When I was a young child, I can't say that I ever proclaimed devotion to God. My parents did not wear their religious convictions on their sleeves. They didn't say "God Bless" or quote biblical scripture. They were skeptical of Holy Rollers. They were skeptical of the family down the street, who didn't celebrate Halloween. Any youngster expecting treats was disappointed to find only tupperware bowls full of biblical literature. Had we been old enough to understand the printed words, we would have been told that Halloween was not welcome at their house because of its status as a pagan holiday.
As irony would have it, I learned much later in life that Halloween is a pagan holiday. So is Easter. So is Christmas. But at age seven I couldn't fathom these things. Instead I found myself annoyed that one less house couldn't be plundered. No more tootsie rolls added to my already brimming over black trash bag full of sweet-tarts, butterscotch, milky ways, and assorted chocolates.
Like most little boys, I took on Halloween as a personal mission, much like a war raid. The object was to get to as many houses as possible before time for bed. I grew up in one of those "You better be in home by eight or else" families.
We owned a bible, sure, but it served its purpose more as a family heirloom than as any real point of focus. My father, a lover of family trees and self-help books, loved to point out my relatives. Some he could remember, some of them he could not.
I can still remember peering over its tattered binding. I remember wondering how old it must have been. One-hundred-years of more is my best guess. The text inscribed was that of the King James, full of untos and yea and begat but we never turned to passages, nor underlined them. Our real focus were the first few dusty, yellowed pages in the extreme front which displayed birth dates and death dates. Never marriages.
Even in my youth, I wondered why.
The Camp Family Bible was brittle and fragile. The binding had once been black, but now had faded considerably. One had to handle every page with ultimate fragility, else the rolling-paper thin pages come off in your hand. My father kept it under lock and key in a safe I was instructed to never open without his explicit permission.
What was most exciting were not the words themselves, but the mementos of people long ago dead and deceased. This fascinated me. I found authentic stationary proclaiming the virtues of some soap product promising to keep facial features white, pure and vibrant. When I was older, I could have dated the stationary somewhere around the middle of the 1920s but to me then it was merely exotic.
As I said, I attended church but I can't say I was a religious boy. I certainly never memorized bible verses. Instead, I spent most Sundays bored stiff. Another sermon full of concepts I could not understand, concepts I barely grasped, and words that although familiar, I had not enough life experience and education to comprehend.
I lay in my mother's lap most Sundays, staring at the rough pine of the sanctuary roof, which was full of criss crossing pine boards.
I knew there was a Heaven. I believed in Heaven. I believed in God as this manifest force up in the sky. What mention there was of hell was set forth in metaphorical terms. We glanced over Revelations and I never heard any mention of Satan. I had no concept of eternal damnation. I did not learn to fear eternal punishment.
But in those days I did pray. The world seemed right and fair. God was in heaven watching me. He was watching me in my little boy suit and clip-on tie. These were before the days of acceptable contemporary worship and everyone was expected to dress up.
The minister wore a black liturgical robe. A choir sang melodies I would later recognize as the Western tradition, but they did not hold my interest. My interest in music lay in radios blaring car trips, cassette tapes, and my mother's LPs.
The instant the choir stood up, I lay across my mother lap, fiddled with the pencils sharpened for the occasion, doodled across the order of service, and promptly zoned out.