The World As Best I Remember
Updated: Oct 2
Why Growing Older Seldom fills me with Dread as I face my next big Speed-limit
Exactly one month after my tenth birthday, I sat in, no fooling, a public-school Bible class in Hillsboro, Virginia. The angel food cake from my first double digit birthday was long gone and I was probably trying to remember how to spell my denomination, Baptist, since the traveling Bible teacher wasn’t sure. Miss Mock, our rookie fourth grade teacher walked in our classroom with reddened eyes, but we barely noticed anticipating afternoon recess next on the schedule.
“Students, before you go to recess, let’s pray for our President Kennedy because he has been shot in Dallas, Texas.”
Twenty-some fourth graders gasped and dutifully folded our hands with bowed heads as one child was asked to pray in 1960’s unity. I was confident, as I learned from television shows, by the time our recess concluded everything would be perfect.
When we returned to a visibly sobbing teacher and the truth that our prayer hadn’t been answered as we asked, my generation faced the first of many crises which would rock our world.
Fear clutched me because just a few weeks earlier, my parents went to Arlington Cemetery, for Dad to officiate at the funeral of Dad’s cousin, Virginia Hartman's son. Raymie was a handsome sixteen-year-old, killed while riding home from football practice. He sat in the middle of the front seat when the driver hit a tree. The other young men walked away without a scratch. If Raymie and the President of our country could die so openly, who was safe?
Two months later, on January afternoon, I sat at that same 4th grade desk having completed my math assignment first, not necessarily because I was the smartest but because after my first ever D on a Math test, my teacher-trained mother reviewed long-division with me every evening, except Wednesday which was Prayer Meeting. As I looked out the window, I saw my 32-year-old father standing beside another open grave, performing the service for a young father of three preschool boys who died of cancer though we prayed for him every day. My dad was only a few years older than that young man. What would protect my dad from cancer?
In those days, we only had a partial day off for Good Friday and after we’d gone to bed that evening, the Good Friday/Great Alaskan earthquake struck near Anchorage. After having studied the Richter Scale, I understood the math of 9.2. This was the most powerful earthquake in North America to date.
Unlike our current society’s move to protect children from some realities, 1964 wasn’t a kinder and gentler world. Our next Weekly Reader showed a picture of a 10-year-old boy standing by a chasm, staring to the darkness below him. The article described how this child’s home and entire family was destroyed when the earthquake gorge opened.
After several days, nightmares became less frequent as Mom repeated, “Virginia doesn’t have earthquakes.” But for the first time a rather lonely thought shook me. As much as my parents cared about me, they might not be able to protect me from everything.
A family friend gave birth to her third daughter, and I was so excited to be around a baby since my parents assured me, they were finished having kids. Sadly, a short time later, the mother found the baby, non-responsive. Crib death. We children didn’t attend her funeral but her older brother, who loved to make my sister squeal, described a macabre scene. Mom and Dad, who were there, assured us the baby was buried in a normal beautiful casket with no unusual events. However, it was not a topic our mothers discussed in our presence. I wondered if losing a baby was why our parents decided to have no more children?
The following summer before fifth grade was beautiful as only a kid living in a hot, humid, non-air-conditioned environment can experience. Scraped knees, jump ropes, picnics—naive confidence that 4th grade’s tragedies, though none struck me personally, would never happen again.
Not long before my 11th birthday, we drove to Hartman’s home. I was nervous to see Sandy, one of five girl cousins between my sister and me in age. What fun times when we all played dozens of verses of “Heart and Soul” on Grandma’s piano. But that evening we were coached, “Don’t ask where their boy is.” After supper we played quiet games while our parents talked to Mack and Virginia, Raymie and Sandy’s parents in another room. Who knows what we discussed, but the entire return trip was quiet as I processed, even though my father was a Christian pastor, the reality that my family was not immune to tragedies.
Yes, I was filled with morbid thoughts for such a young one. One evening we four children all sat in our parked Ford Falcon station wagon with Dad while Mom went to the only store open after dark, the drug store. For some reason at nearly eleven years old, I was not tall and sat in the very “deepest back” as my brothers called it. The conversations turned, probably because of the darkness of Standard Time, to dark topics.
I had accepted Christ as my personal Savior two years earlier before Dad graduated with his Theological degree and was ordained. One of my siblings asked Dad what he did when he was scared, I popped in.
Although it’s been decades, I’ll never forget the chill that filled me as I said, “I pray when I am scared.” My words surprised me because I was an introvert and dreaded others’ criticism. Inside, I was filled with not out-loud words, but words never-the-lest, “If you will trust Me when life events like the five that you trusted Me through this year, it may not be easy, but I’ll be with you, and you’ll never be alone.” I knew that Baptists like my dad didn’t believe in hearing God except through the Bible, but I knew what I knew. Dad nodded, in his typical way, and said “That’s good.”
By the time I turned eleven a week or so later, I had no doubt, that God was real. Other times since, He has confirmed that He was always with me.
I’m sure that the events, five sad and one amazing, which occurred between my tenth and eleven birthdays minimize any dread or sadness I could face as I grow older.
I don’t presume to tell you I’ve never made mistakes or you must believe the way I do, but I promise if you read the Bible and pray through the craziness of life, He will provide a reassurance you need to survive crises.