That First Case of Insomnia
The church my parents started taking me to after we first moved to Green Bay was about a mile straight down Libal St. That could be pronounced either "lee-ball" or "libel" depending on your mood and the time of day. Nobody seemed to feel too strongly one way or another.
Given that such a huge percentage of Green Bay's residents at the time were German in origin and Protestant in faith, finding a Lutheran church was not a difficult thing to do?we could've found one within a mile of our front door no matter what direction we chose to head in. I got the impression that they decided to join the first one they passed, and this was it.
The pastor, as I remember, was younger than my dad, had glasses and a beard, and seemed like a nice enough fellow. Lutheran ministers never went much for the "fire and brimstone" the way other Protestant sects did. Nor do they seem to bother themselves that much with the "child molestation" you find in other religions. In general they tend to be pretty low-key.
All of that comes as hindsight?I was too young at the time to fully understand what was going on, or why we had to go to this weird building once a week to listen to the nice fellow talk for such a long time.
I do remember quite distinctly, though, the night we (well, my parents) decided to stop going to that particular church.
It must've been 1970 or '71, and I remember it was chilly out. My dad, at the time, was in the Air Force, my mom was a crossing guard and the war in Vietnam was pretty much all you heard about on the news. We flew the flag outside our house every day, and I wore a POW bracelet?a small metal band with the name of a captured American soldier inscribed on it?around my left wrist. I knew I was supposed to wear it until the soldier came home, one way or another.
We were sitting in one of those annoying Wednesday evening services Lutheran churches like to make people attend a couple times a year, and I was pretty sleepy. As usual, I wasn't paying much attention to what the fellow up front was saying.
Then I heard my mom make a small noise in her throat, and suddenly felt my dad's hand grip my arm and snap me to my feet. Next thing I knew, we were all walking back down the aisle toward the exit, and everyone was looking at us. I didn't know why this was happening, given that the guy with the beard was still talking. My mom was crying and my dad, I could tell, was really, really mad. Before he slammed us through the back door, I noticed that the man with the beard had stopped talking.
Then we were outside, heading across the parking lot toward the car. I was trying to put my coat on, but we were moving too fast. My dad hadn't said a word yet. My mom was crying more openly now (though I still didn't know why), and so I started crying, too?which made getting into my coat all the more difficult. The door to the church opened again behind us, and the pastor came running outside. It was so weird and funny to see a man in long white robes running like that, the robes flapping behind him.
"George, Janice?wait," he said. "Please?come back inside."
"You go to hell!" my mom shouted back at him, which shocked me. I'd never heard her say that to anyone before, at least not seriously like this. Especially not a pastor. (Again, I wasn't really sure what the deal was with him yet?all I knew was that I was supposed to be quiet and try to listen to what he had to say.)
"You try telling that bullshit to our boys over there!" my dad yelled at him. That shocked me, too?I'd never seen him so mad outside of the house before.
"George, please?I know this is something that upsets you?"
"You're damn straight it upsets me."
Suddenly the pastor seemed weak. He was pleading to my parents for something, and they weren't having any of it. My dad told him that we wouldn't be coming back to his church anymore, then I was placed in the backseat of the car, all the doors slammed hard and we sped out of the parking lot and down the street.
Over the next few days of listening to my parents talk, I realized that all the hubbub arose when the pastor started telling us what a bad thing the war in Vietnam was. I hadn't caught that at the time. The next Sunday, we started going to another Lutheran church, which was even closer to our house than that first one had been.
Before that night in the parking lot, my parents had always gotten along just fine with the pastor. They seemed to know him quite well?which leaves me wondering why they were so surprised and shocked by his Vietnam sermon. You'd think they would've seen that one coming.
?Well, I'm sure there's more behind that story than I'll ever know. What I'll remember most about that man is the night his son slept over at our place. Which is why I was silently relieved to hear we were leaving that church.
It was the summer before that night in the parking lot. I remember it was summer because the windows were open. I'm not sure if this "sleepover" business was something that had been planned for some time in advance (without my knowledge), or if it was a last-minute babysitting job. All I know was that, much to my surprise, beginning at about 6 on a Saturday night, I was expected to entertain this kid.
Scotty was his name. Scotty was three?some two tears younger than I was?and I was at a loss. What do you do with a three-year-old? Unable to think of anything else, I just opened the door to the toy closet and let him take his pick, watching him closely to make sure he didn't break anything. If things started looking precarious, I would gently remove the toy in question from his little hands, and suggest that he choose another. It was all very frustrating and nerve-wracking. But I couldn't smack him or anything, given that he was, you know, the pastor's kid, and I would immediately be sent to hell.
As Morgan would later point out, it was kind of like having Ralph Wiggum come over for a visit.
By the time 8 o'clock finally rolled around and it was time for bed, I was exhausted. That's when I discovered three very unpleasant things.
First, Scotty would be sharing my bed with me. My bed was small and narrow, and sharing it with someone certainly wasn't anything I was used to or comfortable with. But again, I kept my mouth shut. I didn't suggest, as I'd first been tempted to, that he sleep on the floor or in the basement or something. I knew that would get me in trouble, too.
Then I found out that he was afraid of the dark, and insisted that the light be left on.
"Couldn't we just leave the door open a crack or something?"
The final and most horrifying revelation came while Scotty was in the bathroom brushing his teeth. I crawled into the bed to ensure that I got the side by the wall (so he wouldn't kick me out during the night). Something was wrong. The bed felt different somehow, and made a crinkling sound every time I moved. I called my mom in to ask her what the deal was.
"Those are plastic sheets," she explained. "His dad says that Scotty has a little problem with bedwetting?especially when he's staying in a strange place."
Something in my brain screamed, but all that came out of my mouth was a quiet "Oh."
So now I had to share my bed with a kid who not only needed the light on, but was going to pee on me to boot? This was all just getting worse and worse.
When he finally crawled into bed himself, I silently threatened him, but said nothing. He put his head down on the pillow and was asleep almost instantly. Meanwhile, I lay there wide awake, eyes staring at my bright room, waiting for the warm damp puddle to start spreading over to my half.
Footnote: Years after that first case of insomnia (ooohh, but I was cranky the next day!) I learned that my weak-bladdered houseguest had grown up to become a lawyer. Better still, a lawyer who handled the rights to Davey and Goliath, one of the most terrifying shows ever produced for television. It's a very strange world we live in.
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