He’d come in, look at the altar, then look immediately left to our pew, that good Lutheran usual spot, to make sure his seat was secure. With a nod at me, he’d poke out a hand that spoke a “What’s up?” and join that moment of service, most often several minutes past the start. White hair generally askew, he clutched a bulletin to be read at home and given “to the wife” for her to look at. His hearing not so good, Fred often broke into conversation at inopportune moments of prayer, moments of silence…I came to love that about him really. Oh, we got a scowl or two from other pews, parishioners accustomed to the rhythm of those moments, accustomed to the quiet. I gave up being embarrassed. In subtle ways tried to quickly end the can-you-hear-me level of his voice. Feel bad about that now, now that the voice is quiet – gone.
A bike and always-helmeted rider would silently roll up my drive on McDivitt Lane and Fred would appear in my garage, a garage bloated with the noise of table saw, sander, or some such project driven, neighborhood nuisance of clamor. Amidst the dust, “What’s up?” and a poked hand. He’d explain the miles he’d ridden that day, map out the travel with so and so lived there years ago and did you know such and such was over that way. Didn’t matter how I’d reply, the talk would roll on in a crackly voiced, matter-of-fact liturgy of friendship. “Just stopped by to see what you’re up to” stuff that most pass up until the pass up becomes too late. I often laughed when, in an array of cuttings and partially made wood workings, he’d query, “You makin’ that?” I think he expected my “no, just trimming pieces to fit on the shelving” response because his wry, tight smile would flit across his face. The well being of Ruby and Gordon across the street always came up, Ruby being a pew-mate, part of the regular trio in the back. He always had concern for Gordon after Ruby passed, after her quick wit, sharp tongue, boisterous grip on life ended and left her spot next to the beam vacant. He was caring quiet, many never knew how he watched out for members. “How come the guy who sat just up there to the right never comes? You ever see her now, she sang in the choir? Did you hear that guy passed – must have been a student of yours in the day?” Fred had his after-service moments with a lot of members, quick “how’s it goin’s” – and then out the door, likely to the Village Pumper or some regularly patterned stop off.
About three weeks ago, our last conversation included questions about my move, the why of it, the where, and “I’ll have to drop by.” Then he wasn’t in church for a couple Sundays. And as I prepared to go visit at Angel’s Grace in Oconomowoc, a text message read, “Fred died this morning.” Pass up had become too late. Did I know Fred well? Not really enough. He spoke of taking the grandkids fishing on the mill pond, showed love in relating the stories of wrist band purchases and getting them on all the rides at the fair on the cheap. He talked about some drinking/smoking days and his gladness that those times were gone. He monotoned, no expression mourned the loss of family and friends to diabetes or cancer or heart failure, just a matter-of-fact recognition of hard moments. The quiet moments.
Well, I do know one thing. Fred’s heart was wrapped in faith. No, not a great participation be on committees attend meetings voice opinions faith. Just an unspoken example, a knowledge that in baptism and communion, he knew Christ and God and was moved by the Holy Spirit to become part of my journey at a time I felt friendless and forlorn. Maybe I, and the others he chatted up, provided a gift in his journey. But then, we cannot be sure, you know. He’s quiet that way. submitted by Dave Smith