Just for fun: A short story in the style of Garrison Keillor

Grab a cup of coffee (heh, heh, heh), sit back, and enjoy a short story that I’ve been writing over the last few weeks. It’s in the style of Garrison Keillor, and is fiction. Any resemblance to persons known or unknown is unintentional.

Here we go…


The Property Team Solves Two Problems

The Property team guys at Mount Norway Lutheran Church have had a problem for years. The sinks in the church’s kitchen have always needed periodic replacement for the drain parts. And it was because of that strong Scandinavian coffee they made for Coffee Hour after Sunday worship. This was coffee made for after church; coffee that some said could maybe even wake the dead, or at least get their eyelids to flutter a bit; if only you could get them to drink some. It was a coffee recipe refined not just over years, but over generations of good, church-going Scandinavians. Coffee made to snap people back to alertness from surreptitiously snatched naps during slower-moving parts of the service.

But the Property Team were concerned: They’d been going through sink traps at the alarming rate of one or two a month. Even though they always asked folks who work in the church kitchen to run extra water down the sink when they dump the last of the Sunday coffee, it never seemed to make any difference how much they pleaded, and said they’d like to have just one weekend off, instead of fixing the sink. Instead, the Property Committee guys were always taking the sink out to replace parts. By now, they had it down to a science. They had all the right tools and materials, all gathered in a bag and ready to go. If it was one guy doing the work, he could have the drain parts changed in under an hour and a half. If it was two guys working on it, it could happen in as little as fifteen minutes to a half hour. But it always seemed to need to happen on a Saturday. On a football Saturday, when either the Packers or the Vikings were playing. So the Property Team guys were perpetually slightly unhappy about the job, but because it was their way of service to Mount Norway Lutheran and to God Himself, they just came and did the work – no questions asked.

Meanwhile, a good Samaritan has donated a lot of raw paneling for the church’s nursery. It’s going to be just the thing, but it needs to be stained or finished somehow. Putting up raw lumber in the church’s nursery just wouldn’t be right, and the fellas were at a loss as to how to get it stained and finished properly. At the next Property meeting, it got a lot of discussion and thought. That paneling is pretty, but the wood variety is such that it is going to suck up an awful lot of stain, and last year’s roof repairs have pretty much decimated the budget. They talk for a while but get nowhere, and decide to take a coffee break. Maybe some of the church coffee will help rattle some brains. This is a church with a lot of tough Scandinavians in it, and tough Scandinavians need good, strong coffee – that coffee that will stain a stirring spoon, and …

Art Olmstead had the idea first. “What if we use the waste coffee – the coffee that we’ve been dumping down the drain all this time? Let’s try soaking the paneling in the coffee and see how that stains it.”

It was as if a lightning bolt had hit the Team. A bright, searing lightning bolt made from coffee.

They immediately get to work on a long tray in which to soak the paneling lumber; fabricating it from some old rain gutter stuff and a few old coffee cans which they found in the trash. The church’s storage area soon smelled of that warm, friendly aroma which comes only from good Scandinavian coffee. The board went in and soaked for a week. They’d had to renew the coffee using the waste coffee from the Sunday service, because it’d absorbed so much of it. And after a week, it was done to everyone’s satisfaction. But this was a good thing, because it meant a reprieve from changing sink drains. And those guys who would normally be changing those sink drains, could at last relax on a Saturday, watching football.

And when they pulled that test board out, it was a lovely, warm color; and it smelled richly of coffee. They put it out to dry for a day or so, and came back to find something amazing: that strong Scandinavian coffee had changed the nature of the wood, in the same kind of way it changes the nature of Scandinavians. They opened the storage area and pulled out the board.

For a moment, the clouds parted over Mount Norway Lutheran Church, and the sun shone on that board. The Property Team guys looked at each other, because none of them could believe it. None wanted to admit that they thought they could hear angels singing.

That warm ray of sunlight, a smile from Heaven, revealed a finish that looked as if it had been lovingly applied and hand-rubbed by a master furniture finisher. That single board, the test board, shone in the sunlight with a heavenly glow, and the Property Team was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt. Here was an answer to prayer. Not only do we save money by not having to buy stain and lacquer, but we also save those poor guys who are here every couple of weeks, usually during a Packers or a Vikings game, from having to change out the sink parts.

It took a couple months, between the soaking of individual pieces of paneling lumber and drying it all, before it was all ready for installation. But that lumber, that paneling lumber, had been soaking up and further concentrating that strong Scandinavian coffee, and now it had penetrated to the very heart of the wood, bringing it an incredible beauty, but in a way changing it to something beyond mere lumber. This was lumber that had drunk a lot of coffee. And after it had soaked up all that strong Scandinavian coffee, it was laid out and dried; concentrating even further the coffee, that strong Scandinavian church coffee, that coffee of victory through activity; that coffee was now vibrating in every molecule of that lumber.

Finally it was time to organize a Saturday to panel the nursery. So like most churches that have lots of Scandinavians, this one had a potluck for the workers while they did the install of the paneling. The church wives, good Scandinavian wives that they were, came up with an amazing array of dishes, all either white, or featuring something white. Many Scandinavians grew up on food without color, and so when they see things made to look mostly white, they feel comforted and loved. And the cookies – oh, the cookies – Spritz, Sandbakkel, Pepperkakkor, Smor Bullar… Heaven in a hot dish, heaven on a cookie plate.

Meanwhile, the fellas had an organizing meeting in the nursery to sort out what walls should get done first, how they were going to do the lap joints, and how they were going to handle the corners. Everywhere was stacked the lumber that had been soaked in that good, strong Scandinavian coffee, and there was an air of warmth and vitality about the job. And that warmth and vitality seemed to grow stronger, the longer that lumber sat in the nursery, with its aroma filling the air.

Three electric miter saws were set up; one was Stan Lundgren’s old antique – it was a big heavy beast of a saw, but it was accurate. It took a moment or two to make a cut with Stan’s saw, and it took a certain bit of old-fashioned expertise to use it – but it could turn out perfect work, cut after cut, after cut. Then there was Milt Weston’s saw, which hadn’t seen a lot of use since he bought it about ten years ago. It had a fresh, sharp blade (and somebody commented that it might just be the original, because Milt hadn’t used it really all that much), and it could go through lumber just lickety-split.

But the crowning glory of the worker’s tools that day was Frank Johnson’s newer cabinet-maker’s saw. It was one of those commercial models, all cast iron and the work surfaces were polished to a mirror-shine through lots of use. Frank was one of those guys who did phenomenal work. He wasn’t fast, but what came from his hands fairly sang with perfection. It was said that God weeps upon first revelation of one of Frank’s projects. Frank took a few minutes to show a few people – a VERY select few – how to use his saw and how to take care of it and not abuse it, so that it would keep turning out great work. Oh, to have been one of those select few and to be able to have your hands on the controls of that saw. It certainly would have been an experience.

However, it was Alan Togelson, head of the Property Committee, who upon seeing that most everybody had been briefed (and now were just standing around talking about sports and fishing and hunting) who called for order. “Fellas, it isn’t getting done standing here. How about we get after it? Everybody know what to do?”

There were nods all around; a few shuffled their feet and straightened the straps on their bib overalls. Alan always used that funny expression, ‘get after’, as if he was always going to go chase something. Maybe as a child, he heard the expression too many times from his mother, as in “I had to get after Alan today; he was sassing me.” Which usually resulted in a wallop from his dad.

“Great. Let’s have at it! Charlie, you’ve got the best eye of all of us, how about you set us a level line for the bottom of the paneling?”

And with that, they all got to work. Chalkline boxes appeared from nowhere, and chalk marks were snapped on the walls; notes in chalk were written beside them, notes that someday, some archeologist would find and puzzle over. Especially Mel’s writing, which always looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Somebody had taken a moment and written, “ärade Gud” in an unused space, with roughly translates as “Glory to God”. Several of the workers in passing it would notice it, furrow a brow for a moment, then nod… and move on with their task.

Saws began to sing, their wailing a counterpoint to the back-and-forth calling of measurements and double-checking before the paneling was screwed home. The aroma of Scandinavian coffee really began to fill the air, as those saws cut through the lumber; lumber that had been soaked in that incredibly strong Scandinavian coffee.

Sawing through it released a heady aroma: coffee and sawn wood. It was the smell of a good project, going well; that smell of wood. Then the coffee, that church coffee; it was that feeling of being done with the service and going to the church’s gathering hall to share a cup of coffee with people they hadn’t seen for a week or two.

Many of the men paused to sniff the air a moment, then each would smile to himself, and continue with what they were doing. As the minutes passed during the job, the workers pretended not to notice it… but the pace seemed to be picking up markedly. Could it be just the smell of that strong Scandinavian coffee?

And speaking of pace, there seemed to be some effect going on. Somewhere in the middle of the job, the battery-powered screw guns seemed as if they were slowing down a bit. So as each man running a screw gun noticed the change, he went out into the hallway were there were a bank of chargers set up; all the chargers were there along the wall like soldiers at attention. And somehow everybody knew which charger was his, and swapped in a fresh battery. But most of the men noticed that the fresh batteries didn’t speed the screw guns up much. It was like they themselves as they were working around all that coffee-soaked wood were speeding up, and everything else around them was slowing down somewhat. And swirling all around them still, was that heady aroma of strong Scandinavian church coffee.

They’d begun shortly after nine in the morning, and now it was about eleven. Sawdust was everywhere, still accompanied by the strong smell of coffee. Three or four of the men stepped back from the sections of the walls they’d been paneling, and realized they were done. Everyone was done! 

Alan Togelson came in with Ted Singval, carrying another load of paneling lumber between them, with a fresh box of screws perched on top of it. But they stopped short when they realized that the room – this nursery – which up until this day had seemed a cold, forbidding place, even though several of the church women had hung blankets and quilts on the walls in an effort to warm it up – this cold and forbidding place now had been fully paneled. And the transformation was amazing. Heavenly, some might say. Stimulating, if you put it in a different way. The warmth just seemed to radiate from the walls, those walls that had been stained a warm, inviting color by strong Scandinavian church coffee. And those walls shone with richness and luster beyond anything the crew had seen recently. It was as if old Master Carpenters had been at work, staining and finishing those boards; gleaming with a job well done.

Alan Togelson and Ted Singval paused in awe for a few moments, then gently set down their burden. Alan said, “Fellas, I don’t know what to say! This is wonderful to get this done so quickly! How did you manage it all?”

Frank Johnson spoke up: “Well, it just seemed to go together quicker and quicker. And the more we worked, the quicker it went. But ya know, I got a terrible hankerin’ for a cup of coffee!” There was general agreement at this, then Ted Singval said, “But hey, what if we pick up first? We still got a few minutes before lunch.”

It was like the breeze that started a hurricane. Everyone was working so very fast to clean up, pick up, and put away, then to bring the nursery furniture back in. Before anyone realized it, all the lumber had been picked up and stacked out in the storage shed, the floors were swept, and the tools were all disappearing back into their cases and then on out to everyone’s trucks and cars.

The potluck lunch went well; all the men ate and enjoyed all the wonderful white Scandinavian dishes that their wives had brought and shared; and when it was time to do dishes, the men helped out. The dishes seemed to magically disappear from the tables; zoom through the suds and the rinse; dried in a snap; and suddenly they too were all done, sparkling-clean, dried, and a banquet’s worth of dishes and serving utensils put away in the incredible space of only… five… minutes.

The men stood around chatting for a few minutes after the lunch, then helped their wives put the dishes in the cars and trucks, and the lot at Mount Norway Lutheran was empty once again.

That afternoon, there were a lot of home-improvement projects that got done, football was watched, wives and children were loved and hugged, and all grew quiet as night fell. Meanwhile, the scent of victory through hard work, the scent of good Scandinavian coffee, permeated the rest of the basement and even the sanctuary above.

Sunday morning came, and the nursery became populated with children and supervisors of all ages. One and all were impressed with the beautiful new paneling. The children all seemed a lot more active and happier than usual, and all of the nursery helpers had absolutely no problem in keeping up with all the usual mayhem. In fact, they found themselves highly alert – so alert that they could catch up to a child who’d just tripped – and even before they hit the floor. So there was very little crying in the Mount Norway Lutheran church nursery, that Sunday morning.

And as everyone exited the church  sanctuary, shaking the Pastor’s hand on the way out, they were shocked to look at their watches… They were out of services a full TWENTY MINUTES early! Now, finishing up early isn’t something many Lutheran pastors are known to do. As a matter of fact, it’s actually a course in Seminary: “Finishing on Time, No Matter How the Much Congregation Fidgets”. So there had to be some reason, and several people asked if there was something that needed prayer, or if there was anyone who needed help in any way. No, no, Pastor Olson insisted; everything was just fine. But he did admit to an unusual craving for coffee this morning, maybe that was the reason he finished up early. But he suggested that folks use that extra few minutes to think a little extra about God and how he has blessed them during the week.

When the parents came to pick up their children, they were again impressed by how warm and welcoming the nursery seemed with the new paneling. And they also had the sudden craving for a cup of coffee, down at Coffee Hour. But later that afternoon, they noticed that their children all seemed to be very energetic and awake, and not at all ready to go down for an afternoon nap.

And by that evening, they were all very, very tired. It was the kind of tired you feel when the buzz from just one cup too many of coffee finally wears off. It’s that sudden letdown in energy that makes one so sleepy, and it affected one and all.

The sun set that evening on a wonderful Sunday of worship and sharing; and the spectacular show was watched from front porches and decks all over town, and from seats in lawn chairs and from tractor seats while finishing the day’s meadow mowing out in the country, from kitchen windows over the last of the Sunday supper dishes; by many people, including several of the members of Mount Norway Lutheran. And most of them remarked on the colors, and the members of Mount Norway Lutheran remarked especially how several of the colors reminded them of coffee…

The sun set, the cool of the evening fell, chairs were gathered, tractors put away in barns, doors closing quietly behind people coming in for the evening. And another day ends on God’s earth.


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