our friends were all there
On a Michigan Saturday night.
In the Parsonage on Pine Street in Fremont in those years on summer nights we would stay out in the yard until the grass moistened and the fireflies came out before we came in. In the winter we would gather in the main room and gather around a fire. Often we would listen there. At bedtime we all climbed the stairs to our rooms. The were four large bedrooms on the second floor. I could step into the hall and hear their banter if they were awake or their breathing if they were asleep. I often stood there in the darkness at night and prayed for them.
On warm nights like this I sometimes find an old Lake Wobegon monologue/storytelling on my iPhone and when I listen sometimes just for a minute I’m back in the parsonage on Pine Street and we’re all together again. I smile and I imagine them with their own families now, making their own memories. I hope they are as sweet as the ones that come to me on a Michigan Saturday Night, were all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.
Saturday Night, June 18, 2022
P.S. I’m compelled to add: Keillor is a gifted writer and storyteller. I in no way endorse his theology or politics, but that is a story for another day.