Happy Days 70s: Whatever Happened to Chuck Cunningham
Author's note: I can't believe this story has sat around here for almost a decade. Anyway, thought I'd post it since I'm close to retiring, even though I haven't watched much "Hpayy Days" in ages, so I wont' be great at the characters. I hope I'm good enough.
My grandparents had a child stillborn who nobody ever knew about because they never mentioned her. So, I wondered, in the Happy Days universe, what kind of pain would cause them to not mentioned him or what might have happened to Chuck Cunningham. It evolved from there into this, and it sat on a floppy for a while, as I was unsure if it was good enough character-wise. However, I finally decided to post it. It's based on a situation that happened in real life, BTW, though the country has been changed. Enjoy.
Richie Cunningham was back, after several years in Hollywood with his wife, Lori Beth - in a way, the honeymoon they never had. Yes, they'd spent time together in Greenland, but that was hardly a honeymoon spot. He was amazed how much Richie Jr. had grown since they'd gone to Hollywood. He loved smelling the old smells of the small, Midwestern town. The only thing better, of course, had been sweeping his wife her off her feet - he still couldn't believe it had been so long since he'd been in the Army in Greenland, let alone that he hadn't even attended the wedding! His best friend, Arthur Fonzarelli, known as the Fonz, had taken the vows by proxy, repeating what Richie had said over the phone. Now that he was back in Milwaukee, he didn't think he ever wanted to leave.
He wandered into Fonzie's restaurant, known as Arnold's, and suddenly became somewhat sad. Yes, the co-owner of it had died several months ago, leaving the Fonz as sole owner. However, that wasn't it. No, the sudden reminder of that caused it to come back to him. It had been fifteen years.
Fifteen years. Richie was always very easy-going and happy, but this made him sigh, at least for a moment. The somber feeling quickly left as the Fonz came out of the kitchen, and he spied their friends, Potsie and Ralph, seated at the same seat they'd shared since high school. They were all now around thirty, with the Fonz a half decade older.
"Aaay," shouted Fonzie, "if it isn't Richard Cunningham, Senior!" He greeted his friend jovially.
Richie smiled. "Hey, how've you been, Fonz?"
Fonz smiled, reminiscing over old times. "Hey, is the Fonz ever feelin' any way but cool? No way. How'd your boy enjoy seein' his niece and nephew?"
Richie grinned, pondering the humorous things the kids had done and said. He even laughed at his niece's assertion that Joanie had "gotten reeeeeeal fat," now that he thought about it. Kids always say what's on their mind, he told himself. "Fine, Fonz, I saw Kelli and little Bart when Lori Beth and I stopped by today; he sure is growing. Just hope kids don't pick on him too much, that is a pretty unusual name, even when you're a couple hours from Green Bay." Bart Starr was the future Hall of Fame quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
"Hey, if he has anyone pickin' on him, you just tell him to come to me." Fonz smiled warmly. He wasn't about to get overly sentimental, but he d always remember how much the Cunninghams had cared about him through the years. However, he merely remarked "I'll always stand up for your family. Your whole family is cool." He thought he detected a slight frown, a frown nobody else could have detected. "Hey, what's the deal with that frown? You're back among those you love."
"Come on, Fonz," Richie protested, "I'm not frowning!" He thought a moment, seeing his lifelong friend gaze into his eyes. Fonz, it seemed, had an uncanny knack for discerning peoples' true feelings. "Okay, I am a bit down, I guess."
"How come?" Fonz sat across from Richie, in the same booth as the others, and suddenly it was the 1950s all over again. "Your folks are havin' a big Memorial Day cookout this evening; we should have fun when we're all together. Besides, I hear you're back to stay."
I may as well spill it all now, Richie decided; he'll understand. "That's just it, Fonz, more and more drugs and stuff taking over Hollywood, and the free love' stuff; it just became a mess. Too many people expecting the wrong kind of writing. I couldn't get anyone to do a movie on the Mercury astronauts, even, and they all just laughed when I told them how great it could be to do a nice, clean family movie around the Apollo 13 drama." I can't imagine how bad it'll get in a few years if we don't stem the tide of amorality, pondered the always clean-cut Richie.
"You're right, that just ain't cool," remarked Fonz. I may have had lots of women around me, he thought to himself, but they all had some moral fiber in them. Now? He didn't like to think about what they might be doing out there.
Richie began to mention something else, then hesitated and finally told himself, "No, there's no use mentioning that. It's all in the past." Potsie and Ralph both tried to recall what their friend might be referring to; they thought they knew, but of course, nobody said anything.
The Fonz, however, was never prevented from doing things by mere custom - if it should be said, to him it was going to be said. He'd never been scared of anything, except when he'd gone blind for a short while. But, that would scare anyone. "Hey, it has to be hard. Chuck was a member of your family, too, so of course he has a special place in my heart."
Richie nodded. He decided he could say a little bit. "I think it's bothering Joanie, too," he said of his sister, " because she and Chachi are...well, they seemed kind of different. Mom and Dad, too. Let's not bring it up," he remarked, again putting on a happy face. "Yyou're right, this is supposed to be a fun time!"
"Correctamundo, the decade's only started, and we can create our own happy days again. Won't we, guys?"
Potsie agreed. "Sure, as long as it doesn't interfere with daily functioning, not mentioning something like that is an okay way to cope; their family handles it well. It may not be quite as healthy as..."
Fonz glared at the man with the Psychology degree. "I said, we won't bring it up if they don't want to." Potsie and Ralph agreed quickly, under Fonz's gaze.
Joanie bounced gleefully into the living room, her torso slightly extended from baby number three, who was five months along. "I finally got Bart down for his nap!" She and Chachi embraced, kissing. "I thought kids weren't supposed to be up that long at eighteen months!"
"Must have been the excitement of seeing Richie and his family after so long," remarked Chachi, as the two sat on the couch. "Kelli didn't want to lay down, either, she's still in her room reading that Dr. Seuss book Richie got her." The smile somewhat disappearing, he said "I'm surprised you didn't tell him."
She pretended to look stunned. "Me, you're the man of the house!"
"But he's your brother!"
"I know," she remarked, whining ever so slightly. "It's just so hard to tell...you know, with thinking about Chuck."
Chachi held her in his arms, hoping to comfort her. He wished he had all the facts. "Hey, I know how you feel, Blue Eyes. But, we've been putting this off for two weeks now."
With the mix of a laugh and a scold she said "Oh, so now it's 'we.'"
"Sorry." He gazed into her eyes. "Remember when I wouldn't take you to see my family because I was so ashamed of them?" She nodded. "That was a foolish thing to do, I admit. But I did it because I didn't want people to think less of me. And maybe I'm afraid what your folks'll say, now, as well. But, I don't even know the whole story. Maybe if you tell me what you remember, I'll be better able to handle it with them, more sure they won't react badly."
Sitting up, Joanie sighed. "That's just what I'm worried about. It was fifteen years ago today..." she remarked, beginning her story.
The year was 1955. Howard and Marion Cunningham were up late, waiting for Chuck to stop over at their house. He'd been so eager to go on this retreat with his friends, and had called the minute he arrived back at his apartment, excited to tell them something. They hoped it would change him, make him more willing to help his little brother and sister. He'd been doing okay as a bachelor, living on his own, but all he seemed to do was dribble a basketball at times.
The moment Chuck bounded out of his car, they sensed a change. Not just a subtle change, a major one. "Mom, Dad," he proclaimed with tears in his eyes, "Guess where I'm going?"
"My guess is, to the refrigerator for a sandwich," joked Mr. C.
"No. We had a missionary come speak there one night, and my heart was so moved, it was incredible! I know what I want to do with my life! I'm going to be a missionary."
Mr. Cunningham was somewhat stunned, and merely said, "That's nice."
Mrs. Cunningham, meanwhile, proclaimed, "A missionary? You mean like that man who got lost in the jungle for years and they had to send an army to go find him?"
"You mean David Livingstone? Mom, missionaries don't do that sort of thing now," he remarked as Richie and Joanie snuck down in their pajamas.
"Who's going to be a missionary," Richie wanted to know.
"Your brother thinks he is," explained their mom. "Wait a minute, now, before you go doing something like that, you know, we raised you to be a fine young man, not a lunch for some cannibal!"
Chuck laughed. "Mom, I'll be back someday, I promise." He turned to the others.
"Remember when Richie got the Fonz to go to church last Easter?"
"Yeah," deadpanned Howard Cunningham, "by borrowing three weeks' advance in allowance so the Fonz could have it toward a new bike."
"But remember how excited he was when he trusted Jesus to save him that day?" Richie nodded. Their parents grudgingly agreed. "Missionary work is like that, showing people the joys of right living, that they can have a bright future here and hereafter. Yeah, it's in harsh places sometimes, but we have regular contact with others now, it won't be like Livingstone's time." He smiled broadly. "I know you just figured I'd get a desire to do something with my life. I know you're used to taking things slow, not being too fanatic and all that about things. But, I promise I won't push anything on you guys or the Fonz or anyone."
"Well..." Marion was beginning to accept the thought. Still, she wondered, "why can't you do that here, there's lots of little boys in Milwaukee who need someone like you. Like Arthur was, and still is, he could use a role model like you. Or like that Jenny Piccalo."
"Mom," complained Joanie, "Jenny's not that bad."
"Be quiet, dear, I'm talking to your brother right now."
"Mom, I'm needed elsewhere. God laid a tribe in Brazil on my heart, a people who have never heard about saving grace, or the right way to live, the right and wrong you've brought us up with. It's like being in the Army, Dad, you know about that - when you get called, you go. But, it's not tedious at all, it's a great privilege to spread the Good News. That's what that missionary said."
Howard was ready to accept, but he didn't want to cause unnecessary arguing, especially not with Richie and Joanie present.
He let Marion think a few minutes before she said, "Well...promise you'll write all the time?"
"And you'll come home whenever you can?"
"Mom, I'll be back next summer for about a week, when I'm done going to churches and raising the money to go. And, missionaries get furlough once every few years." The thought of it being years still troubled them, Chuck sensed, but he knew adding some things into the equation would help. "I'll try to schedule my furloughs around their graduations, and weddings, and things."
After Marion finally agreed, Howard nodded. He would still have Richie to manage the hardware store someday. "I'm happy for you, Son. If this is really what you want to do, I'm happy for you."
"And whenever you and your missionary friends need stuff built, I'll donate any tools you need from the hardware shop." Chuck began to laugh. "And teach them about bowling, too, it'd be a great leisure activity. That'll give us an excuse to come visit you, and we can bring the team. And if you can recruit new members for the Leopard Lodge..."
"I know I couldn't go down there, I'd hate to miss my favorite soaps," Marion joked. By now all were laughing. "But I know you'll do well."
Joanie sighed. Back in the present, she explained. "Chuck raised a good deal of support, and then went down on a survey trip. We never saw him again. Then, we heard the natives had done it. It was too painful to talk about, so eventually nobody ever mentioned him." She began to whimper. "And it reminds me of Chuck all over again, when I think now we're going to be missionaries."
Chachi embraced her sweetly. "That's okay, get all your crying out now." She wept on his shoulders a few minutes, and he said "I never even knew about the natives or anything. I only knew he'd disappeared."
Joanie finally regained control. "If we were going to some civilized place, like Europe, I think it'd be easy to handle. That's why it wasn't really hard when Richie was drafted and sent to Greenland."
"Right, but when it's the same natives you and I feel led to go to…" He sighed. "I suppose that's why they don't go to church," spoke Chachi, now finally understanding some things that he'd wondered but never asked about, feeling it was Joanie's right not to tell if she didn't want to. After all, he'd been the same way about his own family. "What makes you go?"
"I guess it's just wanting Kelli and Bart and their baby brother or sister to grow up with the right values. Not that we didn't, but those values have to be taught somewhere other than just at home. And they need to realize the values are universal, and why; it's not just because our parents had them."
"Yeah, that makes sense." He sighed. Chachi remembered how angry Fonz had been at him when his negligence caused the restaurant to burn down. He hoped his in-laws' anger wouldn't be anything like that. But, he knew he'd better get used to thinking about how to confront it, because he probably would have to tell them. It would be a lot harder for Joanie, and he told her this. "I promise, I'll tell them tonight."
"Do you think we should? On the fifteenth anniversary of Chuck's telling them?"
"They'll wonder soon why you're no longer working at Patton Vocation School, anyway. Besides, I'll tell them their daughter can't suffer like Chuck. She'll have a husband to protect her," he joked.
Jenny Piccolo smiled and greeted Joanie warmly as the young couple strode into Arnold's. "So, how's all the packing going?"
"Shhhh," Joanie hushed her insistently. "They're not here, are they?"
Jenny was stunned. "No. You haven't told them?"
"I guess we've both had cold feet." Suddenly she noticed Richie and Fonzie coming out of the office, and growled slightly, mad at herself for speaking out loud so quickly. Richie wouldn't have heard Jenny, but he certainly had to hear that!
Yes, he had, she groaned inwardly. "Cold feet about what?"
Chachi, still somewhat impulsive, blurted out "we're going to be missionaries."
Joanie gave her husband a quick, angry glare. "Please, Richie, it's not what you think."
"Not what I think! Don't you remember what happened to Chuck," declared Richie in a somewhat thundering voice. He breathed deeply, and said, "Look, I'm sorry, but when I think of the people that he went to, and what happened to him, I don't want to think of you doing this!"
"Hey, sit on it," Fonzie said. "Let them have their say, Maybe they're going to some little village in Canada or something."
"Oh, come on, Fonz, they wouldn't have had cold feet about telling us they were going there! They'd be thinking too much about how cold the rest of them would be, too." Richie turned to them and asked, "Where are you going?"
Just what I feared would happen with his folks, considered Chachi.
Joanie wouldn't answer. She simply snapped back. "Listen, I happen to be old enough to decide on my own where to go. And Chachi and I want to go to that same tribe Chuck went to, and show them what forgiveness is!""
"Then why not go to the inner city right here," remarked Fonzie, "rather than doing this to such a nice family. There's some rough people there, but they won't kill you just because you enter their village. Now, listen - I might have had a rough exterior," he continued, "but I would have never had the desire to stay away from crime and violence, to go back to high school, to make something of myself, and to one day teach troubled kids, adopt Danny, and own this respectable establishment if not for the Cunninghams! I may not have said it before, 'cause I didn't think you needed to hear it," he declared to Chachi, "but that's one reason I've loved that family so much, because they do what's right and make sure other folks know it. They're great role models. It's why I was so proud on the inside that you married into it. And I don't want to see you hurting them like this."
Richie began deliberating as Chachi exploded back. "Hey, I know, I've seen the respect you have for them, but there's a huge world out there that needs to know the same thing we learned."
"Then just go out and tell Milwaukee!"
Richie inhaled slightly. He had always wanted to do what was right, but there was never a need for him to take a stand like this. Maybe, that was because it would have been too easy for him. Someone like him could probably follow in Chuck's footsteps much more easily. He remembered when Fonzie would be lecturing Chachi about something, and insist on his being there, silent, to merely "show a good example."
But, for Chachi to go and do this, it took extraordinary courage. He'd not come from a very good background. He was a hoodlum when the Fonz started taking him under his wing. The Fonz had done a great deal to shape him up, but he wasn't the only one. And now? Now, he would be perhaps a greater example of the change that can occur when one puts their whole faith in the Lord than Richie could ever be. Maybe they were the perfect missionaries after all.
Richie stepped in between Fonzie and Chachi and stated delicately "because they aren't the only people who need to hear." He looked candidly at Joanie and Chachi. "Look, is this something you really want to do? Have you considered all the risks? All the diseases down there, all the things that can go wrong."
"Of course, Richie," proclaimed his sister, "we've known we want to do this for two weeks." She lowered her head. "I've just been afraid to tell you or anyone else."
"We've been afraid," corrected Chachi.
Richie began to prance a little, thinking about the time he'd caught Joanie smoking a cigarette. He could give a pretty parent-like lecture even then, he reminisced, and felt even more like it now. He turned and exclaimed, "Are you absolutely sure? Because you're dedicating your whole life to something here. And these are years you can't ever get back if you find it's not the right thing. I know how frustrating it was for four years in California for us, and how much we grew to miss being back here."
"Look, I know you're thinking of Chuck..." began Chachi.
"I'm not just thinking of Chuck," insisted Richie to his brother-in-law. It seemed strange to be hearing the name after all these years. Maybe it was his coming back home - again – whereas Chuck hadn't, or maybe it was just that it was time to break the silence. To deal with the pain, the pain he didn't feel as much as his parents, because maybe a small part of him felt he was still alive, but which he still felt. "I know what happened to him isn't as likely to happen to you. It was very hard for Mom and Dad, though. For me, yes, I mourned, but I was always able to get through it, I've always had a lot of peace about things. For them, it was a lot harder. They just didn't talk about it, and we followed suit, because we didn't want to cause them more hurt. It changed their outlook on God and on a lot of other things; and we hadn't been really spiritual even before then. But, I can handle it." He now looked directly at Joanie. "But, can you?"
"Of course I can." Though having Chachi willing to listen really helps, she considered.
"Good. Because I don't want to lose you. I'm not as worried as Mom and Dad will be when they hear. But I want what's best for you. Because no matter how old you get, to me, you'll always be my baby sister, and I'll always want to look out for you."
She grinned lovingly at him. "Thanks, big brother."
"So," wondered Chachi after a moment, "how are we going to tell them?"
"I'll help," remarked Richie. "I'm sure between us all we can figure something out."
Howard Cunningham fired up the grill as Mrs. Cunningham began to set plates around the kitchen table. Rain had begun to come down, forcing their gathering inside, but that wasn't too bad, given the number of people who would be intent on listening to baseball - the Brewers, now that the city again had a team.
The Cunninghams hadn't thought much about Chuck, but a letter from the missions board sat unopened on the living room table. They'd been unwilling to think about opening it. As Marion set the table for as many as possible, Fonzie and his adopted son, Danny, entered.
"Aaaay, Mrs. C.," declared Fonz as he and his boy walked into the home. The boy mimicked Fonzie's thumbs up sign, repeating the greeting.
"Hello, Arthur, Danny, you're a little bit early, but I'm sure there's something in the fridge."
"Thanks, Mrs. C." Fonz grabbed some items for himself and his adopted son. "Mr. C's got the grill goin' under the porch, huh?"
"Yes; did you see Richie, he was going over to your place."
"Yeah, we had a nice long talk. It's so good to see him back," he remarked, thinking of Joanie and Chachi leaving. Yes, they had moved to Chicago once, before they were married, but they were with Chachi's mother then, and they were so close. Not even knowing all the details surrounding Chuck's disappearance, he knew this would be a great heartache for the family. He wished he could think of some way to help soften the blow. However, not even the Fonz could think of a way to do that.
Richie entered next, romping into the room, stopping, and singing "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill!"
"Where's that," Richie Jr. inquired as he followed behind his father.
"Oh, Richie always sings that when he's really happy," explained Marion, kneeling as Richie Jr. ran to her and embraced her. "And I'm sure being home makes him that way."
"But where is it?"
"That's just a song, man, you don't know anything," chided Danny.
Fonz glared slightly, catching his son's eye and motioning with his face to come to him. "Hey," whispered the Fonz, "is that any way to talk to someone? He's younger than you, he doesn't understand that kind of stuff."
"All right." He stood silently for a second as the Fonz continued to gaze at him. "I suppose you want me to apologize?"
"Correct-a-mundo." He told the younger boy he was sorry.
Richie explained as Lori Beth entered carrying their daughter, who was sleeping. "Not only that, but on the way over Lori Beth told me baby number three is on the way for us, too!"
"Congratulations!" Marion hugged him, then Lori Beth after Richie took their daughter, Emma, who awoke somewhat, lifting her head a little. "You must be trying to keep up with Joanie and Chachi."
"I never looked at it that way," Lori Beth admitted as Howard entered the house.
"Did I hear something about another baby," spoke the patriarch. When told it was, he said, "If it's a boy we might have to start up a children's wing of the Leopard's Lodge, I'll certainly have plenty of applicants."
Marion didn't pay attention to the banter between Howard and Richie as it continued. She suddenly went over to the table, where Danny and the Fonz were setting out plates. "Oh, dear, let's see, are we going to be able to set it up boy-girl-boy-girl; will we have room at all? We could set up the card table in the living room..."
Fonzie caught Marion's hidden query. "I'll sit with the children, I could probably feed one of em if I had to."
"I'll stay," offered Howard, "I'll be in and out at the grill, then there should be a baseball game on."
Danny grinned, anxious to have some responsibility. "I can watch the other kids, Dad. Can I be in charge of the kids' table?"
Fonzie seemed to think about it a second, then nodded. "Okay; you remember how to give 'em the Fonzarelli look'?"
"The one to draw babes?"
Fonz rolled his eyes slightly. "Not that one, you know, the 'sit on it' look." Danny gazed, as if gawking at something. "Okay, now how about the 'I wanna talk to you right now' look?" Danny seemed to change his look only slightly. "That's good, you're learning."
"I should, you do it to me often enough."
"Hey, I said we don't need to talk about your behavior in public."
"Can I have a restroom as an office, too?"
"Maybe by Christmas, if you're good." Danny ran off to grab the card table.
"Oh, Joanie and Chachi are pulling up," Marion announced, and suddenly the house was as full as she could ever remember.
"Hey," Kelli shouted as food began to be brought in and everyone took their seats, "no fair, Danny can't sit next to Richie, or it's not boy-girl-boy-girl." Chachi and Joanie each looked over to see if there was any trouble, then noticed Danny impersonating the Fonz almost perfectly saying "hey, sit on it!"
Fonz smirked. "Kids grow up so fast, don't they?"
"They sure do," Joanie remarked, turning around as everything was quieted down in the living room.
"Yes, you see more than your share at Patton Vocational, I'm sure," noted Marion as Howard brought in the last of the food and sat down. "Any interesting kids you know about coming next year?"
"Oh, we'll be seeing lots of interesting things," stammered Joanie slightly.
"Like what?" Howard inquired.
"Oh...just all kinds." She quickly hopped onto another subject. "Mom, I so glad you baked macaroni for our cookout."
"My pleasure, dear, it does go nicely with the burgers, doesn't it?"
Howard inquired, "So, Richie, are you and Lori Beth going anywhere this summer?"
"We might go to Chicago, but I think we need to stay around here a while, this is where we belong."
"What about you, Joanie, you and Chachi going anywhere special with the family?" Mrs. Cunningham inquired.
Joanie really didn't want to lie. However, she also didn't want to spoil this nice meal with any sort of hard news. Instead, she merely said, "Well, Chachi and I have talked about going away for a while with the kids. Maybe someplace new."
"Well, whatever you do," her mom advised, "don't go to Hollywood. From what Richie said there are vultures everywhere out there. They make Jenny Piccolo seem like the cleanest kid around."
Chachi smiled. "Mom, don't worry, it wouldn't be Hollywood, I can promise you that."
"It's gonna be closer to living in Amish country than Hollywood," Richie murmured to Lori Beth.
"What was that?"
"Oh, never mind, Dad. Could someone please pass the ketchup?" Fonz passed it to him.
"Anyway, where were the two of you thinking of going?" asked Marion, intrigued.
Chachi thought a moment. "Well...it's overseas."
"You mean like the Peace Corps?" inquired Howard. "Fine idea President Kennedy had. I've sent some hardware supplies over to some of our local members."
Before either of them could think of how to explain, Kelli called out from the table again. "Mommy, Emma got up and she didn't finish her plate."
Richie Jr. got up and walked over to his baby sister. "Uh-uh, we never open other peoples' mail."
Danny looked upward and held out his hands. "Hey, let's cool it, everybody, and come back and eat."
"But I wanna see what's in this pretty envelope," remarked Emma.
Danny finally rose from his seat and grabbed the unopened letter from the girl. "Then let's let your grandma open it. It's addressed to her." He walked over to Marion. "Here ya go, Mrs. C."
Not sure if she wanted to take it, Mrs. Cunningham reluctantly accepted it. "Thank you, Danny, why don't you all go sit back down and finish eating."
Chachi glanced at it and murmured, "What is it?"
"I don't know," Marion said in a barely audible voice, "probably...maybe about Chuck."
"Hey, it's okay, Mom. Joanie told me about it this afternoon."
Subtly, Mrs. C. implied she didn't wish to discuss the matter. "Yes, Chachi, well...the way Howard and I dealt with it is not to bring it up, or think about him."
Richie was not only more willing to think about him, but also wished to put some closure on Chuck's life by finding out what was inside. He spoke solemnly. "Still, Mom, if they sent you a letter, don't you think you should read what they say?"
Marion sighed, recalling how these things always turned out in soap operas.
"Hey, if that's the way they want to deal with it, let em," Fonzie said.
"Richie's right," Howard said, finally taking it. "If they took the time to write, there must be a reason." He began reading with a sigh. "It's a letter that includes a translated note, from the tribal leader Chuck visited back in 58."
Marion took the chief's letter, but began breaking down upon reading it. Richie took it and read aloud to those at the table. "My friends. I am sorry English not good, but I wanted to say I sorry for what happened. We were very bad, murderous tribe when Chuck Cunningham came to be our missionary. I was very much touched when after we snuck into their camp and were ready to kill them, Chuck said something I will never forget. In our language, he said 'I forgive you. And Jesus Christ forgives you.' That idea was never in our culture before, but it touched all of us. When missionaries came to our village several years ago preaching that forgiveness, we were all ready to listen. I have trusted that Jesus Christ – God in flesh as a man – died for my sins, in my place. And, He rose from the dead, just as He will raise me someday. Many of my fellow tribe members have received this same free gift. I trust in Jesus alone to save me. And I anxiously await the day now when I will see Chuck in Heaven and he will welcome me there." Richie paused, lowering his head a little. "Wow, that's beautiful." He noticed even the Fonz weeping. "Beautiful enough to touch the Fonz, even."
Danny walked over to the adults' table to ensure his dad was okay. "It's all right, son. For just about the tenth time in the Fonz' life, I have shed tears. That alone says something about how wonderful that is."
As the group regained control, Joanie and Chachi decided they'd better tell them now. Chachi began. "We'd like to be missionaries, too. In fact, we went forward and promised the Lord to do it two weeks ago in church."
Richie spoke quickly. "They seem to understand the risks, they told me earlier today..."
"Richie, please," his sister remarked, deciding she needed to speak for herself, "I need to stand up for myself here. I'm not that little sister you need to protect." Turning toward her folks, she said "Mom, Dad, remember when I was so excited to get that modeling job, the one that would give me all the money I needed; I forget if I was trying to get a car or what? Remember how I turned it down without batting an eye, with no second thoughts, because I learned it was going to be with no clothes on?"
"Yes, and we were so proud of you," remarked her mother, glad to be distracted from her main concern.
"I refused because that was one of those times in my life where I had to take a stand, and decide I was going to do what's right or what's wrong, there was no in between, and there could be no hesitating. We're doing that, too, right now, even though it's hard to see. We have a duty to go do something we feel led in our hearts to do, and follow a command from God to tell others about His saving grace, or just ignore it
"If I'd made the wrong decision back then and had done that modelling, think what it would have cost me. Making the right decision cost me money, but it was worth it in the long run."
Chachi looked quite somber. "I know this is very hard, a lot harder than when we went to Chicago. But we feel it's the right thing to do. Chances are, my diabetes will give me more problems than any natives ever could. But I'm willing to fight it, because I know we're not alone. We won't even be starting out in any uncharted wilderness, we'll be visiting a work first and learning from them before we even start raising money."
"You're welcome to visit us," invited Joanie, hoping that maybe that would ease their fears.
"Welll...what do you think, Howard?"
Mr. Cunningham quickly replied, reluctantly admitting they had no control. "What do I think? Marion, it is their lives."
"I suppose. I just don't want to be losing another child plus grandkids."
"Mom," remarked Richie, "it's not going to be like one of your soap operas. Most
missionaries go their whole lives without anything more threatening than a huge typhoon or malaria." He quickly realized he'd better add, "And, malaria is very easily treated nowadays."
Mrs. Cunningham sighed. She knew she couldn't stop them, but it was still painful. Maybe she just needed to let go of the pain surrounding Chuck's disappearance, though. Maybe that was what was hurting her. And, in a way, maybe that was what was keeping her from arguing with them. Because, she knew she'd use the same arguments she used with Chuck, and that would bring up the whole mess again, cause that old pain to stir in her heart. "Promise you'll be careful," she asked. They did, and that was the end of the discussion for the rest of the afternoon.
Howard, Marion, the Fonz, and Danny were the only ones left in the house, and were just finishing cleaning up the kitchen. "It still seems strange talking about Chuck after all these years," remarked Mrs. Cunningham. "Or even thinking about him." She'd begun to wonder if she should have said more - maybe she could have talked them out of it. No, she told herself, you'd just be reliving Chuck if you think about that.
"You did the right thing in letting Joanie go, though." Mr. Cunningham thought a moment. He knew his wife would feel a lot better still if she were to see firsthand what they were doing. "Why don't we go down and visit them then? I'm going to talk to Potsie about running the store for a few weeks. Maybe Richie can help when he's not working for the newspaper."
"Thanks." She smiled. "For fifteen years, we tried to cover up the pain. We forgot all about Chuck. And yet…I suppose that hope was there all along. You know, you're welcome to come to, Arthur, if you want. You and Danny can both come."
"Thank you, Mr. C., I think we can work it into our schedule. I guess whichever one of the boys isn't at your store will have to be at the restaurant." They laughed, imagining which of the two, among Richie and Potsie, would seem odder running Arnold's.
"Should make for an interesting summer vacation," remarked Marion. She stopped in her tracks as she suddenly realized something. "Wait a minute, they don't get soaps down there, do they?"
"I guess that gives Jenny Piccalo something to do," Howard joked. Seeing Marion's still sad countenance, he walked over to her and put his arm around her. "Still thinking about Chuck?"
Marion nodded. Maybe, she told herself, the way they handled it before had been the problem. After all, they hadn't talked at all about it, so how could Joanie ever comprehend the dangers when she got older and could understand such things better? "I just wonder if we did the right thing, not talking about him. If we'd been more open in talking about him after that initial summer of mourning, maybe they wouldn't have chosen this."
"Joanie mourned in her own way. And I imagine he was in their thoughts, even if they never talked about him, either, while they were making the decision." It always hurts to lose someone, and even getting some sense of closure like this doesn't make it any easier, he said to himself.
"Hey, Mr. an' Mrs. C, we got it al cleaned up. Danny and I are goin' home now."
"All right, thank you, Arthur, thank you, Danny, for staying to help," came Mrs.
Cunningham's cheerful greeting.
"They were still mighty happy days, even without Chuck," noted Mr. Cunningham.
"You're right. I guess hiding the sorrow wasn't necessary to make them happy."
"Nah, because we remember the good times. That's what you're thinking of now, right?"
"Yes, but I still miss him, and that hurts to think about."
Howard walked over to the record player, and while his wife was lost in thought, he put on a Glenn Miller record, then dimmed the living room lights. "We've still got each other. Here's to happy days forever." They slowly began dancing the night away.
A/n: In the middle 1950s, Jim Elliott, Nathan Saint, and several others were murdered by the stone age Auka Indians. While in their cases, family members felt led to go to Ecuador and try to reach these people – successfully – it would be harder for a family that is not very spiritual overall.
I wanted to write a Chuck Cunningham story, but couldn't figure out what the best reason would be for them not to talk about him. He didn't seem like the criminal type, but even if he was, they would still at least have had some mention of him, one would think. While it's true that we only see one fourth of one percent of a family's lives in a normal sitcom, it's also true that they basically acted like they only had two children,Richie and Joanie. And, they don't seem like the kidn who would disown one because of something, either.
So, a very painful loss, caused by a decision that would take him away from his family anyway, seemed best to use. I hope you enjoyed it.