My Mom and Dad, like many long-married couples, had a code. Unspoken and unwritten about routine tasks assigned to each of them. Mom paid the bills, kept track of what was in checking and savings accounts, bought groceries, cleaned relentlessly, decided what they were having for supper or if they were going out to eat.
Dad had many chores, the yard, constantly fixing stuff in the house (almost a full-time job), but he was also very busy with several outside activities. He was involved in a program with inmates in the South Dakota prison system called the M-2 program. It designated a mentor with an inmate for weekly one-on-one sessions. Over the years Dad had mentored many inmates. Several stayed in touch with him long after they were released from prison. He taught several bible studies in Hull, Hudson, Canton, and Rock Valley. Mostly in local nursing homes. He was active in teaching Sunday school and was an elder in the Consistory of First Reformed church in Rock Valley for several terms. He would preach at a service in different prisons in South Dakota every few months. Including Yankton and Pierre, both quite far away. He usually went with a group of church folks, all riding together in a van.
|Dad at his favorite spot. Behind the pulpit. Mid-1980’s…|
Dad wrote his own sermons, but Mom, with a great gift for punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, and paragraphs, was his number one proofreader. He ran everything he wrote by her first.
|One of Dad’s handwritten sermons. Probably 1990’s….|
One of many sermons I still can’t bear to part with. See how Dad marked the page numbers with masking tape, then used different colored ink pens for paragraphs, helping him to easily keep track of where he was on the page.
When Mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Dad’s extra-curricular activities just stopped. It would be several years before he would be able to get back to his calling. After Mom passed away in 2004, one of the first things Dad told me, “I don’t want to deal with the house, yard, shoveling, or mowing. I’m moving to an apartment somewhere.” I convinced him that at age 88, the right choice was to come to Michigan where I lived. Almost 800 miles away from the only town he had ever known or lived in. What was I thinking? We had never been close. This had all the makings for a major disaster. Five months later, our old family home was sold. Dad wasn’t sentimental about the house, but I had a terrible time giving up the “Gerritson” phone number. I remember when our number was 691, then 5691. Years later they added the prefix 476-5691. Still get lumpy about the number they had for so many years. Silly stuff, but hard to let go of the silly stuff sometimes. Soon it was moving day.
|Adam and John at Western Michigan’s college graduation, 2004…|
I had already been back and forth to Rock Valley several times. This time well over a week packing, giving away, and disposing of stuff. Dad and I would stay behind for the house closing and drive to Michigan together. But I’d been busy already, getting ready for his arrival and life-style in Michigan too. Found him a great apartment about 2 blocks from me. His apartment building included an underground heated enclosed garage. His living room window even had a tiny, corner view of Muskegon Lake. Well, during the seasons when the trees were totally bare. Then Dad could see the lake and part of our house from his apartment window when he looked down the hill.
|Dad’s apartment. His was in back, facing the lake…|
I had already spoken several times with the head Chaplain, Rev. Burrel from West Shoreline Correctional facility in Muskegon. Given him all Dad’s references of chaplains he’d ever worked with and had Dad set up to teach a weekly bible study, plus preach one Sunday afternoon a month. He would also have a weekly bible study in an assisted living facility, plus speak one night a month at the Muskegon Rescue Mission. By the time Dad arrived in Michigan, according to his calculations, he was called here by God. I just happened to live in the same town!!
|Dad in upper right, holding Bible Study at assisted living, 2006…|
But without Mom paying the bills, and making money decisions, Dad was lost in those areas. Plus proofreading new sermons. Guess who would be expected to step up to the plate and do these tasks? Yup me, the bill paying proofreader. Rarely a day passed that I didn’t see him or talk to him on the phone. His first month here was truly miserable. At least for me. I was as busy as a one-armed paper hanger. Getting him new car plates, registration, and a Michigan’s driver’s license. All without the benefit of the car title. Which we couldn’t find. Ended up sending for a duplicate from Orange City. Prescriptions transferred to a new pharmacy, new bank, new doctor. My great primary care doctor agreed to take Dad as a patient. Heck, we even had to find a new barber. Plus driving him all over because he didn’t know his way around yet. We finally found a kind of rhythm. I bought his groceries, cleaned his apartment, did his laundry, paid the bills, brought him meals, or had him over for supper.
A word about the bills. Dad found it disturbing when I wrote out his church “collection check.” Didn’t have a problem with all of the other bills I had to write checks for each month. He felt since I was signing for it, it appeared as though I was giving the money to the Lord, not him. Hence, he signed just that one check each week. I could never convince him to write one check for the whole month either. Then it would look like he wasn’t giving collection (tithing) the other weeks. Oh Dad.
Many mornings Dad and I met for breakfast. His favorite meal to eat out. Almost every time I went to his apartment, there on his loveseat would be some reading material. Just for me. New sermons he had written. I learned quickly we needed to set up a code system for the sermons. I started making different check marks on top. Thus Dad knew if a particular one was “old news” for the inmates, but hadn’t been used at the rescue mission yet.
One day it wasn’t a sermon I found to proofread. But a complete draft of his funeral service. Scared the heck out of me. Biting my lip, I looked up from the page. “Umm Dad, are you feeling ok?” “Sure” he said, “but I didn’t think you would know all the bible verses I want used at my funeral.” Since he had listed about 25 verses, guess I did not. I emailed a copy to Rev. Mike Van Hamersveld in Rock Valley. Eventually Dad’s funeral service would be held there, since Mom and Dad had been members over 50 years. But I pointed out to Mike he need not practice it just yet. Dad was still doing fine.
Another time my proofreading skills were required, Dad mentioned having a dream about John Wesley. Being a part time staffer and member of the United Methodist Church, I quipped, “Dad did you know John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church?” “Sure did,” he replied, “I met him once at a Billy Graham Crusade years ago. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota!” Really?
Might point out here, I had just heard a sermon about John Wesley and his brother Charles. John, the preacher, brother Charles had written hundreds of hymns. I knew for a fact both were born in the early 1700’s. Awkward. Dad by then had just celebrated his 90th birthday. Well, what’s a couple hundred years here and there?
|Umm Dad, John Wesley was born in 1703…|
But at a Billy Graham Crusade? Dad hadn’t been a counselor at a Crusade for probably 25 years or more. “Are you sure Dad? I’m pretty sure John Wesley lived and died a long time ago.” Yes, he was certain he had been introduced to him at a Crusade. He and Rev. Wesley had a very lively discussion (argument) on predestination. I knew which way Dad would have sided on that subject. Dad, with a lot of Calvinism still running through his veins believed in predestination. John Wesley did not. Hmmm, who was I to argue? With God and Billy Graham, indeed all things are possible…
|Yes Dad knew Billy Graham quite well in the 60’s and 70’s…|