Daily Vacation Bible School was, in my experience, one of those tortures devised by adults to teach delayed gratification to children. It invariably happened the week after school let out for the summer. There we were: We had already been going barefoot and wearing short pants since Confederate Memorial Day, when that blessed last day of school rolled around. Ah, the sweet release! Three whole months of summer stretched unblemished to the horizon of our minds; three months was a sweet eternity outside the classroom, lolling about in the sunshiny days (which weren’t so hot, since we didn’t have air conditioning).
Except. Except the ladies of the church always picked that first week of our summer vacation to schedule Daily Vacation Bible School. Which meant that just as we were ready for the release, we had to hold off.
Another agonizing week indoors. Actually, the sessions were only half a day, but they meant that we had to get up instead of sleeping late. We had to go to church and endure three hours of instruction inside.
We did get a break at mid-morning, where we got one of those little cardboard cups of vanilla ice cream and a little wooden spoon to eat it. The spoon was made out of the same slick wood as the popsicle sticks that were a staple of the art we were making inside. We ate our ice cream and had time for a little bit of chasing or seeing who could go the farthest around the brick wall of the church on the narrow granite ledge before falling off into the big fig bush. Then it was back inside to make Biblical things out of popsicle sticks and listen while Mrs. Ellie Beckam or Mrs. Bunny Irby or one of the other ladies told us about the lands of the Bible.
Somehow, everything we did during Daily Vacation Bible School was aimed at the pageant that we would present during the assembly on the final day, which of course was attended by our parents. I can’t imagine that my father left work to attend this event, but he may have come to keep an eye on his bathrobe. The pageant always involved lots of bathrobes and towels. We were, after all, studying the Holy Land, attempting to understand the area so important to our daily Bible studies in a way that accorded with the pale pictures in our Bibles, so that we could represent it in our pageant. After all those summers of Daily Vacation Bible School, the only thing I learned about the Holy Land is that they wore bathrobes and towels and did something with popsicle sticks.
I remember during that period being absolutely shocked when I saw something in a newsreel at the movies about the Middle East showing that they still wore robes! My mind reeled. Our pageants were about Biblical times; now I had come to find out that people still lived over there in the desert just like we had depicted them.
No doubt, what I was seeing in the newsreels went back to the very foundations of modern Israel, but we got nothing of that from Daily Vacation Bible School. History was forming behind our backs, but for us the Holy Land was way back in the deep past somewhere with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whom we left in the fiery furnace as soon as the final bell sounded, and we were through with Bible School and finally free to do nothing supervised by an adult except eat supper.
Surely, I can’t hold the Methodist Church responsible for my lack of understanding about the lands and peoples of the Middle East, so important now to my world. I’ve had plenty of time and opportunity as an adult to try to understand that region, but have remained willfully unknowing. Now, that history has caught up with me. The Middle East impinges violently upon my world while I wander around like most Americans, robed in ignorance.
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