( Based on a true story)
by Andrew Miller
The minister told Hunter they were in a real crisis—more than the church could handle. He pressed the fingers of his left hand into his forehead as he spoke. Marriages crumbling, children split between households, threats of violence. The minister wanted him to speak to the Men’s Wednesday Night Group. Hunter was sympathetic but wasn’t sure a presentation was the solution. Come on, the minister said, you’ve worked with these things, haven’t you? I mean, behavioral problems? The minister brought this up after church one Sunday, then a couple of days later in the pharmacy parking lot.
“Okay, okay,” said Hunter when asked a second time, one hand clutching a tube of cortisone cream. “I’ll do it.”
The Men’s Wednesday Night Group met every other week in the church basement. Hunter showed up early and listened to them talk about vacation plans, gardening, little league baseball, scout trips, whatever. Most of the men were half his age, maybe less. He started on his second oatmeal-raisin cookie. If it weren’t for his wife, he wouldn’t attend church. They went once an a while but rarely attended any functions.
At a little after 7:00, Hunter stood up to speak.
“On Valentine’s Day, your anniversary, or when your wife has a birthday, make her feel special. Think ABCD.” He paused, looked around at upturned faces, then continued, “A is for ‘A Gift,’ B is for ‘Bouquet,’ C is for ‘Card,’ and D is for ‘Dinner.’ Do these four things on special occasions—or just anytime—for no particular reason.”
A man in the back interrupted. “All four? Can’t we do just two?”
Hunter stopped, looked down at his shoes. Keep this positive, he thought. “Sure,” he said, “Two is good, but three is better. And four is better yet.”
That was it. He added a few examples, told a couple of stories, listened to random complaints—women always want this, kids always do that, parents are nosey, blah-blah, and more blah—and wrapped it up. Said his goodbyes, grabbed another cookie, and took off.
The minister called a couple of days after the men’s group meeting. Asked how it went. Hunter said pretty good, but the concept was simple and didn’t need much explanation. The minister thanked him and asked if he could pass his name on to the Episcopal Priest. Hunter said that would be okay.
A few weeks days later, the priest called. “I heard about your ABCD lecture,” he said. “We’ve got a men’s breakfast every month. Could you drop in and say a few words?” He explained there’d be a 25-dollar gift certificate at Brewster’s Steak House for him and his wife.
Hunter couldn’t think of a good reason to say no. “Sure,” he said, “Be glad to.”
A short pause on the other end. “You’re a psychologist, right?”
Hunter said, yes, but that was ten years ago, with the Department of Health. Not really couples therapy. The priest didn’t care.
The following Saturday, over coffee and toast, Hunter gave the ABCD talk a second time. He got the same response as before.
“All four, can’t we do just two?” It was a young guy who didn’t look old enough to be married.
Word of ABCD spread through the community, and Hunter received more invitations to speak. Toastmasters, Lions, Optimists. Each time, he ran through the points quickly. He’d always get the same response. “Four—all in one day? That’s a lot.”
Hunter would tell them they could do everything at the grocery store. The gift could be a potted plant or a special serving dish or appliance that could be used in the kitchen. Most grocery stores carried flowers and cards. As for dinner, you could buy a steak, bring it home and grill it in the backyard. Or pick up a rotisserie chicken, maybe a rack of barbecued ribs. Easy enough.
Sometimes Hunter was stopped at the mall or in a big box store by a man he didn’t know. “Hey Doc,” they’d say, “Heard about your presentation. You got me in big trouble. All this ABCD stuff. The wife is upset. Says I need to get with the program.”
He started getting phone calls about his lecture, some from out of state. “Tell me about ABCD,” a person would say. Hunter would explain there wasn’t much to it. He’d repeat what he said at the meetings, emphasizing it was common sense. He’d get the same response over the phone as he did during meetings. “All four? Seems a bit much.”
At least once a week, Hunter went to Missy’s Pub and Grill down by the river. He’d take a little table off to the side and eat fried catfish, hushpuppies, a side of slaw, and barbecued beans. Or he’d come in for just a couple of beers. Sit at the bar, chat with the person beside him.
One evening a man wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt walked in and sat down next to him. After ordering a draft, he turned to Hunter.
“You don’t recognize me, do you?”
Hunter shook his head.
The man extended his hand. “Father Ambrose, from the Episcopal Church. You spoke at the men’s breakfast. I wasn’t there, but everyone said it was good.”
“How’s it going?” asked Hunter.
The priest shrugged, picked up his drink. “Okay, I guess.”
He took a sip and set it down hard. Foam sloshed over the rim and slid down the side. He cleared his throat, swirled the beer, then turned to Hunter.
“Tell me about ABCD,” he said.
Bio:Andrew Miller retired in 2013 from a career that included research in aquatic systems and university teaching. Recent fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Front Porch Review, Blue Lake Review, The Meadow, The River, Arkansas Review, Northern New England Review, Down East, Maine Homes, and Fatherly. Now he lives in Florida, does volunteer work in prisons, restores stained glass windows, and writes. His website is http://www.andrewcmiller.com/.