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.

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.

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.

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.