(This series is continued from The Southwick Days, Part I, published 2018-04-21)
Some Saturday mornings Dad would get up early and disappear. One of those sunny mornings I went to the church building with a tidbit I thought important to say. Pulling the door open, I saw him pacing the floor at the back, in anguished tears, pouring out his heart to God. I never learned the issue. Kids don’t need to know everything.
The sight and sound are permanently emblazoned on my brain. I turned quietly and walked away.
I learned that desperate dependence on God was crucial and meaningful.
The church building had a steeple with a real bell. Few sounds were more wonderful to me as my Dad tugged that rope to call people to worship The Almighty. And they came.
I was allowed to pull it a few times, learning that it was a heavier task than I imagined. Such an honor it was!
We had 10-Day Vacation Bible Schools, Monday to Friday for two weeks, with a closing program. There was a little building next to the main chapel where some of the classes took place. During one of those events, I chose to be a big showoff for the gathering crowd and do an ad hoc flip of my younger brother over my head as I pulled him backward, my feet giving him a high flight over the top and onto his back.
Trouble brewed, I knew, when unsmiling Mom strode purposefully across the grass and dragged me to the house by my ear. She never let go until I was out of sight of the wondering onlookers. So much for the show-off aspect. At least, no brother was harmed in the amateur martial arts demo. At least I don’t think.
Some of the best Sunday evening gatherings I remember were bouquet nights, which as far as I knew were conceived by my dad. After some worship singing, the evening was given to people in the congregation handing bouquets to other members. Bouquets were words of encouragement, appreciation, and highlights of the special qualities of the person being blessed. Laughter and tears rippled the room, while everyone’s heart lightened.
I learned the power of speaking words of kindness.
One Christmas was particularly glowing. Somehow Dad found time to locate and cut two trees. One was for the downstairs, but not too close to the wood stove. The other smaller one he mounted on the gable roof of the porch entry, and fastened big colored lights, now considered old-fashioned.
Soon it snowed. Soft white fluff thoroughly blanketed the tree. The result was a diffuse pastel palette, which colors touched and blended together. How I wish I had a picture. Ever since I have wanted a tree like that. (Although now, I just want to build, piece by piece, year by year, an “authentic” Bethlehem and nativity, to remember the essence of the season.)
That simple tree has filled my mind often since those early 60’s days – lovely beyond words. I am not sure Dad anticipated the eventual outcome of his work, but this kid found it magical. I saw, again and again, labors of love from Mom and Dad. I cannot find a photo of a tree with such pastel gradations to give you an approximation, so you’ll just have to imagine it!
The pond out back was frozen each winter. One time I decided to lift our shared one-speed bike over the barbed wire fence and give it a try. Before the attempt, I ran rounds of twine around the rear wheel every 6 inches, for a set of “chains”. It was a nice attempt, but before long the bike escaped from under me. I went down hard on both wrists and sprained them badly. Wrist problems have been present ever since. The twine worked better in softer snow. Fat tire bikes and studs were back to the future.
My brother and I built a “club house”. We and a few local guys were the only members of the club. The house was rough boards, vertically placed, and there was even a built-in bench inside. It was a place to withdraw from sometimes confusing times and just be. And no, we didn’t smoke in there.
One of the last acts before leaving beloved Southwick was disposing of that house. Somehow we wrestled it on the red wagon we had, which was never the same after that, as the walls of the wagon were pushed down by the weight and the wagon floor cracked around the bolts that held the axles.
It was worth it. We pulled the eyesore around the front of the house, and to the side yard where we had a burn pile. The old house disintegrated and dissolved in voracious flame.
That reminds me of one Sunday afternoon when the Klatt house caught fire. They lived just a few blocks away (Southwick was few blocks wide and few blocks long). We were far from any fire protection, so the community stood in the muddy street, watching it disappear over a couple of hours in smoke and flame. In what was surely a disrespectful act, some of us boys decided to target practice with snowballs on a remaining sliver of wall, seeing if we could bring the last remnant down before the fire did. I don’t know if they minded or not, but no one stopped us.
I remember the tears of the family as all they had was gone. The house was never rebuilt.
I learned about being present for one another.
The summer they rebuilt the road was exhilarating. Huge lime green Euclid earthmovers dug deep with their glorious noise, all four wheels laboring, and when they were gone we had a paved highway. Twin motors and all wheel drive captured our boy imaginations, and we had front row seats all season.
It just wasn’t the same, but the road dust was gone. I wish I could show you the bright lime green on the earthmover!
One summer my brother Keith and I followed the lead of our older high school friends, the red-head twins, Doug and Dave. (Their Mom often mixed them up when trying to address one or the other.) They slept outside in the summer on a double bed in their backyard, near their expansive strawberry patch.
Mom and Dad set a metal frame bed out in our side yard, about 50 feet from the road. A frame was fabricated to attach an army blanket to shelter us from the views of the travelers going by. Pinpoints of light dominated the sky. We watched countless shooting stars expend themselves that summer. We never did it before or since.
I learned that simple things can be glorious.
It may have been that same summer that Keith opened a Koolaid stand business in our front yard, a couple feet from the road side. Loggers and equipment drivers would stop all day and purchase cold refreshment from him – at least what he had not consumed himself. You need that frequent product testing you know. He did a good business. I have no idea what he ever did with the cash.
During this business saga I felt badly for him on two occasions:
- Sitting in his chair, a wasp got down his back, under his shirt, and pointedly let Keith know of his presence in four or five sharp attacks. “Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow!” Oh man. Sorry. I never saw him move so fast.
- He went in one afternoon to refill supplies. He stumbled just a bit up the concrete steps and put his hand through one of the glass pains in the outer door. Many stitches ensued. He was about 9 years old.
School was not like anything else we had known: three grades in one room
Our first year, my brother and I attended a two-room school house two blocks up the road. That was an artifact from the generation of our parents. Keith was in third grade and I in sixth. Since he was doing well, but was the only third grader, he simply skipped up to fourth, in my room. No damage was done. Fourth was the biggest class for Mrs. Callison, as it was two rows.
One Valentine’s week I had developed a crush on another sixth grader: Janice. We all had paper bags attached to the chalkboard tray for Valentine’s cards. I saw her smack a kiss on a card! Rising to my feet, following her path with my eyes, I was crestfallen when that card went into some other guy’s bag. Ow.
I learned life is not always what we hope or expect.
Next week: the arrival of brother #3. Thanks for looking back with me.