Old Friends, Old Wit

by Arthur W. Anderson

One Friday evening during my teens, our little country church in Mahtowa, Minnesota had an auction. No cows or heavy beef cattle, just “stuff” one could take home in the car. The spirit this night was hilarious—just 11 degrees short of bedlam. What drew this Friday night crowd was not the merchandise, but the auctioneer himself. I will never forget Charles Lindberg—“Old Man Lindberg,” as he was called. A local 95-year-old Mahtowa favorite, yes, and member of this church. When he brought up an item, and described its worth, it was jolly time. He told old stories, new and old country jokes. Laughter and hooting broke out all over, and most of the items brought up had to be challenged with good-natured rebuttal. Wise cracks in the sanctuary were really outbreaks of love and affection for this venerable old gent. Not many comedians on present day television could have matched his soil-grown wit!

Humor can strike when and where we least expect. One week in the 60s I was driving Dean Eric Hawkinson and Dr. Clarence Nelson on a good will tour throughout the Northwest Conference. You surely would not expect us to be discussing business the whole time! Very true, and the longer we were in the car together the more hilarious it became. The incident that overtook all others was in Colby, Minnesota, a small town in the western part of the state. It was mid-morning and we were “kaffe sjuk” (coffee sick), so made our way into this roadside coffee shop, and found three seats together at the counter. Hawky and I were to the left of Clarence. Soon after we began enjoying our coffee and donuts, one of the locals made his way in and found a stool right next to Clarence.

Immediately, he made it obvious he wanted some conversation. However, being minus most of his teeth, he was very difficult to understand. His first question was, “Are you fellas stayin’ round here or just a passin’ through?” It cracked our funny bones. While trying to maintain at least some saintly composure, Clarence’s shoulders heaved with muffled laughter. Undoubtedly hoping for some support and help from us—he got none!

I count this as one of the richest, most personally uplifting experiences of my life. To share with these personal models of mine was incredible! Among the holy gifts we shared together was the humor. This was assumed because my prior knowledge of them already indicated how they revelled in the funny side of life. Both could itch with piety in the pulpit and bring down the word from heaven…enlightening us all. Just recalling an old saint of Covenant past would have them laughing!

We all agreed on the trip that there were some very amusing pulpiteers in the Covenant. Jim Hawkinson makes this very clear in his book, Glad Hearts. One of the more memorable eccentrics was Adam Lidman. Here is black gold at its best.

When Lidman lay dying, two men, members of the board of deacons in a local Baptist church, came to pray with him. He saw them coming and pretended to be in a coma during their visit. They sought to arouse him but without avail, and so they stood and talked together about all the good that this brother had done in his lifetime. Then one of them said piously to the other: “Perhaps we should have a word of prayer before we leave even though he does not hear us.” Whereupon Adam Lidman, true to himself to the end, opened one eye and said: “Well, then, make it snappy”! (p. 456)

One evening when being home alone while Bernice was to choir practice and to coffee after at Yours Truly with our daughter, Sonja, I was feeling a little bedraggled and sorry for myself. It was nearly 11 p.m., and the phone rang I picked up the receiver, and booming out with a General Buckley voice was none other than my old friend, Ed Nelson. Bessemer Ed! I have never been more jollied to spend the next hour—or maybe it was an hour and a half! That night we were buzzing over a new Biblical book all about the risque notoriety in the ancestry of Jesus. These stories we could read for ourselves in the language of the Bible. We laughed and commiserated over this. But only the Bible is free enough to express these incongruities. Crusty humor is expressed in a free Covenant. Say it over again: “God so loved the world that....”