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Tag: Short Stories

Short Stories: My One and Only Dog

bruce gerencser 1960s
“Butch”, 1960s, with a different stuffed animal

I will soon celebrate my sixty-sixth birthday. I was born on a warm summer day in June at Cameron Hospital — five miles from where I live today. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles came to visit Bob and Barbara’s redheaded boy. I am sure some of them looked at my dark-skinned, dark-haired father and then looked at me, saying to themselves, hmm. Sixty-four years later, a DNA test revealed that my biological father was a truck driver from Michigan; a man who met my seventeen-year-old mother at a local truck stop where she worked. One thing led to another, and nine months later I was born.

Those who came to visit me in the hospital nursery brought gifts, though none of them brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh. One gift was a stuffed animal; a light-brown colored dog with a big nose and a hat. I left the hospital with two things: the nickname Butch, given to me by my doctor who said “isn’t he a Butch,” and my dog.

I quickly became attached to my dog. Over the next eighteen years, I lived in communities such as Bryan, Ney, San Diego, Harrod, Farmer, Deshler, Findlay, Tucson, Mt. Blanchard, and Sierra Vista. No matter where I lived, my dog went with me. In fact, he slept with me every night. When I left home to go to college in 1976, my dog went with me. By then, my dog’s stuffing had settled, its nose was partially detached, and its hat was lost somewhere between Ohio and Arizona.

While at college, I started dating a beautiful dark-haired girl named Polly. Six months later, we were engaged. Polly, of course, met my dog. As I write this, I wonder what she thought about my dog and my love for a scraggly stuffed animal. Whatever she may have thought, she kept her thoughts to herself. On one occasion, she performed emergency surgery on my dog, keeping his innards intact.

After we married, we left college and moved, for a time, to Bryan. From there, we moved to Newark, Ohio, the home of Polly’s preacher father and mother. We rented a house directly across the street from Polly’s parent’s home. By then, Polly and I had a baby and a toddler, and both of us were working full-time jobs.

We stored some of our belongings in Polly’s parent’s basement, hoping to retrieve them once we got settled in our new home. My dog was safely stored in a box, or so I thought, anyway. One day, I decided to retrieve several boxes from the basement, only to find out that the box where my dog lived was gone. This box not only contained my dog, but it also contained mementos (pictures, books, baseball pennants) from my childhood. Evidently, the box had become damp, and my mother-in-law unilaterally decided that the box was filled with junk and threw everything away — including my dog.

My dog survived twenty-two years of moving, but it didn’t survive a woman who had no regard for him (or for his owner); who gave no thought to whether the dog had any sentimental meaning to me. While my dog can’t be replaced, he and I did a lot of traveling and shared many wonderful experiences.

I miss him.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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Short Stories: Polly’s AMC Hornet

1972 AMC hornet
1972 AMC Hornet, the car in this story was a darker blue

During the summer of 1972, my wife’s family took a vacation road trip from Bay City, Michigan to California. While in California, their car suffered a major mechanical failure. Polly’s dad decided to junk the car and buy another one: a brand spanking new 1972 AMC Hornet, complete with bench seats, crank windows, and an AM radio.

Dad graduated from Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan in the spring of 1976 and moved his family to Newark, Ohio so he could work at the Newark Baptist Temple as its assistant pastor. By then the Hornet was worn out and Dad was driving a Chrysler. (Polly’s dad was known for misusing and abusing cars. It is no surprise that he wore out a four-year-old automobile. Besides, it was built by AMC — a company not known for quality cars.) The Hornet moved to Newark too, only to return to Pontiac with a new driver: seventeen-year-old Polly. While Polly started taking some college classes at Midwestern during her senior year of high school (from which she graduated second in her class), her first full year began in the fall of 1976.

While at Midwestern, Polly’s dad spent four years working an excellent-paying union job at GM Truck and Coach’s Pontiac plant. His new job at the Baptist Temple paid seventy-five percent less than he made at Truck and Coach, and had no insurance benefits. When Polly arrived at Midwestern with her Hornet, she was on her own. Her parents were unable to pay for her tuition and room and board, so it was up to her to pay her own way. This was quite a culture shock for her, having grown up in a blue-collar middle-class home.

Polly quickly found work, but the wages were poor. Fortunately, she met a redheaded boy from Ohio who quickly caught her fancy. I had much better-paying jobs than Polly did, so I often gave her money for food, gasoline, and other incidentals. One of my responsibilities was repairing and maintaining Polly’s car. Not long after Polly arrived at Midwestern, the Hornet quit running. Her dad told her to junk the car (without providing her with new transportation). I told Polly to ignore her dad; that I could get the car up and running in no time flat. And I did.

The Hornet was a non-stop repair project. I was up to the task, able to fix virtually anything on a car. Those were the days. By the winter of 1976, the Hornet was already showing signs of rust, especially on top of the front fenders. One day I was driving the Hornet down Golf Drive near the College on my way to work. Suddenly, the hood unlatched. The wind caught the hood, standing it straight up, pushing the hood straight down into its rusted fenders and wells. This, of course, caused a lot of damage. Not having any money to properly fix the hood and the fenders, I removed the hood, and we drove the Hornet for several months hoodless. When it rained or snowed, I put a canvas tarp over the motor to keep it from getting wet.

By the spring of 1977, not even Bruce, the magical mechanic, could keep the Hornet running. Polly called her dad to tell him, only to be lectured for not junking the car when she was told to. Never mind that Polly’s parents left her to fend for herself. How was she supposed to get to work or buy groceries? Polly spent the next sixteen months either driving my cars or bumming rides off of fellow students. To this day, I don’t understand Polly’s parent’s indifference toward their daughter’s plight. (I suspect their own financial problems kept them from helping their daughter.) She was naive, as innocent as they come. She had no idea about how to care for a car or manage her finances. Things could have gone very wrong for Polly had it not been for her fiancé and friends.

After determining that the Hornet was no longer drivable, Polly parked it at the back of the student parking lot — a junkyard of sorts for other cars that were no longer usable. Our intention was to sell the car to a junkyard. Before we could, a fellow student named Randy — who had a crush on Polly, a man I despised — asked Polly what she planned to do with the Hornet. She told him “Junk it.” Randy replied, “Can I have it?” Polly said yes, and I reminded him that the car was NOT drivable. He replied, “No problem.” Later that day, we heard a loud banging sound in the parking lot. We went outside to see what the commotion was all about. There was Randy repeatedly driving his own automobile into the Hornet, treating it like it was a demolition derby car.

I can’t remember how many times Randy smashed into the car, but when he was done, the Hornet was a certifiable wreck. The college informed Polly that she had to have the car immediately towed off school property. And that was the end of the Hornet.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Short Stories: Do You Want a Date, Hon?

naive

After my freshman year of classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, I returned home to my mother’s palatial palace — also known as a trailer — on U.S. Hwy. 6, five miles southwest of Bryan, Ohio. I had come home to work, hoping to earn enough money to pay for my next year of college. I accepted a first-shift machine operator position at Holabird Manufacturing, a manufacturer of cheap trailer furniture. Holabird would later close its doors and file for bankruptcy in 1983. I also worked a second shift job at Bard Manufacturing, a maker of HVAC units. I was attending First Baptist Church in Bryan at the time. One of the church’s deacons was a manager for Bard. He graciously arranged for Bard to hire me for the summer.

I was twenty years old in the summer of 1977; strong, fit, and full of energy. Had I not been, I would never have been able to work eighty hours a week: 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Holabird and 4:00 PM to midnight at Bard. I didn’t catch up on sleep on the weekends either. Oh no, weekends were for running around with friends, going to one of the local lakes, or trekking to Newark to visit Polly for the day. That’s right, for the day. Polly’s mom didn’t like me and treated me like a rash she hoped would go away. I would get up early on Saturday, drive three hours southeast to Newark, spend as much time as I could with Polly, and turn around and drive back to Bryan. (Under no circumstances would Polly’s mom let me spend the night.) On more than one occasion, I was so exhausted that I pulled off along the road and slept for several hours. The things we’ll do for love, right?

I followed the aforementioned schedule for twelve weeks. Come late August, it was time for me to return to Midwestern to begin my sophomore year. I packed my belongings into my car and headed in the general direction of Pontiac, Michigan. As I neared Toledo, I decided to take U.S. Route 23 to Pontiac. Ninety minutes into my drive, I exited the highway into a rest stop. I needed to stretch my legs and use the restroom. As I walked towards the restroom, a 30-ish large-breasted black woman wearing revealing clothing came up to me and said, Do you want a date, Hon? Confused, I replied, excuse me? The woman repeated, Do you want a date? I smiled and said to her, no thanks, I already have a girlfriend. And with that, I continued walking to the restroom. As I walked back to my car, I saw the woman walking with a man towards a parked delivery van.

almost twelve kenneth taylor

I was quite naïve when it came to matters of sex. My sex education consisted of reading an Evangelical book titled Almost Twelve and six years of locker room sex ed. I knew the fundamentals, but as far as a broader understanding of human sexuality and its darker, seamier side, I knew nothing. And as ignorant as I was, my fiancée was even worse. One warm day in the spring of 1977, Polly was in the college parking lot, sitting in her car — a 1972 AMC Hornet. Purchased new in 1972 by Polly’s father after the family car broke down during a vacation in California, by 1977 the car was already worn out, a piece of junk. This car is a story unto itself, one that I will tell another day. For now, picture sweet, naïve Polly sitting in her car, AM radio blaring, singing along with Starland Vocal Band’s hit Afternoon Delight. I came up to the car window and asked what she was listening to. She replied, Afternoon Delight. I said, you know that song is about having sex! Polly replied, IT IS NOT! The song is about having fun in the afternoon. Slightly less naïve Bruce took the time to educate sheltered Polly about exactly what it was they were having fun doing in the afternoon. This lesson would pay dividends after we married and we experienced a bit of afternoon delight ourselves.

Video Link

After I returned to college, I told my roommate about what the woman had asked me at the rest stop. She asked me if I wanted to have a date! Why I didn’t even know her. Why would she want me to go on a date? I already have a girlfriend. My roommate laughed and said, she was a prostitute and was asking you if you wanted to have sex with her. Really? I replied. Yes, really. I would receive many more such lessons over the next year.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Short Stories: Dreamy Lips

robert gerencser 1950's

I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home. While living in California in the early 1960s, my parents got saved at Scott Memorial Baptist Church (now Shadow Mountain Community Church) in El Cajon. Tim La Haye was the pastor of Scott Memorial, at the time. LaHaye is best known for co-authoring the Left Behind books and The Act of Marriage. After a couple of years in California looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Dad packed his family up and moved them back to Bryan, Ohio — his birthplace. I was eight years old.

We lived in a small brick home on Mulberry Street. Down the street was the Southern Baptist church we attended at the time, Eastland Baptist Chapel. Dad had an 8 mm movie camera. He was quite proud of his video masterpieces. One weekend night, Dad set up the movie screen so the Gerencser family could watch movies. We watched several movies about our move to and from California and various family events. As time crawled on, I became bored, so I started going through Dad’s titled movies, hoping to find something a bit more exciting than travel clips. I came upon a movie titled Dreamy Lips.

I pulled Dreamy Lips out of the box and asked Dad what it was about. Embarrassed, he quickly said “None of your business,” and quickly grabbed the movie from my hand. Movie night was officially over. It would be years later before I learned that Dreamy Lips was a stag film; that Dad had a collection of pornos.

While I find this story amusing today, it is a reminder that my parents lived a double life — as all Christians do. There was the church life, the oh, how I love Jesus life; and then there was the private life behind closed doors, one filled with contradictions and, at times, pain and heartache.

Most of Dad’s movies have been lost to time. I have one that was converted to a VCR tape. I hope to have it put on DVD so my grandchildren can “enjoy” one of Bob Gerencser’s famous movies.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Short Stories: My Love Affair with Baseball

cincinnati reds gnome
Cincinnati Reds Gnome that Graces our Front Yard

In 1962, the Gerencser family moved from the rural northwest Ohio community of Bryan to San Diego, California. I was five. My grandmother, Jeanette Rausch, and her daughter, Marijene also moved to the Golden State. That summer, for my birthday, Grandma bought me a baseball glove, ball, and hat, and took me to my first game. On the appointed day, Grandma picked me up — not my sister, not my brother, just me — and drove us to Lane Field to watch the San Diego Padres play — then the AAA minor league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

I don’t remember anything about the game, but I have no doubt I spent the evening listening to Grandma explain the game to me. You see, she was an avid baseball fan, having attended numerous Detroit Tigers baseball games with her attorney father as a child. Grandma, like her father before her, was a Detroit Tigers fan.

In fourth grade, I was given an assignment to write a story about an experience one of my grandparents had. Grandma Rausch was my favorite grandparent, really my only grandparent. I asked Grandma to tell me about seeing Babe Ruth play, which became the story I shared with my class.

I became the third generation to root for the Tigers. My grandfather, John Tieken, with whom I had a difficult relationship, was also a Tigers fan. For my eleventh birthday, Grandpa took me to a baseball game at Briggs Stadium between the Tigers and the Cleveland Indians. This was the year the Tigers won the World Series.

Here’s the box score for the game:

tigers indians 1968

I played baseball from the age of nine through fifteen. I was a diminutive child, a lefthanded boy who was fleet a foot but couldn’t hit a breaking ball to save his life. I was good enough to make the team, but usually one of the last few boys chosen. I played outfield and was often put in the game to bunt. Being a fast-running lefty gave me a distinct advantage, but more than a few pitchers I faced had difficulties pitching to left-handers. Instead of hits, I got plunked in the back, ribs, buttocks, and head. A hitter I was not, but I did make a good target for wild opposing pitchers.

The summer between eighth and ninth grades, I started having problems fielding the ball, so much so that I feared coach was going to cut me. Instead, he said to me, “Hey, Gerencser. You need to get your eyes checked.” Sure enough, I was nearsighted. Glasses fixed my fielding problem, but I still couldn’t hit a curve ball.

My dad never attended my games; whether he was too busy or disinterested, I do not know. Lacking transportation, I rode my bike to my home games. For out-of-town games, I caught a ride with one of my coaches. Mom attended a few of my games. One summer, I was playing high school summer league baseball for Jaques Sporting Goods in Findlay, Ohio. On July Fourth, I played in a game against North Baltimore. Mom and Grandma attended the game. I played a few innings. I even had one attempt to showcase my batting prowess. Grandma was sitting along the baseline on a blanket, cheering me on. As I came up to bat, I heard Mom and Grandma loudly cheering for me, especially Grandma. While she was a small woman, weighing less than a hundred pounds, she had a loud voice, one made raspy from decades of smoking cigarettes. I took a couple of pitches — balls — swung and missed a couple of strikes, and then came the deciding pitch, a breaking ball — a called strike three. Before I could even turn, with head hung low, from the batter’s box, I heard — well, everyone heard — “Hey Ump! That was not a strike!” That was Grandma, defending her oldest grandson to the end.

I stopped playing baseball after tenth grade. Too many moves and new schools for me to make a team and play. As an adult, I turned to competitive slow-pitch softball for my baseball fix, a sport I played into my early thirties.

Like my great-grandfather, grandmother, and grandfather before me, I was a Detroit Tigers fan. I would remain a Tigers fan until 1980. By then, I was married with one child, and living in Newark, Ohio. I took a job as a general manager for Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips — a popular fast-food chain at the time. I did my training at the Heath store and worked as an assistant manager there for a few months before I got a store of my own in Reynoldsburg. My fellow assistant was Neal Ball, a newly married man my age. We quickly became close friends, playing basketball together, eating dinner at one another’s homes, and, most importantly, attending Cincinnati Reds baseball games.

Neal was an avid Reds fan. He lived and breathed the Redlegs. His infectious love for the Reds wore off on me, and it was not long before I had a conversion of sorts, and switched teams. I was now a Reds fan, and I remain one to this day. While I still follow the Tigers from a distance, the Reds are my team. I have watched thousands of their games on TV or listened to them on their flagship station, 700-WLW. My three oldest sons have fond memories of me listening to nightly games on a portable AM-FM radio. We lived in a mobile home at the time. The trailer’s metal exterior made it impossible to get an AM radio signal inside, so I would either sit on the porch and listen to the game or put the metal coat hanger attached to the broken antenna outside of the living room window so I could get the signal. When I was out and about doing the Lord’s work on summer evenings, the game was always on the car radio, with Marty and Joe broadcasting the game.

Forty-three summers have come and gone, and I remain a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. The game is on the TV as I write this post. Our children are all Reds fans, though some of them are not as committed to the family religion as their father. The third generation has also embraced the Reds — as if they had any choice. 🙂 One of our granddaughters is named Morgan Rose. That will tell you everything you need to know about the Gerencser family’s love for Cincinnati baseball — even when the Reds suck.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Short Stories: I Killed the Kittens With a Hammer, Says a Local Evangelical Farmer

feral cats in barn-008
Barn cats at my Son and Daughter-in-law’s Farm

As Polly and I wrapped up our twenty-five-year tour of duty pastoring churches, we began looking for a new church home. I had pastored Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio from 1997 to 2002, and after leaving the church, we attended — for a short time — an Independent Fundamental Churches of America (IFCA) church in Butler, Indiana. The congregation itself was not much to write home about, but we dearly loved the pastor, Jim Glasscock, and his family. After attending for a few months, we decided that we would join the church, only to find out that we couldn’t do so because we weren’t Dispensational and Premillennial. That’s right, we couldn’t join because of our amillennial, posttribulational, non-dispensational eschatology. Such is the fracturing nature of Christian Fundamentalism. We soon left, looking for friendlier confines. The pastor and his wife — by now friends — were, as we were, disappointed. We felt, at the time, that we couldn’t in good conscience attend a church that wouldn’t accept us as members. The church later closed its doors and the pastor and his family moved on to a new ministry.

While I could tell many stories about our time at this church (good, bad, and funny), one stands out above all others. One Sunday morning we were sitting around a table in the fellowship hall swapping stories. Somehow, the subject of cats came up. Now, I am a cat lover. We have always had at least one cat, and have had as many as three. Currently, we have a fat, lazy yellow sixteen-year-old cat named Joe Meower and a year-and-a-half-old stray we took in named Socks. We regularly feed the neighborhood’s feral cats, hopefully providing them a bit of respite from the cruelty inflicted upon them by thoughtless humans.

As we talked about cats, an aged farmer decided to share a story about his barn cats. One of his cats had recently given birth to a litter of kittens. I thought, how nice, this man is going to take care of these feral cats and their offspring. I quickly learned, however, this man was anything but nice. Not that he was peculiar. Lots of Jesus-loving, God-fearing locals are quite cruel to animals. Some of the most cruel people I know are local Amish farmers. I asked the man how the kittens were doing. Oh, he chuckled, I killed them. I got a hammer out and smacked each one of them in the head! I quickly felt my face becoming flush as rage filled my mind. I thought, you could have given the kittens away, or better yet, you could have had your female barn cats spayed. Instead, your cruel hands picked up a hammer and beat them to death.

I quickly exited the fellowship hall, fearing that I was going to have a “Bruce moment.” My rage passed, but I have not forgotten that people who speak of the love of God can often be cruel and violent; that God commanding them to have dominion over the earth means that they can indiscriminately kill. In an anthropocentric world, man rules the roost. All other life only has the value given to it by its overlords. This is why this farmer could, as if he was telling a story about his grandchildren, share his murderous rampage with his fellow church members.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Short Stories: Do You Want Some “Rose of Sheridan”?

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

One spring, a woman who attended our church with her husband and three children asked Polly if she would like some “Rose of Sheridan.” The year before, we had moved a 12’x60′ trailer onto the church property, parking it fifty feet from the main church building. The first thing we did was put a chain link fence around our small yard so Bethany, our toddler daughter with Down syndrome, couldn’t wander away and get hit by a car in the parking lot or fall down the cement stairs to what was commonly called the basement building. After the fence was installed — we paid $400 for the fence out of our income tax refund — we set out to beautify our yard as best we could. Knowing this, Mrs. M made the offer of the “Rose of Sheridan.” We had no idea about what “Rose of Sheridan” was. All we knew is that we wanted “stuff” to plant in our newly fenced yard.

Several days later, Mrs. M brought us three “Rose of Sheridan” bushes. We planted them on the northeast corner where our yard met the basement building. The bushes didn’t bloom that much the first year, but the next summer they were in full bloom. Another church member asked Polly what the bushes were and she replied, “Rose of Sheridan.” The church member got a quizzical look on her face and said, you mean “Rose of SHARON,” right? You see, what Mrs. M gave us was Rose of Sharon and not “Rose of Sheridan.”

phil sheridan somerset ohio

How did Mrs. M confuse the name? Oh, that was easy. You see, nearby Somerset was home to Civil War general Phil Sheridan when he was a child. His boyhood home sits on the south edge of town on State Highway 13. A statute of Sheridan on a horse — the only equestrian Civil War monument in Ohio — adorns the center of town where two state highways meet. The local high school was named Sheridan High School. In Mrs. M’s mind, she confused Sharon with Sheridan, so that’s why the bushes she gave us in the spring of 1990 were called “Rose of Sheridan.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Short Stories: Bruce, the Baptist Goes to a Charismatic Faith Healing Service

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — one of the northernmost counties in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

I grew up in a religious monoculture. The only churches I attended were Evangelical/Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations. I attended a Methodist church one time, but that was only because I was chasing a girl who went to that church. I was twenty-six years old before I attended the services of any other church besides a Bible-preaching Evangelical church.

One of my responsibilities as an IFB pastor was to preach against false pastors and their teachings. On Sundays, I would preach against Catholics, Southern Baptists, Charismatics, mainline churches, and any other sect I deemed heterodox or heretical. As a fully certified, circumcised, and lobotomized IFB preacher, I had a long list of things I was against. The goal, of course, was to make sure that congregants didn’t stray. They were members of the “best” church in town. Why go elsewhere, right? I saw myself as a gatekeeper, a divinely called man given the responsibility to protect people from false teaching. And protect them I did — from every false, harmful teaching but my own.

One Sunday afternoon, I decided to attend a Charismatic faith healing service at the Somerset Elementary School gymnasium. I thought, “if I am going to preach that Charismatic movement is from the pit of Hell, I’d better at least experience one of their services.”

I arrived at the service about fifteen minutes early. I brought one of the “mature” men of the church with me, a man who wouldn’t be swayed by the false teachings we were going to hear. There were 50 or so people in attendance. Songs were sung, a sermon was preached, and an offering was collected. Pretty standard Baptist stuff. But then it came time for people to have the pastor lay hands on them and deliver them from sickness and demonic possession. People started speaking in tongues as the preacher walked down the front row “healing” people. According to the preacher, numerous people were being healed, though I saw no outward evidence of this. This so-called man of God would stand in front of people, ask them their needs, lay his hand on their heads, and pray for them. And just like that, they were “healed.”

Near me was sitting a dirty, scraggly woman. Her black hair looked like it hadn’t been washed in weeks. It had a sheen that said, “last washed with used motor oil.”  When it came time for the preacher to lay his hand on top of the woman’s head, he refused to touch her greasy, dirty head. Instead, he held his “healing” hand just above her head, prayed for her, and quickly moved on to the next mark. I thought, “What a fraud. Why not put your hand on this woman’s head? What’s a little grease on your hands?”

I attended other Charismatic services during my eleven years as pastor of Somerset Baptist, but there’s nothing like your first one, right?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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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Short Stories: A Perry County Septic Tank

somerset baptist church 1989

In July 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. I would remain the pastor of Somerset Baptist Church until March 1994. Somerset was a community of 1,400 people located in Perry County — the northernmost county in the Appalachian region. It was here that I learned what it meant to be a pastor; to truly involve yourself in the lives of others.

The membership of Somerset Baptist was primarily made up of poor working-class people. Most church families received some form of government assistance — mostly food stamps and Medicaid. In many ways, these were my kind of people. Having grown up poor myself, I knew a good bit about their struggles. I deeply loved them, and they, in return, bestowed their love on me.

Perry County was coal-mining country. Several large underground mines were in operation during my eleven years at Somerset Baptist. Also scattered across the county were open-pit (strip) mines. These mines, in particular, caused great ecological harm to the beautiful rolling hills of Perry County. Companies were required to “reclaim” land used for mining, but their reclamation efforts often left denuded landscapes and polluted streams and lakes. This land was practically worthless except for recreational use. A southern man by the name of Sidney Hurdle — a lawyer by trade — found a way to monetize this land by selling it on land contract to poor people looking to own a place of their own. Sectioned off in five-, ten-, and twenty-acre lots, Hurdle sold former strip ground land (and non-strip ground land) for $395 down and low payments over the next twenty to thirty years. Sidney Hurdle died a few years back. His son, I believe, continues to sell land as his father did before him:

For nearly half a century Hurdle Land & Realty has conducted business with the philosophy that owning your own property is an essential part of the American Dream. That is why three generations of Hurdles have enabled thousands of people just like you to purchase land hassle free.

….

We do things a bit differently than a traditional lender. We promise to finance you, if you promise to pay us. We believe in a hand shake. We take a man for his word. We feel too many people have lost this type of service. If one of us ends up not living up to our agreement, then there are practices in place to resolve that. But in the beginning, we trust our customer. Besides, this saves you money overall, eliminates the complicated process of securing a mortgage from a bank and it all works with just a small amount of cash up front.

When purchasing real estate there are costs involved that are above the cost of the property itself. You have probably heard terms regarding these fees like document prep, attorney cost, title service, deed stamps, survey, application fees, points, commissions and the list goes on. However, when you buy from us, we cover all associated fees with the transaction for you. We will NEVER ask you to pay for any of these fees before or after the sale!

Here is how it works: You pay a total down payment of $295. We currently have a set fixed interest rate of 7.9%. We are flexible with the term of the loan. We will finance to you for as short as 12 months or extend it as long as 360 months–whatever fits your budget! Our office will prepare all the necessary closing documents for you to sign . . .

The website for Hurdle’s Ohio land for sale can be accessed here.

Some people took issue with Hurdle selling reclaimed land to poor people, profiting from their poverty. While I once thought that too, I came to see that Hurdle enabled the working poor to own that which they would never be able to own otherwise. Several congregants owned Hurdle Land, as it was commonly called. One family owned a twenty-acre parcel. Most of the families purchasing Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to build a home, so they bought mobile homes instead. On several lots sat school buses that were converted to year-round homes.

The church family with the twenty-acre plot bought a dilapidated trailer and had it towed up to the top of their hill.  Drinking water was provided by a spring at the bottom of the hill. Sewage was handled by what was called a Perry County Septic Tank. There was no zoning, and locals routinely ignored licensing and permitting requirements. Perry County had septic tank regulations, but many of the people buying Hurdle Land couldn’t afford to have a commercial septic system — complete with tank and leach bed — installed, so they installed a makeshift septic tank instead. A Perry County Septic Tank consisted of running plastic pipe from the mobile home to a fifty-five-gallon oil drum buried downhill in the ground. The drum had two holes, one where the sewage entered and the other where the liquids (gray water) exited and ran down the hill. Yes, down the hill where the spring was! (There was no leach bed.) On more than one occasion I expressed my concern that sewage runoff might contaminate the spring. I was told, Oh, preacher, don’t worry, we will be fine. Over time, the oil drum would fill up with solids. This, of course, posed quite a problem. The tank either had to be emptied, or raw sewage would run down the hill. Far too often, the drum overflowed, and down the hill went raw sewage. In time, the tank would get emptied by bailing out the drum with a rope attached to a five-gallon bucket. The sewage would be dumped on the back side of the property — out of sight out of mind.

The eleven years I spent in Perry County taught me a lot about the struggles of the poor, the working class; of their desires to have and own just like their more affluent brethren. The family in this story could proudly say they owned twenty acres of land and a mobile home; an achievement, to be sure. Their children learned from these hardships, went to college, and built their middle-class lives upon the memories of Hurdle Land, a ramshackle mobile home, and a Perry County Septic Tank.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Short Stories: Why I Am Early for Everything

punctuality

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I am early for everything. It is not uncommon for me to arrive thirty minutes to an hour before an event begins. When I attend major league sporting events and dirt track races, I arrive a half hour or so before the gates open. The same can be said for medical appointments and dinner reservations. The surest way to irritate me is for someone to say he or she will be somewhere at a certain time, and then to show up late, leaving me oh-so-impatiently waiting. When someone makes me wait for no good reason (and doesn’t text or call), that person is being rude and wasting my time; time that could be used to do other things. I am acquainted with people who have no problem making other people wait for them to make their grand entrance minutes or even hours after the appointed time. Such people think that setting a time for an event, meal, or get-together is a suggestion, one they need not follow if more “important” stuff claims their attention. They seem clueless to the fact that their lack of punctuality robs others of their time; that ultimately it shows a lack of respect. “Bruce, you don’t understand; shit happens.” Yes, shit does indeed happen to ALL of us, but many of us still meet our obligations on time. Why is that?

One of the reasons I am punctual — “punctual” meaning arriving well before an event begins — is that I don’t like crowds and I don’t like being the focus of attention. I know that sounds odd coming from a man who spent most of his adult life being the center of attention as a pastor, but Polly will tell you that I go out of my way to avoid people/crowds, preferring to blend into the background. This is especially the case when I go somewhere I haven’t been before. I want to arrive early so I can survey the lay of the land. The same applies to going to a restaurant to eat. I prefer, if at all possible, to sit where I can clearly view my surroundings. I prefer a seat where no one can walk behind me. That’s just how I am. My children know not to invite me to crowded public events. Take concerts — I might love a particular band, but if seating at the event is general admission — count me out. Years ago, my sons took Polly and me to hear Collective Soul at Pierre’s in Fort Wayne. We had a wonderful time; that is until it was time to leave. I was surrounded by younger adults who had spent most of the evening swilling beer. They pushed, shoved, and repeatedly banged into me. The last straw was one man who dumped beer on me. With one hand, I stiffed-armed the man, sending him reeling. My sons decided it was best to quickly get Dad out of the place before he killed someone. And then there is Christmas shopping. We used to go to local retail stores and shop, but I found myself being repeatedly battered by people whose only mission in life was to save $2 on a toaster. After an hour or so of that, I was ready to commit homicide with my cane. No thanks. We now do all our shopping online.

beater station wagon
$200 beater. Polly and the boys HATED this car.

Another reason I am punctual goes back to the days when Polly and I were first married — forty-five years ago. We drove junk cars — automobiles I purchased for a few hundred dollars. We went through dozens of cars during the first two decades of marriage. My oldest two children still “fondly” remember me picking them up at the Christian school they attended in the dilapidated, noisy, handpainted green, full-sized Ford station wagon pictured above — by far, the cheapest, ugliest car in the parking lot.

newark-telephone-car

Here’s another beauty I bought in 1980 for $225. It was formerly a fleet vehicle owned by the Newark Telephone Company. If you carefully look at the driver’s side fender, you will notice the fancy bodywork I did with duct tape. I drove it to work in Columbus for two years before selling it to a man in our church. I gave him instructions on how to baby the car along. He didn’t listen to me, and two weeks later he trashed the transmission. “Idiot,” I thought at the time. Ah, those were the days.

These clunkers and others rarely had good tires on them. I drove on tires years ago that had cords showing through their tread. Today, I wouldn’t leave my driveway with such tires. Of course, driving cars with bald ties meant sitting alongside the berms of countless roads with flat tires. Back then, I usually carried two spare tires in the trunk, just in case one of them didn’t stay inflated. Changing a flat took time, so I began adding time to whatever trip I was taking to account for having to change a tire (or put water in the radiator). Generally, I added thirty minutes or so to the drive time. Remember, I hated being late; and being on time was the same as being late. Allowing time for changing a tire was the best way for me to arrive on time. As the years passed, I started buying nicer cars, finding out that they did come with decent tires. Why, I even found out that there were stores that sold NEW tires. (I used to buy used tires for $5 apiece from a guy who attended our church. For a few years, I went the retreaded tires route.)

These days, I am far removed from junk cars and flat tires. But what still remains is the time with which I pad trips, just in case something happens that delays me. You never know, right?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

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.

Connect with me on social media:

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.

Bruce Gerencser