Thanksgiving passed in a haze of activity. The meal on Thursday was extremely tense in the Dresden household. When Frank found out about Chris’s demand, he exploded in anger. He directed his anger not only to Chris, but also to his father. Working at the bank, Frank knew just how thin the line was between a successful dairy operation, and a failed one. Hank responded with calm assurance, but he knew what it would take to give Chris what he was asking, and knew they would have to sell cattle and property. That would take time. Hank had $35,000 set aside in an account earmarked for the purchase of a new tractor. Although he would’ve needed more to make the purchase, he’d expected to be able to make enough after corn harvest next fall to be able to pay cash for one. That plan would now be abandoned. After Thanksgiving, and Frank had a chance to settle down, the two of them would sit down and figure out which assets to sell. Hank wondered if he might have to figure it out by himself, judging by Frank’s current attitude. Frank’s angry words to Chris stressed not only how Chris’s demand would cost his father and mother, but also how unfair it was to Frank. Hank wasn’t surprised by the latter part of Frank’s tirade. In fact, he’d made a mental bet with himself as to how long it would take Frank to bring up just that point. “It’s a good thing I’m not a bettin’ man,” Hank thought, “ cuz’ bettin’ with myself is the only wager I can afford to pay off.”
Frank had always been a good son. He’d worked hard around the farm, studied hard and earned good grades, and invested both his time and energy in the community. He was voted in as the youngest elder ever in their little church; a fact which both pleased and concerned Hank. Hank knew his son to be a good man, but also to be impressed with his own goodness. Hank understood Frank to be a hard man, with a streak of black-or-white morality. Things were black or white; right or wrong; with no gray area. Unfortunately for Frank, and everybody else, only his definition for the rightness or wrongness of a matter was what counted, in his view. Frank frequently disagreed with his father, especially as it was related to his brother. He eventually would abide by Hank’s decisions out of respect, and just a little fear of, his father. Ultimately, Frank was an angry man. But being angry did not mean he was courageous. He was afraid to risk. While he certainly believed in growth, which often entails risk, it was growth as he defined it. What Chris was doing, Frank considered impetuous and foolish. But those two qualities had always defined Chris, in his opinion. He just couldn’t understand why his father enabled the foolishness… especially now. And Mia… Frank was truly disappointed in Mia. Although he was much older than Mia, he had always been impressed with her. She was quiet, and really intelligent. Mia had been working part-time at Frank’s bank as a teller. From time to time, the two of them had conversed while on break or at one of the parties the bank held for their wealthiest customers. He found her to be well-read and creative. Actually, Mia was the one who planned the parties. She was bright and pretty, so he could see why Chris wanted her. He could NOT, however, understand why Mia was attracted to Chris. Frank was convinced that the marriage of Chris and Mia would never last. He didn’t believe Chris’s character was strong enough to pull off being a good father and husband. And Frank believed it to be his responsibility to do what he could to convince Mia she was making a mistake.
Aaron Christianson was making the very same point to his daughter Mia, on Thanksgiving evening. Aaron was a leader in the community. He was the wealthiest farmer in the county, on the church board of elders with Frank Dresden, and president of the local farmer’s cooperative; so he was a man of influence… except with his daughter. Despite her opinion, however, he was a keen judge of character.
Aaron sighed, and for the third time, meandered down the list of why his youngest child, and only daughter, should not follow Chris Dresden into a life filled with such uncertainty. “Mia… I know you think you love this boy…”
“He’s NOT a boy, Daddy!” she interrupted, “And both of us are older than you and Momma were when you got married.”
“Ok, but that was different… besides it certainly hasn’t been easy for us. You KNOW that. And, thankfully, God has helped us to change. He has especially helped me to change. Look honey, I LIKE Chris, I really do! But he has absolutely no experience in business or in handling money…”
“But he can learn those things, Daddy,” Mia countered, “You did! And besides, he will have Mercer and his father to teach him.”
“Baby girl, I have spoken to some people, who did business with this Phillips feller, and they tell me he is a… well, he’s not a nice man. He’s very impatient with his people. If they don’t cut the mustard, they are gone! And sooner ‘stead a later,” Aaron implored. Mia shook her head tiredly, and sat down in an overstuffed chair; shoulders slumped and eyes downcast.
Finally, Aaron began to speak about his biggest concern, “What I worry about most,” he began huskily, “is that Chris drinks.”
“Oh, c’mon Dad,” Mia snapped, with eyes suddenly blazing and shoulders thrown back, “How are YOU gonna preach to me about THAT! How many nights did you come home stinkin’ drunk! Did you REALLY think I couldn’t hear you yelling at Mom?” Her voice rose as she spoke, rising to her feet again. “And what about you, Momma?” she pointed towards her mother, seated next to Aaron on a leather couch. “Do you know how many times I watched you try to cover up the bruises on your face after he slapped you? How are you gonna PREACH to CHRIS about a little drinkin’?”
It was now Aaron’s turn to bow his head while Mary, Mia’s mother, began to speak. “Why do you think we are so concerned, Mia? Those years were HELL for all of us! We don’t want you to go through that!”
“But you don’t know Chris, Mom! He’s not an angry drunk. He has NEVER touched me like that! He knows what I lived, ‘cuz I told him. He knows that the first time he does anything like that will be the last, ‘cuz I’d be gone!” Mia argued.
“Mia, your father has been sober for ten years. He is a good man…” Mary began.
“Mary, it’s ok… This isn’t about me. It isn’t about you and me.” Aaron reasoned. “This is about Mia and Chris, and a little baby that’s gonna need both of them.” Looking directly at Mia, Aaron spoke with an even tone, “There is nobody who knows how drinkin’ can hurt the people you love better’n me. If I could do those years over again, I would. But God has graciously given me those years back.” Quickly looking at Mary, he stated, “He’s given US those years back, and I will be forever grateful to him, and your mother.” Leaning forward on the edge of the sofa, his voice suddenly quickened, “How about if you stay here, and let Chris go to New York by himself. I mean, honestly Mia, the cost of livin’ up there is expensive! Bringing up a baby there while Chris is tryin’ to get his feet on the ground will be really tough! He will need to put in long hours and you will be by yourself. No friends. No family…” He paused and Mia listened. “Let him go there for two years. Let him get established. You stay here, have the baby, and if you both feel the same about each other… then you can get married.”
Mia sat back down in the chair. “That sounds like a good plan, Dad…. But I’m goin’ with Chris.”