Growing Up In Indiana
It has been said that everyone of a certain age and generation, remembers where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I certainly do. I was six years old and in the first grade at Meadows Elementary School in Terre Haute. We were at home in our small two bedroom house watching television. Although there is nothing humorous about the tragic events of that day, I chuckle a little when I remember my thoughts after I heard the news. At that time a lot of westerns were on TV, especially movies starring John Wayne. All I knew about Dallas was that it was in Texas, and Texas was out west. So when I heard the news my first reaction was, "What was the President doing out there in the Wild West? Did someone ambush his stagecoach? Did he get shot off his horse?"
Needless to say, I am a part of the first generation to be raised on TV. As a child, I was taught to respect my elders, not start fights, try not to get my clothes dirty (I miserably failed at this at least twice a day), and to be nice to everybody. I really looked up to my parents, especially my Dad. I thought my Dad was the smartest man in the world. He knew everything about everything. Some of my fondest memories are of standing beside my dad in the seat of his pickup truck on a starry night, asking him how far away the stars were and if there were people on other planets -- and -- curling up on his lap in his big chair on a Saturday night, and eating buttered popcorn out of a large paper grocery sack.
Dad built roads and bridges throughout the state of Indiana when I was a small boy. One night at about 3:00 a.m. Dad came into my room and got me up. He put his finger to his lips and whispered, "Shhh.....get up and get dressed." I obeyed him and he took me with him to one of his jobs up in northern Indiana. Mom wasn't too happy about that for some reason. I guess playing around construction equipment and almost getting ran over by a bulldozer might have had something to do with it.
My parents were nice people, but they weren't perfect. Like most working class people they worked very hard all week and partied on the weekends. Most of the parties took place at my aunt's house. Mom came from a large family of six children and most of them lived in Terre Haute and got together on the weekends. I became a waiter at an early age. I wasn't old enough to serve beer, but I did. I never developed a taste for alcohol though, probably because I made myself sick too many times sneaking the dregs of stale beer. There was always lots of beer and lots of music, and when my aunt and her husband had a little too much to drink, I was tossed back and forth between dancing with my aunt in the den to Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, and having to endure back breaking bear hugs from my uncle as he told me what a good boy I was. This was the life that I was used to as a child. It just seemed normal to me. However, I had some neighbors who were extremely different.
It had to be sometime when I was in kindergarten or first grade that my neighbors began inviting me to Sunday School. The Houcks had two boys who were older than me. Since I was on the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of children. Pete and John were older than me by 3 and 5 years respectively, but they took an interest in me and included me in their games and "scientific experiments." In those days ladies hung their laundry out in the backyard and talked over the fence. Mrs. Houck and my mom would talk too and get along fine until Mrs. Houck would mention the Lord. Today Mom says the reason she got so upset with Mrs. Houck is because she was under conviction and wished that she could be like her.
One Sunday morning, after a particularly intense party Saturday night, a knock came at our door at about 8:30 a.m. Mom and Dad were in bed and so was my baby sister. I got up and answered the door. It was Pete, asking if I could go to church with them. I ran in and woke mom and dad up (which wasn't the most pleasant thing to do that early on Sunday morning) , and reluctantly mom got me some clothes and let me go.
So I began going to Sunday School at the First Assembly of God in Terre Haute. I had never read the Bible or heard any Bible stories for the first five years of my life. That part was all new to me, but God Himself wasn't. Even though my parents made no pretense of being religious there was one thing of certainty that I was told from an early age, God had healed me and spared my life. So when I got started in Sunday School it was new but familiar at the same time. I learned more about this God who had healed me and His Son Jesus Christ. Due to the nature of Dad's work, we made some temporary moves from Terre Haute to other towns in Indiana. These moves took me away from the Houcks and church, but only temporarily since we always moved back to our little five room house. Finally, by the time I was nine years old we had settled back into Terre Haute permanently, and I got back to church with the Houcks.
On the third Sunday of August in 1966 I was allowed to sit upstairs with the adults in church instead of being downstairs in Children's Church. There was a special singing group there from Ohio called "The Envoys." The only thing I remember clearly about them was that one of the members of the group was real tall and had blonde hair. He preached that morning after the singing. I normally got bored during the sermons because the preacher used big words that I could not understand. But that morning it was like there was an electric current connection between me and this young man. Every word he said was as if it were directed only at me. He talked about how all of us had sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Then he told us about Jesus being the Son of God, and how Jesus had died on the cross for our sins, and if we would simply ask Him, He would forgive us of our sins, come into our hearts, and give us a new life.
For some strange reason I began to cry. Then when the man asked us if we wanted to receive Jesus. I knew in my heart I wanted to go.....but I was afraid to go alone. Pete was sitting beside me and I looked at him, hoping that he would offer to go up with me, but he didn't say a word. So, at the tender age of 9 years, I had to make the decision for myself. I got up and walked down that long aisle, by myself, crying all the way, and knelt at an altar and confessed my sins and asked Jesus to come into my heart. The blonde-headed man prayed with me and then I got up and went home. The first thing I did was go into the backyard of our home to talk to my dad. He was busy building a camper to put on his truck but he stopped to talk to me. I told him, "Dad, I got saved today. I became a Christian." Dad put down his hammer and looked at me for a moment, saying nothing. Then he took a deep breath and said, "Well, you'd better live it." And he turned back around and went on with his hammering. I thought to myself, "I hope I can live it."