The summer I was four, I attended my first vacation Bible school at the Fentress Methodist Church. After several decades, the details are hazy. I remember punch, cookies, and Monday’s recess, when three-year-old Clay offered to bash four-year-old Ronald in the head with a rock.
At an emergency teachers’ meeting on the back porch, it was decided that Clay, who hadn’t reached the minimum enrollment age anyway, should go home and come back next year after he’d had more practice in playing well with others.
“That rock was bigger than his hand,” said my mother, who had prevented blood from being spilled. “I don’t know how he picked it up.”
The Methodists always scheduled Bible school for late June. According to my mother, they should have had it the week after public school let out, while children were used to the routine of getting up and dressed and out of the house. “And while they’re still accustomed to wearing shoes.”
I’m sure that when Mother referred to children, she had only one in mind. I was an early riser in those days, eager to get up and dressed and out of the house. My idea of dressing, however, did not include footwear. Nor did my idea of summer include spending an extra week sitting in a little green chair coloring and pasting. Summer was for bare feet, hot pavement, dogs, horses, sand piles, red bugs, doodle bugs, lightning bugs, ice cream cones, swimming in the river, and freedom.
Bible school was all right, in its way. I did get a thrill from always being allowed to recite the longest verse at the Friday evening program (“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the House of the Lord.”) because I was the tallest in my class. But nothing made up for having to spend five extra days with cramped-up toes.
The one thing that might have atoned for the shoes was something we didn’t have: a parade. The Baptists in the town a couple of miles down the road had one. Every year, all their kids piled onto a flatbed trailer and were pulled through town hollering and waving signs inviting us to their Bible school. They had more kids than we did, and I suspected they had more fun as well. They probably didn’t–I know for a fact they had to wear shoes–but I never went down to find out. I wanted to, but I was shy. Mother pointed out that I’d seen every one of those kids every day at school since first grade. I stayed home anyway.
When I was ten, the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship)—my two pre-teen cousins and myself plus three high schoolers plus a bunch of Baptist teens, who weren’t shy—finally had a parade. Of sorts. It was better than anything we’d ever seen the Baptists do, and ten times as crazy.
But that is another story.