Rabbit soup, anyone?

RabbitI recently read the book, The Ocean at My Door. During his lifetime, the author, Ron Pollett (1900-55), was voted by the readers of the now-defunct Atlantic Guardian as “Newfoundland’s favourite storyteller.” And with good reason.

I laughed aloud as I read his story, “The Tongue That Never Told a Lie.” It’s a classic rabbit incident from his childhood. A portion of it bears repeating here, for reasons which shall become apparent later.

“I had the head, my favourite part, on the plate in front of me,” Pollett recalls. “I probed for tid-bits, then cracked open the crown, leaving the tongue till the very last. Finally I hooked it out and held it up on the fork.

” ‘Some tongue, hey, Uncle Bill?’ I said. ‘Some tongue. Almost half the size of a caplin!’ ”

In a former life, when I pastored in rural Newfoundland, parishioners frequently invited us out for meals.

One day, my wife received a phone call. “Does Pastor Janes like rabbit soup?” a senior lady asked.

“He loves it,” Sherry answered. But she didn’t add that she greatly disliked rabbit. In fact, she didn’t even like the thought of rabbit. I often asked her why. “Because rabbits remind me of cats.” I restrained from asking her, “And when did you last eat a cat?”

The night of our rabbit soup supper finally arrived. I was looking forward to it, fondly remembering eating rabbit as a boy.

At the house, the couple and their young granddaughter sat at the table. Sherry and I were there with our two-year-old daughter, Krista. After grace was said, I dug into the bowl the lady had set before me. The rabbit portions were large and scattered generously through the mixture. I was more than ready to enjoy my ambrosial delight.

Sherry, on the other hand, picked up a spoon and absently stirred her soup. I knew she was battling the thought of cat parts swirling around in her bowl. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her sip the occasional spoonful of broth. She fed some of her soup to Krista. Then, when Sherry thought nobody was watching, she hoisted a lump of rabbit from her bowl and plopped it into mine.

By now, my first bowl of soup was only a memory.

Our hostess asked, “Pastor Janes, would you like another bowl? There’s lots left.”

“Yes, I sure would. Thanks.” Within moments, a second bowl of steaming pottage had been set before me.

Suddenly, the granddaughter spoke up. “Look, Nan,” she exclaimed. “I got d’head.”

Oh, no, I thought. This is going to be tough on Sherry.

Nan said, “That’s nice, dear.”

The girl began playing with the rabbit crown staring up from her bowl.

“Look, Nan,” she continued excitedly, lifting an object for all to see. “D’tongue.” She popped it in her mouth.

I turned and looked at Sherry; by now, her face had blanched.

The girl dug deeper. “Look, Pop, d’brain,” she said, as she crushed the crown between her fingers.

Sherry kept her eyes averted, for she knew what the girl was about to do. In a flash, the savory morsel disappeared into her mouth. Sherry was aghast.

The hostess, noticing that Sherry wasn’t eating, asked, “Mrs. Janes, more soup?”

“No, thanks,” Sherry said. “I’m full.”

Truer words had never been spoken.

Selective seeing

I suspect that all of us know people who are afflicted with a condition known as Selective Hearing. Such individuals hear only what they want to hear, refusing to hear what they don’t want to hear.

As a child, I couldn’t understand how my father could hear something I whispered to my siblings at the supper table, but couldn’t hear, or at least made no reaction to, other things spoken in a normal voice level.

Selective Seeing is a similar ailment. My brother and I were convinced that Dad had what we referred to as “eyes in the back of his head.” Whenever we did anything the slightest bit questionable, unexpected or different, even though he wasn’t looking directly at us, he seemed to see it. “That’s uncalled for,” he would say.

Dad had two pairs of glasses: reading glasses and driving glasses. In church, while he was preaching, he wore only his reading glasses. After reading the Bible in preparation for his sermon, he would push his glasses up on his baldpate, where they remained until he needed them again.

One night while he was preaching, we heard a collective chuckle from the congregation.

At least one of Dad’s two sons – yours truly – was preoccupied. Not that he was misbehaving or “acting up,” activity that would have been dealt with posthaste and post-service. To while away the time, he was observant all right, looking at the illustrations in his Bible, which his father had given him when he was nine years old in 1966.

The illustrations by J. Pander, which are evocative even to this day, were especially appealing to an adolescent.

“The Building Of the Tower Of Babel” brings back memories. What a brute of a building was being erected, although I wouldn’t have used the word “brute” in those days.

“Joseph Sold By His Brethren” got me thinking, Where’s his “coat of many colours”? What scum-bags (another word I wouldn’t have used back then) his brothers were!

In “Moses About To Destroy the Tablets,” you could actually see the anger in his face and actions. Older folk called it “righteous indignation,” although I had no idea what either word meant.

“The Crossing of the Red Sea” was scary. You could see the Egyptians drowning, while the Israelites were dry and safe on the other side.

Pander0002The one illustration that kept me in the Old Testament was “The Infant Moses Saved From the Nile.” The only male in the illustration was Baby Moses. The rest of the people were Egyptian females, one of whom was only partially clad and exiting the pool carrying Moses in his basket. I was in love with this young lass! I don’t suppose she lives here in Port aux Basques! I thought to myself sorrowfully.

I’m surprised Dad hadn’t torn this illustration from my Bible. It left little to an adolescent’s imagination, sanctified or not.

I must have been studying my Egyptian girlfriend when the congregation chuckled. I turned around. All eyes were riveted on Dad, so I figured the comedian was on the platform. I now focused on him myself.

Ah, there it was…Dad had suddenly needed his reading glasses to highlight another Bible verse. Forgetting that his spectacles already adorned his head, he reached inside his jacket and withdrew his second pair. These he now put on.

I had no difficulty seeing the humour. Turning to my brother, I whispered, “Dave, we always said Dad has eyes in the back of his head. That’s what the second pair of glasses is for!”

From the warning look in my brother’s eyes, I knew what he was thinking, Shut up, b’y! Do you want Fadder to have another attack of Selective Hearing?


An antidote to church boredom

BulletinI do solemnly vow and declare that things are never funnier than in church. And not without good reason. Attendees are usually encouraged, either overtly or tacitly, to stifle levity and maintain a degree of decorum, a modicum of reverence befitting the House of God.

However, I personally find that being told to stifle levity and maintain decorum often results in a spontaneous eruption of laughter. Sometimes it’s easy to restrain oneself; other times, it’s a valiant struggle.

Janes’ Law

I’ve even formulated my own Law. I figure if Murphy could have a Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will”), then so can I. Janes’ Law states: “If funny things are going to happen, they will happen in church.” Believe me–it never fails. “World without end. Amen.” I’m living witness to the power, for good or ill, of humour in the Church.

It strikes me as significant that the Bible itself speaks about the benefits of humour. The Book of Proverbs declares, “A merry heart does good, like medicine.” On second thought, perhaps the biblical writer didn’t intend this as a reference to humour in church, of all places.

Attending church

There’s much to be said in defense of church attendance. However, even the most devoted attendee, if honest and transparent, will readily admit that, at times, boredom sets in. It might be during the litany of announcements, a particularly poor musical selection, or, God forbid, a poorly prepared and/or delivered sermon or homily.

After attending the House of God off and on for 59 years–almost 60, if you count the time I was in my late mother’s womb–I finally devised an antidote to boredom in church…scrutinize the bulletin for errors, mistakes, gaffes, misspellings, faux pas, poor grammar, incorrect word usage–in short, bloopers. You might be surprised by what you find! For years, I’ve been collecting bloopers which have evidently appeared in bulletins hither and yon.

I herewith present you with a selection for your reading pleasure and personal inspiration, in no particular order.

Bulletin bloopers

* Don’t let worry kill you–let the church help.

* Thursday night: Potluck supper. Prayer and medication to follow.

* For those who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

* The rosebud on the altar this morning is to announce the birth of David Alan Belzer, the sin of Rev. and Mrs. Julius Belzer.

* This evening there will be meetings at the south and north ends of the church. Children will be baptized at both ends.

* Tuesday at 4 p.m., there will be an ice cream social. All ladies giving milk will please come early.

* Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community.

* Wednesday the Ladies’ Group will meet. Mrs. Johnson will sing, “Put Me in My Little Bed,” accompanied by the pastor.

* Thursday at 5 p.m., there will be a meeting of the Little Mothers’ Club. All ladies wishing to be Little Mothers will meet with the pastor in his study.

* This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

* The service will come to a close with “Little Drops of Water.” One of the ladies will start quietly and the rest of the congregation will join in.

* Next Sunday a special collection will be taken to defray the cost of the new carpet. All those wishing to do something on the new carpet will come forward and get a piece of paper.

* The Rev. Merriweather made a brief presentation at last week’s social, much to the delight of the congregation.

* The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind. They can be seen in the church basement on Saturday.

* Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in school days.

* A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.

* The pastor will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing “Break Forth Into Joy.”

* At the service tonight, the sermon will be “What is Hell?” Come early and listen to our choir practice.

* The choir invites any member of the congregation who enjoys sinning to join the choir.

* The outreach committee has enlisted 25 visitors to make calls on people who are not afflicted with any church.

* Evening massage–6 p.m.

* Next Sunday Mrs. Vinson will favour us with a solo in the morning service. The pastor will then speak on “A Terrible Experience.”

* Due to the Rector’s illness, Wednesday night’s healing service will be discontinued until further notice.

* The music for today’s service was composed by Handel in celebration of the 300th anniversary of his birth.

* The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday morning.

* The eighth-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the church basement on Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

* The audience is asked to remain seated until the end of the recession.

* The concert held in the Fellowship Hall was a great success. Special thanks are due to the minister’s daughter, who laboured the whole evening at the piano which, as usual, fell upon her.

* Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday, from 7-8:30 p.m. Please use the back door.

* This week, why not smile at someone who is hard to love and say “Hell” to someone who doesn’t care much about you?

* Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.

* The 2003 Spring Council Retreat will be hell May 10-11.

* The pastor is on vacation. Massages can be given to church secretary.

* Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

* Today’s sermon topic: How much can a man drink? Hymns from a full choir to follow.

* The Lutheran Mens’ Group will meet at 6 p.m. Steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread and desserts will be served for a nominal feel.

See you at church

Now, isn’t church exciting!

Sleepwalking in St. John’s

sleepwalking_0“So, Burton,” a friend said, “you believe God can do anything, right?”

“I do.”

“Well, I know something he can’t do.”

“What’s that?”

“He can’t grab a baldheaded man by the hair of his head!”

How do you argue with such “logic”? I’m convinced my friend was making a none-too-subtle dig at my baldpate, while he sported a head of bushy hair.

During my heady days at university in the early 1970s, I minored in Philosophy, or the love of wisdom. Questions that facilely made the rounds of our classroom included: How many angels can dance on the pin of a needle? Can God create two adjacent hills with no valley in between? If a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody present, does it make a sound? Can God create a rock too big for him to move?

We were told that such questions are illogical, and that if we accept the existence of God, then he is Logic Personified.

I no longer dwell on such imponderables. However, I still have an insatiable desire for knowledge. Some of my questions today are along the lines of, to cite the title of a book in my personal library, Why Can’t You Tickle Yourself? And Other Bodily Curiosities. I’m mesmerized by questions pertaining to backaches, blinking, frowning, “funny bone,” headaches, itching, sneezing, snoring, stomach rumbling, wrinkling, yawning… Why do we do certain things?

Specifically, I wonder about sleepwalking. I have an intellectual curiosity, but also a vested interest. I need to know why one walks in one’s sleep.

Following our marriage, I decided against telling Sherry that I was given to sleepwalking. I shared with her many of my idiosyncracies, but I thought it best for her to learn about this one all on her own. Plus, most of my sleepwalking experiences to date had been fairly innocuous. If and when I did take a trek in my sleep, it was for a brief stint, after which I awoke and returned to the marriage bed.

I now know, according to the aforementioned book, that “the sleeper has not passed smoothly out of the deep, slow-wave stage of sleep.” Many sleepwalkers do nothing more than sit up in bed and stare glassily into space for a few seconds. Others may walk around for up to half an hour.

At the time, we lived in a three-storey townhouse in St. John’s, not far from the Avalon Mall. One day I pieced together what had happened the night before.

Our bedroom was on the top floor. I got out of bed and, in the dark, walked across the room, turned the doorhandle, maneuvered the landing, and went downstairs. The front door leading outside was directly ahead of me. If I took a right turn, I would be in the hallway, leading to the kitchen, livingroom, and basement door. Whether or not I stood at the bottom of the stairs and deliberated about which direction to take, I will never know. However, I do know what I did next.

Leaving the last step, I walked the half dozen feet to the front door. I reached out and grasped the doorknob. The sudden stab of cold must have been the awakening factor, because when I roused from my stupour, I was standing in my briefs, gripping the handle.

It took a few moments before the realization of where I was and what I had done set in. Then, smiling benignly, I wended my way back upstairs and rejoined my wife, who was lying in state, sleeping peacefully.

The next day, I regaled Sherry with my sleepwalking adventure. The practical one in our relationship, she proceeded to put forward a rather unsettling scenario. A smile spread across her face.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I can see the newspaper article now, along with your picture. The caption would probably read, ‘Local Minister Sleepwalking in Briefs Near Avalon Mall!’ “

Why I Bought 120 Pens

BiC0002The look on the cashier’s face said it all. She didn’t say it in so many words, of course, but I could imagine what she was thinking, You want 10 boxes of pens? There are 12 in a box, so that makes 120 pens. At $5.69 per box, that comes to a total of $56.90, or about 47 cents a pen. Hmmm.

“I’m a writer,” I said, “and those are the only pens I use.”

I paid the bill and left the office supply store, feeling her eyes boring into my back.

To me, BiC Classic Stic ball pens are a writer’s best friend.

I recently read the book, How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors. The editors, Dan Crowe and Philip Oltermann, asked several authors a single question, “Can you think for a minute about which object, picture or document in your study reveals most about the relationship between living and writing, and then send it to us?” The responses are revealing.

Will Self plasters his wall with Post-it Notes, which he organizes into scrapbooks, then turns into books.

Douglas Coupland devours Baker’s milk chocolate chips while waiting for his endorphins to kick in. “Without these chips, there is no work…. I keep them to the left of my keyboard and I eat maybe 50 or so medicinally once a day.”

Siri Hustvedt keeps on her desk a metal ring with seven keys of various sizes, on which her late father had written, “Unknown Keys.” Hustvedt explains, “These keys to phantom doors, suitcases, safes and diaries are linked in my mind to making stories.”

Nicholson Baker uses earplugs. “Some years ago,” he writes, “I bought an industrial dispenser pack of 200 pairs of Mack’s earplugs…. I can sit anywhere, in any loud place, and work. Everything becomes 20 feet farther away than it really is. The chirping, barking, jingling cash-drawer of a world is out of reach, and therefore more precious.” At least I bought only 120 pens!

Peter Hobbs believers that if he carries around with him red and blue notebooks, “everything in them would turn out fine, ease of writing attaching to the tools I was using, and the pages would easily fill with ideas for short stories and novels, drafts of paragraphs and scraps of overheard conversations, stray lines of poems, words I’d discovered, quotes I liked, diary fragments.”

John Byrne uses portable typewriters, currently on his twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth. “God bless the man who made it!”

Nat Segnit builds a barricade around his computer. “The barricade,” he explains, “is built of books that have had some influence on my writing…. It’s a defense against having nothing to say, I guess, my book-barricade, but as it goes with defense, it works best when it goads me to get on with it.”

Hanif Kureishi, who prefers to write by hand rather than type, keeps a supply of pens in his room.

Elif Shafak buys only purple pens, explaining, “Being unable to accumulate bits and pieces, even the most beloved ones, in time I projected all my passion for inanimate objects onto one single article: a purple pen. Every novel that I wrote so far, I started writing with a purple pen. Although I am a devout user of computers and laptops, all my notes I take with a purple pen. I must have lost so many of them, bought so many new ones, found some old lost ones hither and thither.”

I follow in their footsteps.

My BiC Classic Stic accompanies me virtually everywhere. It’s the last object I insert in my shirt pocket before leaving for work each morning. I, like Elif Shafak, am devoted to my computer. However, I use my fine-point ball pen to make diary entries, take notes while reading, and write while waiting to see my doctor or in the car while my wife shops.

Meanwhile, I’m man enough to admit I may have an obsessive personality. However, I take comfort when I read Hanif Kureishi’s observation, “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that many artists are as compelled by the rituals which surround their art … as much as by the matter itself. After a few years it becomes obvious that the art is there to serve the ritual, which is everything. If you aren’t an obsessive, you can’t be an artist, however imaginative you might be.”

Without my fine-point ball pen, I feel naked as a writer … and that’s not a pretty sight.

A Prayer for the New Year


Rev. Alan Hudson

On December 10, 1866, the wife of Alan Hudson Sr. of Pouch Cove, NL, gave birth to a child. The woman’s name is unknown at this late remove, but the boy was his father’s namesake and a brother for Julia.

Years later, the boy’s biographer wrote, “When but a week old, he was taken so critically ill that the old family doctor said the baby could not live.

“But the feeble father said, ‘Yes, he will live and will become a minister of righteousness.’ Then, taking the helpless infant in his arms, he blessed him, and, lifting a prayer to Almighty God, dedicated the child to the church.”

Eight weeks later, the senior man, who had been the owner of a general store, a successful ship captain, a teacher of navigation, and a faithful member of his church, passed peacefully away.

His young son would indeed live, leaving his own distinctive mark as a poet, novelist, dramatist and clergyman.

As an adult, Alan Jr. recalled one childhood experience in particular.

“One of the most wonderful experiences of my childhood was a sledge ride across Cape St. Francis to St. John’s,” he said, “behind eight magnificent, great Newfoundland dogs.

“Long before day came the hasty breakfast by candlelight, the careful packing of grocery boxes and bundles on the sledge, a basket of lunch for ourselves, a basket of corncake and scraps for our steeds.

“Last but not least, the stowing in of my dumpy little figure, tucked to the chin in warm wolf robes beside the driver, then a swish and a snap of his long, lashed whip; a wild leap, a chorus of glad barks from those splendid dogs, and away we flew, under the morning starlight, into trackless fields of snow, or seemingly so to my wondering young eyes.

“The music of the bells on the dogs, their joyous cries as they strained their wiry muscles to their task, their curly, glistening, black and white coats, their long, silky ears and plumy tails swept backward in the morning wind, thrilled my childish imagination with that sense of motion and wild adventure.

“The vast expanse of white, untrodden snow-fields, the deep blue sky arching over us, lit by a thousand glistening lamps, our onward dash toward the sparkling horizon, all come back to me like some glorious flight toward the stars!”

When, in the spring of 1896, Rev. Alan Hudson Jr. received a call to the First Congregational Church, in Brockton, Massachusetts, he said to his wife, Ella, “God help me to fill my dying father’s prophecy.”

On January 1, 1905, Hudson composed a prayer for the New Year. It is a prayer that can be prayed by both the religious and irreligious. Though written by a Protestant minister, it contains no reference to God per se.

The author of the prose poem, Desiderata, encourages readers to “be at peace with God, whatever you conceive (God) to be.” So perhaps, regardless of our religious or irreligious predilection, we can pray this practical prayer as we stand on the cusp of a brand new year.

“Help me to face the future bravely; not with regret for wrongs I cannot righten, but with resolve for new and nobler doing.

“Help me to love my brother man whate’er his colour, creed or race. Teach me to know that love is greater than creed, that noble deeds outlive the accident of birth.

“Help me to be kind to the poor, loyal to my friends, and fair to my enemies; slow to believe wrong of another, and quick to believe the right; not prone to suspicion, weakness or littleness of soul, but charitable in judgment to rich and poor alike.

“Give me courage to see the wrong in myself, and forgive it in others; to do good without thought of praise or reward; to give the word of hope to those who sorrow, and the shoulder of strength to those who carry burdens.

“Help me to go with cheer to my daily task and do it well, and when it’s done to live in joy with those I love at home. Give me the gift of health that I may work and rest, and on the morrow face my duties bravely like a man. Amen.”

In 1912, Hudson would write a well-received novel, A Heritage of Honour. Interestingly, he dedicated it to two women in his life, “my mother, a gentle lady of the old school, (and) my wife, a sweet lady of the new, in whose tender eyes of brown and blue I see as in a mirror a familiar face.”