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.
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.
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.
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