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Bernice Bernice
    by Philip Gulley

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    Edith Record stood and asked us to pray for her friend Bernice. Bernice’s tongue had turned a painful black. We’d never prayed for anyone with a tongue condition but were open to the idea. Bernice went to Doctor Bradley, who peered at her and told her she had an affliction known as black, hairy tongue. He told her to rub baking soda on her tongue then rinse her mouth with peroxide once a day until she was better.

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    After a few weeks she wasn’t any better, so her family took her to the Mayo Clinic, where they poked and prodded Bernice for three days. Then they made their diagnosis: black, hairy tongue. They told her they could give her medicine, but the best cure was to rub baking soda on it once a day then rinse her mouth with peroxide until she was better.

    Bernice told me all about it when I went for a visit after her trip to Mayo. “I knew all along Doctor Bradley was fight. It was my kids’ idea to go to the Mayo Clinic,” she said. Bernice went along with it because she was bored at home and a trip to the Mayo Clinic seemed an interesting diversion.

    Three months later Edith Record asked us to pray for Bernice’s tongue again. “It’s still a painful black,” she reported. By that time we were old hands at praying for sore tongues, so we prayed with gusto.

Edith asked us to pray for Bernice’s tongue again.
    Bernice had a daughter named Betty. Betty had a medical book that listed every ailment known to man. She read it whenever she needed perking up. Contemplating all the things that can go wrong with us but don’t can have a cheering effect. After long nights of reading, Betty found something called pernicious anemia that turns your tongue black and makes it hurt. She took her mother back to Doctor Bradley, who ran a blood test and discovered Bernice had pernicious anemia. He hadn’t tested for it earlier because it’s quite rare. Bernice didn’t hold it against him. “He’s every bit as good as the doctors at Mayo,” she told people.

    In addition to her anemia, Bernice was going deaf and blind. Once I was walking up her sidewalk and could hear her radio turned on full blast. She was sitting in her rocking chair, the radio pressed to her ear, listening to a basketball game. She was a fan of Indiana University basketball and Coach Bobby Knight. When Coach Knight threw a chair during a basketball game, they showed it on TV. Bernice told me it was trick photography. Bobby Knight said he saw an old lady standing up who needed a chair so he threw her the one he was using. That might have been Bernice.

    Shortly after that, I moved away and lost track of Bernice. Then one day her daughter, Betty, called to tell me that Bernice had died and asked if I would conduct the funeral. Bernice and her husband, Adelbert, had moved from their hometown in 1928. When he died in 1977, he was buried back in their hometown cemetery. We took Bernice back there to rest beside him.

    We drove thirty-five miles to reach Bernice’s hometown. She’d been gone from there nearly seventy years, but the townspeople still pulled over when the hearse drove by. The men doffed their seed-corn caps. The fire department had blocked traffic at the town’s stoplight so the funeral procession would have a clear path. The fireman stood beside the fire engine, his hands clasped and head bowed. You can tell a lot about a town by what it does when a hearse passes through.

    Bernice was buried in the same graveyard as her mother, who died in the flu epidemic of 1918 when Bernice was eight. Bernice got shifted from one relative to another until she married Adelbert and moved away. They had a daughter named Fleta who died at the age of eighteen. Bernice never told me all these things. Mostly she just talked about her blessings. She lost her mommy, lost her daughter, lost her husband, lost her hearing, lost her sight, but spoke of blessings. You can tell a lot about people by what they do when pain passes through.

    There are all kinds of learning in this world. There are the things you learn at college, such as science and poetry and math. Then there are the things you learn sitting in Bernice’s front room, such as prayer and goodness and faith.

From the book Home Town Tales: Recollections of Peace, Love, and Joy by Philip Gulley. © 1999 by Multnomah Pub., used by permission. Also available on audio cassette!

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Related Heartlight Resources:
What Can I Say?
In the Shelter of the Most High
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Home Town Tales

About the Author...
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor who ministers in Indianapolis. He is married and has two preschool sons. In addition to pastoring and writing, Gulley enjoys spending Sunday afternoons in his hometown.

Title: "Bernice"
Author: Philip Gulley
Publication Date: March 9, 2000



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From the book Home Town Tales: Recollections of Peace, Love, and Joy, by Philip Gulley. © 1999 by Multnomah Pub., Used by permission.
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