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Tag: Short Stories

Short Stories: Living Life Like an Ant

black ant

Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise!

— Proverbs 6:6

 There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer.

— Proverbs 30:24, 25

Several weeks ago, we took a vacation to southeast Ohio, a trip that turned into a disaster and left me in a precarious mental state (from which I have not recovered). Please read I’m Back From Vacation for further information about our trip.

One evening after we returned from our trip, I told Polly I wanted to go to the Jubilee — a fair and carnival that has encircled the William’s County Courthouse in Bryan, Ohio every June of my sixty-five years of existence. The Jubilee is a shell of what it once was, an empty reminder of glory days long since passed. Declining attendance and exorbitant prices likely will doom its existence sometime in the future. When I was a teenager, the Jubilee was THE place to be. The square would be packed with people. I typically went to the Jubilee every night, hoping to run into my friends. We’d eat high cholesterol, sugary food, ride the Ferris wheel or Scrambler, flirt with girls, and horse around.

The Jubilee has a deep, sentimental connection with me. Not so for Polly. She never liked going to the Jubilee. Of course, always having toddlers and children in tow will do that to you. Polly knew that going to the Jubilee might be good for me mentally, so she said “sure, let’s go.” We put on our go-to-town clothes, lathered up sunblock, got $60 from the ATM, and parked a couple of blocks away from the Square. Bethany was with us. I thought she might enjoy riding a couple of rides. She did, though Polly was not as excited since she had to ride with her. They rode the Ferris wheel and the carousel.

As I stood nearby watching them, I looked down to the ground and saw a big black ant. He quickly captured my attention. Long-time readers know that I love ants. My grandchildren are not permitted to kill them. As I watched this ant scurry about, I thought about his brief and dangerous existence. Here he was scuttling around, searching for food. All around him was danger, particularly thoughtless humans who wouldn’t give a moment’s pause before crushing his insignificant body on the sidewalk. Everywhere this ant went there were obstacles to avoid; threats to his very existence. With nary a thought (do ants think?) about the existential threats around him, the ant continued to look for food. For a few minutes, the sounds of the causeway faded away and my mind was focused on this diminutive, yet magnificent creature.

My mind went to the Bible, Proverbs 6:6: consider her [the ant’s] ways, and be wise. On this hot summer night, this ant had a lesson to teach me, reminding me that life is short, filled with danger, and all I can do is embrace my life as it is. I too am scurrying about, hoping to meet my needs and make it to another day. The threats to my existence are very different from those of the ant, but they are just as real. I know that I am running out of time. Days, weeks, months, or even a few years from now, Polly will post a final article on this site, announcing my demise. I’ve embraced my mortality, realizing there’s little I can do to stave off the inevitable. So how then should I live?

On the ABOUT page I give this advice:

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.

Eight years later, I stand by this advice.

I continue to lose dexterity and motor function. These losses constantly chip away at the things I can safely do. Sometimes, I do things I shouldn’t, tempting fate — much to Polly’s consternation. Most days, I recognize my limitations. I am ready to die, but I prefer it not to be today.

This ant taught me a lot about life, about being focused on what matters. While I am still in a difficult place psychologically, a black ant did give me a brief respite from my struggles.

Thanks, Mr. Ant . . .

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: The Night Polly Almost Went to Jail

chrysler k car
1980s Chrysler K Car, Junction City, Ohio

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-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: The Night I Totaled My Plymouth Duster on High Street in Columbus, Ohio

plymouth duster

In January 1980, tired of working mindless, boring factory jobs, I turned to the help wanted ads in the Newark Advocate, looking for a new job. The local Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips was looking for an assistant manager trainee. The job paid $155 a week, with full benefits. I applied for the job, and Ann Vanderslice, the general manager, hired me. Thus would begin my restaurant management career. I would continue working for Arthur Treacher’s until September 1981.

I quickly learned that the restaurant business was for me — a perfect job for a Type A workaholic. After five months as an assistant manager, I was offered the general manager position at the Brice Road store in Reynoldsburg. The store was in disarray, with a staff that was, to put it mildly, lazy and poorly trained. Most employees either voluntarily left or were fired. My district manager, Bill Wickert, called me “The Hammer.” Bill told me, “okay, Bruce, they are all yours now,” meaning my hires, my responsibility.

I have worked a number of jobs over the years; I mean lots of jobs. If I had to choose one secular job I loved the most, it would be restaurant management. Quite frankly, I was good at my job. Committed. Passionate. Hardworking. Never missed work. I would later work for Long John Silver’s (Westerville, Zanesville, Heath) and Charley’s Steakery (Zanesville). If it weren’t for Jesus and the ministry, I likely would have started my own restaurant.

Periodically, the cash register had to be reprogrammed. I easily took to doing this, unlike some general managers who were technology challenged. One night after closing, I headed over to the High Street store to help program their register. One of my assistants, a redheaded man named Steve, went along with me. Off we went without a care in the world.

Nearing the High Street store, I stopped at a stop light. All of a sudden, a car plowed into the back of my 1971, three-speed on the floor, Plymouth Duster. I had bought the baby blue-colored car from Polly’s sister, Kathy, for $400. The crash crunched the rear of the car, spilling the trunk’s contents onto the roadway: spare tire, 8-track player, and a gallon of paint. Only the spare tire survived.

The driver who hit me tried to flee the scene of the accident. My car was barely drivable. I chased her for two city blocks until she stopped. The woman was drunk. A Columbus police officer came to the scene and took a report. He ignored the fact that the woman was inebriated.

The woman gave me her phone number so I could contact her about filing an insurance claim. When I called her, she informed me that she didn’t have insurance. Through my own insurance company, I learned that she did, so I called her again — at work. She worked for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. I told her that I knew she had insurance. When she tried to con me again, I told her I planned to call her boss if she didn’t file an insurance claim. She quickly complied. Sadly, her insurance company only paid me $200 for my car. They, too, conned me out of what was rightfully mine. Lesson learned. I never let an insurance company pull one over on me again.

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: Four Generations of Popeye and His Garbage Can

popeye the sailor man

As a child in the 1960s, I was taught several ditties by my father, including one about Popeye and his garbage can:

Popeye the sailor man, lived in the garbage can,

Ate all the worms, and spit out the germs,

Popeye, the sailor man!

As a father, I taught my children this song too. Classical music at its best. 🙂

Several of our children came over on Mother’s Day to worship at Polly’s feet. We had a wonderful day.

As I came into our living room, I overheard son #2 tell one of his younger children:

Popeye the sailor man, lived in the garbage can,

Ate all the worms, and spit out the germs,

Popeye, the sailor man!

🙂

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: A Crooked Sign

sign

My wife and I have thirteen grandchildren, aged two to twenty-one. Three of our grandchildren are ages 16, 15, and 14. All three are intelligent kids, straight-A students. I have found it interesting and enjoyable to watch them grow up. They are now at that age where they are not adults, but neither are they children; conversant in the things of the world, yet without much real-world experience. All three of them read my blog. They peruse my bookshelves, trying to size up the man they call Grandpa. My grandchildren don’t know much about Bruce Gerencser, the preacher. I had left the ministry by the time they were born. The Grandpa they know is disabled, unable to drive, a man who is a curmudgeon who loves to talk about politics, religion, sports, and make snarky, sarcastic jokes. My oldest grandson, the fourteen-year-old, and I were in the garage looking for my Hitachi corded power drill the other day. I need it for a project we were working on in the house. The drill was nowhere to be found. In the space of a few seconds, I said, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. 🙂 Evidently, one of my children “borrowed” the drill and hadn’t returned it (I’ve threatened to put RFID tags on my tools so I will know where they are.) That meant I had to use “the beast,” a 1/2 inch drive Black and Decker drill I have owned for twenty-five years. As we came into the house, my grandson said with a smile on his face to his father, “Grandpa said the “F” word five times in two seconds!” We all laughed . . . and then I said fuck again. 🙂

Yesterday, my oldest son was over with his family for dinner. Polly and I made: fried catfish, fried shrimp, hushpuppies, asparagus (from our garden), and coleslaw, complete with beer, pop, or unsweet iced tea. After dinner, I noticed my son was trying to straighten up the sign I recently put up over our liquor cabinet. I said, “what are you doing?” I then told him that I meant for it to be crooked on purpose.

My sixteen-year-old granddaughter and fourteen-year-old grandson were perplexed. The grandfather they knew NEVER hung up ANYTHING crooked. EVER! Their father grew up in a home where a tape measure, shims, plumb-bob, and a level were never far away. He and his siblings have “fond” memories of helping me perfectly align the pulpit in the church’s front and center. I mean, perfectly align. Welcome to Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.

By the way, this is the first time I have ever deliberately hung something crooked. I doubt I will continue down this decadent path. 🙂

Why the crooked sign? I love its take on the Bible verse: as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. 🙂 The crooked sign also reminds me of how Polly walks when she has drunk too much wine. 🙂

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: The Man and Cat Behind the Dumpster

feral kitten 2

Several weeks ago, my wife, Polly, and I drove to Defiance to eat dinner at Sweetwater Chophouse. Prior to our reservation time, Polly drove our car through the car wash and then we headed over to Goodwill to drop off unwanted clothing and household goods. We are in the process of de-junking our home, getting rid of unused or unwanted “stuff.” If we had just collected everything for a few months, we could have had a yard sale this summer, but we just want the stuff gone, so every week or so we drop clothing and household items off at Goodwill in Defiance or Bryan, or take things to Care and Share, a Mennonite resale shop in Archbold. We prefer to use Care and Share, but sometimes it’s closer and easier to drop things off at the local Goodwill stores.

As we pulled around to the back of the Defiance Goodwill, we noticed a pick-up truck sitting next to a dumpster for Fricker’s — a sports bar. We noticed an old man, my age or slightly older, feeding a young feral cat. It was evident the man had spent time with this cat before. The cat was hesitant, as all feral cats are, but with a little coaxing, the old man got the cat to come to him and eat food out of a can. After the cat was finished eating, the man gingerly picked him up, took a tube of medicine out of his pocket, and put some antibiotic cream on the cat’s lame leg.

I wept as I watched this man patiently, kindly, and lovingly care for the least of these. I asked Polly to drive me up to the dumpster so I could speak to the man. I rolled down my window and said to him, “thank you.” He told that he had been caring for the cat since April 2021. Originally, there were four kittens, but only this one was left. He lamented the fact that the other cats were gone, likely dead.

feral kitten

Small acts of kindness to the least of these, be they humans or animals. Our family has been feeding local feral cats (and non-feral cats, raccoons, possums, skunks, grackles, and starlings) with cat food put on a plate inside a fiberglass doghouse for fifteen years. Why? Because, through no fault of their own, these cats face suffering and deprivation. The least we can do for them is provide food, water, and a place to get out of the cold.

Over the years, we have fed and cared for dozens of feral cats. Some we see once or twice, others visit our backyard for months or several years. Rarely do the cats let us touch them, but Bethany, our daughter with Down syndrome, has a knack for befriending them. Some of the cats will run to her when she is outside, rubbing against her leg or even letting her pet them. I suspect the cats sense that Bethany is not a threat to them.

Life presents us with small, insignificant opportunities to lessen harm for both humans and animals alike. Yet, far too often, we are so absorbed with “self” that we don’t pay attention to those in need around us.

Pay attention, and do what you can . . .

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: Camp Chautauqua, Miamisburg, Ohio

youth camp

Back in my younger days, youth Camp was one big event most Independent Fundamentalist Baptist(IFB) teens looked forward to every year. Campwas a week-long event dedicated to daily devotions, praying, and listening to preaching two or more times a day. Every summer countless teenagers would go to camp, returning home a week later with their spiritual batteries recharged and their notebook filled with sermon notes mailing addresses of cute boys or girls.

I went to camp in the 1970s for three years — eighth through tenth grades.

As an eighth-grader, I attended Camp Patmos, a General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) youth camp. Camp Patmos is located on Kelley’s Island in Lake Erie. I don’t remember much about my week at Camp Patmos. One thing that stands out is that one of the older boys in my cabin took the camera of another boy while he was away from the cabin and took pictures of his genitals. I can only imagine the horror of the boy’s parents when they saw the developed pictures.

I attended Camp Chautauqua in Miamisburg, Ohio the summers of 1972 and 1973. The camp is owned and operated by the Baptist Bible Fellowship (BBF). The church I attended at the time, Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay Ohio, is a BBF affiliated church. Numerous BBF churches from Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, brought their teenagers to Camp Chautauqua for a week of spiritual challenge, with a little bit of fun thrown in to keep campers happy.

I have many fond memories of the two summers I spent at Camp Chautauqua. The spiritual emphasis was intense and played an instrumental part in my call to the ministry. A number of the big-gun Baptist preachers preached at the evening chapel services. I can still remember Peter Ruckman’s sermons, complete with his famous chalk drawings. I also remember John Rawlings, then pastor of Landmark Baptist Temple (now Landmark Church) in Cincinnati, preaching one night, and during his sermon he shared an illustration about cleaning shit out of the barn when he was young. He actually said the word SHIT!! Needless to say, I was stunned. Later in life, I learned that some Christians didn’t think shit was a curse word, especially when used to describe animal manure.

Camp brought upwards of a thousand youth together for one week. Camp Chautauqua had a lot of real estate for meandering teens to get lost in.  Follow me for a moment . . . It’s the 70s. A thousand teenagers, ninth through twelfth grade. Lots of real estate in which hormone-raging teens could get lost. Well, use your imagination. The highlight of youth camp for me was the girls. Forget the home church girls for a week. I traded addresses with several girls. Sadly, as of today. I am still waiting for that cute, dark-haired girl from Elyria to write back. 🙂

The first year I went to Camp Chautauqua, Gene Milioni, the pastor of Trinity Baptist, was our cabin counselor. He was pretty easy to outwit. The next year, the youth pastor, Bruce Turner, was the cabin counselor, (please see Dear Bruce Turner) and he proved to be every bit our match. He was not so far removed from his own youth that he had forgotten the dangers of putting a bunch of teenage boys and girls in proximity to one another.

Practical jokes were an everyday occurrence. The jokes were fun to pull on others, but payback could be brutal. From stolen bedding and purloined light bulbs to shaving cream in sleeping bags, practical jokes were a part of what made camp a great experience. And besides, I was a pretty good joke perpetrator.

The music was another highlight of camp. Most of the churches that brought their teens to camp were mid-size to large churches, so the musical talent level was superb. Wonderful music. To this day, I think some of the best singing I have ever heard was at Camp Chautauqua.

If I had a negative experience at camp, I don’t remember it. Perhaps this is the wistful remembering of an old man trying to recall what happened fifty years ago during the glory days of his youth. Perhaps my fond memories are a reflection of the fact that camp, for me and for many others, was a respite from our Fundamentalist churches and family dysfunction. Camp was the one week out the year that I got to hang out with my friends and meet new people without having adults watching my every move.

Camp Chautauqua went into foreclosure in 2013. It was purchased by Jason Harmeyer, and based on the pictures I have seen, the Camp is no longer a Fundamentalist Baptist institution (though it still is quite Evangelical).

Here’s an excerpt from a Dayton Daily News article about the camp:

Miamisburg’s Camp Chautauqua, “The Camp by the River,” which sprawls throughout Montgomery and Warren counties, was on the verge of foreclosure when Jason Harmeyer, son of the longtime caretaker, stepped up to save the camp where he grew up. Purchased less than a year ago, the grounds and community center are again being put to use.

“I was 4 when we moved here,” says Harmeyer, an expert on the camp’s 100-plus year history.

The American Chautauqua Movement saw camps sprout up throughout the country to bring entertainment and culture to rural areas from the late 1800s to the 1920s. After the movement died out, campgrounds served other purposes, and many disappeared.

In its heyday, the Miamisburg Chautauqua hosted such notables as Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Eleanor Roosevelt and baseball player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday.

“It’s seen a little bit of everything, from famous orators and thinkers to entertainers such as Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn; then it was a religious entity, and back and forth,” said Harmeyer.

“My dad took the caretaker’s job in 1977, and called me two years ago to say it was going into foreclosure. I moved back, set up the Chautauqua Foundation Inc., a 501C3 with a board of advisors, and we purchased the camp last August.

“Now, we hope to re-introduce Chautauqua back to the regional community.”

Although Harmeyer has long-term plans for the camp, which includes 59 buildings on 45 acres, activities in the community center have already begun.

How about you? Did you attend camp as a teenager? Do you have a camp story to share?

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: 1983: Smelly Carpet, Sprite, Psycho Bruce, and a Christmas Tree

christmas tree new lexington 1985
Christmas tree at another New Lexington house, 1984

In July 1983, I planted a new church in Somerset Ohio. I would, for the next eleven years, pastor Somerset Baptist Church, starting in a storefront and later holding services in a 150-year-old brick church building purchased from the Methodist Conference. I would learn a lot about myself during the time I spent pastoring this church For a few years, the church experienced rapid numerical growth (reaching 200 in attendance), leading to scores of professions of faith. And then, just as quickly, the church numerically receded, returning to a typical country church of fifty or so people. I could spend months writing about my experiences as pastor of this church, but for now, I want to focus on a house we lived in on Water Street in New Lexington, Ohio.

When I started the church, we lived in Buckeye Lake, twenty-five miles north and west of Somerset. Wanting to live in the area where I would be ministering, we sought out housing in Somerset. Unable to find housing, we rented a house in New Lexington — a community built on a hill nine miles south of Somerset. After moving into the home, we noticed the carpets had a smell. The longer we lived there the worse the smells became. I mentioned this to the owner. He said the previous tenants had animals and that’s why the carpet smelled. Determining that we were likely going to move if he didn’t do something about the smell, the owner had the carpets replaced in the living room and main bedroom. Despite the carpet replacement, the house still had a faint smell of animal urine. I suspect the urine had soaked into the wood floors underneath the carpet, and as anyone who has ever had to deal with such a problem knows, once this happens either the floors must be sanded and refinished or shellacked to seal in the odor. Six weeks later, we decided to move to a ramshackle farmhouse northeast of Somerset, near Glenford, Ohio.

There are several stories I would like to share from the few months we spent living on Water Street. I have always been a pop (soda) drinker. My drink of choice was/is Pepsi, but I would, from time to time, drink other brands such as Coke and Sprite. These were the days when pop came packaged as eight returnable 16-ounce glass bottles. Many of my fellow baby boomers have memories, I’m sure, of collecting pop bottles for money or using pop bottles for ashtrays or emergency urinals The returnable bottles were sent by grocery stores to bottlers who would sanitize the bottles and refill them with the proper soft drink. One day, I decided to drink a bottle of Sprite. I grabbed the bottle opener, popped the cap off the bottle, put it to my lips, and tipped the bottle so the sugary drink would flow. Suddenly, I felt something hit my teeth. I quickly stop drinking, and upon investigating I found a barrette with hair still attached in the bottle. Gagging, I quickly put the bottle down. To this day, I find it hard to drink Sprite. Irrational as it might be, all I can think of when I think about drinking a Sprite is that barrette with hair attached hitting me in the teeth.

As a young adult, I did a good bit of walking and talking in my sleep. My brother and sister have all sorts of stories about my sleepwalking escapades, including walking through the living room brushing my teeth. Not long after Polly and I were married, she awoke to find me standing in the corner of the bedroom urinating. Sound asleep, I thought I was in the bathroom. The sleepwalking continued into my later life. One night, while living in New Lexington, we had gone to bed, and as had been the custom for the past 43 years, Polly quickly fell asleep and I fitfully tossed and turned before finally drifting off into that night’s dream world. Several hours into the night, Polly awoke to find me crouched over her — eyes wide open. I was sound asleep, but Polly thought I was a psychopath fixing to kill her. After a few moments, I rolled over, while Polly was left shaking, fearing for her life. Both of us wondered if I would someday do something hurtful and not know that I did it. Fortunately, Polly and our six children survived. These days, the only sleepwalking I do is the wide-awake kind as I make one of my nightly trips to the bathroom or the kitchen. I still talk in my sleep from time to time. Polly no longer fears becoming the next day’s headline, though she does enjoy retelling what I said to her in one of my sleep-talking moments. I can, in her words, still be quite entertaining.

A few days after Thanksgiving, we decided to move from Water Street to our newly-rented house in Glenford. We had very few possessions, so we were able to do all the moving with a pickup truck. Having just put up our Christmas tree several days before, we decided to leave all the decorations on the tree as we moved it to its new location. I still remember how hilarious it was to see that Christmas tree sitting in the back of the pickup truck, fully decorated. As you might imagine, by the time we got to our new house, all the tinsel had blown off the tree, as had some of the glass bulbs. I know– the stupid stuff kids do, right? We put the tree back together, in preparation for what we still call to this day the Christmas from Hell. But that’s a story for another day.

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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: The Day a Yard Sale Cost the Church a Member

jesus cleanses temple

In the fall of 1995, I started a new church in West Unity, Ohio named Grace Baptist Church. Several years later, we changed the name of the church to Our Father’s House to better reflect our non-denominational approach. Prior to starting this church, I pastored Olive Branch Christian Union Church — located five miles north of West Unity. Several families from Olive Branch joined with us in our new church endeavor. This post is about one of the families who made the move to the new church.

John and Betty (not their real names) lived in Michigan, just north of the Ohio line. Betty was quite talkative, the type of person who, if you saw her at the grocery, you headed in the opposite direction. While I certainly enjoy talking myself, Betty rarely let anyone get in a word edgewise. I am sure she meant well, but fifteen minutes of having to listen to Betty was as tiring as a strenuous workout at the gym. I listened, she talked. And when she was done telling all and more than everything she knew, she would walk away, looking for someone else to regale with her stories and world observations. I was always glad when she sought out others to talk to.

John was very different from his wife. Quiet and reserved, John was content to let his Betty do all the talking and decision-making. There was never a question about who wore the pants in the family. Even when John was specifically asked about his opinion, he would slightly tilt his head to the side and defer to his wife. I don’t remember a time when John made a decision without checking with Betty first. I suspect it was just his personality. John liked to please others and detested conflict. He was in his 40s before he married Betty. Prior to that, he lived with his parents.

Survey my children and you will learn that one of the Bruce Gerencser laws drilled into their heads had to do with being on time. I thought then, and still do today, that it is important to be punctual. If I say I am going to be somewhere at 5:00 pm, people can expect me to be there on time. And on time means at least thirty minutes early. Yes, I am one of THOSE guys. One of my sons asked me why I was so insistent about punctuality and being early if at all possible. I laughed and told him that there were two reasons why I always arrived early at scheduled events. First, when the kids were young, we drove junk cars with tires that had very little tread. These tires were more prone to flats, and I always left early so I would have enough time to change a tire and still make it to wherever I was headed without being late. I also hated walking into a place late. Despite the fact I spent most of my adult life preaching and teaching, I was quite self-conscious, and walking into a place late often made me feel like everyone was staring at me. Arriving late for a church service was even worse. Baptists are notorious for sitting at the back of the church. The front pews are rarely filled, and those arriving late often have to sit toward the front of the church. If we were late, that meant we — all eight of us — would have to traipse to the front of the church to find seats. I was quite embarrassed when this happened, and on a few occasions, I turned around and went home rather than do what I — in my mind — thought of as a perp walk. Silly, I know, but to this day I go out of my way to be early. I am too old to change.

Now I have told you this so you can better understand the next part of the story. John and Betty were notorious for being late. Sunday morning service began at 11:00 am and it was not uncommon for John and Betty to be 30 minutes to an hour late. They lived a half-hour from the church, so this meant on most Sundays they hadn’t even left home before the service started. One week, they were so late that they arrived just as we were getting ready for the benediction. Being late never seemed to bother them, but it sure as heaven bothered me. More than once I stopped preaching, hoping that my impatient pause would let them know that I was not happy with their tardiness. I think they likely thought I was just being polite, allowing them time to get settled before I preached the last ten minutes of my sermon.

One week the church decided to hold a yard sale at its building. The women of the church put tables outside of the building, stacked with clothing and knickknacks they hoped to sell. They also put items for sale inside the church. The proceeds of the sale would go towards some sort of church project. On the morning after the first day of the sale the phone rang at the church. It was Betty and she was quite upset with me for allowing the women to have a sale in God’s house. Quoting the Jesus cleansing the Temple of money changers Bible passage, Betty couldn’t believe that I would ever permit such a thing. She then informed me that she and her husband would no longer be attending the church. I made no effort to talk her out of leaving the church. Quite frankly, their entire contribution to the church was disrupting the services every time they were late. As far as I know, they never financially contributed to the church, even though both of them had full-time jobs at a nearby factory. They never volunteered to help clean the church, visit shut-ins, man the clothing room/food pantry, or any of the other opportunities they had to help others. Betty couldn’t even be bothered to help her invalid sister, who was a member of the church. Well, she would help IF her sister would pay Betty for the privilege. Of all the things Betty did, this infuriated me the most. I thought, this is your sister, and you won’t help her unless she gives you money? How Christian is that? The church, of course, stepped in and helped Betty’s sister, often taking her to doctor’s appointments in Toledo — 50 miles away. Needless to say, when Betty said they were leaving the church, I thought, good riddance!

One time, Betty made a deep financial sacrifice and bought — at Goodwill — a $2 wall plaque of Jesus for the church nursery. Several years after John and Betty left the church, I resigned and the congregation decided to disband. As we were gathering up things to donate to Goodwill and other churches, I came upon Betty’s plaque. As I turned Jesus over, I noticed that Betty had written her name and the words PLEASE RETURN on the back of the plaque. I snickered as I read it, and then, with great pleasure and delight, tossed the plaque in the trash. For the first time, I had the last word.

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