Vacation Bible School is engrained in Southern life and I am so thankful! I have loved Vacation Bible School for as long as I can remember. As a kid in Frankville in the 1980s, it was the highlight of the summer. It was the only week in the summer that I willingly got up early because Frankville Baptist Church had VBS in the mornings.
VBS actually started with a parade the weekend prior to the event. It wasn’t a fancy parade, just a couple of trucks, some balloons, a lot of kids and a whole lot of noise. We rode down every dirt road and pig trail to invite every single kid around to VBS.
Every single morning of VBS, all the children would line up and parade in. In my mind’s eye, I can still see us in the parking lot and on the church steps wearing our “play clothes.” Three lucky kids were chosen to carry the U.S. flag, the Christian flag and the Bible to the front of the sanctuary. If you were really lucky, you got to carry these in on Friday evening at parents’ night. I can vividly remember marching in as the piano played. I also remember the tiny paper Order of Worship booklets that had the sheet music to songs we would sing. We had to leave them in the pews each day.
Cookies and Kool-Aid were LIFE to us! That was our snack every day. Sandwich cookies and those butter cookies that can be placed on one’s finger are what I remember most. They were placed on napkins adjacent to Styrofoam cups of red Kool-Aid. Fresh watermelon out of a church member’s garden was always a treat!
The lessons and crafts were always fun. It was different from Sunday School because it was more interactive and there were more people in attendance. The rooms were also decorated in whatever theme Lifeway, called The Baptist Bookstore at that time, had set. The songs, the memory verses, the crafts and every single activity were centered around the theme. We also had mission moments when the clunky VCR and TV cart was rolled out to show us what missionaries were doing throughout the world.
VBS for rural kids before the era of instant communication meant that for five days, we got to see our friends every day. It also meant loading up in the car with a friend after VBS and going to spend the night at their house. If you planned it right, you could have sleepovers every night of the week!
For Frankville area kids, the culmination of VBS meant getting to go to Bladon Springs State Park on Friday after our lessons. The adults grilled hotdogs and we rode our bikes that had been loaded onto a truck and brought to the park. It was seriously one of the absolute BEST days of summer! We dared each other to take a drink of the yellow-tinged, Sulphur spring water. I declined this challenge. We weren’t the only church that did this! My husband grew up in Coffeeville Baptist Church and has memories of doing this as well! Fun fact, we went to VBS together as children at Ulcanush Baptist Church in Coffeeville when we were kids! Both of our grandmothers were members there!
After sixth grade, we were considered “youth” and got to help with VBS. I am thankful for the memories I have of working VBS in many places. My favorite memories include teaching VBS in Birney, Mont. (population 108) when kids rode up to our outdoor classroom on their horses and tied them to whatever stationary objects they could find!
The way that VBS is done has changed through the years, but the mission has not. It’s still a time for crafts and music. It’s still a time for friends. It is still a time for students to learn about God and mission work.
Churches likely don’t load up kids and bicycles and give kids free rein at a state park anymore, but I am thankful I got to experience it.
One of my dearest friends had a storage unit at Red Dot Storage in Tillman’s Corner. If you’ve watched the news in the past two months, you are aware that a massive fire consumed the majority of the storage facility. Unfortunately, Becky’s unit was one of the heavily damaged ones. It was actually a total loss.
For two months, she waited to be given permission to return to the unit to assess the damage and collect anything that was salvageable. Last Thursday was the day that she put on steel-toed boots and work gloves to sift through the rubble. That rubble was to be her new beginning after she downsized her current home. Her idea was to put everything that she wanted to keep in the storage unit and then have an estate sale, knowing that every item that seriously mattered to her was a few miles away in climate-controlled storage.
She lost a lot. Pictures, jewelry, family heirlooms, antique furniture and childhood mementos were all lost. She did manage to find two advertisement plates that her grandfather used to promote his Birmingham law office in the 1940s. Somehow those plates and two ceramic figurines managed to survive a fire that was hot enough to melt a vintage Pyrex dish. She found a round marble top that had been on a coffee table. What was marble disintegrated when she touched it. There was hardware for dressers, but there were no dressers.
I know that nothing is meant to last forever, but losing such precious things is traumatic and heartbreaking. I’ve never given much thought to storage units or the items and stories contained within until recently. Watching the news coverage of the ones who lost items due to the fire at Red Dot opened my eyes and made me think about things differently.
One of the things that I think is so important is backing photographs up digitally. I have been filling Facebook with photo albums for years and I will continue to do so. Google Photos and Walgreens are other methods I employ to secure my pictures, because pictures are my favorite things. Becky’s experience has made me think about old family pictures that aren’t digital. I really need to either scan them or take some quality pictures of those.
Although I realize the importance of documentation for work, for finances, for medical reasons and for my kids, I really have not considered how important it is to document belongings. Thankfully, she had extra insurance on the items in her unit. The problem is that she cannot remember every item that was in there. Attempting to list these items after the trauma of the fire has been problematic for her. Documenting items is easier now than it has ever been! Most of us just don’t do it! Electronic receipts show the amount that was paid for the items purchased. It is easy to take a cell phone video in various rooms of our homes to document the brands of electronics, appliances and furnishings that we own. It’s a good thought.
I cannot imagine what it is like to be forced to literally sift through the ashes of what was once your life. Some of you have been there. You know that heartbreak and that sense of loss. I’m sure you, like Becky, got a lot of well-intended advice that you did not seek. It’s easy to say things like, “Move forward” or “It’s just stuff” when it isn’t you that suffered a loss.
Walking through this time with my friend has reminded me that although nothing is meant to last forever, losing the things that matter still hurts. I’ve also been reminded to take stock of all the blessings, (but not just the material ones) I have been given on a regular basis.
25 Years since Bundy Drive
It was June 17, 1994 and I was shivering in the backseat of my grandparents’ car. They had just picked me up for a weekend break from working at a summer camp with no air conditioning and no television for three weeks. I am not sure I knew who O.J. Simpson was before that day (We watched SEC football, not NFL).
I listened to my grandparents talk and I had absolutely no clue what was going on or where 875 S. Bundy Drive was located. From what I could gather, someone had brutally killed others and somehow this football player that everyone seemed to adore was connected. I remember laughing at my very outspoken, opinionated elders and thinking that whatever happened would blow over soon.
I was so wrong It didn’t blow over; it blew up! When I got home that evening, I planned to watch MTV with my friends because MTV actually played music in the 1990s. Instead, we watched footage of a white Ford Bronco leading the Los Angeles Police down the freeway. I learned that five days earlier, Simpson’s ex-wife and her friend had been brutally murdered at her condo on Bundy Drive and that the football great was now a suspect in the killings. What I did not realize and I don’t think many people did, is that this tragedy and the ensuing trial would change the way we view the media, celebrity status, and current events.
There was no social media in 1994, but there was Court TV and CNN Headline News and these channels played the coverage incessantly. For the first time, there were cameras in the courtroom. Nancy Grace became a celebrity and we first heard the name “Kardashian.” Everyone was an armchair attorney and the 24- hour news cycles only fueled our addictions. I do realize that there were a few that weren’t glued to the television. I have no idea what y’all were doing while we were solving this case!
It was a media circus. Eventually we got bored with the details and just wanted the verdict. The verdict came on Oct. 3, 1995. That was the first time I ever skipped a college class. You would have thought that we would have forgotten it by now, but the “Trial of the Century” still lingers.
The case had all the trappings of a blockbuster film, and it was difficult to remember that this was real life. A beautiful, vibrant couple was violently slain at a posh address. Powerful attorneys were on hand. A once beloved hero was suddenly viewed as victim by many of the same who had adored him. Evidence of documented domestic violence at the hands of a famous person surfaced. Two innocent children lost their mother. The accused was a black celebrity and the victim was a white female in a city that was still healing from the racially motivated L.A. riots of 1992. Real life is indeed stranger than fiction.
During the O.J. trial, we learned the importance of DNA. It’s hard to imagine that crimes used to be discussed without the term. The importance of preserving evidence was also a hot topic, as much of the evidence in the case was allegedly mishandled. We learned that constant news reels get old— actually we did NOT learn that. We just channel it differently now because we have 24-hour news/fake news in our hands basically all day long.
At any rate, 25 years have flown by and the aftermath of the Simpson case is still hanging around sprouting conspiracy theories for millennials. Sadly, Americans still have an insatiable appetite for bad news and gossip. We now expect cameras at anything we deem significant. We now know all of the Kardashians. But, we have learned some other things, too! The O.J. coverage taught us that domestic violence is often a reality for the wealthy and privileged, as well as the commoners. We learned to question evidence and sources better than we had before. Finally, we were reminded that real life is much more complicated than fiction.
Another tour is in the books
What can be accomplished in just two hours a week? That amount of time seems highly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. However, that small window of time can lead to something beautiful when it is a structured, productive time.
Mobile’s Singing Children is a beautiful example of a small window of time being used efficiently and yielding beautiful results. The group is an auditioned community children’s choir based in Mobile. Since 1977, MSC has been providing musical opportunities to students on the Gulf Coast.
The group is comprised of four choirs, preparatory, intermezzo, concert and Encore. The concert choir is the touring choir of the group. Encore is a 12-member ensemble of changed male voices and concert choir singers who want to do even more singing. Each Monday the concert choir meets from 4 to 6 p.m. They come from different schools, different communities, different family backgrounds and different ideologies. What they share is more important than the differences. They share a love of music, a desire to perform well and bonds that can only be understood if you have truly connected emotionally to achieve a goal.
Each summer, we plan our adventures around when and where MSC will be on tour. I always jump at the chance to be a chaperone and not because I am a glutton for punishment. I just really enjoy the performances and getting to see the kids experience new things. Hearing them sing in St. Patrick’s Cathedral two years ago is among my favorite memories. When I think about maneuvering 40 kids through the NYC subway with many of them being on a train for the first time, I have to laugh. I can laugh now because everyone survived, at the time, it wasn’t quite so humorous! Tour marks the final performances of the season and the absolute last time that the seniors will don the black dresses or bow ties. I’ll have to be like Scarlett and think about that tomorrow, because I well know how quickly time is moving!
The professionalism that these students show is a testament to their commitment to the organization. They know what is expected of them, so they take their two hour, weekly rehearsal commitment seriously. While they may only meet in person for two hours weekly, they spend some of their private time working on the music. The pieces are complex and range from sacred to spiritual to folk songs and occasional pop music. It’s a diverse repertoire that showcases the group’s vocal ability, adaptability, artistic aptitude and versatility. (You should really come and hear them in person!)
My daughter and I arrived home late last night after a three-day tour with MSC to New Orleans. The kids performed four concerts in the three-day span and somehow found time to visit the zoo and aquarium, the National World War II Museum, a walking ghost tour, the Riverwalk and the family friendly, daytime side of the French Quarter. They enjoyed “Come from Away” a Broadway musical based on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 at the historic Saenger theatre and po-boys of their choosing from the famed NOLA eatery, Mother’s Restaurant. It was an adventure-filled extended weekend and I am thankful to have been a part of it.
Yes, we choose to drive to Mobile once a week to allow our daughter this opportunity. We believe it will continue to serve her well. Yes, she’s learning music, but that is not all she’s learning. She is learning the importance of discipline and why the choir director has stringent rules for all singers. She is learning diversity as she interacts with students who are from different ethnical and religious backgrounds than her own. She is learning adaptability because no two churches are the same and sometimes the entire program has to be revamped to fit the space. There are so many things that she learns within that two-hour span each week!
Patrons were amazed to learn that MSC only meets once a week for two hours. Excellence is achieved by diligence and in those two hours, the diligence and commitment are paramount for every single child.
What would happen if as an adult, I found time each week to be diligent and committed to the things I enjoy? What would you do with a two-hour window?
Congratulations, MSC on a fantastic 42nd season!
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.