My mom’s parents, known to me as Grandma Rausch and Grandpa Tieken, divorced in the late 1940s. By all accounts, their marriage was an alcohol-fueled, violent brawl which caused untold heartache and pain to their two children. My mother, in particular, faced the indignity and shame of being sexually molested by her father, a deep wound she carried all the days of her life.
My grandfather’s name was John. My first recollections of him come from when I was a young child. On Christmas day, both sets of my grandparents would come to our home, often arriving at the same time. Instead of figuring out a way to avoid family conflict, both John and Grandma Rausch were determined to be the grandparent of choice. Every Christmas, they would square off, each in his or her own corner. The bitterness of their divorce carried over into our family. As a child, I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. All I knew was that Grandpa and Grandma didn’t like each other. As I got older, my grandparents finally figured out it was best if they steered clear of one another, so every year we had two Christmases and two Thanksgivings.
I saw a lot more of Grandma Rausch than I did Grandpa Tieken (John), and she became my favorite grandparent. My dad’s Hungarian parents died in 1963, weeks apart. I was six when they died, so I have very few memories of Grandpa and Grandma Gerencser. (Please see My Hungarian Grandparents, Paul and Mary Gerencser.) Grandma Rausch, on the other hand, was very much a part of my life, all the way until she died of cancer in 1995. She bought me my first baseball glove and took me to my first baseball game, and she was the only grandparent to ever attend my Little League and Pony League games. I remember to this day hearing Grandma screaming at the umpire, telling him in no uncertain terms that the pitch to her grandson was NOT a strike. Not that it mattered. Strike or ball, I was a terrible batter, so it unlikely that I would have hit the pitch. Grandma Rausch, a stickler for proper grammar, would write me letters during my preaching days. I loved getting letters from her. I always appreciated her interest in my life and support of whatever it was that I was doing at the time. Grandma Rausch had her faults. She was an alcoholic until age sixty-five, when, due to health concerns, she quit cold turkey. Warts and all, I never doubted Grandma loved me.
I can’t say the same for John or his third wife Ann. (Please see Dear Ann.) I would love to write of my grandfather’s love and support, but alas I can’t remember a time where he told me he loved me or unconditionally supported what I was doing. On those rare occasions he “supported” my work in the ministry, there were always strings attached or criticisms heaped upon me when I didn’t meet his expectations.
I have two good memories of John, and that’s it. I am sure there were more, but I only remember two. Perhaps other good memories were drowned out by John’s violent temper and frequent criticisms of my mom, dad, and me personally. John, a pilot, and mechanic, was the co-owner of T&W (Tieken and Wyman) Engine Service at Pontiac (Michigan) Airport. My first fond memory of John was when he took me up in a twin-prop cargo plane he had just overhauled. My other fond memory dates back to the summer of 1968. For my eleventh birthday, John took me to watch the Detroit Tigers play the Cleveland Indians. This was the year the Tigers won the World Series. On this day, I felt close to my grandfather. Just a grandfather and his oldest grandson enjoying their favorite sport. Alas, this would be the first and last time we did anything together.
John married Ann in the late 1950s or early 1960s. She had a son by the name of David from a previous marriage. Dave was my uncle, but only a few years separated us age-wise. Dave was an avid fisherman and played baseball for Waterford Township High School. One summer, I remember us sitting around the dinner table eating and Dave saying something his stepfather didn’t like. All of a sudden, John stood, doubled up his fist, and hit Dave as hard as he could, knocking him onto the floor. Dave said nothing, but the message was clear: No one back talked to John Tieken. Dave and I became closer when I moved to Pontiac to attend Midwestern Baptist College. Dave was married and worked as a foreman for General Motors. I have fond memories of Dave helping me put a clutch in my car — he the teacher and I the student. Sadly, Dave was murdered in 1981.
Ann attended Sunnyvale Chapel, a generic Evangelical church. In the early to mid-1960s, John got “saved” and began attending church with Ann. He soon became a Fundamentalist zealot who was known for his aggressive witnessing. I can’t tell you how embarrassing it was to watch John corner a waitress so he could tell her the “truth” about Jesus and her need of salvation. John loved the Christian gospel. In his mind, when Jesus saved him, all his past sins were washed away and everything became new. He believed that whatever he did in the past was forgiven and forgotten. Forgotten by God, perhaps, but for those who were psychologically and physically harmed by him, no forgiveness was forthcoming. And John didn’t care. Jesus had forgiven him, and that’s all that mattered. My mom, late in her life, confronted her father over him sexually abusing her. She hoped he would at least admit what he did and ask for forgiveness. No admission was forthcoming. John told his daughter that his sins were under the blood and Jesus had forgiven him. Jesus may have forgiven him, but my mom sure hadn’t.
There’s so much more I could share here, but for the sake of brevity, I want to fast forward to the 1980s. From 1983-1994, I pastored Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. John and Ann were quite proud of the fact that their grandson was a pastor. In their eyes, I, unlike my mother, father, and siblings, was doing the right things: serving the Evangelical God, preaching the gospel, and winning souls to Christ. For a time, they even financially supported me through donations to the church. These donations abruptly stopped when they didn’t get an annual donation statement when they thought they should have. That was the Tiekens. Much like their exacting God, displease them and judgment was sure to follow.
John and Ann came to visit the church twice in the eleven years I was there. One Sunday, John thoroughly embarrassed me in front of the entire congregation. The building was packed. This was during the time when the church was growing rapidly. After I preached and gave an invitation, I asked if anyone had something to share. John did. He stood and told the entire congregation what was wrong with my sermon. I wanted to die.
The last time John and Ann came to visit was in 1988. We were living in Junction City at the time. After church, we invited them over for dinner. In the post Dear Ann, I describe their visit this way:
Grandpa spent a good bit of time lecturing me about my car being dirty. Evidently, having a dirty car was a bad testimony. Too bad he didn’t take that same approach with Mom.
After dinner — oh, I remember it as if it were yesterday! — we were sitting in the living room and one of our young children got too close to Grandpa. What did he do? He kicked him. I knew then and there that, regardless of his love for Jesus, he didn’t love our family, and he would always be a mean son-of-a-bitch.
A decade later, John died. Upon hearing of his death, I had no emotions; I felt nothing. I had no love for the man. After all, his wife a few years prior had called to let me know that I was a worthless grandson. In fact, according to Ann, the entire Gerencser family was worthless. My sin? I couldn’t attend John’s seventy-fifth birthday party. Ann’s vicious and vindictive words finally pushed me over the edge. I told her that I was no longer interested in having any contact with them. And with that, I hung up the phone. Whatever little feeling and connection I had for John and Ann Tieken died. I learned then, that some relationships — even family — aren’t worth keeping.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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