Chapter 24 ~ Joe Picks Up Clues to His Father’s Past
Joe and Sam traveled across Missouri Route 36. The landscape was a mixture of wooded areas, cornfields, soybean fields, and small towns. Joe set the cruise control at 70, just over the posted speed limit of 65 mph. They stopped three hours later in Cameron for a fill up and bathroom break when Sam threatened to let go in Joe’s BMW. It was fall, they talked football and the baseball playoffs. Sam was pulling for the Cardinals to go deep into the baseball playoffs, but he had no hope for University of Indiana football. Joe talked about the Cleveland Indians going deep in the baseball playoffs. Both men agreed it would be good to a Cleveland against St. Louis in the World Series. When they weren’t talking sports, Sam twice asked Joe for his iPhone. Twice Joe told him no.
When they left Cameron, they exited Route 36 and turned onto Interstate 35. Interstate 35 travels through Kansas City and straight to Wichita. If you stay on it long enough, north or south, you’ll end up in Canada or Mexico. Once they entered Kansas, I-35 turned into a toll road. Joe picked up a ticket from an automatic ticket dispenser. The speed limit was 70 mph.
Sam broke the silence, “You got yourself wound up tighter than a squirrel during squirrel hunting season.”
Joe gave Sam a half glance, “There’s no such thing as squirrel hunting season. I’m not a hunter and you know that.”
“That’s what you know. You went to college and you think you got all the answers. You don’t got half the answers, any fool kin see that.”
“When is squirrel hunting season?” said Joe giving Sam a smug look.
Sam chuckled to himself. Then he said, “You grew up in the city, am I right?”
“So? Lots of people grow up in the city,” said Joe.
“Hell, if you grew up in the country where the real folks live, you’d learn every day is squirrel hunting season. That’s why squirrels are always twitching and acting like it’s their last day alive, which it probably is. In the city where they been domesticated. You been domesticated? Jody wants to domesticate you.”
Joe shook his head, “That’s a lame answer. It’s not official. And, I’m not interested in Jody. I am not domesticated.”
Sam laughed, “Touchy, touchy. She’s reeling you in bit by bit. You got her lure stuck in the corner of your mouth. Sam lowered his window and stuck his arm outside the car and waved it. Take a look Joe, this is all open range, it’s called the Flint Hills. You won’t see a house here. It’s got the richest grazing land in the world. Ranchers bring their cattle in here all over the world during the summer to get fat. In the spring, they do controlled burning to make sure the grasses stay pure. Sometimes the turnpike gets shutdown because of the smoke.”
“How do you know all this stuff?” asked Joe.
“You think I stayed in Terre Haute all my life? I learned the way any smart man learns, by living. Try it sometimes.”
“I didn’t mean to say you were dumb. I was only asking a question,” said Joe.
This was the way the conversation went between Joe and Sam as they traveled down I-35 through Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, El Dorado, and until the came to Exit 50 in Wichita. They exited onto Kellogg and took a left on Rock Road and drove for a mile until they came to E. Douglas. Joe took a left. He said, “It’s a little after one, let’s go to Blessed Sacrament Church and see if anyone knows anything about Joe Ritchie, then we’ll grab some lunch.”
Sam nodded. Then he said, “You want some advice or you going to be stubborn?”
“What?” said Joe.
“You’re going to be traveling through an independent town in the middle of Wichita. It’s Eastborough. The speed limit is twenty miles an hour. The cops will nail your butt if you’re going twenty one miles an hour. If you want a ticket, it’s up to you. I won’t say another word.”
Joe glanced at his speedometer. It read forty miles an hour. He hit the brakes as his BMW went past a sign saying, Entering Eastborough, Drive Safely. Speed Limit 20 – Strictly Enforced.
Joe said, “I owe you Sam.”
“Don’t mention it, you can git me a decent lunch. I don’t want no salad or fast food.”
Ten minutes later Joe pulled into the parking lot of Blessed Sacrament Church. Joe and Sam walked to the rectory, rang the door bell, and were answered a minute later by a small dark haired, Latina woman Joe assumed was the housekeeper. She said, “Can I help chu?”
Joe said, “Is the pastor in?”
“What chu want wit Father Tim? He’s busy, he gonna eat lunch in ten minutes. If you selling, give me the information, I’ll give it to him. If you converting, come back in an hour. If you need to go to confession, those are on Saturday.”
“I really need to see him. It will only take a few minutes, promise. I’m not selling anything. I’m trying to find my father.”
“Why dint you say so in the first,” said the housekeeper. She left and walked down the hallway before disappearing to her left.
Sam nudged Joe, “Git a load of that smell. I smell apple pie in the oven and some of those Mexican fajitas on the stove with green peppers and onions. Father Tim does okay. I bet he weighs over two hundred pounds the way that senora feeds him
A moment later, a thin gray haired man, in black pants, black shirt and Roman collar came down the hallway. He smiled at Joe and Sam and when he was five feet away, he said, “I’m Father Tim. How can I help you?”
Joe gave Sam a quick glance then said, “Hello, Father Tim. This is my friend, Sam. My name is Joe Astore. I’m trying to find my father Joe Ritchie. I heard he worked years ago. You probably never heard of him, perhaps there is a custodian or someone who might have known him. I just learned he’s my father and I’m trying to find him.”
“My God, Joe Ritchie. Joe Ritchie. You’re Joe Ritchie’s son. I can see the resemblance. Come in gentlemen. Would you like to stay for lunch and we can talk? I’m starving.”
Sam spoke, “That’s kind of you, Father Tim. We accept your invitation.”
Father Tim started walking down the hall toward the kitchen, he spoke as he walked, “I knew Joe Ritchie. This is my second tour at Blessed Sacrament. The first time, a number of years ago, I was a much younger priest. Blessed Sacrament was my first assignment after my ordination. Time flies, that was twenty-five years ago. Now, I’m back as the pastor, and I have two new priests trying to learn the ropes, just like I did back then.”
Father Tim turned to is right and entered a large kitchen area with a table and six chairs. He said, “Rosa, do you mind setting two more places for at the table. Joe and Sam are going to join us.” Then Father Tim said, “Joe Ritchie was hired as church custodian one month after I arrived. Oh, yes I know Joe Ritchie. What do you want to know?
Rosa looked over her shoulder, “Joe Reechee?” Then she said something in Spanish neither Joe or Sam understood.
“Rosa, Joe here will want to know your story, too,” said Father Tim.