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Tag: Sierra Vista Arizona

Did I Try to Murder My Father’s Wife?

bruce gerencser arizona 1975 (1)
Bruce Gerencser, 1975, Sierra Vista, Arizona

Several weeks ago, Evangelical troll Victor Justice shockingly alleged that I tried to murder my father’s wife. Is Justice right?

In April 1972, my Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) parents divorced after fifteen years of marriage. I was fourteen. Both of them remarried several months later. Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from the Texas prison system. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl with a toddler. Dad had met her at the local dirt track — Millstream Speedway — where she was the trophy girl.

My younger sister and I lived with Dad after the divorce. My younger brother lived with Mom for a time, though a few months later he returned home due to the danger and volatility in Mom’s home. We would, over the next four years, move between Dad’s and Mom’s homes as children of divorced parents often do. From the time of their divorce in 1972 to when I went to college in 1976, I lived with Dad three times for about twenty-six months, and with Mom three times for the balance of the time, save for living my eleventh-grade year with a family in the church we were attending when Mom and Dad divorced. I was living with Mom when I left for Midwestern Baptist College in August 1976.

Dad brought his new wife into our home, thinking that she would become our new mother. While I cannot speak for my siblings, I can say that this was a gross miscalculation on my father’s part. I didn’t need a new mother, I already had one. She was nineteen and I was almost fifteen. In three years, I would be in a serious relationship with a woman her age. (Please see 1975: Anita, My First Love.) There was no chance that she could EVER be my mother. As a result, we never bonded. This led to an adversarial relationship between us. She was thrilled when I moved home to Ohio to live with my mom; but not so thrilled when I moved back.

In March 1972, Dad abruptly informed my siblings and me that we were moving to Tucson, Arizona. We had no say in the matter. Overnight, Dad had our household goods auctioned off, packed up his two cars, and moved us in the night to Tucson. After arriving in Tucson, I learned that the real reason that we moved is that Dad had creditors chasing him — a scenario I experienced most of my young life. Dad was a wheeler dealer and could be, at times, a con man. As a district manager for Combined Insurance Company, Dad embezzled $10,000. Dad was investigated by the ATF for illegal firearm sales, and was even investigated by the FBI as a possible suspect in a bank robbery (which was unfounded). Throw in unpaid rent, utilities, and other debts, and life was definitely “interesting” for the Gerencser children. When people ask me if I moved a lot growing up because of Dad’s job, I reply, no, we moved all the time because Dad didn’t pay the rent.

After settling into our new home in Tucson, I set about carving out a new life in the desert. During the week, I was a tenth-grade student at Rincon High School. This was the first school where I experienced racial diversity. On Sundays and Wednesdays nights, I walked to the Tucson Baptist Temple to attend services. Neither my father, his wife, nor my siblings attended church. I tried to avoid interaction with my dad’s wife, but conflict was inevitable.

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Bruce Gerencser, 1975, Sierra Vista, Arizona

One Sunday, I came home from church and walked into our home. Dad was working on Speedway Boulevard selling carpet. His wife and I had words. I don’t remember what the issue was. It didn’t matter. We always had words. All of a sudden, my dad’s wife picked up a leather belt and hit me in the face. I retaliated by picking her up and throwing her into a cement block wall, knocking her out. I left her lying on the floor and walked to where dad worked and told him what happened. He rushed home and took his wife to the hospital. She had a fractured back.

I could have been arrested for assault. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Neither my dad’s wife nor I talked about the incident afterward. Both of us understood we were wrong to do what we did. Our relationship changed after that. We both stayed away from each other. A couple of months later, I moved back to my mom’s home in Bryan, Ohio. By the time I returned to Arizona in November 1974, Dad and his wife had moved to Sierra Vista. I spent very little time at home, busying myself with my job as a stock clerk for Food Giant, church three times a week and working a bus route on Sundays, and roaming southeast Arizona with my girlfriend. I also worked part-time at my dad’s gun store and manned Dad’s table at various gun shows. My life was busy, which was good, since it meant I spent very little time with Dad’s wife.

In the fall of 1975, I moved back to my mom’s home. Outside of my marriage to Polly in 1978, I would not see or speak to Dad’s wife again. We had a brief email exchange in the early 2000s, but I have no recollection of what we talked about.

Was it wrong for me to throw my dad’s wife into a block wall? Absolutely. I am grateful that I didn’t end up in jail. All of us do dumb things; things that can have catastrophic consequences. On my dad’s wife’s part, hitting me in the face with a belt was child abuse or assault. What happened was the result of a hostile relationship driven by anger. Both of us were lucky to avoid the consequences of our behavior.

Did I intend to murder my dad’s wife? Of course not, and it is absurd to suggest otherwise. Could my actions have caused her death? Absolutely. That’s what happens when anger and rage take over. When passions are enflamed, anything is possible. I visited numerous murderers in local and state prisons. Most of their crimes had a flash point. One boy killed his dad over an argument they had; another killed his friend with a shotgun because they had a disagreement over who should pay for a pizza. We humans can do awful things when sense and rationality go out the window. If I learned one thing it is this: when you find yourself angry or enraged with someone, walk away. Don’t put yourself in a position where something tragic could happen.

An attempted murderer I am not. There was a time when I was a young, temperamental boy who was placed in living situations that were challenging and difficult. The adults in my life were, for the most part, AWOL, leaving me to fend for myself. Even my pastors paid very little attention to what was going on in my life. That’s life, is it not? That’s why it is crucial that children have loving parents who are there for them. Not helicopters, but a guiding presence as they navigate life. My parents were broken from the start, as was their marriage. They did what they could, but their dysfunction had real-world consequences in the lives of their children. I have made peace with my past, and have tried my best to be a good husband, father, and grandfather. Without a doubt, I have failed many times. All I know to do is learn from my past and do better today.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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: Hiking the Huachuca Mountains with Deacon John

Miller Peak, August 1975 with my fifth grade Sunday School class. I was 18. I drove the boys to the base of Miller Peak, up a precarious mountain road, with a  borrowed 1950s stick-shift truck. They rode in the bed of the truck. Crazy times.

To the west and south of Sierra Vista, Arizona, lies the Huachuca Mountain range. I spent many hours hiking these mountains, both by myself and with my girlfriend at the time, Anita Farr. My hikes took me to the top of Miller Peak (9,466 feet), Carr Peak (9,229 feet), and Ramsay Canyon Preserve — a wonderful three-hundred-acre site perfect for watching hummingbirds and other wildlife. On many a summer Arizona evening, my girlfriend and I would take drives along the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains, parking in the vast darkness of night so we could enjoy the starry skies and do a bit of necking. On numerous daytime occasions, I would load my custom .22K Hornet single-shot rifle or 30-06 Marlin lever-action rifle into my car and travel to the same foothills to hunt jackrabbits and javelina. Fit and strong at 6 feet and 160 pounds, I loved the outdoors. There was so much to see and experience. While I am no longer young, fit, or strong, the desire to roam and explore still lives deep within me.

I moved to Sierra Vista in November 1974. My dad owned a gun store. While I would tend the store from time to time, I worked a full-time stocking job at Food Giant. As a devout Fundamentalist Baptist, I sought out a church to attend. For a few months, I drove to Tucson every Sunday — a 150-mile round-trip — so I could attend the Tucson Baptist Temple, pastored at the time by the veritable Louis Johnson. My dad would often travel to Tucson to set up a table at the local swap meet, so I would spend the afternoon helping him peddle firearms, ammunition, and whatever else he might have for sale on that particular day, then attend the evening service at Tucson Baptist. After a few months, I decided that the long drive to the Tucson Baptist Temple hindered me getting actively involved in the church, so I decided to find a church in Sierra Vista to attend. After visiting several churches, I set my affection on Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist Association congregation. I quickly became involved in the church, helping run a bus route and teaching Sunday school. It was here that I met Anita Farr. (Please see 1975: Anita, My First Love.) We immediately hit it off, beginning a five-month-long torrid love affair that ended in September 1975. After our breakup, I sold all my earthly possessions, hopped a Greyhound bus, and returned to northwest Ohio.

Before dating Anita, I set my sights on another church girl. She worked as a waitress at Sambo’s Restaurant. Her father was a deacon in the church. While she and I never connected, her father showed interest in me; an interest that I thought at the time was spiritual in nature. One Sunday, Deacon John came up to me after church and asked if I would be interested in going hiking with him in the Huachuca Mountain range west of Sierra Vista. He likely knew that I was an avid outdoorsman. I said yes, and agreed to meet him at his house on the following Saturday. I have no doubt that, in the back of my mind, I thought that getting in good with Dad might provide me an “in” with his attractive daughter. As it turned out, I got far more than I bargained for.

On Saturday, I drove to Deacon John’s home, parked my 1970 Ford Falcon, and rode with him to where we planned to hike. We had walked a mile or so from the car when Deacon John stopped and said to me that he was going to do some sunbathing and asked if I wanted to join him. I thought his request quite strange, and the strangeness turned into horror when he proceeded to take off all his clothing. I thought at the time, what have I gotten myself into? I was quite naïve about human sexuality in general, but my gut told me that there was something not right about what this man was asking me to do. I quickly mumbled, no thanks, and I walked away from Deacon John as fast as I could. I spent the next couple hours hiking the foothills, trying to put out of my mind that I was alone in the desert with a naked man whom I thought was a godly, spiritual Christian.

I eventually returned to where Deacon John had been sunbathing. He was still naked. I told him it was time for me to get back to town. He put his clothes back on and we walked back to the car, not saying a word to each other; nor did we say one word to each other on the ride back to Sierra Vista. Deacon John didn’t do any hiking that day, so I’m left to believe that he had nefarious intentions, considering that I was a naïve boy who attended church without his parents. After we arrived to his home, I quickly exited the car and thanked him for taking me “hiking.” I avoided Deacon John after that, and he showed no further interest in me. Years of experience and life later have led me to conclude that Deacon John was not interested in helping me develop spiritually; that his interest in me was physical and sexual. I’ve often wondered how many other boys Deacon John took “hiking,” and whether any of them fearfully succumbed to his offer to strip naked and lie with him on a blanket. Deacon John has long since gone to his “eternal” reward, but I can’t help but wonder if Deacon John was a sexual predator, hiding in plain sight amongst the God-fearing Christians at Sierra Vista Baptist Church. What a perfect place to troll for unsuspecting, trusting boys. Deacon John was a respected leader in the church. I can only imagine what might’ve happened if I had mentioned my experience with Deacon John to the church’s pastor or other leaders. Would they have believed me? I suspect not. I am sure I would have been told that I “misunderstood” Deacon John’s intentions; that he was a godly man who loved Jesus. I can’t, however, shake one thing: Deacon John never did do any hiking. Why is that?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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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1975: Anita, My First Love

Only picture of me I have from 1975, age eighteen.

In the spring of 1972, my parents divorced. I was fourteen at the time. Several months later, both of my parents remarried. Mom married her first cousin — a recent parolee from the Texas prison system. Dad married a nineteen-year-old girl he met at the Millstream Motor Speedway outside of Findlay. She brought with her a toddler girl. A year later, Dad suddenly decided to move to Tucson, Arizona. As was his custom, he didn’t ask his children what they thought about moving. Dad treated us like furniture, things to be moved whenever he felt like it. I hated my father for uprooting us repeatedly over the years. What made this move worse was that I had actually attended the same school for thirty-one months — a record. I loved my church and had lots of friends. I played basketball and baseball and had an active social life. None of that mattered to Dad. I later learned that creditors were chasing him, and THAT was the reason for the sudden move to Arizona. Several months after we moved, Dad’s creditors finally figured out where he was and repossessed both of his cars.

I stayed in Arizona for the remainder of my tenth-grade year. As soon as school was out, I jumped on a Greyhound Bus and returned to Bryan, Ohio to live with my mom. By that time, she was living with a violent drunk named Chuck Jones. After living with Mom for two months, I moved back to Findlay to live with a church family. After a few months living with this family, I was abruptly told I could no longer live with them. At the time, I had no idea what I had done to warrant being booted out of their home. Years later, I concluded that the husband likely thought his wife and I were getting too “close” to each other. Was he right? I don’t know, but I can certainly understand him thinking that way.

I then moved in with an older woman in the church, Gladys Canterbury. I was made a ward of the court so she would receive monthly income for my care, and I would have Medicaid health insurance. I finished my eleventh-grade year in May 1974, and then, unbeknownst to Gladys, I arranged for my mom to pick me up so I could move back home. This caused quite a bit of controversy, including threats of arrest. I was, after all, a minor and a ward of the court. However, I was also seventeen, close to the age of emancipation, so the court decided not to intervene.

When it came time to enroll at Bryan High School for my senior year, I decided I no longer wanted to go to high school. Mom was livid when I told her I was dropping out of school. I was a good student, but I just wanted to do my own thing at this point in my life. Influencing this decision was the fact that one of my friends had also dropped out of school. In the 2000s, I took and passed the GED exam, remedying one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

In November of 1974, Mom was committed to the state psychiatric hospital in Toledo, leaving her children, ages 17, 16, and 14 to fend for themselves. Dad got wind of this and came to Bryan to move us back to Arizona. By this time, Dad had moved to Sierra Vista.

Got all that? Now let me get to the subject of this story: Anita.

Once settled in Sierra Vista, I quickly found union employment as a stocker and cashier at Food Giant. As a devout Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Christian, I also found a new church to attend, Sierra Vista Baptist Church — affiliated with the Conservative Baptist Association of America. It was while attending this church that I met a nineteen-year-old girl named Anita Farr.

Anita and I quickly hit it off, and for the next five months, we had a torrid relationship — Baptist-style. No sex, but lots of making out. While I had dated lots of girls before Anita, she was what I would call my “first love.” Whether she truly “loved” me, I still don’t know, but we were inseparable until she left for college in the fall of 1975.

Anita and I had similar personalities: talkative, bullheaded, and ornery. Years later, I concluded that had we gotten married, one of us would have killed the other and ended up in prison. Our similar personalities quickly put us on the radar of the legalists in our church. One deacon, Chuck Cofty, took issue with Anita’s miniskirts, asking me to do something about it. I, of course, didn’t have a problem with Anita’s skirts. Some members also had a problem with Anita waitressing at a local pizza place that served beer — a cardinal sin in IFB churches. While Anita could have got a job elsewhere, I suspect she loved the fact that her employment irritated the hell out of the church’s legalists.

Our first date was at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson. We also took several trips to Mexico, spending the day walking the streets of the border towns. As I look back on our time together, we spent a lot of time driving — anywhere that was away from Sierra Vista. We would drive for hours with no planned destination, talking about God, family, and one another. Sometimes, we would take drives up into the mountains and park to watch the stars — well, that, and make-out. Both of us also loved to hike. Our hikes took us all over southeast Arizona, including to the hummingbird sanctuary in Ramsey Canyon.

Anita, on occasion, would come to my house. My siblings are fond of reminding me that I gave them money to go to 7-11 while Anita was there. I remember my dad “meeting” Anita for the first time. We were lying on the floor making out when Dad walked in on us. “Hi, this is my girlfriend, Anita.” I also spent a fair bit of time at Anita’s house. One night, we were sitting at the dinner table, and Anita said something smart to her father. Her dad stood up and smacked her, knocking her off her chair. I was shocked by her father’s behavior. I was fourteen the last time my dad laid a hand on me.

In the fall of 1975, Anita moved to Phoenix, Arizona to begin her sophomore year at  Southwestern Conservative Baptist Bible College — now known as Arizona Christian University. We intended to continue our relationship. I would drive up to Phoenix on weekends to visit Anita, staying in the college’s dormitory. However, I began to notice a different Anita. I saw that she was quite the flirt, and this, of course, made me jealous. This came to a head in late September. Filled with jealousy and pettiness, I broke off our relationship. I jumped in my 1967 Chevy wagon and returned to Sierra Vista at breakneck speeds, picking up a speeding ticket several miles from home. A week later, I packed up my meager belongings, hopped a bus, and returned to Bryan, Ohio.

Our break-up emotionally wounded me, affecting my dating proclivities and relationships with women for quite a while. While I dated several women post-Anita, I made it clear that I was not interested in a serious relationship. I would carry this feeling with me to college, thinking that I would spend my years at Midwestern Baptist College being a serial dater. However, I met a beautiful dark-haired girl named Polly, and forty-two years later, I am still madly in love with her.

Anita and I corresponded several times after I returned to Ohio. I lost touch with her, and I have often wondered how life turned out for the first love of my life.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 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:

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

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Bruce Gerencser