It was such a lovely summer day. The 1st of August. Dust and drought lay ahead, but today was so blue it made your eyes and heart wince. A cloudless blue. A blue bold and bright and beautiful beyond words. Blue, like no other color, can be holy.
I had played baseball at Douglas Park all day. Home Run Derby as well. I had won with six. I was elated. I rarely won. I waved “So Long” to my buddies, and raced home. I took the six steps on the front in two big strides. I slammed the front door, and yelled to Mom, “What’s for supper? I’m starved.”
“Corn,” she said.
“What else?” I asked.
“No she is not. She has a headache, and Dad and I decided a dinner of corn would be just fine.” My sister spoke with the authority of being a know it all teenager.
“Nobody asked me.” I pouted.
“You are just a kid, and your vote does not count.” She could be such a brat at fourteen.
“Is that right Mom? My vote doesn’t count?”
“Of course it counts Billy, but tonight, I would appreciate it if we could just have corn on the cob. You can smother it in butter. Now go join your father and Mrs. Zahalka and Betty, they are all waiting in the back yard. Dad has the corn on the grill.”
“Dad’s grilling, and there are no burgers or brats or chicken?”
“Not tonight – are you deaf?” My sister wagged her finger at me. I stuck out my tongue at her.
“OK. Corn it is. I have to be quick. We have another Home Run Derby contest at six.”
Mom asked if I really needed to go back, and I explained my need to defend my title. She rubbed her forehead and gave in. I scooted out back by the garage, the grill, my father, and the Zahalka’s. My Mom followed with the butter and salt & pepper, and my sister brought a bottle of cold milk and glasses for everyone.
Sweet corn and sweet butter on a sweet summer day. The conversation at the picnic table was light and fun, and sweet memories bounced about as if in a pinball machine. The corn was delicious. I ate six cobs, my Dad seven. The women each ate a polite three. Everyone was full.
I was so full, I laid on the lawn and fell sound asleep. I woke up to a setting sun, and the severe disappointment not having gotten to defend my Home Run Derby crown. I was crushed. My Mom apologized for not waking me. I lied. I told her it was no big deal. I asked if her headache was better. She said it was gone.
“Want to count stars?” I asked.
“How sweet of you to ask Billy. Yes I would.” My mom stretched out on the lawn next to me, and draped her apron over her shoulders. The wind off Lake Michigan was picking up, and the women all complained of being chilled. My Dad warned them to enjoy it while they could, as August was sure to be a furnace once again.
We counted 106. We saw one shooting star, and a rind of moon. I told my Mom that we could have just corn for supper anytime. She laughed. We both agreed it was great to have an excuse to eat a whole stick of butter.
Such a sweet memory. Such a sweet taste – corn on the cob. The sweetness of summer in 1959. Except for my sister, pretty much everything was sweet.
I think that is missing these days. The sweetness. I miss it. I wish we could ladle sweetness all over this world. Maybe the best we can do is still seek it. To be sweet to one another. Even sisters and brothers. To still believe it makes a difference. It does, you know. A little sweetness can go a long long way today.
Funny, but I think following Christ and being sweet are not one and the same, but they sure are parallel paths. They may never cross, but I suspect they are headed in the same direction.
Once, I was on the phone with my son, when I suddenly realized I had forgotten to tell him that his Aunt Eleanor had died. I was just three days late, but Eleanor was his beloved mother’s sister, and held an honored position in his heart.
There was silence, which I chose to fill with some lame excuse as to overall busyness. The silence continued. I gave him a lengthy discourse on the many duties of my days.
“Dad…why can’t you ever just say you are sorry?”
I continued my busyness diatribe defense until I drilled it into the ground. Now -- I was quiet. Was he right? Yes, he was right. Why am I simply not apologizing for failing to contact my son until three full days after his aunt had passed. Even then, with full awareness of my own failure, I still offered a limp pathetic apology.
“I guess I should have called sooner. I am sorry. I didn’t mean it to hurt you.”
“Yes, Dad, it hurts that you forgot to tell me something you knew would be a fairly significant event in my life, but, what hurts more, is that you have such a tough time saying you are sorry. By the way, you expect me to apologize within minutes of such an infraction.”
I hesitated. Rummaging through my memory for times when I swallowed a grievance whole, and never got an apology. I came up with none. Justin is good at forgiveness. He does it spontaneously, and with seemingly no difficulty or need to think it through. He is amazingly quick at offering up – “I am sorry!”
“Justin. You. Are. Right. I will work on that, I promise. You would think, that as a pastor, forgiveness would be second nature.”
“Are you kidding? I have been around the church my whole life Dad, and I have rarely witnessed a collection of people more reluctant to admit a mistake, let alone say they are sorry. Mom took so many hits, it drove me nuts. I don’t think I ever heard anyone say they were sorry to her, even when they treated her like crap.”
It was true. Christine had been the victim of a good deal of bullying and badgering. She was incessantly being told how and why she did not measure up to male pastoral standards. How she was too powerful, too liberal, and way too verbal. I had never realized the degree to which her poor treatment had impacted her young son.
“How about you, have you ever gotten an apology from someone who attacked you for whatever…? I mean I have never thought of folks from the church as role models for forgiveness. Sorry, but that is just not my experience.”
“A few times. I have to admit it, though we claim a faith in Christ, we Christians often feel we are immune from the need to ask for forgiveness. I wish I could defend the church, but in this case, well, I think you make a good point.
Anyway, Justin, I should have called. I could have called. It should have been a priority. You deserved better.”
“There, now was that so hard?” Justin asked snidely.
“Yes!” I responded in matching snideness.
Then we both laughed at the sad disturbing truth of it all.
He arrived 15 minutes late, bloated with reluctance. He made no eye contact, and refused to respond to my casual greeting. He simply slouched into the chair opposite mine. He reminded me of the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. He was gangly and his appendages each had a will of their own. His sneakers were enormous, as was his nose. His face was pocked, with many zits, and his hair covered his eyes. He wore army fatigues and denim. He was a classic, unhappy esteem-free adolescent.
I spoke earlier with his mother, who whimpered through the entire conversation. She spoke of her seventeen year old son as if he were ten, and had just fallen from a tree. She sighed incessantly, which drove me nuts, and she gave me no input which could help me understand the true emotional or spiritual status of her son. It was obvious she cared, but didn't have a clue who her son was, or what was causing his anguish.
His father also called me. He spoke in a sharp staccato tone. He sounded perpetually fed up. He basically told me his son needed a good dose of tough love, and that his mother spoiled him rotten. I doubted he had ever shown his son an ounce of unconditional love. Lazy. Shiftless. Druggie. These words were littered about his rant. He wished me luck. I told him I had no tricks up my sleeve, but I would do my best.
Then the Holy Spirit intervened. The kid farted. It caught him off guard, and was clearly an accident. It also caught me off guard, and we both erupted into laughter. I thanked him for the greeting, and told him it was all uphill from here. He sat up and looked me in the eye and spoke for about fifteen full minutes.
He was lost. Had few real friends. Mediocre grades. Was a joke as an athlete. Basically, he was the presence of an absence at his school. He smoked dope. Drank on an occasion. He loved his parents, but he hated how they treated one another. His father was a real bully to his mother, and his little brother. Neither parent seemed happy. They complained incessantly, and enjoyed nothing. The trouble he gave them, from his perspective, was not being who they wanted him to be.
Holy Spirit again.
His eyes filled. I was able to look deep inside. I could at last see him as Christ would see him. His innards were indeed filled with tears. At his core there was a pond of them – tears that is. He was so sad. He longed for a good friend. He wanted to find his niche. He yearned for his family to be a family. He was dying for someone to believe in him, or care about him, as is. Life, for Orin, was simply overwhelming. Each day swarmed with a blistering sense of inadequacy. Each day began with knowing he was not enough. Each day was coated in the awareness that he was invisible.
I took a risk. I simply said. “Aside from the fart, I like you.” Orin smiled. I told him the truth. He was honest and insightful. He then told me he wrote poetry, but shared it with nobody, because he did not want anyone to call him a fag – especially his father. I asked him to please bring some of his writing in, and that I would love to read his poetry. The rest, as they say, is history.
Orin got into a small college in Vermont, and continued to write poetry. He was a good poet. He wrote sweetly and kindly of nature and skies and seas and seasons. He was a most gentle soul. His sophomore year he wrote to tell me he had discovered farming at his college, and planned that for a career. It seemed a wise and excellent choice. I wrote back to tell him that from what I remembered, he would have the fertilizer factor well covered.
He lives in Vermont now. This tall lanky pimply kid, poet, beloved child of God. He was always there. Or in there. We just needed to see him through Christ’s eyes. Maybe this is the lens through which we must see one another and ourselves as well.
He sent me a photo this past Christmas. He and his wife and their new son, Orin Jr. The trio stood before a battered barn. They looked happy. At home. Orin had become handsome. One might even say swarthy. He cut quite a figure. He was the very presence of a country gentleman.
Reverend William R. Grimbol has spent the past 30+ years helping people create and develop strong spiritual connections with loved ones and God. He is also a published author, with over a dozen books to his credit.