The Jolly Inn was an unremarkable stick framed, clapboard-sided building on the main street of town. While the white siding looked faded (which Sharon Saunders thought added character) the trim was always freshly painted with the colors altering with Sharon’s mood. In her latest attempt at creating the atmosphere, she had their son Jason paint it a deep tone of lavender. One of their regulars--a retired Air Force colonel—accused Sharon and Arnie of “going gay.” They had to chuckle as the thought of catering to gays, or straights for that matter, had never crossed their minds. Their customers were so scarce at times that Arnie joked that they would welcome little green men. Yet, the simple change of one hue of the color spectrum of their exterior trim was enough for Colonel Chris to find him another place to drink coffee. It didn’t matter much. He never talked or tipped or ate off the menu.
The old tavern had well-worn white pine flooring that was so rough that they were never clean even after a through mopping. The ceiling was tall, maybe fifteen feet, with a pressed-tin covering. The tin had so many layers of paint that you could not imagine what the original design was supposed to be . . . maybe flowers, or ivy. Arnie thought it was Egyptian Hieroglyphs. A black Casablanca fan hung in the middle of the room, not to bring cool breezes but to circulate the heat from the wood stove in the corner.
Eight small, wooden tables were set in a carefully scattered pattern to give the impression that there was no plan at all. At one end of the twenty foot by forty foot room was a bar with an ornate oak cabinetry and a large mirror on the wall. Three taps were at one end and three stools stood among the brass rail. However, the dominate end or the room was the restaurant.
Next to the large plate-glass window facing north were two of the white tables pushed together as an arrangement for a bigger group. That happened rarely. Maybe when two car loads of tourists, traveling in a caravan stopped for lunch they needed seating for eight. Then there were the Apostolic Lutherans from the Keweenaw Peninsula, in the heart of the copper country. They didn’t believe in birth control. Pulling up in old, rusty Chevrolet Suburbans or retired hotel shuttle vans, they would march in with their nine or ten kids. They ate only pasties, which had become part of Sharon’s repertoire of classic Upper Peninsula food items. The Apostolics never tipped nor make conversation with the owners and always seemed bitter.
The other habitual residents of the big table were the “posse,” as Arnie called them. This was a group of men (occasionally a guest woman) who were all men of the cloth. Sharon fondly called them the “celestial committee” but Arnie didn’t like to mess around with big phrases. He had been a stutterer as a kid and ever since he had a fear of verbal stumbling. So “posse” worked well for him. Whatever you want to call them, it was an impromptu gathering of local pastors. It all started by coincidence about four years earlier.
Father Randy, a 61 year old Roman Catholic priest and Mike Monroe, a 41 year old pastor of the Manistique Community Church were ministering to the same family, the Olsens, about three miles from Germfask. The mother, bless her soul, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma when she was only 34. She had never been a sun worshiper, nor frequent tanning salons. What made it seem even more unjust was the fact she had four beautiful little girls, all with their mother’s blue eyes and blond hair.
It all happened very suddenly. Karen just got sick one night. Her husband thought it was the flu but when her eyes turned yellow he took her the Helen Newberry Hospital’s Emergency Room. There she was diagnosed with hepatitis and admitted. It wasn’t until the next day the CT scan showed that her liver was full of tumors. It took to the end of the day to realize that it was the worst case scenario, malignant melanoma. Her admitting doctor called the oncologist in Marquette, who advised him that there was nothing they could do but comfort care.
Karen’s husband Doug was a man of faith and love . . . love for his wife, and his daughters. Despite her worsening illness he loaded her up in his Toyota four-wheeled drive pickup and drove her though a blinding blizzard to the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin. The melanoma specialists there just shook their heads. She was too far gone for even any research medications.
Doug called his mom, who was watching the girls and broke the news. Doug’s mom called Father Randy as she had raised Doug Catholic and she also called pastor Monroe because Doug and Karen were attending the Bible church. Both men of the cloth were waiting at six the next morning when Doug pulled in the driveway. He carried Karen from the truck, wrapped in a blanket, and through the door. The last time he had carried her across the threshold was just ten years earlier . . . and it seemed like was just last week.
Karen died a slow and merciless death over twelve days and eleven hours. By their side was of course Doug, the girls, Doug’s mother and Karen’s parents had come from Arizona. Beside them all were both Father Randy and Pastor Monroe.
The two clergy had known each other before, as this was a large but sparsely populated land, but they got to know each other during that week and a half. They would take a leave from their vigilant watch, but one at a time. They felt like one of them should be present at Karen’s passing and it was hard to know when that would be. She spent the last five days of her life in a coma.
When Karen was finally gone, and they had ministered to the family and had Karen’s body off to the funeral home, they went out to the Jolly Bar for breakfast. There the two men needed to minister to each other. They had held up strong for the family but in the restaurant, over at the large table, looking out the window at the soft snow flakes, they could do much more than eat their eggs and cry. Father Randy reached out had grabbed Mike’s elbow and held it tight when the two tables started rattling together as Mike held back an all-out sob. They just ate in silence, the whole world in a blur from the tears in their eyes.
That morning, they promised each other that they would come there for breakfast again as soon as the funeral was over, just to see how each other were doing. Father Randy had no idea of the conflict that Mike felt. He knew that Father Randy, who had borne this cross with him, was the only one who could understand his pain. Yet, he also knew that many times he had preached from the pulpit that “our dear Catholic friends are on their way to hell unless we help them find the real Jesus.”
The two men’s second breakfast evolved into a weekly meeting. It was by another coincidence that on their fourth breakfast, David Smith dropped by the Jolly Bar for coffee. He was the Church of God preacher out on the highway. He knew Mike well as the two churches sponsored an Awana program together, but David didn’t know any Catholics. So the twosome soon became a threesome.
Each Wednesday morning the men would meet for Sharon’s “Fancy Omelets” and a coffee that could burn a hole in your stomach. A few months passed and the posse was starting to jell. David saw the morning as an evangelical outreach, at least that’s how he reported the time on his required pastor’s duty log. He so reasoned in his mind, that helping a Catholic priest to convert to Jesus would be a real Coup D’état that he could talk about or preach about for years to come. Mike still felt a very human kinship with Father Randy as when men cry together, there is a bond of tears or sorry, that makes them brothers.
About that time one morning, Sharon came over to their table with a tall gray-haired man and introduced the seated men to Gregory Landis, a retired Methodist minister from Grand Rapids. He was divorced and lived in a family cabin on Manistique Lake. Sharon, being a mother figure and match-maker, thought that Greg was kind of lonely. He usually came in on Saturday mornings for breakfast alone but she talked him in to coming and meeting some of the other local clergy. She thought they would hit it off and maybe they did.
So the posse of four was complete. They continued to meet weekly for several years. Only a couple of times did they get into heated arguments. But Father Randy had them agree to a verbal pact that they would not attempt to convert one another to their particular belief system and that they would always be respectful no matter what was shared. It seemed to work . . . for a while.