They laughed and laughed, and then they laughed some more.  The worst one of them was 94 years old.  She told the raciest jokes.  I loved going in there to talk with them.  They were just a couple of doors away from my “office” which was some sort of storage room in the basement of the church.  We used the quilt they gave us when we left until it was worn through and in tatters.  Mary Ann salvaged parts of it and made a vest, a number of place mats and lots of Christmas tree ornaments in the shape of little stockings.  When we cleaned out the closet ten days ago, we found a piece of it in a plastic bag hanging from a hanger.

My salary that year (1967-8) was $250 per month with a $25 auto allowance.  We managed to live on that and save Mary Ann’s entire salary at the bank for the last year of school (1968-9).

We, of course, immediately located the best ice cream place in town, Atz’s.  Actually, I had already discovered it a couple of years earlier when I attended Concordia Senior College there before entering the Seminary.  I remember the Sundae having three scoops of chocolate mint chip ice cream, with lava flows of hot fudge running down each scoop, heaped on top with nuts, whipped cream and a cherry.  I remember it being called a turtle sundae.  I wish Mary Ann was still here to help me remember that accurately.  Suffice it to say, we made very regular trips to Atz’s.

The Saturday before my very first time in public, leading worship, Mary Ann gave me a hair cut so that I would make a good first impression.  I am not sure what caused it to happen, but her hand slipped or I moved my head.  The electric clippers cut a swath from my temple to my ear, down to the skin.  I had a lot of hair, so the contrasting pink skin on the side of my head stood out in comparison to the dark, thick hair.  The solution?? An eyebrow pencil, of course.  She drew in the hair that was missing.  That worked when my face was turned to the side, but the notch was clear when looking at my face from straight on.

My first impression became irrelevant since the Pastor I was serving went into the hospital for tests the following Tuesday and remained there for a month.  I preached, made 75 hospital calls, attended all the meetings, ministered to the dying, taught classes.  In fact, I remember very clearly how irritated I was when he returned and took over my congregation.  It was a wonderful baptism of fire.  I had no time to be scared.  I just had to do whatever needed to be done.

The Vicarage (Internship) from hell part is harder to explain.  The Pastor was obsessive compulsive about record keeping and monthly reporting to the Elders, down to how many pieces of incoming mail and outgoing mail we processed and how many incoming and outgoing phone calls we made.  The Pastor was hopelessly racist and talked often in ways that were intolerable.  By the way, the grade he would give me counted for twelve hours of credit and would make or break the option of graduating.  He admitted that the congregation didn’t like him.  I actually provided a sort of therapeutic setting for him when we met to talk.  His approach to ministry seemed completely empty of what I understood Christianity to be about.  In fact, my experience there convinced me that it would be a waste of time to serve a congregation since there was no evidence that the message we were about was expressed in any way that I could see there. That is the part that ended up impacting Mary Ann and me later.

That was a year when Star Trek hit the airwaves.  Not only did I get caught up in it, but another Vicar (Intern) assigned to Ft. Wayne, Lyle, did too.  Mary Ann just laughed at us as we sat at the kitchen table and meticulously glued together our respective models of the Enterprise.

One of my worst moments came that year.  It only happened once, but it happened.  A student from the Senior College who played the organ for us that year came over.  We splurged and ate out.  There was a Manhattan before dinner, wine with dinner, a Liqueur after dinner.  Then after taking Mary Ann home, Paul wanted to take me to a favorite bar to have some sort of Martini made with a chocolate liqueur, I think.  Then he bought me a Rusty Nail.  My taste buds were so numb, I drank it down like a soft drink.  When we got home, I remember needing to stay very close to the wall as I walked in.  We have one of the best photographs I have ever taken of Paul sitting on the couch next to Mary Ann.  I have absolutely no memory of taking that picture.  I do remember the next few hours hugging a large white porcelain repository into which large quantities of the contents of my stomach were deposited — seemingly much more than I had consumed.  Did I mention that Mary Ann’s Mother was visiting us at that time?  I found out some time, that since I was camping out next to that porcelain receptacle with the door to the bathroom locked, she had to pee in a tin can.  We are none of us perfect!!

That Christmas we were not going to get a tree, but finally, we just had to get one.  We found one for 50 cents that we put on the top of a round book shelf that was Mary Ann’s table sitting next to her until days before the end when she could no longer sit up.  That tree helped establish our tradition of finding the most pitiful tree we could get and decorating it for Christmas (a Charlie Brown Tree).  Our kids gave us much grief over the years at our choice of Christmas Trees.

That is the year we got to know Roger and Jan.  Roger was another Vicar assigned to a church in Ft. Wayne.  They ended up the next year becoming Lisa’s Godparents. Roger and Jan loved dogs, especially Poodles.   There little Poodle, Happy, gave birth to a litter of pups, all who were registered and soon had their papers.  Mary Ann fell in love with one of the little puppies.  We named her MAT’s Happy Suzette. She was a ball of fur with stubby little legs who became the grumpiest Poodle on the planet.  She will be a central character in a post to come about the birth of our first child, Lisa.

One ironic note on the congregation I served from July 1967 to June 1968.  There was an old fellow, Ralph, who came around often.  I got to know him well.  He was great at dart ball (underhanded darts played competitively between church men’s groups).  Ralph had Parkinson’s Disease.  His huge lower lip hung down so that his gums showed and the drool ran and his dentures rattled.  On that account he could not talk very clearly.  He shuffled along and came by often.  I was never unkind to him.  We got along well, but I was grossed out by how he looked.  When I got the phone call that Mary Ann had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the vision of Ralph came immediately to mind.  In all her years with Parkinson’s, Mary Ann always remained pretty.  I found her as desirable at the end as I found her at the beginning of our relationship.  The soft kisses that we savored when standing in front of the fridge only a few weeks ago were as sweet as any we shared in all our years.  I miss her terribly.

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