Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The informal education

When I was 5 years old, my parents announced we were all moving overseas. Probably Bolivia, or Brazil. Or was it to be Chile? Hmmm, the corporate office was still spinning the little spinner on the map. 

My father, Hoop, did promise us we'd benefit from the education of a lifetime. Brother Iilya and I thought 'he means were going to school down there, too. No breaks for us.'

But what Hoop really meant was that our education wouldn't just be formal, school taught. It would be a collection of all we saw, all we heard, all we lived.  Hoop wasn't referring to any country's school system or any boarding school we might be sent off to; he meant our life was now our textbook. And we better study it well.

Religious education is one class that certainly did not have walls for us. Hoop was raised in a household where Sunday was 'hangover hell.' As a child, he'd leave home early on Sunday and wait until dark to return, letting his parents sleep off their Saturday night drinks. If by chance Hoop went to church, it would have been a sympathetic aunt or neighbor who would drag him there. Mom, on the other hand, grew up in a very strict German Lutheran family. Everything about her childhood was overshadowed by strict rules, fears, and routines. 

My religious education became a bit of every country we lived in, every hymn or prayer we shared with strangers. When my best friend, Mary, took her first communion as a Catholic, I was not allowed to attend. Instead, I waited at her house for the 'tea and crumpets' party that followed. We believed our little sips of tea in our teacups were the blood of Christ, and we song pretty songs from a catholic songbook her parents had. The afternoon was pure and white and fragile.

The only real 'church' songs I knew were ones I learned from records we had. Mom had a collection Newport Jazz Festival albums, and a gospel song or two usually showed up there. She also had a nice selection of Mahalia Jackson albums, and I learned "His Eye is on the Sparrow".  From Hoop's scratchy copy of a Statler Brother's album, I learned "The Twelve Apostle Braves" 

"Simon Peter, Andrew, James, Phillip, Thomas, Matthew
Bartholomew, Simon, Judas, Judas, James, John.
...And Thomas he'll go with you don't you doubt it for a minute..."

When we settled in India, my mom reached deep for her faith. She taught us the non-book side of religion, the kind that cannot be recited from memory. The kind that doesn't live in cathedrals or in gold crosses; the kind that tithing cannot buy.

Hoop called it her 'fisherman faith'. He told me he got that from a parable. I think he got it from "living" the world and finding that having faith, like fishing, is yours once you are shown how. 


Ginny said...

Well, your story is real interesting. So do you go to any church now, or did all this affect you adversly? And your mom and dad, it must have been hard for them to get along at times. Did they stay together? But your mom didn't go to church either? Your writing is very good, I get involved and then want to know how it all ended! Hope you're having a good week.

Whitemist said...

Hmmm...the best kind, fisherman faith!
I agree, it is what you do and what you live that is important.
Thank you

Thérèse said...

The Fisherman faith, I like very much this idea. Traveling does not do too good to those who have grown up in one single religion.

Sandra said...

my life was pretty much the opposite, I new all the old hymns and still do. I am with ginny, what did all this do to you? did it turn you off to church or religion? fisherman faith is Biblical and the way i was raised. my parents were a little to strict causing me to be more lax than i should have been. it is really starange how our lives model us and make us into what we are.
I hope the Master Potter has molded you into what He wants you to be by using all your wonderful expericencs. thanks for sharing with us.

BANJO52 said...

“She taught us the non-book side of religion, the kind that cannot be recited from memory.” I’d love some more examples of this.

It was Mary’s family who disallowed heathen you from attending? Some pretty big irony here:

“When my best friend, Mary, took her first communion as a Catholic, I was not allowed to attend.”

“. . . pretty songs from a catholic songbook her parents had. The afternoon was pure and white and fragile.”

No wonder we’re told to avoid sex, RELIGION, and politics in the parlor room . . . .

altadenahiker said...

So, so, this faith is in what? Beauty, a being, what you can touch, what you can't?

Pat Tillett said...

You are an interesting person. I love your childhood stories and hope there are many more!

BANJO52 said...

P.S. Nice photos! And ditto Pat Tillet. Your youth sounds way more interesting and adventurous than most, certainly more than mine.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Hey, thanks everyone! I hope I can answer the questions here...
Ginny, my parents stayed together for 63 years - until my father passed away. Quite a feat considering they married at 18, and had such different religious backgrounds. My father was well accepted by his stern father-in-law; it seems my mother was a bit relieved to get out from 'daddy's watch', too. Anyway, my folks brought us up in the Christian faith, although they never chastised us for suggesting we should be Hindus or Bhuddist. My folks were quite pleased we could see past our own comfort zone.

Banjo - yes, Mary's folks were the ones who denied any non-Catholics from attending. I do not know if this is normal or required?

And Karin, the toughest question is always yours, I smile.
Faith/trust/belief that all the poverty/pain/hatred that we saw had a reason. She struggled with 'blind faith'. She wanted answers to the poverty/pain/hatred. But she learned that it wasn't hers to know, and with that acceptance, she threw herself into helping where she could. I think of that and I remember this:
"Miles Davis says play what you don’t know.
Everything we seek is guided by what is sought"
"Nine," by Anne Tardos

BANJO52 said...

GREAT Miles Davis line.

Wonder what it's like to have a genuinely questing, idealistic mom (or dad). Also, I was betting that your mom saw your dad as an improvement on/escape from what she had known. I should've been a shrink. And hitched at 18! So he was married while at Mt. Union?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Yea, Banjo - they were in married, and dad did his army stint. At Mt Union, dad went thru on the GI Bill, and they lived in White Hollow, the vets 'trailer park' on campus. It is now long gone... new buildings have replaced it.

BANJO52 said...

That was another time, another way. I often disagree with "them," but they'll always have my gratitude and respect, maybe awe.

altadenahiker said...

Beautifully answered. And your mom is special.

Sam said...

What an interesting memory!


Pasadena Adjacent said...

Wish my dad had a cool name like Hoop. His name was Fred