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

normal

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.

Short Stories: 1983: Drafty Windows, Bubbly Water, Dead Kittens, and the Christmas from Hell

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Storefront meeting place for Somerset Baptist Church, 1983

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in the southeast Ohio community of Somerset. I rented a storefront, spent a couple weeks cleaning up and remodeling the space, and then on the second Sunday in July, Somerset Baptist Church held its first service. There were sixteen people in attendance, including Polly and our two youngest children. At the time, we lived half an hour north of Somerset in the lakeside community of Buckeye Lake. I worked for the village as a grant writer, litter control program manager, workfare program manager, and property code enforcement officer. In September of 1983, we moved from Buckeye Lake to New Lexington, ten miles south of Somerset. We didn’t live but a few months in New Lexington, thanks to our rented home having a horrible odor from the previous renter’s animals peeing all through the house. Our landlord replaced the carpet and shellacked the underlying wood floors, but the awful smell remained. In early December, we packed up our meager belongings and moved to a ramshackled farmhouse near Glenford.

Our new home had been moved from Glenford proper to the top of a hill just outside of town. It was an uninsulated, drafty house that had free natural gas for heating. Perry County had a lot of oil/gas wells, including the one that sat behind our house. It was good that the gas was free. Ohio winters can be cold, and the winter of 1983-84 was one such winter. We set the furnace at eighty degrees, running it constantly, just to keep the house warm enough to live in. One of the side effects of having a natural gas well nearby was that our water well was infiltrated by the gas. Drinking water had to sit before use so the gas could dissipate. The gas levels were such that we could light the gas straight out of the kitchen faucet. Fun times. Worse yet, the gas made the water quite hard, so we had to use water softening agents when we took baths.

The one nice thing about this house was that it had a fairly new basement. It became the inside playground for our two young children and our foster child. Of course, there were things our boys could get into. One day I went to the basement only to find our son Nathan and our foster son JR rolling up papers and sticking them in the standing pilot on the hot water tank so they could set them on fire! (The boys had seen me do the very same thing when lighting the pilot.) One spring day, the boys were playing in the basement when Polly called them up for lunch and a nap. At the time, we had two kittens. The boys had been playing with the kittens and left them in the basement when they came up to eat. Unbeknownst to us, they left them in cooler and shut the lid. This of course, killed the kittens.

Christmas 1983 was one we would never forget. My grandparents, John and Ann Tieken, along with my mother, her new husband Michael Monshine, and my sister and her family joined us for Christmas. Polly and I were excited about having my family over for Christmas — our first and only such event. The Tiekens joined us for church that morning, and everyone else arrived early afternoon. It was bitterly cold and snowy, and while driving the five miles to our home from church, the radiator on our car froze up, leaving me stranded. I walked to a nearby house, used their phone, and had someone come and get me. Little did I know that my car radiator freezing was the best thing that would happen to me on that day.

The radiator freezing, of course, elicited a lecture from my grandfather about making sure I had enough antifreeze in the radiator. Grandpa’s lectures, warranted or not, were a gift he gave me every time he saw me. Having my mom and the Tiekens in the same room was risky, thanks to past violence, sexual abuse, and Jesus-loves-you judgmental behavior. Grandpa was a mean, judgmental son-of-a-bitch who loved Jesus. Ann was more of a passive-aggressive type of person, but she too could cut you to the quick with her self-righteous judgments. Needless to say, the entire afternoon was filled with tension; so much so that Polly and I were relieved when it was over. I made matters worse by not letting mom or her husband smoke inside our home. I told them they would have to stand outside on our front porch to smoke. The temperature that day? Nine degrees below zero. This “order,” of course, infuriated my mother. She let it be known that she would NOT come to my house again if she couldn’t smoke inside. She kept her word, killing herself a decade later without ever darkening the door of my home again.

1983 was quite the year for the Gerencser family. We would have many more eventful days in the years ahead. In fact, I suspect if I gave a full and honest reckoning of my life, I would find that EVERY year had life-altering moments. Sure, life is filled with the mundane, but there are those days and moments when the circumstances of life alter our present and transform our future. The eleven years Polly and I and our growing family spent in Somerset fundamentally changed us, and laid the groundwork for what one day would result  in us leaving the ministry and walking away from Christianity.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Thanksgiving: Thank Those Who Deserve the Praise

without god I am nothingAs an Evangelical Christian, I was taught that I should thank God for everything in my life. It was God, after all, who gives people the ability and strength to do things, and without him doing so, mere mortals would be powerless and helpless. The Apostle Paul said, in ALL things give thanks, and he reminded readers that their ability to breathe and walk comes from God. Simply put, nothing in life happens without God.

I was also taught that I should always be humble and deflect any praise thrown my way. To fail to do so was a sign of pride — a human expression Evangelicals consider sinful. I am an avid sports fan. I have watched countless Christian athletes over the years give interviews in which they give God all the credit for their athletic prowess and success. To do otherwise is to say that their success came from, you know, things like diligence, hard work, and passion. These things must be deflected or diminished lest God be made to look bad. God is the ultimate narcissist — think Donald Trump. He not only deserves all praise and glory, he demands it, threatening judgment for anyone who dares to suggest otherwise.

As a pastor, I worked my ass off to become a good public speaker. I spent countless hours crafting my sermons, making sure that when I delivered them, I was giving congregants the best possible sermon. I knew far too many lazy pastors who, Sunday after Sunday, preached dreadful, forgettable sermons — and they didn’t care. Doing my best mattered to me, and my “idols” were men who were great pulpiteers, men to whom congregants loved to listen. Yet, no matter how good I became at preaching, my Evangelical theology demanded that I give God/Jesus/Holy Spirit total credit for all my hard work.

I am a photographer. While I have been taking pictures for over twenty years, it wasn’t until 2005 that I decided to work hard at becoming a better photographer. Since then, I have spent countless hours perfecting my craft, and the harder I work the more I realize how much I still have to learn. Today, my daughter and several of my granddaughters were talking about photography. I corrected their errant belief that it is equipment that makes for good photographs. It’s not. It is the photographer who makes the picture, not the equipment.  Buying the most expensive iPhone will not magically turn someone into a good photographer. Last year, I met a sincere person at a high school basketball game who wanted to know how to take pictures that turned out like mine did. Here was a person who owned $5,000 worth of Canon camera bodies, yet she hadn’t even learned the basics about how to operate her equipment. I encouraged her to learn how to use her equipment and to learn the basics of photography. The most expensive camera and lens won’t make for good photographs if the user hasn’t educated himself/herself on, at the very least, the fundamentals of photography.

As a photographer, I know that praising my equipment for a good photo is akin to thanking God. My cameras are inanimate objects that have no power to do anything unless I pick them up, turn them on, adjust the settings, and apply my expertise to the scene in front of me. Years ago, I saw an interview of Dave Matthews wherein he talked about picking up cheap guitars to use in his concerts. He talked about playing gigs with $50 acoustic guitars. Matthews was able to take yard sale castaways and make magnificent music. How is that possible? Because making music is all about the artist, not the instrument. And that’s the point I am making here. Want to be good at something? Work at it, I mean really work at it. Mastering any craft requires diligent, never-ending work and a willingness to never accept “good enough.”

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Today, Polly, my youngest daughter, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughters spent the day baking a dozen pies, peeling 15 pounds of potatoes, peeling sweet potatoes, preparing bread for stuffing, and any other day-before preparations they could do. Polly still has to make cranberry relish, brine the turkey, prepare the ham, and make sure everything is ready for Thanksgiving Day. She will arise early in the morning and begin cooking everything to perfection. She will spend long hours in the kitchen preparing a wonderful meal for the 21 people who will gathering around our table on Thursday. She will do these things because she loves her family and she absolutely loves to cook.  She has spent decades perfecting her cooking skills, and it shows. Forty years ago, Polly knew how to “cook” — as in opening a can or a box. Today? She is an accomplished cook. Does every scratch meal turn out to her exacting standard? No. And when one doesn’t, she finds out why so she doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Her goal is to be a better cook today than she was yesterday. When her two favorite magazines, Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated, show up, she scours them for new recipes and tricks of the trade. I read these magazines too, but alas, all I am looking for are things that look scrumptious. I often say, hey Polly, how about this one? And this one? And this one? Well, you get the point. I applaud her willingness to push her skills and try new things.

Come tomorrow, I will not thank God for anything. As I eat way too many calories, I will not praise Jesus for turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. My thanks will go to the woman and her helpers who made the meal possible. The God at the Gerencser table will be Polly. I plan on giving credit to whom credit is due.

Let me leave you with my all-time favorite meal prayer. Take it away Jimmy Stewart.

Video Link

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.

Out On the Town With the Polly Celebrating Her Sixtieth Birthday

gerencser family 2018
Bruce and Polly Gerencser and Family 2018

Polly celebrated her sixtieth birthday on Saturday. Our children, their spouses, and Polly’s parents joined her at Mancy’s Steakhouse in Findlay, Ohio to celebrate. Awesome food, generous libations, and great company made for a wonderful evening.

Here are several photographs I thought readers might enjoy.

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Polly Gerencser, with her parents Lee and Bonnie Shope 2018

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Bruce and Polly Gerencser 2018

I got four “you look like” comments:

  • Santa Claus
  • Italian mob boss
  • Jewish rabbi
  • Amish man

So, I can bring you gifts, put out a hit on you, bless you, or build you a barn.

 

 

John

blood of jesus

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-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Reliving the “Good Old Days”: Do You Have Any Change?

somerset baptist church 1983-1994 2
Our hillbilly mansion. We lived in this 720 square foot mobile home for five years, all eight of us.

Several weeks ago, Polly and I were reliving what we call the “good old days.” The “good old days” span the first seventeen years of our marriage, including the eleven years I spent pastoring Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. Somerset Baptist, for a few years, was a fast-growing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist congregation, developing from a handful of attendees to over two hundred in attendance. Located in rural Southeast Ohio, in the northernmost county of the Appalachian region, Somerset Baptist was made up primarily of poor blue-collar workers or people who were on public assistance (it was not uncommon to find food stamp coupons in the offering plate). The highest total annual offering was $40,000. Most years, the offerings were in the $25,000 range. I pastored Somerset Baptist full-time, receiving what meager salary the church could provide, supplementing my income with jobs pumping gas, delivering newspapers, selling insurance, and taking in foster children. We literally lived from hand to mouth, rarely having two nickels to rub together.

We mostly drove cheap cars. I did all my own repair work, so I would buy junk cars, repair them, and keep them running until they were worn out. During the “good” years, we bought a new car — a 1984 Plymouth Horizon ($6,000) This car has a story unto itself, which I will tell at a later date. I drove the car for two years, putting 102,000 miles on the car. That’s right at 50,000 miles a year. By the end of second year of the loan, the car was worn out.

Thanks to us having a large family, we were eligible for food stamps and energy assistance. This fact thoroughly embarrassed us. We would drive to Columbus, where no one knew us, to do our grocery shopping. When the government offered free cheese or peanut butter to welfare recipients, I couldn’t bear to stand in line to get it (the “why” is yet another story for another day). Polly was embarrassed too, but she really loved what she called “welfare cheese,” so she would swallow her pride and stand in line with the other poor people.

somerset baptist church 1983-1994
Our son Jaime, and our two girls, Bethany and Laura.

I had grown up poor so I knew a good bit about poverty. Polly, on the other hand, was raised in a middle-class home where new cars, home ownership, money in the bank, and annual vacations were common. Polly’s dad worked for the railroad, and when he got the itch to go to college to study for the ministry at age thirty-five, he found a well- paying job at General Motors’ Pontiac Truck and Coach plant which enabled him to study without depriving his family. Neither of us knew the first thing about handling money responsibly. Both of us thought a life of poverty was God’s will for us, so we hunkered down and endured. Boy, did we endure!

Polly and I had six children during our years in Southeast Ohio. The first child’s birth was covered in full by insurance. The next five children were covered by state medical insurance. All told, we had private health insurance three of the first seventeen years of our marriage. The rest of the time, we either did without — thank you, oh Great Physician — or were covered by state medical insurance.

In 1989, we purchased an old, beat up 12×60-foot trailer and parked it fifty feet from the church building on the far end of the church parking lot. By then, the church had stopped running its four bus routes and attendance was less than one hundred. There were eight Gerencsers by then, so try to imagine us all living in 720 square feet. Try to picture the amount of laundry and pails of soiled cloth diapers Polly washed. Polly and I had one bedroom, the three oldest boys had another bedroom, and our daughters and youngest son had a bedroom the size of a large closet. Playing, for the children, meant going outside. Our children were four-season players, complete with bread bags on their feet in the winter so their feet didn’t get wet. Somehow we survived. That’s what Polly and Bruce Gerencser and munchkins did — we survived.

Our youngest children have very few, if any, memories of our “Somerset days.” Our oldest sons, however, have lots of memories. They, themselves, could write a book about their experiences as the pastor’s children living in the poverty-sicken hills of Perry County. To this day, my oldest sons remind me that Christmas comes in March. As children, they got very few gifts for Christmas, and most of the gifts they received were courtesy of their grandparents — my father excepted, who never sent one card or gift, ever. Christmas, then, was when we received our federal income tax return. Thanks to the earned income credit, we yearly received a large tax refund. We used this money to pay bills and buy our children clothing, shoes, underwear, and a few non-essential gifts. This was the one time of the year we had a large sum of cash. The rest of the year was spent raiding change jars and searching cars for spare coins. Ah, the good old years.

Several weeks ago, we had one of those oh-so-rare occasions where we were very low on money. Polly often laughs and tells me that I have a knack for pulling money out of my ass! On this particular day, my ass was broke. We needed bread and I had a hankering for a grilled steak. The checkbook was empty and I had $6.00 to my name. Off to Bryan we drove, stopping at Chief — a local grocery company — to see what we could get for $6.00. Polly dug through her cavernous purse and checked places were change collects in the car. She scraped up $1.48, giving us a grand total of $7.48. This gave us just enough money to buy one loaf of cheap bread and a one-pound sirloin steak (split three ways). Woo Hoo!

somerset baptist church 1985
Somerset Baptist Church, Mt Perry, Ohio, Bruce and Polly Gerencser and kids, 1985

As we got back in the car, both of us laughed about our change-fueled forage, reminding us of our days in Southeast Ohio. The good old days, we both said. I added, yeah except for the fact we are driving home in a $30,000 automobile, a car that cost more than most of our other cars combined.

The “good old days” certainly helped to make us into the people we are today, but neither of us has any desire to relive them. We are grateful for Polly’s job and its benefits. Above all, we are thankful that our children escaped the poverty of their youth and have solid, well-paying middle-class jobs. Some of them are in management positions, and all of them, save one, own homes without wheels. They, too, have fond memories of their days living as sardines in a 12×60-foot trailer, but they have no hankering to relive those days. Instead, they regale their children with stories that almost sound unbelievable — that is, except to we who lived them.

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.

We’re Not Huggers

no hugsI grew up in a home where my parents rarely, if ever, showed affection to each other or their children. The Gerencsers weren’t huggers or kissers, and I can’t remember a time where my mom or dad said to me, I love you. I can’t remember a time when I was praised for doing well in school or in sports, nor can I remember being challenged to do better. The reasons for this are many. My mother was mentally ill my entire life. Mom spent two extended periods of time in the Toledo State Mental Hospital. She was prone to manic fits, and tried to kill herself more times than I can count. One time, I came home from elementary school to find Mom lying on the floor in a pool of blood. She had slit her wrists. She survived, but two decades later she pointed a Ruger .357 at her heart and pulled the trigger. She did not survive her last attempt, dying at the age of fifty-four. My dad was involved in all sorts of less-than-legal behavior, including fraud and illegally selling firearms. Fortunately, he avoided prison. He died at the age of forty-nine.

My parent’s fifteen-year marriage dissolved during the spring of my ninth-grade year. The only conversation my parents had with me about their impending divorce was Dad telling me that he and Mom no longer loved each other. Mom? All she said on the matter was to tell me that she would never speak poorly about my father. Life moved on without either of them ever giving an honest accounting to their children about why they divorced, leaving us to come to our own conclusions about why they were no longer married. It was Mom who filed for divorce, yet I don’t know why. I suppose Mom’s mental-health issues, Dad’s nefarious financial dealings, and our Gypsy-like moving from town to town to town led to their divorce. That, and whispered allegations of Dad’s affairs with other women.

I can look at my past and understand why I am not outwardly emotional. For good or ill, I passed this on to my children. Does this mean that I am, in some way, broken or defective? I don’t know. All I know is that I try to be more emotionally engaged with my wife and children. I’m not afraid to express my love for them, but I’m never going to be the person that hugs everyone or wears my emotions on my sleeve. That’s just not who I am. For the longest time, I let happy-as-a-seal-with-a-ball emotional speed freaks badger me into being more emotional. For such clap-happy people, being emotional over everything from regular bowel movements to your daughter getting married is the standard by which everyone should live. Thus, when someone like myself doesn’t show the proper level of emotion for a given circumstance, I am viewed as being indifferent or not caring. This, of course, is patently untrue. I do care, about things that matter anyway. However, I’m never going to be the type of person who jumps up and down praising people for every life moment. I currently have five grandchildren who play public school sports, including a seventeen-year-old granddaughter who plays high school basketball. I attend ninety-nine percent of their games. Win or lose, play a lot or ride the bench, I am there. By attending their games, I am lending my support in ways my parents never did when I played baseball and basketball. From my perspective, presence is more important than superfluous words of praise. I try to encourage them, especially when they spend most of the game sitting on the far end of the bench. I’ve been there, so I understand how they feel about not playing. I remind them that there are two ways of looking at not getting much playing time. First, you can gripe and complain about it, or you can work harder at practice, and through your efforts force your coach to play you. Second, you can remind yourself you are actually on the team. You made it, and not everyone can say that. I might tell them things I noticed during the game and how they might improve their skills. But what I’ll never do is slobber all over them in praise. That’s just not the kind of guy I am. If they have a good game, they can expect to hear me say, good game. When they lose or strike out four times, they can expect to hear me say, tough game, you’ll get them next time.

i need a hugOne former member of our family is quite excitable, much like our cocker spaniel (who circles our dining room table half a dozen times every time we come home after being away for the day). She has what I call a woo-hoo! personality. She has many commendable qualities, but she and I have clashed over the years because of my refusal or inability to be as emotionally effervescent as she. When Polly asks about the meal she just cooked, I will often say fine or it was good. Polly knows that these words are the highest form of praise from me. They mean that she can put the meal recipe in the yes, make this again folder. Polly also knows that if I don’t like something I will tell her; not in a critical manner as much as saying, I‘m okay with you never making that again. This behavior of mine drove the ex-family member nuts. Why, if the meal was good, according to her, I should heap mountains of praise on the cook. No matter how many times I explained to her that that’s just not the type of person I am, she still expected me to all jacked up on Jesus and Mountain Dew (her Evangelical church has emotion-infused services that fuel her addiction to praise). When I take family photographs, repair computers for people, or fix this or that in our house, I don’t expect to be effusively praised for my efforts. A simple thanks is good enough for me.

We Gerencsers don’t hug, and that’s okay. We don’t need public displays of affection to know that we are loved by our spouses, parents, children, and grandchildren. The most hugs I’ve ever received from my children came when I was going in for testing for a lesion on my pancreas; a lesion, by the way, that is still there. I feared that I might have pancreatic cancer, and I expressed that fear to Polly and the children. Prior to the day of my testing, I received lots of hugs and expressions of love. In the minds of my children, perhaps for the first time, they saw their father as mortal and frail. Their hugs were greatly appreciated, but going through that every ten years or so is enough for me. I know my children love me, not by their words, but by their actions. And that’s all that matters to me. My wife and I’ve been married for forty years. We are not given to outward displays of affection. No one’s ever going to say to us, get a room. Yet, we have a passionate love life. Maybe it’s our age or the era we grew up in. I don’t know. We just prefer to keep the physical aspects of our relationship behind closed doors. Our lack of public physicality might lead people who don’t know us to think that we really don’t love each other, but nothing could be further from the truth. Polly and I have a deep abiding love for one another, and as long as WE know what we have, that is all that matters.

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.

How Many Grandchildren Do We “Really” Have?

grandchildren 2017
Our eleven Grandchildren, Easter 2017

My wife and I have twelve grandchildren, ranging in age from two months to seventeen years. Each one of these precious children is part of the Gerencser family. Polly and I have never made a distinction between grandchildren and step-grandchildren. We’ve never understood this obsession with blood children. If a child is part of one of our children’s families, he or she is our grandchild. It matters not to us if Gerencser sperm or egg played a part in their conception. We have never said of our grandchildren, even one time, that this or that child is a step-grandchild. Come Christmas, every grandchild is treated equally. We’ve never had the thought of treating some of our grandchildren differently because they were not 100% Gerencser. Unfortunately, Polly’s Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) family views things differently.

Polly and I recently traveled to Newark, Ohio to visit her mom in the hospital. My mother-in-law was scheduled for cancer surgery, and the day before surgery she developed heart problems which landed her in the hospital. Unbeknownst to me, Polly’s mom asked her how many grandchildren we had. When Polly said twelve, her mom replied, “yeah but all of them aren’t yours.” Polly replied, “yes they are,” to which her mom replied, “well, you know…. ” If I had been there I would’ve likely asked, “know what?” Of course, both Polly and I already know the answer to this question. In Polly’s parents’ minds, it’s blood that matters. This has been a common theme throughout the years. My youngest daughter received the same treatment the next day when asked about her oldest daughter — a child from a previous relationship of her husband. Much like her parents, our daughter does not make a distinction between stepchildren and “real” children. It’s absurd and offensive to even think this way. I like to think that this is a generational issue; one where older generations believe blood and name matter and that children and grandchildren who aren’t their blood or don’t carry their name shouldn’t expect the same kind gift or money on birthdays or Christmas as those who have the proper pedigree. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no hope of fixing this type of thinking apart from death. As with many social ills, it takes the death of a generation to get beyond them.

ezra martin august 2017
Ezra, our latest grandchild, two months old. Born six-weeks premature, he was released from NICU several weeks ago and he is now packing on the weight.

Polly and I have two grandchildren who have either a different father or mother than a Gerencser. One grandchild is seventeen and will graduate from high school this coming spring. This girl has been in our lives since she was a toddler. She may have a different name, but she is very much a part of our lives. My son and her mother went through divorce last year. There’s no Gerencser in the home; that is, except our four grandchildren. No matter who marries whom and what happens in the future, there’s a hard, fast rule in our family: once a Gerencser, always a Gerencser. It is cruel for someone to be a part of a child’s life for years, and then, due to divorce or other social upheaval, walk away from him or her. I’ve never understood people who can do this. When our granddaughter graduates in the spring, we will be there. When she plays basketball games this winter, we will be there. Whatever comes her way — today, tomorrow, or a decade from now — we will be there. The same goes for our four-year-old step-granddaughter. We have known her pretty much from birth. She is every bit as much our grandchild as any of our grandchildren who have the “proper” DNA. We will be in her life from preschool to the day that she says “I do” — that is, if we live long enough. You see, what grandchildren really need is love and support; and Polly and I have enough of that for all of them. We wish that Polly’s family had the same, but they don’t, and it’s their loss. They are missing out on wonderful opportunities to have awesome relationships with two beautiful children. It makes me wonder about all their talk about the love of Jesus for sinners. Are these children not sinners worthy of love? And if their daughter and son-in-law say “these are ours,” shouldn’t they accept that and do all they can to be the best great-grandparents possible? I will never understand the kind of thinking that divides families according to DNA. I don’t get it, and I never will.

For a number of years, Polly and I took in foster kids. At the time, we had three children of our own. Many of these children were teenagers. Some of them were with us for weeks, but others were long-term placements. Our three children have many memories of their experiences with JR, Steve, Floyd, Roseann, Tonya, and Linda. For a number of months, a black girl by the name Tracy lived with us. Her placement was unusual because this made her the only black child in the school district. When our first two children were very young, a troubled church girl lived with us for almost a year. Years later, she would tell someone we knew that we made a big difference in her life. It’s gratifying to hear from children who lived with us, thanking us for loving them. And therein lies the core issue for Polly and me. These children, regardless of whom their parents were or what horrific experiences they had their life, we loved them as if they were our own children. Granted, some of the teenagers who went through our home didn’t want our love. In fact, they didn’t want anything from us. But we loved them anyway. Why? First, because of Jesus. We believed, at the time, that Jesus loved everyone; and if Jesus loved everyone, so should we. Second, it was inconceivable to us that we could love one child more than another. Who thinks like this? “Oh, you have the right DNA so I’m gonna love you more than these children who are placed in our home after being raped by their stepfather or abused by their parents”? Where’s the Christianity in that kind of thinking?

Here’s what I know: Bruce and Polly Gerencser are going to love every child that comes into their lives, regardless of their lineage. By God, if we can unconditionally love the feral cats that frequent our backyard and care for them spring, summer, fall, and winter, we can certainly — without reservation and a test from 23andMe — unconditionally love our grandchildren — all twelve of them. That’s just how we are, and we feel sorry for people who can’t see beyond the names on birth certificates.

Bruce Gerencser