Family

Update on Polly

polly 2016

Polly was transferred to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne earlier this week. When this ordeal is finally past, you can count on me doing some writing about our experiences — good and bad. As things stand today, Polly will have surgery on Thursday. Yesterday, she had a tube inserted to drain an abscess in her bladder. Polly is also being treated for a potassium deficiency. The colorectal surgeon wants her in the best shape possible before the surgery. There is a small chance that she might escape without a permanent colostomy bag. The surgeon said that he won’t know for sure until he begins removing the fistula. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Thank you for your continued support. Your words of encouragement and donations are greatly appreciated.

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Update on Polly

polly gerencser 2013

Last Friday, I rushed Polly to the emergency room. She was admitted to the hospital, and is currently awaiting transfer to Parkview Hospital in Fort Wayne. Polly will have a proctocolectomy (removal of the rectum and colon). She will also have a resection of her bladder. Polly will live with a colostomy bag the rest of her life.

Needless to say, we are overwhelmed by all of this, but, in the end, we shall persevere. We don’t know what else to do. Sometimes, life sucks. All any of can do is grit our teeth and face what comes our way. Your continued support is greatly appreciated.

My writing is on hold until Polly has surgery and is on the mend. Your understanding is greatly appreciated. If you happen to be sitting on a guest post or three, now is the time to submit them.

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A Decade Removed from Leaving Christianity, My Wife’s Mom Finally Asks Her if She Believes in God

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Polly and I attended church for the last time in November, 2008. While I was quicker to embrace the atheist moniker than Polly, she intellectually, at least, didn’t believe in the existence of God. In recent years, she has been more open about her lack of belief, but even now she’s quite reserved when compared to her word-generating-machine husband. That said, we are both on the same page when it comes to the existence of the Christian God.

Polly’s father is a retired Independent Fundamentalist Baptist pastor. Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in 1976 — the same year his daughter enrolled for classes. Dad and Mom moved south to Newark, Ohio where Dad became the poorly-paid assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. The Baptist Temple was pastored by Jim Dennis. Jim was married to my mother-in-law’s younger sister. Dad would later pastor a church in nearby Buckeye Lake. After this church closed, Dad and Mom returned to the Baptist Temple, the church they call home to this day,

Talking about things has never been Mom and Dad’s forte. When we left the ministry in 2005 and Christianity in 2008, Mom and Dad never said a word — NOT ONE WORD! (even after receiving Dear Family, Friends, and Former Parishioners). That is, until today. As most of you know, Polly is having surgery tomorrow to remove bladder cancer and repair a fistula. An hour or so ago, Polly’s mom called her at work. This is the gist of their conversation:

Mom: I have never asked you before, but do you think like Bruce does?

Polly: What do you mean?

Mom: Well, like do you still believe in God?

Polly: No, Mom!

Mom: How can you not? You asked Jesus to save you when you were seven! [actually, it was at age five]

Polly: I’m fine, Mom.

Mom: Well, we pray for you and Bruce and the kids [all heathens, in her eyes, by the way], a lot!

End of discussion.

Polly texted me, “Sigh, OMG! How many years did she have to ask?”

Polly texted me later “Pretty sure she was more upset than me! If she didn’t want to know, she should have kept quiet! I told her I had excellent specialists taking care of me. I mean, seriously! What’s Jesus going to do for me?”

This is the first and only time Polly’s parents have asked about our loss of faith. They had a decade to ask, yet never, ever said a word outside of the constant reminders, “we are praying for you!” I suspect Mom felt led by the Holy Spirit to call her daughter. Knowing that Polly was having surgery, Mom wanted to make sure where her daughter stood with the Christian God. I am quite sure she didn’t expect to hear Polly say she didn’t believe in God. Mom and Dad and their former pastor, the late Jim Dennis, have always believed that I have a larger-than-life influence over Polly. There was a time that that was true, but those days are long gone — as in, twenty-five plus years gone. Polly is her own person, and able to make decisions for herself — including whether she believes in the existence of God.

Polly enters the hospital tomorrow trusting that skilled medical professionals will do their best to remove the cancer and fix the bladder side of the fistula. We are confident that they will succeed in this endeavor. Mom fears for Polly’s soul. All I want is for the love of my life to come home safe and sound.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Fundy World Tales — Part Three

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Shortly after I began the seventh grade school year at Ney Junior High School — the same school my dad graduated from in 1954 — we suddenly moved thirty-four miles south to Deshler. I was angry with Dad — yet another move to a new school; yet another year of being the “new kid.” But I knew that my thoughts and feelings didn’t matter, so I said nothing. I had started playing football at Ney Junior High, and I continued my football career at Deshler. I was a short, lightweight boy, ill-suited physically for football, but I wanted to give it a try. I played very little, and once the season concluded I decided to focus on baseball and basketball instead.

By the time we moved to Deshler, my parents pretty much stopped being my parents. Mom was in and out of manic states, and Dad busied himself working as a district manager for Combined Insurance and selling firearms at weekend gun shows. I pretty much had the run of the town. Mom would ask what I was up to and where I was headed, but never said no. Dad? I don’t remember him being much involved in my day-to-day life. Well, except for the pool hall incident, that is.

Growing up as the son of Bob Gerencser, I learned at an early age that if I wanted anything that cost money, I either had to steal it or earn the money to pay for it. While living in Deshler, I began delivering morning newspapers for the Findlay Republican Courier. Seven mornings a week, I would get up early and deliver my route. I also was responsible for collecting subscription payments from my customers. Dad helped me open a checking account at the Corn City Bank. My collections were supposed to go into this account, and then once a month I would write a check to the Courier to pay for my papers. Whatever was left was my profit.

Unfortunately, my parents gave me no instructions as to how to manage money. In my immature mind, the money I collected was mine — all of it. I started hanging out at the pool hall, playing pinball for hours on end. When I needed money for the machines, I would write a check to the pool hall. After a month or so, the Courier contacted Dad and inquired as to why I hadn’t paid my paper bill. Dad quickly found out that I had spent all the paper money. I was a pinball addict. Well that, and pop and candy bars. The Courier fired me as a delivery boy, even though Dad paid my past due bill. Dad somehow knew that children my age were not permitted to be in pool halls, so he threatened the pool hall owner, telling him that if he didn’t return all the money I had spent at the hall, he was going to report him to the state. The pool hall owner quickly coughed up the money and banned me from entering his establishment.

During the ten months I lived in Deshler, my parents, siblings, and I attended Westhhope Bible Church — a rural Evangelical congregation north of Deshler. Tom Vanarsdall was the pastor. The one thing I remember about him is that he had an attractive daughter whom he kept an eye on lest she get too close to a boy. The other memory I have of this church is the black choir that came to the church to sing one Sunday night. I could count on one hand the blacks I had seen up to that point, and here was a stage full of people who looked very different from me. While the choir’s music was typical of what I had heard for years, their body movements were different from anything I had seen in the Baptist church. The choir “felt” the music, unlike the staid northern Baptist Christians of my tribe who thought such feelings were Satanic.

In May, 1970, Dad packed up his family again and moved 23 miles southeast to Findlay. I will pick up my story here in the next installment of The Fundy World Tales.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Fundy World Tales — Part Two

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In the 1920s, Paul and Mary Gerencser left their home in Hungary and emigrated to the United States. After spending time in New York and northeast Ohio, Paul and Mary migrated to rural northwest Ohio, buying a hundred-acre farm on the Defiance-Williams County line. There they would raise six children: Steve, Paul, Mary, Irene, Helene, and Robert. Robert, their youngest child, was my father.

For much of her youthful life, my mother, Barbara, grew up on a Missouri farm. Raised by alcoholic parents and a father with a violent temper, Barbara had a difficult childhood — made worse by her father sexually assaulting her. By the time Barbara turned 18, she had moved from Missouri to her then-divorced mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio. It was while working as a waitress at a local truck stop and service station called The Hub, that Barbara would meet a Hungarian farm boy named Bob. Months later, Bob and Barb — who was two months pregnant — drove to the justice of the peace in Angola, Indiana and were married. Barb was 18 and Bob was 20.

In June 1957, Barbara gave birth to a fat, redheaded boy at Cameron Hospital in Bryan whom she named Bruce. For some unknown reason, Bruce was nicknamed Butch, a name only close family dares to call him to this day. And so my life began. . .

Years later, I learned that some family members questioned whether Bob Gerencser was actually my biological father. The extant evidence suggests that their doubts were well founded. I bear no resemblance to my father or my younger siblings. My sister and brother both are darker-skinned with typical Hungarian facial traits. I am light-skinned, blue-eyed, and in my younger years, I had flaming orangish-red hair. My brother was born sixteen months after me, and was given the name Robert Gerencser, Jr. — another sign that the man I called Dad was not my biological father. Mom had an oil painting and a hand-painted plate of me as a child. These items were sent her by her redheaded cousin while he was overseas. I have concluded that it is likely that this man is my biological father. Either that or I am truly the milkman’s son.

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Paul and Marry Gerencser and Children, 1950s.

During the first few years of my life, dad worked for the Williams County Sheriff’s Department and Carroll-Ames, a hardware/appliance/department store located on High Street in Bryan. Dad also drove truck for the Bryan Elevator. Mom and Dad moved a good bit when I was young. By the time I was school age, we had lived in half a dozen rentals. While I am not certain as to why Dad kept moving us around, I suspect he had a hard time keeping the rent paid. Several years ago, I was asked about why I moved around so much while in elementary and high school. “Did you dad get transferred a lot?” I snickered, and replied, “No, Dad just had a hard time paying the rent.” By the time I was in high school, the pattern was clear: Dad didn’t pay the rent, utilities, and other obligations, and we would have to move. By the time I was eighteen, I had lived in 17 homes and attended schools in eight different school districts: Bryan (three times), San Diego, Harrod, Farmer/Ney, Deshler, Findlay (twice), Mt. Blanchard, and Tucson.

In 1962, Dad packed up his family and moved us 2,300 miles to San Diego, California. Dad believed that the pot of gold at the end of rainbow could be found in California. Lamentably, fortune eluded Dad, and he ended up working sales jobs and driving truck to support his family. I attended kindergarten, first, and second grade in the San Diego school system, After both of Dad’s parents died of heart attacks within six weeks of each other, he packed up our household goods, loaded us into a car, and drove us back to Bryan, Ohio.

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Gerencser family headed for church, Bryan, Ohio, early 1960s.

Barb and Bob Gerencser returned to Ohio very different people from the ones who left in 1962. My parents had attended the Episcopal Church in Bryan. It was there I was baptized as an infant. Our family, prior to moving to California, were nominal, church-going Christians. This all changed when my parents came in contact with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Tim LaHaye — of Left Behind fame — and the church he pastored, Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now named Shadow Mountain Community Church). Mom and Dad made professions of faith and were baptized at Scott Memorial, and from that day forward my parents were hardcore Fundamentalist Christians. While in California, my parents were exposed to the nationalist teachings of the John Birch Society. Coupled with their Fundamentalist Baptist beliefs, the right-wing ideology of John Birch founder Robert Welch, Jr. turned my parents into insufferable, evangelistic Christian Fundamentalists, bigots, and racists. Mom, in particular, was a flag-waving warmonger who would later publicly say that Lieutenant William Calley, Jr. — of My Lai fame — did nothing wrong by committing mass murder. It’s war, she would say, and the United States had to do whatever was necessary to defeat Communism. Mom would also defend the Ohio National Guard when they murdered unarmed students at Kent State, saying the protesting students got exactly what they deserved.

After returning to Bryan, Ohio in 1965, my parents joined First Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church pastored by Jack Bennett. Jack’s wife, Creta, was the sister of one of my dad’s brothers-in-law. Over the next decade, I would move in and out of the Bryan area several times, but while living there, First Baptist was the church I called home.

Shortly after beginning the seventh grade school year at Ney Junior High School, Dad suddenly moved us thirty-four miles south to Deshler — the Corn City. I will pick up my story here in the next installment of The Fundy World Tales.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

What is Life?

life

I recently celebrated my sixty-second birthday. Next month, I will draw my first Social Security check. The following month, my wife and I will celebrate our forty-first wedding anniversary. And early next year, grandchild number thirteen will arrive on the scene. I am now, without question, an old man, a cranky curmudgeon. I have seen a few things and experienced a lot of this thing we humans call life. As I comb through my past, I have come to the conclusion that life is the sum of our choices, held together by the mortar of luck and circumstance. As I carefully examine my life, I can see how certain decisions I made in the past materially affect my life today. For example, as a married, full-of-life, physically fit young preacher, I decided to opt out of Social Security. For the next seventeen years, I paid no social security/Medicare taxes on my ministry-related income. I leveraged the clergy housing allowance and other legal tax avoidance schemes in such a way that I often ended up showing no personal income on my tax return and paid zero taxes for the year. This went on for years. Not bad, right? My motivation was simple: as a die-hard right-wing Republican, I believed that the government didn’t deserve my money. In my mind, the less money local, state, and federal agencies had, the better. I thought, at the time, “Why should I pay real estate taxes? My children attend a private Christian school or are homeschooled. Why should I pay for the world’s children to be educated?”  When I bought automobiles, I purchased them through the church, thus avoiding paying sales tax. I expensed everything I could, with the goal in mind that I was economically starving the government.

In the late 1990s, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized, for the first time, that I was one day going to be where I am now, and that I would need some sort of retirement income. I also started having niggling health problems, and in 1997, after months and months of unexplained fatigue and pain, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. At that moment, Bruce-with-a-big-S-on-his-chest learned that he was not invincible; that life was a kryptonite of sorts that will, in the end, lead to my demise.

I opted back into Social Security and started paying taxes again, but this was too little too late. Fortunately, over the course of my work career — from age fourteen to today — I worked numerous “secular” jobs:

janitor, gas station attendant, short order cook, newspaper motor route, life insurance salesman, sweeper salesman, restaurant general manager, network manager, durable medical equipment supply office manager, dairy department manager, grocery stock clerk, workfare/court offender program manager, litter control manager/officer, building code enforcement officer, grant manager, real estate updater for an auditor’s office, farm worker, auto mechanic, cable box repairman, shipping and receiving, turret lathe operator, and numerous general laborer jobs in factories

These jobs provided enough work quarters for me to qualify for a nominal monthly social security payment of about $700. While this is not a large amount of money, retirement-wise, it will make a meaningful difference for us. Neither of my parents lived long enough to collect social security, so I have outlived them and will win the prize. Woo-hoo! However, I can’t help but think about how much better off I would be as a disabled, retired man had I paid social security/Medicare taxes on my ministerial income. The difference would be significant, but due to a singular decision made long before I ever had a thought about getting old, I am forced to live with the consequences of that decision.

I always made more money working secular jobs than I did working for God. The most I ever made income-wise as a pastor was $24,000. Most years, I made $8,000-$20,000 (including housing) pastoring churches. If it hadn’t been for secular work, government assistance, and Medicaid insurance, we would have been destitute. As it was, we were dirt poor for most of the years I spent in the ministry. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that things improved for us. Polly started working for Sauder Woodworking (she just celebrated her twentieth anniversary there) and our oldest sons started working jobs of their own.

It’s unfortunate, though, that I had decided as a young husband and young father to let “God” take care of our wants and needs. As anyone who has ever done this has learned, “God” loves keeping his followers in the poor house. Why, if “God” had backed up a Brink’s truck to our home and unloaded some of the “treasure” he supposedly has, we wouldn’t have “needed” him any longer. So, “God” kept us on our knees, ever begging for divine assistance. I sincerely believed that “God” would meet our needs and even throw in a few wants from time to time, so I accepted that our poverty was God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will for our lives (Romans 12:1,2). (Of course, I never asked Polly or our children what they thought of this arrangement I had with God. I was the family patriarch. End of discussion.) I wonder how different our lives might have been had I put the financial and material welfare of my wife and children first; had I built a career managing restaurants or working in government alongside my work as a pastor? Would we have been better off? Probably. But, who really knows for sure?

Have you ever thought about certain decisions you have made in your life and wondered how things might have turned out differently? I call this the what-if or would-of, could-of, should-of game. While we like to think that life would have been different if we had only made this or that decision, there are too many variables for us to know for sure how things might have turned out. For example, at age eighteen, I was madly in love with a twenty-year-old college girl named Anita Farr. For much of 1975, we had a torrid relationship — as no-sex-before-marriage Baptist relationships went, anyway. I was sure she was the one. However, our relationship didn’t last, and in late ’75, I packed up my meager belongings, hopped a Greyhound bus, and returned to Ohio. As I look back at this time in my life, I see two people who had similar personalities and dispositions. Both of us were quite outgoing, personable, and temperamental. I told Polly a while back, as we were talking about past choices, “If I had married Anita, one of us would have murdered the other and ended up in prison.” Our relationship was very much one of a lit match and gasoline. A year later, I enrolled in ministerial classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. My game plan, girl-wise, was to play the field. I thought at the time, “what a blessing from God, a dormitory filled with fine Baptist women!” Sure enough, I started dating a girl by the name of Peggie. After a few weeks, our casual relationship petered out and we moved on to other people. Next up for me was a seventeen-year-old dark-haired preacher’s daughter named Polly. She was (and is) a beauty, but I had no thoughts at the time that she was a woman I was ready to settle down with. It was not long, however, before Bruce, the player, was smitten and in love. On Valentine’s Day in 1976, I proposed and Polly said “yes.” So much for playing the field!

Choosing to marry Polly — a choice I would make again — certainly changed the course of my life. On a hot day in July in 1978 at the Newark Baptist Temple, we stood before our family and friends (and God, or so we thought at the time) and pledged our lives to one another. We were two mutually infatuated children, ill-prepared for the pressures and challenges of married life. Six weeks after we married, Polly informed me that she was pregnant. Six months after that I was laid off from my job. This forced us to leave school and move to the home of my birth, Bryan, Ohio. So much for our “plans,” or God’s, for that matter. From there, my ministerial career and our married life took a completely different path.

I have written this trip down memory lane — one that will receive the voluminous treatment it deserves in my book — to illustrate how the many choices we make, along with external influences, materially and permanently affect our lives. I don’t believe in soul-mates. I don’t think for a moment that Polly is the only suitable woman on planet earth for me. She is, however, the woman I chose to love and marry, and together we have made a good life for ourselves. We have made a hell of a lot of bad decisions and wish we could have a do-over on more than a few things. But, on balance we’ve had a good life. The sum of our choices has led to where we are today. Hopefully, we have learned a thing or two over the past forty years, but I am confident that we still have a few fuck-ups left in our lives. Live and learn, right? Or, well, live anyway . . .

Do you ponder the decisions you have made in your life and how things have turned out for you? Do you wonder about how different life might have been for you had you made different decisions? Do you have a simple philosophy by which you govern your life? Please share your erudite thoughts in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Barbara

barbara tieken 1940s

My Mom, Barbara Tieken, 1940s

Born in rural Missouri to parents who were drunks and constantly fought

Barbara suffered the indignity and shame of being molested by her father

A heinous act he never acknowledged or apologized for

When he became a Christian his past was under the blood

God may have forgiven him

But she never did

barbara and steve tieken 1940s

Barbara and Steve Tieken 1940s

She was a beautiful child who grew up to be an attractive woman

A woman who attracted the attention of men

At seventeen she found herself pregnant

At the age of eighteen she married

Did she marry the father of her baby?

There are doubts

barbara gerencser 1956

Barbara Gerencser, 1956

She found her husband to unreliable, never able to keep the bills paid

He moved her from house to house, town to town, and state to state

Along the way she birthed another boy and then a girl

She loved to read and was passionate about politics

She wrote letters to the newspaper, a staunch defender of right-wing Conservatism

She campaigned for Barry Goldwater and George Wallace

Like so many white, rural Americans of her time, she was a racist

She loved to cook

When her oldest son started playing baseball she came to his games

Her son’s father couldn’t be bothered

When she was thirty-one, her brother-in-law raped her

Her oldest son was home sick from school when it happened

So much trauma

Is it any wonder she had mental problems?

Psychiatrists

Pills

Mental hospitals

Attempted suicides

Rage

Depression

Slit wrists, the kitchen floor, a pool of blood, her oldest son found her

Yet, she lived

Over time, her body collapsed, rendering her an invalid

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Barbara Gerencser, 1957, Holding her newborn son Bruce (Butch)

By then, her oldest son was a preacher

She was proud of him

He was not proud of her

She was an embarrassment, a pill junkie, she just needed to get right with God

Four marriages

Numerous men in and out of her life

Yet, she never lost her mental acuity or thirst for knowledge

She watched the news day and night, ever ready to rage against those she disagreed with

She told her oldest son she wanted him to do her funeral and she wanted everyone to sing the Star Spangled Banner and say the Pledge of Allegiance

barbara tieken 1950s

Barbara Tieken, 1950s

Over time, her oldest son came to accept her as she was

He would come to Columbus and take her shopping or to the doctor

She didn’t like his driving

Her phone was often disconnected

Her latest husband, just like everyone before him, couldn’t keep the bills paid

The oldest son’s father died from surgery complications at age forty-nine

Her oldest son had to call the police to give her a message since her phone was disconnected

Awhile later, in a pouring rain, she called from a phone booth

They talked and wept together

And then she moved to Quincy, Michigan, six hours away

Her oldest son only saw her a few times after the move

They talked on the phone every month or so and wrote to one another

After church one Sunday, her oldest son answered the phone at his house

His aunt was on the other end of the phone

He heard what he never hoped he would hear

His mom was dead

She had turned a Ruger .357 on herself, pulled the trigger, and ripped a hole in her heart

In a moment, her heart stopped and the life drained from her body

Her oldest son wonders why, but at the same time he knows the answer

The graveside service was an exercise in profound, excruciating grief and denial

The preacher son could barely speak

There would be no singing of the Star Spangled Banner or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance

Even in death she was ignored and denied

Her father spoke of Jesus

Her son saw only a father who molested his daughter and scarred his mother

She was fifty-four when she died

Her son misses her

Oh how he wishes for a do-over

To tell her, I love you

To proudly show off his grandchildren

But all he is left with is emptiness, pain, and regret

And memories

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Mom and Bruce, Rochester, Indiana, 1978

1973-1976: Bruce, The Wandering Baptist

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Bruce Gerencser, 1976

In the spring of 1972, after fourteen years of marriage, my parents divorced. By then, my mother was generally considered a nut job. Her post-divorce actions: suing (and later winning) Winebrenner Nursing Home over wage discrimination, and marrying her recently-released-from-Texas-prison first cousin, only reinforced how she was negatively viewed by others. My adulterous father, on the other hand, was viewed as the aggrieved party. Several months after my parents’ divorce, my father married a nineteen-year-old local girl with a baby. Gene Millioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio — an IFB church — performed the ceremony.

I was angry. How could my parents divorce, adding yet more turmoil to our home? And how could my supposedly Bible-believing pastor marry my father and his new teenager girlfriend? And who was this woman who thought she was going to be my new “mom?” After several months of seething anger, I calmed down a bit, accepting my new reality. Shortly after my father remarried, he moved us from a rental home on Cherry Street to one on the south side of town. This was par for the course when it came to my father. Rent a house, live there awhile, get behind on the rent, run out of ways to manipulate the landlord, and then be forced to move. At least this move was in the same town, same school.

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Bruce Gerencser, Ninth Grade, 1972, wearing “welfare” glasses. I was so embarrassed that I quickly earned enough money to buy wire-rimmed glasses

After my parents’ divorce and my father’s remarriage, my parents and siblings stopped attending church. I, however, threw myself headlong into the church. That fall, I was saved and baptized, and a few weeks later I announced to the church that God was calling me to be a preacher. I was fifteen. The church became my surrogate family. My parents had stopped being responsible caretakers years before, so I was pretty much on my own. I spent very little time at home. School, playing sports, attending church, and hanging out with my friends consumed most of my time. I wanted nothing to do with my father’s new wife, a feeling that was returned in spades. Our relationship would later explode, with her hitting me in the face with a leather belt, and me picking her up and hurling her into a cement wall, fracturing a vertebrate in her back.

In early March 1973, my father gathered us together and let it be known that we were moving to Tucson, Arizona. Not when school was over, but soon, as in, right away. My father was trying to outrun his creditors. Two weeks later, our household goods were auctioned off, and what remained was packed into a U-Haul. Off we went, 1,900 miles to Tucson. I cried on and off during our trip. My father had moved us here and there repeatedly over the years. A great adventure, he called it, but I hated him for repeatedly uprooting my life. We had lived in Findlay almost three years; the longest we lived anywhere. I attended the same school system for eighth, ninth, and most of tenth grades. Finally, my father was getting his act together. I had made friends both at church and school. I played city league basketball and baseball, and was actively involved in youth group activities. I had even preached my first sermon. And now, with a snap of his fingers, my father was burning my life to the ground. I felt I had a number of reasons to be wrought with emotion.

As I had done numerous times before, I adapted to my new circumstances. I found a new church to attend, the Tucson Baptist Temple. I tried to involve myself in the church’s youth group, but I never felt like I belonged. Besides, I missed my friends in Ohio. After classes ended at Rincon High School, I packed my meager belongings, hopped a Greyhound Bus, and moved to my mother’s home in Bryan, Ohio. Bryan wasn’t Findlay, but I did have some friends there from my days attending First Baptist Church in the 1960s. Reacquainting myself with these friends provided a short respite for me, but as summer wore on, I found myself yearning for the seeming stability and normalcy of my past life in Findlay.

In August 1973, I moved to Findlay and enrolled in eleventh grade at Riverdale High School. A young family at Trinity Baptist had agreed to let me live with them. While I would have to attend yet another new school, I would still be going to Trinity and have my old friends back, so I thought I could live with attending Riverdale. Besides, Riverdale was a small country school. This would afford me the opportunity to play high school basketball. Unfortunately, after a month or so, the family I was living with had a falling out with the pastor of Trinity, and they decided to start attending a Bible church in nearby Arlington. Once again, I was forced to abandon my friends for people I did not know.

In early October, the family I was living with let Bruce Turner (Please see Dear Bruce Turner), the youth pastor at Trinity, know that I could no longer live with them. No reason was given as to why other than it was “not working out.”  As I ponder this point in my life, I can’t help but wonder if the real reason was that the husband thought I was getting a bit too friendly with his wife. Regardless, I had to move. Bruce found me a new home, this time with Gladys Canterbury. Gladys, in her sixties, was a devout Fundamentalist Baptist. While I wondered how it would work out living with a senior citizen, doing so allowed me to regain much of the life I left behind when my father moved us to Arizona, so I agreed to move in with her.

Gladys went to court and had me made a ward of the court. This action gave me access to medical insurance and provided Gladys with a monthly check for caring for me. To provide for my own personal needs, I started working at Bill Knapp’s Restaurant as a busboy. I arranged my class schedule in such a way that I would be finished with my classes around noon. I would then walk or ride my bike to Bill Knapp’s, arriving in time to work the lunch schedule. Afterward, I would take an extended break and work the dinner schedule. Once again, I adapted to my new reality.

By May of 1974, I was tired of living with Gladys. She was a taskmaster, and often refused to let me hang out with my friends. I was used to going and doing whatever I wanted, so I found Gladys’ approach to caring for me to be quite oppressive. Certainly, she meant well, but I didn’t want to hang out with a senior citizen.  I suspect my feelings weren’t much different from those of my friends. Teenagers, right? I had also learned that Bruce Turner was leaving Trinity. He was my surrogate father, and his departure left a huge hole in me emotionally.

The second week of May, I called my mother and asked if I could move back in with her. She said yes, and a week later she drove to Findlay and picked me up. My secretive move caused quite a bit of turmoil. Gladys threatened to have the police return me to her home, but nothing came of her threats. I started attending First Baptist Church of Bryan, quickly reconnecting with old friends. I found employment at several places: Bob’s Dairy Freeze, Everhart’s Restaurant, and Myer’s Marathon.

I turned seventeen in June of 1974. I took driver’s training at Bryan High School, and prepared to enroll in my senior year. However, Bryan High told me that I would have to repeat eleventh grade; not because of failing grades, but because I left Findlay before school ended. Findlay High denied me credit for my entire junior year because I missed the last ten days of school. I was so angry over this decision that I decided, “fine, I’ll drop out of school!” And so I did.

By October of 1974, my mother was, once again, a patient at Toledo State Mental Hospital. For the next six weeks, I was the head of the home. Both of my younger siblings were still in school. I made sure they went to school, and then I went to work. Outside of that, life at my mother’s house was pretty much one long party. Somehow, my father got wind that we were living without parental supervision, and in November he came to Ohio, picked us up, and moved us back to Arizona. By then, he had moved to Sierra Vista and opened a gun store with a settlement check he received from Ohio Workmen’s Compensation for his back.

After settling into my new reality, I found a stocking job at Food Giant. I learned that I was quite good at grocery work, skills I would later ply into several good jobs. After visiting several churches, I decided to join Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist Association congregation. I quickly became involved with the church’s bus route and helped teach Sunday School. It was not long afterward that I started dating a girl named Anita Farr. Anita was, I believe, two years older than I. Anita would become my first real love. I was smitten, and it was not long before we talked of getting married. Anita was in college, so marriage would have to wait, but I had no doubt that she was the one for me.

I turned eighteen in June of 1975. Two months later, Anita returned to college. We planned to see each other as often as we could on weekends. I drove to Phoenix several times that fall. I would stay in the dorm and then we would spend the weekend running around and attending church. Everything seemed headed in the right direction, until it wasn’t. You see, I was immature and prone to jealousy. Anita was a free spirit who loved flirting with men. It was not long before our relationship crashed and burned.

polly bruce gerencser cranbrook gardens bloomfield hills michigan 1978

Polly and Bruce Gerencser, Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Spring 1978, two months before our wedding.

Two weeks later, I packed up a couple of suitcases and caught a Greyhound Bus to Bryan, Ohio. I moved back in with my mom and took a job at Foodland as their dairy manager. I spent the next ten months having one of the most thrilling times of my life. I was an adult, had a good job, rented an apartment, owned my own car, and spent every waking hour either at work, church, or running around with my friends. I had no interest in serious relationships with the opposite sex. Anita cured me of that. I dated a good bit, but the moment things started turning serious I was off and running away. I was what you might call a serial dater.

In the spring of 1976, I decided it was time to act upon my call to the ministry. One friend of mine, Randy Rupp, laughed at me when I told him I was going to Bible college. He said, “you’ll never go!” But go I did, packing up my earthly belongings once again, and moving to Pontiac, Michigan to enroll for classes at Midwestern Baptist College — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution. And with this move, my wanderings came to an end. Well, kind of . . . well, not really . . . but for twenty-nine months Midwestern was my home.

It was there I met the love of my life and got married. I thought, “everything is moving in the right direction!” Get married, graduate, start a new church, that was the plan. However, God/Bruce had other plans. Seven months after Polly and I said “I do” we . . . you guessed it . . . moved. And over the past forty years we have moved numerous times. New houses, new communities, new churches. The reasons and circumstances for these moves are many, but the driving motivation was, I believed at the time, God. After years of counseling, I now know that wanderlust drives my desire and need to move. Even today, wanderlust whispers in my ear and says, “hey wouldn’t you like to live in ____________?”  Always restless, I am — a restlessness birthed a lifetime ago as my father moved me from town to town, state to state, and house to house. While my reasons for moving  — mostly religious in nature — are different from my father’s, I still followed in his footsteps. We try so hard to break free from our parents, yet when it comes time for me to give an account of my life, it seems that the proverbial apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Like it or not, I am the son of Robert and Barbara Gerencser. Well, not really. Have I told you the story about my father not being my “real” father? I’ll save that for another day.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

“Normal” is a Just a Setting on a Washing Machine

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I have always had a contentious relationship with my wife’s mother. She never wanted me to marry her daughter, and she went to great lengths to frustrate our dating relationship. It was not until Polly told her mother we were getting married with or without her blessing that she grudgingly gave in and helped Polly plan our wedding. We’ve been married for forty years. Polly’s mom was certain that marrying someone from a divorced family led to divorce. I assume, by now, we have put that bit of nonsense to rest. Over the years, Polly and I butted heads with her mom over how many children we planned to have, how we raised our children, ministerial moves, choices of secular employment, how we celebrated Christmas, and a host of other things.

Polly’s mom is now on the last leg of life. She’s has congestive heart failure and has been give six or so months to live. In 2005, Polly’s younger sister was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (If One Soul Gets Saved It’s Worth It All) leaving Polly alone responsible for her aged parents. In 2004-2005, we lived in Newark, Ohio, not far from Polly’s parents. Our plan was to live there and care for Polly’s parents as they got older. Unfortunately, they made it clear that our help wasn’t needed. Message received. We returned to northwest Ohio so we could be close to our children and grandchildren. Two years ago, Polly’s dad had botched hip replacement surgery that left him crippled. We offered to move them up here so we could help care for them. Our offer was rebuffed. Polly’s mom told her that they couldn’t move because their church — the Newark Baptist Temple — was very important to them. This sentiment is strange considering that their church has pretty much ignored them since Dad’s hip surgery. Out of sight, out of mind.

It will be left to Polly to take care of everything after her mom dies. Common sense says that Polly’s parents should have a will, but, unfortunately, common sense seems hard to find these days. Polly’s mom refuses to have a will drawn up, leaving Polly a colossal mess to deal with after her mom dies. Polly calls her mom every Sunday at 10:00 PM. They talk for one hour. In recent weeks, I have listened to Polly gently try to explain to her mom why having a will is important. Finally, I had enough and asked to Polly to put the phone on speaker. Bruce, the son-in-law she wishes she never had, is more blunt and direct than his wife. I let my mother-in-law know exactly what she was leaving behind for her daughter if she died intestate. In no uncertain terms I let her know that her view of the family was naïve. (She believes everyone will just get along after her death and there will be no problems settling the estate without a will.) She said nothing, thinking, I’m sure, “here’s another one of Bruce’s lectures.” Polly told me later that her mom let her know that she was putting her dad in a nursing home in Newark BEFORE she dies! I suspect she heard from one of her local grandsons that Polly and I had been talking about what to do with/for her dad after Mom died. One idea was to put him in a nursing home near us so we and children could provide for his needs. It seems that, even to the end, Mom intends to maintain the wall between us and her church and “godly” grandchildren in central Ohio. Her behavior has broken Polly’s heart, but there’s nothing she can do about it. Polly has always been the dutiful daughter, yet it seems her mom has chosen the rebellious daughter’s family over hers — much like in the Bible story about the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). In the end, it’s Mom’s loss. She has an awesome daughter, and we have wonderful children and grandchildren; people with great empathy and compassion; people who value family. She doesn’t know this, of course, because she has chosen her dead daughter’s family over Polly’s. Such is life . . .

I realize that if Polly had married a “normal” Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher boy things might be different. Instead, Polly married a “bad boy,” a man who has always marched to the beat of his own drum, a man who has rarely been afraid to make hard, controversial decisions. In Mom’s eyes, I am an “odd duck”; I’m “different.” Why couldn’t I have been like other IFB preachers? Why couldn’t I have kept the faith? You see, the underlying issue is my unwillingness to hew to IFB belief. We left the IFB church movement years before we deconverted. Polly’s mom was upset with me numerous times during my years in the ministry; upset over decisions such as: me not wearing the IFB preacher uniform (white shirt, tie and suit), letting Polly wear pants, allowing my children to listen to Christian rock, not preaching from behind a pulpit, not sending my children to a Christian college, removing the name “Baptist” from our church name, using praise and worship music during church services, and not using the KJV when I preached, to name a few. Nothing was as bad, though, as me leaving the ministry and the two of us walking away from Christianity. I suspect that Mom believes that if I were out of the picture, Polly would come running back to Jesus and the family faith. Little does she know how independent her daughter really is and how anti-religion she has become. She may not be as vocal as her husband, but Polly has no use for anything associated with organized religion. She is, in every way, her own woman. The days when Bruce, the IFB Patriarch, ruled the home are long gone. Most of all, Mom blames me for what our children have become. According to her, I have RUINED them! Actually, what I really did was set them free. Each of them is free to be whoever and whatever he or she wants to be. Yes, to a person each has abandoned IFB/Evangelical Christianity, and some don’t believe in gods at all. Yes, they have abandoned the social strictures of their Fundamentalist youth. OMG! They drink beer and cuss. They are so “worldly,” and it is all MY fault. I am, after all, in her IFB worldview, the head of the home, even though all my children are out on their own with families, well-paying jobs, and own their homes. Mom might lament their worldliness, but I am quite proud of who and what ALL my children have become.

It’s Thanksgiving 2005. We are living in Bryan, Ohio, five miles from where we now live. Polly’s parents came to our home to join us for the day. Mom, as she often did, blew into our home like a tornado, moving furniture and changing meal preparations. It was noticeable to me that Polly was quit stressed by her mom’s behavior. She, however, said nothing. As the day wore on, I became increasingly agitated by Mom’s behavior, so much so that I reminded her that she was a guest in our home and asked her to please STOP micromanaging everything. Well, that went over well. Mom and Dad didn’t stay long that day. A day or so later, Mom called to apologize. During our conversation she said, “Bruce, we have always accepted you. We knew you were ‘different.'”

Different? Sure, but does that make a bad husband, father, grandfather, or person? Since when is being different a bad thing? My mother had many faults, but she taught me to think for myself and be my own person. I carried her teachings into my life and they continue with me to this day. I refuse to follow the well-trodden path. I refuse to do something just because everyone is doing it. I choose, instead, to walk my own path, even if that means I am walking alone. I realize that Mom will go to the grave saddened by what has become of her daughter and her son-in-law. Instead of seeing that we are happy and blessed, all she can see is our ungodly disobedience and lack of faith. Instead of seeing what awesome children and grandchildren we have, all she can see is their faithlessness and worldliness. Her religion keeps her from truly embracing and enjoying our family. In mom’s world, the wash can only be cleaned if the washing machine is set to “normal” and Tide is used for detergent.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

The Suddenness of Death

steve gupton

Steve Gupton

Eight years ago, I came in contact with a man by the name of Steve Gupton. Steve had been raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement and attended Bob Gray’s IFB college in the 1980s. Steve and I spent countless hours talking about shared past experiences and our attempt to forge a new path in life sans God. Several years ago, Steve went through a divorce and suffered through long periods of depression. I talked him off of the ledge on more than one occasion. Steve deeply loved his children, and had plans to get married this year. Polly and I planned to travel to North Carolina for the wedding, hoping to meet Steve face-to-face for the first time. Sadly, I will never get to meet my friend in the flesh. On Saturday, Steve, a physically fit martial arts instructor, suddenly died from a heart attack. He was fifty-one.

Steve commented hundreds of times on this blog. We traded messages on Facebook hours before he died. We chatted about IFB pastor Donnie Romero being forced to resign over cavorting with prostitutes, smoking weed, and gambling. And now, just like that, the voice of my friend is forever silenced.

Earlier this week, another internet friend of mine, Justin Vollmar, woke up to discover that his three-year old daughter Clarisa had died suddenly in her sleep. Clarisa was deaf and blind, and was loved dearly by her parents. Justin rarely commented on this blog, but he did credit me with helping him on his journey out of Evangelical Christianity. Justin was a pastor of an Evangelical deaf church before he deconverted.

Both of these deaths are a reminder to me of the brevity of life and how suddenly it can end. The Bible is right when it says: Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth. (Proverbs 27:1)

My friend Steve will face one final indignity as he is laid to rest: an Evangelical pastor has been asked to hold the funeral service. Steve and I often talked about what we wanted when we died. Having a Bible thumper preside over our funerals was definitely not something either one of us wanted. I suspect Steve’s IFB family is getting the last say on his funeral. Let this serve as reminder of the importance of putting into writing your last wishes.

Christianity offers the delusional hope that if people will just “believe” that they will be reunited someday in Heaven with their saved loved ones. As a Christian, I would have comforted myself with the promise of seeing Steve again. I would have comforted Justin with the promise that one day he would see Clarisa again and she would have a perfect body, one that could see and hear. Such promises are essential to Christian belief. Without the promise of a blessed afterlife, Christianity loses its power. People want to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; they want to believe that death is not the end; they want to believe that the family circle won’t be broken in the sweet by and by.  But life tells us a far different story — that death is certain and often comes when we expect it least; that death rips from us those we love, leaving only our memories. I wish it were different, but alas I must embrace reality, a reality that tells me I shall never see my friend Steve again; that Justin will never hold in his arms again his precious daughter. All we have are the memories of time spent with those we love. These untimely deaths are reminders, at least to me, that I should live life to its fullest and that I shouldn’t put off to another day experiencing life with those I love. Most of all, I am reminded of my own mortality. Steve was physically fit and in good health, yet he’s dead. Here am I with a broken-down, failing body. Dare I think for one moment that long life awaits me? As I helplessly watch, for the first time, my wife of forty years struggle with serious health problems, dare I think that we have forever in our future? No! We have today. We have now.

Let me conclude this post with the advice I give on my ABOUT page:

You have one life. There is no heaven or hell. There is no afterlife. You have one life, it’s yours, and what you do with it is what matters most. Love and forgive those who matter to you and ignore those who add nothing to your life. Life is too short to spend time trying to make nice with those who will never make nice with you. Determine who are the people in your life that matter and give your time and devotion to them. Live each and every day to its fullest. You never know when death might come calling. Don’t waste time trying to be a jack of all trades, master of none. Find one or two things you like to do and do them well. Too many people spend way too much time doing things they will never be good at.

Here’s the conclusion of the matter. It’s your life and you best get to living it. Someday, sooner than you think, it will be over. Don’t let your dying days be ones of regret over what might have been.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

MERRY CHRISTMAS From the Atheist Santa

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I love Christmas. I even say “Merry Christmas.” I thoroughly enjoy the holiday season, and I might even listen to a few religious Christmas songs. At the Gerencser home, Christmas is all about family, good food, booze, gift-giving, lights, and a Lionel train circling our fresh-cut Fraser fir-tree. Tomorrow is our family Christmas. Our children, their spouses/girlfriends, and our twelve grandchildren will all be here if the fates allow.

Surprisingly, Christmas means more to me now and is more enjoyable than it ever was as a Christian. No dutiful sermonette before gifts are open; no boring reading from the Gospel of Luke; no verbose prayers reminding everyone that Jesus is the real reason for the Season.  While some in attendance still believe in Jesus, others do not. What we all agree on, however, is the importance of family and of love. Oh, we don’t always like each other, and we can fuss with the best of them, but we never forget how blessed we are to have each other.

I plan to take a break from writing until January 2. Polly and I continue to battle health problems, so we hope over the next two weeks unwind a bit, visit Polly’s parents (her mom has been given six months to live and her dad is slowly fading into the background of life), and maybe take a couple of day trips IF the damn Sun ever deigns to shine again in rural northwest Ohio. It’s winter in Ohio, and one thing seems constant: cold, dreary, gray days.

I hope you and yours have a blessed holiday season.

Bruce

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