A TV Evangelist and A Woodchuck

Everything was yellow: the exterior vinyl siding, the front door, the walls in every room, the furniture and even the shag rug on the living room floor. For a moment I suspected a humongous bottle of French’s Yellow Mustard had exploded, drenching the 1950s Cape with its contents. But no – it was simply the house of my most recent Hospice patient.

Her name was Connie and she was in her seventies. I knew her terminal disease was a slow going one, unlike some of the illnesses that stole the lives of our patients before we even had an opportunity to form a relationship with them. I also knew I could not – under any circumstance – visit Connie between the hours of eight and ten in the morning, and two and four in the afternoon. Those four hours were strictly off limits to any Hospice workers.

“What’s going on between eight and ten, and two and four?” I asked Connie’s Hospice nurse before my first visit.

She laughed and shook her head, “That’s when Steve is on.”

“Steve?”

“Steve Brock.”

“Who’s he?”

“Some TV evangelist.”

“No way! Really?”

“Really. She’s like, crazy about him. Everything stops when he comes on. Once she made me go home and I wasn’t even finished with my evaluation.”

As I followed Connie’s voice through the house, I found her sitting in a recliner chair that was positioned in front of a huge television. Her hair was a mess of white curls and she was wearing make-up. For a Hospice patient, she looked pretty spry. Her eyes narrowed when I entered the room.

“Which one are you?” she barked.

I sighed. Typically, social workers were the duds of the Hospice team. Unlike the nurses who brought comforting medicines, the volunteers who provided respite for the caregivers, or the aides who cleaned and cooked, the social workers were the “talkers” and, generally, our services were deemed unimportant and intrusive to most patients.

“I’m the social work intern.”

Now it was my turn to narrow my eyes. I had noticed the excessive number of picture frames scattered around the room, and they all seemed to contain pictures of the same man. Connie followed my gaze.

“Go ahead,” she said, her voice instantly warming.

I reached and took one of the frames, and then another. They were all Polaroid photographs, and it appeared the pictures were of … Connie’s television screen. Or a man on Connie’s television screen. I blinked. She had taken a Polaroid picture of a man on her TV screen and framed it. And not just one, but dozens.

“That’s Steve,” Connie explained.

“Steve Brock.”

“Yes! You know of him?” Connie sat up straighter in her chair.

“Yes, actually.”

I put the picture frames back in their place and pulled a chair next to Connie. Her eyes were closed, reminding me of a teenage girl swooning over the music of a rock band.

“Tell me about Steve.” I prompted.

Connie’s eyes fluttered open. “He’s so strong and handsome! And you should hear his voice. When he sings I get chills. That’s why I send him money every time he asks … and he writes back!”

Before I could respond, Connie reached into a basket that was half hidden under a folded blanket next to her recliner. She handed me a pile of papers.

“Read them,” she urged.

Carefully, I unfolded the first letter. It was a standard “thank-you-for-your-contribution” letter with Steve Brock’s signature stamped at the bottom. When I raised my eyes to Connie’s she was looking at me expectantly. To her, these were personal communications. She thought this TV evangelist had thanked her personally – many times – for her money.

“These are … lovely,” I stammered.

My freshly minted social work brain knew I was supposed to be doing something social worky. I should ask her about her husband! That’s it! Maybe there was some link between her deceased husband and this intense infatuation with a man on television. Or perhaps her father! What about him? What would make this dying woman latch onto – and give her money away to – some lounge singer sounding, dyed brown haired TV evangelist?

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie said, suddenly.

“Excuse me?”

Quickly, I shifted gears from the TV evangelist/dead spouse/father link to a pet woodchuck. I looked around the yellow room, expecting to see the rodent lumber in and sit by my feet.

“I have a pet woodchuck,” Connie repeated, somewhat exasperated, as though she were growing annoyed. “His name is Chucky.”

“I … I’ve never heard of having a woodchuck as a pet,” I stammered.

Connie raised an eyebrow. Clearly, she deemed me a moron.

“He doesn’t live in the house. He lives outside.”

“Oh!”

“Aren’t you going to ask me how I know Chucky is male?” Connie asked.

This visit was not going as planned. I hadn’t even approached the topic of her illness. I could envision my supervisor, shaking her head in disappointment. When would I learn?

“Um … how do you know Chucky is male?”

“I checked and saw Chucky didn’t have nipples.”

Whoa! What have we here? Connie was checking woodchucks for nipples, after giving her money away to a TV evangelist whom she believed was writing her personal thank you notes in return. Either her disease was affecting her brain or she had a history of mental illness – but her medical history didn’t state either. She was simply quirky.

I sat back in my chair and smiled. 

“Tell me about Chucky.”

And she did.

Eventually Connie was discharged from Hospice because her illness stopped progressing. She seemed indifferent to the news she wasn’t going to die within six months, and relieved Hospice would no longer be traipsing through her home several times a week. We left her exactly as we found her: swooning over her TV evangelist, with a pet woodchuck named Chucky.

For all I know, she is still sending Steve Brock her money, cherishing his letters, and checking woodchucks for their gender.

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20 thoughts on “A TV Evangelist and A Woodchuck

  1. As I was reading this I wasn’t sure if this was a true story or a fictional account until I got to the bottom and saw it was tagged as ‘Non-Fiction’. Wow, life really is stranger than fiction, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing! This was great, a little sad, but still very interesting.

  2. On the one hand, I condemn this Brock character, but on the other hand, it seems he brings her much joy. Great recounting of a situation I’m not too familiar with.

    • Thank you! Yes, he did bring her much joy. She really was like a teenager daydreaming about a rock star … except she gave him a chunk of her social security check every month.

      Chucky – the nipple-less woodchuck – also gave her joy 😉

  3. Steve Brock had a long association with Benny Hinn. Need I say more? ~ This essay is almost as sad as your piece about the prostitute in the Hallmark store a couple years ago. It bothers the hell out of me that these shysters prey on elderly people. My mamaw gave all of her money (what little she had) to Jimmy Swaggart.

  4. Grrr – – I left a comment today on my cell phone but when I clicked reply it did something odd and I suspected that it didn’t go thru. Came back tonight to make sure and here I am leaving another. So, I was here bright-eyed and bushy tailed (or maybe that’s Chucky??) Sunday morning but wanted to give this a day to marinate with me because it’s quite different from your usual work. First of all, I should say that I am surprised that your usual “real life work” is what you’ve portrayed here. Wow. I somehow thought with you being as “light” and as “amusing” as you normally are that perhaps you worked in a bright, happy place like a newborn nursery or a comedy club. Well, I am here first of all to thank you for doing such meaningful work for others. That truly takes a special person. I also think that the way you’ve captured this particular woman’s “slice of life” is truly stupendous. I was elated that she somehow became “on the mend” and kept rereading for any allusion in your writing that somehow Steve had indeed healed her. Or that she believed he had. Anyhow, my favorite line (and I cannot explain why) is when you write, “When would I learn?” You’re SUCH a versatile and talented writer, Megan! (Can I call you that?) ps. Some parts of this reminded me of your aged ballerina teacher piece.

  5. You are such a dear!!!

    No, I don’t work in a comedy club nor a newborn nursery (ha!) – I am a stay at home mom. I actually left the social work profession shortly after I received my MSW. Connie was one of my last patients.

    Social work and I never meshed. I had such good intentions, but just because you WANT to do something doesn’t mean you’re going to be GOOD at it. And I decided people deserved more than I could give them as a social worker.

    I think Connie had created this fantasy world and that was how she dealt with her failing health and gradual loss of independence. She latched onto a TV evangelist. And I don’t know if she expected to be healed because she didn’t seem to pay that much attention to what he said – just how he sang and looked.

    Thank you, again, for your encouraging words. You keep me writing!

    • Aha! I came back to your blog YET AGAIN thinking, it was Murphy’s Law in operation and for some reason my comment still did not pot. And then I found this nice response (it didn’t get delivered to me in my notifications like they usually do because maybe you made it a new comment instead of a reply?) Anyhow, so regarding your explanation – – about how long ago did this occur. I am trying to picture if Connie would be still around these days?

      • Hmmm … thirteen years. So, probably not. Her disease (Parkinson’s) wasn’t terminal at that point (she really shouldn’t have been on Hospice to begin with) but she wasn’t a spring chicken thirteen years ago, either. Between her age and the gradual progression of Parkinson’s, I would assume she has passed by now. But you never know. She was feisty!

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