It was 1960—the year Bill Mazeroski of the Pittsburgh Pirates hit a walk-off home run to beat the New York Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series. ESPN called that drive over the left field fence at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh the greatest home run ever. The game was particularly memorable for me since I had seen the Pirates play the Cubs at Wrigley Field that summer. As a lifelong baseball fan, I vividly remember the underdog Pirates beating the mighty Yankees. Even so, my reflections about that summer are usually not about baseball.
In July of 1960, my younger brother passed away from bone cancer, one month before his twelfth birthday. He had been diagnosed in September of the previous year—and despite radiation treatments, an arm amputation, and a strong will to survive, he succumbed to the disease that he had battled for ten months.
Then, in September, my dad was involved in a farm accident that required hospitalization and intense rehabilitation. An eighth grader at the time, I went to school part-time and spent many hours assisting my grandfather with the harvest and caring for the livestock. Even though the farm work was getting done, our family’s financial situation was becoming more and more dismal. In that era, health insurance was nonexistent, and our medical expenses were overwhelming.
Then, on December 7, adding to what seemed like an already hopeless financial situation for our family, I fractured my ankle. As I lay in the back seat of a 1955 Ford, headed to the hospital for medical attention, I remember wondering how all of this was going to be paid for. On a wintry Sunday afternoon, following surgery and four days of recuperation, I was supposed to be discharged from the Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. In those days, the procedure for being discharged from the hospital was to report to the business office to pay for the medical expenses incurred.
As my mom and I made the trek from my hospital room to the business office, I wondered what she was going to say to the accountant. I knew that we had no money to pay the bill. As she stood near the counter, I heard her say my name. Then I heard the accountant say, “Your account has been paid in full.”
“No, my mom said, “that’s not possible; my son just had surgery and spent four days in the hospital.”
The accountant smiled and said, “A deacon from your church came in yesterday to pay the bill; your account has been paid in full.”
My mom started to sob, and I—an impressionable 13-year-old—learned a significant life lesson about how influential and loving a church family can be. My parents remained lifelong members of the Christian Reformed Church in Colton, South Dakota.
This past November—two days after Thanksgiving—my dad’s funeral service was conducted there. Fifty-one years after that congregation’s gift was presented to our family, it is still remembered!
About the Author
Gordon Van Zanten taught English at Pella Christian High School for 35 years at Pella Christian High School; he and his wife, Carol, now reside in Golden, Colorado.