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Tag: Short Stories

Short Stories: 1976: The Lutheran Girls

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Putting water in the radiator of my 1970 Nova SS, March 1976

The winter before I left rural northwest Ohio to enroll in classes at Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan, my friend Randy Rupp and I drove up to Irish Hills in Onstead, Michigan, to do some skiing. Nestled in a miles-long strip of closed-up tourist attractions on U.S. Route 12, Irish Hills attracted scores of skiers each winter. (Irish Hills Ski Lodge is now closed.)

Randy was an expert skier. Having skied all over Europe, Randy was a stud on the slopes. I, on the other hand, had never skied before. Randy headed off for the highest slopes while I wowed the girls on the kiddie slopes. My one and only time skiing turned into a disaster in short order. The snow was quite slick, having an icy coating. Irish Hills used a j-bar lift to tow skiers from the bottom of the hill to the top. I had a difficult time positioning my ass on the j-bar. As the bar began pulling me up the hill, I lost my footing, flipped, and the j-bar towed me upside down up the hill. The lift operator, seeing my dilemma, stopped the lift and helped get me right side up. Boy, was I embarrassed. Way to impress the girls, right? And believe me, Randy and I were there for the girls.

I quickly decided that skiing wasn’t for me, and I headed for the warmth of the ski lodge. Randy later joined me. It wasn’t long before we met several attractive girls — Lutherans from Toledo. We flirted back and forth, and decided we would come to Toledo the next weekend to meet them. As with skiing, Randy was an expert when it came to women. I, on the other hand, was a novice.

The following Saturday, Randy and I made plans to meet in Bryan and drive to Toledo. I was living at the time with my mom on Route 6 west of Bryan near Edgerton. I was running late, so I sped down the highway, coming to the intersection of Route 6 and Route 2. As I looked at the intersection, I didn’t see a car anywhere. The light was red, and with no car in sight, I decided to run the light. As I turned north on Route 2, imagine my surprise to see a highway patrolman sitting along the berm. Knowing I was toast, I pulled over. The officer asked for my license. He said, “sir, you are from Arizona?” I had lived back in Ohio for months but had never gotten around to getting an Ohio license. This meant, of course, that the officer couldn’t just give me a ticket and let me go. Instead, he arrested me and took me to the Bryan Police station for processing. I faced jail unless I could post a $200 bond. I frantically called Randy, and after two hours, he showed up with my bond money. Hours behind, we finally left Bryan for Toledo.

It was late when we reached the Lutheran girls’ home. Randy told the one girl’s father that we were having car trouble — a lie — and asked if it would be okay if we spent the night so we could “fix” our car in the morning. He said okay. I can say that nothing sexually happened on my end that night. For Randy? That’s his story to tell. 🙂 The next morning, the car magically repaired itself. We attended church with the girls and then drove back to Bryan. We never spoke to them again.

Short Stories: The Night I Stuffed an Atheist in a Trash Can

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

I attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) institution — from 1976-1979. Midwestern was an affordable, unaccredited training school for preachers (and prospective preacher’s wives). The school advertised itself as a “character-building factory.” Because Midwestern was an unaccredited college, there was no federal/state aid/grants available for students. Either your parents paid for your school (such people were called “mama called, daddy sent) or you worked. I worked.

I worked a lot of different jobs while at Midwestern, mainly factory and grocery store jobs. One of my favorite places to work was Felice’s Market, just off of Telegraph Road. I primarily worked in the dairy department. Sometimes I would also work in the produce department. I typically worked evenings and some Saturdays.

The Felice brothers treated me well. One of the brothers helped me buy a car, and when I married Polly in 1978, they gave us a $200 wedding gift. Knowing that I needed money for setting up our apartment, the brothers also hired me to tar and seal the store’s roof. Boy, was that a mess –not a job I ever wanted to do again.

Even though I was a flaming, outspoken Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, I got along with the owners, my boss, and fellow employees. That is, except for one persnickety atheist high school student who worked evenings in the frozen food department. He and I would go back and forth about God and the Bible. One night, we got into a heated discussion about creationism and the existence of God. I had no answers for his challenges, except to quote the Bible and assert “Thus Saith the Lord!”

For some reason, on this night, this scrawny, mouthy atheist got under my skin. Granted, I was quite temperamental, but I really let this atheist get to me. After being unable to answer the age-old question, “where did God come from?” I had enough and decided to put an end to the atheist’s disrespect of the one true God. It was nearing closing time, and the atheist was gathering up trash in a large trash can. As he came near me, running his godless mouth, I latched ahold of him, picked him up, and stuffed him ass first into the trash can. Point made. And with that, I walked off, leaving his rescue to someone else. My fellow employees thought what I did was hilarious. However, my boss, the next day, did not.

The atheist and I never talked about God or the Bible again. I think he was genuinely afraid of me. 🙂

Short Stories: Forty-Two Years of Used Furniture 

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In 2016, Polly and I bought a brand-new loveseat and couch. This was a monumental decision for us. Before this purchase, we had never owned a brand-new couch. Never! Over the years, we bought second-hand furniture or used family castoffs. Our thinking went something like this: there is no need to buy nice furniture as long as you have children. As any parent knows, children are hard on furniture. From spills to flops, children can turn nice furniture into something from a CSI crime scene in a few years. And then came grandchildren, and we repeated the abuse all over again. Our last loveseat and couch came from a nearby secondhand store. I believe we paid $399 for the pair. Weathering the abuse of our now-grown children and grandchildren, this furniture had reached what they call in the tech industry its “end of life.” But even then, after eight years of service, we couldn’t bear to haul the furniture off to the landfill. Instead, several of our sons hauled it out to the curb. We placed FREE signs on the furniture, hoping that someone might haul them away. Less than an hour later, a noisy beat-up pickup truck pulled up to the curb, and its passengers exited the truck, excited over their new find. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. They quickly loaded the furniture on the truck and drove away. Mission accomplished! (Two weeks ago, we did this with an old grill. Everything we put by the road ends up swiftly disappearing.)

Polly and I love having new furniture. It’s nice, even at this late date in life, to have something new. Of course, we turned into furniture Nazis for a time, not allowing the cat or dog on the furniture, nor allowing the grandkids to get anywhere near the furniture with food or drinks. We thought if we can get our adult children sippy cups for their beer and coffee, all will be well. Looking at you, Nathan. Four years later, the new furniture has settled into the rhythm of our home. The dog and cat — both fourteen years old now — and our grandkids know it’s okay to sit on Nana’s precious (said with Gollum’s voice).

After Ashley Furniture delivered the loveseat and couch, we decided that we also needed a new end table. We did not buy a new table, choosing instead to go to the used furniture store to find a table that would match the new furniture. The end table set us back $69. Last year, we gave that table to our youngest daughter, and bought four new tables and matching lamps. My oh my, aren’t the Gerencsers up-town now! After that, we decided that we wanted to replace our massive oak entertainment center — which we gave to son number three — with something a little more understated, giving us more space in our small, 12’x20′ living room. For this purchase, we bought ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture from the Sauder Woodworking Outlet Store in Archbold, Ohio. Polly chose a unit with colors that matched the loveseat, couch, and carpet. That she “chose” shows how far removed we are from our former patriarchal life. Thanks to a 35% employee discount, our new credenza cost $220. My oldest son and grandson put the unit together, a much more peaceful event than had Polly and I assembled the credenza. Our older children likely remember the time their mother and I decided to hang wallpaper — together. Needless to say, things didn’t go well, with both of us realizing that we loved each other deeply, but hanging wallpaper together was a sure way to end up in divorce court. After forty-two years of marriage, I am glad that we are now able to somewhat work together on household projects. Who knows, we just might stay married.

Parts of this story were written in 2016. The new couch and love seat? They are now well-worn, and our decision to buy furniture with springs in the cushions has proved to be a bad idea. And now that I spend a lot more time on the couch due to my declining health, the cushions are disfigured (and hard to straighten in their coverings) and increasingly uncomfortable. The credenza? DON’T ask! Polly and two of my sons are managers for Sauder’s. Awesome company to work for. All of my children except for Bethany have worked for Sauder’s over the years. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the Sauder family. That said, this particular unit has been problematic from the start, including manufacturing defects. Over the weekend, I installed an XBOX 360 our youngest son gave to us so we could play Tetris and a few arcade games. What should have been a simple project took ninety minutes, lots of swearing, and more than a few Bruce fits. Not a pretty sight. Our youngest son volunteered to do the installation, but I said no. “I can do it, ” I told myself. Yeah, I still have a hard time accepting that I am really sick, disabled, and can’t do what I used to do even a few years ago. Those days are over, but damn if I am willing to accept this fact. Pride is a terrible taskmaster. Another reminder of my failing health came when I repeatedly tried to beat Polly playing Tetris. Years ago, I won every head-to-head match. I beat her into submission, so to speak, every time we played. Now, thanks to osteoarthritis in my hands and declining motor skills, I was the one on the losing end. I did, however, beat Bethany. Woo-hoo, right?

How about you? Do you have any furniture stories to tell? Do you work well with your spouse or significant other? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Short Stories: A Man and His Wife

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Polly Gerencser, 35th Wedding Anniversary, 2013

Repost from July 2013, edited and corrected

It is a warm summer day in Manistee, Michigan. A man and his wife of thirty-five years get out of their black Ford Fusion to view Lake Michigan. They love the water, and if their life’s journey had taken them on another path, perhaps they would live in a cottage on the shore of one of the Great Lakes or in a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast.

But as fate would have it, Ohio has been their home for most of their marriage. No matter where they moved, be it Texas, Michigan, or Arizona, they always came back, like the proverbial bad penny, to Ohio.

For the past six years they have lived in rural northwest Ohio, in a small community with one stoplight, two bars, two churches, a grain elevator, gas station and 345 people. They live in a town where nothing happens, and the safety and stillness that “nothing” affords is fine by them.

They have made their peace with Ohio. After all, it is where their children and grandchildren live. This is home, and it is here that they will die some moment beyond their next breath.

But from time to time, the desire to dip their feet in a vast expanse of water, to hear the waves crashing on a shore and to walk barefooted on the beach calls out to them, and off they go.

They can no longer travel great distances; four to six hours away is the limit.  The man’s body is used up and broken, most days he needs a cane and some days a wheelchair to get from point to point. Long trips in the car extract a painful price from his body, a toll that is paid weeks after they have returned home.

But today, the water calls, and on a warm July day they travel to South Haven, Michigan and then up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to Manistee. Their travels will later take them to Sault Ste Marie before they return home to Ohio.

Few people are at the Manistee beach, so unlike South Haven, where the beaches and streets are filled with pushy, bustling, impatient tourists. The man and his wife have been to South Haven many times, but as they see the scarcity of people and the quietness of Manistee they say, I think we have found a new place to stay when we vacation.

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The beach is owned by thousands of Plovers. It is an amazing sight to behold. The man and his wife are mesmerized by the birds, and the man, ever possessed of his camera, begins to take pictures.

Soon the serenity of the place is ruined by a stupid boy who sees the birds as worthy of his scorn and derision. The birds are covering the landscape of HIS beach, and he will have none of that. So he runs through the mass of birds screaming and waving his arms. This put the birds into flight, complaining loudly about the stupid boy.

The man and his wife turn their attention to the pier and lighthouse in the distance. She asks, Do you think you can make it? He replies, Sure. So off they go.

As they begin their slow, faltering stroll on the pier, they notice a sign that says, No Jumping or Swimming off the Pier. The man smiles quietly to himself as he sees four teenage boys doing what the sign prohibits.  He remembers long ago when he, too, would have looked at the sign and proceeded to do exactly what the sign prohibited. He thinks, the folly, wonder, and joy of youth.

As the man and his wife pass the boys in the water, one of them calls out and says, How are you today, sir? The man thought, Sir? Am I really that old?  He knows the answer to the question before he asks. For a few moments the man talks with the boys, then haltingly continues to walk down the pier with his wife.

Not far from the boys, the man, and his wife come upon a pair of ducks: a male, his female, and their brood of ten young ducklings. New life. The man wonders: How many of the ducklings will survive their youth? He knows the answer and this troubles him a bit. A reminder, that, for all its beauty, life is harsh, filled with pain, suffering, and death.

The man and his wife turn back to where the boys are swimming. The man thinks, as he looks at the shallow water with its rock-filled bottom, this is a dangerous place to be diving into the water.

But the boys are oblivious to the danger. The man’s mind races back to the days of his youth, remembering a time when he too lived without fear, enjoying the freedom of living in the moment.

One of the boys climbs back up on the pier and prepares to jump into the water. The man, a hundred feet or so from the boy, points his camera toward him. The man quickly adjusts the shutter speed, focuses the lens, and begins to shoot.

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The man and his wife laugh as they watch the boy. Collectively, their minds wander back to a hot summer day in July when they joined their hands together and said, I do. Thirty-five years ago, they embraced one another and jumped off into the rock-strewn water of life, and survived.

Together they turn to walk back to the car. As they pass the boys, the man shouts, I am going to make you famous. The boys laugh and continue on with the horseplay that dominates their day.

The boys will never know that their innocence, their sign-defying plunges off a pier in Manistee, Michigan, warmed the heart of the man and his wife.

Short Stories: The Day I Got Busted by the Border Patrol

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Gerencser Children, Yuma, Arizona 2004

If there is one thing I am famous for, at least among my children, it is my wanderlust driving of the back roads of wherever we are living at the time. I hate highways and interstates, and, if given a choice, I will always choose a back-road-takes-longer-who-cares-where-we-are-headed route. Our family took many road trips over the years where the only destination was east, west, south, or north.

In 2004, we lived in Yuma, Arizona. We took a lot of road trips, going as far as San Diego, California to the west, Bisbee, Arizona to the east, Phoenix, Arizona to the north, and Mexico to the south. We traveled countless Arizona back roads, drove around the Salton Sea, and attended a Friends church in El Centro, California. I worked for Allegro Medical, Polly cleaned offices, and after work and on the weekends we would jump in our Ford Crown Victoria — the best car we ever owned — and off we would go.

One Saturday, we piled into the car to take a road trip to San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. Outside of Yuma, I decided to get off the highway and take a back road. I was headed south and I knew that the road would eventually lead to the Mexican border. After a few miles, the road began to change into a sand version of a rutted dirt road in Perry County Ohio. The road was narrow and I began to notice that there were no houses . . . anywhere. Polly was worried we were lost. I wasn’t lost, I just didn’t know where I was.

As my family will attest, I don’t turn around and go back. Oh no. I decided to keep driving, only to find out that I wasn’t really driving on a road. I was making my own road through the desert. Now, I began to worry.  The car started getting bogged down in the sand, so I drove faster; you know like a drug smuggler trying to avoid the Border Patrol.

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Polly Gerencser, Arizona 2004, wearing her first pair of pants. Such a heathen 🙂

It wasn’t long before I spotted the steel fence separating the United States from Mexico. See, I thought, I know EXACTLY where we are going. At the border fence, I turned west toward San Luis Rio Colorado. Little did I know that the Border Patrol had been watching me.

As I began to drive west, I noticed a Border Patrol vehicle ahead. I thought, this ain’t going to turn out well. Sure enough, they pulled in front of me, stopped our car, and began to question me. I told them we were just out sightseeing and had gotten a tiny-wee-bit off the road. I thought, I bet they have never heard this line before.

But, they believed me, and just before I started to put the car in drive they said, hey, do you mind if we look in your trunk? I thought, Oh no, not that. You see, I carried all my camera equipment in a padded aluminum case, you know the one that looks just like the one drug dealers use in the movies? I told them they could look in the trunk, but, before they did, I explained to them what they would find and I told them they could open the not-drugs-not-drug-money aluminum case. All they found was camera equipment and they then let us go on our way.

We took the highway home.

Bruce Gerencser