In the late 1940s, my dad moved our family from western Oklahoma to Detroit, where he trained to become a pastor. Then we moved back to Oklahoma, and Dad went to work as a John Deere tractor salesman. On evenings and Sundays, he served as pastor for country churches that couldn’t afford a full-time minister.
On the Sunday Dad started as pastor at Prairie View Baptist Church, we arrived early, and while waiting for members to arrive, an elderly woman wearing a dress appeared. She hadn’t been able to get her pickup started, so she had walked across a pasture and climbed through barbed wire fences to attend. To this day, I’m still awed by what her effort to attend said about the importance of God in her life.
Growing up in Chicago in the 1920s, Dad knew nothing about country churches. At his first church placement, a little boy whispered to him, “Daddy says they’re going to give you a pounding after church.” Dad didn’t know what that meant, but he knew it didn’t sound good.
He closed worship that Sunday by asking one of the members to give the closing prayer. While all heads were bowed, Dad snuck out. He was found standing by our car ready to make a getaway, and was embarrassed to learn that a pounding was when each family gave the new pastor a pound of food to stock his cupboard.
One Sunday, a couple invited us to their home for lunch. While the adults visited and the meal cooked, I wandered around the house. In one bedroom, I noticed a ball cap hanging over a bedpost. During lunch, I asked if they had kids. The husband shook his head no, and the wife simply looked down. I didn’t know then that their only child had died of leukemia a short while before.
I was about the age of their son when he died, and perhaps that’s why they became so fond of me. I loved their farm, and one summer I spent several weeks with them.
I loved to fish, and the Washita River ran through their farm, so I often went there with my cane pole. One day I saw a chain looped around a tree trunk and hanging in the river. I pulled hard on the chain, and a wire trap filled with dozens of catfish appeared.
I rushed to the barn and got a pail, then ran back to the river. I pulled out enough fish to fill the pail, then kicked the trap back into the river. When I walked in the house to get a knife, the wife asked how I’d fared. I told her I got a bunch, but I never mentioned how.
A few days later, the husband said somebody had let the fish out of his trap at the river. He didn’t look at me, he didn’t accuse me, and he didn’t ask if I knew anything about it. I never messed with his fish trap again.
Like most preachers’ kids, I was supposed to be a little angel, but, of course, I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. Kids never are. I sure had a lot of fun, though.