Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Vacation Bible School 1

When my mother felt I was old enough, she let me walk to Vacation Bible School, which was held at the end of May and the beginning of June. I can still recall a sunny, carefree morning with a hint of the increasingly hot daytime temperatures to come in a few hours. I set out from our house on the east side of Pine Village. First, I crossed the curved parking area in front of our fence and paused at the edge of State Route 26. After looking both ways several times, I crossed the road. With the most menacing part of the trip behind me, I cheerfully sought the sidewalk that ran beside the school playground.

Methodist Episcopal Church, 1903
Pine Village, Indiana
Photograph Possibly by Magnolia “Nolia” Cobb (1863–1922)

I sauntered along Jim Eberle’s front yard. I could hear his horses nickering in the stable behind his house. I strolled down the hill. To a person from hilly country, the “hill” might not be recognizable as a hill, but, in flat land such as the fields that stretched northward from Warren County into Benton County, the slight downward grade toward town was considered a hill. At the intersection on the edge of the downtown, I glanced over at Terrell’s Market, a grocery store with a gasoline pump and the owner’s five-room house practically adjoining. A customer might be carrying meat, which was wrapped in paper and which would be cooked for the noon meal. My family followed the farmers’ practice of calling the midday meal “dinner.” (The evening meal was “supper.”) Years later, my high school class painted the interior of Terrell’s Market as a community service project before such projects were called by that term. My classmates and I just thought we could be helpful.

Pine Village Methodist Church Bulletin from the 1950s

I turned at the corner and progressed in front of a row of houses that included the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lowell Morris. Lowell had served as the minister of the Methodist Church before I was born, had moved away to minister to other congregations elsewhere, but had recently returned to Pine Village in retirement. He was a surrogate father to my mother. He and his second wife, Fern, spent many a Sunday having dinner at our house. His first wife, Ella, had passed away long before. My father always said that the Reverend Morris gave intelligent sermons. My father’s assessment meant that “Grandpa Morris,” as I referred to him, appealed to the intellect. When I was in high school, I had the pleasure of hearing Grandpa give a guest sermon at the church. I was amazed. He quoted great literature while carefully constructing an argument of biblical interpretation worthy of an English Department degree in a leading university. Only later did I hear another minister reach the same level of sophistication; he was an elderly gentleman who served the congregation of the First Christian Church in Bloomington, Indiana, but I have forgotten his name.

By the time I reached Church Street and Jefferson Streets, I was ready to mount the steps to the front door. With the sunshine pouring onto the doorway, I felt hot, but, after entering the vestibule, I felt delightfully cool. The interior of the church preserved the nighttime temperature well into the morning.

You will notice from my description that, except for crossing the state highway, no threats were posed. The dreamy safety of those years, now so long ago, is one of the hallmarks of that time.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Illustrations I Loved in My Earliest Years 6 (Last Installment in This Series)

When I was in junior high school, my mother bought books at an auction of teacher Flora Farden’s estate. Among them was Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, translated by William Robson. D. Appleton and Company published the book in 1899. Combining two volumes, the hardcover boasts 250 illustrations by Maurice Leloir that were engraved on wood by J. Huyot. Flora’s brother, Millard Farden, had autographed the book in June of 1901. I had never read such a long work of literature before. It contained 715 pages! I was not confident I would have the stamina! … but the spectacular art captured—and held—my interest! I thrilled at the derring-do of d’Artagnan and his formidable friends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

Thrilling to d’Artagnan’s Exploits
In Maurice Leloir’s Illustrations
Engraved on Wood by J. Huyot
In Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers
Translated by William Robson
D. Appleton & Company, 1899

In my teenage years, I dreamed large dreams of becoming an illustrator or a writer or a composer. Looking back, I guess I managed to bring the first two dreams to fruition, although not precisely in the ways I envisioned. When I studied the engravings in Dumas’ wonderful adventure, my eyes were filled with grand scenes packed with action: much like the life I predicted for myself.

I read all 715 pages. … and I wished there were more! (I did not realize that Dumas published two other works that can be viewed as sequels.) Long after I completed the tome, I paged back through it to see again the marvelous illustrations. They captured the sheer fun of d’Artagnan’s life. I use the word “fun” unguardedly because even the most intense crises with the direst consequences never seem so dreadful as to inspire horror while reading The Three Musketeers; instead, the reader instinctively knows (or Dumas cleverly signals) that all will be well: that the main characters will survive to triumph!

Leloir’s art perfectly suits the tone of Dumas’ historical novel. The fun that I mentioned is there to be seen in the postures of the figures. The handsome costumes amid the shimmering glory of French aristocracy are plenty to keep a teenager’s imagination running wild.

I have carried The Three Musketeers wherever I have gone. It has stood on a secure shelf somewhere nearby in every townhouse and home I have occupied. I have it beside me now, while I write this sentence. The bright red of the cover and the shield with crossed rapiers is just as bright today as it was when my mother purchased the book, and the gilt edges of the pages shine just as enticingly. The dreams the book contains are just as real for me today—and just as precious as ever!       

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Illustrations I Loved in My Earliest Years 5

For Christmas in 1960, the neighbor across the street, Beulah Jones, gave me a book titled Corky Learns a Lesson. Illustrated by Zdeněk Miler, the story of Corky was a little too young for a boy already in grade school, but I loved the book all the same and love it just as much today.

Zdeněk Miler’s Illustration in Emil Ludvik’s Corky Learns a Lesson
Translated by Daphne Rusbridge (1960)

Corky Learns a Lesson was based on a film, About Kohoutkovia Hen, and featured a text by Emil Ludvik that was translated by Daphne Rusbridge. As with Disney-style animation, the rooster (named Corky) and the hen (named—Are you ready?—Henny) stand out from the richly painted backdrops. Warm orange, soft tan, moss green, and deep brown characterize the fifteen full-page illustrations measuring approximately 21 by 29 cm. Even though the scenes were European, I felt at home among the woodpiles, strings of onions, pitchforks, brooks, barns, baskets, and butter churns. As I was living on a farm, I was well acquainted with all such details. I remember thinking that Miler and I were fellow artists, for I had begun to consider myself one who might one day wield a mighty pen. Mrs. Hail, my first-grade teacher, may have encouraged me when she found I had made exact copies of the dogs in the drawings in our textbooks. My mother certainly rewarded me with compliments for my art. So whether I had any talent or not, I believed I did. … and believing is nine-tenths of fulfilling dreams.

I turned to Miler’s marvelous scenes again and again. Even now, as I page through the book, I am transported to the places Miler imagined. Most importantly, I feel no stress—only joy, tranquility, and security. Thistles without prickles and a friendly blue-eyed cow help convey the peacefulness of the rural environment. The sole threat consists of red berries that Corky finds too attractive, but I will say no more as I would not want to spoil the ending.

My father raised chickens, and, even at a young age, I recognized that Miler’s rooster and hen were lifelike. Their poses typified the chickens in my father’s yard, and I considered accuracy the highest goal of a truthful artist.

How little could I foresee that my life would take me away from the farm to spend years and years in cities! … yet, no matter how loud the sirens and jets, the rural spaces within my memory filled my hours with the crowing of roosters and the mooing of cows. I discovered I had never really left the farm; rather, I had brought the farm with me wherever I went.

… and I still have Corky Learns a Lesson to page through, reliving the playfulness and dreaminess of my childhood.