Page 1

Escape from Sanctitude. Our Town: Surrounded by Bourbon, ‘Baccy, Race Horses, and Rumors of Wild Women Fillmore, the little burg where I lived for the twelve formative years between 5 and 17, was split into many US vs THE OTHER dichotomies as Christian vs Sinners, White vs Colored, Town vs Country. And there was also the College which was adverse to Sinners, Colored, Town, and Country. On a map of the church denomination of the Bible belt, you would see a small pink island of Methodists in a sea of purple Baptists. That island was the home of an enclave of educated immigrants primarily from the Midwest and Northeast. They were the Methodist Academics who weekly recited the Apostles’ Creed and brought returning missionaries from exotic lands – Congo, Indian, China, or the Kentucky Mountains – and artifacts displayed in the glass cages in the dark halls beneath the College Auditorium. The “highest calling” were the Medical Missionaries called to serve in Africa. Several of my friends were missionary kids. And “foreign students” from college were often guests at our home. In the Jim Crow South, I had pals in all segments except “Colored.” That was not because of any personal, familial, or doctrinal factors, but rather it was institutional. There were separate Colored schools, Colored people, Colored churches, and a Colored section of town – “Across-The-Tracks.” We seldom saw Colored people in our town except as they went by in their separate but equal school bus to their separate-butequal school. Or we would see them in the annual parade of

cars from Up North on the way to a nearby end-of-the-road recreational area for some gathering of unknown but probably questionable entertainment. We marveled at their fine automobiles – Buicks, Cadillacs – as they drove down Lexington Avenue looking neither to the right nor to the left as they passed between the twin institutions – a college and a seminary – dedicated to the principals of Wesleyan Methodism. Once in a while Colored folks would venture from Across-The-Tracks to the drugstore downtown – but not often. Town and Country were separated from the First Grade on. The town kids walked to school or rode their bikes while the country kids got to ride the bus. At lunch time, the Town Kids were assembled first in the escape line with the country kids behind. This was so that the town kids could run home for lunch and get back in time. But somehow I associated being a Town Kid as being somehow better. This was confirmed empirically in my thinking because there was a strong correlation between living in town and being the son or daughter of one of the College/Seminary faculty, hence better educated, less likely to have a local twang, or to have difficulty with using Standard American English instead of “ain’t got no.” I hypothesized, in the first grade, that the Town Kids were smarter and better off financially than the Country Kids. I was incredulous to learn that some of the smartest kids were farmers’ kids. And some of the dumbest were from the Town. Furthermore, some of the Country Kids drove cars and had other indicia of well-being.

Our High School student body numbered about 100 students. Of those I am aware of several who attained advanced degrees (DMD, EdD, MA, MS, MD, JD, PhD) in such fields as Anthropology, Biology, Dentistry, Ecclesiastics, Education, Economics, History, Law, and Medicine. One is a Congressman, another retired Marine Colonel. Others excelled in agricultural, business, journalism, military, and entrepreneurial pursuits. Few failed. But the family farm, as a domestic institution, suffered many tragic endings. Propinquity factors meant that most of my friends were town kids and principally, though not exclusively, associated with Academe. This correlated highly with Christian, meaning Methodist, and not members of the Disciples of Christ, aka ‘Christians”, Presbyterians, and Baptists --- not to mention the Colored Bolar’s Chapel. But my friends included Baptists and farm kids as well. Christians were separated from Sinners which, by Methodist definition, included all those who were not “Converted” or “Saved.” From our Methodist perspective, to be saved involved “Going Forward” during “Altar Call” and “Praying Through to Victory” then giving a personal testimony in front of the congregation. Revival meetings always concluded with an Altar Call—a pastoral pleading to come forward, kneel at the altar, along with a hundred or so other “Seekers” and “Ask Jesus to come into your heart.” This was the only way to avoid burning for eternity in Hell and the only way live forever in Heaven with Jesus and all the “saints” including “your beloved

grandmother who was looking down from Heaven at this every moment with a tear in her eye for those Sheep-StillLost.” After some fourteen verses of “Just as I am (without one plea)” only a few of us would be left standing – shoulderto-shoulder-- armed only with a silent and unspoken conspiracy of resistance. Annual Camp Meetings would bring the Saved as well as the Sinners together for a two week ordeal of preaching, singing, and praise. The preacher would be of the apoplectic apocalyptic mien but generally less grasping and gasping than those of the “far right hand side of your radio dial. Praise the Lord ah.” There was a very high degree of recidivism known as backsliding from a “state of Grace.” Thus, those who having been Saved once were still subject to the Satanic pleasures and vices. Those who succumbed were Backsliders who year after year would get Saved again and again. Their sins could range from evil thoughts to evil deeds. In my day, the Sins included theft, playing cards, drinking, smoking, dancing, playing sports or joy riding on Sunday, sexual thoughts or god-forbid, sex per se --- but not necessarily in that order . Indeed, it was taught, if not thought, that all Sins were created equal. To steal a penny warranted as much perdition as stealing a million. I guess that meant that once you played the ante it was “all in.” These outright Sins were supplemented by a large but amorphous category of “Things-We-Just-Don’t-So” which would likely be defined by the family. This might include girls wearing shorts or sleeveless dresses, going to the show (movies), watching TV ads for beer, ostentatious display,

consorting with Sinners and Others. Our particular brand of Methodism forbade “superfluous display or costly adornment” e.g. feathers in hats, jewelry, big cars, ostentatious carnality. Doing any of the” Things-We-Just-Don’t-So” could also land you in Hell. I think that all the churches required some rite of passage whether “Joining the Church,” “Being Baptized,” or “Getting Saved” the latter being the Methodist way. Nearby towns and cities had Pentecostals, Assemblies of God, Nazarenes, and others with more or less the same but more boisterous, jubilant, or ecstatic, even apoplectic manifestations. We had no Catholics, Jews, or Moslems in Filmore. Baptism was not required, infant baptism declined, nor was baptism in and of itself sufficient, nor were church attendance, tithing, being morally upright, or doing good works. These were, however, badges of “The Saved.” This, of course left out all those of other denominations whose styles of “conversion” were different. In high school, the stars were basketball and football players and the coach had little use for those of us who were not adept at sports. I did, however, represent the Bears in the State swim meet against swimmers from schools in Lex that actually had pools. I practiced in the college stock pond. I also starred in the lesser valued contests of debate, speech. Don and I were once on the radio debating nuclear energy policy – in 1956. In the mid ‘50s some missionaries invaded Ecuador and were killed by “Auca” Indians defending themselves from the

airborne alien invaders. This resulted in a nationwide “call to the mission field” which appeal doubtless led many to follow. As for me and my confidantes, we agreed that they natives deserved to be left alone. Somewhere we had independently discovered a kind of cultural relativism and several of us eventually became not missionaries or theologians, but anthropologists and historians. I learned much by my own father’s example. He was a backcountry boy who became a Harvard Ph.D. theologian. He was a builder, a minister, a skeptic, and an advocate for the underdog. He marched with Martin Luther King, built churches – physically and congregationally, questioned established Truths. He took courageous stands. There were two gas stations on the corner. One of them, owned and operated by certain Methodist “Christians” and the other operated by “sinners” as evidenced by their girlie calendars and cigarette sales. The “Christian” station was larger, cleaner, more modern, and presumably more in tune with the “better folks.” One on occasion they created a calendar featuring “The Churches of Our Town—Methodist, Christian, Baptist, and Presbyterian.” My father inquired: “What about Bolar’s Chapel?” to which the response was “They are a colored church.” My father replied, “I guess I will be doing my business with the sinners across the street.” He also built the Boy Scout movement in Our Town. This was a godsend for me as an alternative method of achievement and recognition. I enjoyed the challenges and progressed from Wolf to Webelos, from Tenderfoot to Eagle and accumulated over thirty Merit Badges from Animal Care to Woodworking

with Swimming, Life Saving, and Stamp Collecting en passant. My full dress uniform was decked out someone said, “like a Portuguese general.” Scouting exposed me to kids from other towns, other religions, other sub-cultures. Some summer camp scouters and scouts actually swore and smoked and read dirty books. I loved scout camp and was even on the staff as commissary operator for two summer sessions. Another summer enterprise was “church camp.” These looked like camp, had dining halls, bunk houses and activities. They also had church school, bible lessons, and revival meetings. Bart and I attended but skipped almost all of the religious activities, choosing instead to hike (and to think) outside the bounds. A liberating factor was the Presbyterian minister. He was above reproach, being a minister, but also liberal being a clearly more tolerant person than those of our closer tradition. He introduced us to such works as Kerouac’s On the Road and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Doors of Perception. I did not become aware until recently that he had a positive liberating effect on many of my cohort. College choices were limited. It had to be a “Christian college” to avoid a total break from the family. The local college was my father’s first choice and the second was his alma mater, a church school in southern Illinois. I wanted neither but insisted on a church affiliated school in distant Seattle. This was an agreeable compromise – a “Christian” school to satisfy my parents but far enough away to avoid frequent contact and to afford some measure of anonymity and

security from constant supervision. Of course, I found myself in trouble and on disciplinary probation before Thanksgiving Day. I did survive, became co-editor of the college newspaper, an intercollegiate debater, a zoology/chemistry major, and a graduate in three years. Despite being advised as a freshman that my forte was social science and perhaps a law career. It was another twenty years before earning a doctorate in Anthropology and thirty before becoming a lawyer. The interim included various career efforts at dentistry, medical technology, and computer systems analysis. And, I might mention, four marriages, two children, and four grandchildren. Our fiftieth high school reunion was well attended but reinforced the Academic-Agricultural dichotomy and took on the trappings of a typical Methodist testimony meeting with tales of God’s intervention in affairs ranging from stopping an African elephant attack on missionaries to rescuing a downed Vietnam fighter pilot. All said, in fifty years, no one had changed religion, politics, or hair style. FIRST DRAFT Monday, September 14, 2009 REVISED Saturday, December 05, 2009 12/5/2009 On the eve of my seventieth birthday, I reflect. Looking back, I did not know that the world offered many opportunities. I could have gone to college in Southern California and become a surfer. I could have taken my college advisor’s first advice and studied law instead of dental medicine. I could have waited a few years to get married the first time. I don’t know that I could have avoided becoming an alcoholic (but am grateful for now 24 years of sober

abstinence). I cannot deny that I have benefited from my mistakes but have, at the same time, a degree of admiration for those who seem to have avoided them. Many of my old friends are afflicted by that virulent memevirus that seems to affect the capacity to reason, to reflect, or to regret. How or why I was immune does not truly concern me. I do wonder why more of us were not resistive, except that those who have it seem unable to resist attempting to transmit it to others. It is not a fatal affliction but it does cripple the mind and limit the range of experience. It is somewhat self-contained but for those who would spread it intentionally. (I am reminded of the AIDS victims who victimize others in the deplorably unconscionable “Blood Game.). ACT

This Little Burg  

formative years

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you