Another exciting story by everyone’s favorite guest-poster!
By: Paul Curran
I watched with dismay as Frances played “equals” in the upper right second row of the Scrabble board – with the “q” on a triple letter and the “s” on a double word score. That was the last of her letters and scored her a tasty 70 points as she went out. I had 45 points worth of letters left in my rack, and muttered as I deducted it from my score.
Dora leaned forward over the Scrabble board and let out a little chuckle: “You’ll have to do better than that next time if you’re going to beat our Frances, Paul.” And, indeed Frances had chalked up another win.
This was our usual Saturday evening activity as I visited Dora and Zach, retired immigrants from South Africa, and their friend Frances. Frances was a writer and prided herself on her vocabulary and wordsmithing – and she was good. Dora spoke 8 languages and was the worst speller I had ever encountered – she enjoyed watching the games of Scrabble, but refused to participate. Dora poured us fresh coffee as Frances set up the board and tiles for the next game. When we had started this a year ago, I was lucky to win one in 10 games – now I was winning a bit less than half the time, but the games had grown much more competitive, and I had try my hardest and avoid any slip-ups to win.
Dora, as usual provided the conversation: “Paul would you be willing to help us with a favor?”
As I took a sip of coffee I asked: “Sure Dora what can I do?”
Dora; “Our Synagogue needs some repairs, so we are doing a raffle and need help in selling tickets.” Here she produced about 10 books of printed tickets. “Can you take these 10 books of 5 each and sell them for us to your friends and co-workers? They are a dollar per ticket or a book for 3 dollars.”
Me: “No problem, how long do I have?”
Dora: “If you could bring the money back when you come next Saturday, that would be great. If you need more tickets then, I’ll have more for you.”
She passed over the 10 books, and I stuffed them in my coat pocket.
I caught a glimpse of the Nazi Death Camp tattoo on the inside of her wrist as she passed the tickets. Dora had been a young Russian Jewish girl in Germany when the Nazis raided their home and carried her and her family off to the Death Camps. She lost all of her relatives to the gas chambers, but she was singled out by a doctor to be a subject for experiments on her reproductive system. The damage was irreversible. She was a filthy, gaunt, starving teen when the Allies freed her Camp. Attached to the Allied force was a young Afrikaner South African intelligence officer by the name of Zach. He was smitten by the poor starving Jewish girl and nursed her back to health and then married her.
They set up a farm in South Africa, where they lived for many years. Zach became a chemical engineer, and they travelled all over the world for his work. When they retired, the political scene in South Africa was very bad, and it became dangerous to stay on their farm in a rural area as whites. They decided to emigrate to Canada, which had been their favorite country while travelling. The fact that they were Commonwealth citizens (a loose group of countries that were historically under British rule, and whose citizens enjoy preferential immigration regulations and tariffs) and they were self-supporting made the move easy, regulation wise. Dora only ever spoke once about her Death Camp experiences, when I mentioned that she could have the tattoo removed – and she responded that she wanted it there as a reminder of the hatred in the world that should never be allowed to rise again.
So, on Sunday night I was back at work, hauling a trailer load of rolls from a commercial bakery in Moncton New Brunswick to the sister plant in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I unloaded and reloaded specialty bread products – raisin bread, whole wheat, cracked wheat, etc – and returned to Moncton. I figured that I should try selling my tickets to the drivers and plant staff in shipping when I arrived back in Moncton. The system was set up so that I had the final products needed for the outgoing trailers loading for northern New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Consequently, there were about 15 drivers on the dock and 5 shippers waiting when I arrived. After I had backed in and surrendered my paperwork, I started selling tickets to the drivers and shippers.
Unbeknownst to me, one of the drivers – Gary – was a newly minted Born Again Christian. I don’t think the ink was dry on his membership card yet, and his eyes sparkled at the opportunity to wax eloquently on the evils of gambling. And Jews. Sigh. We got into a deep discussion which he was not going to win, as I had studied the Bible over the years and he was just getting acquainted. He railed against the evils of gambling, and I told him that he did not, as I did not, have to consider it gambling. That, in fact, I considered it a donation to a house of God, a place of worship – the same God as he purported to believe in. And that if there were any winnings, they could be donated to whatever cause he chose and did not have to be kept. Quite amusingly, our heated “discussion” intrigued the others on the dock and they all gathered around, soon snapping up all ten books of tickets as they enjoyed the show.
Gary realized the best he was going to do was argue this to a stalemate, so he switched tactics. I had berated him for refusing to donate to a house of his God when they were asking for his help – breaking several of own Christian tenants like giving to those in need and supporting the worship of God. He responded to the taunting by setting a challenge: if my wife and I attended the Bible Study at his church the following Sunday, he would buy 10 books of tickets ($30.) Ha! I agreed immediately, and we shook on it. I got the directions and time, and we parted ways, promising to see each other the next Sunday.
So, on Saturday, I gave Dora the money from the first 10 books and requested a further 10 books. I told her the story and she laughed, as I pretended to complain about how the Synagogue was getting me into evangelical Bible study. Knowing my propensity to argue, she was giggling over the thought.
On Sunday, my wife, Marie, and I donned our Sunday best and headed out to Bible Study. It was held in the basement of the church, where a good sized room had been set up with about 30 folding chairs and a speaker’s stand at the front. The neat straight rows should have been a warning to me. We arrived a bit early and located Gary, who surrendered the $30 for the 10 books and escorted us into the room. Gary introduced us to a number of couples, as visiting potential members – apparently recruitment was on his mind. They all smiled and shook our hands and gave us a warm welcome – an attitude that was soon to change.
We all took our seats as a young (maybe 35 years old) minister made himself comfortable at the podium. Here the plan started to go awry, as my definition of Bible Study was a discussion group with lots of questions – it turned out that was not their definition. All the “students” sat in neat and even rows with their backs straight and their hands folded neatly in their laps.
The minister had just started speaking when he said that God uses the ministry to set up “No Trespassing” signs in life where we were not to go. My hand shot up with a mind of its own, and when he frowned slightly and acknowledged me, I had to ask: “But doesn’t Ecclesiastes say clearly that ‘There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…’? Doesn’t that suggest that no action is wrong, there is just a wrong place or time for it?”
The minister was taken aback to have the Bible quoted at him, and he continued as if I hadn’t spoken, saying that the ministry was used by God to establish “No Trespassing” signs in life. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed the lack of an answer to my question and realized they were now frowning at Marie and me. Hmm, not good.
To make a long story short, I did not let their displeasure stop me from asking any questions I had, and I was the only one who spoke other than the minister. He didn’t answer any of my questions.
When the “study” was done – about 40 minutes later – the group arose and, pointedly ignoring Marie and me, moved to another room for cookies and juice. Before we could make it that far, Gary came up to me and suggested that I was no longer welcome and should leave. So, we did.
But I had the money for the raffle tickets and a great story about the time I tried to sell raffle tickets for the Synagogue to a Born again Christian and subsequently got thrown out of their church when I asked questions in Bible Study. Gary never spoke to me again – and would turn his back and walk away whenever our paths crossed. Now Dora, she laughed so hard at the story the following Saturday that I thought she would fall out of her chair. And the Synagogue got their “donation” for building repairs.
But I missed my juice and cookies.
Images by: Ticket image by Paul Curran; Cookies/Juice image by Cordelia’s Mom; click on other images for credit links