By Fred Wickert
When in high school, my family attended church regularly. We went to the Gilboa church which was the center church of a three church charge. The largest was Grand Gorge. They also had the parsonage. The other church was N. Blenhiem. The first service was at Gilboa, the second in Grand Gorge. They were morning services. The N. Blenhiem church service was in the evening. The three churches shared a preacher. Usually a preacher stayed a couple of years and moved on. Often the preacher attended seminary during the week.
We had a new preacher come one summer. His name was George Werner. He was unusual in that he was a bachelor, and had been for several years a professor in Sydney Australia. He had been an anthropologist studying the Australian Aborigine.
In October Rev. Werner announced that he was going to be gone for two weeks and services were to be conducted by lay preachers. He was getting married to a grass widow. She had previously been married and had two daughters. One of high school age and one of grade school age. They were to remain living in Texas until the Christmas vacation and would move to Grand Gorge in time to begin school in January.
When the new bride arrived everybody was impressed. She was a beautiful woman. She was highly intelligent and she was gracious and charming. She looked like someone you might expect to see on the cover of a fashion magazine. It wasn't long before she set the tongues wagging throughout the community. She was seen at the grocery store purchasing four quarts of beer. Imaginations went wild with people wondering if she was a closet alcoholic. The stories were quickly put to rest when some of the ladies commented on the beautiful sheen in her auburn hair. She smiled and told them the secret was in the beer rinse every time she shampooed her hair. Soon there was a large increase in sales of quart bottles of beer.
The preachers new wife was named Grace. Grace was a visiting professor and was often gone for two or three weeks at a time, lecturing at a number of universities. She also gave what were called, “readings.” They consisted of a story with two or three characters. It was like a play with one person acting out the parts of all the characters. Each performance lasted from ten to fifteen minutes. The average was twelve minutes. She did a wonderful job performing those and it became very popular.
One Saturday after Christmas, I went to Grand Gorge to the grocery store with my father. A few men were hanging around the area of the cash register. They had seen the teen aged daughter of the preacher. She was a looker, so they said. Gilboa and Grand Gorge schools each had a boy with a reputation as a ladies man. I happened to be the one in the Gilboa school. The men were wagering as to which of the two boys would be the first to date the new preachers daughter. My curiosity was instantly aroused as I had not yet seen the girl in question.
Sunday morning our family proceeded to church as usual. I sang in the choir which sat in the front on the left of the church, facing the congregation. My eyes went to where Grace Werner was seated. Beside her was a very attractive teenaged girl. After the service was over, Grace made it a point to stop me in the aisle on my way out, and introduce me to her daughter Barbara. Later in the day I called the parsonage and asked to speak to Barbara. I made a date to take her out the coming Friday evening. I continued to date Barbara regularly for a year after that. The men who wagered on me won their bet.
Grace was well liked by the entire community, ladies and men alike. As we got to know her better we learned she was a brilliant woman with many talents. A friend and I were target shooting with a .22 rifle one afternoon when she stopped and got out of her car to see what we were doing. She asked if she might try. My friend and I were eager to welcome her to take a few shots. She proved to be an excellent marksman. She also had a photographic memory. She read a book by rapidly turning the pages. As the pages turned her mind took a picture of that page. Six months later she could tell you verbatim what was printed on any given page of that book. She did not advertise the fact, but she was also somewhat psychic and was a mind reader.
The time came for me to leave for college. Dad and I got a quick bite to eat after he came home from work and then he was going to drive me to Cornell University, a distance of 150 miles, and then return home to get what sleep he could before going to work in the morning. I had already eaten and Dad was finishing up. I had put most of my things in the car already, when Grace Werner showed up. I invited her in the house. She said she had come to say goodbye to me. She asked if she could have a few minutes alone with me. My parents agreed. Grace and I went in the dining room. She closed the door and sat down in a chair and faced me. We talked small talk for a few minutes. She asked me a few questions which I answered. Then she stood to leave, She said before she left she wanted to say a word to my father.
She walked over to the door and opened it. She told my father, “Mr. Wickert, any time you need a good salt pack, let me know.” She said it with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. I did not have a clue what she was talking about. I had never seen such an expression on my Dad's face before. His face was red as a beet and he seemed stunned. Grace smiled at my mother, thanked her, said she had to be going and left the house.
After Grace had left the house, my father exploded. “Damn that woman! A man can't even think to himself when she is around.” Mom wanted to know what on earth was he talking about. I wondered myself. Then Dad explained that he was getting itchy about the time and wanted to get going. He was thinking to himself, damn it woman, leave the kid alone and lets get on the road. He said she read his mind from the next room, and just to needle him a little she said what she did about a salt pack. She knew that he would know exactly what she was talking about, and was basically telling him to go pound salt.
That was the last time I ever saw Grace Werner. I went from college in to the Air Force. George Werner went on to a much larger church. I heard that in later years he had become the District Superintendent. I would not be surprised if he had later become a bishop. I don't know. Wherever he went, I am sure Grace went with him. Her daughter Barbara was a year ahead of me in high school. We remained friends and saw each other occasionally until she finished her first year of college. Then we lost track of each other. It has been more than sixty years, but I have never forgotten, nor have I ever ceased admiring Grace. If she is still living I'm sure she is in her nineties by now. She is truly unforgettable.
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