My mother, Shirley (Callies) Hofer, died around August 14, 2017, about 30 years and 2 weeks after my father died. In her sympathy card, my cousin Misty Callies/_______ mentioned that,
“. . . all the Callies brothers and sisters are gone.” That means that the only Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian among the 10 ‘Callies brothers and sisters’ outlived the rest, and she was not the youngest.
That statistic should make an Adventist, somewhere, proud. But I wonder how my mother’s mother, who died 60 years ago, would feel, not only about her only SDA daughter’s life and influence, but also about her newly-discovered SDA religion, and its most recent behavior. So, since my mother identified so strongly with her mother – Sophia (Polenz) Callies – and since I have no picture of my mother to attach, this tale of loss and celebration revolves about Grandma Sophia, whom I never met, alive.
My mother said I was still nursing when she took me from Michigan to Nebraska for Sophia’s funeral, in 1957, the year ‘QOD’ was published as proof that the non-cultic-SDA ‘Jesus’ could not, really, be touched with the feelings of my family’s infirmities. I was the 5th child and first son of my Catholic-born father and ‘converted’ mother. My German-Italian father was a fresh WW II veteran who fought against both of his parents’ ‘families’. He worked days as an electrician and evenings as a block layer for a former German soldier and masonry contractor. He was simply ‘pooped’ from trying to support a ‘booming’ family, alone, and had told my mother to look around and see if there wasn’t a religion, somewhere, that wouldn’t make them keep having babies . . . or burn in Hell. Grandma Sophia’s death was the birth of my father’s eventual salvation.
Sophia had just found and joined the SDA church in Sidney, Nebraska, USA. After a married life of perpetual pregnancy (she had little time to ‘heal’ inside, and Grandpa Ben complained that she ‘stunk’) by a formerly abused – and therefore abusive – husband who had dragged his growing family around Nebraska in pursuit of the woman he really loved, only to get her pregnant, too, and lose her to suicide . . . well, Sophia had finally had enough.
She left Grandpa Ben (it had been a Lutheran ‘shotgun wedding’) and settled, with her remaining youngest children in the mirage town of Lodgepole, Nebraska. It was there that the story printed in SDA Union Conference papers throughout the western states got Sophia her ’15 minutes of fame’ (Andy Warhol prophecy). Just in time, too.
My youngest Callies aunt – lively ‘Vivian’ – who was still with Sophia at the time, said that when Grandma found the Sidney, SDA congregation, she started having fun for the first time in a very long time. Church gatherings, picnics and such. It may have been after one of these gatherings, or after Sabbath services, or not, but Sophia got off of the bus home, onto the shoulder of the highway at Lodgepole, and as she stepped out from behind the bus, she was hit by a passing vehicle and was killed. The youngest son mentioned in the attached North Pacific Union Gleaner article – the one who helped her find the SDA religion – found her, also, as she was removed from the highway . . . who cares to remember, much less recite, the precise details of such a surreal jolt ?
I wonder if Jesus is really, truly, ‘touched with the feelings of our infirmities’ ? To Hell with Adventists Answer(ing) Questions on Doctrine . . . what did worn out, weary, but newly-freed Grandma Sophia believe about Jesus on that last bus ride home to Lodgepole ? Was Jesus her best and closest next-of-kin ? . . . Or, just another ‘shotgun’ relative as ‘QOD’ implied ? I believe that uncle who brought Sophia the Signs of the Times and then saw her broken on the highway, became a Freemason – a ‘Deist’. At least he did not become an SDA ‘QOD’ quasi-‘Deist’.
Well, it was only natural, wasn’t it, that my mother should ‘find’ the SDA religion of her mother, Sophia . . . Grandma ‘Wisdom’. My father began to study with her, until an SDA pastor decided to explain ‘tithe’ to him, even before explaining the Gospel, and my father – who, at 14, had run away from the Pittsburgh cops to Detroit after he had finally decked his drunken German immigrant father (who then called the cops), who was, yet again, beating up his Italian-immigrant mother . . . and was ‘pooped’ from constant work to support his ‘booming’ Catholic family . . . – dared to cuss at that incensed Adventist pastor.
If that so-called ‘pastor’ had only, first, explained the Gospel of Jesus – Jesus as my father’s closest, empathetic next-of-kin – the first 30 years of my life might have been bliss. Instead, I grew up in the middle of a tense, perpetual argument between my mother and father, because he had (wisely) backed out of their ‘deal’ to convert to the SDA church, together.
Then my father got cancer.
I had finally left my father’s union electrical contracting business and had become a foreman for his closest non-union competitor. So, I was startled one day, while talking with my boss on a paper mill construction site on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, in Otsego, Mi, where Ellen had her ‘Health’ vision. . . to see my red-faced, crying and dying, tough, carnivorous father walk up to me, interrupt our conversation, and beg me to go for a ride in his pickup truck with him. I drove. Up the 2-lane highway M-89, toward Allegan, MI on the same route he had driven 30 years earlier from the construction site where he had been phoned to be told of my approaching birth at Allegan General Hospital, where my mother’s Adventist doctor served. And, as I tried to pay attention to driving safely, 30 years worth of unnecessarily poisonous tears, sprung from Hells of dashed hopes, began to pour out of my father’s face along with the pathetic words,
“Is it true what your mother told me about the thief on the cross ? ! ?” ~ Selah ~
I had spent 30 years on my mother’s side of the ‘marriage’ argument, growing up without a father willing to help me through my own ‘Spiritual’ crises, as a lonesome only son, but youngest child of 5, consistently locked out of even female family bedroom ‘chit-chats’. And now, just as I was beginning to find a man, a father, he was dying ! Of course I told him, “Yes.”, it was true . . . which didn’t help his tears problem, so it was good that I was driving. . . and, I actually got to have one Sabbath ‘Bible Study’ with that strange, dying, new man. I chose, ‘Beginnings’, and showed him the genealogy of Adam and Noah .
My dying father finally moved from the Lazy-Boy into my old bedroom and a rented hospital bed. One evening he asked for the family to meet him there, even me. He looked straight at me as if he might scold me with his eyes alone, and croaked through the cancer, “See you in Heaven !”
That night the hospice nurse refused to obey him when he asked her to call my mother and me. So, the next I saw him he was naked and being maneuvered into a black ‘Ziploc’ body bag like a piece of embarrassing meat. ( I thought of Ham and Noah.) ‘It’ was loaded into a black hearse with red tail lights, which shrunk down the gravel drive as the July crickets cricketed, and the July stars kept their distance in a black July night sky, and the crucified Jesus – my father’s closest next-of-kin – cussed at ‘QOD’.
The next day I met with my Mother and her local SDA pastor (who was later employed as a Michigan Conference leader in charge of pastors and evangelism) in the kitchen of the house my father had built as I was being built in my mother’s belly. They were discussing funeral arrangements, and stooped to ask me if I had any suggestions. I asked, “Could you please mention that he finally found Jesus ?”
Sophia’s daughter and the future head of Michigan Conference ‘evangelism’ turned to each other and agreed that that ‘would not be appropriate’. . . ? !
As Jesus once asked, “Who is my mother ? And, who are my siblings ?” Then he pointed to those ‘disciples’ who knew his weak ‘flesh’ best.
Perhaps Sophia’s wisest moment – like my father’s – was in dying (not long after her photo was taken in front of the new Sidney church building) before Seventh-day Adventism-gone-wrong could wipe the glowing Jesus-Smile from their hearts. As for Sophia’s daughter, I suppose, until the end, she continued to worship Danny Shelton, Doug Batchelor . . . all those SDA men, who, like the preacher my dad cussed at 60 years ago, still forget to preach the Gospel of Jesus-near-us in their haste to waste His Tithe. It was Sophia Callies that evangelized my family, not her daughter’s favorite men. And ‘Wise’ Sophia was not even ordained.
Not all SDA-life-histories are purely sweet and ‘squeaky clean’ like QOD’s ‘Jesus’.