William Cross, a friend since childhood, turned 70 in May. It’s a tad sobering to see kids I grew up with reaching three score and ten. No doubt it’s a blessing, but the trip was much shorter than I expected. One pleasure, though, is revisiting old memories now sweetened by time.
It seems like only yesterday William and I were on a wooden pew at Harmony Baptist Church for a Sunday afternoon singing. It was led by his grandfather, Charlton Cross, who stood at floor level rather than behind the elevated pulpit. He was using a paperback book of gospel songs, a Stamps-Baxter or something similar, not our usual green Broadman hymnal.
I don’t know how old we were, eight or nine I’d guess. Willaim and I were more focused on volume than quality in a friendly competition. To add to the excitement, Mr. Charlton introduced a celebratory applause of music I had not seen in church before.
Harmony was not a clapping congregation. There may have been special occasions which I’ve forgotten, but our worship style was reserved, as was typical of the 1950s. Mr. Charlton showed us an alternative to clapping, which I presumed was acceptably reverent. He clapped by holding his songbook in one hand and lightly slapping it with the other.
Mr. Charlton may have been doing that so he wouldn’t have to put his songbook down. Perhaps he expected we’d use a traditional two-hand technique. Either the crowd didn’t catch on or the preacher thought we might succumb to the temptation of enthusiasm. So, we slapped our books heartily after peppy renditions of “Camping in Canaan Land” and “On the Jericho Road.” Songbook clapping wouldn’t have worked with our hardback hymnals, so our flirtation with applause ended immediately following that afternoon of gospel music.
It seems like only yesterday I was on the playground at Pinehurst Elementary School holding William’s crutches so he could take a turn at bat. I don’t know if it was first grade or second, but he had a problem with one of his legs. For most of us that would have meant spending recess under the oak tree sharing Mary Ann Leaptrot’s cookies, but William has never approached life that way.
He was a good ball player and faster on one leg than many of us on two. Someone would hold his crutches, knowing he was reliable at the plate. He’d hit the ball, grab the crutches, then scamper around the bases. It’s unlikely that’s what his doctor had prescribed, but he crossed home plate that way countless times. I’m not sure the crutches always made good contact with the ground.
It seems like only yesterday we were having sword drills at Harmony. Youngsters would line up across the front for the pastor or someone to call out scriptures. The first person to find it would step forward and read the verse. William would be rapidly flipping pages while having one foot in the air, not wanting to waste a split second that might prevent a victory. He was the fastest of the fast.
There was a second tier of participants who were also adept at finding scriptures. They would consistently get to the right place in under ten seconds. The third tier, in which I secured a spot, often wondered if we should be looking in the Old Testament or New. We were the same children who were easily distracted if a wasp flew in an open window, which reminds me of something about bees.
It seems like only yesterday, while riding home on the school bus, William told me about the birds and bees. I was skeptical, as was appropriate for a young Southern Baptist. “I don’t believe that’s right,” I told him. “I don’t know,” he replied with a shrug and a grin, “but that’s what Alice said.” I’m guessing William’s mother, Miss Helen, had asked her younger sister, a jolly soul with a colorful vocabulary, to do the honors. It’s too late to ask, so that’s pure speculation.
Mr. Charlton would be tickled that clapping is now legal in all 50 states. William’s crutches still remind me to make the best of the hand we’re dealt. Sword drills were never my forte, but I eventually realized that reading not speeding is what matters. And much to my surprise, I found out Alice was right. I learned that from the second chapter of Genesis.
Revisiting old memories is nice, but a tad sobering to see the kids of my childhood turning 70. No doubt It’s a blessing, but the trip was much shorter than I expected.