In 1989, Polly was driving in the northbound lane of Route 13 north of Thornville, Ohio, and south of Interstate 70. Suddenly, an automobile stopped in front of her and Polly bumped into the car. The driver quickly fled the scene of the accident. Polly, shaken, drove to the gas station at the top of the hill. At the station was a highway patrolman. Polly told him what happened. He looked at the front of her car. Seeing little visible damage, he told her not to worry about the accident. Polly continued on her trip to her mom and dad’s home in Newark.
Later that night, the person whom Polly drove into — an unlicensed teen girl, driving a relative’s car — totaled the car she was driving. Her relative had the same insurance company as we did. Unbeknownst to us, the insurance agent filed a $4,000 claim against our insurance without telling us. To this day, we don’t know how the agent connected Polly to the accident, Nonetheless, he did. Small town life, I suppose.
In Ohio, you are required to file an official accident report if you are in an accident that results in property damage. Since the girl fled the scene of the accident, Polly didn’t file a report. (And I am sure I am the one actually responsible for her not filing the report.) This would later have a disastrous (and funny) outcome.
A month later, I am standing on the porch waiting for Polly to come home from church. We always drove separate cars. On this night she was driving our 1980s Chrysler K car. As I watched Polly drive up the side street near our home in Junction City, Ohio, a village police officer pulled up behind her with his lights on. I snickered a bit as I watched this unfold. I was the one who got tickets — lots of tickets — not Polly. As I watched, the officer had Polly get out of the car. I thought, at the time, “that’s strange.” He had stopped her for a burned-out headlight. It had been burned out for several weeks. I had planned to replace it, but there were sermons to preach and souls to save, so I put it off to another day After running her driver’s license number, he informed her that there was a warrant out for her arrest, so he was arresting her for failure to report an accident. Yep, there was a warrant out for her arrest. We had just moved to Junction City and Polly’s license still had our old address on it, so she never received notice of her license suspension. Fortunately, the women’s section of the Perry County Jail was filled. There was no room for her in the inn, so to speak. Instead, she was told to contact the state highway patrol to resolve the matter.
Polly was traumatized from this experience. I, on the other hand, was enraged. In a matter of days, I was able to get the warrant for her arrest and license suspension dismissed. All is well that ends well, right? Not in our shared life. 🙂
Two weeks later, Barney Fife shows up at our house, knocks on the door, and hands Polly a traffic ticket. For what, you ask? The burned-out headlight. Boy, was I livid! I mean, sinning-in-the-flesh angry. My wife of forty-four years and our six children will tell you that it is best to avoid me when I am angry like this. I have a quick-to-rise-quick-to-recede temper. (Apologies to readers who thought I was a perfect human being. I’m not.) Polly has learned over the years to just ignore me. Let me mutter, cuss, and air my grievances, knowing that my anger will soon disappear and I will say, “Hey, want to go to dinner tonight”? On this day, my anger was justified.
Junction City had a mayor’s court. Such courts are known for abuse and corruption. When we arrived at the appointed time for judgment, we were the only serfs there. Most people just paid their tickets, end of story. That was not going to happen for Polly Gerencser on this night. Her husband, known in them thar parts to be a fire-breathing crusader, was by her side. When they called her name, I started to speak. The mayor tried to put me in my place, telling me only Polly could speak (she was terrified). I told the mayor that I planned to speak, regardless. I then laid into them about how wrong it was to give Polly a ticket weeks later for a trivial headlight violation. “That’s the law, sir!” the mayor said. I replied, “fine. My wife is going to plead not guilty. This means you are required to transfer this case to County Court. Do you really want all this exposed in public court”? After quickly conferring with each other, the mayor sanctimoniously said — as if he was doing Polly a BIG favor — “I will dismiss the ticket, but you have to pay court costs.” I replied, “we are not paying costs.” Barney Fife and Mayor Roy Stoner (the mayor of Mayberry) conferred again, quickly deciding to waive the costs. With that, we said “thank you” and walked out the door. I am sure they were glad to be rid of that temperamental redheaded preacher. We move away from Junction City a few months later.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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