Being of Scandinavian descent, with roots in the Swedish communities of Chicago and the Norwegians of Minneapolis, Joan was raised as the kind of Lutheran popularized by humorist Garrison Keillor. Like Garrison, Joan has a wealth of stories of “her people.” This is one of them.
Whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around and those ubiquitous boxers with red hearts appear in the stores, Joan recalls a little prank she and a friend once pulled on a small group of Lutheran ministers.
During the summer months growing up, Joan and her brothers usually spent a week away from home at camp. Joan’s camp summers were mostly church-oriented. One summer in the 1960’s she had the opportunity to attend something called “Leadership Training School,” which was sponsored by area Lutheran churches for the benefit of Lutheran teenagers. Sadly, Joan remembers nothing about her week learning to become a “leader,” thereby depriving the world of her beneficent and just leadership, but she does remember the details of a certain prank she participated in with a newly-made friend.
“Leadership Training School” was held at the quaint, charming Christian campus of Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. In charge of the training program were three, maybe four male Lutheran pastors. (Back in the 1960’s women couldn’t be pastors of Lutheran churches.) Joan remembers just two of the pastors that were there that week. One was a former military man, a bit gruff on the exterior and clearly used to giving orders. Although he seemed to be the pastor in charge, Joan suspected he was likely more bark than bite.
Every morning when the teenagers would assemble after breakfast, he would issue the command “front and center!” It was kind of amazing to watch; all the teenagers would actually quiet down and line up. There really is something called “command voice!” The other pastor was quiet, very sweet, but had some difficulty in communicating one on one. He had no difficulties speaking in public, however. That’s probably a good thing for a preacher.
A girl named Pam became friends with Joan during that week and came up, for some reason, with the idea of short sheeting the Lutheran pastors’ beds. The pastors’ quarters were on the first floor of the college dormitory below the girls’ quarters on the second floor—an arrangement, by the way, probably impossible in today’s society.
The pastors’ room was directly below where Joan and Pam were staying, making the dastardly plan all the more feasible. Joan had never short sheeted a bed before, but she thought it sounded easy, fun, and perversely inspirational. To understand why this would appeal to her, you would have to understand the seemingly innocent Joan. Sometimes what you see isn’t really what you get. Still waters and all that.
For anyone needing a refresher on short sheeting, there is a YouTube video (of course there is…), that can be checked out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jzdadheKI8
One evening while the pastors were away at a meeting, Joan and Pam seized an opportunity to sneak downstairs and execute their secret adolescent plan. Tiptoeing quietly down the stairs, they entered the room where the pastors slept at night. They worked quickly and efficiently as a team, short sheeting all of the beds with near-military precision. As they unmade one of the beds, they found a shirt and a pair of white boxers with red hearts under the pillow. They checked for clues to see which pastor wore them. It was the quiet pastor’s boxers! Hmmm, what was that about still waters?
They finished the deed and quickly ran back upstairs to the girls’ quarters. Actually, they could have easily been caught in the act because the pastors returned to their room no more than five minutes later. Rather than return to their rooms and safety, Joan and Pam decided to sit at the top of the stairs so they wouldn’t miss any of the (they hoped) ensuing excitement. When they heard pandemonium and loud voices exclaiming below, they glanced at one another and started giggling. Making things worse, they couldn’t stop laughing about those boxers with the red hearts. It just didn’t seem like something a dignified Lutheran pastor should have been wearing.
But their giggling gave them away, and the “military pastor,” opening his door, saw them at the top of the stairs. As he marched up the stairs, instinct took over, and Joan and Pam both immediately assumed an air of innocence.
“What are you girls doing here?” he angrily demanded to know.
“We heard a lot of commotion downstairs and were afraid,” stated one of the girls demurely.
We can imagine the widened eyes and innocent look accompanying this claim; we’ll leave it to your imagination as to who came up with this quick-witted answer!
The response was extemporaneous and unrehearsed, and quite effective because it wasn’t actually quite a lie. Joan and Pam did hear the commotion, and they were afraid that they had been caught.
The gruff pastor’s face suddenly softened, and he told the girls that everything was OK and that they should go back to their bedroom and get some sleep. Joan and Pam had no need to boast to anyone about what they had done. Knowing that they had succeeded in getting away with their short sheeting operation was reward enough.
In a strange twist of fate, the quiet pastor with the red heart boxers would later become the pastor of Joan’s childhood church. Fortunately for her she had by then grown up, moved away, and left the church. Otherwise, she would have had to sit through his sermons every Sunday while thinking about those red heart boxers under his robes!