On the Farm in Northern Colorado 1940s to 1955.
My Dad loved to go to Sunday school and church and loved to drag every kid in the surrounding area with him. He would make sure to call them or go see them if they did not have a phone, to tell them that he would pick them up at a certain time so they could go to Sunday school.
We always took our bath on Saturday night and polished our shoes. We decided what to wear and went to bed early.
Sunday morning was breakfast and getting ready for Sunday school. We never called it church. Dad would milk the cow, bring in the milk, put it in jars and put it in the “frigerator.” He would wash his hands and face, shave and go into the bedroom and change his milk clothes to his “Sunday-go-to-meeting” clothes. He had a ritual that never changed. He would stand in the closet in his boxer shorts and his vee-necked T-shirt, reach up on the top shelf for his hat and put it on his head.
He would reach for the hanger with his white church shirt, unbutton the nicely starched and ironed shirt, that mom had ironed for him, and put it on. Button it up to the top button and stand in front of the mirror and put his tie on. Next he would put his socks on and pulled his suit pants on, put the belt through the loops and buckled it up. Then he would put on his newly polished black church shoes, put his suit coat on and say to everybody else, as he walked out the bedroom door, “You ready?” And go sit in the car until we all got in.
He would look in the rearview mirror, start the engine put it in “go gear” and off down the dirt road we would go to pick up neighbor kids along the way. We would be packed in the big green car like sardines. But before we got the 14 miles to church we had endure his singing! “Oh that strawberry roan, Oh that strawberry roan, she would turn on a dime and leave you some change. Oh that strawberry roan.”
Then came “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” “Near the soda water fountain, at the lemonade springs, where the bluebird sing, on the big rock candy mountain.” But I remember Dad singing it his way: “And the clouds were cotton candy, the rivers were pink lemonade.”
Roger Whittaker sings it, so did Burl Ives, I remember his version. In the 1960s Merle Haggard sang it. It really is about hobos and being in jail and their dreams while they were in there, but we did not know the difference.
Then closer to Fort Collins and the Big Church, he would switch to hymns. “Oh! That Old Rugged Cross” and “I Come to the Garden Alone, where the dew is still on the roses,” and “He walks with me and He talks with me.” “Nearer My God to Thee,” came next.
Then he would glance in the rearview mirror and start singing another of his favorite songs, “Into My Heart, Come into My Heart Lord Jesus,” and another glance in the mirror for the grand finale, “Jesus Loves Me this I know, Jesus LOVES Me This I know,” looking up in the mirror again to see if everyone was singing, and give you that “Dad look” if you were not. He would belt out in his loudest monotone voice, “foooorrr the Bible tells meee sooo!”
He would swing into the parking lot of the Big Church, give directions as to who goes where, and “meet me right here after church.” We owe our non-singing ability to our Dad, with his flat monotone, loud voice, full of happiness, cheerfulness and love.
He taught Sunday school with the same enthusiasm that he sang, reading stories out of the Bible and telling stories with great morals. His enthusiasm was contagious and we all at one time ended up teaching Sunday school or playing the piano in “Little Church” taught by Mrs. Rev. Grether. She was a little itty-bitty lady with a big smile and lots of love and kindness. Little Church was for little guys who could not sit still in Big Church. Instead of just babysitting she had Little Church, complete with rows of chairs, hymn books and Bibles on every chair. We were important to her and we felt important! Anyone who could play the piano was the pianist. I had that honor for a while. It helped me (somewhat) get over my fright of being in front of people, by playing the piano however well I did! Mistakes were not mistakes in her book, she just sang over the top of the mistakes and the pianist just caught up whenever they could. What a grand lady. There were snacks afterward. When we heard Big Church let out we could get our coats and wait for our parents to come and get us.
After church we would pile into the old pea green four-door Dodge and Dad would drive around the block and down the street to Poudre Valley Creamery, for the long awaited ice cream cone. We all filed in to the creamery, each picked out their own flavor of hand dipped wonderful tasting ice cream. They made it right there, from cows’ milk that was gathered from the surrounding farms including my dad’s.
We would file back in the car and set real still way back in the seats and lick and lick to see who could make their ice cream last the longest. Dad was always the first to be consumed. Which leads me to this next story ...
There must have been 14 of us in the old pea-green Dodge, this particular Sunday after Sunday school. Dad needed to get gas in the car. He always got gas at Box Elder gas station, about 5 miles east of town. So he skipped going to the creamery and told us we could have our ice cream cone at the gas station. When we got to the gas station, Dad was counting how many ice cream cones he was going to buy and he came up with a missing kid — his own! Ginger! He turned a “pale shade of white” — another terminology he used like “dark black” — and shouted to everyone, “Anyone seen Ginger?”
No, we all said. He shouted to all of us to get back in the car, with such urgency that we were all scared. We piled back in the car. Dad turned “around on a dime and left some change” (a lyric from the “Old Strawberry Roan” song) in the middle of the road and roared back into town. He kept muttering under his breath “I musta’ left her at the church!” repeating it several times and ending with “Oh My Gosh!”
He could not get back to town fast enough, barely stopping for stop signs or not stopping at all, taking shortcuts and careening around corners. We all held our breath and looked intently straight ahead. He pulled up to the front of the great Big Church were the great big stairs were going up to the big church doors and at the very top of the stairs was Ginger, crying and sobbing. She was sitting there with Dad’s good friend Rev. Grether.
As Dad got out of the car and ran up the stairs, Ginger stood up and with all of her 5-year-old voice, said to Dad, “Dad! How could you leave me?” Sobbing and sobbing. It broke Dad’s heart! He lifted her up and gave her a big hug, told her he was so very sorry over and over again. He shook Rev. Grether’s hand, walked down the stairs with Ginger clinging to his neck, head on his shoulders, sobbing and sobbing.
He made whoever was sitting in the front seat scoot over. He put Ginger down and scooted in beside her, patted her on they head, and drove with his arm around her, all the way back to the ice cream-gas station.
Dad never told this story ever! We told it to him, and he always felt bad. “Dad, remember the time you left Ginger at the church?”
He would just hang his head say; “Yes-yes, I know.” The worst part of this whole story was he had to tell Mom.
Ginger’s place going to church, was sitting beside Dad in the front seat, from then on and we never ever complained or thought about it, we just knew why!