58: The Atheist and the Preacher’s Wife

58: The Atheist and the Preacher’s Wife

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

The Atheist and the Preacher’s Wife

Two people of similar nature can never get along, it takes two opposites to harmonize.

~Ram Mohan

When I was a kid, I had no trouble making new friends. “Just look for someone like you, and talk to them,” I would instruct my younger sisters, showing them how to easily create a circle of friends.

But now that I was in my mid-twenties, newly married to a minister, and living in a town far away from my family and friends, meeting new people wasn’t so easy.

My husband, Mike, was the pastor of a large church, in a town where people had grown up together and already had all the friends they needed.

I found a job waitressing at a family restaurant, hoping to find a friend, someone just like me, with similar values and interests. But most of the staff there were young and single — their lives consumed with school and parties.

A petite blond girl was instructed to show me the ropes at the restaurant. Melynda had moved to Canada from Ireland a year earlier, and with her thick Irish brogue I could barely understand her. “So, yer a preacher’s wife?” she snickered. “Aye, if I ever darkened the doors of a church, it’d fall down on top of me!”

She had a temper, with a foul mouth that could make a sailor blush, and was about as polar opposite from me as you could get, or so I thought.

As I walked home after my shift, I realized she was walking right in front of me, and I saw her go into a little house just around the corner from mine.

The next day we met, while walking to work, and I reluctantly joined her, cringing at her crude stories. However, it turned out she was actually my age, married, and lived in that small house with her husband and numerous cats.

She made it immediately clear that she was an atheist, and wanted nothing to do with church people.

Frankly, she terrified me, and was about as far from my conservative upbringing as you could get. She told me stories about her wild teenage years when she would wear clear plastic dresses with nothing underneath.

And yet, we met to walk to work together, and home again every day.

One of the benefits of waitressing is always having pocketfuls of change. “Why don’t we stop in a couple of shops on the way home?” she suggested one day. And that began our daily habit of thrift store shopping, where we’d buy dresses, sweaters and shoes.

Then Melynda introduced me to auction sales, where we bid together on beautiful antique furniture, as well as strange and crazy items to fill our homes.

We bonded over our interests in vintage things, art and gardening, but also over our mutual dislike of our waitressing job. We became a twosome at work and we were always paired to work together — whether it was waitressing, decorating the restaurant, or buying flowers for the restaurant patio.

Mike and I were hunting for our first house to buy, and she searched with me — she had a critical eye and a harsh tongue. I think our real estate agent was afraid of her too!

Soon, we were inseparable, spending every weekend together, and going places that the other girls in the restaurant wouldn’t dream of going, like junk shops and art stores. The restaurant uniform required wearing a tie, so we began to make our own and sell them to the other staff.

We started a booth at the farmer’s market, selling artsy things we’d make, or find and make over. I was the quiet, calm vendor, trying to keep Melynda’s crazy temper in line so we didn’t drive the customers away.

We talked about everything… everything except our religious beliefs. Yet, somehow it didn’t matter. I was tolerant of her language and crude jokes, and she listened to my stories of the activities at church, and the interesting people I was meeting.

One day I invited Melynda and her husband Mark to a sports and dinner night we were having at church. Surprisingly, they came, and even more surprisingly, they participated with great enthusiasm. At the end of the night, she responded, “Boy, I really like your church. I would join right away if it wasn’t for the religious part!”

We have both since moved away from that town, and live over a hundred miles away from each other. My life has changed, as I’ve become a mother and raised three children, while Melynda has built her dream home along a lake and filled it with pets. Neither of us works as a waitress anymore. But we’ve remained close girlfriends, and still share our love of collecting junk, being creative, and renovating our homes.

Each Christmas we mail each other gifts, and I eagerly look forward to the box I’ll get from her, full of treasures she’s found for me through the year — a vintage blanket, old Christmas ornaments, a teapot she’s made. No matter what it is, I know I will love it, because even though she’s still an atheist, and I’m still a preacher’s wife, those aren’t the things that matter in our friendship.

I’m glad we were both able to overlook the things that might have initially stopped us from enjoying a creative friendship. And since then, I’ve learned that when you’re looking for a girlfriend, don’t bother looking for someone just like you — because what you really need might be just the opposite!

~Lori Zenker

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