Adapted from Out of the Wilderness © 2013 by Steve Stroble. All rights reserved.
Sometimes the good Lord decides that parent’s lives overshadow those of their children, such as parents who went through the 1930’s Great Depression and World War II in the 1940s. Such a child was Sam Smaltz. His dad grew up in a steel mill town of Pennsylvania; his mother in one of the small towns that dot the vast Midwest. Dad overshadowed those to come by going through WW II and the Korean War; Mom by being the unsung, lonely military wife who stayed behind to raise the kids during Dad’s wars, TDYs (temporary duties) and training missions.
The life of a military family has few roots, so Sam moved from his Midwest birthplace to the East Coast to Europe to the Midwest to the West Coast to the Deep South to the Far East. Brothers and a sister showed up periodically. This helped him realize that one might resist change but such resistance only seemed to magnify the change’s effects.
School did not become interesting until first grade when he learned to read about Dick, Jane and their dog, Spot. Second grade included drills of ducking under the desk in case a big atomic bomb might bring the school down. Knowledge of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – began with instruction at Saturday classes and continued full or part time off and on for the next 12 years. Inevitably, curious young minds, fortified after memorizing the Ten Commandments, asked questions that might have flustered a lesser teacher:
“Sister, what is adultery?”
Long pause. “Something that adults do.”
A cousin broadened Sam’s theology during a fierce thunderstorm. “Lightning comes out of God’s fingers!” the cousin explained as they hid under the bedcovers.
Another cousin expanded his vocabulary while rolling a ball of snow meant for a snowman that unexpectedly picked up what Sam knew as dog poop.
“Oh, no. Dog shit!”
Seeing Sam’s shocked face, the cousin demanded to know what Sam’s family called such frozen remnants of last fall.
“Uhhh…” Thus, Sam learned to dodge embarrassing questions, even if they were asked by someone older.
All in all, Sam’s knowledge of life came almost as much from family and friends as from educators and clergy. For instance, teachers emphasized civic duties, such as voting and paying taxes. Sam’s parents didn’t talk about voting, they just voted. Taxes, however, did bring a response from Dad: “There are only two things certain in life – death and taxes.” After hearing this truism enough times, Sam concluded that both experiences were unavoidable.
Death seemed scary, but talk of God being eternal and His accompanying promise of eternal life calmed those fears. Sam’s mind could grasp having a beginning and his soul living forever; when it tried to grasp a God with no beginning or end, Sam’s brain seemed to overload with that truth as his mind spun out of control.
The music of the day conveyed a strange world of cavemen named Alley Oop, girls wearing itsy bitsy, teeny weenie, yellow polka dot bikinis and girl groups who laid bare their souls about boys and love lost. Sam gravitated to TV. Cheyenne, Bronco, Sugarfoot, Maverick, the Cartwrights of Bonanza, Sky King, Soupy Sales, Howdy Doody, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Tarzan and a multitude of animated mice, cats, dogs, ducks, birds, rabbits, a squirrel, moose, roadrunner, coyote, muskrat, gopher, and others named Mighty, Mickie, Minnie, Tom, Jerry, Felix, Sylvester, Top, Deputy, Pluto, Donald, Daffy, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Daisy, Tweety, Heckle, Jeckle, Bugs, Rocky, Bullwinkle, Wiley, Vince and the bumbling humans who appeared with them took turns being good and bad but mostly funny.
The shows with adults talking most of the time that came on in the afternoon were not to be watched by the children, though. Sam began to suspect they featured the adults doing what the Ten Commandments talked about. Another show also was off limits, being deemed too scary for children by Dad: “You are traveling through another dimension…” Sam wasn’t sure what a twilight zone was, but he wanted to find out. Once again cousins, this time female, broadened his horizons by dancing to something called American Bandstand and making sure to catch Ricky Nelson’s song at the end of each Ozzie and Harriet Show.
Dad’s career dictated change. It came like clockwork as he traded teaching ROTC cadets at a college for working with the aerospace industry in Southern California.
Hollywood had been at a low point as its golden age faded, but the 10 plus commercial television stations of Los Angeles broadcast movies from the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s by the dozens. Sam loved science fiction, horror, adventure, and westerns, but couldn’t quite grasp the dramas. “Must be that adultery thing Sister told us that adults do,” he concluded. On the radio, station KFWB played top 40 singles all the time; the songs now attracted Sam’s attention. He didn’t understand all the new emphasis on surfing, cars, girls, and being true to your school. But when Brian Wilson spoke of finding a refuge “in my room” a chord resonated in Sam’s soul. He wondered how someone so much older could write a song that appealed to even a 10-year-old such as himself.
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