The Great Gasping


imagesIsaiah 43: 31 says” They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” Such was the case for the two men running into the church kitchen, sputtering and coughing, in their valiant attempt to rescue the rest of us from the potentially dangerous odours emanating there in. Was it possible that the heavy cumbersome monstrosity of a dehumidifier, purchased at a time when planned obsolescence was unheard of, could actually be breathing its last? Could those noxious fumes be coming from an electrical fire in its innards?

The two heroes, both of them hard-working tradesmen throughout the week, had spent the previous hour studying the scriptures in the Adult Sunday School class. They were, no doubt, renewed spiritually by their endeavours, but now they even seemed to be renewed physically, judging by the way they suddenly sprang into action. Casting their freshly filled coffee cups aside, they came running in from the common area dressed in their 1990’s Sunday best— suits, ties and slippery shiny black shoes. With no thought to the cost of dry cleaning, they grabbed the dusty, humming box from its traditional perch at the far end of the kitchen counter that held the triple sinks.

With a shout of “She’s on fire!” the two men embraced the big beige box between them. Like a mismatched threesome, dancing a too-close version of the Troika, they raced down the hall toward the outside door. Tears streaming from their eyes by the time they threw open the door, they galloped awkwardly up the ramp leading to the parking lot and heaved the offensive thing onto the gravel. It lay there dented and damp with nary a wisp of smoke in sight. “Well…maybe she’s not on fire after all.” one of them said, scuffling the gravel with the tip of a shiny shoe. “Probably not.” said the other. “ I don’t even think she’s hot.”

Meanwhile, upstairs in the sanctuary the acrid vapour that had begun filling the entire space a moment or two before, had people choking and wheezing. They quickly headed out of the sanctuary and down the wide stairway towards the churches’ double front doors. There they merged with people exiting from the basement by way of the narrow stairways coming up on the right and left of them. “It’s coming from below— coming out of the grate!” teary eyed matrons and faithful old gents, who had arrived in the sanctuary early to get their favourite pews, informed those emerging from downstairs.

The grate they were referring to was a large ornate cast iron one, the size of a manhole. It was once essential to the distribution of heat throughout the church, but its earlier notoriety involved my dear friend Carol. One Sunday, just after a very uplifting rendition of  When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder Carol passed over that very spot and appeared to instantly head, not “Up Yonder” but in the other direction entirely. The grate had become unbalanced as she stepped on it and it pivoted into a vertical position. This was, apparently, a design flaw on the part of the company that made it a hundred years before. It was likely no longer under warranty, so the thrifty Scotsmen among the trustees finally agreed to simply having it welded down. Carol, unfortunately, had to suffer the embarrassment of a downward descent at a very inopportune moment in order  to draw everyone’s attention to the imminent peril to everyone else in regular attendance.

Our church, like many small country churches at the time of  what I have decided to call The Great Gasping (not to be confused with the The Great Gatsby) had a much wider age range in its population then than now. The kitchen was usually where the older ladies gathered to discuss pot luck dinner plans, check kitchen supplies, and clean up Sunday School snacks from the younger classes before the church service began. The teens were responsible for their own tidying up and that day, as their class was already over before anyone elses’ class, a few of the girls were in the deserted kitchen gabbing about the latest goings on. Suddenly someone caught a glimpse of something so odd it just had to be checked out a little more closely.

There on the counter lay a wide-open lady’s handbag. It was one of those big fabric satchels with huge wooden ring handles— a 1990’s fashion statement that inevitably left a lot of your personal belongings on display. What was right on the top, in full view just then, was what looked like some kind of  personal security alarm. “Maybe it’s like an airhorn.” one of the girls said to the others. “You know —something to scare off someone chasing you or something like that.” “Why don’t you just try it and see if that’s what it is.” “No you try it! Everybody will hear!” “Just hold it for a second or two; it’ll be funny. Besides nobody’s here to see.”

A split second later a group of red-faced girls went running off in a panic. What was expected to be no more than a short shrill blast of noise turned out to be, instead, a complete discharge of the entire contents of a “Bear Spray” canister—“Bear Spray” being the eupehmism for the much more potent substance that the police force use for dire situations. My sister Marsha had obtained the product for her niece, my daughter Carrie’s personal security from a police officer friend on the quiet. As part of  her College Baker’s program, and apprenticeship requirements, Carrie was working exclusively making desserts at a fine Italian restaurant in the city. As her work day typically began in the middle of the night, before anyone else arrived, she had to let herself into the back of the restaurant just after the last of late night carousers left all nearby businesses deserted.

Sally, the girl with the trigger finger and the most insatiable curiosity sat through church with a red face that morning. Carrie’s face was flushed with embarrassment too, as she heard her name being whispered in snippets of conversation here and there. Unfortunately, that day she had come to church immediately after finishing her shift and she had inadvertently left her purse with the offending canister inside it on the kitchen counter. While Carrie was often, in those years, accompanied by the sweet smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger— that day the scent she brought to church with her was an entirely different one. My dear daughter, you were definitely the original Spice Girl— one known for her sweetness above all else. But all sweetness with no contrast would, as any good chef knows, be just plain boring. And when it comes to you, Carrie, nothing could be further from the truth.


In the end, the ancient dehumidifier was not returned to its traditional place near the sinks. Perhaps the embarrassing dents on its sides finally persuaded the well-intentioned man who had insisted that it be placed there in the first place that it actually did look out of place. Or perhaps it was too visible a reminder of a comedic performance that he would rather not have been a part of. All victims of  the aerosol attack on orderly religion, otherwise known as “The Great Gasping” recovered completely. Sally apologised profusely for her indiscretion and eventually all that insatiable curiosity did pay off. She now has two PHD’s and lives with her young family in Saskatoon. Carrie went on to earn her Baker’s certification, and her Pastry Chef certification, and also to bake and manage at the family bakery The Gingerbread House  in nearby Komoka. After we sold it she earned her Red Seal Chef certification and diversified into all manner of cooking. She still works in the food services industry, and is instrumental in providing meals for over 1000 of the students at UWO in London, Ontario on a daily basis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s