Grace had just completed a two-year visioning program and was preparing plans for future growth. The word on the street was that Grace was making strides and impacting the community.
|Spring tree in Lansing|
|Laura's 88th birthday|
We were in shock.
Gary's new church appointment was along Lake Michigan, north of Muskegon. We were disappointed that we would be so far from our families. The church was in a small resort town. Our one experience with small town life had not been a good one.
There is always a meeting to introduce the incoming pastor and family to the Staff Parish committee of the new church. Gary, Chris, and I drove to Montague, had dinner with the new D.S. and the head of Staff Parish Relations, and went to the meeting. Then we were taken on a tour of the parsonage with the D.S. and one of the Trustees.
It was night time when we arrived at the house, but it was obvious that it was surrounded on two sides by a parking lot and by streets on the other two sides. The parsonage was near a large Reformed church that had been buying up property on the block to expand its parking lot. The parsonage had been built in the early 1950s, a small ranch that had housed both the church office and the pastor's family. The original church was across the street and now housed the city museum after a new church complex had been built just outside of town.
|Back yard of Montague parsonage|
This was when I started to cry. I was leaving two full, newly remodeled bathrooms, just completed, for this? A newly remodeled kitchen, for this? This house was half the size, at best, of what we were leaving and obviously in disrepair.
I was soon in panic mode. Where was I to put my piano? The pump organ? My grandparent's diningroom set with the triple hutch and buffet? Where would my sewing room go?
We were shown the basement in which two bedrooms had been added, one with an egress window, but were told not to open the doors to the rooms. The unfinished basement was lit by bare bulbs on strings. It was filled with so many boxes we could hardly walk through it. I disregarded the request to not open the bedroom doors and peeked in but all I saw was more boxes.
The D.S. asked the Trustee if the carpets could be cleaned.
We drove back to Lansing, arriving about midnight.
And then began my breakdown.
I had to leave a city and home and church I loved, a future I had planned, and for what? A troubled church and an inadequate house? I was angry. I hated the bishop. At least once I threw things. But there was nothing we could do. There was no way we could find housing and Gary a job to support us in a few months. In the itinerant ministry and parsonage system you were trapped.
We had to scurry and change the cabin plans because we would move around July 1. The delivery on the new furniture was after our move-out date and we had to change the delivery address. And we had to start sorting, selling, donating, and packing. All while homeschooling and preparing for college.
On the day we moved into the new parsonage I cried all the way there, and bawled when I saw my new home. We had been given the chance to live in a rental house for the summer while the parsonage was repaired and fixed up. I didn't want to live out of boxes and move again. We had no idea how bad the house was. We soon found out.
We were told a new refrigerator had been purchased to replace one that was too filthy to clean.
We could not put our lawn mower and other items into the single car garage because it was filled with trash bags and piles of junk, shards of broken glass scattered across the cement floor. We thought it was trash and started hauling it out on trash pickup day.
The basement had black mold from previous flooding and we could not use the downstairs rooms until the basement was cleaned up. Ladies came with buckets and bleach for days.
There was no air conditioning. We were surrounded by a church parking lot and cement that refected the heat. Our dog came down with heat stroke. I couldn't sleep in the heat.
Every few days something broke down or malfunctioned or did not work. The sink backed up. The disposal did not work. The toilet leaked into one of the basement bedrooms right on our son's dresser. Windows did not open. We asked for a screen door so we could have cross ventilation. Chris and I kept a list that came to twenty things that had gone wrong in a few weeks.
A group of ladies removed layers of wallpaper from the dining room and the torn wall paper from the master bedroom and the rooms were painted. Men worked on painting and fixing up the outside. Even the basement lighting was improved with a light switch.
After church we would be fixing lunch in the parsonage kitchen, listening to parishioners coming to their cars from the Reformed church service. The parking lot was a few yards away from the house. We could hear what people were saying so I knew they would hear us, too. The master bedroom and bathroom were on that side of the house. There was no privacy at all.
I was walking Kili when a neighbor told me that several dogs in the neighborhood had died of cancer, that it was a high cancer area. White Lake had a history of pollution and Hooker Chemical had left a superfund site just outside of town.
|The Montague church building|
People were constantly complaining about the previous pastor, rumors and innuendos. I was upset because he was at the church we had left and because I did not want to hear it. I finally told one woman that I understood she was in pain, but since I did not know the man, and it was upsetting me, please don't talk about it. Even a staff person was telling Gary rumors and slanted stories.
Other parishioners were angry 'their' pastor had been taken away. One man invited us to dinner, but we butt heads when he heard we had homeschooled. Another group pushed Gary to continue the book club the previous pastor had led, then criticized the book choice and our opinions. These people left the church.
I don't want to talk about what I don't know. I can only saw that the pastor had family concerns, was a 1960s intellectual idealist, a prophetic voice who was introverted and absent-minded. We learned that he was also dying. Over the next year he was unable to pastor our previous church and an interim was brought in.
We had our last family vacation in Cheyboygan, staying at a rental cabin we had been to the year before. It was a wonderful holiday.
|Chris and Kili on the Straits of Mackinaw|
One of the United Methodist circle groups invited me to join them and I found like-minded readers and friendship. Books circulated, including Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. These ladies were a great deal of fun, too.
There was a group of quilters at the church and for a while I went with their carpool to a quilt guild in Muskegon. Then I was told I had to reimburse the driver towards gas because I could not drive at night and take my turn. I stopped going.
After the introduction parsonage tour the D.S. had sent the Trustees a letter saying they needed to provide housing that met parsonage standards. The old parsonage did not meet them, including privacy, a two-car garage, and air conditioning. The church quickly formed a planning committee.
The neighboring Reform church had previously wanted to buy the parsonage but the sale had fallen through. After repairs and cleaning up, the Reform church agreed to purchase the house and our church rented it from them for us to live in while they built the new parsonage. We lived in a 'rented' house for about a year.
Luckily, a clever man figured out how to put several window air conditioners into the house our second summer. He was an important figure in the church and community and he and Gary became real friends and partners in ministry.
|the side yard was used to pile snow from the Reformed church parking lot|
The process and communication was fraught with problems and changes and frustration. The committee wanted a 100% handicapped accessible floor plan, a walk-out basement, and an open concept floorplan. The original design had the front door leading into one huge room. I was not amused. I knew that many winter evenings found me in my robe, quilting. If a parishioner came to the door to see Gary, I sure did not want to be caught in my robe.
|The new parsonage|
|The new parsonage front|
|the new parsonage back|
|The front parlor/diningroom|
|March, 2008 sunrise view from the house|
Several problems arose. Winters along Lake Michigan are harsh with lots of snow. The gravel drive was icy even when ploughed. Our car would slide back down the driveway, often sideways. It was treacherous walking down to the mail box, and after a rain a lake formed at the base of the driveway. The basement walls had been poured over several days and large cracks appeared. We only lived in this house seventeen months, and already the wood windows had black mold from humidity condensing on the windows in winter in spite of my wiping them all down every day. The master bath was huge with a soaking tub and walk in shower, but it was cold! We used a space heater to warm the room up.
I wasn't sure how I would like not being in a neighborhood. But the wildlife entertained me. In the spring a doe and two fawn went through the yard twice a day. A Tom turkey and his harem and chicks made their way through, too.
|Every spring brought two fawns|
|A tree frog took residence in the fence|
|Kili at 16 years|
We got Chris a used car for his second year of college and he would drive home for visits. For July 4 he brought his roommate. They had arranged to share an apartment before learning their dads were both United Methodist pastors! Both boys ended up in the Metro Detroit area and have remained friends and Chris was a groomsman at his wedding last year.
There was a great quilt shop outside of town. I had a nice quilt room set up in the new parsonage had this was a very productive time for me. I was commissioned to make a poodle handkerchief quilt. I made my First Ladies Quilt.
|Poodle handkerchief quilt|
|quilt made for my brother|
|Little Women, a pattern from 1952|
|Remember the Ladies, my First Ladies Redwork quilt|
|our photograph of the White River Lighthouse, a gift from the church|
Then my father's non-Hodgkins lymphoma became active.
|Dad's August 13, 2008 birthday|
At first Dad's room was filled with friends coming to visit. When the doctors discovered cancer in his brain as well as his body they told Dad they could not treat both. He was ready to return home when one doctor said she thought there was a way, and Dad rallied. He fought valiantly as his body failed. He received chemo in the brain, and after that he lost touch with reality. Dad would tell me garbled stories, laughing about memories I couldn't follow. Or he would ask about something that was not there. People no longer visited, except our old neighbor from Houstonia, Gordon McNab. He came to keep me company regularly. And dad's girlfriend came, but it was hard for her after Dad was no longer himself.
Gary made several trips to Clawson to see me. It was a horrible winter, and traveling across Michigan was a risky and frightening experience.
My brother arranged Dad's funeral with a service held in Clawson and then in Tonawanda, NY where his remains would rest next to our mother. Gary drove across state for the funeral. It was December and a blizzard kept Royal Oak friends from attending the funeral in Clawson because the roads were not plowed. The airport was shut down and the funeral parlor had to drive Dad across Canada to Tonawanda. Tom and I drove together. Tonawanda was also covered in deep snow, and we were lucky that family were able to get to the funeral parlor.
|Winter view from parsonage, 2008|
Dad left me his house. We were seven years from retirement and wondered if we could afford to keep it. With a son in college, the costs of taxes and utilities and upkeep would be a burden, but Dad also left my brother and I a tidy inheritance.
I returned to my part-time job as a church secretary.
|For Mother's Day, 2008, I made my mother-in-law a quilt with her vintage|
handkerchief and photographs scanned on fabric. She loved looking at it.
The next day, my mother-in-law was in Hospice. Her sudden death left her husband of 69 years in shock. Gary's brothers were out of state and we traveled to Grand Blanc to help Herman arrange the funeral plans. He was confused and kept calling his wife his mother. The funeral was to take place in two weeks to give time for the family to get back to Michigan.
|Pillows with Laura Bekofske's needlework|
Over the next years we regularly made trips to see Chris at college and to Clawson to check the house and visit with Gary's father. We did not even think about replacing Kili with a new dog.
On the bright side, the church held a potluck dinner followed by a meeting. After dinner, I offered to take the children to the parsonage where they could play games or watch TV. We got along very well and I was asked to teach the upper elementary Sunday school class.
They were a bright group of kids with a lot of energy. I had them write a church newsletter. The kids came up with ideas to write about. Some did interviews, others stories about the church, and some did creative writing or art. It was unconventional, as during Sunday school time these kids were running around the church instead of sitting in a class!
|My class working on the newsletter|
Traveling across state every few weeks was exhausting. Gary asked his District Superintendent if it would be possible to get an appointment in the Detroit Conference to be closer to his dad. We did not necessarily want to move from Montague, but it would have been a time and cost savings to live closer to Gary's dad and the Clawson house. The answer was not unless Gary took a deep pay cut, about $20,000. We could not afford that. We assumed we would retire from Montague.
|the house in Clawson|
We had lived in Montague for four years with a move to a new house in the middle. During that time we had lost two parents, our beloved Kili, and adjusted to an 'empty nest'. We had inherited a house we were not sure we could afford to keep until retirement. Gary’s next assignment was for a year, two at the most. We were facing a short-term assignment, and another move before retirement.