Occasionally, Jana or I will be at a party. People start telling stories about an anonymous honeymoon disaster in Arkansas. Everyone is laughing. It is not anonymous. It is our story.
When we first married we were dirt poor. (In fact, we now have a much bigger income, but still eat beans at the end of the month.) I met Jana while I was a seminary student at Abilene Christian University. I worked part-time jobs for a little spending money. After months of labor I had $200 in savings on our wedding day of December 15, 1990. Jana planned a wonderful wedding. I planned a honeymoon disaster.
We married in Abilene, Texas and intended to spend Christmas with my parents in Minnesota. We needed a place in between for a week long honeymoon and Arkansas was appealing.
In the midst of planning Jana’s grandmother from Harrison, Arkansas called. She was a widow with a gentleman suitor named Clarence. He had a cabin on the lake in Northwest Arkansas. He was willing for Jana and me to honeymoon there for FREE. I heard a magical word for a poor pastoral student – FREE! FREE! FREE O LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, FREE INDEED!
The details were so enticing – running water, electricity, TV, on the lake; and FREE!!! Clarence was eager for grandma to spend time with him at his cabin and by offering her granddaughter a free stay his romantic prospects increased. We planned to spend a week at this honeymoon get away before seeing my family for Christmas.
|Our Wedding Day, Saturday, December 15, 1990, Abilene, Texas, USA|
On Monday morning we arrived at Jana’s grandmother’s home in Harrison, Arkansas. She made a phone call to her suitor Clarence. We waited in anticipation. Clarence arrived in a fully loaded new Chevy Silverado 4WD pickup. With such an expensive truck his cabin must be a dream home.
Grandma got into the pickup with Clarence. Jana and I followed behind in my old Buick. We drove through beautiful country roads. The scenery was beautiful. As we neared the lake and saw elegant homes we pondered which cabin would be ours. Our excitement increased at each bend in the road.
Finally, we reached a boat launch. This was far beyond our expectations. Clarence must have a cabin on an exclusive island. We would make our final journey in one of the stunning boats docked at this launch. Grandma had chosen well.
We gathered our suitcases and eagerly followed Clarence and grandma on the dock. At each boat we pondered which boat would take us to our island honeymoon. We passed one boat after another.
Then something just began to not feel right. At the very end of the dock was a fishing shack. It was kept afloat by 55 gallon barrel drums. Across the drums was laid a frame work of 2” x 4” lumber. Then like a little boy a make shift structure was built. Deep in our spirit we cried, “O, Lord, not this one.”
Then in the quiet we heard, “My child this is it.” Our honeymoon smiles still endured. Clarence opened the padlock and showed us into a true Arkansas fisherman’s shack.
Empty whiskey and beer bottles littered the confines of the shack. Clarence caught grandma’s stern disapproval and explained his nephews had spent the previous weekend at the shack.
Spindly exposed wires coursed through the roughshod ceiling. A black and white 10 inch TV sat on top of the beer filled fridge. Clarence turned it on and through the snow storm we found one Arkansas channel.
The sink was filled with dirty dishes that would have been a micro-biologists field day.
We looked for a bed and saw none. Cagey Clarence caught our honeymoon bliss and mentioned that the couch doubled as a hide a bed (that filled all the shacks spare room when opened.)
Next, Clarence took us to see “the facility.” We stepped out upon the narrow walkway that skirted the shack. He took us to a side room. He opened a door. Inside was a 5 gallon bucket with a toilet seat. Clarence instructed us in the use of this honey bucket. Use it. Take it outside. Look both ways to make sure no one was near. Throw the contents over the side into the lake. A few minutes earlier, Clarence had instructed us to gather lake water to wash the dirty dishes. Yes, this water was guaranteed to make us have the runs.
While internally we were both beyond despair. This was still our honeymoon. We were still in our honeymoon bliss. We dared not disclose our disappointment.
Also, during this season of life we were morally opposed to credit card use except in an emergency. We had spent our last dollars on groceries for the week. We had enough cash to drive to Minnesota. I planned on shoveling snow for gas money back to Abilene. We had to make this work.
With our best honeymoon faces we began settling in for the night. I quickly volunteered to cook dinner. Jana began cleaning up. We had bought expensive bacon. Tonight we would feast on BLT’s (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches). I grabbed the cast iron skillet, light the stove, and threw the bacon in the pan. However, I did not notice that the skillet had a crack. The grease ran through the crack unto the flame and we had a wild grease fire. Like Lucy and Desi we fought the flames back and saved Clarence’s shack from becoming an inferno.
As we put out the flames we ate our charred BLT and settled into bed.
Then our morning was interrupted by the trump, trump, trump of early rising fisherman. They arose before sunrise, trumped down the dock, got into their boats, and then sped off to their favorite fishing hole. With each rev of their powerful engines our little fishing shack rocked upon the waves.
Jana turned to me in the early morning hours and said, “I grew up in Africa, but I won’t camp on my honeymoon.”
With my wounded pride we packed. We unexpectedly returned to Jana’s grandma’s home. Jana covered well when she told her grandma, “I’m just not as tough as you.” We spent the night with her and then used our last cash to drive to my parents in Minnesota the following day. Honeymoon over.
From that day on repentance has been mine. Each anniversary we take a few days and get away to a nice hotel. When we are broke we put the bill on a credit card. There are some matters in life worthy of debt – property, education, and repentance.