Sunday, February 5, 2012

Reunion WithThe Robinsons

Whether you like it or not you have to admit Facebook has changed the way people around the world communicate with each other forever. Millions of people have reconnected after years of not having any contact at all.

The best Facebook “reconnection” I’ve made so far has been with Marie Robinson.  I first met Marie when, in 1976, her husband, Dave, became the pastor of the church I grew up in, Easton Assembly of God. Although they were there only a year they both taught and influenced 15 year old Ronnie Havens in ways that are still evident in my life today.

Marie was the person who taught me all about being organized and teaching children’s church. She showed me how important it was for me to write all my ideas down so I wouldn’t forget them. That sounds like a very simple thing. But the on-going benefit of that lesson is the “To Do” list I carry with me every day as an adult.

But teaching children is just one of the pair of life changing things Marie Robinson did for me. She also introduced me to ventriloquism.  

She was the first real ventriloquist I ever met. Her and her beloved puppet, Henrietta the dog, earned my admiration from the first time I saw them perform together.

Marie did her best to teach me the skill of talking without moving my lips and even went as far as giving me my first ventriloquist puppet. But as a15 year old I just didn’t have the patience to work through the learning process. I gave it up and even gave the puppet, Samson, away. But the seeds of passion for ventriloquism were planted. They just took about 30 years to grow.

By encouraging me to be involved in the church bus ministry, Dave gave a young teenager the chance to accomplish some unique and extraordinary things. This included things outrageous as taking 100 kids to McDonalds on a church bus for cheeseburgers and sodas, to important things like ministering to people literally where they lived. 

From the day they left our church until a few years ago I had not seen nor did I hear much about the Robinsons. However I thought about them rather often.

In 2006, when I came back to ventriloquism and started teaching children’s church, again I developed an appreciation for just how much Marie had taught me. I thought how nice it would be to find them again just to say “thank you” to Miss Marie. But I thought it would be rather strange to track them down and contact them after such a long time.

Then a couple of years ago I found Marie on Facebook. Inviting someone to be a Facebook friend is somewhat more socially acceptable than an “out of the blue” phone call after 30 years. I sent her a friend request and she accepted. Soon we reestablished communication through email. I wrote to her telling her how much her mentoring me when I was a kid had helped make me who was as an adult and thanked her for it.

I found out that the Robinsons now lived in a suburb of Chicago; about 6 hours away from me. For quite some time we talked about getting together for dinner when I went to the Christian puppet ministry festival in Kankakee, IL. But that didn’t work out.

Over the years I had seen postings on Marie’s Facebook page announcing the many places around the country and the world they traveled both on business and vacation. It impressed me how busy this globetrotting couple was.

Having missed the opportunity get together with them during my trips to the Chicago area in 2008 and 2010 I never gave it much more thought. That was until the middle of last month.
Around the end of the 2nd week of January, Marie posted some pictures with comments indicating that they were spending time in Florida and would be driving back to Chicago at the end of the month. Just on a hunch, I thought perhaps they may be coming back through Kentucky. 

I sent Marie a Facebook message inquiring as to whether their driving plans included heading north on interstate 65. After a couple of exchanges we set plans to meet for coffee on their return trip. This past Tuesday, the last day of the month, at the McDonald’s restaurant here in “The Grove” we did just that.

Although I chose to meet at Mickey D’s because it was right off Exit 38 of I-65 it was only fitting that we should meet there. Marie’s nickname for me back in ’76 was “Ronald McDonald.” She’s the only one who’s ever called me that.

This reunion was really something I was looking forward to. I had so much I wanted to say to them after more than 35 years. I went to the restaurant about 10 minutes before the time we agreed to meet. While I was in line getting a drink they came in the door. It was surreal to finally see them again.

We sat in a booth in the newly remodeled lobby. The first thing I made sure we did was have our picture taken together. I thanked them for stopping.  Dave said because of his traveling he’s up and down I-65 all the time.

Although he “tried being a pastor for 20 years” Dave told me he finally realized he’s more of a teacher and is now a leadership consultant. He specializes in giving one on one analysis to help both church and business leaders. He shared with me that he was on the road 278 days last year. He’s trying to cut down on his travel by using computer technology to help him work from home.

We did our best to both reminisce and get to know each other again. We covered a lot in just a few minutes. Most of our discussion centered on their time in the pastorate at Easton Assembly. In that short time Dave’s actions and the radical changes he made altered the course of the life of that church.

We agreed on the fact that just like a contractor hired to take down an office building, he “blew up” (his words not mine) the “foundation” of Easton Assembly Of God and shook up the congregation. Those things would eventually clear the way for God to grow the church into what it has become today.  

Ironically, I found out that the current pastor of the church, Patrick Webber and his wife, Laverne, are old friends of the Robinsons. The four of them went to college together.

We talked a lot about the people they knew from the church in the “whatever happened to” context. I updated them on Beverly and David Ernst, and Gene Casterline. Dave shared stories about how he prepped the Ferry Street church building to be sold to a specific demographic and his confrontation with the very controlling church treasurer, Josephine Barnes.

We also talked about Paul Grabil, the man who served as Dave’s associate pastor, that year he was in Easton. Paul passed away last year from cancer. We reminisced about how musically talented he was and the fact that he met his wife while living in Easton. They filled me in on Paul’s 30 years of service to the Lord which included so many more things than just music.

They asked about my parents. I told them dad died in 99 and mom in ’03. I shared with them how Paula and I met, about my sisters and their families, and my two sons and their wives. They showed me pictures of all but 2 of their 9 grandchildren. Of course I proudly mentioned the pending arrival of our first granddaughter.

Marie and I talked about ventriloquism and how I came back to it after 30 years. We discussed writing material and finding jokes, making publicity videos, and more. It really made me feel good when Marie told me in person how much that email I sent to her in 2006 meant to her.

We talked about a lot; yet at the same time we talked about so little. Forty five minutes is not very long to catch up on 35 years.

With a lunch appointment to get to in Louisville, soon it was time for them to go. But before they left I made sure we did something that will be a reminder of our reunion for years to come.

Marie and I had our picture taken with our vent puppets; Henrietta and Leopold the lion. I had considered taking the picture with Cecil but thought that Leopold would be better. You know the juxtaposition of a big cat and dog posing together would make for a more memorable picture. I was a bit worried about the natural conflict between them. Actually they got along beautifully. 
They even wanted to be next to each other for the photo.

Henrietta immediately started flirting with Leopold. In her patented sweet sing song voice, (that sounded exactly the same as it did 35 years ago) greeted him with a “Hi handsome” and kissed him on the cheek. The lion was a little shy and not quite sure what to make of the precocious puppy puppet.

Dave snapped pictures on both of our cameras. I looked at the lens and tried to smile as big I could. But if you look at the picture you’ll see that I’m only just barely grinning. That’s because I was busy trying to figure out if I was making the best of this opportunity.

Have you ever been part of something that you just knew was unique and special and worried that you were not doing all you should to make the most of it? That’s how I felt at the time we took the picture.

I was thinking too much and not concentrating on smiling. I had to explain this because the smirk on my face doesn’t really express the joy I felt at the time. I really wish I had put on my usual goofy grin that I have in most of my other posed vent pictures. 

I hope this isn’t too confusing because it’s true. Getting my picture taken as a ventriloquist with the first ventriloquist to believe in my ability and talent to be a ventriloquist was one of the most poignant moments of my life. 

I told Marie that the only thing that would mean more to me than posing with her for that picture would be the opportunity to perform on stage together some day. I added that if that doesn’t happen during this life I’ll make it one of my goals for “The Millennium”.

I thanked them once again for taking the time to stop and visit with me. “You have made my year so far” I told them. With a pair of hugs, some final “good-byes”, and a promise to get together the next time I make it to Chicago, we parted. All too quickly it was over. I went back into McDonalds to fill up my drink before heading back home.

As I watched them drive away in their mid-sized car thoughts of the past dissolved away and I found myself once again facing life in 2012.  

I am so thankful that God gave me the opportunity to reunite with two people who in 1976 over a relatively short time made indelible marks on my life. It really gives me a perspective on God’s providence. He always watches over us and guides the lives of His children. By His love and grace He brings us along, teaches us, and makes us who He created us to be.

At this point in time I believe I finally have a perspective on which events of 1976 I need to remember because they have had a specific and lasting effect on my life. Dave and Marie were key elements in those events. I am very grateful for the opportunity to once again, meet the Robinsons.  

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