CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
I was surprised when Uncle Randall told me he was on a committee at church. He wasn’t a committee kind of guy. That’s not surprising—no McFarland is. We can trace the family occupation tree back to about 1840, and no McFarland man, and very few McFarland women, has ever worked under direct supervision. We’ve had a lot of farmers, a few entrepreneurs, and no small number of bums. DNA, for us, means Do Not Associate.
Following WW II until his retirement, Uncle Randall had a job in a factory that made automobile bodies. Factory work usually means direct supervision, but he was in quality control. He just walked around all day, a coffee cup in one hand and his pipe in the other, on those rare occasions when he took it out of his mouth.  When he retired, everyone in the factory knew him, but no one was quite sure what he did or who he did it for.
Occasionally he would call Detroit for a conversation like this:
“The new doors leak.”
“Are they Buick or Chevy doors?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it then.”
I asked him what church committee he was on.
“Membership. I thought it was to get new members, but it’s to get rid of old ones who don’t come anymore. We’re supposed to call them up and say, ‘Why the hell aren’t you in church?’ so then the board can say, ‘We tried to get ‘em to come back, you know,’ in case anybody complains when we drop them.”
“Sounds like a fun job,” I said.
“Yeah. I was about to quit when I came across the name of a girl who had been in confirmation class with Kae. [His daughter] She was such a cute little thing, always bright and cheerful. Hadn’t seen her in ten years. Forgot all about her, to tell the truth. Church didn’t have a telephone number or address for her. I started tracing her. Took a long time. [This was before the internet.] Finally got an address. I was sure it was wrong—really bad part of town, but I went. Had to walk up three flights in a really crummy old building. Didn’t even recognize her at first. Good grief, was she ever fat. Had two little kids and no husband, no money, no job. All she did was eat and cry.”
“What did you do?”
“I said, ‘Good grief, are you ever fat! And this place is a dump.”
“That probably helped.”
“Well, not at first.” He sounded surprised. “All she did was cry some more. But then she said, What should I do? Lose weight, I said. Get a job. Get out of this crummy apartment. Go to college. Get your fat behind off that sofa.”
“That’s more work than a pastor usually expects out of the membership committee. What happened?” I asked.
He looked at me like I was a dunce.
“I dragged her fat behind into the car, like to broke the doors off. I can’t afford a Buick, you know. Took her down to the college. She lost weight. She got a job. She got a good apartment. People stop coming to church for a reason. She didn’t want people to see her like that. She just needed somebody to come looking for her.”
“What did the Membership Committee do?” I asked.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake.” He hit himself on the forehead with his pipe bowl. “I forgot all about that. I suppose they dropped her from the rolls. You know I’m no good at church work.”
John Robert McFarland
1] [He thought my father was a “fancy” pipe smoker for puffing “Sir Walter Raleigh.” “Prince Albert” was good enough, and cheap enough, for Uncle Randall.]
Randall Forrest McFarland was my primary playmate, and sometimes my primary care giver, until I was four, during years my family, along with a lot of other uncles and aunts and cousins, lived with my grandparents. It was the time of The Great Depression. My father and his younger brothers, Bob and Randall and Mike, in their late teens and early twenties, could not get jobs. Bob went to a CCC camp, and when WW II started, they all served in the army. Randall was a junior officer in the South Pacific and there got the malaria that dogged him in later life.
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where people are Yoopers [UPers] and life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
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I tweet, occasionally, as yooper1721