An English Childhood Remembered
Born into what some would equate to poverty, I saw my life as a child in my parent’s home as something else and viewed my family’s struggles differently.
There was an expectation in the house to never quit. It wasn’t even talked about directly, we just knew not to do it. We always worked together and discussed how we would get through it all.
My Marine Corps father enrolled in Bible school after his military time was done. He survived Vietnam only because he was never stationed there. He had many, many friends who were who never came home. I was 5 years old when we boarded Braniff Airlines as new missionaries to Great Britain, sent out by Baptist International Mission Board.
Our days as an American missionary family in Stoke-On-Trent, England together were long and lazy. I remember the trees and grass in the backyard and down the “back lane” and in Dover, where we visited at times. We had “Family Nights” weekly, when we ate by candlelight. Not because the electricity was off, but because it was a special night. We called it “Spend Time Night.” For dinner, regularly, we helped get the dishes. Each service of the church my father was pastor for, we kids helped place the chairs. I’d watch my father preach..teach, really, he was more of a teacher, and watched him in earnest. I’d watch his facial expressions and knew that he believed. He taught what he knew was right and through his words and actions, a love for God was conceived in me.
My mother was always home. I remember seeing her back facing me each day I came in for lunch, as she placed our food on the table and kissed us all, intently.
Sometimes we were terrible. Sometimes we cried for more stuff, but secretly, I was glad we could not easily afford everything. That would have made us like everyone else we knew and wouldn’t have helped our characters grow the way they did through the patience forced upon us. And besides, I actually had enough.
Our Christmases with our family friends, which incidentally were our church members, were such good times. There was music, laughing, and food at our parties and everyone walked in the snow together afterwards. Snow always at Christmas. We all got together to carol in the snow. I never forgot how that felt to be a part of something in the world that mattered and a part of a group of people who really loved us that we loved back.
Sometimes I would wake up at night and hear my Dad talking to my Mom about some trouble in the church or some wayward, “poor soul” (ie: someone worse off than us) would knock on our door late at night. My Dad never said no, which hurt us a bit, but we were giving what we had which was what it was all about.
Saturdays were Visitation Day. We got together as a church family, about 5 families and some singles that were the regulars and “knocked on doors.” It was an American Baptist tradition to just go ‘round town knocking on the doors of people’s homes to meet them and invite them to church and tell them about Jesus. This was supposed to increase the church, but Brits, being very stoic and private, didn’t take to that well at all. Lots of slammed doors in our faces, but when opportunities arose for people to meet my parents in other situations, they were well accepted. My Dad and Mom were at, heart, old hippies. Literally. They were not pushy and obnoxious like other Americans we experienced ourselves. They were gentle, friendly and really genuine, which would eventually win the hearts of the English people we set out to minister to.
Our “poverty” has made me rich and I could never regret not having lots of costly items or clothing when I had what really mattered to me then and now: my family. Perhaps we lacked the very best of clothes, but we were always warm. Perhaps we didn’t own huge or multiple TV’s (one old bulky black and white) but we played outside for fun. There’s nothing like tall grass to hide in or a sparrow’s egg to hold, picking blackberries off the bush down the “back lane” or sitting under the huge swaying willow trees in the backyard that shaded what little sun Stoke let in.
We ate always and hugged a lot. Backscratches and bedtime stories each night were set in stone.
I had a truly old fashioned traditional childhood that provided me with an inner peace and an inner compass that is difficult to find elsewhere today. I saw then and now my beginning years as when my morals formed. I value and treasure my family times growing up... I wish I remembered more of them.