June 2010


We traveled on through the black forest.  We followed a river back up to its source at the top of a pass, where we got out and threw snowballs at one another.  Then we followed the trickle of snow down the other side of the pass until it grew as waterfalls from melting snow tumbled over the rocks alongside adding more and more to it until it was a rushing river on the other side of the mountains.  In the  valley, we saw and visited the picturesque town of Oberammergau, the site of the passion play that was performed every ten years.

The bus took us through Lichtenstein, where we had the best meal on the trip, good sausage and trimmings.  By the time the trip was over, none of us could look a Wiener Schnitzel in the face.  Almost every meal was breaded veal, boiled potatoes and peas and carrots.  If we tried to order a glass of water and said the German word for water, wasser, we were brought sparkling mineral water. There was never any ice to be found.  Alas, we had to drink wine and beer.  The beer was one Mark a for a half liter, 25 cents, American.

In Austria, we could look out of our hotel room at a lake across the street bordered on the other side by mountains with puffy clouds hanging half way between the surface of the lake and the peak of the mountains.  We shopped in Switzerland and finally ended up at the airport in Belgium.

When we arrived in the airport in New York City, the plane had been delayed long enough that we missed our flight to St. Louis.  The airline gave us vouchers for a meal at a very nice restaurant in the airport while we waited. I had a huge steak about the size of what we used to call an arm roast.

It was either at the Washington airport when we were on the way to Europe, or in the New York airport on the way back that we ran into a family with a large and very friendly dog that we took time to pet.  The family the dog was with was Bobby Kennedy, his wife and children.  This was in 1966, between his Brother John F. Kennedy’s assasination and his own in 1968.

Finally, we landed in the St. Louis airport.  We had cut things too close as we managed our limited dollars very carefully but apparently not carefully enough.  The cost of the shuttle ride from the airport back to our apartment was $6.00.  We didn’t have that much.  We were stranded.

Hilton and Trudy Oswald came to our rescue.  They were a cute, older but very energetic couple who had come along on the trip with us.  We had hung out with them sometimes, especially since Hilton could speak German fluently.  They piled our luggage and us into their old Mercedes and drove us to our apartment.  It was not too far from their home.

The next week in St. Louis it was about as hot as it had ever been.  We never lived anywhere that was hotter and more humid than St. Louis.  There was a strong smell of yeast in the air constantly from all the breweries.  That week there was a temperature inversion.  The pollutants were kept from blowing away.  The air was yellow.  The temperature was 106 degrees for six days in a row.  Our apartment was, of course, not air conditioned.  We would open the windows of the bedroom, as well as the ones in the living room to get a cross breeze.  We slept in our underwear.  We would lie on our backs until they were adequately sweaty.  Then we would turn over and let the air movement very slowly dry the wet side, while the other side got sweaty.

Now there is the matter of the rent.  We had left enough in the bank to pay that first month’s rent when we returned from Europe.  The bank that before we left for Europe had told Mary Ann there would be no job waiting for her when we returned, did have her job available.  With both of us working full time, we were able to get back on course, paying the rent and saving for school in the fall.

We had very little money in those years.  We were dirt poor, along with all the rest of the seminarians, especially the growing number of those who had gotten married.  I don’t know that we felt poor.  Wonders could be done with hot dogs and creamed corn or macaroni.  Popcorn was cheap.  When we wanted to party after classes on Friday, one couple would bring the limes and the tonic water, the other couple a bottle of cheap Gin and we would relax with Gin and Tonics.

Mary Ann was able to earn a little extra money by babysitting for a couple with a toddler.  The parents got a pretty good deal.  We had one car, a gray 1956 Chevy with stick shift.  Mary Ann refused to learn to drive a stick shift.  That meant that the parents got two for the price of one, which was 75 cents an hour.

One time the parents of the toddler asked Mary Ann if she would be willing to babysit their son at the grandparents’ home.  She got the directions to the house and we headed out searching for it.  They were confusing directions, but we managed to find it.  It was a huge house on many acres of land.  There was an airplane sitting in an area beside the lane that led to the house.

We had been instructed to go to a room over the garage.  The room was outfitted as a playroom.   When we had mentioned the name of the Grandparent’s to someone, they wondered if it could be the J. S. McDonnell who owned McDonnell – Douglas aircraft.  It was!  He had been on the cover of Time Magazine not long before.  At that time, his income for one year had been $90,000,000 (yes, 90 million).  This was in the late 1960’s.

That number is relevant to what happened when the grandparents returned, and it was time to settle up.  I can remember Mary Ann and I standing beside the cooking island in the kitchen as we totaled the bill for the four hours.  At 75 cents an hour, the total was $3.00.  Mrs. McDonnell had a $5 bill.  She waited until Mary Ann searched her purse and billfold, and I searched my pockets for what seemed like an eternity to come up with the $2.00 in change.  No wonder he had $90,000,000.  He kept every penny he earned.  At the risk of being very politically incorrect, did I mention that McDonnell is a Scottish name.

As the story continues, the Vicarage (Internship) from Hell comes next.

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Plans are in place.  There will first be a memorial service at 11am on Saturday, July 10, in the Krentz Chapel at Our Savior Lutheran church, 420 Downer Place in Aurora.  The street in front is being repaired.  At the back of the church, accessed from the street that runs behind the church (parallel to Downer) is parking.  There are many stairs to the chapel from the back parking.  Those who cannot do stairs should be dropped off at the front of the church and park in back.  I am sure we can find folks who would be willing to park the car for you if need be.

Following the service, we will drive to Reuland’s to eat (serving begins at noon) and share Mary Ann stories.  I hope everyone will come to that meal and sharing time.  Let Gayle Marshall, Diana Zajicek or Joy Miller Kratsch know that you plan to come to Reuland’s.  If you don’t know one of those three, just let me know via Face Book or the Comment section of this blog that you are coming. It would please Mary Ann and will please me for you to come.  The address of Reuland’s is: 115 Oak Avenue, Aurora, IL 60506.

Krentz Chapel is named in memory of Pastor Paul Krentz.  Pastor Krentz Baptized  us as infants and Confirmed both Mary Ann and me around the age of fourteen.  Pastor Paul and Ruth Krentz were Mary Ann’s Godparents.  Pastor Krentz married Mary Ann and me.  He ordained me into the ministry. I am named after his Son Pete Krentz.  The chapel is located within feet of the chancel in which all those ceremonies were held.

I will bring the DVD of aobut 40 pictures of Mary Ann over the years to be shown at Reuland’s.  Tonight I realized that one of the tracks on the CD of the funeral here contains all three of the solos that were sung.  I listened to that section of the service with two of the readings and the solos.  The tears came.  This morning, I felt so good as to think I had turned a corner in the grieving.  I may have turned a corner, but there were tears to be found around that corner.

I will also bring that CD so that we can hear the solos in the service.  Two of the solos are sung by Kristen Watson who grew up in the congregation I served before I retired.  She has a blossoming career, singing in a variety of venues, including serving as a soloist on occasion for the Boston Pops.  She has a classical lyric soprano voice, but is very versatile, able to perform in musicals as well.  I have not heard a more beautiful soprano voice.

I just realized something a few minutes ago.  I preached at the funeral of Mary Ann’s Brother Roger.  I preached at the funeral of Mary Ann’s Brother Tom.  I preached at the memorial service held in Aurora for Mary Ann’s Mom, Lois.  Now I am leading Mary Ann’s Memorial Service.  Yesterday I looked at the picture taken at our wedding of Mary Ann and me in a line with both our sets of parents.  I remember when that picture was given to my Mom at her 90th birthday party.  She cried, realizing that she was the only one left of the four parents in that picture.  I preached at my Mom’s funeral.  It hit me that I am now the only one left of all six people in that picture.  I Have I mentioned yet that I don’t like this?

I had a great morning today.  The Spiritual Formation Group met on the deck in perfect weather, with the birds entertaining us and the sound of the waterfall calming us.  The conversation was helpful to me at this point in my Spiritual journey.  I walked at Cedarcrest, feeling energized by the exercise and exhilirated by the setting.  I enjoyed a lunch with a good friend who brings both wisdom and a listening ear to our time together.  I enjoyed an afternoon coffee time with a former parishioner who gave me some food for thought.

Two or three times today I mentioned that it seemed as if in the last two days I had turned a corner in the grieving process to a place in which the pain had become more manageable, had found a place that freed me to be okay again.  Every time I said it, I qualified it with the observation that the pain could come back at any time without warning.  That observation was prophetic.  I could feel it creeping back into my conscious awareness as the afternoon wore on.  By this evening, it broke through.  It is far from the intensity of last Sunday.  I am grateful for that.  The tears and this writing have allowed it to calm for the moment.

I intend to write more tonight on the story of Mary Ann’s and my life together, so I will end this now and get to the next chapter in that story.  Tomorrow morning very early, Pastor Jim and I will spend a couple of hours doing some birding in the area.  I had better start of the next post so that I can get to bed soon.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

No, this will not be one of those “too much information” posts.

That first year at the Seminary, I was singing in a very good choir made up of students from the Seminary and singers from some of the Lutheran churches in St. Louis.  There were probably sixty or a hundred Lutheran churches in St. Louis at that time.  A radio station in Holland had tried to get St. Olaf’s choir to come for a Heinrich Schuetz festival there.  Somehow, they got hold of a tape of our choir and offered to pay us 30.000 Guilder to come to their radio station studio to sing and make recordings.

Mary Ann was not singing in the choir.  She had started working full time at a bank so that we could continue to survive while I went to school.  I continued to work part time during the school year and full time during the summer at Clark-Peeper Office Supplies in Clayton.  Even with the promised 30,000 guilder covering a portion of the cost of the trip, each of us had to pay a portion also.  I don’t remember how much.  I do remember that we could take non-member spouses along for about $750.

We knew we might never get a chance like that again.  We had enough savings in the bank to cover the cost for me and for her, enough for a little spending money on the trip, leaving $100 in the bank for when we returned.  That would be enough to pay the next month’s rent, with nothing left over.  Mary Ann’s bank said that they would not have a job waiting for her when we returned.  We decided to do it!

We flew to Washington, D.C. and on to London.  We spent four days there, visiting cathedrals, riding the Underground (subway).  We sang at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.  The trip there was harrowing.  The tour bus driver was nuts!  Of course he was driving on the wrong side of the road, that was to be understood, it was England.  However, when a blind curve was approaching while on that two lane road, he moved right out to pass a car.  He was traveling at a frighteningly high rate of speed. Our worst fear was realized when a car appeared coming toward us from the other direction on that curve – traveling at an equally frightening rate of speed.  We passed three abreast on that two lane road.  It took hours to clean the seats on the bus — okay, it almost scared us that much.

We drank warm, bitter beer and ate beef and kidney pie.  That was about as bad as it sounds.  We saw all the usual sights.  Both of us decided that we wanted to return some time.  That never happened.  We were right about the once in a lifetime opportunity.

Then we flew into Amsterdam and drove to Noordwijk-Aan-Zee, a small resort town on the North Sea.  There we stayed in a boarding house while we went back and forth to the radio station in a larger town nearby.  I remember riding bikes together to the laundromat.  I remember that the wash water was scaldingly hot.  Someone in there managed to warn us about that even though they spoke only Dutch and we spoke none.  I knew a few German words, but we were told that it would be far better to stick with English than to use any German.  Our bus was picketed at one point because we had a German bus driver.  The war was still fresh in people’s minds.

The weather was too cold for swimming, but we rode to the beach of the North Sea just to see it.  The breakfasts were cold cuts and cheese and breads.  For all the meals, all five days, we had the very same cloth napkin kept in a plastic holder at our place at the table.  We had fried chicken one night.  As a somewhat compulsive hand washer, it was a horrifying experience!

After recording for the Heinrich Schuetz festival, we headed on to Germany.  Only West Germany was accessible at that time.  We saw the huge Cologne Cathedral, Frankfort, Munich.  We visited castles, Linderhof, Neuschwanstein (where from the balcony of the throne room we saw one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen, a lake nestled in between wooded mountains).  We saw what was left of the Heidelberg Castle boasting the largest wine barrel ever filled with wine, so large that it had a dance floor on top.  We did a concert in a cathedral in which there was a full five seconds of reverberation after stopping the final chord. (We heard tell of one castle that had a seven seconds of reverberation.) It was a powerfully moving experience to sing in those churches.  We sang a total of 8 times in three weeks.  The rest of the time we traveled and saw so many beautiful sights.

Classmate Louie (nickname) and Elise had moved their wedding date to just days before the trip so that they could be together on it.  In Muenster, it happened that they were assigned to stay in separate places.  There were tears flowing.  Since by then we were an old married couple of six months, we offered to stay in separate places so that they could stay together.

In Muenster we stayed in homes for two nights since one of the members of the choir was recently from Germany.  We sang at her home church in Muenster.  Mary Ann stayed with a family that spoke English.  I did not stay with such a family.  Actually, I ended up in a boarding house run by a family from church.  The first night was fine.  One of the other boarders was Franz von den Ohden Rhein (Frank from the Old Rhine), who spoke English.  The second night Franz was gone.  I sat at the supper table with six or eight people who could speak no English, not a word.  I knew my one sentence in German, the one that revealed that my Mother was born in Germany.  That was it.  The good news was that after a few bottles of wine, we seemed to be able to communicate without much trouble (at least that is how I remember it — what I remember of it).

The adventure continues tomorrow.  (Can you say “Bobby Kennedy??”)

Today was a better day.  The morning walk was reassuring in that again, I actually enjoyed the sights and sounds.  The pain allowed me room for that.  After I got cleaned up, I got a cup of coffee at PT’s and was greeted by Sara and Kelsey.  They are barista’s who have been very thoughtful and welcoming to me.  I taught Kelsey in Confirmation Class and Confirmed her a number of years ago. She is very newly married.  She had some very thoughtful and affirming words.  It warmed my spirit.  A good way to start a day.

I wrote some thank you notes and then headed to Paisano’s for the monthly lunch with Jimmy.  He lost his wife many years ago and understood very well what I am going through.  After that I stopped for a moment to drop something off at church.  There I spent a few moments with Linda and Marilyn who were part of my support system for many years, whether they realized it or not.  They knew.

When I went to the Wild Bird House to stock up on feed for the birds, I was greeted very warmly by Melody and Todd, who had only a day or two before discovered that Mary Ann had died (still very hard to write or say).  Todd came over and put his arm around me to comfort me.  We have just talked on occasion over the last few months, mostly about birds.  I would stop there most weeks while Mary Ann was in her Tuesday morning Bible Study.  It helps so much to have people around who seem to care, trying to provide comfort and understanding.

I spent the middle of the afternoon writing thank you notes.  They brought me close to tears more than once as I thought about what Mary Ann went through.  I was also overwhelmed in a good way with the realization of all that so many people did for us.  The hours that people spent here are far beyond counting.  It is not even remotely possible for me to repay what was given.  Those who came usually enjoyed Mary Ann, but they were sometimes scared that she would pop up and then fall, maybe hurting herself.  I think people felt good that they were really helping us, making a substantial difference in our lives.  I think many felt that they were doing a ministry for Faith by freeing me to continue to serve Faith while Mary Ann could not be left alone.

It is also clear that Mary Ann ministered to those who came.  So many have been struck by her courage and unwavering faith in the face of all she went through.  She did not complain.   People could talk with her and know that it would not be shared with the next visitor.  I still marvel that she just took the next hit whatever it was and went on as if nothing had happened.

This afternoon, friend and former parishioner Mark came over to talk and listen.  He has been through this.  He phoned Sunday afternoon, knowing that it would be a terribly painful time for me.  We set this time then.  Mark brings with him a strong and vivid faith along with some counseling experience, as well as having lost his wife whom he loved just as I loved Mary Ann.  He walked me through a Psalm that was especially meaningful to him at the time of his grieving.  The content of our conversation will remain between us.  It is enough to say that it was a helpful, meaningful and comforting time for me, immersed in the Grace of God, and the healing God provides.

It has not been an easy day.  Easy is no longer an option, at least for now.  It was a better day.  The pain was clear and identifiable, always ready to pop back fully into view.  It did not express itself as often or with as much intensity as it has in the last days.  I am not so naive as to think it will not come back with full intensity whenever it chooses.  It was just helpful to have a day in which it did not rule.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

An older cousin of mine came through the greeting line downstairs where the reception was being held after the wedding. Once she said it, she realized what she had said, but my classmates standing next to me had a great time with it. I immediately responded, well, we have been going together for three and a half years and engaged for six months — and I almost said, and she is not pregnant.  The Cousin was talking about the short amount of time we had to do the preparations for the wedding with only a few weeks from October to December.  I always wondered how many of the wedding attendees were surprised when that first baby didn’ t come until over three and a half years later.

The wedding itself was as beautiful as any, even though it was done on a very low budget.  We were old enough that we didn’t really expect our parents to provide lots of money for it.  Mary Ann’s parents did take care of the reception.  It was a cake and punch reception in the downstairs of the church.  The cake was baked by a sister-in-law who was a phenomenal baker.  She made wedding cakes out of her home as  a small business.  That was her wedding present to us.  Mary Ann’s Mother was an excellent seamstress. She made the wedding dress, and (I think) the bridesmaid’s dresses.  Since it was Christmas the Bridesmaid’s dresses were red velvet.  Since we couldn’t afford flowers, they held white muffs.  The church was decorated for Christmas with trees and lights.  We did provide a couple of flower arrangements (or somebody did), as well as the flowers Mary Ann held.

Instead of a photograper, one of our friends just took slides of the wedding.  We did rent tuxes, at $5 each.  I think that was the going rate during those years.  We decided that there would be no family members in the wedding other than Mary Ann’s Niece Diana.  At thirteen she was the oldest of all the Nephews and Nieces and especially close to Mary Ann.  Since we were both the youngest in our families with a total of seven older siblings, all married and with children, we knew we could not ask some and not others — so we just asked none of them.  Anyway, if Mary Ann’s brothers had been in the wedding, who knows what those Mizel boys would have pulled.

After the wedding and reception, we packed up our stuff, including all the presents and headed off for our exotic honeymoon.  It was the Joliet Inn, a very ordinary motel in Joliet, Illinois, although it did have a Honeymoon Suite — a room with a four poster bed, otherwise like any other room.  Joliet was about an hour from Aurora.  We decided to go crazy and instead of driving all the way to St. Louis (only about a five hour drive) we stopped at the Lamplighter Inn in Springfield, Illinois, another very ordinary motel, possessing no honeymoon suite.  That was the extent of our exotic honeymoon. (…but just wait)

Mary Ann had insisted on taking the presents back with us unopened so that she could take her time opening them in our first apartment in St. Louis.  She got some grief from a few folks who wanted to see that ritual.

There we were, Mary Ann, me, the presents and the cockroaches.  Somewhere I have the picture of Mary Ann in her bra and girdle (it was the 60’s) standing on a chair, while I crushed a cockroach with her shoe.  It was so big, at first we thought it was a mouse.  The cockroach was fully as long as the heal on her loafer, the weapon of choice. It was a first floor apartment in an old, but stately looking building.  We were just about the only Gentiles in the building.  There was a Mezuzah on the doorframe from the last owner. A Mezuzah is a little container with a tiny scroll in it with what is called the Shema, written in Hebrew.  I still have it somewhere.

The was good news and bad news about being in a first floor apartment.  It was easier to carry things into, and it was cooler in the summer than the third floor apartments.  The bad news is that all the cockroaches living in the basement had easy access and could be heard running around the kitchen during the night.  Getting up at night and turning on a light in the kitchen was a pretty frightening experience.

We were located in an especially beautiful area of St. Louis, just off Wydown boulevard. One of the prettiest pictures we have of Mary Ann is of her face in the middle of a flowering Crabapple in full bloom in the wide median of the bouldevard. Just north of us were huge homes of the very wealthy.  There was a nice Jewish deli and grocery near the apartment, which for some reason did not have a pound of bacon when I went there to get it. I wonder what that was about??  The Velvet Creme Ice Cream store was not far, so we were all right in that regard.

About two weeks after we were married, I came home from Clark Peeper Office supplies where I worked part time all three of the Seminary years we were in St. Louis, and I knew immediately when I saw her face what had happened.  There were tears streaming down her cheeks.  The phone call had come telling her that her Dad just died.  He had been suffering from Nephritis (Kidney Disease) for some time, and was very weak but determined to walk her down the aisle at the wedding.

That was a terribly difficult time for everyone, especially all the Mizel family.  Mary Ann was very close to her Dad.  She and her Mom were just enough alike that they were sometimes at odds with one another.  While Mary Ann could never seem to please her Mom, she was the apple of her Dad’s eye.  It was hard for Mary Ann to deal with that so far away from the rest of the family.

Getting married was very good for my grades.  They shot up to what I had been accustomed to getting almost immediately.  I remember that the first summer we were married was very lonely.  Since there were almost no other married students staying in St. Louis for the summer, and we knew no one else.  We spent many a lonely Friday evening wishing we had friends to do things with.

That summer also included one of the best experiences we had in our years with each other. It turned out to be the honeymoon of our dreams.  More about that tomorrow.

Today began with an early walk again.  It is encouraging that I was able to actually appreciate the beauty of the cool morning, the clouds, the birds.  Each morning that I have walked, there have been some moments without pain, moments that at least suggest the possibility of some level of healing some time in the future.

I came back to do the usual morning chores, providing a bit of order to my day.  I ran to the bank for a moment, but otherwise worked on thank you notes.  It is a slow process, but satisfying.  It draws me into a sense of community and belonging as I think about the people in the stands who have been cheering us on especially during the last years of our journey together.

Eddie came, picked me up, and we headed to the Red Lobster for lunch.  Eddie lost his wife to Alzheimer’s many years ago.  He is now very happily married again to a favorite of Mary Ann and me, Carol.  Eddie has been helpful to me whenever we have talked.  He has questions that help me process what we have been through as I try to respond and make sense of it.  The common experience makes it far easier to trust and be open about what went on and how each of us dealt with it.

I returned to meet with a furnace installer to arrange for an upgrade to a high efficiency unit with a segback thermostat.  That will be installed about a month from now.  The afternoon and evening has again brought with it more of the painful moments.  I have chosen to try to keep from winding down into the deep sadness that has a steady presence in me.  It was a little difficult to keep the sadness at baywhen looking at pictures that helped me remember some of the details of the wedding.  That was so long ago.  Both Mary Ann and I have commented that we had the sensation that we were looking over our own shoulders watching ourselves go through the motions at the wedding.

For now, I hope to get to bed a little early and get to sleep.  The mornings are better and the evenings worse, so my goal is to shorten the evenings and lengthen the mornings.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

The summer began with the engagement ring, but at the end of the summer, I would be heading even farther away to the Seminary in St. Louis.  Mary Ann decided that she would enroll in the University of Missouri in St. Louis in the fall.  It sounded like a good idea at the time.  We were able to find a place for her live with members of a Lutheran Congregation in the north part of the city (Bel-Nor).  I was able to work it out so that my Field Work congregation was that same congregation.  The good news was that the place she was staying was close to the University.  The bad news was that it was six miles of city street driving to get from the Seminary to her place.

That is the worst semester of school I ever had, at least in terms of grades.  Obviously, I needed to see her many evenings a week.  It would have been madness for her to be stuck up there by herself, and me sitting there studying down in Clayton, six miles away unless absolutely necessary.  One evening I was returning to the Sem late at night, maybe 1-1:30am, pretty sleepy.  I sailed through a stop sign and slammed on the brakes when it registered, but it was too late.  (Sailed might be an exaggeration since it was a 1950 Chevy we are talking about.)  Of course, there was a police officer sitting inconspicuously along the side of the road.

The officer pulled me over, got me out of the car and told me to sit on the passenger side of the police car.  He talked for a while in a surprisingly friendly way.  After a while he said that he was just bored and stopped me to talk.  He saw my brake lights when I tried to stop.  He issued neither ticket nor warning.  It didn’t hurt that I was studying for the ministry.

It dawned on us that is was just crazy for us to be living six miles apart in the same metropolitan area, when we had been going together for three and a half years and had been engaged for the last four or five months.  Why not get married and live in the same place.  In those years living together before marriage was unthinkable, at least for us.

By this time Mary Ann was 24 and I was 22.  We were certainly of age and free to get married.  The Seminary, however, felt they had a say in the matter.  I had to meet with the Dean of Students and provide a note from my parents, guaranteeing that I would be able to manage school financially through graduation three and a half years later.  My Dad scoffed a the idea of such a note, since I had been on my own for a couple of years already having had part time jobs that paid pretty well.

What I just described sounds crazy in today’s world.  Understand this was an institution based on an old world German Gymnasium (pronounced with a hard G) education model,  We went to school for 8 years (after high school), were required to learn to read Latin, German, Greek and Hebrew, carry at least 18 hours each term with three terms during the school year, each term cramming in a full semester of work. Many of those in the program had begun when they finished the 8th Grade, leaving home for a boarding school for the high school years.  Since I had gone to a heathen high school (public school), I had to take 23 hours the first semesters to make up all the language and religion requirements.

In earlier years, no one was allowed to marry while at the Seminary.  Add the numbers and you will note that Seminarians graduated at 26 years of age.  If a person married, he was kicked out of the Sem, although a few managed to do it, my Brother Dick for one, some fourteen years earlier did it.

If a Seminarian was engaged while at the Seminary and broke the engagement, he was also kicked out.  The position of the Seminary was that engagement was “tantamount” to marriage (whatever that means).  Breaking an engagement was like breaking marriage vows.

Mary Ann and I were among five couples who were married in the first year of the Seminary.  We broke ground for what now is exactly the opposite. Most of the Seminarians enter the Sem married or are married during their years there.

There was an unwritten expectation that makes this whole thing even more ridiculous.  Pastors were expected to be married when they were serving a parish after they graduated and were Ordained later in the summer.  In the extreme that would mean they had about 8 weeks to find someone, fall in love, get engaged and get married.  The Nurses at Deaconess Hospital in St. Louis were plucked out of there right and left.

Mary Ann and I decided that we would marry as early as possible during the Christmas break so that we could move into our apartment and get settled before classes started in January.  That meant that we had to plan a wedding from St. Louis to be held in Aurora, Illinois (275 miles away) between the middle of October and Saturday, December 18. We both had finals on Friday the 17th in St. Louis.

Next time I will tell you how we did it.  It was a beautiful church wedding.

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Tough day.  Sunday afternoons — I knew it, I remembered from when I was at college missing Mary Ann on Sunday afternoons.  I found out today, that apparently what I am going through has some similarity to turning 13.  I went to a musical titled “13” this afternoon.  It was written by kids and performed by kids.  It was a wonderful distraction until I realized that what the kids were saying at the end fit not only the crazy change that comes at 13, but a change that has come with the end of one life as I have known it, and the beginning of a future about which I have no clue.  Here are some excerpts from the lyrics of a couple of songs that came at the climax:

If that’s what it is
Then that’s what it is
You’re probably right to just forget it
Lets face it you’ve worked so hard and now you’re scarred
And free of any hope
I guess you should mope
Forget what you’ve planned
Hey, I understand

If that’s what it is
Then that’s what it is
Though that’s not the way I choose to see it
I have my own view that works with all these jerks and unenlightened fools
I make my own rules, I do what I can
If I hit the wall then maybe its all a part of the plan
Tomorrow will come, today will be gone
And so I put one foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
And just keep walking on
[from “If That’s What It Is”]

Day turns, today turns, today turns, today turns, today turns, today
And I’m a little bit older
A little bit faster
A little bit closer
A little bit
Day turns, today turns, today turns, today turns, today
And the sky goes blue
And the sky goes black
And no matter what you do
You can’t go back
You go day into day into day
[from “A Little More Homework”]

The message hit home since I am exceedingly vulnerable a the moment.  The main character is a Jewish boy preparing for his Bar Mitzvah.  God plays a role in his thinking.  The message is not unlike the core of the message of the Christian Gospel.

The pain reached a new level of intensity for a while this afternoon.  The harsh reality that what is, is, and I can’t change it keeps trumping all my attempts at doing all the proper things to get through these days.  No matter what I do to make it better, it doesn’t get better.  That is exactly what I have to come to terms with.  I have to do this to make my way through it to the freedom to live with joy again.  And yes, that will mean just putting one foot in front of the other.

The morning went well.  I did make it to the 8am worship service.  I did spend time talking with folks I have known for many years and come to love.  I hung around as long as I could, but finally, I had to head home again.  Then I did the usual chores, fed the birds, watered lots of plantings around the house, did a couple of thank yous, read and responded to a couple of emails.

I was grateful to have the option of the musical available.  Being alone would not have been a good thing.  I sat behind the parents of one of the actors, all who are members of the church I served for so many years.  I enjoyed talking with them and watching Caitlyn sing and dance.

The kids did a great job in every respect.  As the climax came and brought resolution and discovery, what I heard seeped into what I am experiencing.  I was able to keep from revealing in any way what I was feeling, but it took every ounce of my resolve to accomplish that.

After leaving there, I did not want to go home to that damnable empty house — even with it’s waterfall (for which I continue to be very grateful).  I drove over to the local university Art Gallery, to discover that it had closed ten minutes earlier.  I just got gasoline, a coffee refill and headed home.

There was a phone message from a former parishioner and friend who has been through what I have just gone through.  After supper, I phoned him and had a very helpful conversation.  He is coming over in a couple of days for me to do some venting with someone who understands without my needing to try to explain the intensity of what is going on.

At various times through email or phone calls, three lunches and an afternoon coffee are now on the calendar in the next three days.  I am grateful for all the help that is being offered and am not too proud to accept it.  It is hard to have been a Caregiver in both the Ministry at churches for forty years and with Mary Ann for most of the the twenty-three years of her illness, and now be in the role of accepting help from others.  I have felt it a privilege in the past to have people let me into their lives to minister to them.  Now I get to give others that same privilege.

A theme in the song “A Little More Homework” is:

If you stand here behind me
And you call me a man
And you’re counting on me to come through
You should know that I’ll give you the best that I can
But we all have a little more homework to do

I certainly have a lot to learn.  I have a lot of homework to do, like it or not — and I don’t!!  I would like to claim that I am going through this so intensely because I have chosen to learn from it.  That would be a lie.  I am going through it so intensely because I have no choice.  It is what it is.  I hope to find new levels of understanding through this experience.  In some odd way, the pain is a gift from God, to break open my heart so that He and those I care about will have greater access.  Now, I am just longing for healing.

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.

Those were dangerous words to say at the dinner table in Mary Ann’s family.  They were especially dangerous when spoken by the new boyfriend.  Mary Ann had three older brothers.  All at least a head taller than me.

Gratefully, Mary Ann had warned me about the family table.  I knew that if I put my hand out to receive the butter in the way one would normally do that, the butter would end up stuck on my thumb.  Having been warned, I passed that test with flying colors.  Then, you can guess what happened when I asked to have the rolls passed.  At that time, my reflexes were still good enough that I snatched it out of the air before it sailed by my ear.

I don’t think the boys were there at my very first meal with the family.  God is good.  It would have been an even more painful memory.  There was a plate of breaded beef cutlets.  By the way, at Mary Ann’s house, there was just enough food for each person to have one piece of whatever was prepared.  It is no wonder that as my parents observed, she ate like a bird.  She would just stop when she had all she wanted.  The custom at our house was for everyone to eat as much as they possibly could.  The person who ate the most was the winner.  Anyway, there were just enough cutlets for each person to have one.  Mary Ann held the plate while I put my fork in one of the cutlets.  Again, this was my very first meal with the family at her house.  I poked the cutlet and it took flight, landing a couple of feet away on the floor next to Mary Ann’s chair.

No one said anything.  Mary Ann reached down, got it off the floor and put it on my plate.  There seemed to be a quiet sort of snorting coming from somewhere.  A few moments later, her Mom got up from the table, went into the kitchen, and practically burst she was laughing so hard — apparently tears were even running down her cheeks.  That was my initiation into Mary Ann’s family.

Soon after I began dating Mary Ann, I was dubbed “Rabbi” by her brothers.  They were all very entertaining.  I certainly enjoyed them.  One of them made clear to me one day when we were off by ourselves that I had better not hurt his sister.  There is some irony to that statement.  I will decide later if I will explain why.

Her Dad and Mom seemed to be okay with my dating Mary Ann (after we got past the former engagement issue).  Her Dad was a leader in our home congregation.  Her Mom was active in the church.  My Mom was very active also.  My Dad was a member, but did not do church in my growing up years.  Since I was going to be a Pastor, it seemed to her folks that I would be a reasonably good choice for Mary Ann.  Her Dad was not much of a talker, but when he talked, the family listened.  His Dad had been an orphan from France.

At the risk of another piece of “too much information,” Mary Ann’s house had an interesting configuration.  There was a hallway next to the living room.  At one end of the hall was her parents’ bedroom.  Then came the bathroom.  Then came the door to the dining room.  After her folks went to bed, Mary Ann and I would sit on the sofa and talk sometimes until pretty late at night.  Her parents’ bedroom door was just noisy enough, that by the time they opened it, before they had time to get down the hall to the bathroom, or worse yet, to the doorway into the dining room from which they could see us, our talking could resume a less animated and intense level. Don’t jump to any conclusions.  There was not much chance of any serious misbehavior in the living room of her house with her parents nearby.

One time we were talking until almost five in the morning, I think on a New Year’s Eve.  I went out to start the car and head home.  It wouldn’t start.  I had to get her Dad out of bed to push it down the street with his car to get it started.  That was another of those stories that would never go away.

It was obvious that Mary Ann came by her feistiness honestly.  Her folks and her brothers were always pulling something, sometimes getting angry with one another and not speaking to one another. There was never a dull moment.  There were Neices and Nephews galore, all knowing how to have a good time.  It seemed to me that Aunt Mary was special to all of them.  She valued them and paid attention to them.  She loved her brothers and their families.  I felt very much included in the family from the first flying cutlet on.

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