I found adventures and my calling in Lone Grove

Published 1:12 am Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dad was soon called as pastor of Lone Grove Baptist Church. It was a very small church without a pastor’s home so we rented a house was next to the church. It had been white in the distant past but the gray weather beaten boards now showed through. The little house had two bedrooms and no bathroom (the privy was out back). We installed a wood heater in the living room where a brick flue would accommodate the stove pipe. One day I was in the living room on my way to join the family at for the noon meal when I heard a crackling sound. I looked up and saw that the ceiling was smoking. I ran outside and saw that the wooden shingles around the chimney were on fire. I yelled “fire!”I climbed up on the roof and smothered the flames before a lot of damage was done. We kidded about the warm reception we got at Lone Grove.

Not a lot was going on in the little town of Lone Grove when we arrived just before Christmas. Dad preached the traditional holiday messages and had a Christmas tree in the church. Carols were sung and a small paper bag containing hard candy, an apple, and an orange, was given to each person in attendance. I was a bit depressed with the whole procedure because we had only half a dozen young people in the congregation and I missed my friends, especially the Randlett gang. Of course I kept up a good appearance because a minister needs the support of his family.

Lone Grove was small when compared to Randlett and tiny when compared to Ringling and, by comparison community life was very quiet. At school the sports program was minimal and I didn’t bother to get involved. The young people were fine, but had almost nothing to do. I read a lot. In fact I read just about everything in the school library including a couple of Tolstoy’s works. Word got around that I was a brain when in reality I was forced to take up “War and Peace” because there was nothing better to do. To be honest about it, I was not aware of the significance of the Russian author. I had just run out of something to read. He was no Mark Twain, but he was fine in a pinch.

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The church folks made us welcome with a “pounding.” It consisted of a house warming to which everybody brought an item of food weighing at least a pound. We got everything from a box of oatmeal to canned preserves. While the gifts were modest the spirit was good and we appreciated the groceries.

Lone Grove had almost no youth activities. Out of pure desperation I developed a project that took up a good deal of my time and gave me a chance to try my hand at writing. Somehow I discovered that Mr. Sam Wallace, member of the church, was a WWI veteran whereupon I undertook to narrate his entire war experience beginning with the time he was drafted until he was back on his dad’s Oklahoma farm. For color and background material, I read history books and veteran’s publications, especially the American Legion Magazine.

My story took him all the way from home to his embarkation in New York, his landing in Bret, France, and travel through the French countryside. He rode in the narrow boxcars with the large printing on them that informed one and all that it could hold 40 men or 8 horses. I wrote about the terrible experiences of the soldiers who fought in such places as the Marne, the Belleau Woods, the Argonne Forest, and others.

I don’t know what became of the manuscript. I went off to school and the folks moved a lot and it was lost. Since I scribbled it hurriedly as Mr. Wallace talked and did minimal editing it is unlikely that even I could read it today if it had survived.

Boredom had induced me to write the war memoirs of Mr. Wallace and boredom was also the reason I enlisted a bunch of the high school kids to select, rehearse and present a play. The less said about the quality of our performance the better. I cannot remember the name of even the theme of the play. I’m fairly sure it was a comedy, whether the author intended for it to be or not.

I do have a clear recollection of what we did with admission receipts, however. I wanted us to attend a religious retreat at Falls Creek Baptist Assembly during the Sunday school week but the group outvoted me and we saw Micky Rooney in the new film, “Hucklebery Finn” instead.

I went to Falls Creek, though, due to the generosity of Dr. Wilbanks, pastor of the First Baptist Church at Ardmore. I met them at the church each morning for the trip to the assembly during tue week of the event. The pastor and his wife sat in the front seat of the car and the church secretary sat in the back with me. She was a personable young woman who asked me to guess her age. Wise beyond my years in this instance, I guessed a few years less than I suspected. I noticed the pastor’s wife grin and nudge her husband. I did not ask her to guess my age, expecting that she would add a couple of years to please my vanity.

During the daily trips I found the Willbanks to be excellent company and the retreat a great experience. In fact it confirmed my decision to become a minister.

On one of the trips Dr. Willbanks asked me where I planned to attend college. To me college was a mere hope and, since I had no means of financing further education it was a rather faint hope.

“I’m not sure, haven’t made up my mind”, I answered.

“Tell you what,” he said. “We are attending the annual homecoming at Oklahoma Baptist University this year. Why don’t you go with us and look the school over? Since you’re planning to be a Baptist preacher you would be wise to attend the denominational school in preference to the state institutions. The extra-curricular activities at O.B.U. would enrich your training.”

He didn’t have to convince me as to the value of the school. I accepted his invitation gladly but had no hopes that I would ever be able to actually enroll. On looking back, it became clear that the Falls Creek trips, and the homecoming at O.B.U. were all part of a generous and well planned campaign to help me prepare for my life’s work. As I followed, each of the Lord’s leads he gently guided me to the next step which included a small but sufficient financial inducement.

The homecoming events included track and field, a musical drama, and a tour of the campus. I was overwhelmed at the spacious buildings and grounds and the friendliness of the students and faculty members. The dormitories were outstanding and the classrooms inviting but I told myself the whole idea was an impossible dream. I thought my only hope for a higher education was to work my way through one of the smaller state colleges but, by careful planning and hard work I entered OBU and graduated four years later with honors, a wife and a baby boy.