When Life Was Easy
I spent the first seven years of my life in idyllic circumstances. The oldest daughter of very young parents, the first grandchild on both sides, and the first girl for my paternal grandmother who had three sons, I was adored and doted upon by almost every adult with whom I came in contact.
We lived in rural southwest Ohio, on several acres at the top of a hill behind my grandparents' own land. I was too young when we moved from an apartment in town out to the country, first to my grandparents' home and then to our newly built little ranch house carved into the side of a hill, to understand the ominous motivations behind the abrupt transistion. It was the early 50s and polio was abroad; parents thought that they could spare their children by moving from densely populated areas.
By the time October rolled around "when I was six," I was an older sister, to a three-year-old and a newborn baby brother. I absorbed the natural world as easily as I downed my morning orange juice and scrambled eggs: our house was surrounded by scarlet and gold trees in the fall, by soft snow and excellent sledding hills in the winter, and by carpets of flowers planted by my mother and grandmother in the spring and summer. I spent a lot of my time with my grandmother next door. She had a porch table full of jars of monarch caterpillars and chrysalises in various stages of development, a house full of books and games and art supplies, and unending patience for her oldest grandchild.
We spent the springs of my kindergarten and first grade years living near the beach in Florida. My father was trying to get a home construction business going, and one of the last houses he completed was ours. We moved out of our small rental house, set back among trees festooned with Spanish moss, to the spacious second floor of a triplex, sometime in the late spring of my first grade year. I acquired my very first room of my own, and my mother and I made big plans for how I would decorate it with shells and other ocean paraphernalia the following year. Photographs show a largely unfurnished apartment, an up-to-the minute 1960s kitchen with pink appliances, a handsome young husband and attractive blond wife, and three 1960 children: a little girl in dresses, short socks and Mary Janes; a little boy in shorts; and a fat and happy baby.
I can't say that we had any kind of spiritual life in those days. We attended the Methodist church in town, where my mother had sung in the choir as a young woman. As far as I know, she was the only member of the family who held an official church membership. I can remember standing on the pew next to her as she sang in the congregation, and straining to see around her slim body when my soon-to-be aunt came down the aisle in a hoop-skirted white wedding dress.
My father claimed no religious belief; he simply accompanied my mother. I don't think that any of my grandparents actually belonged to the church, although they were active participants in its major events and fundraising efforts. Many years later I discovered the names of most of the adults in my family -- parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles -- on the programs for a church anniversary celebration and the dedication of a new classroom wing. They had all been fundraising and building committee and decorating committee participants, but I believe that they saw themselves as fulfilling a civic duty rather than acting upon religious convictions. Certainly no one in my family talked or taught about a life of faith, and while our Christmas and Easter celebrations were extravagant, they were decidedly secular in nature. If I did go to Sunday School, or to summer Vacation Bible School, it wasn't with any resistance. But it wasn't with any sense of their import, either. The red brick church on the corner was simply one of several familiar spaces in my rural and small-town childhood, known to me in much the same way that my father's office and the town drugstore and grocery were.
I have a number of friends who grew up in the Methodist Church, attending Sunday School every week, belonging to youth groups, singing in children's and youth choirs. My husband, actually, is one of those people. One of my best friends has a whole string of pins for her thirteen years of perfect Sunday School attendance. In the Presbyterian Church that I attend now, enormous attention is lavished on the children's and youth programming, and the response on the part of both kids and parents is entirely positive. Who knows how things might have turned out for me in the church if my life had stayed on its ordinary and happy little track?
(My childhood church.)