A Spot of Fiction: Church-Going

Blogger’s Note: I started this story some time ago, then forgot about it. Just found it again tonight. I’ve loved Jodi’s home state since the first summer I spent in Wall, but whether this story could be worth something, I dunno. Jinglebob? Anyone? I don’t know where it’s headed for sure, but is it worth pursuing?

We hadn’t been married more than a few months when the old man died. I don’t say “the old man” disparagingly — the whole family called him that, with a note of respect, while he was alive. Jenny’s grandfather had been a small, quietly pious man, the son of German Catholic immigrants — not the sort of man you picture taming the broad expanses of the western Great Plains, but, more often than not, exactly the sort you find.

Arnold Schraeder was no cowboy — he herded his cattle with a grain bucket and a stick, not a horse and a rope. The boy Arnold caught bullheads in the crick that snaked through the east pasture, and snared jackrabbits in the swale north of the little three-room house his father had built from the only construction material in abundance east of the Missouri River breaks — sod. As a young man, he cut and turned that same thick sod with steel single-bottom plow behind two massive, plodding oxen, shirtless and shoeless, in his father’s old breaches too long for his short legs and too wide for his slight frame. A set of narrow suspenders kept them up, and his mother laughed and called him “a strapping young fellow.” She conversed like a native speaker in both English and German, and could sing in Latin. His father spoke English like an Indian, and knew nearly as many words in Lakota. Herman Schraeder was reticent, gruff and loving in his way — which was to give presents whenever he could. Hard candy, a harmonica, a tortoise-shell comb, dark chocolates — he was clever with what little money they had, and had a knack for getting things even in those remote surroundings.

Herman and Susanna missed church only in the very worst winter weather — when the snow blew in too deep for the cart, they walked the two miles. St. Joseph the Worker stood atop a windy hill to the west of the Schraeder place: eight short pews beneath a tiny whitewashed steeple, with a small cast iron cross above the altar and hard wooden kneelers. The family had its regular pew and its kneelers bore the marks of Herman’s faith — two shallow impressions worn smooth and polished white by prayerful knees. The wood, like the church, provided the old farmer with what he expected — humility, grace and some small measure of forgiveness. He believed he deserved nothing more.

Herman was buried four years when the local population jumped to ten families, then a dozen. The diocese authorized the construction of a new church, and Arnold (who, between morning and evening chores, swung his hammer with the rest of the men in the parish) brought the well-worn kneeler home and affixed it to the foot of his bed. The next winter, when he knelt in his skivvies to offer thank to God for his young bride, she knelt beside him, took his hand and smiled.

“It’s as Tobia and Sarah did,” she said. “‘They said together, ‘Amen, amen,” and went to bed for the night.’”

He squeezed her hand without looking away from the crucifix above the bed. She took the squeeze as affirmation, and said her own prayer of thanks for a man who knew even the lesser books of the Bible, chapter and verse. She said the Lord’s Prayer, watching him from the corner of her eye. He prayed with such urgency!

In the coming weeks Lillian Schraeder learned two things about her new husband’s faith: that although he was church-going man, he was no scholar of scripture — and that she had been his first, too.

* * * * *

Lilly was twelve years gone when Arnold passed. That second church was gone, too, or rather, converted to secular use as the favored watering hole of the younger generation of farmhands. The Mission Bar served as sanctuary and confessional for young men and women too broke to leave town and too bored to stay home. That it was somewhat seedier than the other local dives is perhaps not that surprising — considering that the owner had no qualms about converting a house of worship into a bar …

6 thoughts on “A Spot of Fiction: Church-Going

  1. Just thoughts as I read thru',

    He wouldn't snare jackrabbits, cottontails, but not jacks.

    Hmmm, converting the old church into a bar? Don't know about back then, but it would never happen now, I don't think. Perhaps Tyler would know more on this matter.

    Interesting. Makes me wonder where it's going.

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  2. Thank for the critter note. Funny, the bar idea is based on the Steeple in Orient — a church that is now a bar. But I don't think it was a Catholic church — maybe the denomination has to change …

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  3. It was a Methodist Church. Only in Orient would that happen. I'm not sure how long it hadn't been a church, but I know one of my mom's friends was married in the church.

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  4. While it is a shame to see, Catholic Churches have been remodeled into a variety of different things. Most recently, in the Archdiocese of Boston, Churches sold to pay for the awards granted sexual abuse victims have been converted into studio apartments. Nevertheless, as terrible as it may seem, it coulb be worse. The most holy objects of these churches are revoved – altars, tabernacles, sacred vessels, etc . . . These cannot be sold, and so have likely been donated to other parishes or are being kept in the Archdiocesan Archives. Likewise, all that made the building “churchy” on the inside has been taken away and is safe. All that remains is the skeleton of a church on the outside. It is a grim reminder of the communal effect of sin. No one goes unaffected by it. And, while it is true that a Church is consecrated – it set apart and made holy, it must be remembered that part of what makes a place holy is the action that occurs there. Some of the grandeur of a church s lost when the worshiping community no longer gathers.

    I would have to ask a canon lawyer about the specifics of how all of this occurs.

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  5. No need to call an attorney — : ) — like I said, I could just change the denomination.

    Then again, I'm not sure where I'm going to take this. The story I'd *like* to tell might hit too close to home for folks I care about. Have to be careful, even with the best intentions …

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  6. FROM MINNIE:

    I enjoyed the story although not much input on where the story should or should not go. Just have some info about a church that had another use… when I was in my wandering years and was in Scotland I came upon a hostel of sorts that used to be a church. The upstairs became the sleeping area and the basement a pub and breakfast area for the guests that stayed there. Not sure how history worked itself out for churches to become other things like a bar in SD to a hostel in Scotland… oh if the walls could talk 🙂

    Always enjoy your stories…
    -Kristine (Minnie)

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