Chickens

1979, Easter

After Easter service I made a hospital pastoral visit and then stepped into the attached nursing home. I found my two residents, Gust and Elma, parked as neighbors in their wheelchairs in the hall. Long they had been neighbors on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

I greeted them with, “Happy Easter.”

Easter, den?” Gust shouted, but Elma over-talked him, “Easter eggs.”

I waited for either to proceed. Both were lost in memories of Easter in their age-softened minds. Finally she said, “Some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

Who you?” Gust shouted.

I decided to forgo the title. “Clair,” I answered.

They both thought for a few beats. “Don’ know you,” Gust shouted, “but I t’ink our preacher’s named Clair . . . funny name . . . don’ t’ink it’s Norvegian. But he’s not Norvegian. You don’ look like him, dough.”

Lost in the past Elma said, “I use to save up eggs for the kids to dye, when we could get dye. But we’d eat them eggs up after that. But some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

Vhy you talkin’ ’bout eggs? Tain’ Easter, den?”

One year little Mary got sick right ’bout Easter . . .”

You’s talkin’ ’bout your Mary dat died ‘gain. Dat vas long time ago. I keep tellin’ you dat.”

She died not long after Easter. She was just four . . . some eggs jus don’ peel, dammit.”

How did she die?” It was a ritual for me to ask this question on my visits.

Yus’ did,” Gust said, this time in a normal volume.

Yah, jus’ did,” she echoed. “Then the next year the forest fire come through.”

Yah,” Gust whispered. Then he returned to his customary shout, as if everyone else were deaf and not himself. “Ve rowed out in the lake and sunk da nets with all the heavy stuff we had, frying pans and everyt’ing. Den ve vatch da fire come over da hill. Ve vas mos’ly burnt out. Hadda start over.”

Some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

Good t’ing it vas a warm spring dat year. Happened right after Easter, like I said.”

Should I read you the Easter story?” I offered.

Tain’ Easter, den?” Gust shouted

Can you read it in Norwegian?” she asked.

Sorry, no, I can’t.”

I yuse to read da Norvegian Bible, but my eyes don’ see no good no more,” Gust shouted.

Some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

I’ll read it to you in English, okay?”

Gust shouted even louder, “I hated goin’ to church on Good Friday in Norvay. Didn’ like hearin, ’bout Jesus dyin’. De preachers vould say it vas our fault but I didn’ do not’in’ to him. Made me shake all over ven I vas pojka.”

I looked at her. She looked at him and said, “Some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

You keep talkin’ ’bout eggs. Is it Easter, den?”

Who’re you again?” she asked, for the first time looking fully at me.

Pastor Clair.”

We stared at each other for several seconds. Then she smiled. “You don’ look like him. I remember when he bury my son.”

Yes, I buried Norman five years ago or so.”

He died of the drink, you know . . . some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

Gust spoke in soft Norwegian. After a few words I realized he was saying the Lord’s Prayer. She echoed him, always two or three words behind.

You shouldda spoke it vit me,” Gust shouted at her. “You know some Norvegian. You did it in Norvegian at Marta’s funeral ’cause dat damn preacher couldn’ do Norvegian.”

Some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

Don’ know. I never peeled no eggs. After Marta died I yus’ make ’em scrambled. If it vas Easter, ve could maybe dye some eggs.”

Giving up on the Easter story, I offered them communion, knowing full well Gust would turn it down, like all the old Norwegians, who had been taught you had to be worthy to take communion. However, they had also been taught you could never be worthy.

She looked at me carefully again. “I’ll have communion, Pastor.”

I t’ink maybe I’ll try it since it’s Easter an’ all.”

She looked at at him with narrowed eyes. “You gonna take the bread an’ wine. You think you dyin’ or something?”

No . . . but maybe I should. Dat young pastor ve got now, he keeps tellin’ me I can.” He lowered his voice and said to both of them. “Don’t you go tellin’ him. I don’ vant him to t’ink he talk me into it.”

As I said the words of institution, their eyes drifted from my face. “On the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread. After he had given thanks, he gave it for all to eat saying, ‘This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’.”

Some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

I like ’em better scrambled.”

I handed them each a wafer. Gust licked it first to taste it and then ate it.

In the same manner also he took the cup, blessed it, and gave it for all to drink saying, ‘This is my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me’.”

I waited for her to say it, but she just took the cup. Gust took his cup, drank it down, and smacked his lips.

I pronounced the blessing and put away my kit. Gust watched and then shouted, “You can bring me dat ‘gain, but don’ tell my preacher.”

He is the preacher. Pastor Clair. He tol’ you that.”

No, I know our preacher. His name’s Clair. Dis ain’ him.”

She looked at me and said, “Some eggs jus’ don’ peel, dammit.”

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017

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