Idell… and Becoming a Witness (Part 2 of 4)

So as I said, my dear friend Idell passed away a couple days ago and I can feel the loss in my heart.

It didn’t matter that she was almost 90 years old… she was timeless to me and such a long-standing rock in my life that I had the feeling she would always be there. And really, she will be. Just not physically in this world as I was used to.

And at least I now recognize that older people aren’t just on the sidelines of life. They have a rich history to share and we need to treasure them. And if they have a few strange aberrations, wouldn’t it be fun to find out why? I wish I had had this perspective when I was a stupid kid making fun of an old aunt for the color of her hair.

Now, thanks to Idell, I am a better person. But to tell that story I need to back up just a bit…

This blog has always been about adventure and family and sketches from my daily life. I record my stories here and people seem to enjoy reading them. And generally I adhere to the usual rules… stay away from religion, politics and inflammatory subjects. That’s the safest thing to do.

But today, I am breaking that rule because my connection with Idell had a lot to do with religion. A faith that for us, is a way of life.

And to understand that better I have to go back to my childhood… because that’s where it really started for me…

I remember being in fourth grade and liking to go to church. Why? I don’t really know. But there was a church just a few blocks from our house and I would walk there by myself to go to Sunday School. I made friends. I memorized scriptures. I even won a cross necklace in the Bible subjects competition. I wore it everywhere.

Looking back I know it was a mixture of two things…

I liked the spiritual education. And I liked the attention I got for attending on my own. I’m pretty sure I milked it for all I was worth.

Eventually my whole family started attending this church and I was more involved than ever. I was in the choir… I joined the youth groups… I volunteered in the nursery and at summer Bible camp, as a teacher’s aide, when I was old enough.

Then my family began to disintegrate. My mother was ill and she and my dad weren’t getting along. I dealt with this by reading my bible in bed at night before going to sleep. I loved the Psalms and Proverbs and would underline my favorites with a red pencil until pretty much those whole books had red notations.

This lent me a lot of spiritual support but my family still fell apart. It was a painful transition when my mother left and my brother and sister and I remained in the custody of our dad. And I can’t tell you how unusual this was in 1968!

Dad moved us to a different town where we all made new friends. I found a new church but never completely connected. And a few things happened that were disappointing to me and I began to lose interest. I just figured I was growing up and getting a new perspective on life.

I graduated from Lancaster Ohio High School in June 1969 at age 17 (almost the youngest in my class!)

I was also eagerly anticipating going to the local branch of Ohio University in the fall to study Fine Art. I was envious of my high school friends who went off to colleges all over the country, but I needed to work and pay my own way, which meant I had to stay home. But it was still exciting because I would finally get to study art in a serious way. And my ambition to be an artist went waayyy back…

When I was in the second grade – probably about 1957 – our grade school class (Chillicothe Ohio) – took a field trip to a local historic home called Adena. We all got to tour the beautiful mansion, then go to the gift shop to buy rock candy on a stick, and then adjourn to the spacious lawn out front.

ginkgoThe teacher sat us in the shade of one of the Ginkgo trees and had us examine a leaf of that tree. It was so distinctive that I remember its unique shape to this day.

Then the teacher passed out large sheets of drawing paper and asked us to make a rendition of the front view of the Adena Mansion. I was thrilled to do this and dug in with gusto, rock candy on a stick shoved comfortably into the left side of my mouth.

I drew and drew. The mansion took shape on my paper and it was time to add color. I wasn’t familiar with watercolor but was able to make a few light washes with what I had. And then I had a brilliant idea… I would do the bushes in the front of the house by dabbing them on with a sponge dipped in green paint.

Now I have no idea how I thought of that at that age, but it was a tremendous success. When the teacher came by, she gasped out loud at my effort and asked if anyone had helped me.

“Of course not!” I replied. “Who could help me here?”

The teacher looked down at me and patted my shoulder.

Later, my drawing was hung in the hallway outside my classroom and I was forever known in school as “the artist.” I loved it.

So years later, here I was, pretty much grown up, and my two main interests in life were anything connected to art… and spiritual things that I would read in my Bible at bedtime.

For the first time in my life I was getting REAL art lessons – as a student at OU-Lancaster and I would occasionally wonder how I could know more about God. At one point I was reading an assigned story in English literature that talked about the early Christians. I was propped up on a pillow in my bed and I laid the book down on my chest and closed my eyes. I wondered to myself… had I lived in the first century and been exposed to Jesus during his ministry, would I have recognized him for who he was? Or would I have been like the majority of people who thought he was some sort of oddball stirring up trouble. This question weighed heavy on me and stayed in my mind.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church and knew a lot about that history, but all my cousins were Catholic. They seemed to have more rituals and things like beautiful rosaries that you could hold in your hand. Should I go that direction to find a closer relationship with God? I wasn’t sure. How could you ever know what was the right thing to do?

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