Friday, June 30, 2023

Things I picked up from my father - Part II

(Last blog entry, more than six months ago. Let's see if I can do a little better.)

I was recounting shaping influences of my Dad, and how reflecting on his life makes me realize some of the intangible things I've always known were true, but not why. I'd left off a few years after this photo was taken, around Christmas 1967, at my grandparents' home in Princeton, IN. My oh-so-young parents with me, and that's my dad's sister Carol and her husband. Aunt Carol died, too suddenly, in December 2021, a few months before Dad's last illness started.

My first memories were of the Allenside UPC, the congregation that was my father's first pastorate. We lived in the manse, I learned to ride a two-wheel bike in the church parking lot, and I would visit Daddy in his office sometimes. Mrs. Hawley, her hands purple with ditto machine ink from printing the bulletins, would show me in, and Dad would give me a handful of cinnamon red-hots and let me draw a picture with his colored pencils, which he would then attach to his filing cabinet with a magnet.

Among many other tasks, my parents took charge of the youth group. And you had to have summer projects for the young people... this was in 1971, when they went on a work camp trip down to New Mexico. My brother and I went along, but I'm hazy on the details. This may have been the trip when we were each sick with different things, pinkeye and an ear infection, but we swapped midway through. I do remember the "big kids" and their projects - a paper drive, a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis, and witnessing youth group in the basement of Allenside, with pillow fights (Mom wouldn't let me participate) and the game where you have to blow a ping-pong ball across the goal line.

When she wasn't helping lead the youth group, Mom spent a lot of time stripping the varnish off of old oak furniture that had been stored in her grandparents' barn, rubbing it with linseed oil and restoring it to beauty and utility. She proofread, typed and retyped my dad's thesis. She took us to doctor's appointments and the special evaluations my brother needed, and made sure I knew about stranger danger and how to walk the two blocks to Rimer school safely. She was active in the women's Bible study, and both my parents took the training and were leaders for Evangelism Explosion, which sparked a mini-revival within the church. Dad was active in shaping the church session and participated in Presbytery and Synod while he prepared to return to the Netherlands to defend his thesis and receive his doctorate.

But unbeknownst to me, storm clouds were brewing. The mainline UPC church was liberalizing, and ordination of women elders was the issue they used to force Dad out. He became one of the founding fathers of Ascension Presbytery in the PCA. You can read the big picture version on the Aquila Report Founding of PCA Ascension Presbytery , written by my dad's good friend Dick Knodel. I was seven, and the months from March-July of 1975 (and for a bit after too) are a series of flashbulb memories with mostly a blur in between:

FLASH * Daddy is preaching his resignation sermon, wearing his black robe, I'm watching from the church balcony and seeing him cry for the first time in my life. There's a crowd of people all around * FLASH * Miss Hall, Miss Barrow, the Bruders, the Oldakers, the Peppers, the Calers and a bunch of other people are seeing us off at Akron-Canton Airport. I'm excited, it's the first time I remember being in an airplane and I have my own flight bag and I get a whole month off of 2nd grade while we are in Holland. *
FLASH * Arrival in Holland, picked up at the airport by the Van Vlimmerens, our home for the month is a 2nd floor apartment in Dordrecht and my room has a wardrobe... does it lead to Narnia? But it's locked. * FLASH * Organ recital at the Grote Kerk. There are people buried under those carved stones on the floor! * FLASH * Rainy days, visit to the toy store to buy Lego sets to keep Andy and me occupied while Dad studies. Mine is a windmill. * 

FLASH * April 11. A large lecture hall and everyone is talking in Dutch. Daddy is now a Doctor. He wears a formal suit with tails on the coat. The Princess Beatrix passes by on her own business accompanied by a small crowd, remarks on the cuteness of my brother, doesn't notice me. But her coat is in Daddy's dressing room and I get to see it. It's plain white wool, not purple velvet like I was expecting. * FLASH * Markets, De Efteling, rijsttafel, Madurodam, Kinderdijk, Rijksmuseum, Dutch cheese, flowers... * 

FLASH * Back in the US, Faith PCA is begun and meets at Erwine Middle School. We sing "Faith of our Fathers" in the gymnasium. * FLASH * I have no memories of how or when we moved, but we are living at 4105 State Rd. I have my own room. It is smaller than the one in the manse, but I get to choose the paint color. I choose orange. * FLASH * The church has a property. It is a former golf course clubhouse. The men from the church do a lot of work to make it usable as a church. * 

FLASH * I am in 3rd grade at Turkeyfoot Elementary, and I have no friends. * FLASH * The house is small but there is a lot of land with many apple trees, a grape arbor, cherry trees, berry bushes, and woods in the back with blackberries and blueberries. I learn to climb the maple tree in the backyard. * FLASH * 4th grade. Mrs. Lucia. Mrs. Fink who teaches music. Bus 19. I start reading Nancy Drew. * FLASH * My baby sister is born. I get to share a room with her. Two years later another sister is born, and I get to move upstairs to the attic guest room. Except when there are guests, when I sleep in the basement rumpus room. Dad builds a really cool treehouse in one of the apple trees. * 

In the 5 years between 1975 and 1980 we lived in 3 different houses and I attended 5 different schools. I'm pretty sure we were below the poverty line for that first year, but I never felt it and Dad never looked back. They were hard years, but the thing that made the difference for me was church family. I'm sorry for people who don't have an extended church family. Mr. Pepper taught Dad the finer points of gardening and Mr. Beckley was his fishing buddy and brought bags of day-old bread and government surplus cheese on occasion. There are so many others who were our social safety net, and I think of them even today in the same way as family members... just "church family" as Dad would call them. But a big part of it was that they were incredibly grateful and loyal to my father. He had, in a sense, led them out of Egypt. 

He never did get the seminary or college professor post he had prepped for, but he had a very busy life and played an active role in the PCA in those first years. He served on multiple committees and always attended General Assembly, forging new friendships each year and returning to us with a few of the new jokes he collected. Sometimes we went along and set our trailer up in a nearby campground so we could experience the host city of General Assembly before heading to New Mexico for the rest of vacation. I remember doing this at Covenant College, Calvin College, and in Baton Rouge, Saint Louis, and somewhere in Wisconsin, when we bought an enormous wheel of cheese and ate it for the rest of vacation. He mentored several young men who are pastors today. He served as a fraternal delegate to the OPC on a few occasions, and served on the "Joining and Receiving" committee when there was an attempt to complete a merger of the two denominations. We had many missionaries and guest speakers come through for special conferences and speaking events, and we put them up in our home. He was intellectually honest, fair to everyone and never spiteful to those he disagreed with.  As a teacher, I tried to emulate that and still keep reminding myself that there are no stupid questions and everyone is a beginner at first. Some of us have to begin multiple times.

Eventually his extensive correspondence will be donated to the PCA Historical Center in Missouri. Many of his sermons are available now on Sermon Audio for everyone. 

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