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Tag: Short Stories

Short Stories: The Pool Hall

bruce gerencser 1970

Half way through my fifth-grade school year, my dad informed us that we were moving from Harrod to Farmer — both in northwest Ohio. There’s a story to be told about why we had to move, but I will leave it for another day.

By the time I arrived at Farmer Elementary School in 1968, I had already attended five different schools. Dad “rented” an old farmhouse owned by his older sister Mary on State Route 249, one mile east of Farmer. I say “rented” because Dad had a penchant for not paying rent/loans — especially when it involved his gullible sisters. I have no doubt that Dad had a rent tab with Mary.

I finished the last half of fifth grade and all of sixth grade at Farmer, thinking, “wow, maybe we are going to live here for awhile.” I had made friends and played baseball for the Farmer Tigers. I even started paying attention to girls. In the mind of a then twelve-year-old country boy, my life revolved around friends, church, girls, and sports. Life was good, right (even though this was when my mom was raped while I was home sick from school)? Alas, as my dad often did, he would soon disrupt my life.

September 1969 found me attending Ney Junior High School — in the community I currently live in. I was excited about making it to the next level academically. I also discovered I could play sports other than baseball. I made the Ney seventh grade football team, and I planned to play basketball in the winter.

Two weeks into the school year, Dad came home and informed us that we were moving — immediately. No goodbyes to my friends, no promises of eternal love. The short, slight-of-weight redheaded boy who loved joking around was gone, never to be seen again in the halls of Ney Junior High.

Our new destination? Deshler, forty miles south and east of Ney. Dad rented a house on North Park Street. He was a district sales manager for Combined Insurance. I, once again, made new friends. We would live in Deshler all of nine months, moving twenty-six miles down the road to Findlay after school was out for the year.

While living in Deshler, I delivered newspapers for the Findlay Republican-Courier. The Republican-Courier was a morning newspaper, so I delivered my route each day before school. This was in the days before parents shuttled their children around for their paper routes. I got up early every morning, rolled my papers, put them in my bag, and rode my bike delivering the daily paper to my customers (back in a day when older customers were already up and waiting for their paper to arrive).

Neither of my parents provided me any guidance about the newspaper business. I opened a checking account at the Corn City Bank, which later proved to be a really bad idea. What could go wrong, right? No one, and I mean no one, questioned a twelve-year-old boy writing checks at local businesses. During Christmas that year, I went to the local drug store and bought myself a gift — a twenty-four bar box of Clark candy bars (still my favorite candy bar and impossible to find today).

I started hanging out at the local pool hall so I could play the hall’s pinball machines. I quickly became addicted to playing pinball. When I needed more cash to play the machines, I would write a check to the pool hall — say for $5. I soon had a cash flow problem, spending money that should have gone to pay my newspaper bill on flipping steel balls from bumper to bumper, hoping to rack up a big enough score to get a free game or three.

After a month or so of decadent, “sinful” behavior, the newspaper’s district manager contacted my dad about my unpaid bill (and the papers I stopped delivering). The newspaper took the route away from me, expecting dad to pay my bill. Instead, Dad went up to the pool hall and demanded the owner pay my debt. When the owner balked, Dad reminded him that it was illegal in the state of Ohio for minors to frequent pool halls. The owner quickly saw the light and gave my dad the money I had spent at the hall. Knowing my dad as I do, to this day I wonder if the money made it to the Republican-Courier. My gut tells me that my bill is still outstanding.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Short Stories: The Day Elvis Came to Church

elvis

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

What follows is a humorous and tragic story of a man I met in church.

In 2003, my family and I moved to Clare, Michigan so I could assume the pastorate of Victory Baptist Church — a Southern Baptist congregation. I pastored Victory Baptist for seven excruciating months. This would be the last church I pastored. While at Victory, we lived in a gated community called White Birch — north of Farwell, Michigan.

One evening, my family and I drove to Mt Pleasant to do some shopping at Meijer. When we returned home, I noticed that the red light on the answering machine was flashing. I clicked play and heard the following:

Hello, this is Elvis. I am staying at the Doherty Hotel in Clare. I would like to talk to you. Please call me back at ______________.

I thought, “yeah right. Elvis?” I thought one of my preacher friends was trying to put one over on me. So I called the number, expecting to reach a jokester on the other end, but come to find out, it really was Elvis.

Well, actually it was a man named Barry, and Barry believed he was Elvis.

I don’t remember how Barry got to Clare, but he was on social security disability and lived in a rented apartment.

Barry wanted to attend our church. And so he did . . .

Barry didn’t come to church every week, but when he did, he came dressed in bright colors, scarfs, and spangles just like Elvis wore. When Barry arrived, everyone paused to look, not saying a word. He definitely stood out among the more “normal” people who attended the church. I would later learn that he was likely the most honest man in the room.

Barry had mental health problems, and quite frankly a lot of church members didn’t know how to handle him. He was “different,” and “different” is not something the church understood. Barry and I got along quite well. I learned that he had been sexually abused, misused, and taken advantage of by several Pentecostal churches and a homeless shelter in the South. They mentally and emotionally crushed Barry, and it is a wonder he didn’t end up in a mental hospital.

I tried to be Barry’s friend. I knew he needed people to love and encourage him. Unfortunately, Barry had a tendency to say whatever was on his mind, and a lot of church members found his verbal outbursts upsetting. One Sunday, we were sitting around the table in the Adult Sunday School Class — also known as the Heresy of the Week Class — discussing the Sunday School lesson. The Sunday School teacher, an older man by the name of Steve, asked if anyone had anything to share. Barry did:

I need prayer, I have a problem with masturbation.

Dead silence. Instant offense showed on the faces of many at the table. The teacher didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing. I quickly told Barry that we would talk about this after church.

Barry definitely spiced up the church. I have often wondered what happened to him. I hope he found someone to help him, love him, and accept him for who he was — even if he thought he was Elvis.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Short Stories: The Church Christmas Tree

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.

In 1985, the congregation bought an abandoned Methodist church building five miles east of Somerset on top of what was commonly called Sego Hill. After months of remodeling, the sanctuary was ready to use. Built in the 1830s, the church had oak floors, colored glass windows, and a 25-foot vaulted ceiling. The building was classic for its era, one of the oldest church buildings in the county. Purchased for $5,000, the sanctuary and annex required $15,000 in improvements, including two gas furnaces to replace the coal-converted-to-propane monster in the basement. We would later install a wood/coal furnace after propane costs skyrocketed one year.

December, 1985 was our first Christmas in the new building. I decided that we would purchase a Christmas tree and put it in the back of the sanctuary. After discussing with several congregants whether to get an artificial or real tree, one man spoke up and said, “preacher, I can get us a real Christmas tree and it won’t cost us anything.” I replied, “that would be great.”

A few days later, the man showed up at the church with a huge Christmas tree in the back of his 1960s Ford pickup. The man unloaded the tree, carried it into the church, and propped the monstrosity in the back corner. Proudly, he asked, “preacher, what do you think?” as I looked at the scrawny pine tree — 12 feet in height. I thought, “man, this tree sure is scrawny. I wonder where he bought it?” I told the man, “looks great! — a lie to be sure, but better than wounding the man’s spirit. He was so proud of doing this for me that I didn’t want to discourage him. It’s just a tree, I told myself. No big deal. “Where did you get this tree?” I asked. The man replied, “oh I went up on Route 13 and cut down one of the trees growing along the highway.” “You WHAT?” I alarmingly replied. “You do know that those trees are government property?” The man genuinely seemed clueless about the ownership question.  And then, without missing a beat, he replied, “well, preacher, those trees belong to God!”

This tree would be the first and last Christmas tree in the sanctuary. Two years later, I came out against Christmas and its excesses, putting an end to any sort of tree or decorations in the sanctuary. In their place, the sanctuary rang with sermons against Christmas and the excesses of the season. I am sure, compared to my guilt-inducing sermons, congregants missed the scrawny Christmas tree, regardless of its provenance.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Short Stories: Down the Hill in Chula Vista

chula vista 1960s
Chula Vista, early 1960s. Front Row: My brother Bobby, my sister Robin, friend of Marijene’s, Aunt Marijene, and Butch. Back Row: Neighbor boy. Gotta love my gun, hat, and vest.

In the early 1960s, my dad packed up Mom and me, along with my younger brother and sister, and moved us to California. Dad was certain that California was a land of rainbows, and that a pot of gold awaited him in the Golden State. Three years later, as broke as when he arrived, Dad moved us back to Bryan, Ohio. In fact, Dad was so broke that he had to trade his pocket watch for a tank of gas in Illinois — just enough fuel to get us to Bryan.

We lived in several houses in California, one of which was a sprawling ranch house on a hill in Chula Vista. One day, my grandmother, Jeanette Rausch, and her daughter, Marijene, came to visit us. While Grandma and Mom were talking, my siblings and I went outside to play; “play” being climbing in the front seat of Grandma’s car.

I was sitting on the driver’s side of the car, and my sibling were next to me. I am sure both of them would say that it was no surprise that Butch (my family nickname) was in the driver’s seat. I was ALWAYS in the driver’s seat; the boss; the “man” in charge.

I had not yet shut the driver’s side door when I decided — as ornery six-year-old boys are wont to do — to grab the column shifter and put the transmission in neutral. Much to my youthful surprise, the car began rolling down the hill. Instead of trying to put the car in park or hit the brake, I bailed out of the open driver’s door, leaving Robin and Bobby in the car as it rolled down the hill.

The car picked up speed as it went down the hill, crashing through the neighbor’s fence and mowing over his beautiful poinsettias. The car continued rolling through his yard, ending up in the middle of the road at the bottom of the hill.

Payday for my crime was swift in coming. Grandma was livid. I remember hearing her hollering as she spanked Robin and Bobby. I received no such whipping. I denied being in the car, despite the protestations of my siblings. Somebody had to pay. I was sure glad it was Robin and Bobby.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 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.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser