On Melvin’s good days, he was eccentric. Other days, he tipped toward fanaticism. While he was in the army in Korea, he wrote home asking Mama how she’d like a Korean daughter-in-law. Mama wouldn’t like that at all. Answering her it was just a joke; that was the end of it. After mustering out, he came home and married Maggie, a young widow with a son. Almost immediately, they had a son, then a year later, a second who was born with birth defects. Melvin became was inconsolable and melancholic, sure his child was being punished for his sin of abandoning the woman and child in Korea he’d not having the courage to marry and bring home to his disapproving family.
Isolating himself, Melvin gave his life to God becoming an evangelical, Hell-fire and brimstone preacher in a sect of his own concoction. Sadly, his fanaticism made life on his family so hard, poor Maggie left when he tried to force her into following his fanatic beliefs. Eventually, his membership abandoned him to preach to an empty church, which he still does. He brushed the divorce aside, insisting that “What God had put together, no man could put asunder.” Though she could barely tolerate him, he considered himself still responsible for Maggie under the eyes of God, visiting her periodically and providing her with things a man should provide a wife, clothes, assistance with upkeep on her house, and money. She wasn’t afraid of him and really needed his financial help.
He was unyielding in his beliefs, demanding that his children follow rules he lay down, disowning his adult son, a fine man, for drinking beer, alienating the second with his bizarre demands of fealty. Eventually, he “adopted” a family of immigrants who were faithful to his religious beliefs, cutting his own children off. He eventually got so deep in debt supporting the family, that he filed bankruptcy. At the age of seventy-eight, he still works full-time to pay off debts he co-signed for them. Maggie has since died. From time to time, I still see Melvin, standing on the rural roadside, holding up his Bible, hoping to find someone to preach to.
I feel for this lonely man who has alienated himself from society and everyone he loves for what looks to me like to be an unnecessary sacrifice in the service of God. I hope there is a blessing for him, sometime, somewhere.