Thank God It’s Vacation Bible School

Close your eyes and stroll through those dusty cobwebbed recesses of your memory, dodging the ferocious dust bunnies and skittering snippets of random thought that are hiding in the shadows. Journey past the party years of college and down the dark corridor of teenage angst until you reach your destination finally tripping over the threshold of prepubescent youth. Skipping past the sun-filled memories of cannonballs and splashing contests you reach the start of summer vacation and V.B.S.

For most kids who attended, V.B.S. stood for Vacation Bible School. Alas, to me, it meant something entirely different: Very Boring Summer. Don’t get me wrong here; I enjoyed playing with the other kids in games like the thrilling Red Rover or the South’s version of Crack the Whip, both of which were played in the church parking lot with the stifling heat rising from the shimmering asphalt. This version of Crack the Whip required, by non-spoken or written rules, the fastest runner at the lead and the smallest or slowest runner at the tail of the “whip.” If the leader was really good at this it inevitably ended with at least two kids trampled and a dozen scraped knees. Remember the asphalt? Yep. Of course, these were the days before lawsuits and over-protective parents who didn’t want little Johnny getting banged up. During V.B.S. we had approximately twenty minutes to enjoy spontaneous, unstructured play that is part of kid-dom before returning to the planned-down-to-the-second regimen that is adult-dom.

So why was this the bane of my summers? One word – Mom. Mom was the church organist, director of the children’s choir (in which I HAD to participate), accompanist for the youth choir, pianist for V.B.S., and (GASP!) one of the leaders for V.B.S. While most kids saw this week as an escape from their moms for a few hours a day (and vice-versa), I was not so lucky.

We had to be at the church by 8 a.m. so Mom could practice or set up her class. While she did her thing I would wander the church. I knew every nook and cranny, even those long forgotten, of the church complex. Because I had advance access to the literature for that week (from Mom’s teaching packet), by the end of the first day I had already read the entire week’s scriptures and lessons, memorized the various pledges of allegiance, and learned all the parts of the hymns. Even though these were sung in unison, or supposed to be, I insisted on being different so would sing the alto line.

Oh, I loved my mom very much and was shocked to learn there were some kids who didn’t like her at all. She made learning fun but insisted on order and would not hesitate disciplining any kid (or teen) who misbehaved. If you committed a minor offense you might find yourself with your nose in a corner, or, depending on the room, completely separated from the group entirely. If you persisted she would have you walked to (the horror!) the Pastor’s office. I heard from several doomed to that fate admit they’d rather be switched with cottonwood than have to do that again. As a result, I and many others made sure we’d never get close to being sent there. Because of Mom, I dared not get into any mischief at all, which, of course, is the best part of being a kid.

There was one other thing about V.B.S. besides the boredom that I detested and that was snack time. I don’t know if any other church out there had this but mine did, our very own personal drill sergeant. Mrs. Dora Clark was from Upstate New York and worked her way up to D.S. while in the W.A.C.s during World War II. For those of you who don’t know this the Woman’s Army Corps were once called by General MacArthur “my best soldiers.” You had to be strong physically, mentally, and emotionally to be a W.A.C. I believe that because Mrs. Clark lived through the Great Depression followed by a world war, she was the epitome of frugality. She could stretch a penny so far you could see right through it. The same went for the snacks.

Each child was permitted two small cookies about the size of half dollars that could break a tooth if bitten into wrong. If you only got part of a cookie, tough bananas because as she said, “You only get two cookies, you have your two go sit down.” These were the hardest, driest, and flavorless chocolate chip cookies you ever experienced. They were the generic of generic cookies. The manufacture was so ashamed of the lack of quality in these they came in plain white boxes that simply said “Cookies with chocolate chip flavor.” Not real chocolate chips but flavored chocolate chip cookies. We never learned where Mrs. Clark found these but if you asked her she’d only say, “Shut up and eat your cookies.”

What was even worse about this snack was the Kool Aid. No one quite knows how she did it but Mrs. Clark could take two little packets of the non-sweetened powder mix and make just enough, and only enough (there were no leftovers), to provide every kid and every adult, including church staff, though only the Pastor tried it once, one tiny paper cup (think dental office rinse cups) with the weakest grape flavored and colored water you ever had. To call this snack anything other than pure torture would be a disservice.

For several years I was forced to endure this annual torment. Some years, for varying reasons, I had to endure it twice. It took ages to recover from that distressing experience, at least three days, which every kid knows is an eternity when it comes to summer vacation.

Lordy how I miss those days and even Mrs. Clark’s Kool Aid.

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