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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