Those years of 1935 and 1936 when I was thirteen and fourteen were very pivotal years in my young life. Events seemed to occur at an accelerating pace. With puberty my voice cracked then deepened so that I no long sang boy soprano at church but could handle the baritone and even some of the bass parts.
I moved up into the “big room” at Bona School into the ninth grade. Under the tutelage of J. B. Mitchell, I was doing very well indeed. I always liked school and was never tardy. I was also never absent except for that time in Arcola when I had diphtheria, then a few days early in 1936 when I came down with yellow jaundice. I guess it was a form of hepatitis. I still remember how very sick I was. My skin got yellow and my eyeballs turned brown for a while. It stayed with me for the rest of my life, too. In the Navy and afterward, when I listed childhood diseases I had, they would stamp “Yellow Jaundice” on my health record and I still am not allowed to donate blood.
My grades were always good and there was no subject that I disliked or that was hard for me. Regardless of the subject, I was nearly always at the top of my class. It may have been partily because Richard was also a top student and I was determined not to allow him to outdo m e. Whatever the reason, I always felt foolish if I failed to get 100 percent on any examination.
The only other student in my class of seventeen at Bona School that came close to me was a slip of a girl, Mary Neil. She was one of Cook Neil’s several daughters. They lived in a shack just down the hill from the church on the west side of Bona.
I did not particularly like Mary Neil. She had straw colored blonde hair, was not particularly pretty, and could be snippy if not downright nasty at times. I respected her, however, because she was smart as a whip.
Almost invariably when there was a bell-down it would be Mary and me that were the last two up there. I felt foolish on the occasions when she spelled me down. I never heard in later years, but I expect that Mary Neil got a scholarship and went on to be a teacher.
It was in 1935 that I got baptized and joined the Bona Church. I am not sure to this day why I did that. I was much too young to make that decision but, at the time, with several of my contemporaries going forward and joining the church, it seemed like the thing to do.
It happened during one of the series of revival meetings held by the gentle minister I described back in Chapter 4. Since I cannot recall his name I will call him “Brother Thompson” because that could well have been it.
I did not really feel any sudden calling but I was there one evening when Brother Thompson preached a good sermon aimed at we younger people. There in the soft yellow light of the acetylene fixtures, Thompson’s deep voice was almost hypnotic and he could be very persuasive. During the invitational hymn at the end, my cousin Mary Catherine, Claude Todd (the two of them later married and he is not an elder in the Bona Church), Clarence Lee King, and some others went forward. On an impulse, I got up and went with them.
It is regrettable that no one took a picture at our baptizing the following Sunday afternoon. It is not done in an open stream any more. These days Bona Church as a baptism tank in the church. In those days, however, it was done in a river or creek just as Christ was baptized two thousand years ago. The Church of Christ believed only in total immersion and members criticized Methodists and others that simply sprinkled a little water symbolically.
Our baptizing took place in a deep pool of the branch on my Uncle Claud’s farm. Fortunately, it was in the summer so the little creek was fairly warm. All we boys had on clean overalls and the girls wore print dresses. Brother Thompson was wearing the first set of waders that I ever saw. I figured that was all right as he was already baptized and he had to be in the water the whole time. No point in his getting his preaching suit wet either.
There was not much to it. All the people who had come to observe lined up along the bank and we baptizes got in a line. One by one we waded out to the preacher who was standing in waist dep water. He positioned us sidewise in front of him, said in that solemn deep voice, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Then he ducked us backward under the water and raised us back up.
When I waded ashore and was congratulated by people, to tell the truth I did not feel any different. I expect that I went right on committing my little sins and I know that the other boys did also. About the only difference was that we were now church members and could take communion. Sometimes we were called upon to serve communion or help take up the collection.
My ideas about religion have gone through a long evolution over the years and I do not attend any church regularly now. I will not go into that as it could be a whole separate book. Let it suffice to say that I firmly believe in the Creator and Almighty and I believe I am on good terms with Him. I sort of facetiously refer to Him as “The Boss” once in a while but I am sincere and He knows that. Whatever power it is “up” there certainly took care of Richard and me during a shooting war and He hasn’t done bad by us in peace. I will have more to say about that later.