The World Has Edges
My street was at the edge of the world. But then the world has many edges when you are young. I recall several sorts of edges, all but one of them enduring so as to remain a feature of adult life.
When your street is named Summit, in Maple Heights, Ohio, you can expect some jumping-off places. A bit to the south was Snake Hill, descending to the Tinker Creek bottomland, which was spanned by a towering trestle whose height tempted more than one youngster to risk life and limb in crossing it. While Summit Street had Snake Hill to the south, to the north was the bridge arching over the great bundle of railroad tracks streaming into Cleveland, with its stub station and major routing this side of Chicago. That stretch of Maple Heights was an island, edged by Elsewhere on every side. Around were the other stretches of high ground: Garfield Heights and Cleveland Heights and University Heights and, later, Bedford Heights and Cuyahoga Heights. I suppose all of them were island bluffs, overlooking the industrial flats and, of course Lake Erie, the inland ocean.
Beyond the neighborhood’s edge lay extraordinary largesse. Summit Street itself was host to a seasonal abundance. Dark cherry trees had been planted here and there near curbs. Neighbor Novotny had his deep back yard planted in grapes. Father had an extra lot planted in apple trees. In spring, wild strawberries hid among the weeds in the open fields to the north. These berries were thimble-sized, but sweet as dime-store candy. It was, however, the largesse beyond the immediate edge that impressed the most. Just beyond Summit’s fenced end was Basta Grove. This was a Polish-American picnic site which was the location for annual events staged by happy and boisterous new immigrants and their clan.
I well recall the incredible news one summer day that free ice cream and soda pop were available just beyond the street’s end. I gathered that my absence of shoes would not be noticed in the crowd of picnickers. I duly received a small bar of ice cream and was encouraged to pull my own can of drink from a cooler. There was also free beer, in foaming mugs, but the bitterness did not suit my taste. No nickel was asked for, and a good thing that was, for I had not even a penny. Here in Basta Grove was that other order of provision which existed outside.
When I was eight, Mother asked to borrow my Radio Flyer wagon so she could make a two-mile walk, far beyond street's end, to Stop Ten, the nearest cluster of commercial buildings and a post office. I could come along to help. Commodities were being distributed behind the post office. I asked what “commodities” were, and Mother explained. It was free food handed out by the government. Included were cheese and raisins, corn meal and sugar. Does everyone get them, I wondered. Mother explained that poor people got them, people who needed them. I wasn’t at all sure that we qualified, for we certainly were not poor. Father even had government work, painting schools for a dollar a day. Even if we were poor, what difference could that make when unmeasured resources were available at the edge on every side?
My earliest memory was of a different kind of edge. Mother and Father were traveling to Warren, Ohio, to visit with a school friend of Mother’s. The friend was a single lady who worked for the local Board of Education. I was perhaps three years of age, and the trip represented travel into remote territory. I had no memory of learning language, though family tells me that the first word I ever spoke, at nearly three, was “cow.” There were uncles and aunts who lived on farms to the south, and I very probably had seen a cow, but no trace of that experience lingers. No, the Warren episode is prime.
It was early evening and dark when the friend took us through her place of work, a textbook depository, among other things. On a long hall, I recall, a door was opened here and there on closets stacked from floor to ceiling with textbooks, scores of each kind. The stacks were several times my height, but so snug there was no likelihood of their tumbling.
The adults went ahead, probably to a lounge area where a late snack and drink would be served. I was left behind for the moment, eager to check out a door or two on my own. One door was half open, allowing a shaft of light to penetrate a side room’s darkness. I stepped in, careful to stand in the light from the hall. Ahead of me was incomprehensible mystery. The room was full of low tables, and on each was a black-shrouded shape. I took a step or two forward and pressed my upper body against one of the little tables.
Then an alarm rang, a little alarm coming from the shrouded shape. I had leaned against the cover of the typewriter, and its carriage had moved against my chest and its bell had rung out. There were no typewriters at home, and a roomful of typewriters was as alien to me as a room at the morgue or a chamber in a cathedral's crypt.
Yet it was not the typewriter’s bell which provided the sharpest thrill. No, it was something quite different, in fact so different that only once or twice in later life did it find its counterpart. With that ringing in the half-light, far from home, and removed even from the nearby adults, I knew an unmistakable pang of something else. I was registering the utter Outside, the other side, the utterly different. The pang was as sharp as that of a blade thrust into the chest. Here was something declaring itself as not of this world, or even the sky with its stars. This was beyond the world’s edge and the sky too.
That earliest memory had its fellow several years later when I stood in Father’s orchard to the east of our house. I was looking south to the ridge beyond Summit and Turney Road. We all know that unusual things can happen under apple trees, if old stories are to be credited, but it was not the Edenic orchard that matters so much as the southern ridge with the late-afternoon sun descending. Again came the moment of registering something altogether Other.
I struggle to be honest at this point. Yes, of course, there is a 20th-century writer, C. S. Lewis, who speaks much about joy and nostalgia. Then, too, there are the poets, like Wordsworth who speaks of the intimations of immortality, and before him the poet Henry Vaughan who spoke of “white thoughts” and the spirit’s aspirations. And there are other writers like the Englishman Malcolm Muggeridge who once expressed his gratitude for knowing all his life that he was a pilgrim and a traveler, meant for more than this world; and another Englishman, John Bunyan, who wrote a book for the ages about traveling from this world to that which is to come.
But honesty obliges me to admit that I cannot confidently equate this to any experience reported by others. It was purely and simply a registering of an Outside. Was it Heaven or God, I cannot say. The writer Lewis, mentioned above, while he was obsessed with the subject of joy throughout his life, in his autobiography Surprised by Joy refuses to equate the matter with his conversion-joy in Jesus Christ. It is famously difficult to compare experience with experience. One unique thing is going to be different from another unique thing.
A firm assurance remains as the deposit of those first experiences. There exists an Outside, a reality beyond some absolute edge, whether hinted at by a half-lit room when one is far from home or by the proximate ridge of hills.
At church one learned of edges that were not part of geography. In Cleveland, on Union Street in the Mt. Pleasant section, there stood the tiny church once pastored by Grandfather Aiken, whose only daughter in time became my mother. In my childhood, the Mt. Pleasant Church had twenty members and on good days a Sunday School group of forty. The pastor I remember best was W. S. White, whose family could be traced to County Clare, Ireland, where the Whites are still known as Protestants.
Pastor White, a splendid Christian, was not a speaker who could hold one’s attention, and certainly not the attention of a child. He had the custom of preaching with his eyes closed, as if he were seeing things he could not well speak about, or as if he were musing on truths that could stand by themselves and merely needed announcing with occasional repetition.
Indeed they were truths that merely needed to be announced, for they made perfect sense, even to a child. A book full of wisdom had the truths within for anyone to read, and with Mother's coaching and modeling of a disciplined daily reading, I had read the book through twice by the time I was eleven. It all made perfect sense. There were many things that were utterly real, and among these were things not of this world. Any child had the idea, with or without the terminology, that some things differed in degree but other things differed in kind. Foxes and wolves are like dogs, but this kind differs from that of lion, tiger, and the tomcat. The notion of species was involved. The Wise Book I was taught to read daily declared that there were many differences of kind. There was, on the big scale, the world with its animals and vegetables and clouds and stars. Utterly different was the realm of angels and God and Heaven and, yes, Hell.
All this was readily understood. It was the difference between the natural and the supernatural. Where did one draw the line? That’s a good question, for a ten-year-old could have told you that drawing a line means you are thinking of something like a chalk-mark on the sidewalk with the other side just more of the same. But when things are truly different, as with the supernatural, it is impossible to be sure about where you should draw the line. However, this impossibility does not keep you from detecting the difference.
There is another side to all this, and the double meaning is apt. A ten-year-old, or the six-year I shall consider in a moment, knows of a moral difference in kind. It is possible to know and recognize and deal with actors or providers who are morally different. A person who is superior to you is entitled to make demands. When the difference is merely one of degree, as with a parent who is providing the moral education, the child will tuck away the knowledge of principles being learned. A parent can reward or punish. But no parent is an angel, however high his or her high ground. The high ground, so very high that you cannot measure it, is that of angels and God. And God is right to make absolute demands.
Mother explained all this before I was six, so at age six, one night in my bed, face down on the pillow, I acknowledged the moral authority of God, and offered up a life still very near its beginning. The edge that separated the good and the bad, like other edges that truly mattered, marked a line that passes though all mortal creatures of Earth. Implied in the accounts above is that one might be more aware of important edges when one is close to his or her personal entrance upon the earthly scene. I cannot prove that, though by now I have a son whose own first memory is that of him standing in the water on the edge of the Pacific coast near San Clemente, California.
The Water Underneath
At age five I was a home invader of sorts. Once when Mother was busy at one neighbor’s house, I imagined that I could explore next door, for I knew Mrs. Rusher, who lived in that house, was with Mother at that other neighbor’s house, and the one next door would be open but empty.
The house next door had working plumbing, as ours did not, at least not yet. Ours did not even have an upstairs, though it had a cellar, which was always flooded. I went upstairs in Mrs. Rusher’s house and checked out the flush toilet. The swirling motion of the water was as fascinating as any flowing ditch. The water disappeared into the depths. I had an idea where ditch water went, namely elsewhere outside, but the toilet water went underneath. When Mrs. Rusher came home, she found me still exploring and threw me an orange to bribe me to leave. I have no way of knowing if she guessed my fascination with her flush toilet upstairs.
I want you to visualize our flooded basement. I wondered much about the dark water under the floor. One had to tug hard to open the kitchen door which opened upon the cellar, since it was always swollen from the dampness. A shaft of light would fall upon one tread, two treads, three treads, none of them backed with a riser, and then there was the dark water, which stood at least three feet deep, year-round. Once Father pumped the water out with a noisy machine, and there slowly emerged low shelves, containing Mason jars of muddy-colored fruit and vegetables. A thing or two that had floated for a while came into view on the newly revealed floor. But with a few heavy rains, the cellar filled up again.
I have no doubts now that my perplexed response was a felt unease about that dark water beneath. It did seem to hint of vaster, troubling possibilities. Mother referred to that house as Hell, and I admit that I have never as an adult wanted to live on a houseboat or go on an extended cruise.
Quite different from the dark waters of that flooded cellar was a wonder disclosed by my two older brothers Walter and Ken. I was seven when the two of them announced that they were going to show me something. Together we crossed Summit Street to the south and headed into an open field which stretched all the way to Turney Road, further south.
The two older boys circled around a bit, kicking weeds to one side or another, until one of them said, “Here it is.” Walter reached down and pulled up on an iron ring, lifting aside a sod trapdoor that had been all-but-invisible in the weeds. The older boys said they would go first—and who could disagree with that arrangement? Opened up now to the sky was a square access to the depths, with stone steps leading down into a chamber the size of a small pantry or closet. The three of us descended and stood on the stone floor of the chamber. At the end of the chamber was an ongoing miracle. I cannot call it anything else, for issuing from the earth was a small stream of crystal-clear water. It trickled across a few feet of the stone floor and then disappeared again into the earth.
I was witnessing the miracle of a natural spring. I now know the French term of such a manifestation of water is source. A source this was—a new beginning, fresh from the watery depths. Archetype is another term that comes to the mind of the adult, for one can know when he is in the presence of something archaic and important, a picture of something one intuitively recognizes as more of spirit than of matter, for it is one’s spirit that is touched.
My brothers had been kind enough to share the discovery of a subterranean spring house. One must suppose that years before, some local dreamer of profits from his dairy cow had dug out the chamber in order to keep milk cool in hot weather.
Natural springs have long been the focus of wonder and special meaning. Cousin Danny, one year my senior, once took me to see a spring on Uncle Arley’s farm in Hocking County, Ohio It was halfway down the slope of a long hill which had a stream at the bottom. The depression in front of the spring was large enough to accommodate a two-gallon pail, and for what I could see, squatting before it, the spring was a very slow one. “It’s magic, though” Danny told me. “If you put a horse hair in this water, after a week or two it will change into a black snake.” I knew Danny was merely reporting the lore of the countryside, but there were those black snakes in evidence, and maybe, just maybe . . . .
Anyway, at springs miraculous things could happen, as the Bible made very clear. In the Bible, a spring called Siloam provided water for the holy city of Jerusalem. A spring called En-Gedi had sustained David in the wilderness when he was hiding from King Saul. Furthermore, my eventual brush with classical literature revealed just how important to inspiration were the great springs. There was Helicon on Mount Parnassus, important to the Muses. One learned in time that poets like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” were always fascinated by springs, but of course Coleridge’s Mariner of the ballad had no access to one and nearly died.
In later years, I would come to learn about the unusual way that the Holy Land is watered. At the headwaters of the Jordan River is an enormous spring. The outcropping of underground water is in fact responsible for all the life relying upon the Jordan. Were it to fail, you would have to drop the semi- from the semi-desert designation of the land of Jesus.
The spring that cousin Danny showed me was midway down a hill, but often springs rise on hilltops. This strange circumstance has long inspired devotional writers like those who lived at the time Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was being written. If a spring could defy gravity by rising even on high ground, why not acknowledge also that supernatural help, or grace, can come in unlikely circumstances.
Yes, but what about those waters way down deep? I have learned since that the Wise Book is very clear that the whole Creation is dependent. It is founded on the flood, which is to say that it is not really founded at all, but rather suspended. The poet Milton pictures it as hung in chaos like a ball of nested spheres, hung on a golden chain. Let the chaos be water, if you like. The picture is clear enough. There is water aplenty underneath.
It is other considerations that must make one decide to put more emphasis on those spring waters rising like an ongoing miracle or even the waters of a cesspool and of a perpetually half-submerged basement. The biblical picture is one of not only the individual but the world and everything in it, indeed the whole Creation, as resting on deep water. Yet God, as the loving Maker, upholds all, whether we describe that upholding as His divine Word, or His love, or his golden chain as link between Creation and Creator, in a relationship which addresses all experience of edges, boundaries, and floors.
A child’s question well preserved in family lore is that of an older sister of mine when she was perhaps eight and her younger brother was six. This younger brother is ten years my senior, so the arithmetic will tell you that I was not yet born and have had to rely upon the memory of others for this account. The account goes that Becky and Walter came upon a scene of Father's Spring planting after Father had left the garden for other business. The sight of all those seedlings stranded, as it were, in the garden dirt was too much of a temptation to little fingers. So the two of them set out to pull up all the results of Father’s hopeful efforts.
In due time, Father came back to the garden and concluded that something other than a rabbit or a gust of errant wind had undone his work. He also knew that he had two youngsters who were quite capable of the misdemeanor. He confronted Becky with the facts and the obvious question. Becky had her own question. “Did Walter say he did it?” Plainly she would have to shape her own confession, if any, to the facts as revealed, or concealed, by brother Walter.
You do not need my telling of the story’s resolution. How excellent it would be to have someone always standing close enough to take, or at least to share, the blame.
After I arrived on the family scene and had lived long enough for the family to move to the house next door, I made a good friend named Jackie, whose own family had moved into our former home. Jackie was bold and a risk-taker. That winter, or the next, Jackie and I were in his back yard playing in the snow. Jackie had a tin can with its razor-sharp lid still attached. He was packing this with snow, in the process converting it into an ice-pack. Then he prepared to toss it into the air overhead, when I had either a strong premonition or an acute insight. I knew this would mean disaster. “Don’t!” I shouted. But the can went up, the can came down, and the lid sliced deeply into Jackie’s nose. His face a mess, Jackie roared into the house. In a moment his older sister came screaming out with the accusation, “You’ve killed my little brother.” I was speechless. Jackie turned out fine, but I am still trying to understand how I got accused.
No one wants the blame, least of all the blame that belongs to another. We all have a plenty of our own to deal with. The summer following the near nose-amputation, I was playing alone in the house while Father and older brother Ken worked in the garden. In fact, I was busy violating one of the wisest and most unyielding of household rules. I was playing with matches, cornering flies on the window over the love seat and singeing off their wings. Then, to my horror, the filmy curtain caught fire and in a moment the newspapers in the love seat were also burning.
I ran to the back door and shouted “Fire” for Father and Ken to hear. However, before I even went to call for help, with the north end of the dining room now filling with smoke, I went to the living room and tipped over a box of my favorite blocks. I realized I would need an alibi. Father and Ken came, put out the fire, and heard my alibi. Ken, who was already studying chemistry in high school, came up with the learned hypothesis of spontaneous combustion. I didn’t know what that was, but I did know that it got me off the hook for the moment. Later on, the truth about the fire came out, but remaining with me forever is the memory of the unthinking reflex. I could not be found guilty of burning the house down.
Here’s a grim picture for you. Imagine all the guilt in the world somehow collecting in a single place, an immense cesspool. In my own mind this would be a kind of cosmic version of the cesspool just off the sidewalk in the tangled woods near the end of Summit Street. That grim and nightmarish construction was about forty-by-forty, a vast cistern covered at ground level with rotting timbers and plywood. My friend Jackie and I would stand on the sidewalk, looking down the slight slope to the pool’s surface and daring each other to risk a dash across it, running on top of the floating wood. I call it nightmarish because at night came dreams of accepting the dare, then breaking through the rotten surface and sinking to one’s death in the dark and fetid sewage.
The challenge to any imagination is to conceive of a world sink where all the world’s guilt would collect. There accumulates the rank distress attending every crime, every meanness, every nastiness, every slight and peccadillo. Unspeakable shame, self-hatred, and misery there come to rest. It is a sink which draws off the poisons of sins unforgiven and crimes unconfessed.
But a basic problem remains, for guilt and blame touch every one of us individually and the accumulation is ongoing. What is to be done with it?
As a child I well knew the painting of Christ at the Door. The painting is justly famous for its depiction of Christ standing at a brier-wreathed door, holding a lantern in one hand and with the other knocking at a door that has no external handle. We well remember the significance of the allegorical picture. But a less well-known painting by the same artist, Holman Hunt, is almost equally powerful in its message. The second painting shows a parched and suffering goat standing, back legs awkwardly spread, in a desert wasteland. The viewer doubts that the creature can survive, and how did a creature as canny as a goat end up stranded in the desert, anyway?
The subject of Hunt’s other painting is the scapegoat. The scapegoat has had the sins of the whole community laid on it by the priestly hand and then has been driven out into the wilderness, to wander till its death. The guilt of the community has been drained off, isolated, dismissed. In the Wise Book, it appears that Jesus turns out to be the scapegoat. His death has made everything different. God does not reckon our sins to us as an eternity-long load to be worked off as guilty slaves. Sin and guilt have been dealt with miraculously, once and for all. So the child learned to believe, even if never with full comprehension. The sensed forgiveness claimed more than once was real enough.
Professionals Aren’t Strictly Needed
Are professionals needed? No and yes. When I was eight, there was no running water in the house for about a year, and Father went frequently to neighbor Cordell’s home to draw water into buckets from an outside tap at the back of the house. Our dry toilet tank, I remember, was used as a storage place for magazines. I allow for the fact that some usable, but not drinkable, water might have been drawn up in buckets from our private basement pool, functioning a bit like a cistern, but I have no recollection of that reservoir used as a makeshift supply.
It was unthinkable to call on a plumber. While Father had built the house, only to lose title in the Depression (we continued for four years as squatters), he professed to have no knowledge about plumbing. Professing anything was suspect. Professors of faith were carefully distinguished from those who confessed and claimed. Professors of knowledge were somewhat legitimate, for after all two of Father’s brothers were college instructors, but even that kind of professing was under suspicion, for only too often the college- and university-types traded in their faith for more knowledge.
If professing was part of being professional, it stood to reason that professionals of every stripe would be suspect. Add in the fact that they were expensive, while every dollar that came into the house got committed to essentials, and you are likely to end up with a family improvising like old-time pioneers.
Father did not plumb, but he could cobble. The cobbler’s last was a standard feature of the household, with iron forms of several sizes. Worn shoes would be resoled and provided with new heels. Once when the replacement parts were not available I had the choice of going to school either in galoshes or barefooted. I chose the latter option and recall to this day running from the school to the bus at day’s end while the muffled titters sped me on. Surely every school child is acutely aware when his attire differs from the standard uniform, even if that uniform is as commonplace as the current outfits in the catalogs of Sears Roebuck or J. C. Penney’s.
Dentists? I did not see a dentist until I was 23. With jaws of an accommodating size, I discovered that even so-called eyeteeth could come in without problems. True, brother Ken had once had an abscessed tooth, one which nearly killed him by spilling poison into his cheek and neck. He still bears his most conspicuous scar as the evidence of the surgery that saved his life. The family called it a “bealing,” a term which for good reason I don’t hear now.
Medical doctors? I saw my first doctor when I needed a physical exam for college. You managed with home medical literature and the occasional counsel of a school nurse. Our really fat Home Medical Guide shelved next to the Wise Book, Bunyan’s The Pilgrim's Progress, and Milton’s Paradise Lost saw frequent consultation. It contained information about poultices to apply to boils, sprays to clear the nose, and aromatic liquids to apply to the skin for aches which throbbed beneath. Doubtless it contained terms (which I heard rather than read as a boy) like physic and catarrh, goiter and tonsillitis, adenoids, undulant fever, rheum, pleurisy, chilblains, ague, and that all-purpose disease-diagnosis called senility, of which people died simply because they got old and were going to die of something. The Wise Book gave you a maximum of eighty years, even though in ancient times people lived twelve times as long. In spite of this, to a youngster, it was not at all certain that you were going to die at all. You just might be translated like Enoch, who, oddly, was outlived in years by his son Methuselah.
Architects? You built without their services, and certainly without their colleagues called “structural engineers.” Father might have benefited, ending up with a water-free basement, but I doubt that Father had ever brushed shoulders with either sort.
Lawyers? The grave problem with them was that they sooner or later became politicians or lawmakers. You trusted politicians about as much as you trusted professional gamblers and people who wanted to borrow money until just the next payday. I did not know a lawyer personally until eventually a cousin decided to study labor law so he could help ordinary people. Of course the young Abraham Lincoln was a magnificent example of how you might prosper, but he was somehow an exception who learned law from books by firelight.
Expertise drawn from books was in fact an honored model. Most definitely did it relate to matters of church and ministers. Given the shining truth of the Wise Book, seminary was treated as window dressing for someone who had already learned the essentials by other means. None of the four pastors I had in the eighteen years before going off to college had had the benefit of seminary training.
Rumor had it that the Episcopalians and the Catholics actually had prayer books to assist them in their religious life, but that was carrying the book-thing too far, for who needed help praying? The elders of the church at the Wednesday prayer service could pray effortlessly for ten minutes. Older sister Waunita could pray in her prayer loft for an hour, and out loud at that, though it was possible that God did not need nightly reminders of how better a person Sister would be married and in a home of her own. (The prayers were eventually answered, and handsomely.)
I never, ever doubted that prayer had its results, however spontaneous and unbookish the prayers might be. Grown-ups may discount such things, but I had good reason as a teenager to believe that prayer might even influence the result of a baseball game. The year was 1949, and the previous year the Cleveland Indians had had their only World Series triumph since 1920. They were nearly as competitive in the year following the 1948 victory. Since we had no functioning radio, I listened to the home game occasionally when it was broadcast in the apartment below our own on 66th Street near the intersection of Union and Broadway. The unused brick chimney reaching up from Mrs. Svoboda’s apartment was a good conduit of sound as it passed through our loft. The loft was a huge attic-like bedroom/storeroom, one step down from the rest of our apartment, and made it possible for many broadcasts, conversations, prayers, domestic arguments, and celebrations to be shared by upstairs and downstairs.
I was listening to the game with a right ear glued against the chimney. Mother was seated nearby. Two baseball whizzes were competing, Bob Feller (Rapid Robert) for Cleveland and Bob Newhouser for the Detroit Tigers. The rivalry between Cleveland and Detroit was particularly intense because the cities both had a great lake at their edge, both were deep into manufacturing, and both were populated by great infusions of immigrants eager to be known as supporting the local sports heroes. Feller and Newhouser were both pitching stars, though Feller got held responsible for the only two losses that the Indians had suffered in the previous World Series.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning with Cleveland batting. The score was Detroit one, Cleveland zero. The right fielder Bobby Kennedy was at bat. The count on him was one ball and two strikes. There were two outs. A moment later Mother exclaimed that I had turned white as a sheet. I could explain that very simply. I had struck a little bargain with God. If He would allow Kennedy to hit a home run, I would be God’s faithful servant from then on. Bob Kennedy did indeed hit the homer, and Cleveland went on to win in the tenth inning. I was firmly on the hook. Any adult is free to say, and remain convinced, that God does not enter into such bargains. I have my personal doubts, but the result at the time was there. I knew I had made a promise, and whatever the inspiration, I was obliged to keep it.
If one did not need help, whether from persons or books, to know how to pray, the fact remained that books of all kinds were a potent substitute for the professional types. Neither Mother nor Father had a high-school diploma. Even though Father had briefly taught school, having had eight grades of school and two years of teacher training, he had no diploma. Mother, having moved every two years with her preacher father, who moved so he could always preach against the local failings, never was able to put together a curriculum which meant a diploma. But diploma or no diploma, each parent kept the household richly supplied with books. And each of them actually read books, whether by electricity or kerosene oil lamp.
The trips to nearby free libraries were regular events. The house was abundantly supplied with books on animals and stars, mythology, fairy lore, and novels of Gene Stratton-Porter, and Margaret Sidney with her tales of a triumphant poor family of five children. I earlier mentioned religious classics like Bunyan's and Milton’s. Added to them were the miscellaneous books on the Methodist revival that had preserved England from its own version of the French Revolution, and various titles recommended by visiting evangelists. But it was the Wise Book, the Holy Bible, in the 1611 translation (the King James Version) that quite naturally ruled the shelves and the lives of those who stacked and used those same shelves. The unquestioned assumption was that every important issue was addressed somewhere, somehow, in the Wise Book.
There were always the jesting detractors who would ask foolish questions such as, “Can you trust what your finger rests on as instructions when you close your eyes and jab blindly at the open page?” One did not have to close his eyes and jab; there was quite enough for open eyes and the ready heart. The three rules made clear in the household in this connection were:
1)Read to hear God’s voice speaking to you.
2) Be ready to do what you are told.
3) Expect all the help you need to obey.
There was good counsel aplenty in the Wise book, richly confirmed in the years that were to follow. A devoted young reader might not grasp the depths of New Testament books like the letter to the Romans or the one to the Hebrews. He might hurry through endless Old Testament lists and genealogies. Yet abundant wisdom was available.
I guess that there existed, even in early times, professional baseball statisticians and genealogists, along with professional jurists, logicians, and theologians. You did not miss them much when you were surrounded by good books and resourceful amateurs.
End of Excerpt (pp. 7-23 in original)