Religious and Moral Issues

Part 2:  Early Years

            I had no real Sunday School experience until my Jr. High days.  I lived my pre school days across the street from the Congregational church.  I attended a private kindergarden there – but no regular Sunday School that I remember, tho Dr. Hogel’s daughter may have taken me.

            I think I remember a big Billy Sunday revival in a big wooden “tabernacle” built specifically for that event.  Mostly I remember my mother teasing and even ridiculing my father for “hitting every sawdust trail that came along.  Dad and I were supposedly unable to carry a tune, but I have strong memories of my mother singing all sorts of gospel and Sunday school songs as she went about daily activities.  “Beulah Land” I remember most clearly.

            My father tended to be a “partisan”.  He was a strong labor union man.  He joined the KKK Ku Klux Klan.  I remember mother made me a KKK gown and I wore it in a Labor Day parade.  I remember attending big KKK meetings and cross-burning ceremonies.  They were exciting awesome events for me – and there was plenty soda pop!

            It seems in my memory that KKK was anti black, Catholic, and Jewish.  There was a time I aped my dad on this.  I wrote on a piece of blackboard in my room onetime to the effect I did not like negros, Catholics, or Jews.  KKK claimed to be strong for Jesus.  How could that be?

            There were strong feelings between the Catholic school kids and those who attended public schools.  For first, second, third grades I had a long walk to Wells grade school at 5th and Timea.  (or Bank?)  This took us past the St Vincent grade school.  Both schools of boys were rock throwers.  We were all name throwers.  St Vincent kids were “Cat Lickers”.

            A few years later I attended the new Wells-Carey grade school, which was much closer to home.  I remember, as either a 4th 5th or 6th grader, walking the two blocks home and talking about lessons, or such innocent topics, with a nice enough negro boy “David.”  Mother saw us pause out at the sidewalk to complete our casual talk.  She called me in the house in a rush and told me not to walk home with him any more!

            I’ve had a guilty feeling for many, many years over a Jr. High happening.  Following our P.E. gym work the girls’ class was instructed we must all take showers.  There were few shower stalls, so we were to share.  One girl dressed or undressed in the first curtained square while the second girl had her shower.  That was to provide feminine modesty.

            Just fine, I suppose, for girls who had other sisters at home.  I was an only child and VERY shy about body exposure (Mother probably helped that by teasing, such as telling how I crawled away from home down the sidewalk without even a diaper).  I refused to take a shower.  I was to share the shower with a very nice negro girl.  I think her name was Mabel Lamb.  So I’m afraid her skin color became a most of my excuse for no shower.  Dad went to bat for me with the school authorities – all on the basis of race.  I was ashamed of that even before I was out of High School.  Mabel got sick and died before I could ever make amends.  Because of me, Dad raised a racial hue & cry which I’ve always regretted.

            I may have had a Jew or two with me in school but they seemed to keep a low key on religion.  Helene Lowitz, I really liked without thinking of her as a hated Jew!

            I have very dim memories of being taken to an event or two in a Catholic church by Aunt Lily, at an age too young to understand what was taking place.  Another bit of family teasing centered on a serious illness of Mother’s father, Audubon Alvis.  It may have been his final illness, and at our house on North 6th in Keokuk.

            Aunt Lily called in the Catholic Priest to give him some rites – perhaps final rites?  Anyway small toddler – or at most a kindergardener – ,me, is supposed to have drunk the Holy Water prepared for the rite!  That was thereafter the joking reason for any interest in church I would ever show.  I must have been very young, for I really have no memories of that grand father.

            Some of my Father’s bias I usually blot from my mind.  I guess he was a sexually frustrated man.  At times at home I found poorly hidden books and magazines and pamphlets purporting to expose shocking “truths” about sisters and priests, infant bodies buried in fresh concrete walls; or the “truth” about the great numbers of infants and todders in Catholic convents.  My Father liked to joke about the trick he pulled when working on the sister’s home for St Mary church and school.  He had the job of gold-leafing and erecting a cross on the roof of that home (north corner of 14th and Johnson, Keokuk).  He stuffed the hollow cross with some of this Anti-Catholic “literature”.

            It was my best friend, Lois Schmidt, of Jr. High days who finally enticed me to Sunday School at Trinity Methodist.  Arlene Knies, a neighbor on Exchange street, invited and influenced me also.  But Lois was the real miracle worker.

            Rev. Kr D. D. Loose was a persuasive man.  Within a year or three, it seems, at a S. S. opening or closing we sang some evangelist song such as “Almost Persuaded”.  Dr Loose spoke asking the older SS kids to accept Jesus, and he seemed to look directly at me.  I responded, took the membership training, and joined Trinity Methodist church.

            This was at the earliest start of the Great Depression (1929 or a little earlier).  I’m not certain that meant much to my parents.  It seems we were depressed financially before that.  But it was a great source of embarrassment and humiliation to young me when I was called on by a Methodist adult to make a financial pledge to the church.  I think he was embarrassed also, and I certainly felt like a third class citizen.  I think he suggested even 25¢ a week which I did not have.

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