Sun Lakes Writers’ Group


The Oddball

Dick Nelsen

I guess no one noticed him enter the Sanctuary on that beautiful Easter morning. The old staid downtown church was festooned with flowers, beautiful lilies virtually covered the front of the church. People had arrived early as they usually did on Easter Sunday to get a good seat. Ushers had even placed extra chairs in the back and even down some of the aisles. Thankful that the Fire Marshall wasn’t on hand the minister looked over his congregation and felt a bit proud that so many parishioners had packed the place.

Not only had the people jammed the pews, but they were all dressed in their very best Easter finery. The men in suits and ties, the women resplendent in new dresses. It was after all an older generation congregation. Some of the ladies even wore hats. The minister thought you just don’t see that very much anymore, but then it was the Easter holiday. In your Easter bonnet with all the fringe upon it: you’ll be the … He was thinking of that song while the choir was finishing the Introit. When suddenly a mummer began in the back of the church and began cascading toward the front. The minister briefly lost in thought looked up to see this spectacle walking down the center aisle.

He was obviously a homeless person judging by the way he was dressed. He had on grubby dirty old combat boots. His pants were torn at the knees with ground-in dirt and stains, pants that had probably not been washed in a long time he thought. His shirt was dirty but covered by a tattered old Navy pea coat with a patch on the elbows. His beard was scruffy and his tangled dirty hair was tied in a ponytail. He was carrying a dingy old baseball hat in his right hand and had an Army surplus backpack slung over his left shoulder. He slouched down to the front with eyes down, found a clear area, and sat down on the floor; not 10 feet from the pulpit … My God, the minister thought, who or what is this oddball doing in my church?

The choir finished singing and as the last notes of the organ faded away the congregation was whispering to one another. Who is this guy? What a disgrace … and on Easter Sunday too. I bet he hasn’t had a bath in weeks. Can you smell his clothes? The minister was staring, looking dumbfounded, unable to speak. When suddenly from the back of the church Rupert Anderson, deacon of the church, dressed in his finest suit and tie was hurrying as fast as his 75-year-old legs could carry him toward this apparition. His pearl-handled cane was making its usual rhythmic tap tap tap as he marched toward the scruffy man. Rupert’s jaw was set, his eyes focused sternly on the intruder.

Old Rupert will handle the situation and usher him from the Sanctuary the congregation was thinking. After all he was a pillar of the church, past-moderator, he had trained most of the ushers, and was probably the largest contributor to the church. He’ll handle the situation, just as he always did.

As Rupert approached all eyes were riveted on the confrontation about to take place. When he finally arrived to where the stranger was sitting cross-legged on the floor, Rupert stopped, laid his cane ever so gently on the floor, and with great effort he too sat down on the floor beside the man, gently tapped the man on the shoulder, handed him a hymnal and a bulletin. The entire congregation was quiet and bowed their heads.

The minister rose, walked to the center of the chancel to begin the Call to Worship. He smiled and thought, “My Easter sermon has just been delivered.”


Diane Keneally

Motherhood. It means different things to different people. My first foray into motherhood was in 1965 when our first daughter was born. What to do with this perfect little bundle? She was dark hair, chubby cheeks, dimples like Shirley Temple, sometimes squalling, sometimes smiling, but mostly smiling.

We were young, 21 and 22, each of us the oldest in a family of five. He, the Italian male, caring for his siblings from afar, me, the Irish girl, handing tasks and responsibilities early, vowing, “I’ll never have kids, ever, it’s too much work!!”

So, vow broken, here I was with this little bundle. Oh, I loved her, don’t get me wrong, but what do I do? I was raised with what they call benign neglect, and I wasn’t going to do that with my children. So, I scrubbed and cleaned and worried and fussed and read all the self-help books at the time, and prayed. Did I say prayed? There wasn’t any one of my friends dealing with diapers and spit up, they were all young and carefree. Boy, was I jealous sometimes, content, but envious. My young husband didn’t have a clue. He was out slaying dragons and beating his chest, while his Maid Marion was peeling potatoes every night at 4:30. I still can’t look at a potato in the same way.

What did I learn? Steadiness, and purpose, with a dose of “what the heck?” and Erma Bombeck.

Does anyone remember her? For those of you in the Millennium generation and beyond, she was a housewife from Ohio, a neighbor of Phil Donohue, don’t you know, a mother of three who wrote a three-day-a-week syndicated column. What was so great about her? She used humor to get through and understand the daily grind of a mom and wife.

How I looked forward to her columns. I would read the paper on the run, searching for her latest columns about the frustrations of not having time on your own, of the thanklessness of the daily chores, sick kids and demands on your time when all you want to do is pack up your bags and run!

She was like balm to my soul. Finally, someone understands me! I learned a little bit about her. She was involved always with writing, while in high school and college, where she met her husband. So, the itch to write was always there. In the midst of raising her children her husband created a corner in the garage amidst washing machine and furnace. In the cold and the heat she wrote; tapping out on her old-fashioned typewriter, humorous anecdotes about the suburban housewife’s laments.

I recently found one of her books, for 50 cents, in the local library. It’s renewing my love for her candid portrayal of motherhood. Loving and funny, with a peek between the lines of the fears, love and frustrations of this role we yearn for, being a mom.

There are stories about the window washing woman who moved into the neighborhood and made all the housewives angry and couldn’t wait for her to move out. The trips to the hospital with sick kids who put objects up their noses, and either ingested frogs, ate mud or other disgusting items. The PTA moms, dressed to kill, while the stretch pants she wore were tied up with her husband’s belt. The naps she forced her five-year-old to take because “Mom was tired,” jumping up to answer the door with Chenille bedspread lines on her face, you remember those don’t you, ladies?

I’m halfway through the book of her columns, reminiscing about those crazy, but wonderful years. Thank you, Erma, for bringing back those days. Not days of wine and roses but of babies, too cute not to kiss their cheeks, first days of school, waving goodbye on the school bus, last-minute class projects, lunches that are soggy when eaten, friends running in and out, Halloween costumes sewn together at the last minute, croup and measles and worry over low grades, pride over achievements, relief when a teenager is home from a late night.

But for Erma, I don’t think I could have endured. Knowing there was a kindred spirit, someone who could relate, helped me see the humor in these circumstances that I felt at the time would never end.

So, here I am, kids launched, husband home, time on my hands, no one to wipe their runny noses, hug or smooch as they pass by, worry over, praise or discipline, cook with, laugh with share tears and joys with. Oh! I forgot, I now have grandchildren!


Gail Thatcher

I sip my tea and gaze again out the window by the kitchen nook. It’s an overcast day, but the doves and quail peck determinedly between the small rocks in my yard. As I watch for a while, the gloom reminds me of the bleak day of my father’s funeral. That was a day clouded with depression and sadness, but at the same time it was a day with hope that he was finally at peace. That helped me deal with the overwhelming feeling of loss. I contemplate the concept of loss. I acknowledge that loss can be good or it can be bad. If a person dieting, loses weight constructively, that’s a move that could turn that person’s life into one of significant productivity. If a less than confident person loses that negative feeling and is able to move ahead, can that be bad? It’s a good thing that hopefully will propel that person to great heights.

I’m reminded of the feeling of deprivation I have when I remember my two youngest grandsons are no longer 30 minutes away, they are 300 to 400 miles away. The youngest is 20 months old and his brother is four. Home for them is now a roomy two-story home with a large flower-trimmed backyard on a tree-lined street in a very nice neighborhood in California. My daughter-In-law’s family lives probably 15 minutes away. Family includes her parents, her bother, sister-in-law, three nephews and a niece. Up until now, I could drive 30 minutes to spend time with them practically whenever I desired. I don’t look at this move as good, how could I? Despite the fact that the boys will have family close by, more family, it feels like part of me has been ripped away. I’ve watched them grow from birth and experienced the magic of life expanding, but now I can’t drive to see their smiling faces whenever I want. I can’t give them a hug and a kiss when they are sad or when they fall and hurt themselves. How do I deal with this loss? What will make this ache I feel go away, short of them moving back here?

The phone rings. it’s my five-year-old granddaughter in South Carolina wanting to know if I want to Skype. What a silly question, I think as I turn on my computer and her precious face appears. We have a wonderful talk. She is so animated, it almost seems as if she is in the room. The downside is, I can’t hug her, but that doesn’t seem to matter. I was able to see her smile, her facial expressions and gestures and her body language. That is enough to carry me through the day and longer. As I close my computer, I realize that the same can be accomplished with my California grandsons. I know they and Mom and Dad are happy, which makes it a little easier for me. As I think back to the time when my other five grandchildren were two and four years old, I realize I had a long-distance relationship with them also. Frequent visitations and phone calls resulted in a bond with each of them. Oh, it’s better to be with them, but I tell myself that this will work.

This realization brings me some comfort, so I have to ask the question -Is this a loss? Of physical beings, yes, but not totally of all being. I guess it all boils down to what I choose to make of the situation. I mull the familiar statement, “It’s not the destination, but the journey,” and I realize that that may apply in this case. I decide that on the journey, if I make every effort to utilize opportunities to connect with my little darlings, all seven of them, reaching my destination can be glorious.

I want my kids to be happy and they are. I’m happy living here in my little piece of heaven, so it is good that they are happy where they are living. Still, I can’t say this loss is good, but I will do what I can to make the best of it, like planning my money so I can visit with them soon.