By Robin Scott
So many stories may be told about a father. Stories about the love of a father, the loss of a father, the guidance and inspiration a father provided or about how a father’s life was transformed because of his love of his child. The story of my father shaped whom I am and is shared here.
My father was larger than life. Not only because he stood over six-feet tall, but because he was a Southern Baptist Preacher who literally thumped the pulpit when he spoke. That was back in the sixties and I was a blond-haired, blue-eyed, naïve little girl. My father spoke with a resonating deep voice and I sat quietly on the front pew every week in Church. I often had no idea what my father was talking about, but I was too afraid to move for fear of disappointing him. I can’t remember how old I was when I began sitting on the front pew, but my earliest memories go back to just after I became a toddler.
My mother was the choir director and pianist and loved everything about being a pastor’s wife, even though the pay was only $25 a week, along with a modest house to live in. I remember people from our church bringing us food to supplement my father’s almost non-existent income. I didn’t care. I loved our church and my life and especially my best friend, Tammy. She and I spent every Sunday afternoon together. Her family came to our church each week and after Sunday services were over we all shared lunch together in the basement of the church. After that, Tammy and I played until my mother made us come in to get ready for the evening service. Tammy and I enjoyed all of the same things, were the same age and looked forward to Sunday more than any other day of the week because we never saw each other during the week. She sat next to me on the front pew many times. On some Sundays she sat with her parents.
In 1969 my life completely changed when my father was suddenly fired as pastor of our small Indiana church. I was devastated when I saw a lady taking away my beautiful white bedroom suite in a yard sale my parents were forced to hold. Our only option when my father was fired was to move back to California where my mother and her family were from and to live in a small two-bedroom house owned by my grandfather. My three older brothers found the 2,000-mile drive in our station wagon an adventure, but all I did was cry and whine. All I could think of was how I would miss ice skating outdoors in winter, or playing make-believe in the field just behind our house, and how I wouldn’t survive without Tammy. I cried so hard I made myself sick when my mom pulled me away from Tammy to put me in the car so we could leave Indiana, and I cried for several weeks afterward.
When we arrived in Ontario, California in the summer of 1969, my grandfather gave my parents $10 each week for groceries. My mother was an elementary school teacher before taking over the duties of pastor’s wife, and she went back to teaching. My father drove a taxicab all summer long and for the next couple of years at night while he went to school during the day to receive his teaching certificate. My parents never complained.
By the time both of my parents were teaching and money was better and we lived in a beautiful four-bedroom home with a four-car garage, I had all but forgotten leaving my cherished home in Indiana, but I never forgot Tammy even though our families never remained in touch.
Years later, after my father died in 1996, I was reminiscing with my brother about our time in Indiana. He asked me if I remembered this neighbor boy or that favorite place to dig a tunnel or the time my mother fell all the way down the steps to the church when she slipped on the ice. Then, my life changed again, just as it had back in 1969 when I had to leave Indiana and say good-bye to my best friend. My brother casually mentioned how proud he was of our father for getting fired from the Southern Baptist Church. I was a bit confused, and all of my feelings of disappointment flooded my thoughts. I had been angry for so long after we left Indiana because of my father’s job loss, and I blamed him for taking me away from my paradise.
I asked my brother why would he ever be proud of our father being fired as a pastor of a church! He responded, “Dad got fired because he refused to segregate the church. He was warned over and over again to keep any people of color out, but he wouldn’t do it. He knew it was wrong, and he stood his ground and the Deacons finally fired him.” I couldn’t believe it, and I suddenly saw my father in an entirely new light. My memories of him in those following years suddenly made more sense and my memories of that last day in Indiana taught me so much about the man I was somewhat fearful of. On that last day, as my mom pulled me away from my best friend Tammy, an African American girl, it never even occurred to me that she and I were different in any way, or why we didn’t attend the same school. I just knew that I loved her and thought my life was going to end without her. My father had kept us together as long as he could, far longer than the Deacons wanted. My relationship with my best friend all those years ago was due to my father’s character, and the loss of my best friend was also due to my father’s character.