ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: A black and white world
© Another Day in the Country
When I was 10, my world was black and white, strictly divided between good and bad, old and young (I was young), rich and poor (we were poor), and right and wrong (we were always right), with right being the dominion of the Church (our church).
My father was a preacher, so righteousness, whose proponent I also became, was intensely present and consistently preached. My little head was filled with righteous knowledge.
Into my cocoon came public school and a classmate from another town named Martha Millam. Somehow, Martha, who fit in the outside world, became friends with the child of the cloistered Church — me.
At public school, I was a stranger in a foreign land, so to speak. Even though the grade school was only a couple blocks from my house, it was a continent away from my world of the Church. The public school and the people there were deemed worldly. I, on the other hand, was supposed to be otherworldly — heaven-bound.
Becoming friends with the worldly child, Martha, meant that I, who belonged to the church with ultimate truth, now was called upon to be a witness (although I don’t know whether that term was in my vocabulary in the 1940s). I was to let my light shine — and this part I knew — right down to the tune.
Time passed and our friendship grew in the common ground of the schoolyard. The day came when she invited me home to play at her house. This raised a dilemma. I was hesitant to trespass into Martha’s world.
What if some unknown bad rubbed off on this child who was trying so hard to be good?
Naively I wondered, “Was I a strong enough Christian child? What if the wrongs in her environment overwhelmed me?”
After all, I’d discovered that Martha’s family was Catholic and I’d teethed on stories of religious persecution and the No. 666 — not to mention the Mark of the Beast.
All of this posed quite a dilemma — with so many hurdles to get from one end of the spectrum to another, from black to white, across the street or across town.
“Perhaps Martha could come play at our house,” said my mother, fearfully, “rather than you going to hers?”
As real estate went, Martha’s house was only a few blocks from our house, but theirs was a fine house in a wealthy neighborhood, with a wide amount of land, dripping with innuendoes of lavishness.
Our house, on the other hand, was owned by someone else, as was our family, most especially my father.
Some invisible God had a higher claim to him and us. Some invisible hand had plunked me down on one side of the street as lower-class and my upper-class friend, Martha, on the other side. There seemed to be some invisible line dividing us from each another, although the only class distinctions we were aware of at the time were third-grade, fourth-grade, and fifth-grade.
The invitation to play caused ripples in my world. Something was chipping away at my black and white world as questions formed in a mind with just 10 years of experience.
Somehow the older interceded for the younger and Martha’s mother called my mother. It was like a long-distance communication from one planet to another, an emissary from some far flung orbit asking permission for me, an only child and her daughter’s friend, to enter a constellation of affluence and possible wickedness for an afternoon of child’s play. Just play!
When the call came, my mother answered the telephone — she always did, protecting my father the preacher from unnecessary intrusion. Immediately, Mom sensed she had met her match in persuasion from this unknown woman with the cultured voice and a commanding presence (even over the phone).
“Yes, I suppose it would be all right,” Mom said, rather meekly.
I was listening with rapt attention, “All right!”
I was pleased but also apprehensive. I’d rarely played with nonbelievers, unless they were relatives. “Nonbelievers” was the category you fell into, in my childish view, if you didn’t belong to my church.
“What kinds of tests would I face to my Christian belief at this unknown place?” I wondered. “Was I brave enough, strong enough to go?”
Remember, 10-year-old kids still are pretty concrete in their thinking — at least, I was in 5th grade.
I remember Martha’s house had a huge heavy looking front door with an imposing door handle. Once inside, I saw halls and walls that were tall and cool, encrusted with antiques. Very rich…
This black and white story is longer than I can tell in this space, so I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before in this column: “It’s another day in the country and you’re going to have to wait until next week to hear the rest of this story.”
Last modified Sept. 3, 2020