thinking of the reverend

a number of folks have been commenting on AKMA’s 16th anniversary of becoming a priest.

I was raised Catholic, but my paternal grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. (my father converted to Catholicism, as did my grandmother, sometime after my grandparents were divorced and before my parents got married. most of mom’s family has been Catholic pretty much since St. Patrick killed the snakes.)

Grandpa Nelson was an interesting fellow, and one of the reasons why I, when I began moving away from religion, I didn’t go completely overboard the opposite direction. He was short, wore very thick glasses, and was a bit bow-legged. (also, in his later years, he looked much like Colonel Sanders, what with the white hair & beard.) The short came from his family; the glasses he’d worn since he was about 18 months old. Someplace there’s a photo of him with the glasses pretty much tied onto his head. The bow-legged, which Grandma gently teased him about, came from being hit by a truck when he was a teenager. He almost died, and said that the power of prayer helped save his life.

But he wasn’t an anti-intellectual Christian by any stretch of the imagination…in fact, one of the things that he said had drawn him towards the priesthood was his experience in the debate club in high school & junior college. He won awards for his debating skills (which is how he met my grandmother – an amusing story for another time, assuming I haven’t told it already), and loved literature, classical music and science.

And science fiction: when I was a teenager, he told me that he loved Dune. Also, it was on one of my trips to visit my grandparents that I first got into Twin Peaks, watching it with him after Grandma had gone to bed.

I loved hearing his sermons, when I/we visited them – he had a great warm voice, which he used to wonderful effect. The only sermon I remember now was one he gave when I was maybe 12: something about love, and Christian love, which went into a long fascinating digression about the different words for love in Greek and Hebrew.

He was also a story-teller, though he could tend to tell the same half-dozen stories over & over. I’m afraid this is one of his tendencies that I’ve picked up. Some stories, though, just never lose that sweet spot that you feel when you tell or remember them.

I can’t really think of him without Grandma. He adored her, and she doted on him. Well, they also teased each other, had deep in-jokes, and bugged each other about little household things.

But they were divorced for nearly 30 years before they met again and re-married – what was that like for him, as a minister, in the 40s, 50s and 60s? Okay, not all of that time: he re-married once before they did (she remarried twice? three times?), a woman with 3 children of her own, with whom he had another son. They were divorced before Grandma and Grandpa met.

A complicated story, but that’s part of what I always admired about my grandfather: he was a complicated person.

He had a stroke that left him nearly blind, not too long after Grandma died. He couldn’t read, drive or use his telescope anymore. He died in 1998.

After he died, I decided it didn’t matter how or even whether I got married, since he wouldn’t be there to perform the ceremony. (Even when I was a good little Catholic girl, I wanted to be married by my grandfather. Don’t ask how I thought this would happen.) Oddly enough, we got married about two years later…in the back room of our rental house, with my best friend “officiating.” (gotta love the ULC.) We almost wrote her title in as “First Level Cleric.”

I wonder if Grandpa would’ve been horrified, proud, or both.