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The Painter and the Church

by Sharlene Leker

     Business has been a little slow lately, so when I heard about a job in Wallace, Idaho, I jumped at the chance. Wallace is nestled against the breathtaking backdrop of Northern Idaho's forested Bitterroot Mountains. Its rich mining history of silver and gold has earned the entire town of Wallace a listing on The National Register of Historic Places.

     First, I met with the Preservation Society and got all the details. Then I drove about a mile north of town to check out the job site and came to a stop in front of an old church.

     After the fire of 1910 destroyed the original building, along with most of the town of Wallace, the church was rebuilt a few years later. Today, over a hundred years old, this historic building bears its age. Weatherbeaten, neglected, and long ago abandoned, it remains as a testament of an era gone by.

      I stepped out of my truck and couldn’t help but notice the cemetery adjacent to the church. Intrigued, I began walking through the sacred garden of dirt and stone. Nestled among the tall pines are the headstones. Some worn, dilapidated, and illegible. Others bear the names of men, women, and children. Then there are the heroes—graves of fallen soldiers dating as far back as the Civil War. Each stone silently crying out to tell its own story.

     I stood still for a while, taking in the peacefulness of this quiet place, listening as the wind whispers through the tall pines. My gaze is drawn back to the church and I can almost hear the voices inside the old building. I imagine people from town and nearby communities gathering together on Sunday morning all dressed in their Sunday Best, entering the church’s narrow door and finding their places on uncomfortable, straight-back pews. The service begins with an old hymn. A hymn that seems to be as old as time itself. A cappella voices blend together in thankful harmony as the words of Amazing Grace rise toward the heavens. The pastor preaches a get-right-or-get-left sermon, then they pray. After service, a bountiful potluck is spread out on handcrafted tables and everyone brings out their best dish. The afternoon is spent with good food, good friends, and friendly conversation. The children play Tag and Hide-n-Seek all the while parents call out reminders to avoid soiling their clothes. 

     I don’t know why I envisioned that scene. How would I know what they sing or what the preacher preaches? I don’t even go to church. I must have watched a few too many episodes of Little House on the Prairie. Shaking my head to clear my mind, I remembered why I was actually here—to paint the church. 

     I grab my notebook and walk around the building, taking notes, and making calculations. After estimating my time, and amount of paint needed to complete the task, I drive back into town and once again meet with the Preservation Society. They took one look at my bid and I was hired on the spot. Hmm, now I wondered if my offer to spruce up the old building was too low. It didn’t matter, I had a signed contract and since I was in dire need of a paycheck, I went to work. 

     The original paint had long ago faded, leaving the wood nearly bare. In preparation of a new coat of primer and paint, I plugged my power-washer into my generator and began the task of removing dirt and old, stubborn paint chips. Then I climbed the ladder and began covering the original stained glass windows with paper and tape. No doubt they are remnants of the artistic creativity and talent of artists now resting under the pine trees in the nearby sacred graves.

     I unloaded the paint sprayer from my truck, attached one of the 5 gallon buckets of primer, and began spraying. The old wood siding drank in the paint. That’s good, I thought. Priming the thirsty wood will help the top coat go on with ease. It didn’t take long for the primer to dry so I began spraying the top coat. Beginning at the front of the building, I made my way around to the sides, spraying in a slow, even, side-to-side  motion. Less than half way through, I noticed I had already used most of the paint. 

     This won’t be enough to finish the job, I thought. But I had no choice. I drove back in to town and bought another five gallons. “There goes my profit.” I grumbled.

     I continued painting and was nearly to the rear of the building when again, I noticed the paint running low. “How can this be?” I mumble. I checked my sprayer. It was working properly. Maybe the bucket had a crack. I checked the bucket. Nope, no leak. “That’s just great. Once again, I have to stop what I’m doing, drive back into town, and spend more money to buy more paint.” I got into my truck, angrily slammed the door, and cursed myself for miscalculating the bid. No wonder the Preservation Society was quick to hire me. This is turning any earnings I had coming into mere pocket change. I’ll be lucky if I have enough left over to buy a cup of coffee. I started my truck then quickly turned it back off . . . I had an idea. The frown on my face quickly turned into a crooked, devious smile. I could just add a little water to the paint, I thought. By thinning it down, the paint will go further, save me money, and avoid another trip to the hardware store. After all, it’s only the back of the church, no one will ever know. Why didn’t I think of this before? 

     Considering myself a genius, I added the water, stirred, and continued spraying. Yes, it looked a little thin but it’s good enough for the backside of the church. I continued spraying and to my surprise, the watered down paint didn’t go quite as far as I had hoped. I only had a small area left to cover, and once again, I was nearly out of paint. I knew what I had to do. . . just add a little more water!  But for some strange reason, I had an uneasy feeling that I was being watched. Standing still, I looked all around and didn’t see anyone lurking behind the bushes. Maybe it was just an elk, or a moose, or some other wild creature passing by. Eager to finish this job, I shook off the nagging feeling and got back to work. With a small amount of paint still in the bucket, I added just a little more water. The mixture began looking more like whitewash than paint. But who cares? I’m sure no one will ever look at the back of this building anyway.

     It was late afternoon when I completed the job and was I ever glad. This must have been the hottest day of the year. Even the trees neglected to provide relief from the sun’s blazing heat. Now, all that’s left to do is clean up and pick up my check—what’s left of it. I removed the paper and tape from the windows, folded up all the tarps, washed out my sprayer, then loaded everything into my truck. Before leaving, I took a step back and admired my work. The front and sides of the church looked great. The backside? Not so much. I know I should feel guilty for cheating on the paint but I didn’t even feel a hint of remorse. 

     I headed toward my truck when suddenly, the sky began to darken. The fast moving clouds quickly covered the sky, nearly blocking out the sun. “What’s going on?” I thought. “The forecast showed no sign of bad weather.” I looked toward the sky and angrily ordered, “Don’t you dare rain on my wet paint!” Suddenly, brilliant bolts of lightening spidered across the blackened sky, followed by an earsplitting BOOM. The explosion literally knocked me off my feet and I fell to my knees.

     I had never before experienced anything like this, but somehow I knew it wasn’t just a change in the weather; the sky was speaking to me. I looked up and shouted, “What do you want from me?”

     Just then, I heard a voice. A thunderous voice burst from the sky commanding:  

     “REPAINT, YOU THINNER!”