This story, first published in July of 1997 in a California newspaper, is a promise made to our Scrapple friend Mary Pearce whose son just received his pastorate at this very same church. Small world, eh, I don't know. I think there is a purpose in all things. [Ecclesiastes 3:1] It is important to remember I wrote it from my 1972 religious prospective, so anything that sounds anti-church is not the view held today.
The first killing frost of the season fell upon the birch covered Minnesota lakes region and it seemed I had no more than settled into my peaceful life as Miss One With Nature when some deity tried to rattle my existence.
With the city limits sign of Cleveland still a toxic memory, I, along with a hoard of land-hungry hippies clutching issues of Mother Earth News, settled into a small rural area of Minnesota, raised chickens, goats and eyebrows. Most of us were looking for anything but religion. As a fallen Lutheran who saw God as a cosmic magnet that tugged humanity into oozy blobs of one-religion-fits all, I despised doctrinal chaos. Moving to the country made sense to me and Frank, my once addicted, now clean, but a little paranoid friend, where we could be content to be nothing
That warm fuzzy God theory met a challenge one day in what I seem to remember as being somewhere in the early '70's, as we read a flier taped to the window of a coffee shop. It said Evangelist Milford T. Harrington (name not real to protect my poor memory), guest speaker from Kentucky, would share a testimony on his frightening encounter with Satan. The way I understood the filer, Beelzebub and this Baptist preacher met face to face with each other. I knew Lutherans never talked with the devil so I said to Frank as we sipped on the coffee that cold afternoon, "I'm a little curious on what kind of dialogue took place between this dark sinister figure–and a back home country preacher."
Normally, in our little town we did not stick out much since there were more than a few back-to-nature freaks mixed in with local farmers, jack pine savages and tourists who often smelled of fish. But poor Frank didn't fit in with the church crowd very well. He had a cosmic twin brother named Frank Zappa. The previous winter we traveled to Martha's Vineyard, home of James Taylor, and the buzz about town said Zappa showed up to cut a record with Taylor.
So here we are, celebrity twin of the lanky, long haired Zappa, and me, wire rimmed, tied-dyed blouse, blue jeans and Red Wing boots, sitting like an out-of-place band of gypsies in a Baptist Church in the small town of Park Rapids. The evangelist walked to the podium and after a few hymns, passes the plate and commenced to preaching. Well, we blew it.
Seems like the Reverend Milford T. Harrington started with the dark tales of his demonic conversations on Tuesday, continued through the week with frightening accounts of heathens and idolaters toasting in the great abyss. Friday night climaxed to great crescendo of fire and brimstone to drag in reckless souls, inebriates and other wayward types whom the devil himself would surely make mincemeat out of some day.
In a grand Kentucky Baptist style, Milford T. Harrington wasted no time moving into the grand finale of alter calls. He jumped, yelled, sweated and cried. With a white handkerchief in one hand and the Bible in the other, he orchestrated a wonderful show of good old fashioned Bible thumping. He continued this plea for souls until the veins popped from his forehead. Soon his cold steely eyes locked on to Frank's, then he glanced over to me. To drown out the fear my mind started singing, "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz."
The clock on the wall ticked slowly while he brought down the gates of Hell. An hour later half the county was pleading for mercy. Poor Frank was blind sided and never blinked an eye. Truthfully I must admit he never looked so pale.
If a confession is needed here I almost went forward and probably should have, but my knees were so weak I never would have made it and the act of falling to the floor may not have been seen as a Baptist tradition like some churches I have visited over my many years. There was no doubt that I had danced about the devils playground and needed to set things right with the Almighty, but not right then. I never move when fear is present.
Meanwhile, poor Harrington was turning hoarse, he quoted 16 more passages, wiped the sweat from his brow, gave one more alter call for good measure and finally gave up on the hippie couple from Pequot Lakes. It was nearly midnight and most of the old women had fallen off to sleep in the nursery.
After the last hymn and closing prayer (one more chance to get in the kill) we politely shook hands with the pastor and traveling evangelist. Two lost souls never to be notched into his gospel gun walked out into the cool Minnesota night air.
So what happened on that cold night in 1972? The drive home to our farm was rather quiet. I felt cheated I didn't get to hear his tales of devilish conversations. The Northern lights seem to flicker a solemn good-by to an evening nobody anticipated. Many would ask if God gave up on us. I can't answer for Frank since our ways parted not long after but for myself the answer would no.
There would be many arguments over my soul from that day onand finally on another cold Minnesota night three years later a decision was made by myself as I drove home in my old ‘48 Dodge pickup. The moon was full and no headlights were needed as I stared into the night where the northern sky held the majesty of His artwork. How could I say no to such a God.
Settle in, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy your stay here at Shelly's. The pie is great, the coffee pot is always on and soon you will find this to be the best place in town. SOON TO BE AMERICA'S MOST READ BLOG