In my first parish the local AM radio station, AM1360, would have drawings from sponsors. You would register for these drawings at local events and if your name got pulled out of the box you had 13 minutes and 60 seconds to call in and claim your prize. I know, that would be 14 minutes, but the call numbers were 1360, not 1400, and it was a fun thing to do.
The drawing that day was for a fish fry at the VFW Post (the equivalent of gold in Vernon, County Wisconsin) a free flashlight at the local farm supply store, and two tickets to a Brewers game. Tilman Tordahl’s name was drawn and everyone was delighted.
Sometimes people hear whose name is drawn and they’re thinking, “Oh, that moron” or something more anatomical and worse, but not Tilman. Everyone genuinely loved the old WWII combat vet and knew that he would take great delight in these prizes and no jealousy would keep people from celebrating Tilman’s good fortune. So everyone who knew Tilman started calling him to tell him to call the radio station. He had 13 minutes and 60 seconds.
The first person to call got through to Tilman as he was heading to the phone to call the radio station. Being the polite person he was it took Tilman several precious tens of seconds to thank the caller and say that he had been on his way to the phone to call in and claim his prize. As he made sure the weather was the same two nautical miles away he hung up. Other callers to Tilman’s phone received a busy signal.
Sometimes reason is a fleeting presence when panic sets in and the Norwegian tom-toms start beating. Instead of assuming that Tilman was being inundated with concerned calls and that’s the reason his phone was busy, they assumed that Tilman was on the phone, with the radio politely turned down, because that is the type of person Tilman was, and because he was having a long conversation going on he was unaware of his good fortune. So they kept trying to call him. As the radio DJ announced that there were 7 minutes and 60 seconds remaining, the efforts to reach Tilman only increased. Fraught women sent their husbands to Tilman’s house, a small farm out in the country, and men who hadn’t driven fast since they were in France in 1944 were burning up the highways.
Tilman, for his part, was befuddled. Every time he set the phone back into its cradle it would rattle and ring and upon picking it up it would find an acquaintance telling him to phone the radio station. Terseness, curtness or bluntness were not Tilman-like attributes so precious seconds ticked away with every “friend” he had to explain his situation to.
“Tilman Tordahl! You have 3 minutes and 60 seconds to claim the fish fry, the flashlight and the Brewers tickets. Call now!” By this time people had given up calling Tilman and were dialing 9-1-1 instead. As the callers tried to explain to the dispatchers that it indeed was an emergency, with about 120 seconds left, Tilman’s phone finally went silent. All the phones along that trunk went silent. So many calls were coming in the exchange couldn’t take the volume and the circuit popped.
Two minutes later a new name was drawn and a real social hemorrhoid won the prizes as he promptly phoned in.
That Christmas Tilman received four flashlights from neighbors. And that Lent he got invited to more fish fries than there were fish and his money was no good. A local kid was the starting catcher for the Cubs and mysteriously Tilman got good seats for the Cubs-Brewers game as well.
Nice guys finish last.
“But the last shall be first,” said Jesus. And fundamentally good and decent people with a smidgeon of shame and guilt will make sure that the right thing is done. I bet we all have stories about how fundamental goodness ultimately prevails. I wonder if our children are hearing those stories?