Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Miracle on the Mountain"

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little. It wasn't such a big one; not like the fire that fell on Elijah's altar.Not exactly like when Mt. Sinai trembled and smoked.

But it was a little one; something out of the ordinary. And when you're like me, not really sure if you've ever seen a miracle, even the smallest one seems exceptionally special.

It happened like this.

 Several weeks ago, my two young "mountain men" apprentices (who for our purposes here we'll call Copernious and Austonio) and I headed out one Sat. morning for the Peaks of Otter. I mean how could you consider yourselves mountain men if every now and again you wouldn't actually climb one, right?
Move over Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay; you've got some up and coming competition!

We had done our preparations well. At least the most important ones. Like filling our packs with plenty of beef sticks, jerky, chips, cookies, a soda apiece and subs from Rosie's Cozy Kitchen. You know, the bare essentials from all the main food groups.

Now there are many terrible things that could happen to you on a dangerous mountain climb, things like falling off a cliff, getting lost, or getting et up by a bear. But dying of starvation would have to be the absolute  worst thing of all.

We looked at the map before we left. I told them that I sometimes like to find a "road less traveled" (who would have guessed it) to get where I'm going rather than always taking the big well traveled  all-so-boring highways.  

So instead of taking Rt.43 at Bedford and heading for the Peaks, we went on past a ways and turned off on a small country road and headed north. I had never been this way myself. It lead us thru some beautiful countryside and kept getting narrower and less populated until it finally turned to gravel.                 ( Mary always says that this is when I begin to get happy)

 Sitting right along side the road opposite  one of the last houses, was a very old truck, older than any I recognized. Maybe something out of the forties? It looked like it had just gotten parked there one day and there it still was. Gave you the feeling that time had maybe stood still up in this hollow.

After passing the last houses the road started heading up the mountain. And head up the mountain it did. There were a few places you could look down and see two or three curves below us where we had switchbacked our way thru just before. Copernious said he was getting some scared feelings about this route.

We did make it (which you've probably concluded by now) and actually came out right beside the Sharp Top parking lot without  ever getting on the Parkway or Rt. 43 either one. And that's not even the miracle yet.

Next was trying to decide how many clothes to leave on for the climb. It was cold at the bottom of the mountain so, as I figured, we left on one too many jackets and soon got too warm. We stopped by a rock in the middle of the trail (one we thought we'd recognize on the way down) and hid our coats up the bank a ways and covered them with leaves.

I know, you're trying to be patient about the miracle. That's just it; miracles don't happen very often to the impatient, so just try to stay calm.

We had climbed at least three fourths of the way up when we encountered a group of people stopped along the trail. Some on one side and some on the other. We started to make our way thru the group and were just about past the last few when one guy said to me, "Would you care to join us for a time of prayer?"

 I said sure, so we stopped on the uphill side of the group. And those in the group started praying, randomly one after the other.

Now these prayers weren't exactly like mine. These people went on thanking God for the lovely day, for His beautiful creation and the privilege we all have to be part of it. Just pure worship, plain and simple.

Now I believe all that same stuff too, but when I pray I get right down to business. "Lord, we've got a need here. We need strength to go on. Someone is in an extremely trying situation, Lord. Unless You put forth Your Hand to help us, we won't make it, Lord!"

So I was listening, drinking in the beauty in these prayers. I had a hard time not crying; it felt like God was meeting me on this mountain.

About this time, Copernious launched in praying. And lo and behold when he was done Austonio started in. You talk about something that made this old mountain man's heart about to pop!

I did gain my composure enough before the prayer meeting was done to pray myself  without blubbering. I prayed that just as we were on this climb today that we would take up the challenge of the "climb of life". And that we would encourage each other on the way. And that He would guide our steps so we do not stumble.

Finally the guy who was to close did so, and we were done. I thanked them and told them that I've spent some time in discouragement lately and this was a real encouragement to me.

I wondered too where they were from. I was thinking the whole time that this was one group, together. As they began to say where they were from, I realized that they weren't all one group. No, they said, some of us just met right here on the trail. One group heard someone in the other group say that this would be a good place to stop and have prayer. And the second group came along and asked if they could join them. And then we came along before they got started.

So we were at least three groups of strangers gathered on one mountain in the same prayer meeting. How many times has this happened to you? A small miracle, wouldn't you say?

Another thing really blessed me as we were chatting afterwards. One of the ladies (who we had passed a while before on the trail) said that when we passed by,both boys looked her full in the face and said a friendly hello. She said very few youngsters look at you with full, open faces these days.
She said that she thought to herself at the time, "These guys are believers!"

I told the boys on the way home how proud I was of them praying. Copernious said he figured that if these people are Christians and he's a Christian, he might as well. Austonio said that when Copernious prayed it gave him the courage to do the same.  I commended them on the friendly, open face thing as well.

It would have been a lovely day without the miracle. With it, the day was outstanding.

And from now on when I round that last turn before coming into Gladys, (where on clear days you can see the Peaks of Otter  looming up 50 or 60 miles away) I will always remember the "miracle on the mountain."

The children of Israel set up twelve stones for a monument; I'm gonna claim old Sharp Top for one of mine.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

"December 11, 1976"

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Well, that may be stretching it. Let me start over. I remember it like it was day before yesterday. What I'm trying to say is that this date in ancient history is forever and indelibly impressed on my mind.

Because Mary and I got married on that day. And our marriage started out with a big bang, literally.

We had met in a nursing home, which I know seems odd and somewhat less than romantic. It happened like this.......... my friend Randy was working at Clyde Bender's nursing home in Stuarts Draft and he wanted to go to Bible School for three weeks. I to this day don't know what made me say it, but I told him I'd come up and take his place for those three weeks. I was shyer than a bashful church mouse so this was quite out of character for me.

Sure enough, Randy took me up on my offer.

Now Mary was from Harrisonburg and had recently moved to Draft to be the head cook at the home. I had met her only once before when a few of my friends and I had stopped in to visit Randy.

I had always thought I wouldn't be able to stand working in a nursing home. All the strange moaning and groaning from the residents who weren't in their right minds. And the smell.....

But I can honestly say I learned to love it. There were enough residents in their right minds to interact with and you learned to love the others as well.

There were some sad ones, too. Like Elsie Dunn. She would walk up and down the halls saying to anyone who would listen about how she was from Sowth Hill, Vahginnya. And she's got a dayeed husband. And her people don't love her and just put her ovah heah. And she shore would like to have an oatmeal suppah.

There was a very cultured blind lady there, Mrs. Hartley. She would follow me to the table at meal time by placing her hand on my shoulder. Almost always she would exclaim, "Heavens! I've never felt a shoulder so bony!" (I probably weighed about 140 back then) And when Frank Zuantner, (who ate his food without chewing) would begin to choke and make all sorts of terrible sounds, she would exclaim, "Heavens! What kind of a place am I in!??"

 I realize that this is more information than you need to know, but I do know for sure that Frank COULD actually eat  lima beans without chewing them, as I saw some once that had made the full digestive circuit and still looked none the worse for the wear. (Did I mention that nursing home work wasn't for the faint hearted?)

I could tell you about Mrs. Cunningham, and Mr. Rohrer. And Mr. Strickland who was a professor at the University of Richmond. He had suffered a breakdown of some sort and was at the home  for rehabilitation. He later went back to his job at the college.

But I  really need to get on with my story. I learned to know Mary there as well.  She was, well, not like any other girl I knew. Of course I didn't know many girls (I was petrified of them) and the ones I did know had church mouse personalities sort of like mine.

She was outgoing without being bold. She was feisty and  could hold her own in most any argument. She was a dedicated and hard worker and a mighty good cook. I enjoyed being around her.

One mealtime at the home we were serving the residents and Mary was telling Sharon about the taffy pull they were having at her youth group at Harrisonburg.  And since it was leap year the girls had to ask a boy to pull taffy with her. No way was she going to do that, she said. Sharon pipes up, "I bet Merle would go with you, now wouldn't you Merle?"

What could I say? So I said sure, I'd go along.

Sharon and Irvan went along too that night. We pulled taffy and all Mary's friends pulled her aside when they had the chance and asked her if there was something to this. She assured them it was just a convenience arrangement so she wouldn't have to ask a guy.

On the way back home we had to pick up Mary's car which had been in Harrisonburg for repairs. We knew Sharon and Irvan would like to be by themselves so Mary and I rode home in her car. By now she was beginning to wonder if there was something to this after all. But of course I'm slow and haven't got there yet.

But sometime during the night it dawns on me that, you know, I really like this girl. So the next day I ask her if she wants to go to Gladys with me on Sunday. She accepts (and all her friends think she lied to them the night before) and the rest, as they say, is history.

That was a long, round about way of getting to Dec. 11, 1976.  (I have a weakness for rabbit trails, I know)

Anyway, we got married at the Bank Church on that date. My dad preached something about Isaac finding a wife. Lloyd Horst pronounced us man and wife. And we headed to Turner Ashby High School  for the reception.

About 3:00 or so we left and headed across the mountain towards West Va. where we had a cabin rented. A mile or two before Franklin, West Va. it was almost dark and was just beginning to rain when two deer popped out of  nowhere right in front of the car. I'm sure everyone who hears this story wonders if for sure I had my eyes on the road and paying full attention to my driving. And since I don't believe in swearing, I will absolutely affirm that I can answer to the positive on both accounts.

They first deer made it across. The second wasn't so lucky. Neither were we.

Out of instinct I hit the brakes. Hit them too hard for the wet road. (this was before the days of anti-lock brakes) The second deer hit on the front drivers corner of the car and with the brakes locked it spun us around half a turn and we rammed the bank on the opposite side of the road going backwards. A man outside his house on the hill above the road saw it happen and said when we hit the bank the front end of the car came up so high he thought we were going over on the roof yet to boot.

We were shook up but unhurt. The car  was totaled. The man and his wife invited us in and were very kind. The man happened to own a garage in Franklin, so he towed the car in while we waited for Mary's dad to come back across the mountain to pick us up. How humiliating.

As I said, we started married life with a bang. I should have realized then that it was a harbinger of things to come.

So what did we do this Dec. 11?  

You probably won't believe it. After dark we drove up to my cousin Dwayne's field called the "High Meadow" and looked for deer. We saw four but they took off for the woods before I could run into one for  old times sake.

And did I have my full attention on my driving on this night?  Well now, that would be for me to know and for you to never find out.