Neither controversy nor conflict are any fun whatsoever. Sunday School, Mother’s letter-writing, Daddy’s golfing foursome, double-feature movies, and a relatively stable family life strike me now as rich blessings, generally brimming over with love and merriment…and plenty of fun.
Upon review–and throughout a lifetime of observation–I applaud those past years while approaching the conclusion of a fascinating journey. Joy won out and subdued despair more often than not. Worry, my constant companion, wasted much precious time but aided in averting disaster once in a blue moon. Clichéd but true, I would not change one thing.
My parents enriched our small community and gained spiritual satisfaction through their devotion to worthwhile causes, establishment of lasting friendships, and accomplishment of noble deeds without fanfare. Participation in ladies’ church circles named for women of the Bible, service organizations like Tri Kappa and Rotary and Community Chest, ushering at Grace Lutheran, and neighborliness seemed effortless and meaningful. They made “growing up” easy and natural.
Our door always open with friends and relatives pouring in, we sometimes confided in one another we should dub our welcoming home “Grand Central Station”. Peabody Free Library books appeared for two weeks until their return; spontaneous bridge tournaments and canasta contests happened on the spur of the moment; school chums dropped by for cookies and Pepsi Colas fizzing over ice cubes; paper dolls and Archie or LIttle Lulu comic books scattered throughout the house; Howard Youngblood, Booney Feist, and Clair Reed or Omar Stafford beeped car horns impatiently waiting for my dad to hurriedly grab a peanut butter/banana sandwich and rush out to join them for their trip to Crooked Lake Golf Course to enjoy a round of 18 holes every Thursday afternoon year after year.
Girl scouting, 4-H pets and projects, horse-riding and dancing and swimming lessons, learning to knit-purl-knit-purl, studying, devouring the Nancy Drew series, completion of school assignments, respect for teachers, and never again either accidentally thunking Daddy with a twirling baton OR the singing of “While tearing off a game of golf, I may make a play for the caddy…but when I do, I don’t follow through…cuz my heart belongs to Daddy” filled the lives of three sisters. True, a few detours occurred, but the idea of structure and reasonable regimentation consistently shaped our little slice of the world and its supposed expectations.
However, occasionally “something rotten in Denmark” raised its ugly head. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune–or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them…” floods my mind when I revisit the waves of heart-aches that burgeoned up only to recede in due time. “Row, row, row your boat gently up the stream….merrily, merrily , merrily, merrily–life is but a dream”! Oh, don’t we wish?
Differences among my two sisters and me rate as somewhat legendary. Truth be told, few siblings from Cain & Abel onward have truly seen eye to eye 150% of the time. Shirley Ann’s era began with the GREAT DEPRESSION and ROOSEVELT, ROOSEVELT, ROOSEVELT, ROOSEVELT…accompanied by “ole blue eyes” Francis Albert Sinatra crooning to swooning bobby-soxers. Sarah’s girlhood included an overlapping FDR and World War II culminating with Elvis the Pelvis. Susie’s Presidents ranged from Truman to Ike through JFK while civil rights legislation truly began to materialize, and the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night. Shirley’s generation hurriedly got hitched. Sarah’s friends seemed half-heartedly “collegiate, collegiate, yes, we are collegiate” and actually got engaged and wed in ceremonies replicating the movie musicals of the fifties. Susie’s crowd became a little more scattered and FREE LOVE/”flower power” happened now and again. Naturally, even as adults, conversations among the three of us grew heated. No big whoop!
Fortune shone on us cuz our Mama cultivated fascinating friendships either face to face or through prolific correspondence throughout the years, evolving from pen and stationary to onion skin typing paper twirled through her beloved “script” Remington typewriter; she actually “friended” Harry Golden–editor of the Carolina Israelite, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Dag Hammarskjold, 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 and became a Grey Lady as did neighbors VIrginia Lillich and Jane Ford. She and her friends–D’Maris Grant, Annie Thomson, Ellie Trier, Phyllis Bates, Ginny Walter, Harriet “Hoot” Gates– created “The Button Club”, a group of World War II housewives who met one evening per month at one another’s houses to sew, mend, quilt, crochet, knit and–to my listening ears while I pretended to sleep upstairs– to cackle at jokes and clink silver-ware, china plates and tumblers filled with…oh,surely not!
Our parents, transplanted Southern Baptists, joined the Grace Lutheran Church congregation upon initially settling on North Street on the second floor of the home where Jim and Connie Rohrbach later raised their own family. Daddy parted with his best friend Mickey the Rat Terrier due to the landlady’s request–a good-hearted farmer adopted the Dixie doggie.
Pastor John Howenstein, with the twinkling eyes of a leprechaun and a shock of startlingly snow-white hair and consistently wearing a clerical collar, welcomed them graciously and throughout several decades 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–so, bless his soul! The very thought that Lloyd C. Douglas years prior played the pipe organ 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–still one of my major research resources and easy on 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: “..to be taken with a grain of salt”. Yes, 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 owned a store cuddled amongst those buildings for awhile, The Corral.
Finally, thanks to my literary heritage from my Edna Ferber-like mother, this monthly column’s title swirls about in my over-crowded mind: The Bell RInger, an homage to the past which 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; Joy and Paine; or my personal favorite, with an appreciative nod toward novelist Thomas Wolfe–Look Homeward Angle!
One of my sisters once prognostically spoke of me thusly (as in fortune-telling): “Mercy! Susie puts into words those very thoughts which other people have the good sense to keep to themselves.” Good luck to you, gentle readers!