By Robert R. Schwarz
Marriage is that relation between man and woman
in which the independence is equal, the dependence
mutual, and the obligation reciprocal. ( Louis Anspacher,
in an address in Boston, Dec. 30, 1934 )
Two weeks ago my wife Mary Alice and I took a deserved get-away to Muskegon , Michigan; it meant no cleaning nor cooking for her and , for me, the absence of emails and phone calls from solicitors who dodge the Illinois attorney's "do not call registry. " We took the six-hour drive from Chicago …
|Fred and Barb with pets Oscar and Victoria outside|
their BandB in Muskegon , Michigan
With Muskegon Lake now lapping waves a few hundred yards behind us (Lake Michigan was three miles away ) , we were gazing at the porch of the Port City Victorian Inn , enjoying an architect's romantic dream of a Victorian mansion. It was built by a lumber baron in 1858 whose will left tons of money to the Muskegon community in gratitude for the tons and tons of trees he had cut down in that area.
We were here to sleep past six a.m. later, embrace raw nature , and maybe shop a bit. Nevertheless, by habit as a journalist, I had packed my camera and voice recorder , yet hoping I'd see nothing compelling to write about. That hope would soon be dashed. We were ushered in by Barbara Schossau , who with her husband Fred, own and manage the Victorian Inn. Barb (Fred called her that ) is a cheerful lady , and she greeted us with raised arms and a "hallelujah" ( meaning, thank God you found our place !).
In the dinning room with suitcase still in hand, I glanced at a plaque on the wall that read : CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE, THE UNSEEN GUEST IN EVERY ROOM. I was surprised to see such an evangelical profession in a resort town BandB. Well, with the theme of my Internet blog ( Exodus Trekkers ) about some people's lives today being reminiscent of those ancient Hebrews who trekked a desert to flee bondage, I had to ask Barb, still waiting for me to let go of my suitcase , " Are you serious about that?" I pointed at the plaque. Mary Alice frowned at my question.
" We certainly are," she said , obviously pleased with my question.
I knew the fun of our getaway would be less than expected.
Barbara's husband , Fred , suddenly entered the room carrying a screwdriver and a cell phone. " The rug people will be here at nine tomorrow , Barb. Okay ? " He flashed a smile at my wife and me.
|Barb , when interrupted with her kitchen work|
Barb and Fred, as we eventually observed, were meant to have their own B&B. She is 79, attractive and white-haired and a vigorous conversationalist with her guests, sometimes while simultaneously multi-tasking in this five-bedroom home . Fred is 68, a story-teller of Muskegon history who brings low-keyed humor to the guest breakfast table . He was especially busy this week using the handyman skills he learned as a director of facilities for a Michigan school district. A metal plate supports one of his shoulders, owing to some tough labor as a youth in a steel factory.
Fred and Barb returned to their chores , and May Alice and sat down in the BandB living room and were greeted by two Yorkshire Terriers, "Victoria " and "Oscar" who, we had be advised, were friendly but attention-demanding . They were cute and fluffy and very small (bite-size for a fox ) . Oscar kept trying to jump up on my lap but couldn't quite make it. "Doesn’t he know by now that he can't do it ," I said to Mary Alice .
"Pick him up, " she said. I did, and Oscar quickly cuddled on my lap . Each time I paused my petting, the dog clawed at my hand, demanding I resume the affection.
When Victoria make a successful leap onto my wife's lap, she , being an artist and art teacher, shooed him off . At the moment, she wanted no distraction from her visual intimacy with the Victorian-era antiques , such as embroidered chairs , love seats, lamp shades with dangling lace, and the ceramic statuary imported from Germany ( Fred had ancestry there ). Mary Alice's eyes also scanned prints on the walls of famous Victorian-era oil paintings , several depicting Biblical themes . My eye, when not on Oscar's demanding paw, went to the beveled glass windows, a hundred-year-old clock ( I saw Fred later wind it ) , and the staircase spindles and flooring made of natural oak wood.
Twenty minutes later, we were in our room upstairs; each square foot of the room reflected an antiquity , I'm sure, once comforted the palace guests of Queen Ann Victoria herself. I fell asleep that night wondering how to get Fred and Barb to talk about that plaque on the wall . ( I had met a few people in life who , for self-serving—usually business—motives, advertized themselves as Christians. )
|Fred winding his 100-year-old clock|
Glad I Brought a Voice Recorder
That night Mary Alice and I retired to the BandB living room , along with Oscar and Victoria and their still insatiable need for affection. Barb soon joined us , apologizing for all the renovation commotion and catching her breath from her day-long labors.
" I never thought of turning this home into a BandB , but the real estate agent kept talking and talking about the history of this house and soon had me thinking about tearing down walls, " Barb said. She mention a few notable guests which included the French ambassador and a psychiatrist wearing an earring who pulled up in his motorcyclist and immediately hugged Barb at first sight, exclaiming, "You must be Barb ! "
A few minutes later Fred sat down , and the four of us became good listeners and candid conversationalists. Little by little mutual trust went deeper, considering we were strangers to each other yesterday. We talked for at least three hours ( until the dogs fell asleep and Fred's antique clock chimed eleven times ) . We senior citizens were way past our bedtimes.
Fred and Barb told us they had been married 26 years , without children ; a previous marriage by both had given Fred produced three sons and a daughter, 14 grand children, and two great-grandchildren; for Barb, it also was three sons and a daughter , and 13 grand children, and 15 great grand children.
I asked Barb what, if anything, made her sad. "I wish that I had spoken up more when young .I never felt loved by Mom and regret not taking to her about it."
"Nothing makes me sad, " Fred said . He saw my look of disbelief and added, "I find things saddening., like all the bad news in the world. I don't like ISIS, and I'm glad we have a president who wants to eradicate it. That's a noble goal. "
Instinctively, we knew any follow up to Fred's last words were to be avoided for the sake of group harmony .
" So then what makes you happy Fred? " I asked;
"The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is thank the Lord for a new day. : He paused for a thought…"And also a good dinner made by Barb. She's an excellent cook . " " What about you, Barb" " I asked.
" Getting along with my husband, " she said with a faint smile.
Barb and Fred said they never get angry, " Just upset, " Barb said.
know Him . I felt very empty on the inside. I got down on my knees one day and asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart. "
It was time to ask about that plaque on the wall and opened the door for it by asking Barb and
Fred if they had had any transformative or epiphany moments in their lives
. Fred said he quit high school when a
sophomore and discovered two things while serving for three years in the Navy : " I wasn't going any place without an
education , and I knew about God
but really didn't
|One of the many Victorian-era art|
pieces in the Schossau BandB
Fred said his life was influenced by Vernon McGee , an old time radio preacher and ordained Presbyterian minister who , with his Thru the Bible Radio Network program, took his listeners from Genesis to Revelation in two and a half years of broadcasts.. Fred would listen to them in his car while on lunch break from his steel factory job.
Barb quickly chimed in: " I was attracted to Fred because the very first time I saw him, he was carrying a Bible ." The couple courted for two years. " Thereafter, I couldn't put the Bible down. "
What's kept their marriage going for 26 years ? Quipped Fred, " She's a pretty girl. " Barb liked that. " And I love her. I've been blessed to be with this lady." She liked that even more.
And tips for newly weds ? " Don't give up, " Barb offered. "Just keep on struggling. Any time you're down or depressed, tell the Lord to take it away."
It was Fred's turn: " Follow the path of the Lord. Barb and I have a common goal here. It's not always happy or jubilant, but we stay steadfast and we do it. " For those bumps in the road and "off days", he advised a couple to keep the faith.
Barb spiked her advice with humor likely applicable to marriage veterans: " We just yell at each other back and forth. You just finally let it go , and tomorrow is a new day, you know. "
Perhaps the biggest bump in the Schossau's marriage was those 15 years Fred was on the road with his work as a hospital engineer. Though Barb closed the BandB during winter to be wherever her husband was, Fred divided his four-weeks of employment vacation by coming home on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and his birthday.Barb chuckled when asked if she ever got lonely . " No, " she replied with mock defiance. " I was too busy working.He would call me on weekends and say, ' Barb, I miss you…when are you coming ? ' I' d answer, Fred, I don't even have time to talk. I've got rooms to clean." Then she would turn up the phone's speaking volume and lay it on the bed or chair and talk to Fred as she continued working.
|In the living room during our long conversation|
I asked Fred what role does religion play in his marriage . Before he could reply, Barb said, " As a child, I grew up in the Catholic church but in my first marriage we never went to church, and I miss that. I was a very broken girl when I first met Fred. He has taught me so much. "
Fred told me he used to hold a Bible class in this BandB . " Really ? " I said. " How did that come about ? " ow did
" Well, one day as came from the kitchen to serve several guests at the table, I was pleasantly surprised to see them all holding hands and praying. "
Fred offered no details other than telling me all the guests had been strangers to each other since their arrival .He doesn't know what prompted the prayer. e di He did explain, however, that he doesn't talk about religion to any guest unless "they invite it " and then he will be tactfully outspoken (especially regarding his faith in Jesus ) and respectful of whatever their faith or denomination is.
When I again asked him about his personal religious beliefs, he replied, " I don't have a religion. I've always been non-denominational. " He and Barb attend the community Celebration Church in Muskegon. then added in a conversational tone, " Jesus is the absolute reason I live. I talk to Him day and night. He's constantly on my mind, and I read His word almost every day. "
" Fred has taught me so much," Barb said.
"And how we are to relate to the world as Christians, " Fred added . He put closure on our evening with the opinion that all of us were living in the end days of this world . I nodded. .
|Fred and Barb wanted a snapshot of the journalist and his wife|
Mary Alice squeezed my hand.
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz