Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, July 7, 2018

25. The Rev. Lowell E. Morris ... THE FARM IN PINE VILLAGE

“Your Grandpa and Grandma Morris are coming to dinner today,” Ida reminded the boys. “Robert, I need you to dust, and, Charles, I want you to straighten up your room and put all your toys away.”

Whenever the demands of a farm permitted, the family traveled southeast to Kirklin, Indiana, to visit Grandpa and Grandma Morris. He was the minister of the Methodist Church there. Before Robert could remember, the Morrises had lived in Westville, Indiana, where Ida taught school for the first time after earning her teaching degree at Indiana State Teachers College. Throughout his long working life, Grandpa Morris had taught school in Kentucky and Montana, and had served as minister in such Hoosier towns as Circleville, Frankfort, Hillsboro, Indianapolis, Newtown, Pence, Pittsboro, Waveland, and Wheatfield.

The Morrises came to see Ida, Joe, Charles, and Robert whenever a busy minister could find an opportunity.

Robert's mother had told the boys, “They’re not related to you the way grandparents usually are, but they’re your grandparents, all the same.” Robert had failed to understand what such a cryptic statement meant, but, just by listening to the adults’ conversation, he had discerned that the Reverend Lowell Everett Morris was Ida’s surrogate father who had taken her under his wing when she was a thirteen-year-old girl in the Methodist Children’s Home in Lebanon, Indiana.

Using the dust cloth that his mother handed him, Robert carefully cleaned the surfaces of the furniture in the living room while Charles repeatedly filled a cardboard box with toys that he then deposited in a small room at the foot of the stairway.

Robert enjoyed visits from Grandpa Morris, who was an educated gentleman with thick glasses, thin nose, thin face, thin hands, a ready smile, and … a toupee. Robert’s father had said that Grandpa Morris gave the best sermons of any preacher Joe had heard because Grandpa Morris researched his topics thoroughly, wrote compellingly, and spoke eloquently. Robert had never heard him in the pulpit, but, when Joe married Ida, the Rev. Morris was the minister at the Methodist Church in Pine Village, and he officiated at their wedding, which took place at the parsonage. Robert had no reason to doubt his father’s assessment of Grandpa Morris’ abilities as a scholar, a writer, and an orator. At all times, Grandpa Morris’ intelligence and his intellectual attainments were obvious to Robert. (Many years later, Robert had the opportunity to hear Grandpa Morris give a guest sermon at the Methodist Church in Pine Village, and Robert was appropriately appreciative. Grandpa Morris quoted great literature while constructing an argument of biblical interpretation worthy of an English department degree in a leading university. His delivery was impeccable!)

Before long, Ida greeted Grandpa and Grandma Morris at the front door and welcomed them into the living room. Grandma Morris’ name was Fern. She was Grandpa Morris’s second wife. His first wife, Ella, had died many years earlier.

While Joe put the guests’ coats on the bed in the main bedroom, Ida asked about their drive.

“We made good time,” Grandpa Morris said. “We talked about little else other than how much we were going to enjoy another one of your home-cooked meals.”

Ida excused herself to return to the kitchen while Joe, who taught the adult class at the church, talked to the Rev. Morris about recent class activities. Soon, Ida called everyone to the dinner table.

Grandpa Morris said the grace: “Father, we ask that you bless this food to our good and us to thy service, and we ask a special blessing for the hands that prepared this dinner.”

Then a heaping platter of fried chicken was passed to Fern. Next came bowls of mashed potatoes, lima beans, and corn. A gravy boat made the rounds. Side dishes included strawberry Jell-O with banana slices. Ida had made her yeast rolls for the occasion. They were fat and fluffy! The conversation flowed effortlessly, with Grandpa Morris talking about various churches he had served, including Flackville near Indianapolis. Ida had lived with the Rev. Morris and Ella in Flackville while Ida taught elementary school in Indianapolis. Grandpa Morris also spoke about his service to the settlement schools in eastern Kentucky when he was a young man starting out. Robert listened intently to the Rev. Morris’ stories about the mountain boys and girls that, so long ago, had attended the Red Bird Mission School to learn skills that could readily be put to use.

While the dessert of angel food cake was being served, Grandpa Morris said, “I have good news. Fern and I will be moving back to Pine Village.”

Ida beamed and glanced happily toward Joe, as he said with a big smile, “You don’t say!”

“Yes, I do say!” Grandpa Morris confirmed with a smile bigger than Joe’s. “I have decided to retire from the active ministry, and Fern and I want to live here. A house is available less than a block south of the Methodist Church, and we intend to sign for it.”

“It’ll be so nice to have you living nearby!” Ida exclaimed.

“We wanted to surprise you,” said Grandpa Morris.

“You’ve done that alright,” said Ida.

“I’ve always felt a special connection to the church here in Pine Village,” Grandpa Morris continued. “This is Fern’s hometown, and we want to be near you and your family.”

A few months later, the Morrises moved into a tidy white house on the east side of Jefferson Street. A few steps led up to the front porch. The front door opened into a cozy living room. Quite often, Robert’s family looked in on Grandpa and Grandma Morris, who were frequent guests at Sunday dinner. Grandpa Morris usually could be found sitting in an easy chair with his feet up while he was reading a book or a church magazine. Robert liked visiting the Morrises because Grandpa Morris had a special place in his heart for Robert and Charles.

Once, on a hot summer day, Grandpa Morris walked up to see Ida and Joe. He found Robert trying to saw a board that Robert wanted for a birdhouse that needed a new bottom. The handsaw’s teeth had become flattened through hard use, and Robert was making only slow progress.

“Let me show you how to saw,” Grandpa Morris said. Robert gladly let the Rev. Morris take over.

“You want to move your arm straight back and forth from the elbow,” Grandpa Morris instructed. Then he began to demonstrate.

The saw caught and bowed, so Grandpa Morris pulled back on it to straighten it out. He slowly drew the saw in the groove to give it a good start. He again tried to demonstrate how to work the saw forward and back, but it snagged as before.

The saw kept jamming up. Beads of perspiration were forming on Grandpa Morris’ forehead and trickling down his neck. He unbuttoned his outer shirt, removed it, and draped it across the clothesline. In the process, he bumped his toupee, which slipped to one side. He straightened it, and then, with his undershirt clinging to the perspiration, he threw himself into the project with all his strength. By the sheer power of his will, Grandpa Morris finally managed to saw through the board.

He grinned, handed the saw back to Robert, reclaimed his shirt, put it on (this time carefully, so as not to dislodge his toupee), and buttoned it up. “As Ecclesiastes says,” Grandpa Morris began, “‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might!’ I think I will ask Ida for some of her sweet iced tea now.”

Robert thanked Grandpa Morris for the lesson.

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