Gerhardt Aschenbrenner dropped into Pastor Walter Mitty’s office at the Poplar Park Community Church the Friday before Memorial Day to remind him to include in the prayers for Sunday all the names of Poplar Park residents who had died in the service of their country.
Talking about Memorial Day quickly led to one of those “do you remember when” kind of conversations.
“Do you remember,” Asch asked his pastor, “when we used to have big parades on Memorial Day, and all the vets who had put on twenty or thirty pounds since they were in the Army tried to squeeze into their old uniforms?”
Mitty, who was in kindergarten when his parishioner was fighting in Korea, replied, “I remember going to those parades in Manitowoc when I was a boy. In fact I even marched in one as a Boy Scout.”
The two were close enough in age to share memories of spraying ether into their cars’ carburetors in January to get the engine to turn over in the cold, rotary dial telephones, party lines, Civil Defense supplies being stored in the schools, buying a Coke for a nickel, airlines named TWA and Pan Am, 78 and then 45 rpm records and stores not being open on Sundays.
Asch sighed, smiled, closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. Pastor Walt knew what he was thinking—”those were the good old days.”
After Asch left, Mitty got back to work on his sermon in which he was trying to tie a 2000 year old reading from the Book of Acts to Memorial Day, but his mind wandered back to Asch’s unspoken “those were the good old days.”
On Sunday he looked out over the congregation and saw that, as usual on Memorial Day weekend, attendance was low. “The beginning of the vacation season,” he said under his breath, “from work and from church.”
It was when he finished reading the few announcements in the bulletin to the thirty or so souls in the pews that the tension in the sanctuary increased dramatically. When he asked if there were other announcements, Sharissa Hawkins stood up and got right to the point.
“I have a letter to our state senator in support of the bill in Springfield that welcomes all immigrants,” she announced, “and I want you all to sign it at coffee hour after church. It’s fine that we remember the past on Memorial Day, but we also need to remember hundreds of immigrants here in Poplar Park and thousands more in our state who look to the future with fear because of what our president is threatening to do.”
Pastor Walt didn’t see that one coming. “Sharissa,” he thought, “would you at least give me a heads up before you drop a bomb like that?”
For the next hour, Pastor Mitty looked, on the outside anyway, like he was leading the service, but on the inside he was rehearsing different options for handling what he anticipated would be a lot of contentious drama between Asch and Sharissa during the coffee hour. But, as it turned out, Asch and his wife Dorothy left right after the final hymn—something about seeing the grandchildren—so the anticipated drama at coffee hour never materialized.
Relieved, Pastor Walt went home, called his sister-in-law Susan to catch up on how his nephews were doing, made an iced coffee, tilted back in his Lazy Boy and get back into a book he was reading about the Lewis and Clark expedition.
When he woke up the next morning, he discovered that the confrontation between Asch and Sharissa, which although it never happened, was still on his mind. The sky on Memorial Day was blue with white puffy clouds floating leisurely along and the temperature was pushing 70 degrees, so he decided to deal with his unsettled mental state by taking a walk.
When he arrived at Main Street, he saw that most of the shops there were closed for the holiday, but to his surprise the door of Bernie Rolvaag’s book store was propped open and he spotted Bernie vacuuming the carpet. The owner of History/Herstory smiled and turned the machine off when he noticed his friend coming through the door.
Anticipating Pastor Walt’s question, Bernie explained, “I’m have a group of veterans coming in this afternoon to talk about their experiences in the Army, so I came in early to tidy up a bit. What’s going on?”
That’s all the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church needed to talk about the confrontation that never happened but which, for some reason, was still upsetting him. After listening for ten minutes, Bernie responded by saying, “You know, Walt, because most of my books are about history in one way or another, a lot of my customers are history buffs. And I have noticed that some are stuck in the past. They talk about it as being the good old days.
“But others read history, because they are worried about the future. They don’t want to go backwards into some idyllic past which is mainly a figment of people’s ‘out of touch with reality’ imaginations, but they don’t want to plunge headlong into the future without making sure they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Mitty said, “Kind of like putting the best of Asch and the best of Sharissa together in one package.”
Bernie nodded and said, “I think that is President Trump’s problem. He’s so sure of himself that he imagines that he can upset the apple cart and replace it his way without doing any harm. He is living in the illusion that he is the first and smartest person to have ever tried to change the system. Serious people, like those vets coming in this afternoon, don’t want to go back to the past, but life has humbled them enough that they fear ramming off into the future without having learned from the past.”
“Better than my sermon yesterday,” thought Pastor Walt as he continued his walk on a beautiful spring day.”