Ramblings from the Cove...
By Lars Gren
Add Leitch, Elisabeth’s number two, suggested once that they have a joint book entitled, “The Care and Feeding of Speakers” but decided against it for he said, “That might be the end of our speaking invitations.” He did have some memorable tales that I of course only heard second hand since I never met the man but did attend his funeral service but that hardly counts in meeting someone. He did have a great sense of humor and could not stand stuffiness—well that’s what I’ve heard.
One of his amusing tales was of a Sunday morning. He was staying in a home with more than a few youngsters and was biding his time to use the one bath. Nothing had been mentioned as to when would be a good time for his turn. Well Add heard things quieting down and so eased in and got comfortable when all of a sudden the door swung wide open and the eight year old announced, “Dr. Leitch, we’re in the car and if you don’t get out soon we will be late for Sunday School.” One of the problems in staying in a home is that generally there is not a spare room and so a tot is moved in with a sibling and you invade a room where a pet might be a roommate as was the case with Elisabeth once and the normal tenant barged through the door and 5 am announcing, “I have to feed my gerbils.”
Then take the case of introductions which may put the speaker in a dilemma if not enough is said or too much as well as gaffs in the so called presentation. Add was once asked to fill in for Eugene Carson Blke who was a “big gun” in the Presbyterian Church. The church was packed and the young man began his introduction, “I know that many of you have come to hear Dr. Blake who unfortunately had to cancel. We asked Dr.—to come but he was tied up—then we turned to Dr.—who regretfully was engaged so in our desperation we asked Dr. Leitch who we welcome here this morning.” Add evidently was never at a loss for a word and added in his greeting, “I hope you realize what a favor I am doing you. Can you imagine if I had turned down the offer who they would have asked next?” My thought is that they got a better message than had it been the Number one man. Add was scheduled that evening also with the same man doing the intro. As they were about to go in the man said, “Now Dr. Leitch, I don’t want you to feel bad for there won’t be nearly the number of people this evening as this morning but even when we have good speakers they don’t show up for them either.”
Somewhat on par with gaffes was the time that we were on the west coast for a weekend retreat and the last talk was for Sunday evening. When the introduction ended the pastor said, “It is my pleasure to introduce to you Elizabeth Taylor.” The audiences broke up and the pastor looked a bit puzzled and so said, I present to you Elizabeth Taylor.” The second round of laughter was heartier than the first. At that point the pastor turned and faced the choir where someone there must have in a stage whisper said, “Elisabeth Elliot not Taylor,” whereupon the Pastor turned and said, “I don’t know why I said Elizabeth Taylor I don’t even like her.
Now if we all could recall the content of a message as we can the funny little happenings it would stand us in good stead but that matter seems impossibility for me. But we do need a little comic relief and lately there is less of it at The Cove so we look back and retell a few of the anecdotes that happened on the way to the platform. If only I could have had a note taker at the book table or an unobtrusive tape recorder I could have had a small booklet of mirth to share when a bit of heaviness settles in. Yes, theologically there are answers to heaviness but a bit of laughter is sure a help.
There were a few times getting to a venue was a challenge, although in the 28 years or so of traveling together only once were we a day late due to a flight and the folks had an easy stand in by viewing one of Elisabeth’s videos. Once by using the combination of plane and bus we walked in as the one in charge was telling of our delay. Elisabeth had her own trial aiming to drive to a church. She was sent a very clear map and we would have said “no problem” but after driving for well over an hour she felt that there was something amiss and stopped to find help. It did not take long to see that the very accurate map was drawn with north to the bottom of the page and without a north point shown. She did get turned around and made it prior to everyone leaving.
Getting to a place is one thing. Getting to meet the people is the real pleasure although that too can leave a memorable moment. Elisabeth has never been one to rush in with an, “Here I am attitude” but is more apt to wait and see if she can spot someone who appears in charge. On one occasion she was standing looking for someone when a lady approached and began, “Are you Elisabeth Elliot?” I guess there was a certain incredulity in the question for when Elisabeth answered in the affirmative the lady said, “My you certainly look older than your picture!” I have to say that photos that went out for meetings were not more than three years old if my memory is correct. Perhaps it had been a rough two years on Elisabeth.
There is a great difference in gatherings in the northeast as opposed to the west or south. Words are fewer in our “neck of the woods” and to the point. Perhaps a leftover Puritan ethic. Once in between marriages she spoke locally and was introduced in this fashion, “Our speaker for this evening is Mrs. Leitch.” Now, when introducing someone you don’t want the person to tell your whole story, but you do want them to give some information about who the person is. So for the first part of the time, Elisabeth tried to explain who she was and why she was there and then continued on with her talk. At the end of the meeting, the same person who introduced her stood up and said, “I think there are still more donuts and coffee at the back of the room.” Meeting adjurned.
At the other end of the spectrum a pastor and a relative by marriage who had a church in Alabama was doing the “honors.” The book table was a good distance from the sanctuary but near enough so that I could hear if I listen carefully. I kept getting the table in order and the illustrations from the Auca incident and stories that I had heard many times came to me but all of a sudden I stopped to listen and wondered what has happened to Elisabeth’s voice? Then I realized that the pastor was still setting the “stage” and I thought that all Elisabeth would have to do was to give a benediction—for the story had been told—and we could depart for the social hall.
We travelled a lot to the south and the west—CA., very high priority when Valerie’s family lived there. On this occasion, in my favorite southern area, the meeting had begun when two late comers arrived and stopped to scan the books. One of them knew more about Elisabeth than the other. “You know she’s been married 3 or 4 times.” Well, my ears perked up a bit when I heard #4 was mentioned and I was waiting eagerly to hear what she would say, “Really?” The first one responded, “Yes, she was married to Hudson Taylor.” Now some of you who may not be clear on who Hudson Taylor was, you may have to look it up but I will give you this much … he was born in 1832. This happened probably 20 years ago but even at that it’s a stretch to think that he was #3 and I was #4 but I checked it out with Elisabeth and she assured me that it was not so. Of course one can get confuse on fact as Elisabeth did during one of her talks when I heard her say, “It was after the death of my third husband that … “I had to laugh along with the audience and automatically stopped and looked at me and I said, “As far as I know, I’m still here!”
This makes me think of a woman in Alabama who was working at the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. I came over early in the morning to set up the book table and I noticed her going from table to table tidying up. There was also a head table where it appeared as if she was putting down some place cards. After awhile she came over to the book table and after scouting the titles she said to me, “Who are you?” She seemed as if she had a sense of humor so I said, “Oh I’m just another Elliot.” She then inquired if I was the speaker’s husband to which I replied, “Yes m’am, I am.” “But I thought that the speaker’s husband had a different name than she did. “That’s true,” I said, “My name is really Gren, but I’m her third husband.” Without batting an eye, she said, “You are? Well I’m in charge of place cards for the table and I only have one!” “I think it will be alright,” I said, “The first one was killed in Ecuador and the second one died of cancer, so I don’t think they are going to show up this morning.” In the driest humor I’ve ever heard her response was, “Well, it will be alright then.” I went across the street to see Elisabeth and shook my head thinking, “Did that exchange really take place?”
There may be a few who have gotten this far so let me leave you with a word from Janet Erskine Stuart, that Elisabeth often used in her talks:
I know when the stress has grown too strong,
Thou wilt be there.
Thou hearest prayer.
I know that in the crash of falling worlds,
Thou holdest me.
I know that life and death and all are Thine
I am now into the trap of not heeding advice that Elisabeth gave more than once, “Never pass up a chance to keep your mouth shut” rather I should paraphrase it, “Never pass up a chance to stay away from the keyboard.” And with fond memories—that’s it from The Cove.
God bless y'all,