Two or three weeks back, I did not write anything for Christ in Winter for a couple of days because I could not get my computer to work in the Ambassador Inn in Wisconsin Dells. That’s where we meet George and Ida Belle Paterson less frequently than we would like. It’s a convenient meeting spot, half-way between Iowa City, where they live, and Iron Mountain.
The Dells is a tourist spot—water parks and duckboats and all that. We don’t “do” anything there, though. We just talk and look at photos, get caught up on families and insights.
As we get deeper into winter, the friends of spring and summer become all the more important. They share our memories. They are chapters in our biographies.
There is a poignant episode of M*A*S*H where Col. Potter tells a reporter that he loves and respects the bright young surgeons and nurses with whom he works, but he is lonely. He is the only one of his generation. No one else in his unit shares his memories.
George and Ida Belle share our memories.
George spent most of his career in Iowa City, first as the Director of The Wesley Foundation campus ministry at the Univ. of Iowa, then as Chaplain of University Hospital, as a Supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education, and as a professor in the School of Religion. Ida Belle raised their four children and worked in a doctor’s office. They befriended us when we lived in Iowa City while I did graduate work at the university.
After we moved back to Illinois, we didn’t see each other for around 20 years. But when we followed the grandchildren to Mason City, IA, we took up our friendship again. We had just gotten started when grandson Joe was diagnosed with liver cancer, at 15 months of age. He and Katie spent most of the next year at Children’s Hospital, part of University Hospital in Iowa City, while Patrick worked in Mason City and Helen and I took care of four-year-old Brigid there.
Without hesitation, George and Ida Belle became surrogate parents to Katie and Patrick and surrogate grandparents for Joe. They often kept me in their home when I was at the hospital, too. They helped us all through some very difficult times with the grace of hospitality and presence.
Little Joey knew immediately that these were his friends. One day early in his hospital year, when they came to support Patrick and Katie through the difficult days of diagnoses and treatment plans, he became quite agitated. He could barely talk, but he finally communicated to his mother that he wanted his pants. He was just in a diaper. His friends had come to visit. He knew he should wear pants for such an occasion.
I’ll say more about friendship in the years of winter later, if I can get online, but right now I’ll conclude with this: a good host wears pants.