Saturday, September 13, 2008
Autobiography--My debt to the Rev. Frank Buckley
I've neglected this personal blog a bit lately, but for those of you readers who check in from time to time or trickle by, I've decided to start to be a little more autobiographical.
Many a year ago (but not too many) I was a bratty, funny-looking small child. My parents were not wealthy, not by a long shot. They always insisted that we were middle-middle-class, but looking back now, I don't think I would say that. My dad was a wood finisher and unionized in Chicago, so he made a decent-enough wage for someone with no education beyond high school--the kind of job that I understand is increasingly rare nowadays. But sending two children to Christian school was a huge drain on the family finances. So in dealing with my peers I had to contend not only with my own unpleasant personality but also with the odd clothes which were the only things we could afford. For several years, when I outgrew a dress, it became a shirt, to be worn over pants.
I have a tiny, dark, black-and-white photo of myself at age seven or eight, in one of these dresses-turned-shirts, my hair in two ponytails, sitting on the knee of Rev. Frank Buckley, a child evangelist who came every year to the camp we went to in the summers. (As you can see, the photo above is not this one but a clearer one.)
That camp, Camp Manitoumi in Lowpoint, IL, was the most beloved, beautiful spot on earth to me. I won't go on about it at the moment but may do so in a later post. Suffice it to say that my greatest sympathy for people who talk about "patriotism as loving the soil" comes not when I think about my actual home, which was in the ugly and smelly megalopolis of Chicago, but when I think about the place where I spent every possible moment in the summer--Manitoumi.
Pastor Buckley must have been in his forties at that time, though it was hard to tell. His very short, dark hair was just greying at the temples. He loved children as I think it is given to few active, handsome men in their forties to love children, especially when the children are not their own. Every year, year after year, he came to camp and spoke twice a day to large numbers of assembled children for a good, long time. He had a dummy named Charlie, and I never once got tired of their routines, even though I had them memorized after a few years. He led the singing, he did the ventriloquism act, and he gave the sermons. He was the whole show. One man. Occasionally he brought his grown son, and they played snappy trumpet duets, but I don't remember much about the son. As I remember it, Pastor Buckley ran the children's programs for family weeks for many years. That would have been a large age-range, from perhaps seven years old until the children were old enough that their parents took them into the adult services. He did junior weeks for eight- and nine-year-olds, and I was thrilled to find by the time I was in the 11- and 12-year-old weeks that he was doing those, too.
Pastor Buckley was a fundamentalist of the old school. The only type of clothes I can ever remember seeing him wear were dark pants and a blindingly white, starched shirt, sometimes with a tie. As I recall, he dressed like this--without the tie--even when playing softball or riding a horse. There was no air conditioning at camp, and his only concessions to the heat were to unbutton his cuffs, roll his shirtsleeves up, and unbutton the top button of his collar. He gave amusing sermons against women's makeup, sermons that were impossible to take offense at because he wasn't ranting, just telling "stories" (the factuality of which I rather doubt) like the one about the time he said to a woman wearing green eye-shadow, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I think you have something growing on your eyelids." (He had a soft accent that I, Yankee that I was, called "Southern." I would now say it was probably a southern Illinois or a Missouri accent.) Nonetheless, I knew he meant it about the silliness of makeup, and I took it to heart, sort of. When I was twelve, some of the other girls in the cabin shared their eye makeup with me. This insanitary activity made me feel quite grown up and pretty (though I must have looked ridiculous), until I ran into Pastor Buckley. I was petrified. Would he say anything? He wasn't the sort of man you wanted to trifle with. He gave me a hug and chatted a bit. Didn't say anything about the makeup. I was tremendously relieved to think he hadn't noticed. But looking back and remembering his penetrating eyes, I'm pretty sure he noticed everything. And understood, too.
The thing about Pastor Buckley was that he stood no nonsense, but he loved the children so much that they trusted and respected him entirely. He never had the slightest trouble with discipline, no matter the size of his child audience. I do not know how it was with other children, because I didn't pay much attention to other children, but I knew that I could tell that he loved me, personally. He watched me grow up to the age of about fourteen or fifteen, when I saw him last. At that time he was still doing the 11 and 12-year-old weeks. I was a worker at camp. That meant, if I could stand the rather physically strenuous regimen, and if I didn't do anything to get myself in trouble, that I could stay there and work all summer long. I remember now playing a piano solo one of those years for chapel. And Pastor Buckley said to the whole group, "I remember Lydia when she was little. All the other kids picked on her. And look at her now." Little did he know (or maybe he did know, after all) that there was still more than a bit of tension between me and my peers. I still had a long way to go to grow up. But the unconditional love and pride in his voice made me feel that I'd come a long way already, and it helped me to keep going.
May God bless all His servants, including Pastor Buckley, who work to bring children to a knowledge of Himself.
Update: I've managed to scan and upload, above, a different picture from the one I describe. The scan of the black and white turned out very fuzzy, and this one is better. I suppose I am ten or eleven here. The quality still is a bit fuzzy. I see from the picture that Pastor Buckley is not wearing the trademark white button-up shirt here, so obviously my memory on that point was faulty.
Update #2: Commentator Lori, below, reminds me, and my parents confirm, that Pastor Buckley's dummy was named Daniel, not Charlie. Extra Thoughts is happy to correct the error, and it's really neat to have someone stop by whose life was also touched by Pastor Buckley.