My Religion Is a Lot Like the Game of Baseball
|Chapter 1||Early Years||Chapter 2||Patty||Chapter 3||1-room School|
|Chapter 4||Friends||Chapter 5||High School||Chapter 6||Grandpa|
|Chapter 7||Marianne||Chapter 8||Rookie||Chapter 9||At the Plate|
Chapter 1 - The Early Years
My first church experience was in a village Methodist church that served many denominations because it was the only Protestant church in the community. There was no prayer book and the only memorized part of the service was the Lord’s Prayer. I have continued to play on that kind of team most of my life. I liked the way people in that church sang the hymns. It was as if they could sing loud enough, God would be sure to hear. My favorite, which I sang as loudly as I could, was “Bringing in the Cheese.” I couldn’t read and didn’t know it was sheaves they were bringing in.
I liked being there in the morning with the sun shining through the tall windows. They were not stained glass windows, but were plain, taller than normal double-hung windows that could be opened on warm days. There was no air-conditioning when I was pre-school age. On hot days when the sun was bright, the dark green shades were pulled down to cover the windows. Sometimes in the middle of the service a spring in one of the shades would weaken and the shade would roll flap, flap, flap to the top. One lady in church would go to the window, reach with a tool made for the job, and remove the rolled-up shade. She’d then unroll it completely and carefully re-roll it tightly to its rod and re-hang it. Why do people decide to be church members or participate in church? I wanted to grow up and be important enough in church to re-roll shades during service.
I am not sure my dad was ever with us at services at the Methodist church. On Sunday evening my sister and brother, mother and I sat facing him while he read from the Bible, then the five of us sang together—sometimes hymns and sometimes songs like “Red Sails in the Sunset.” Life can become a blur for a child under five years old.
We got electricity and a radio. Sunday evenings became the time to sit around the radio and I don’t remember we ever listened to my dad read or that we ever sang hymns together after we got the radio. My sister got married; my brother became a roamer who was never home; my Dad lost the sight of one eye in an accident and his automobile driving—never good—became worse. We moved to a rural area where he could better pursue his carpentry skills and drive on country roads. He built barns and other farm buildings. My roaming brother was supposed to be the assistant, learn the trade and drive the truck.
I started third grade in a one-room country school. It was a mile from our house and all of the other kids who went to that school lived just as far in the other direction. We had no after-school contact with each other. I had lots of time to myself. In my search through old books in the attic, I found a hymnal. I spent hours singing to myself and learning words to hymns I hadn’t heard before. One of my favorite personalities on radio was Dr. John Holland, a preacher on WLS in Chicago. He talked in a quiet, grandfatherly style. The program also had an organist who played hymns and some were the same as the ones in my hymnal.
School busses took kids to town for high school, but they didn’t transport grade school kids to rural schools. Very few people had two cars. Some farmers had a pickup truck and a car so the mothers could give their children a ride to school on rainy days, but most kids walked or rode bicycles. I was the only pupil in the district living west of the school. From where I lived school was exactly one mile down a straight, unpaved road. I walked it by myself, and it was a lonely, sometimes frightening journey. Only occasionally would a truck, car or tractor pass by.
My first experience in accepting God’s power as superior to mine came on that road. It was in the spring and I was perhaps a little more than half way to school when I saw a snake coiled up and “waiting for me to pass.” I asked God to hold the snake at bay until I got to school. I tiptoed a few feet past where I’d seen it, then without looking to see if it had moved, I ran at top speed. I will never forget the comfort of seeing the kids on the playground and knowing I’d soon be with them. Until school closed for the summer, I never passed that spot, going or coming, without looking for the snake. I was sure God saved me from a rattlesnake.
Cousin Mabel was a big woman who laughed a rolling laugh and was more fun than most adults. At my mother’s request, she took me to church with her. As I think back, she most likely asked my mother to go with her, but my mother had crippling arthritis and tried to stay out of public situations. The deformity in her hands embarrassed her and a handshake or having her foot stepped on could be painful.
Mabel sang and played her guitar during the worship service. The guitar may have been the reason I agreed to go with her. All the kids in our family liked to hear Mabel play and sing. During that service people stood and clapped with the music, they cried when they prayed, and the minister talked about heaven as a place where he and a few chosen others would go. It sounded selfish to me. We were poor, but I knew people with less than we had. I didn’t know a lot about the Bible, but I knew Jesus cared about the poor. I knew kind-hearted people who were alcoholics. Are we supposed to get ourselves to “heaven” without any thought for people this minister would deem unworthy? I stayed in the pew while everyone else went to the front of the church, knelt, and rededicated their lives to Jesus. When we got back home, Mabel told my mother in words that tumbled like creek water over a rocky bed, “I don’t think Beverly wants to go back to my church.” I had always liked Mabel. After that I loved her.
During the summer months my dad worked long days and my mother spent hours listening to daytime drama on the radio. The original Soaps were sponsored by soap as in Oxydol’s Own, “Ma Perkins.” I think my mother lived vicariously through Ma, the honey-voiced do-gooder.
The property my dad purchased for our house was an acre of land on the corner of a farm. Our property was tree-lined, but I loved to wander through the adjacent woods where a creek snaked its way from one farm to the next. It was as if time stood still. There was no time to be anywhere. Most of those wanderings were uneventful. One day when I was quite a distance from home I heard dogs barking. It was the sound of several dogs and I could sense movement in their barks. These dogs were running. Two situations crossed my mind: hunters, and that would mean guns. The woods were empty, except for me. Could I be mistaken for an animal? The other thought was a pack of wild dogs. I was not consciously aware of knowing about such a thing, but maybe I’d heard my dad talking to someone about the existence of wild dogs. I was seized by fear and began running as fast as a skinny, long-legged eight-year-old could go. I could sense the length of my strides and the speed. Then I came to the creek—a wider than normal spot to cross. There was only one thing to do: leap. It may have been twelve feet from one bank to the other. I will never forget the sensation of being carried as my normal jumping distance ended and I gathered myself to reach the grassy sod on the other side. At that moment I knew there is a power inside myself that is also outside myself. After I landed without a stumble, I continued to run until I was inside the gate and home. I didn’t tell anyone about the scare, but that sensation of being carried by something outside myself stayed with me.
Baseball was on the horizon.