If you start in Camdenton, Missouri, in the square where Highways 5 and 54 intersect, and head due west you’ll eventually cross the Niangua bridge, and just the other side of that pass the turn off to the town of Roach. If you continue further and head downhill for a few miles you cross right through Macks Creek. On the left you’ll see a house that used to belong to Alice Creach, though now she’s gone to glory. On the right are some simple store fronts and one of them used to be Bill’s Cafe where on Saturday evenings a long time ago they used to have open mic night. As you continue on out of Mack’s Creek, heading uphill, you’ll eventually come to a turn off, a two lane road that if you follow it will cut off a big corner on the way to Buffalo. The locals call this the Tunas cut off because on the way you pass through what’s left of the little town of Tunas. This rural burg is comprised of a few mostly unoccupied buildings surrounded by pasture and fields. But Tunas is where Leo and Etta Tucker lived.
I knew Leo and Etta thirty years ago and they were elderly then. Leo was a hulking frame of a man who, when you shook his hand, it felt like you were holding a ham. He had round spectacles that were as thick as the bottom of a coke bottle. And he was a little bent over with a bad back or knees or whatever else he abused during years of hard work.
Etta was half of Leo’s size, a diminutive woman who looked up at you with a big toothy smile. She always wore a simple dress that had flowers of on it. Never any jewelry.
You see, I was their pastor. It was my first church out of seminary and I was green. But that didn’t seem to matter to that congregation because they just decided to love me up into what I might become.
Just recently I was traveling that way and decided to take the Tunas cutoff. I clocked the distance from Tunas to the church in Camdenton: 25 miles one way.
At the time, and as a young man, it didn’t occur to me that the Tuckers from Tunas were making a 50 mile round trip each and every Sunday. They were just there. I expected them.
But now, years later, I think back to their sabbath devotion and it brings me pause. I didn’t consider the obvious sacrifice this represented to them at the time. But it certainly was a sacrifice for this couple that had to be in their 80s. It makes me feel soft, complaining as I have about little inconveniences I might have to endure in my life. Whenever I am tempted to take the easy, but not best road, I think of them, Leo and Etta, shaking my hand after services, thanking me for the sermon, heading outside, getting in the car, and driving back home to Tunas.