Stephenson Tales


Our cottage at Gull Lake (See "Oie turns a house around") is on the east side of the lake, 2158 Lake Street in an area known as Midland Park. The most dominant feature of Midland Park is the tabernacle where the Gull Lake Bible Conference held forth for several weeks every summer. It was a fundamentalist branch of the Protestant wing of the Christian faith and, in many ways, anachronism as it stopped developping about the in the 1890's. The Sunday rules (they always referred to Sunday as the Sabbath, because they knew little about history!): No swimming or boating on Sunday; no dancing or card playing, ever; no going to movies or plays (you can bet how that went over with ME); no sailing (!), no fishing on Sunday; of course, liquor of any kind was anathema (one of their favorite words). Remember that the 18th amendment was passed in 1919 and not repealed until 1933. I still remember metal attachments to their license plates: "RETAIN THE 18th AMENDEMENT. It was a religion of "thou shalt nots."

Every morning at nine was a Children's Meeting, presided over by a charming goateed Englishman named Mr. Ainsley. He told stories from the Bible and illustrated them himself in colored chalk on a large pad of paper on an easel at the front. He was a very good storyteller and artist and somehow seemed aloof from the silliness of the evening services where the emphasis was all on what you must do to be "saved." By the way, the tabernacle where the services was held was designed by my father's uncle, Uncle Clarence, who made his millions by designing the buffalo nickel—as I have noted elsewhere in this saga. At the back of the tabernacle was a long row of religious books, proving that science was wrong; that dinosaurs and men co-existed; that the world was made in a week; that evolution was a scientist's fiction to lure us away from God; literal interpretations of the book of Revelations (one, even, with a map showing how the Enternal City was laid out!); and such nonsense as you would not believe anyone could take seriously. I attended the Children's Meeting faithfully. One summer I had a perfect attendance and as a reward, I was told that I could select any book I wanted from the "Book Table." I had looked at every book on the tables in the preceding weeks and knew exactly what I wanted. The man who accompanied me to the table looked on with interest when I went unerringly to the most expensive book in the collection: it was Cruden's Concordance of the Bible (King James) and it cost FIVE DOLLARS! His face fell and he assured me that I did NOT want that book. I assured him that I did. I still have it (with the price in pencil on the inside cover) and have referred to it hundreds of times—as I knew I would.

The people at the conference prided themselves on their being able to rattle off the names of all the books of the Bible. I thought that was merely silly. Not that they had read all the books, mind—but they knew where they were. I was one up on them. By the time I was ten or eleven I HAD read the whole Bible and used their own beloved scripture to confound them. When they told me it was sinful for me to go around in my "Wickies" (bathing suit) with no top, I said, "If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." And when they assured me that the wine that Jesus made from water for his first miracle during the wedding at Cana was NEW wine and therefore not alcoholic, instead of telling them the obvious that the people at that time had no prohibition against wine as they did, but that "wine was wine," I quoted the Good Book to them "Give strong drink unto him who is ready to perish and wine unto those that be of heavy heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty and remember his misery no more." (Proverbs 31:6,7) They did not know how to handle that.

Of course they knew selected verses: "all we like sheep have gone astray," and all the verses that bolstered their particular biases—which they parrotted endlessly. They firmly believed that every word was the "Inspired Word of God"—especially the King James version. So when I asked them how Judas met his death, they either answered that he hanged himself OR that he jumped off a cliff and his insides came out—but not BOTH. So I would quote the other version (one is at Matthew 27:5 and the other is near the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 1:18). (Look it up for yourself.) Now, quoth I, is not this a contradiction? Then I was accused of quibbling, a charge that I cheerfully acknowledged, but that did not explain away the clear contradiction. I fear that they were not very Christian in their attitude toward such a smart-mouthed kid! They did not like it at all when I pointed out the completely different and irreconcilable Genesis versions of the "creation story", either!

Dad told me not to bother with trying to argue with them, but there was one instance when he got into the fray, when one of the "brothers" grabbed me by the arm, jerked me around and told me to go home and put some clothes on! I went back to the cottage and showed Dad my red arm. Immediately he manifested a peculiar and unique trait: when he got really angry, he would turn a yellowish green under his ears! That meant, LOOK OUT!!!

He said, "Who did this?"

I told him it was the man who lived across the streed and behind Mrs. Clinton.

"Come with me." We walked up the block and turned in to the side street where I had been stopped. "Will you step outside, please?"

The man backed away from the door as though he expected Dad to break it down—which would not have surprised me at all. "If you EVER touch one of my boys again, I will tear you apart. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Sir."

We walked back to our house. I felt about nine feet tall with pride at having such a dad.

I do not know if the Gull Lake Bible Conference has survived the secular assaults on their closed-minded negative fundamentalism or not. But I still have my book.

Composed 22-23 December, 2008, Transcribed by Robin

© Jim Bob Stephenson 2008

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