The package was wrapped in paper covered with cavorting pink and blue cherubs. I thought it would hold another blanket or play thing for our new baby. I opened the package and pulled back the tissue paper. I was unprepared for its contents, and even less prepared for the remark.
I spread out a blue brushed nylon nightgown across its wrappings in my lap. “It’s lovely,” I gasped, still surprised to receive something for “mommy” instead of baby.
“I like to give the mother a gift,” said Barbara. “After months in maternity clothes, a mother needs to feel feminine again.”
I thought about her five children and how well she must know my longing to feel feminine and desirable again. “I almost got you a sheer negligee,” she added, “but…well, you’re a pastor’s wife…”
She didn’t finish. Maybe I didn’t give her time.
“Well…we’re people too!” I sputtered. I almost added, “How do you think I got this way?” But I managed to stifle that urge. I wondered how anyone could be so naive as to think that a pastor’s wife wouldn’t enjoy a sheer negligee as well as any other woman.
About a year later Donna, a fourteen-year-old, dropped in to visit, as she often did. It was laundry day – I think every day was laundry day at that stage of my life. After visiting awhile I asked, “Would you mind following me to the washing machine?” As I switched diapers from washer to dryer she offered an incredible observation.
“It must be nice having a minister for a husband. Since he only has to work on Sundays and Wednesday nights, you have a lot of time to spend together.”
I reached for another handful of soggy white stuff and tossed it into the dryer. How could I answer this girl? I wanted to laugh. Then I wanted to cry. Then I felt like shouting, “He puts in more hours than most men! If you only knew my lonely hours while he’s out serving his flock. My thoughts tumbled like the diapers I’d just handled. Yet none of them would help this girl, sincerely expressing what she perceived as truth.
“Yes, it is nice being married to a minister,” I finally offered. “There are brief moments during the day when he can be at home while most men are working. But he also is away from home nearly every evening either in meetings, or teaching, or visiting people in their homes or a hospital.” I contemplated how much to say. “The time we do have together is often spent doing things for the church,” I added, trying not to sound defensive.
Donna seemed puzzled and disenchanted. Perhaps I’d said enough, I decided. Quickly changing the subject I reached for a basket of clean clothes. She followed me. We chatted about teenage things while I folded clothes.
What is it, I wondered later as I pondered these two humorous and mistaken concepts: a prudish couple and a couple with idle time on their hands. Why do people think ministers are so different from anyone else? I don’t remember ever having such ideas of the ministry.
Back across the years my memories carried me. I’m a young teenager myself, babysitting with my pastor’s young sons. They’re a handful. No angels, these two.
Then at fourteen I’m asked by that same pastor’s wife to work behind the scenes in her kitchen while she and her husband entertain the church board members and their wives for their annual Christmas season dinner. My job is to fill the plates and ready the next course so that she only needs to carry them from the kitchen and back. I’m also to keep the dirty dishes washed as they’re returned to me. I love it. I never see the twelve guests; only hear their occasional laughter.
An even earlier memory. I’m only thirteen, and painfully shy. It’s my first year at youth camp. I take the long walk from my dorm to the women’s shower room in the middle of the afternoon hoping to find it empty. I’d been told there are two shower heads but no partition between them, and no private dressing area. A counselor is already there. She’s my grandmother’s age. She doesn’t seem embarrassed to be undressed in front of me.
I hesitate to undress. She greets me kindly and asks my name. “Oh, are you Dorothy’s daughter?” I know your mother and grandmother. I’m from Denver, too.”
I remove my clothes. “How is your grandmother?” She keeps up the dialog, actually only questions and my brief answers. She continues to wash herself, then her hair.
I’m now under the second shower head. She inquires about my brothers and sister. My answers are more detailed while she dries herself and begins to dress. Then she asks about my interests. She gathers her things and prepares to leave. “I’ll see you in the service tonight. Greet your parents for me.”
She’s gone. I didn’t ask her name; don’t know who she is. But I like her. She makes me feel her equal. Only later do I learn that her husband is the head of the Southern California region of our denomination.
Other memories awaken from their slumber. Occasions when I worked beside minister’s wives in church kitchens; when I timidly adopted our daughterless pastor’s wife for the mother/daughter banquet while my sister escorted our Mom; when I sat under big shade trees at church picnics, listening to grownup talk and watching the pastor’s wife relate comfortably with the other women, enjoying herself.
The life of a minister’s wife held few surprises for me. I had seen such women close up in settings away from church meetings; relating to me in kind, respectful ways; functioning as wives and mothers and friends. I saw them as imperfect people who loved God and knew Him personally. I had learned to respect these women and love them as individuals. I determined that I would relate to others in ways that show them that I’m a people, too.
© Beverly Caruso