Saturday, September 9, 2017

Seven Years of Joys and Challenges

Hillsdale United Methodist Church
Gary served seven years at Hillsdale UMC. It was a moderate sized church with a good mix of senior citizens and middle age adults, and enough young families to keep a youth group going. It was the largest town in a county of about 40,000, with a population of under 9,000. It was home to Hillsdale College, a conservative Liberal Arts college that did not accept Federal funding.
Scene from downtown Hillsdale looking east

Downtown Hillsdale, MI

Hillsdale, MI

Downtown Hillsdale
We were not used to being in a small town in a rural area. There were adjustments.

We had to go to Jackson or Adrian to see the movies we preferred, like Remains of the Day. After Walmart moved into the area, other smaller retailers closed. I had to leave town to buy many clothing items, shopping at Jackson, Adrian, and at an outlet mall in Indiana.

Doctors did not stick around very long. Our family doctor left his practice after a lawsuit, and we left the pediatrician because of his inappropriate behavior; he later lost his license.

At least there was a hospital in town, which proved important when our son developed pneumonia in the winter of 1990 when he was three years old. I was up all night with him, resorting to cold baths, but his fever would not go down. In the wee hours of the morning I woke Gary and we took Chris to the hospital, just at the end of our street.

He was hooked up to an IV and almost immediately felt better. He was hauling it around after him, unable to stay in bed. He shared a room with a toddler who was alone most of the day, except for visiting time when his entire family came and sat in the room talking to each other. Chris and I ‘adopted’ the boy. When he stuck his finger into an opening for medical equipment and couldn’t get it out, I alerted the nurses and Chris and I comforted him.

After one night staying in the hospital with Chris, sleeping on a chair, I developed a cough. I was diagnosed with bronchitis and sent home. Jean Elliot, Dorothy Lape, and other ladies from the church came to stay with Chris, singing him hymns and teaching him a prayer.

Chris was angry when we left the hospital without his roommate. He had always wanted a brother, and believed that we had gone to the hospital to bring that baby home.

I was aware how lucky we were that we had medical care to cure our son’s pneumonia, especially since Gary’s grandfather died of pneumonia in 1939.
Kite flying in the back yard

Sand box play
It was wonderful to have the open space for Chris to explore and play in. We found all kinds of critters in the yard to study, including peeper frogs, bunnies, deer, Milk Snakes, toads, and Praying Mantis. One year we found a cocoon and put it into a terrarium Chris bought at a garage sale. The next spring we watched the moth emerge.
Me with the moth
When we moved from Philly to Michigan we had to buy winter coats, boots, and heavy gloves!

Sledding in the back yard

Making snow men in the back yard
There were local parks and a rearing pond to explore. We saw fox and turtles and fish. One day a jet plane buzzed low over our heads! We don't know where he came from, but we could see his face in the window. Chris went to day camp at a nature center when he was older.
Chris and Gary

But the downside of the great outdoors was allergies. Just before my mother passed we learned that Chris had allergies to ragweed, tree pollen, and grass pollen. We were supposed to give Chris an allergy-free home, but the parsonage had no air conditioning. I went to the Trustee liason with a proposition: if they would pay half the cost of two air conditioner units, we would pay the other half and leave them when we moved. I was told that no one needed air conditioners in Michigan! Our son’s health concern made no difference. So we spent $1,000 we could not afford to buy window air conditioners on a credit card.

The first fall I joined the choir and handbell choir, led by Janet Lee who had taught music in Clawson, MI; she had replaced my high school choir teacher Denzel Balmer after she left the position. I found I could not deal with handbells. First, I was not used to counting. As a choral singer I read music and noted where I came in by the other parts. And in the small practice room, the sound hurt my ears! I have always had very sensitive hearing.
Janet Lee, me and Gary
I had to leave the choir after Chris was too old for nursery school so I could sit in church with him. But when the church held a Valentine concert talent show, Gary and I sang Do I Love You? from Fiddler on the Roof. We did a joint reading of Benjamin Bunny by Martin Bell, and I helped at other times with two-person scripture readings or story sermons.

Children stayed in worship service until the Children’s sermon, after which they left for Sunday School. That first Sunday when Chris was in worship and he saw his daddy walking down the aisle to the front of the church, Chris called out to Gary. He was very upset when his daddy ignored him, complaining and making a fuss. It took some time before Chris accepted that his daddy had a public role and could not be ‘daddy’ during that time. I kept Chris busy by drawing pictures, but he was bored. When the worship committee did a survey several people complained that the pastor’s kid was too distracting. It was a sign that there were communication problems in the church. People did not talk openly to solve issues, but 'gunny sacked' and nursed grudges. As Chris grew older, he started drawing cartoons based on our dog Kili. Kili the preacher. Kili the superhero.

The parsonage was a long, huge ranch. When we moved in we painted it, getting reimbursed for the cost of paint by the church, and wallpapered a kitchen wall. We had brought our portable dish washer from our Philadelphia home, as there was none in the parsonage, and also our new refrigerator since the parsonage one needed replacing. (Looking back, we had saved the church money and yet my request for help on the air conditioning was rejected!)

The linoleum kitchen floor was hopeless. Not only was it ugly, someone had scrubbed it with steel wool and it could not be waxed. When my mother-in-law came to visit, she tried to wax the floor again. It was hopeless. When our son dropped a strawberry on the floor, it left a permanent pink stain!
The detested kitchen floor!
I begged for a new kitchen floor every year. I even worked on their pride. I had joined a Great Books Club. We were reading the Norton Anthology of Short Stories. When I hosted the Club at the parsonage, I mentioned that all those Presbyterian Church and Hillsdale College members were going to see the horrid floor! To no avail. It was not replaced until right before they asked for a new pastor. The flooring I had chosen was installed in the large kitchen, the long hallway with laundry area and two closets, a half bath, and stairs for $800.

Meantime, the church had a beautiful, new fellowship room with a kitchen, grasscloth wall paper, and carpeting, because of a gift. It was nicer than the parsonage kitchen. A later gift was used to redecorate a Sunday School classroom used by the Fifth Grade class I was teaching. It was over-the-top, gaudy, and ornate because it the room was also used by bridal parties at weddings. 

The basement family room with my quilt space and a tv and play space
The church leader who had asked what I was going 'to do' at our meet and greet was still pressuring me on what to do. First, we joined their social group. They were older families with teenage kids and dual incomes. We didn’t have the money to go to Toledo for dinner and a show, and we needed a babysitter and often could not find one, so we rarely joined their outings. That did not go very well with them.

Then I joined their unit of the Methodist Women, but I did not fit in well. I dropped out when I was asked to start a new unit for younger adults. There were about 8 or 12 women all in their 20s and 30s, and most were stay at home moms like me. We got to know each other and even had a Halloween party. After a year they decided to join the established groups with the older women.
I was 'barefoot and pregnant' and Gary a Phillies Fan Mime for Halloween.
I had a pillow under that apron. Really. And a blond wig.
The same woman leader pressured me to befriend a woman whose interest in the church was lagging, wanting me to keep her from leaving. I would call the lady for a friendly chat but she was shy and cool. At one point I crossly told that leader it wasn’t my responsibility to keep people in the church, and that people should go to church where they felt happiest. Yep, that didn't go well either.

Gary was in charge of the youth group. The kids loved to have lock-in overnights. One night the kids were running through the church when a boy put his hand through a door window. It was a traumatic experience and the young man was changed by it, becoming more focused and dedicated to his Christian walk.

The older parishioners were very friendly to us, and Chris talked about all his ‘little white haired grandmamas’ who fussed over him and sent him birthday cards. Dorothy Lape invited us to dinner in her home. She had a WWI souvenir handkerchief her father had brought home and asked me to make a quilt with it, which she framed.
I will always remember Althea Walton. We were sitting next to each other at a women’s banquet and talked about how Nasturtium and Violets were edible. To prove our point, we each ate a flower from the centerpiece, with gleams of mischief in our eyes. Althea later gave me a memento, a jelly jar vase that belonged to her mother, and which she used to fill with Dandelions. And she gave Gary a down jacket that belonged to her husband, which he uses to this day.

On the sand dune at Warren Dunes State Park
We started camping with Chris. The first year we went to Warren Dunes State Park and the next year we went to P. J. Hoffmeister State Park, both on Lake Michigan. The first time Chris saw Lake Michigan, he went running, throwing of his clothes! He loved the beach.

On Chris's first camping trip he had an adventure he never forgot. He later dictated the story about his adventure to his preschool teacher.

After we arrived and had set up camp, Chris and Gary had gone over the sand dune to see the lake. When they returned, Chris was eager to show me all he had seen. As he ran ahead, leading the way, he slipped off the narrow path and into a dry stream bed. I couldn't reach him and had to leave him while I went back to get Gary. Gary was able to reach Chris and help him out. It was a frightening experience for a four-year-old!
Warren Dunes State Park where Chris found a hiding place
We visited cities all along the Lake Michigan shore, including Holland with it's Dutch Village and Grand Haven and the Coast Guard Museum. 

Chris and I at Holland, MI
the camper

Dad bought us a 1960s pop-up camper that had belonged to his boss at Chrysler. We kept it in the front of the house and a neighbor who was a church member complained it ruined her view. We couldn't afford the monthly fee to store it.
We invited Dad to go to New York with us, using the camper. We visited our family and our old neighbor Lucille Kuhn and saw Niagara Falls, Lockport and the Erie Canal locks, and Fort Niagara. We visited Mom's best friend, Doris at her house overlooking Lake Ontario. My Uncle Lee Becker took Chris to see the Grand Island Fire Station.
At Old Man River on the Niagara River, Tonawanda NY
Lockport, NY, an Erie Canal lock

At Ft. Niagara

Grand Island, NY Fire Station
We went to Philadelphia when Gary's first church in Morrisville had an anniversary. We saw Mark and Ellen Hostettor and took Chris to Longwood Gardens.
Gary with Mark and Ellen Hostetter at their retirement home.
Mark had been senior pastor at Gary's first charge in Morrisville, PA.
Chris and I at Longwood Gardens. Chris is in a jacket I made.
I learned my way around Hillsdale by going to garage sales. I would give Chris a few dollars to spend as he desired. He found books and toys, but also bought a wicker settee for his room and a 1950s bookcase!
Kili sleeping on Chris' wicker settee
One day when he was a tot, Chris asked to stop by the cemetery we often passed. We walked through it and he asked me to read the headstones. When we were going back to the car I asked him what he had learned. "Don't ever ever ever die," he replied.

Gary built Chris a sky fort for the back yard where there had been a garden when we moved in. We had a good garden for several years, but then the deer started eating it all, even the tomato plants!
The sky fort Gary built 
Chris adored his Pops. Dad would take him 'gallivanting' in his Dodge Ram truck.
Dad and Chris playing Shoots and Ladders
Chris had thrown over trucks for dinosaurs as his big interest. He read every book he could and became an expert. He loved to go to the Prehistoric Forest in the Irish Hills, a tourist trap built in 1963. It was closed and abandoned in 1999.
Chris went through a dinosaur craze and we often visited a dinosaur park
in the Irish Hills.
During his time in Hillsdale, Gary performed nearly 100 funerals, mostly because so few pastors would perform funerals for ‘strays’-- unchurched persons--and when the funeral parlors called he always said yes. We needed the money! One of the saddest funerals he presided over was for a man who died when his snowmobile went through the ice on Baw Beese Lake. There had been a warm spell in February, and as a police man he should have known better than to risk it. He left a bereaved wife and children.

I joined a quilt guild in Jackson, MI, Pieces and Patches. They formed in 1990 and was still quite a small guild, but a delightful group of women. I took over as newsletter editor, and using my experience went after advertisers to make the newsletter pay for itself.  When we moved I was told it took three women to replace me! We had a Christmas fabric exchange and I used the fabrics in the guild challenge to make a Christmas quilt incorporating a poem on fabric.
Christmas Challenge Quilt by Nancy A. Bekofske
We were a few hours drive from our families and they visited often, and I was often with Chris at Dad's in Clawson. Gary's folks would come for church service, especially on Easter, and Dad and my brother Tom would come for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Dad, Chris and I at the Detroit Zoo
Gary's folks, Herman and Laura Bekofske, and Chris
Dad, Chris and Tom at Dad's house
I learned a lot about the small town mentality. A teacher friend in the quilt group was still ‘the new teacher’ in the school, and she had been there 22 years! Folks talked about the ‘so-and-so house', referencing the original or previous owner, not who lived there currently. A women told me that people needed to know how to ‘pigeon hole me’, and I did not fit in until I became a quilter. I was warned to avoid places frequented by 'those people'. And I was informed about the rumor network and it’s hub at the bank, and that gossip was a valuable commodity.
Kili keeping me company as I quilt
One adjustment to parsonage life was the feeling of insecurity. As a stay-at-home mom, without a job and living in a parsonage, I felt vulnerable. If something happened to Gary, I had thirty days to pack and find Chris and I a new place to live! And I wished we lived in town, not on the edge of town. It would have been nice for Chris to be around more children his age. All my concerns—flooding, no a.c. for our son, being isolated-- came back to me when I was told, “So, you don’t like the parsonage?”

Gary, Chris and Kili
Kili was the joy of our lives as a family. She always knew when Chris was coming home from school on the Dial-a-Ride bus, and would sit at the front door, peeking through the low window. Kids asked Chris if she was a cat. Shibas are cat-like, independent and self-contained.
Chris and Kili looking out the front door window
Kili had been crate trained and was not allowed on beds or furniture, unless we put her special quilt on first. She would sit with her chin resting on her favorite chair until we put the bed down, and she would be in the air before we had finished.

Silly Kili
After six years it felt like we had become accepted, plus I had the quilt community. When Chris received his Third Grade Bible it was a proud moment for us all.

The next day a woman from Staff Parish Relations Committee came to Gary’s office to tell him that they were requesting a new pastor. Gary was stunned. There had been no complaints, no discussion with him. He signed the paper in agreement. When the congregation heard about the request, some were incensed and wanted Gary to fight it. People were coming to me, wanting to tell me what so-and-so had said, while others stared at me to see how I was reacting. I would not listen to the gossip but knowing we were talked about behind our backs was hurtful.

Chris was having a great year. Having been jumped a grade in school the previous year, he was now socially settled in and he loved his teacher. Mr. Willoughby taught a unit on Great Lakes Shipwrecks, and Chris found a new interest, collecting and reading the many books written about the Great Lakes Shipwrecks. We kept our feelings and the church troubles hidden from Chris. We did not want him to know what was going on for fear it would turn him against church.

I knew from experience what it was like to leave the only world you knew, and it made me sad for Chris. We had to carry on for ten months, knowing we would be leaving, keeping up appearances. I broke down in the end. Knowing some people disliked us and talked about us was too hard. Plus, we knew the people behind the request had been cold and unsupportive since the beginning.

One of the quilters also turned against Gary. She had been very friendly when we were in choir together, but became cold and snippy. She was an unhappy person who turned against every friend. She felt Gary did not give her the recognition she deserved.

I made a quilt top that represented how Gary and I were experiencing these ten months, our family in crisis and isolated, surrounded by the broken church.
The quilt top I made representing the broken church
Gary’s District Superintendent had failed him. He did little to support Gary and ensure his success. He told Gary not to worry about complaints that we did not attend high school football games and the pressure for Gary to have a higher profile in town, joining the Rotary. We discovered that these were serious issues with the people who raised the issues. We just did not understand how small towns worked. A few years later, charges were brought against this D.S. and he lost his elders orders. Like my Hillsdale neighbor Nan always said, “what goes around, comes around.”

When Gary was notified that the Bishop and Cabinet had decided on where he would go next we were excited finally to be able to imagine the future. We had seriously considered leaving the ministry—again—but without a house or income and a child, we had no idea how to do that. We put ourselves in God’s hands. When we learned we would be in Lansing, MI, we were excited. We met the church and they were very warm and gracious. The parsonage was so nice and in an amazing neighborhood.

The pastor who had served in Hillsdale previous to Gary had left the ministry. I had heard some snide remarks about his wife ‘not doing anything’ or being a negligent mother because she had a home business. When we went to Lansing for the meet and greet, we met the pastor and his wife at we were to replace. They knew Hillsdale’s previous pastoral family and told me why they had left the church and parish ministry. I was amazed that we lasted seven years! Gary persevered and I just let things roll off me.
Chris and me

Dad, me, Tom, and Chris. Easter Sunday.
The church had a going away party with gifts. Gary was gifted the last quilt The Quilters had made, a Biblical Block Sampler.
Clair Booth, head of The Quilters, with Gary, Chris and I
in front of the Biblical Sampler quilt Gary received at his going away party
There were many good memories, but also hurts that we carried forward with us. The hardest part was the impact of the move on our son’s life. He did not remember any other home. I knew it would be bad. I had been through it myself. 

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