categories: Cocktail Hour
Harold Camping, who says he has crunched the numbers in the Bible, has revealed May 21 to be the date of the rapture. That’s coming right up, so I wanted to write a post to say goodbye to my believing acquaintances. Goodbye!
In related news:
Living out towards Temple, as I do, I cross Middle Bridge over the Sandy River to downtown, just about daily, often multiple times daily. And I always look up at the huge letter sign high on Joel Bridges’s house (which is also headquarters of his Thoughtbridge Ministry), that controversial community bulletin board, free speech in eight-inch letters: lately a paean and exhortation to organic gardening; occasionally a paid ad from a political candidate or a reminder to register to vote; the odd quotation from the likes of Abraham Heschel (the Rabbi and Selma freedom marcher); a heartwarming WELCOME HOME NELLIE & 619TH FROM IRAQ—LOVE, MOM, DAD, & LISA; and my own favorite in these hard times, GOD HELP AMERICA! All very pleasing in my view, one of the many pleasures of our pleasant town, Farmington, Maine, 04938, population 7410, if you believe in the 2000 census, which many around here do not, and including 2000 kids at the college.
For a few weeks recently the Thoughtbridge sign sported the following message, identified as a paid ad:
GOD STILL PLANS
TO MAKE FARMINGTON
HIS NEW JERUSALEM—SOON!
No matter how many times I read it, I had to stop and consider. God himself, planning to make our little town his New Jerusalem! I’d be more surprised at the news except that three years ago the message was the same, and appeared as well in large ads in our newspaper, The Franklin Journal. Word had it that a very special lady from Pennsylvania had come to town with a prophecy direct from Jesus: On June 6, 2006, Center Bridge would levitate, among other events, and Farmington would become something like Eden, or even Heaven—a place with no illness, a place where no one died, a place of joy and peace and brotherhood for all eternity, with “no crime or bad behavior,” all closely bounded by the town line.
A lovely vision—I only wished I could believe in it! I did my best not to scoff, just in case. Farmington! I already knew it was heaven, but this!
On the appointed morning, nothing happened. Come evening, however, a crowd of believers and a handful of reporters had gathered in Meetinghouse Park, the little bandstand park downtown across from the courthouse. I wasn’t there, but the story was in the paper.
The woman, one Licia Kuenning, stood up on the stairs of the bandstand and acknowledged that nothing had happened, that she’d been wrong, at least about the date. I admired her for that—admired her a great deal—because a lot of prophets would have slunk off, never to be seen again. And people around town were pretty forgiving, too. She was only human, after all, and the prediction hadn’t caused the slightest harm to anyone. No one had sold his possessions and stood naked waiting for a space ship, for example. Those who thought she was crazy had their say; those who had believed were inclined to keep believing. One strongly religious person I spoke with at the time (a neighbor upstream, with whom I still have frequent talks and laughs and disagreements) noted the date, 6/6/6, which, at least in movies, is supposed to denote the mark of the beast, and wondered if the Devil was messing with Ms. Kuenning’s head. A real date for the miracle was still in the future, in his estimation. Did I mention his fierce gaze?
I did not scoff.
Anyway, the new iteration of the sign at Thoughtbridge offers an email address, and so I endeavored, respectfully, to learn more. Licia Kuenning answered my email immediately, suggesting I get my hands on her two novels. At Devanney, Doak, and Garrett, Booksellers, downtown, I found Tales of Strynmouth: A Ghost Story in the Spirit of Farmington! Farmington!
I had a quick look, but Strynmouth wasn’t the book I wanted, though it ends with believers heading to Maine. Farmington! Farmington! was the book I wanted. Disappointed (but not without books, since I always seem to buy something at a bookstore, in this case Cheever, the new biography of the great short-story writer, and The King Arthur Baker’s Companion, a terrific basic bread and cake book despite the conspicuous branding), I headed home and emailed Ms. Kuenning to let her know I hadn’t found the main title, but that I thought an email interview would be enough. I appended a list of rather overly serious questions.
She wrote back that she’d send me copies of her books, nice person. It didn’t seem she was inclined to be interviewed. I saw my deadline slipping away. Well, in fact it had already slipped away, as usual. I needed a miracle. In lieu of which, I got on the internet (its own kind of miracle) and learned that Ms. Kuenning and her husband are respected editors and preservers of old Quaker texts, that she was born somewhere around 1941, that she’s a terrific writer and can formulate an argument, that at least one scholar has offered a paper on her prophecy.
Ms. Kuenning as a web presence and as an email correspondent is also self-effacing, genuine, sells nothing on her Website but her book, and no hard sell there. She outlines the prophecy she was given, which is simple enough: in the next few years, Farmington will undergo a mighty change at the hands of God, and will become a sanctuary from evil forever. Why Farmington? Ms. Kuenning does not pretend to know.
I asked around town a little, trying to get a picture of the woman. People tend to regard her fondly. One acquaintance of mine described her as a bustling and busy older woman always with a kerchief round her head, tied in a knot under her chin. Several people I spoke to had read her book with varying degrees of pleasure. “That’s not the Farmington I know,” one shop clerk said. “It’s such a positive vision,” a customer in the same store said, overhearing us. “Who can it hurt?”
We were all a little worried about Farmington getting crowded if the prophecy were to come true. But Ms. Kuenning addresses this on her Website: Farmington has plenty of room, she assures, and even if it does get crowded, it will be such a blessed place that no one will care; we’ll all be getting along really, really well and will celebrate the crowds.
Next morning I put the dog out on the porch (which gives her access to the dog yard) and came back inside to take a shower. When I next looked out there, just after the shower, something was on the doormat: two books and a newsletter in a recycled plastic bag from a religious store!
Magically, Farmington! Farmington! was mine!
The newsletter is called “The Occasional Pussycat.” It’s a genial diary of the doings of the Pussycat herself, Licia Kuenning, beautifully written, this edition illustrated with a few photos and a map illustrating the story of an interesting quest for the old Sandy River Railroad right-of-way. The Pussycat rails reasonably against the idea of the new Farmington police station, and against the Farmington police a little, her tone that of a gadfly, intelligent and hectoring, also humorous, something in the mode of Addison and Steele in The Spectator of Olde London, with “Mr. Spectator” replaced by Ms. Pussycat, who tells as a case in point the story of the Farmington Police coming to her home after the complaint of a neighbor over emails, of all things, too many emails. Is that police business? Do the Farmington Police have enough to do if they’re doing stuff like that? Meow!
The protagonist of Farmington! Farmington! is a cat lover, coincidentally, and after Farmington becomes the New Jerusalem, there will be no need whatsoever for police here eternally, and cats will be treated very well.
Which I learned because I sat down with the novel, spent my writing afternoon reading it. And, in fact, it’s very well done, entertaining, humorous, religious but not cloyingly so, well-paced, very dramatic, with one of the best beasts I’ve ever read, this awful dog-like creature with the snout of a snake who before the change torments Farmingtonians one after the next with its nasty suggestions, such as suicide. There’s a sprightly intelligence behind the narration, and a good grasp of character. I was delighted to see real people in the mix, boldly depicted, people I know, names unchanged, also many places and lots of streets and plenty of familiar buildings, especially Thoughtbridge and its letter sign.
In a document on the web, Ms. Kuenning says the self-published book (a “sort of” novel, in her estimation), was dictated to her by Christ (she uses this name interchangeably with God), though perhaps it’s not a direct transcription. She’s only put her name on it, she says wryly, because bookstores won’t stock a book that claims to be by Jesus. In the intro she humbly announces that the book “… is not my work, but since nobody else will take credit for it, I have to be considered its author.”
Basically, the book tells the story of a Pennsylvania woman named Kathy Lee, who comes to our town at the behest of God, Who has given her a prophecy: Farmington will become the New Jerusalem on June 6, 2006. Katy Lee goes about letting people know, and trying to assure that there will be at least some new housing to accommodate all the people who will arrive. Kathy Lee suffers tribulations—all the normal violences large and small of life after the fall of man. She makes friends, she makes enemies. And all over town, people encounter the beast, that awful dog creature with the snaky snout, and resist or succumb to his blandishments.
On the fictional June 6, 2006, Kathy Lee’s prophecy comes true. People who were sick are well, but only in Farmington. Crime here stops utterly. A woman who has tried to commit suicide the previous midnight with a huge bottle of barbiturates wakes up just fine. Drug addicts are cured. Jews become Christians. Muslims freak out. The dead are resurrected and walk around town. People get to work on housing for pilgrims. Grace is everywhere. Or at least inside Farmington’s borders; just past the bridge in Farmington Falls, life goes on as normal. Kathy Lee goes to Meetinghouse Park. It’s a Tuesday night, so of course the Old Crow Indian Band is playing its mix of old marching-band standards, a summer delight here in the real Farmington just as in the novel. With a tear in her eye, Kathy Lee understands in that moment why God has chosen Farmington: It’s such a great place! Always was, but now it will be better.
The long second section of the novel dramatizes the change. Kindness, health, joy, fellow feeling. Large numbers of people move to town, of course. And of course, God’s enemies attempt to disrupt things, taking literal and figurative potshots from just outside our borders. But the “Farmington Effect” reaches into nearby towns. And so much more, astonishing stuff. The book ends with Kathy Lee courageously leaving the safety of our town limits to climb a hill and give witness to the Second Coming. Billions of souls ascend into the heavens at her shout: “HE COMES!”
And then—more of the fine humor of this book—Kathy Lee and Christ walk back into Farmington and go to Gifford’s for ice cream. She gets a Maine Mud sundae (this is well adumbrated earlier in the novel). Christ orders a butterscotch sundae with nuts. I’m serious, and enjoy nothing more than imaging him eating it, what with his beard and all.
The renewed prophecy, if I may leave the novel, is offered without a specific date. June 6, 2006, was an error, Ms. Kuenning explains in a paper posted on the web, an error caused by the writing of the novel—this, I can understand. Because for the sake of the book, Ms. Keunning had to come up with a date, and the date of the fictional coming of the New Jerusalem took on its own life, started to seem real, though Christ hadn’t actually given a date when he spoke to Ms. Kuenning (the first time was in 1996, before she came here). Except maybe while dictating the fiction. But fiction is fiction, even if Christ is writing it. The renewed prophecy, by contrast, is real. And as for a date, “soon,” is good enough, and Farmington will be the New Jerusalem.
Okay, I have an ulterior motive in all this. Because, humbly, I have my own prophecy to report. It’s more Buddhist in nature than most prophecies, not that I claim any close connection to that creed, despite all the Buddhist books and Buddhist statues around my house. And despite the fact that the Buddha Gautama has come to me in a dream, well, really more of a daydream, and dictated a novel, or really a novella, or actually just this paragraph, for which I don’t claim credit, despite its good qualities. My prophetic tome is called Farmington! Or Wherever! The basic prediction is that Farmington (or wherever!) will be on a certain future date exactly as it is on that date.
And I mean exactly!
Which means it will be all new, as, like any town, Farmington (or wherever) is a river you cannot step into twice.
See you at Meetinghouse Park!