Thursday, June 23, 2011

The End of the Oak Street Bible Shop

There are places, and people too, that you think will always be there. Then, when they are gone you are reminded that you won’t be here forever either. That’s the way it was The Oak Street Bible Shop.

I got the news from Glen, and if anyone else had told me I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I had dropped by his place to give him some cassettes on Isaiah, his latest study. He had said if the Lord let him live long enough he would try to teach this wonderful book. I asked him, “How long is that?” and he replied, “A couple of years of study and then some time to teach.”

His landlady said he was out back working on one of her flower beds. As I approached I saw him carefully cutting the dead stalks from some cannas whose season had been ended by an early frost. He saw me as I approached and gave a little hand wave but said nothing.

“I just came back from our trip to Michigan”, I told him, “How are things going with you?” He continued to work before he replied, and then stood erect and gave me a long, sad look. “I guess you haven’t heard.” I waited, knowing from his expression, that he had some bad news to tell me. “Well”, Glen said “you won’t believe this but they’re tearing down The Oak Street Bible Shop!”

You can imagine my shock when I heard these words from my old friend. “Who?” I asked, “And when are they going to do it?”

Glen stooped to gather up the dead flower stalks into a little bundle before he spoke. It was as if he was delaying so he wouldn’t have to talk about it. “Oh, the developers who bought the place, the whole block, actually. They hired a crew to tear down everything on that block so they can build apartments. They’re even cutting down the trees, if you can believe that. Later, they’ll probably plant new ones that won’t be as big as the ones there now until we’re all dead.”

“I don’t get it” I protested, “We were only gone two weeks! When are they going to do all this?” Glen stood again and let his arms fall to his side. “They’re doing it right now” he said, with a sorrowful voice. “Gary had been mulling over their offer for his place for some time. Said it was too good to turn down, and his wife wants to go back to California anyway, said she can’t stand our winters here.”

“I have something for you, Glen”. I handed him a package of cassettes on Isaiah. "Gary said cassettes are going out of style pretty soon, but he ordered these for you.”

“Going out of style, huh?” said Glen, and then, with a rueful laugh, “Just like me.”

“Sad, isn’t it?” I asked him, “These tapes are the last thing either one of us will ever get from the Oak Street Bible Shop.”

I regretted saying this when I saw the expression on his face. Glen looked at me with earnestly as he spoke. “Not the last thing, I hope. Would you come with me, there is one more thing I want to do.”

“Sure”, I told him, not quite certain what he had in mind. “What do I owe you for these tapes?" Glen inquired. “They are a gift from me and my wife” I told him. “We both have learned so much from you, not just content, but the way you look at things, your determination to follow your own course and not bow down to any man.”

“Like a mule?” Glen said, smiling a little.

“Something like that” I replied, hoping he would understand.

He looked inside the bag briefly and smiled. “Really appreciate this” he said, “These will be great. Let me just put them inside the door and I’ll be right back.”

Glen soon joined me and we walked to his old blue van. As we moved down the long drive he remained silent. When we turned down Oak Street I felt I understood his intent. He parked a half of a block from the shop and we both looked at the old familiar site. It was awful to see how bare it looked without trees. The glaring light revealed the newly scraped earth and the sound of the equipment was like the roaring of lions.

Glen approached one of the workers and began to talk to him. He once said, sometimes the indirect approach is the quickest way to make your point. “Look” he said to the man, “I have a little favor to ask of you. I’ve been coming to this place for I don’t know how many years. All I ask is let me have one little thing to remember it by.”

“I can’t let you on a construction site” the man protested. “I could get in a lot of trouble, there are liability laws. What if you got hurt or something? Besides, there’s not much left.” He gestured at the shell of the old frame building. The windows had been removed and the front door was gone. Our old shop had been gutted and would soon be battered to the ground.

“Just one little item” Glen pleaded. He held out his left hand, palm up and cupped his right hand over it, to show how small it would be.

The two men looked at one another for a moment. You could see the worker sizing up Glen’s rugged, earnest face. Then he took a step back and looked at the ground. “See that white pickup over there? You two get a couple of hard hats out of the back and go on in. But don’t hang around. Just get this item, whatever it is, and leave, okay?”

Glen touched the man’s arm and thanked him and strode off for the truck. He pulled out two yellow hats and handed one to me. I saw him try his on as we walked up the sidewalk. He stopped to adjust the band to fit his big head. We crunched up on the porch, now littered with splinters and rubble. I looked back to see the worker watching us.

Glen stepped through the empty door frame and looked up. There was the prize he sought, the little bell, still in place, held by two screws. Glen looked around and found a large metal tool chest and dragged it to the doorway. He reached into his jacket pocket and brought out his old multi-tool. I noticed his hand shaking as he swung out the screwdriver bit. He put his left hand on my shoulder to steady himself as he reached over to loosen the screws. His eyes were moist as he tried to put the blade into the slot. In a little while he had the screws out and carefully placed them in his pocket. I dragged the tool box back out of the doorway and we stepped outside. Neither of us wanted to look around at the empty room that once was a happy world for us. Sue’s curtains, Gary’s counter, Joy’s high stool and Glen’s beloved “prophecy corner” were now forever in the past. We walked to the truck to replace the hard hats. Glen remembered to readjust the band on his hat. Then he walked back to the curious worker and held out his hand to show him the little bell.

“That’s all you wanted?” the man asked incredulously.

“That’s all that‘s left” said Glen.

When Glen returned, I said, in what I thought was a light mood, “You sure rang that little bell a lot of times over the years, didn’t you, my friend?”

Glen touched the pocket where it was and said, “Yes, but not enough times, not nearly enough.”

He walked to one of the fallen oak trees and leaned on it with both arms. Then this good, strong man began to cry.

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