At Home with Scofield, Remington, Victor Mature & Jack Benny

Chapter Two.  Please be advised that if readers wish to clip out my monthly columns and then staple them all together one day, a pattern may be detected and possibly even a theme.  I commence now where I departed, nearly in mid-sentence, on July 29, 2010.  Travel at your own risk.  Cliff-hanger formats tend to telegraph peril as well as possible “serial” addictions.  Advisory:  Grab a tall, cold glass of milk.

While growing up “Duncan”, fortune shone on my older sisters Shirley and Sarah and “baby” Susie since our Mama cultivated fascinating friendships either face to face or through prolific correspondence throughout the years, evolving from pen and stationary to onion skin paper twirled through her beloved  Remington typewriter. She actually “friended” Harry Golden–editor of the Carolina Israelite, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Dag Hammarskjold, poet/author Carl Sandburg, and various North Carolina governors and adjutant generals.  She pre-dated Facebook! 

I, being ornerily inquisitive, was forced to read IN QUEST OF THE HISTORICAL JESUS by Dr. Albert Schweitzer, WHAT SHALL I TELL MY CHILD for my perfunctory sex education, and Sinclair Lewis’s MAIN STREET to learn how to survive peaceably living in small-town America.

Mother learned First Aid techniques and became a Gray Lady as did neighbors VIrginia Lillich, whose dreamy son I wished to one day marry, and Jane Ford and golfing partner Elizabeth Feist. She and her friends–D’Maris Grant, Annie Thomson, Ellie Trier, Phyllis Bates, Ginny Walter, and Harriet “Hoot” Gates–created “The Button Club”, a group of World War II (and somewhat beyond and into the mid-1950s) housewives who met an evening per month at one another’s houses to sew, mend, quilt, crochet, knit and to compare competitive pregnancies?  (One of these “gals” named her child after a brand of knitting needle!)  To my listening ears, while I pretended to sleep upstairs, I gleefully over-heard squeal-cackling at jokes nearly muffled by clinking silver-ware, china plates and tumblers filled with…oh,surely not!  In later years, I discovered a scene from MacBeth which captured these moments perfectly.  “Bubble, Bubble.  Toil and Trouble…”

Our parents, transplanted Southern Baptists, joined the Grace Lutheran Church congregation upon initially settling on North Street, inhabiting the second floor of the home where Jim and Connie Rohrbach later raised their own family.  Daddy grudgingly parted with his best friend Mickey the Rat Terrier due to the landlady’s request.  A good-hearted farmer adopted the Dixie doggie who followed my dad part way down the lane as his heart-broken former master motored toward home again. 

Pastor John Howenstine, with the twinkling bespectacled eyes of a leprechaun and a shock of startlingly snow-white hair and never without his clerical collar, welcomed them graciously to the community and to his “flock”. Throughout several decades, members of the Duncan family taught Sunday School and Bible School classes, memorized Martin Luther’s Catechism, served as council members, assisted with Communion services, and chaired a building restoration committee in a fashion ripe for inclusion in a soap opera story-line. I sang in the adult choir during my junior high school years much to the consternation of a few of the “grown-ups” who squirmed and suffered “almost” silently.  The protectiveness of golfing-tenor and Citizen’s National Bank officer Clarence “Booney” Feist eased my precarious situation markedly though.  Bless his soul! 

The very thoughts that Lloyd C. Douglas years prior played that pipe organ (dismantled in Germany and re-assembled in Columbia City) which Kenneth Growcock performed on so magnificently (with a minimum of whoofs of air emitted) and that Douglas’s father had preached from the very same wooden pulpit as Rev. Graham Kleespie delighted me beyond words.  ‘Twas my MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION.

Mother’s Scofield Reference Bible–King James Version–a gift from Mary Morris, the wife of Blue Bell President Ed Morris, became weathered and worn during those years since the primary feature consisted of gilded pages thumb-indexed for swift location of chapters ranging from Genesis throughout the New Testament.  This keepsake remains one of my major research resources and a “God-send” for these arthritic fingers! 

Often on Sunday afternoons, Sarah and I would attend the Columbia Theater to reinforce our theological lessons as we enjoyed Susan Hayward and Gregory Peck as Bathsheba and King David respectively or Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr as Samson and Delilah (Tom Jones’ hit record nowhere around yet!), or Chuck Heston parting a sea of Jell-o with his staff (of extras!). Cecil B. DeMille’s depiction of religion, our mother warned always: “ be taken with a grain of salt”. I do re-call that Ava Gardner or some other sultry siren may have turned into a pillar of salt for briefly glancing backward a “lot” in some presently unidentifiable technicolor production time-warped within the constraints of the fabulous fifties?

Yes, Grace Lutheran Church, Peabody Free Library, and the Columbia Theater enchanted us as our own tiny section of “Main Street”–Sinclair got it right!  My mother and father even briefly owned a store cuddled amongst those buildings for awhile, The Corral.

Finally, thanks to a quasi-literary heritage from my Edna Ferber-like mother, this monthly column’s title swirled about in my over-crowded mind: The Bell RInger (an homage to my Wrangler past which also allows latitude to engage a tad in the political realm); Peace of Mind (speaks for itself); Letters from the Homefront; A Voice in the Wilderness; Three Sisters–Seven Years Apart; How Animals Think; Highwire Haywire; Liberal Democracy of Slovenia; It Ain’t About me; Leaning to the Left; Unleash H*ll; Recollection & Revolt; Playground Antics; Send in the Clowns; Me, Here, At Last on the Ground; Stream of Consciousness; Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do; Vonnegut, Faulkner & Me; A Shot in the Dark; O Lost; Hapless Youth; Lycidas; Bildungsroman (look it up sometime!); Joy and Paine; Allusions of Grandeur; or my personal favorite, with an appreciative nod toward novelist Thomas Wolfe–Look Homeward Angle! 

My husband voted for SWIRLED ABOUT IN MY OVER-CROWDED MIND.  I informed him that was not one of the choices.

By the time this column achieved its debut last month at the close of June, the editor designated my point of view as “Homeward Angle” with a bold-faced “H” and “A”.  Since “laughter IS the best medicine”, according to that old familiar  “white bread” Reader’s DIgest compilation religiously subscribed to by the Eisenhower generation year upon year, “HA” seems a promising acronym.  As I look toward the heavens, may the collective spirits of Burns & Allen, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Jonathan WInters, Steve Allen running all the distance through to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres appear to me in my dreams as “Ghost-Writers in the Sky”.   How very difficult it can be to be “funny” on demand…although realtor Greg Fahl laughs at me everytime we meet.  That’s a great start, no? 

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