We lived in a rent house on the same property south of Tulsa where Garth Brooks now lives, only I do bet it’s nicer now:-)
The particular brand of Baptist my family practiced was rather strict and was concerned with avoiding “worldliness” which meant a rather isolated life. I enjoyed playing in my rope swing for long hours and wandering in nature. Never did I experience loneliness since I didn’t know there were any other ways to live.
But Oklahoma gets hot in the summer and any diversion can be delightful. There was a 2-week Vacation Bible School at the Mennonite Church not too far down I-75. Although the walk was sunny, there were activities and kindness to be had there.
I went faithfully and enjoyed the activities, the kind teachers, and the whole experience of learning together with other young people. They told us to memorize certain verses and there would be a contest on the last day.
That day came and a number of families showed up to support the children. I walked to the church as usual and sat up front with the other contestants.
There were many questions, and it was a hard-fought battle for those of us who took on the challenge of memorization of Bible verses till longer passages were introduced into the competition.
It was kinda like a spelling bee in that each of us wore a large number. We were to stand if we knew the answer. Then we would be given a chance. If we didn’t succeed, the next person up would try.
I have no idea why, but I seemed to be coming out on top. Perhaps it was my love of words, coupled with the fair amount of isolation, both of which enabled me to spend some quality time delving into the assigned verses and passages.
But I won! They were gracious, but then I went home. I don’t even remember telling anyone since in my upbringing it was a sin to brag.
Winning didn’t particularly change anything, as the next day I went back to my normal life of staying outside most of the day in the 110 degree heat of summer. Of course we had no air conditioning, so staying outside was necessary for survival. Sometimes I sat in the shade of the okra, read on the porch or followed the ravine to see what I could see.
However, a few days later a couple of men in suits drove up and talked to my parents. Later I was informed they were there to see that I got my prize – a Mennonite summer camp. FREE!
I also found that my daddy had refused it, since such an event would have been “worldly” in his religious value system. No doubt I winced at the thought of not being able to accept a prize I had worked for and fairly earned. I had been excited about the idea of a camp since I had never been to one. Yet in my world you did not disagree–ever! So I went on about my summertime activities and gave it very little further thought.
In the many years of my long and lovely life since then, I’ve known people of a wide variety of ideologies, both religious and not. The Mennonites I knew were usually good people I would be honored to spend time with.
In later years I came to understand that my daddy was controlling and abusive. But it was many years before I knew that term. I just knew that no meant no with no questions asked. I eventually even learned to forgive him for many of his ways. As I studied psychology I developed more empathy for the pain he must have had in his life. It made me all the more determined to develop and spread the skills of emotional growth.
These childhood experiences made me dedicate my life to seeing that the needs of children were taken seriously as I taught and counseled my students and families. Having seen abuse up close and personal gave me a heightened awareness of prejudice of any kind.
So it is a bit humorous that as a child I wasn’t allowed to spend time with those wonderful Mennonites because my daddy thought they were just too worldly. Perhaps the word nowadays would be too liberal. But I suspected he thought people who went to summer camps were The Wild Ones in his very limited sphere of experience!
How easy it was, and still is, for people to make decisions about others without really getting to know them. The Mennonite neighbors I met made my life richer, adding hope and kindness to my childhood.
Copyright 2013 by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.