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From Chapter 3

When Henry and Byron arrived back in Levittown, they found that Kate and Jack had bought a small home. It was in a section of Levittown where the homes were a bit smaller than the one they grew up in. Theirs was a pleasant green house with asbestos siding, among others in blues and yellows. Dinner was on the table before long—beef stroganoff, broccoli with Cheez Whiz, stuffed potatoes, and Wonder Bread with butter.

“Are we going to see Dad?” Henry asked.

“He’s coming tomorrow,” Kate said. “Okay?”


Henry watched the front drive through the kitchen window the next morning. A mystery man on a motorcycle arrived and sat in front of the house. His helmet stayed on his head, but Henry could see a beard. He watched the man smoke cigarettes, one after the next, until finally; Kate went out to talk to him. Then, as the helmet came off, Henry connected the dots and recognized the man—it was Dad.

“Dad!” Henry ran out, followed by Byron. They hugged and smiled and patted Dad on the back. Henry ogled the bike—a cruiser with a wide black seat and sissy bar for a passenger. Henry went to touch the chrome muffler but Kate grabbed his hand to stop him. “Its hot!” she warned.

“Take me for a ride,” he said to Dad.

“No,” Kate said. “Motorcycles are dangerous.”

“Get on,” Dad said.

Henry jumped on as Kate shook her head.

“We’ll be back for you, young man,” Dad said to Byron. He put the helmet on Henry’s head.

Henry wrapped his arms around Dad’s waist and held on tightly. Dad’s leather jacket smelled of cigarettes and motor oil. They rode through suburbs, on highways, and on quiet streets. When they stopped at a traffic light Henry leaned forward. “Where do you live now, Dad?” he asked.

Dad didn’t answer.

“Will you stay with us tonight?” Henry asked a few minutes later.

“I’ll stay.”

They rode through some hills and passed a lake. At a golf course, Dad stopped the motorcycle. They got off, and Dad pulled a brown paper bag from under the seat. “See that tree?” Dad asked, pointing to a wide old tree in the middle of the golf course.


“That’s the means to our survival.”

Henry stared at the tree. “What do you mean?”

“Nourishment,” Dad said. “It grows and produces fruit for our nourishment.” He started off toward the tree. Henry paused for a moment then followed.

 “What are we doing here?” Henry asked as a golf cart passed nearby.

“I already told you Henry.” When Dad climbed the tree to shake the branches, Henry stood below. He caught some pears, while others hit the ground. One fell and knocked him on the head. After stuffing dozens of them in the brown paper bag, Henry and Dad and each ate a pear. When two golfers rode by in a cart, Henry saw one stare. He took another bite and stared back.

“Dad?” he asked.

“Yes.” Dad was looking off in the distance as he scavenged every ounce of flesh from the pear with his front teeth.

“Do you go to church?”

Dad tucked the pear core under a leaf. He turned his attention to Henry. “Of course I don’t.”

“Why?” Henry asked.

“Don’t ask me that question.”

“Why not?”

“Because, your mom asked me to go every week. I never went and never will because I don’t believe.”

“But why don’t you believe?”

“The question is, why do you believe?”

Henry stood and threw the core of his pear at a flag on the green. The golfers watched and shook their heads.

“I asked you a question,” Dad said. “Why do you believe?”

Henry shrugged. “Because God made us.”

“He made us? Are you sure?”

“Yes. It says so in the Bible,” Henry declared.

“Did you learn about evolution yet?”


“Evolution. That’s what made us,” Dad corrected Henry, who was becoming confused.

“So evolution is something God made, then?”

“No, Henry. Evolution was made by nature. It proves God doesn’t exist. We made God.”

“Ha! How did we make God? We’re not that powerful.”

“With our imaginations, Henry. We are primates.” He held up his thumb. “We only grew smart because of our thumbs. And we developed consciousness. We got too curious for our own good and painted ourselves into a corner. That’s when we created God to ease our curiosity.”

Henry walked around to the far side of the tree, barely listening to Dad. He slowly returned, kicking leaves, and grabbed another pear from the bag. He fiddled with it in his hand. “What does that have to do with God?”

“Religion is just a way to govern people. Jesus Christ, Henry …”


“I said, Jesus Christ, who you know about, was not necessarily the son of God. He was just a smart guy in the right place at the right time with good ideas about how to help people get along.”

“Huh?” Henry tossed the pear in the air. “So you don’t believe in God, but you believe in Jesus Christ?”

“I believe he was a man. A smart man, like you will be some day.”

Henry held the pear out in one hand. He tried to process all that Dad had just told him, but it just added up to rambling nonsense. He pressed his thumb into the pear. “I believe in God.”

“How old are you now?”


“Someday you’ll understand.” Dad approached Henry, put his hand on his shoulder and reached to take the pear from his hand. “You’ll understand to believe only in what you see and feel—like the nourishment this tree just provided you.”

“No.” Henry held the pear from Dad and squeezed it harder.

“You will.”

“No!” The pear broke apart in his hand.

“Why’d you do that?” Dad asked. “We’re going to eat these pears.”

“Because you said you were going to try to bring us back together again, and we’re still not together.”

Dad grew silent and picked up the bag of pears. They walked back across the golf course to the motorcycle.

“You have to understand, Henry, my plans change as I learn more and more about what I have to do,” Dad said as he packed the bag of pears on the motorcycle. “I’m certain one day you will understand but I realize now it might be difficult for you.”

“What do you have to do?”

“I’m not sure yet. But I know I’m figuring it out.”

As they passed through the next town, a police car followed behind them. Dad watched in his rearview mirror as he turned slowly into the A&P grocery.

“Damn it,” Dad said. Henry saw flashing lights in the rearview mirror. He turned and saw the police car had pulled in behind them.

“No helmet today, sir?” the officer asked as he approached the motorcycle.

Dad shook his head. “As you can see, I’m letting my son wear the helmet.”

“I see. Whose bike is it?” the officer asked as he walked around the bike. “No license plate?”

Dad stepped up to the officer and took him by the arm. “I needed to see my son,” he said, moving into the officer’s comfort zone. “I’m sure you understand.”

The officer stepped backwards and pulled Dad’s hand off of him in one movement. “Sorry, sir. The law doesn’t allow us to make exceptions. We’re going to have to impound your bike.”

“Do you realize by taking the motorcycle you are reducing our ability to move freely?” Dad asked the officer.

The officer looked in Dad’s eyes and saw unblinking seriousness. He didn’t know how to respond. “You can retrieve the motorcycle at the station on Main Street,” he told Dad. “You’ll need to pay a ticket and show registration and insurance.”

A truck soon arrived to take the motorcycle.

Dad and Henry had no way to get back to Kate’s with their bag of pears so the police took them in the patrol car.

That evening, back at Kate’s house, Dad set up camp out back. In a Crock-Pot plugged in between a hedge and a garden hose, he prepared the pears. Henry, Byron, and Kate came out after dinner. They sat on the grass with Dad and ate warm pear sauce as they looked across the backyards of the other homes.

Near midnight, Henry got out of bed and looked out the living room window. Dad had set up a lean-to with a blue tarp and a flash light glowed underneath of it.

In the morning, Dad was ready to move on. Kate lent him her bicycle and Dad methodically strapped on all of his possessions. After a quick hug Henry and Byron watched him ride away, struggling to control the bike with all the weight on it, until he turned the corner down the road. Then they sat on the lawn.

Kate came out and sat down with them. “Dad is brilliant. You know that?” she said.

“He seems lost,” Byron said. “Why doesn’t he have a car?”

“Well sometimes intelligence leads to crazy ideas. And those ideas make people do crazy things. He doesn’t believe in owning a car.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Henry was still staring down the road where Dad disappeared around the corner.

Kate tapped Henry’s shoulder to get him to turn and face her. “He’ll come around.” She put her arms around them. “We’re his children. He’ll do what he needs to do to make our lives right.”

They went to church with Kate that morning. Henry praised God vigorously; stood up, sat down. He clenched the hymn book, always opened to the right page, and sang from deep inside his chest. During a moment of silence, he prayed: Dear Lord, please help my dad. Help him stay alive. Help him see the light of your love. Amen.