Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Vacation Bible School 6 (Last Installment in This Series)

When I was in high school, I played piano for the services of the Methodist Church in Pine Village, Indiana. When the organ was wanted instead, Mrs. Brutus played that instrument. In those years, young people in formal conversation and most newspapers addressed married women as “Mrs.” So Barbara was “Mrs. Glen J. Brutus.” (Many will remember Barbara Brutus as the secretary at the school in town. They may also recall her performances on the organ at Shipps Funeral Home in nearby Oxford.) In most instances, I remain unaware of the first names of the women that I politely referred to as “Mrs.” During Vacation Bible School, I played the piano for the children’s song sessions. Mrs. Tom Builta ably led the singing. Several girls of junior high or high school age assisted Mrs. Builta.

Bible School Class of 1966 Posing for My Camera

The kids loved to belt out “I will make you fishers of men” with a powerful emphasis on that swishing first syllable of “fishers.” Illustrative gestures were dutifully taught and learned. To demonstrate the fishing, the children cast an imaginary line and reeled in a fish. As the phrase “fishers of men” repeated five times, the kids caught a lot of fish!

“I’m inright outright upright downright happy all the time” was another favorite. The kids pointed toward their hearts, outwardly in front of them, up toward the ceiling, and down toward the floor. They clapped their hands on the first syllable of “happy.” As I have no talent for playing by ear (an expression that means using no music), I had obtained a Zondervan Publishing album of children’s songs, and, while playing along, I noticed that, through the oral tradition over the years, our church had developed variations on the standard lyrics now and then. The printed words “Since Jesus Christ came in / And took away my sin” were sung “Since Jesus Christ came in / And freed my life from sin.”

“The B–I–B–L–E: yes, that’s the book for me” was a short piece that the children launched into with raucous abandon. Back when I was a kid myself, I needed a year or two to realize that the sounds I was making spelled out the word “Bible.” I wonder how many kids were as puzzled as I was by the spelling lesson.

Other favorites included “This Little Light of Mine,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and “Zaccheus.” The kids pointed to the branches of an imaginary tree and shook their forefingers commandingly as they sang, “Zaccheus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.”

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart! Where? Down in my heart!” sang the kids, nearly shouting the word “where” each time. When the lyrics moved on to “I’ve got the peace that passeth understanding,” the youngest singers were clearly bewildered, but they kept up by articulating sound-alike syllables, such as “piece-it pass-it under stand-it.”

If I close my eyes, I can still vividly see the rainbow hues of the stained glass windows casting prismatic patterns on the hardwood floor, I can yet distinctly hear the tick-tock of the Regulator clock hanging on the back wall, I can yet faithfully play the tall upright piano with its dark-toned cabinet, I can still joyfully remember all the lyrics without error, and I can yet happily hear the voices of the children so long ago. Few facets of life have made such indelible impressions on me.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Vacation Bible School 5

When I was in high school, I played piano for the Methodist Church in Pine Village, Indiana. My duties carried over to Vacation Bible School. One year, my neighbor Agnes Moore, who owned the farm across the road from my father’s place (where my family had moved in 1968), was assisting as an instructor. Each morning, I picked her up and drove her to the church.

A Popsicle Stick Church Similar to the One Agnes Moore and I Made

Agnes was in her eighties, but she enjoyed complete mobility and was so active that she seemed much younger than her years. Every sunup except on the coldest days of the winter, she walked briskly down the gravel road with her black Spaniel-type dog for company. Agnes was practically jogging. In the stillness of daybreak, her footsteps on the gravel road were audible. I heard the crunching sounds and thought, “Agnes is up.”

During the Bible School, she taught the youngsters to make churches by gluing Popsicle sticks to milk cartons. She and I designed a more elaborate structure of our own. I found it great fun to work with her. After a few days, our Popsicle church was a veritable cathedral!

At about the same time, Agnes called my father and asked him to use her gun to drop raccoons that her dog had treed in her orchard. I thought, “A lot of good that will do! Dad doesn’t know anything about guns.” My mother did not permit guns in our house. I stayed home while my father walked up the road to Agnes’ farm. I heard two light reports of a gun, so I thought I might as well go to see if Dad had had any luck. I met Agnes and my father at her door. She was putting her small gun away. When I expressed my surprise that Dad had been successful, Agnes said to me, “Don’t you know that your father has always been a crack shot?”

I felt like Scout learning about Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. When my father grew up, he trained himself to be an excellent marksman. I had known nothing about his skill.

Agnes was a link to my father’s past, for she had recognized a youthful skill of his that had been kept from my knowledge. Agnes was also a link to the community’s future through the lessons she taught to the children in the Vacation Bible School. Her life became increasingly meaningful. When I learned that she and her husband, who predeceased her by many years, had built the tidy house that I often visited, I was not surprised. Agnes was one of the most capable people I ever met. Overlooking the kitchen on the ground level was a higher living room accessible by a few steps and bordered by a neatly turned railing. Until I discovered that Agnes and her husband had planned and constructed their house, I thought that it might be another of the pre-packaged houses that Sears had sold in the early 1900s. (My family lived in one.) The excellence of the craftsmanship and the high polish of the woodwork reminded me of Sears houses. On several winter mornings, my mother sent me with fresh baked goods to Agnes’ door, and, to this day, I recall the pleasant warmth of Agnes' wood-burning stove and the coziness of the home that she had created with her own two hands.   

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vacation Bible School 4

As I review my earliest memories of Vacation Bible School in Pine Village, Indiana, I recall that, after the lesson, we kids were invited to go outside to play games. Many of the games were the same ones that our grandparents played when they were children. Approximately thirty kids were split into two groups to form circles for Drop the Handkerchief. Nearly always, one of the boys had a white handkerchief or one of the girls had an embroidered hankie that could be borrowed. The kids faced toward the center of the circle while the one holding the handkerchief slowly stalked around their backs. Sometimes, the circle chanted “A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket; I wrote a letter to my love, and on the way I dropped it.” At the end of the rhyme, stealthily, the handkerchief was dropped behind one of the kids. Unless it made a sound in falling, the handkerchief might well go unnoticed at first. The one who had dropped the handkerchief began walking faster around the circle: a sign that the handkerchief had drifted to the ground. Becoming suspicious because of the looks, gestures, and comments of the other kids, a member of the circle suddenly turned around to find the handkerchief lying in the grass behind him or her. He or she grabbed it and chased after the one who had dropped it. Now the dropper ran as fast as possible so as not to be tagged with the handkerchief before coming around to the spot in the circle where the chaser had been standing. If tagged, the dropper had to try again. When the dropper avoided being tagged and reached the chaser’s spot, the dropper was safe, and the chaser became the next dropper. Such fun!

Drop the Handkerchief
In Land of Play
New York: Cupples & Leon Co., 1911

Our recreation most often took place in the small yard on the east side of the Methodist Church where the mid-morning sunshine streamed down between the branches of the trees. Occasionally, everyone met on the west side of the church where the lawn was larger but the shadow cast by the church was definitely cooler if not, in fact, a bit too cool. A variation on the handkerchief game was Duck, Duck, Goose. We kids sat in a circle while the one designated as “It” strode around the perimeter, tapping each kid on the head and saying, “Duck.” Eventually, It said “Goose,” and that kid had to jump to his or her feet to chase It around the circle. The object was for It to reach the Goose’s spot and to sit down in the grass before being tagged.

While sitting in the grass, we occasionally played a game where we patted our legs and snapped our fingers in time to a chant that went “Who took the cookie from the (pause) cookie jar? Susan (or the name of another kid) took the cookie from the cookie jar.” Susan said (in rhythm), “Who, me?” “Yes, you!” came the response from everyone else. “Not me,” Susan replied. “Then who?” … and the rhyme repeated until everyone had been named.

Such games offered wholesome ways to relax after a Bible lesson and before the much anticipated break for cookies.