When the fall months come around I remember the year I lived in Boerne, Texas. Some of my fondest memories took place in a little coffee shop on Main Street.
Around 9:00am on most days I’d stop working for a spell, fill up my mug, pat Craig on the shoulder and nod to Lonnie as I made my way out the front door. By the time I’d head back to the coffee shop all the boutiques were open; moms with big necklaces and animal printed things going from store to store.
On the way to my table, I’d nod again to Craig, Lonnie and the other sages and get back to work. I never secured a seat at the wise men's table, but I got in with Craig after a while. We officially met one morning when he recognized me after a month's worth of nods and introduced himself. A few weeks later, he asked if he could sit with me because the place was crowded.
It's funny how someone you barely know will tell you anything. Craig was a single father and had two sons that lived with him. But before that he was a pastor for nearly thirty years and happily married. One day his wife decided to up and leave. He would get quiet and look up at the rafters when that period of his life came up.
Most mornings his sons would stop by the shop to say hello before starting their days. They’d shake hands real hard and look you in the eye. They already drank their coffee black. Craig liked to talk about fathers and sons and about building character. After his boys walked out the door with their coffee, we’d sit hunched over a dirty table and discuss what it meant to throw down a rope to young men who wanted to become real men - and what it looked like to be a father who cared to do such a thing.
One morning Craig told me I was coming over to their house to eat steaks.
So I headed over to Craig's house for steaks that night. I pulled into the drive and his boys met me at the door. I brought six beers. We walked out to the back yard where Craig was already at work. A firm handshake and a reverent silence as we looked at the steaks soon led to conversation. Craig told me how he believed anyone who burned a steak went to purgatory, he then elbowed me and said, "If we believed in purgatory, that is,” and his sons laughed a rehearsed laugh I'm sure they'd laughed before.
An axis buck passed through the woods behind us and Craig and his sons stopped talking. Their eyes were fixed on the shadow between the mesquite. I suppose each of them was imagining how they'd kill it. I have nothing to say about hunting, so I just looked out into the woods and smelled the smoke in the cold air. Craig told me you can kill an axis buck inside Boerne city limits year round because it's an exotic game animal; but it can’t be with a gun, it has to be with a bow. And thankfully, he told me, Texas recently classified crossbows as a bow, not a firearm. So that’s good I guess.
After dinner we sat around the chimenea and talked about answers. We talked about what he believed and what his sons believed and what he thought we should all believe. They had a tough go of it when their mom left and I wonder if the tougher your go is the more likely you are to push toward absolutes. The gray area is a scary place for the wounded.
Craig once told me he was proud of how good his boys were, but said the problem with his boys was that they were such good boys. Two brothers happy being with one another, not really sure what the world had to offer, but positive that nothing good came from fast girls, college life or Barack Obama. It was a safety they came by honestly and inside their fear of the unknown was a quiet hope that somehow they were getting it right.
Next to the fire under the stars, Craig prodded me to say a few things we’d talked about at breakfast one morning; things he thought might push his boys to see the world differently. Maybe that’s what cautious parents do when they love their kids - they introduce them to people who can tell the stories they can't themselves. It wasn’t going to be Craig who would tell his boys about the world and how to cautiously let it in, but it could be me. And while I recounted an adventure I had in Switzerland with a Dutch girl, he turned his head away and hoped their eyes didn’t get too wide.
Looking back, it’s clear Craig and I never agreed on everything; but I could see the importance of the structure he wanted for his boys and he valued the wild air in my lungs. He wanted them to know a little of both sides because that means they’d figured out a way to participate in their own lives.
Before turning in, Craig recounted the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling with God in his tent. All night, Jacob demanded to be blessed and finally at daybreak God touched Jacob's hip and Jacob walked the rest of his life with a limp.
Craig paused and said: "I don't trust anyone in life who doesn't walk with a limp. There’s no way to live life right if you don’t muck it up a little.” He then stood and walked toward the house.
The boys watched him until he shut the back door. An axis buck let out a rutting call from the thicket not too far away. They looked at me briefly and then turned to the woods, the whole world out there waiting for them under the clean moonlight.