The Kiss Behind the Organ. Part Two.

Minnie VanderLaan talked fast and too much.  She filled the air with talk and nervous little laughs that you couldn't help but wonder why she was nervous.   Her voice had a helium edge, but a friendly rasp rescued the tone and her hair was admirably just itself: curly and going in every direction.  You could tell that she was too no-nonsense to have her hair "set" or "done" like many women in their seventies.  Her hair, like her talk, just was what it was.  Minnie.

Bob, on the other hand, was so recessive a presence, at least by the time I knew him (in his seventies), that had become an accessory to Minnie. (Alternately, possibly, the anchor that kept her from drifting off like a rogue balloon, but probably just an accessory.)  Bob didn't make eye contact. His glasses were thick and if he spoke at all it was a mumble. His body was thick and a little stooped. He moved seldom and slow, but even though Minnie moved eagerly and youthfully, Bob was always right there with her.  And partly that dynamic -- their togetherness DESPITE the vastly different tempo of their movements -- contributed to Bob's acccessoryness.

Do these people sound like villains? They don't to me. And that's part of the shock that
this story provided to me. Minnie seemed sweet, eccentric, likeable and a little high
strung. Bob seemed....well...nothing. Blank. He reminded me of the public persona of
my own Paternal Grandfather: quiet, reserved, withdrawn and maybe slightly, ever-so-slightly... disapproving. They didn't seem like bad people.

Honestly, I never even really given them a second thought.

Minnie complimented me when I gave my short sermons or sang duets or played trombones.  So my presumption was that they were in The Fan Club.  And, like any self-centered teenager, I was very on-board with anyone who seemed like they were in The Fan Club.

I passively liked them both.

(Even though I really hadn't given them a second thought.)

BUT then Minnie told her friend that Don had seen me kissing one of the Amys in the youth group. (You can read the longer story here.) Minnie's friend had told her daughter (another Amy, my friend) and then, just generally, word had gotten around:

The preacher's son kissed a girl in the front of the auditorium.

So I told everyone it wasn't true, and, because I knew that if I didn't tell my father, he would still hear: so I told my father.  I told him what had been said and I told him that it wasn't true.

Why would Bob VanderLaan start a rumor about me that wasn't true?  He didn't seem like a meddler.  I couldn't imagine how I could've wronged him from a distance.  He didn't seem like the sort of politically motivated parishioner who would have concocted a plan to involve the preacher's children in a strategic round of Get-Some-Power-Over-the-Big-Man-On-The-Platform.  It was flatly perplexing.  I was likeable.  I was distant.  I was young.

Others asked me:  maybe he saw someone else that looked like you kissing Amy Morehouse.  Amy Morehouse is a very excitable girl; it's easy to imagine her kissing someone.  Maybe it was just someone who looked like you?

I started looking for my doppleganger.  I squinted my eyes to simulate Bob's thick glasses and watched the teenagers file into Sunday School the next morning.  But I knew it was ridiculous.  Sure Amy Morehouse was excitable and affectionate, but even she would know better than to kiss a boy behind the organ during the prelude before a Sunday Evening Service.

The trouble had to be something else.

So after a few days of prayer and consideration, my father pulled a Wisdom of Solomon stunt.  He told me that he wanted to take me to to confront Bob face to face.  He reasoned that this was a scriptural method, but I understood that he was actually testing the truth of my story too.

So I said: Yes.

After all, there's nothing more important than Reputational Purity for a good young fundamentalist teenager.  Kissing was only two baby steps from Dancing and then Intercourse in our world.

I had been with my father to parishioners houses before.  Many of them were split levels like ours.  A few of them were a bit more moneyed with wider lawns and name brand sofas, but the ones that I usually visited with JUST my dad?  Were those parishioners who needed a "visitation" on Tuesday nights.  

All of the really serious faithful Baptists of any midwestern Fundamentalist church worth its salt reserved Tuesday night for Visitation.  The faithful were assigned one or two parishioners who just might benefit from a visit.

The parishioners who RECEIVED these visits had almost always been absent from church for two or more weeks.  Sometimes sickness or poverty prohibited them and in this case the Faithful visiting them would bring comfort and offer help.  Other times, the visited were presumed to be lost in sin.  The visitor would be delicate and never confront the sinner directly, but instead offer to "lead in prayer" with them.  During the prayer, the visitor could use all manner of indirect supplication in order to clarify the questions, concerns and growth areas targeted by the visit. 

The houses of these precariously situated parishioners were almost always smaller than the houses we lived in.  Tiny living rooms, low ceilings, crowded with too much furniture and wall hangings flaunting terrible taste.  It wasn't until after I had left town and left fundamentalism that I found out that fundamentalism flourishes in precariously lower socioeconomic brackets.  During my visits, the most theoretical idea that I held on to was that my parents had been called to serve people who had needs.   Like Jesus had not come for the rich of this world?  Neither had our family.

But I was surprised to find out that the VanderLaans house was one of these houses.  Small.  Cramped. Not enough windows.

When we arrived I felt nervous, righteous indignation.  What if I found out something I had done to offend?  What if I had done something worse than kiss Amy Morehouse (I didn't! Remember that!) and it came out during our visit?  I felt righteous and on fire like Moses with Pharoh and Nathan with King David.

But much of my adrenaline infused energy dissipated once the door opened.  The quiet dark smallness of their house reminded me that our family, like Jesus had come to save people who lived in places like this.

They looked old and small and frail and they were gushing and nervous in a way that let me know that they had no idea why we were there.

My feelings as I relate this story now are very different than they were then. I know that in those moments my heart was racing, my stomach sour with adrenaline, but as I relive the story now, thirty years removed -- I feel the confusion of Bob and Minnie. They were the kind of faithful parishioners who didn't miss a Sunday. They didn't miss a Sunday Evening service. They didn't miss the Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.

When you're that faithful you know the mechanics of Tuesday night visitation, and frankly they didn't fit the profile. No one was dead or dying or sick. They hadn't missed church or had an affair or embezzled from the children's ministry. To have the senior pastor and his son at their home on a Tuesday night? It just didn't make sense.

Unfortunately I only see bits of the next part from this distance: I remember that things went according to my plan. I was forthright, respectful, but clear. No one contested my innocence and it turned out that the accusation seemed like a confusing rumor to Minnie and Bob.  Not so confusing as to have no base, but certainly misunderstood.

I don't remember what my father said, but I assure you: he was gracious, direct and winning. He is always all of those things.

I don't remember the sequence, but I do remember that at the end of the conversation, Bob and Minnie seemed as confused as they had at the outset.

They seemed effusively supportive and apologetic. But still confused.

Clearly though,  I was exonerated. Reputationally pure again.

The incident never came up again in conversation with my parents, with either of the Amys, with the VanderLaans.  I had no idea that so much anxiety and horror could dissipate so quickly and so clearly.

But now? From this distance?  I see that: maybe it did and maybe it didn't.

Because the end of this story is very much like the beginning of the story:

I passively liked Bob and Minnie. And I never gave them a second thought. 

But from this distance, I've been trying to imagine all the possibilities.  I've been trying to give them some second thoughts.

I wonder if they talked for hours after we left?  (Meaning, I wonder if Minnie talked and Bob listened for hours.)  I wonder if they felt anxiety now?  The minister had made a visit to their house?  Was there going to be more said?  Would they become candidates for church discipline?  Who else knew about the minister's visit? Who else wondered what they had done?

I wonder if this was the sort of thing that could make even Minnie silent?  Did they go to bed that Tuesday night in 1985 without a single word in the house?  Did this whole story become unspeakable and heavy for them?  Did Minnie choose the wrong color dye the next time she was at Drug Mart because she was distracted?  Did her friends whisper about her decline when they saw the brassy tones and the orange hue when she showed up to Wednesday night prayer meeting?

And what did Bob see?  Or what did Minnie imagine that Bob saw?

Is it so terrible that everyone wanted a miniature sexual scandal to whisper about?  Humans need secrets to build trust.  Humans need sex to feel alive.  The me who's watching all of this unfold from thirty years distance wants to whisper in the ear of the younger me:  "Lean into it!  Your sexual potency is much more valuable than your reputational purity!  Even to these people who pretend that the opposite is true."

On the other hand, maybe Minnie was happy-go-lucky enough, and Don was daft enough that they never gave our visit a second thought.  I hope that's what happened.  I wish that's what happened.

There was never a kiss behind the organ, but in retrospect I wish that there had never been a Tuesday night visit.  Or that I could trade the two of them.

The power that we had that Tuesday night was so invisible to us.  It was heavier than any rumor of my dalliance, but it sat on our shoulders so comfortably and effortlessly that we had no idea how it filled that tiny living room.

If I could make a deal with the devil at this distance, I would take Amy in my arms right there next to Irene Fleagle, as she played the prelude.  I would make love to her mouth with my own and in full view of the left side of the auditorium.  And hope that like Marty McFly I could forget the weight of these ghosts that would disappear into a new and much more exciting story.

Any names, facts, memories or incidents in this story have been so distorted by time, perspective and even intentional authorial liberties?  That I can say with assurance: 

This story is NOT true.  None of the stories on this blog are true. 

Unless they ring true to you in a way that makes you recognize the Universe you live in and are a part of.  In that case? These stories are completely 100% true.

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