Yesterday, I wrote about a friend I made while living in Fairmount, North Dakota in the early 1980s. It turned out in that little town of 374 persons, with more than half of them over the age of 65, that my wonderful wife, Cheri, made friends with two women who lived there, and by extension, I became friends with their husbands. Let me say, first of all, that that arrangement does not always work well, in either direction. I’ve had good friends who were colleagues in ministry, and their wives… were not the kind of people who made friends easily, nor did they particularly want to be friends with another pastor’s spouse. Conversely, Cheri had some good friends in different communities whose husbands were just plain weird. Goofy. Completely uncomfortable to be with. I hate to say it that way, but when you are a pastor, and there’s a possibility that you will have to spend more than the average amount of time caring for people in your congregation who are… different, and find their home in safety there, and since you are the pastor, then of course by nature you are seen as their friend, when in truth you are their pastor – when you are on your “own” time, not on the clock as it were, it’s really hard to use up your time doing what you often have to do when you are working. In most of all those cases, they were not couples that we got along with – they were single entity friendships, and the spouses were cordial from a distance.
However, for some reason, Fairmount turned out to be different. In that tiny little town, as I said, two different complete couples ended up being folks we really like spending time with. Yesterday I talked about Judy and Gary, and while Gary and I would fish and find errant pigs wandering the countryside, Judy and Cheri took on the task of mastering nearly every craft project you could imagine, from oil painting to bear making, to wrapping glue-soaked threads around giant balloons, that would dry in the shape of a giant egg, at which time the balloon was popped, the threads were painted, a small hole was cut out, and an Easter scene was placed inside. I think we had three of them before I politely asked that they move on to another project. They made a good friendship and it went well with Gary’s and mine.
The other couple turned out to live right next door to the parsonage in town. Toni was a teacher in high school in town, and since Cheri also worked there at that time as an all-around teaching assistant, they met and became friends and then it expanded to Jerry and me. Jerry… worked at the 3M plant in the nearby larger town, and I’m not exactly sure what he did there, but it gave him enough money and time off to follow his real passion – antique hunting. This is where we intersected. Fairmont was the first place we lived that was not in an apartment, and Cheri and I made the choice between buying expensive new furniture to fill the house, or to buy antique/old stuff that I could fix up and we would have, making our house look interesting. We went the way of the antiques. My first purchase was at a farm auction where we bought a 3 gallon Red Wing Stoneware crock for $7.50. My intent was to use it as a planter, but then I met Jerry. Showing him my find and telling my plan, his face turned ashen and he convinced me that the worst thing I could do to a precious antique was to use it for pottery!
Jerry took me on a tour of their house, which was an antique museum, and I got hooked big time, looking at all the furniture, and the primitives and such. He casually mentioned that he knew some pretty good antique shops over in Minnesota, and if I wanted to drive there sometime, he could come along and show me where they were. I think he shrewdly knew how to get me to use my own gas. In a couple of days, we took our first day trip, and I found tons of different things to buy – never enough money, but tons of things, and it was a great learning and discerning time.
The nicest thing is we got along – all four of us – in a famous way. There was always something to talk about, and we found a nice restaurant in the town north of us, and would often go there on Friday nights, since they knew I would have the Saturday night fidgets getting ready church the next day. Each of us would find some antique toy or object or piece of unique furniture, and we’d run next door to each other’s houses to play show and tell, and on both sides, the pieces were always received with nodding praise, and excitement as we expanded collections. Jerry loved graniteware kitchen pieces, and I loved stoneware, so there was plenty to go around. At that time in our lives, we could stay up way past midnight, just talking about anything and nothing, but laughing and listening and having a great time.
Even when they moved – all the way down the street about six houses – we stayed in touch. They moved because there was a house that had five bedrooms instead of their two bedroom, and with two little girls wanting their own rooms, it seemed like a good move. The house was as much of an antique as anything they owned, with oak interior, and staircase and flooring, a huge fireplace, stained glass and a standalone three car garage (not antique). They ended up paying $22,000 for the two story place, which even in the 1980s was a steal. I expect they paid about $250/month in mortgage payments. Of course, their heating bill more than made up for that!
Jerry was the one who saved us on Easter afternoon. After a very long Lenten season, and celebrating four different worship services on Easter morning, Cheri and I decided to take three days off and go visit her folks at the farm. We drove our almost-new Olds Firenza north on the country road, where, as the rain and snow fell, and the wind blew, about a mile outside of Abercrombie, suddenly the engine continued to race along, but the car drifted to a complete stop. I walked the mile, having to then knock on stranger’s doors while they were having their Easter meal, and ask in the gas station was open. It was not, but they went and picked Cheri—and our dog – up and brought us to the house. This of course was long before cell phones, so I had to make a long distance call – to Jerry – and asked if he could come and get us, and we’d make arrangements for the car to be towed back home the next day. Without a second’s hesitation, Jerry jumped in his car, and picked us up, and all turned out pretty well. That’s the kind of friend he/they were.
Again, when it came time for us to move from Fairmount, we sadly said goodbye, because for some reason we knew we wouldn’t probably be able to sustain the friendship that was built on such close proximity to each other. Unfortunately, that was true, and outside of Christmas cards and letters, and Cheri’s infrequent connection with Toni, the friendship stayed frozen in time.
A few years ago, we read in the paper in the area that Jerry had died of cancer, leaving his wife and two daughters. He couldn’t have been more than 50, so I never found out the reason. I do know they both carved special places in our hearts.
I know there are those of you who are still friends with kids from your childhood, who now for some strange reason are all grown up. Being in an Air Force family, we made friends quickly, brought others into our group quickly, because we never knew when Dad would come home and tell us we were moving. We put down roots, but they were always tentative in a way, and our friends were always in the present. I’ve occasionally run into folks from my high school years, and a few from college and seminary, but my pattern of friend-making has stayed the same. When folks would ask where I was from – since they all had their hometowns, and the churches and schools and grocery stores that they went to when they were little – my response was always, “I’m at-large.” So it was a real treasure to have friends as adults in at least one time in my life, and I have a smattering of others who have been colleagues and such. The best part of them all are the memories I have of them, and the way in which my life has been changed and made so much richer because I knew them. I suppose that’s the same for you all as well. I just don’t know where they are, or if they are for the most part.
Perhaps something I should do is take my own advice and apply intentionality to that area of my life. I take the relationships seriously – but maybe it’s time to take the connection, and the connecting on a more regular basis, or at all just as seriously.
Jerry – and Gary – will always live in my heart as friends, and partners in all sorts of escapades and adventures, and for that, I thank God. As should you, as you think about the past friends that you have known.
Word for the day: latitate. Pronounced LAT-i-tate, which is a pretty easy pronunciation. It comes straight from the Latin latito, meaning “I am hiding, or I hide.” To “latitate” is to lie hidden, and latitation is the act of lurking. It’s not quite the same as playing a game of latitare and quaerere, which might be “hide and seek,” because to really lie hidden, you use the verb, “abscondere,” from which we have the activity of taking something and making it hidden. Latitate, leans more in the sense of “lurking.” The word “lurk” is probably from a Scandinavian term, since they are good at it, which really means, “to lay hidden, as in ambush,” or “to sneak away unseen.” A bit more sinister than having my favorite pair of reading glasses “latitate,” so I can’t read my computer screen…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.