I suppose it is a bit impolite, especially in the age of the telephone, to drop in unannounced?
Oh well, I had already made my way down the long drive flanked by soybeans, to the old farmhouse behind the barn, entered through the little gate of the white picket fence, and was currently deciding what to do after ringing the doorbell twice with no response.
Earlier, this bright sunny September day, on my way from Sunday liturgy to coffee hour, I had received a text message from Lilian, my younger sister, inviting me to a fellowship meal at my old church. She told me about a special service to honor two elderly couples, both ordained leaders from my youth, and this presented a bit of a dilemma—do I go or not?
Since becoming an Orthodox Christian I had made as clean a break as I could from my conservative Mennonite past. In fact, the last regular service I’ve attended was several years ago. The circumstances of my leaving were not the most pleasant and I’ve avoided returning for various reasons. But, in this case, my loyalties overruled my trepidation, I had been invited and wanted to show my appreciation.
However, by the time I had arrived only one of the two couples remained. Pastor Sam and his wife Donna had already left for home.
I had missed the opportunity to wish them well.
Or, perhaps not?
My mother suggested what I was already thinking: I could go visit them at their home a few miles away from the church, take a couple of minutes to chat, express my gratitude and then be on my way again. So, after making my rounds, greeting the other couple, I headed down the road.
Anyhow, I’m at the door of the house, waiting, nobody answered the doorbell. So, while being bold, I decided to continue on with boldness. The door was unlocked (not unusual for rural Pennsylvania), I poked my head into the entry, cautiously ventured down the hall, “hello?”
They must’ve heard the doorbell. I was just inside the door when Donna came out from the back of the house and greeted me with a warm smile.
She told me she would get Sam and left me in the living room. I looked around. I debated where to sit. The old wingback chairs or antique couch? The furniture and decor remained largely unchanged from my last visit a few years ago, by appearances, which is comforting for someone like me who is oftentimes overwhelmed by the pace of change.
But one thing was different, that being the whirring sound of a compressor, which was plugged in near the door of the room, with an oxygen tank on top and various air tubes radiating out from the device.
Sam’s health, according to my mother, had declined precipitously since our last interaction.
He has had an ongoing heart issue and, more recently, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung ailment that does not come with a good prognosis. I had last seen him a few months earlier in his barbershop of sixty years, “Masters Style Shop,” (where his son and a grandson worked beside him for many years) and didn’t know what to expect.
He was out of breath and labored to talk.
But, despite his difficulties, his good humor and the mischievous smile remained.
I had to think of those times, decades before, where he would turn on the overhead projector, slap down the transparency with lyrics, and confidently, in his distinctive baritone voice, lead the congregation in a familiar song, “I’m so glad to be part of the family of God!” It was a sad day when he had retired. The character of the church, those founding couples, was fading into my childhood.
Sam had a way of speaking, a charisma, that captivated me and reminded me of the late Billy Graham.
Sam had always taken a special interest in everyone, including me. We would always talk about the high school football score in the fall. He knew that I had played, we would chat a little, and something of his demeanor always left me feeling cared about.
He had been born in the very room that we were sitting in. The farm had been in the family that long. Sam, and his wife Donna, are fixtures in the community, the kind of people who can be relied upon. They were Lutheran before finding a place in the Mennonite church, people of devout and sincere faith. Sam also served in the military as a young man.
The short visit Sunday turned into a couple of hours, their home a very hospitable place and there was little doubt that this may be my last chance to spend time with this venerable man. I would have probably stayed later, but could no longer keep Charlotte waiting and knew that it would be selfish to stay much longer. So, after introducing Charlotte (on the other side of the world) through video call, we said our goodbyes.
Wilbur S. “Reds” Corderman, 81, born April 3, 1939, passed into eternity on Monday, September 14, 2020.