“I married an Anglican Priest.” Dina’s response contained a trace of delayed shock.
Her secretarial station was visible through my office door. Asking about a husband’s livelihood was still fashionable, polite and expected. I heard the same response repeatedly, “I married an Anglican Priest.”
Actually, her new husband had yet to be ordained. It was mid 1970s and Dina was working to help finance his Theology degree. They’d married quickly and moved across Canada after Braden’s acceptance into one of the country’s finest Theological programs. Her response preempted his frock’s status, but Dina seemed to need practice with conviction and acceptance.
We silently placed the “minister’s wife” cloak over her. Unjust and unwelcome expectations seasoned our conversations with her. Dastardly “shoulds” flavoured our attitudes toward her. The only shower gifts given this new bride by some office workers ranged from pathetic piety to blatant confrontation.
Dina dealt with these challenges well most of the time. When someone threw a religious dart poisoned with ignorance, she would come into my office with tear-filled eyes and shut the door. To my horror, she would describe scenarios that sometimes didn’t seem negative at first. She’d patiently expose me to the insight. Her hesitancy about being a clergyman’s wife became clearer. A gross serving of humanity seemed ever present in the trenches of the secular.
She developed a forthright manner. It took fellow office employees by surprise. She was demonstrating her…well…normalcy. She didn’t preach. She didn’t talk about Jesus. We even heard the odd curse word. She was well educated and could have been an excellent candidate for a supervisory position.
“I never intended to be a minister’s wife!” She rolled her eyes to the ceiling and shut my office door with vigor. “If my husband was an electrician, Ellen would not be expounding on the joys of anal sex during my coffee break! She does that to get a rise out of me. I had to leave the staff room! I don’t give a damn what kind of sex anyone wants to have, but keep it to yourself!”
“You could be the Pope and Ellen wouldn’t care. She says preposterous things to get a rise out of any of us. Don’t take it personally.” Dina didn’t appear to believe me.
Dina surprised me one day. The Christmas season was closing in and I knew she was scheming to afford a particular Christmas gift for Braden. This time she checked to make sure my office door was completely closed, “Shit, buggar, damn! Braden just phoned. The Bishop wants to come for dinner next week.”
“Wow! Isn’t that an honour?”
“Not when you have mismatched dishes.”
“Would a Bishop care? Maybe he’d be charmed.”
“Not if I was eating out of the salad bowl! We only have two settings.”
“Oh no…what are you going to do?”
“Yah, okay, but what about buying some utensils?”
“I’ll pray. I don’t have enough cash for food, cutlery and my husband’s Christmas gift. I’ll have to put the money out for food.” She didn’t try to hide her disappointment.
“Do you really believe you can just pray for another place setting?”
“I don’t believe it, I know it.”
Her smugness locked my heart. I was going to suggest I loan her whatever dishes she needed, but her cock-sureness caused me to selfishly withhold my offer. I decided to wait until next week.
As I headed home on Friday night, I was planning my wardrobe for my dinner date with Dennis. Dennis lived in another city, but as a salesman for a line of food products, he stayed a number of days in order to visit the myriad of grocery stores he served. Sales suited his gregarious personality.
Just before the intercom announced Dennis’ arrival, I felt a twinge of guilt. About to join friends with a generous escort who would contribute to an evening of lively conversation and laughter, I thought of Dina and Braden sitting down to a meal of left-overs. I mentally brushed away my leak of conscience and went to greet my friend.
The evening held all the expected enjoyment, but, this time, I sat somewhat on the outside. My act of withheld generosity rolled through my thoughts. I was not proud of myself. I decided I would phone Dina first thing in the morning. I silently prayed for forgiveness. The lump lessened, but I could not forgive myself.
At the end of the dinner, Dennis asked if we could make a detour to his hotel. ‘Oh-oh,’ I thought.
“I’m not really good company tonight, Dennis. I think I’ll just go home.” I was not about to embark upon a confessional.
“I noticed that something’s bothering you. I’d like to give you a little Christmas gift. It’s in my hotel room. Believe me, it’s not anything great, but hopefully it will cheer you up. Please?”
I knew Dennis was not being devious. I agreed with reluctance.
As we walked the hotel corridor to his room, he found his key and said, “You remember that I like to give Christmas gifts to stores that have been good clients? Well, I have a few things left over. You can choose whatever you like.”
“Okay, Dennis. I’ll take a look…I apologize…”
“Never mind! Here we go.” He held the door open and pointed to the small table in the corner. Various samples of his products were packaged in seasonal gold and red. I looked at nothing other than the gleaming package sitting dead center.
I pointed at the box in disbelief, “What’s that doing here…amongst these food items?”
“I was hoping you would choose that. They’re really nice and there was an extra set for some reason. Wanna see them?”
I sat on the edge of the bed, mouth still open. Dennis handed me the box of gleaming sterling silver cutlery. The pattern was elegant, simple and graceful…a perfect match for Dina’s salad bowl and mismatched china.
Dennis misread my incredulity, “You don’t like them?”
“Dennis! I love them! You have no idea! Do you believe in modern day Wise Men?”
The impact of the moment pulled out my embarrassing story. Dennis listened with none of his usual restlessness. This man who I’d accepted as a non-permanent streak of fun and frivolity, took my hand and said, “Guess you better watch what other people pray for! This not-so-wise-man needed to know that his brain is actually capable of being guided by goodness. You thank Dina for me, please.”
Once home, as I was getting out of his car, I felt such tenderness toward this friend, “I’m delighted to know you have a star in the sky that you are following, Dennis.”
“You have no idea how much I needed to hear Dina’s story. Right now. Tonight! Get outta here so I can get back to my room and make a phone call!”
True, I didn’t know, but I do know that one clergyman’s wife, with one “religious” word, performed a realignment on a couple of belief systems… a gift within the gift’s gift.
Three wee kings.
Postscript: Shortly after this incident, I met the man who would become my husband. Dennis no longer came to our city. Turns out that he had been promoted to sales manager and was engaged to marry. His fiancé was a woman he’d been avoiding because she went to church. His travelling days were finished, he said happily, and “an hour a week to say thanks isn’t all that bad”.
Dina and Braden had a wonderful visit with the Bishop over a delicious roast chicken dinner dressed with three matching china plates and sparkling cutlery. Over thirty years later, Braden and I “intersected” at our local Parish on the West Coast. Braden was a student again, taking a sabbatical from the priesthood. Dina and Braden had divorced. Dina has re-married and is not a clergyman’s wife.