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The Frontier

My proposal was met with silence.  It seemed like forever before an elder on the Session of the  Warm Springs United Presbyterian Church broke the silence.  “Well, you know it is a dangerous place there.”  The Frontier was one of the 5 most dangerous taverns in the state of Oregon.  The Frontier sat on the other side of the Deschutes River, the eastern boundary of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation.  The sale and serving of alcohol on any Indian Reservation is prohibited.  The close proximity of the Frontier to the Warm Springs Reservation made it a very popular and accessible place for the people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs—Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute.

At the invitation of Jasper Washines, a recovering alcoholic, I was offered a chance to accompany him on my first ever visit to the Frontier.  Jasper wanted me to meet some of the regular patrons of the Frontier.  I was ready to take him up on his offer.  But first, I felt it would be wise to inform the session.  I presented my proposal more as information than asking for permission, although it was very likely a combination of both.  I wanted the elders to know that I was ready to do it.  Presenting the proposal before going was the right thing to do.  The response that I received touched me deeply and made me very proud of the session of 5 ruling elders.  By the time each elder spoke, what I heard and received from them was a concern for my personal safety and well being.  There was not one voice of disapproval.  In the end, they prayed for my safety.

On the appointed night, Jasper drove me across the bridge, to the other side of the Deschutes River, to the Frontier.  As soon as I stepped foot inside, I was met with shock.  After what seemed like a far too long period of silence in a tavern, voices could be heard saying, almost shouting, “Rev, what are  you doing here?”  “Rev, thank you for coming!”  “Rev, never thought we’d see a preacher here.”  I spent the next 2 hours doing more counseling and providing more pastoral care than I had done in 6 months.  “I want to stop drinking, but it’s hard, Rev.”  “I worry about my children, especially when their father is absent for such long periods of time.”  “My parents are getting old and sickly and can’t help with raising my children much longer.”  “My old man cheated on me!”  “I’ll come back to church one of these days.”  “You know, I was baptized in the Presbyterian Church.”  “I hate what the white man has done to the Indian people!”

A couple of years after that visit to the Frontier, Jasper Washines died in an automobile accident right after crossing the bridge to the reservation.  He was drunk.  To this day, I remember him for good and for regrettable reasons.  Good because of his friendship and the lessons he taught me about pastoral ministry.  What I regret is that there was no closure to our friendship.  I missed his funeral.  And to this day, not attending his funeral leaves me with unresolved  feelings of guilt and grief.  Jasper Washines’ people were in Toppenish, Washington.  The Toppenish are distant relatives of the Warm Springs people.  Jasper had moved to Warm Springs to find work.  Jasper showed up for worship one Sunday morning and that was the beginning of our friendship.  From the start, he treated me more as a friend and colleague than his pastor.  We spent many hours together, sharing our stories, discussing the meaning of life, searching for fulfillment.  We were very close.  And yet, I have since come to realize that I didn’t really know Jasper.  He kept his drinking from me.  I have sketchy knowledge about his ex-wife; and I don’t even know whether he had any children from that marriage.  Jasper was warm, articulate, intelligent, and charismatic.  He was charming and handsome.

Jasper’s death hit me hard.  Learning that his auto accident was due to his drinking shook my sense of the Jasper I thought I knew, a recovering alcoholic who knew better.  To this day I am not sure the real reason for not attending his funeral in Toppenish, WA.  At the time, I recall thinking that it was a long way from home and I was not comfortable leaving behind my wife and 3 young children.  I was worried about what housing and sleeping arrangements I would find there.  Those were my thoughts on the surface as I recall.  But something deeper was going on.  And to this day I am not sure what it was.  After the funeral, I received notes of gratitude from Jasper’s family for my friendship.  Apparently, Jasper had talked about me a lot.  And I received also polite regrets from his family for missing the ceremonies.  They even sent me a gift.

2 thoughts on “The Frontier”

  1. OMG! I thought for a moment about the latest news about some crash due to DUI. I thought for a moment that your script should be the beginnings of a film. Then I changed my mind. It is more vivid through reading it. Blessings to you and your loved ones on Valentines day.

  2. “To this day I’m not sure what it was.” Your feelings about Jasper were/are rich, intense, complex. I really resonate with the mystery left even after so many years.

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