If you have read “The Nomadic Lives of Bob and Shirley Downing” you have already discovered that my family has a tendency to pull up stakes.  Sometimes of necessity and sometimes of desire, curiosity, or simply wanderlust, for many years we traveled with our saddlebags half packed at all times.  Granted, as we have become older we have sort of lost the momentum or even desire for greener pastures, but I can blame heredity for some of the early shuffling in our marriage.
    My parents, Robert (R.L.) and Ethel Downing, married in 1938.  Forgive me for occasionally referring to my earlier blogs, but I have described in earlier writings about their youths and the struggles they encountered in the embryonic years of their marriage.  They met in a very unusual circumstance…at an Indian PowWow in Oklahoma.  To this current day, the various Indian tribes which inhabit the state of Oklahoma have annual meetings of their tribes to conduct business and enjoy various traditions and festivities.  These are respectfully called powwows.  My dad was always very proud of his Cherokee lineage, pointing out at the slightest encouragement the fact that his great-great-grandfather served as Chief of the Cherokee Nation in the 1800s, which to this day is an independent governing agency within the state of Oklahoma.  My sister, Kathyrn, has gone to extensive lengths to secure her citizenship within the nation and, as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation reaps some of the rights and benefits of citizenship.  I have applied for my “Indian card,” but the Cherokee Nation government works at the same glacial speed of every government agency ever created. “Government” and “efficiency” are not synonyms.  Oh, well, maybe someday I’ll retire to my very own teepee in a corner of the reservation.
    Anyway, during a particular powwow on a warm summer evening,  a young farm boy from Lone Wolf, Oklahoma went with his brother to see the festivities, while at the very same time a young girl from Shawnee, Oklahoma, arrived with her sister at the same powwow.  During the festivities the visitors were invited to dance with the tribe members during one of the ceremonies, and in the process, R.L. Downing and Ethel New, both 20 years old, bumped into each other.  Their conversation lasted but a few minutes, and R.L. went his way.  A few minutes later, Ethel spotted R.L. again.  This time she pointed him out to her sister and said, “Sis, see that boy over there?  Some day I’m going to marry him.”  And she did.
    The next five years for R.L. and Ethel were busy building a marriage and a business while adjusting to a wartime America.  They moved to Baytown, Texas, and Dad and Mom (foregoing the R.L. and Ethel,) like many young couples, moved frequently as Dad followed the work.  Mom told often of the time they moved to Brazosport, and, from the time they rented a house to the time they were able to occupy it, a tremendous flood occurred, and consequently they had to move in their furniture and belongings using a boat.  In 1943, a momentous event took place which changed their lives and plans…I was born.
    Needless to say, I don’t really remember that event or the two or three years thereafter.  Dad had founded Downing Roofing Company with his brother, only to be drafted into the U.S. Army.  He spent parts of two years in the Aleutian Islands, being trained as a tank driver and serving as a carpenter (typical Army.)  He served into 1946 even after the war ended.  During this period occurred, as far as I can tell, my very first memory.  Dad had settled at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, toward the end of his hitch, and Mom would, every three or four weeks, drive to Fort Sill to see him.  In those days, military men and their families were highly regarded, and Mom told stories of her car breaking down, running out of gas, or getting stranded for the night, and in each case a kind family or person would come to her rescue and get her on her way.  Dad told about hitchhiking from Fort Sill to Baytown wearing his uniform.  He said every time he was dropped off at some destination by one car, he never waited more than a minute to be picked up by another.  Everyone appreciated and took care of their military boys.  Times have changed.
    Anyway, my memory is thusly:  One night Mom and I were traveling in the car heading for Oklahoma and came up to a group of flashing police lights.  There, across the highway, was a semi truck lying on its side.  The police, the flashing lights, and the sight of the overturned truck seared an image into my memory, and to this day I can see that truck.  I was three years old.

Me, Vernon, Jan
     A short time after this, I can remember my first residence.  Once Dad was discharged, they settled into a shotgun house on East James Street, in Baytown.  It was called a “shotgun” house because it was narrow and long, and, if you fired a shotgun through the front door, the shot would go through every room in the house and out the back door.  I am not making this up.  The house was about fifteen feet wide sitting on a 25 foot wide lot and about 40 feet deep.  From the front to the back, there was a living room, bedroom, bath, and kitchen. There was parking in the back, but no garage.  The house was old in 1946, and it is still in the same location today.  I slept on a small bunk in Mom and Dad’s bedroom, and in one of my more exciting memories, I can remember awakening one morning, looking up, and seeing a rat peering down at me from a hole in the ceiling.  I yelled for mother, and she ran in with a broom and stuck the handle up through the hole and jiggled it around and the rodent retired.
    Next to the old house was a tiny Mom and Pop grocery store on the corner.  Mom would send me around to the store to get bread and milk occasionally.   When you walked in the store, there was one aisle about three feet wide and ten feet long surrounded by counters, and an old guy behind the counter who would ask, “What’cha need, Bobby Lynn?”  On the other side of our house was another shotgun house where lived my best friend, Vernon Williams, with his older sister Jan and mom and dad, Ruth and Vernon Williams.  We played many hours in the two tiny front yards.  Just to show you how socially deprived (by today’s standards) we were, one of our most enjoyable times was when Vernon’s Mom, Ruth, would get a big mouthful of bubble gum and blow bubbles.  She could blow the biggest bubbles we had ever seen in our young lives.  Now THAT’S entertainment!  I have a photo of Vernon and me playing in the mud in our front yard.  We were wearing only our white briefs.  Things were pretty casual back then. Vernon was a big guy who later played football for Lee High School.  He died several years ago.
    During this time, Mom and Dad were still struggling, and in lieu of spending money for toys, Dad used his carpentry skills and built me wooden cars, trucks, bats, wooden horses, you name it.  He was a skillful carver with a knife.  I’d pay a lot of money for one of those lost toys today.
    Recreational activity was pretty limited in those days, but two things stand out in my memory.  On West Texas Avenue in Baytown there was a W.O.W. Hall (Woodmen of the World) which about every Saturday night held a big dance and party.  I can remember sitting in a chair as a wallflower watching my mom and dad trip the light fantastic to the sound of a Hank Williams tune.  While the dancing was going on, someone would sprinkle some kind of wax on the wooden floor to make it slicker, the better to slide gracefully around on, I guess.  The second memory involved an ice house on North Main Street which sold two items: block ice and cold beer.  We would pull up in Dad’s Mercury with the suicide doors, and Dad would enjoy a few cold beers.  Strangely, I never saw my dad drunk, and I never saw my mom take a drink at all.  One night we as pulled away from the ice house and Dad turned into the traffic, the right rear door of the Mercury swung open.  I, being a little kid, was standing behind the front seat (no seatbelts in those days) and fell toward the open door, but somehow caught myself (or someone caught me, I can’t remember) before I planted myself on the pavement.  Even before my parents joined the church, God had his hand on them (and me.)
    I was also introduced to the educational process at this time when Mom enrolled me in a small, neighborhood kindergarten school in Old Baytown (the name new folks called the old part of Baytown.)  Most kids did not go to kindergarten back then, but Mom knew that I was special (or maybe needed some more help.)  The thing I remember about kindergarten was that it was a morning deal, ending about noon.  Mom would drop me off and come back at 12:00 to pick me up the same as the parents of all the kids.  The building was close to the street, and, at noon, the teacher would say, “Class dismissed…goodbye!” and kick us out the door.  There was no place to wait, so we kids would play in the street until we saw our parents' cars coming.  The parent would ease slowly up to the group of kids, and the appropriate child would hop in and they would drive away…and we would occupy the street again until the next car arrived.  How we all survived is beyond me.
   My biggest memory on East James Street was about July 11, 1947, when Mom and Dad brought my sister, Judy, home from the hospital.  I’m not sure who took care of me during the hospital visit, but when we all reassembled on James Street, suddenly there was this new little kid.  In time, Dad decided that two adults and two little kids in one room was a bit much, so about year later, we moved to roomier pastures, namely 206 Hafer Street. (See my blog, “206 Hafer, 1949-54”)

Strength from Experience

I am not the author of the following words; they came to me in a random email and the original author is unknown. They are so profound, however, I could not pass them up…with a little embellishment from myself.

To Those of Us Born between 1935 and 1970

     At the very start, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. Our mothers took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing and tuna from a can, and didn’t get tested for diabetes…or much of anything else. Then, after the trauma of birth, we were put to sleep on our tummies in our baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints. As infants and children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, no booster seats, no seat belts, no air bags, worn tires, and weak brakes. We had no child-proof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets, and, when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps, not helmets, on our heads.
     Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat, and, when thirsty, we drank water from a backyard garden hose and not a bottle. We shared one bottled soft drink with four friends, and no one died from this. We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter, and bacon. We drank Kool-Aid made with real white sugar…and we weren’t overweight.
     We were either in school or we played outside. If the weather was nice, we were seldom inside our houses. We would leave home in the morning and play all day, coming home only for snacks and lunch, but we had to be home by the time the street lights came on at night. No one was able to reach us practically all day…and we were okay. We guys would spend hours building our go-carts out of wood scraps and wagon wheels and ride them down the hill realizing then that we should have considered brakes. After running into bushes and hitting street curbs a few times, we solved the problem.
     We did not have Play Stations, Nintendos, and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVDs, no iPods, so smart phones, no internet, and no chat rooms. We had real human friends, and we went outside and found them.
     We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones, and teeth…and there were no lawsuits…even if it happened at school or someone else’s home. If we got a paddling at school, we got another one at home, because our parents supported our teachers. We received spankings with wooden spoons, switches, ping-pong paddles, a leather belt, or just a bare hand, and no one called child services to report abuse.      We ate worms and mud pies (real), and the worms did not live in us forever. We boys were given BB guns and pocket knives for our tenth birthday as a rite of passage. We made up games with sticks and tennis balls, and although we were warned by our parents, we did not put out too many eyes. We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door. If no one answered, we would just walk in…the door was unlocked anyway.      Little League had tryouts, and not everyone made the team. Those who did not learned to deal with the disappointment. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of…the parent sided with the law.
     Using the warped guidelines of the current crop of child psychologists and human development theorists, each of us who grew up in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s would have been classified “severely at risk.” And yet our generations have produced some of the finest problem solvers, risk takers, and inventors in history. We experienced success and failure, freedom and responsibility…and we learned how to deal with it all. To each of us who truly experienced life and survived…cheers!
     Notable quote:                                                                                                                      "With hurricanes, tornadoes, fires out of control, mud slides, flooding, severe thunderstorms, threats of flu epidemics and terrorist attacks…are we sure this is a good time to want to take “under God” out of the Pledge of Allegiance?”
Jay Leno

A Church Birthday

     If you are not of the Pentecostal religious persuasion or at least pseudo-Pentecostal, you’ll be forgiven if you choose to skip this little essay and glam onto one of my more scintillating essays in the index. This essay is an informal observation of a contemporary Pentecostal church…more specifically a church affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church, International, which has headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. The UPCI, as it is affectionately acronymed, had its official beginnings in 1945 with the merger of two large Pentecostal organizations which dated from the fundamentalist revivals of the 1800s.
     The church in focus is Bethel Tabernacle of which Shirley and I are proud members. Though my wife and I have known of this church in Houston, Texas, for many years, it was only after we retired and moved to the general vicinity that we began attending. The church in recent days celebrated its eightieth anniversary, and it is of the style and content of that anniversary celebration that I would like to offer some observations. The celebration lasted a week, kicking off one Sunday and ending the next, with activities every night except Monday night.
     Bethel Tabernacle has experienced a very unique history. Founded by Rev. Oliver F. Fauss in 1929, the minister arrived in Houston with his wife, children, an old car, fifteen cents in his pocket, and a desire to start a church. Eighty years later, his grandson, Pastor David Fauss, preached a sermon which was entitled “Three Nickels and a Dream,” which stirringly detailed the commitment and spiritual calling which brought Oliver F. Fauss to Houston. To us folks of the current generation, it seems unbelievable that a man could be in a strange city and have a family, and yet possess only fifteen cents, but 1929 saw the beginning of the Great Depression, and the havoc it played on the American culture makes the economic downturn we have experienced in the past few months appear as a minor cloud in the sky. There were no jobs, no money, no welfare, and no where to turn for help. I can remember my dad who grew up during the depression talking about his unmarried days and how he and his date would go out for the evening with absolutely no money between them. They would spend the evening walking, visiting friends, or watching sidewalk shows put on by actors and vendors. If he was able to earn fifty cents he was rich, and he could take his date to a movie and buy dinner. Fast forward thirty years, and when my wife and I married in 1961, I was earning $1.18 per hour and she $.85. No savings, no credit cards, no wealthy parents to borrow from…but we were happy.
     Needless to say, for a person to be willing to pull up stakes and head to a new city while dragging one's family to start something as tenuous and tentative as a church required a great deal of commitment and belief that one was in the Will of God. Such was Rev. Oliver F. Fauss. The early years were hard, but he was able to carve a niche in Houston, preaching the Plan of Salvation according to the Book of Acts. Pastor David Fauss tells of his grandfather in one of his intense prayers during a trying time in the development of his church raising the Bible above his head while he prayed and, placing his finger on Acts 2:38, saying, “Lord, whatever the future holds, as long as this scripture is in the Bible I’m going to preach it!”
     What has contributed to the uniqueness of Bethel Tabernacle is that the same bulldog determination of Rev. Oliver F. Fauss to preach the Gospel according to the scriptures was passed down to his son, Rev. O.R. Fauss, and now to his grandson, Rev. David Fauss. Though each has offered his distinctive ministry, all three have been loyal and nonwavering in their pursuit of biblical accuracy in their preaching. The result of this for Bethel Tabernacle has been an eighty year continuity of commitment. I have been attending Pentecostal churches for nearly sixty years and have seen churches rise and fall with the changing of pastors. Not every word which comes over the sacred desk in the form of a sermon is a message from God, and some ministers have shown their humanity in excruciatingly unfortunate detail in some of their comments which are labeled, “Thus saith the Word of God.” In eighty years, Bethel Tabernacle has never suffered a church split or a congregational exodus, and that fact alone puts it into a very rarified atmosphere. I am sure that if Oliver F. Fauss were to somehow in spirit visit Bethel Tabernacle on any typical present-day Sunday, he would be amazed, aghast, astounded, and overwhelmed at the complexity of a modern service, at the actions and appearance of the church congregation, and at the style and presentation of the music and worship. By the time his grandson, Pastor David Fauss, got up to preach he would be telling himself, “The Spirit seems the same, but it’s so different!” But then Brother David would begin to preach the story of the Gospel and the Plan of Salvation, reading the very same scriptures used eighty years ago by his grandfather, and the founder of Bethel Tabernacle would settle back and say to himself, “Praise God, the things that really count haven’t changed at all!”
     The anniversary services began with two special speakers, Reverends Simeon and Curtis Young, one preaching Sunday morning and the other Sunday night. After a rest night on Monday, Tuesday night we heard Reverend Don Tipton, and on Wednesday night we heard Reverend Gary Wheeler. The main claim to fame for these ministers was that they all came to Bethel Tabernacle years ago, found themselves wives, and left town. More seriously, perhaps it would be better to say that each came to Bethel Tabernacle under a different circumstance, became a faithful member of the church, and was rewarded by God with a faithful wife and then called by the Spirit to go elsewhere and preach the Gospel. Thursday night we heard our first woman minister and another Bethel alumnus, Cindy Miller, who, forgive me for saying so, preached the most powerful sermon of them all. Had I been a young person in that service, I would not have been AT the altar, I would have been UNDER the altar. Her message touched everyone, even us Golden Agers. Friday night it was Reverends Nathan Scoggins and Wayne Huntley, whom Shirley and I had not seen in 38 years. Shirley used to baby-sit for the Huntleys when their child was an infant. Time flies…he still has a mischievous smile.
     On Saturday night we had a big dinner and hullabaloo at a local hotel convention center. Tuxedos and tennis shoes were both well represented, and we even had the traditional erratic sound system and mediocre food. The speaker was South Texas District Superintendent Ken Gurley, who is a historian of early Pentecost memorabilia. He gave a very informative summary of the early foundational days of the UPCI. Ken (excuse me, Reverend Gurley), Shirley and I attended the same church in Baytown as we were growing up. There was a tremendous spiritual display as Reverend Gurley was ending his presentation…most unusual considering we were in sort of a public area. I have been in only two such public events in all my years where there was a speaking in tongues followed by a prophetic interpretation afterward. It was very powerful.
     On Sunday, the week was wrapped up with the General Superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church, International, Reverend David Bernard, giving a stirring sermon of encouragement and a prophecy of a great future for Bethel Tabernacle. His sermon was very detailed, very articulate, very uplifting…and totally read. I have heard only two ministers in my lifetime who could read a sermon and be effective, and Brother Bernard is one of them and Reverend Cleveland Becton is the other. There was no Sunday night service, and I think most of us collapsed for the afternoon. It had been a very exhausting week. To make matters worse (well, sort of) for Shirley and myself, the ministers, families, friends, and hangers-on were fed after services on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights, and Shirley and I volunteered to be part of the kitchen duty staff. These preachers and friends were treated royally by Bethel Tabernacle with top quality cooking, china plates, silverware, goblet glasses, and cloth napkins. I washed so many dishes I thought I was back on military KP. We didn’t head home till near each night. By Saturday we were exhausted, but it had actually been a lot of fun. We who slaved in the kitchen while the ministers dawdled over their desserts created a bond, and Shirley and I had more close friends than we did a week earlier. The services and ministry were top level…all the ministers are heavy hitters in the Pentecostal ranks, and every sermon was powerful and specific. The music and worship were lively and blessed, and the Spirit of the Creator seemed tangible at times in the services. It reaffirmed to me that there is still life and spirit in the UPCI. If you have never been in a church service in a United Pentecostal church, you owe it to yourself to visit. There is a spiritual joy and a freedom to truly worship linked to an underlying appreciation of the seriousness of salvation. Pentecostals do not consider their religion a spare tire to go to in an emergency, but rather the engine that powers life itself, both in this world and the world to come.
     More than anything, however, the week's festivities reminded me that Bethel Tabernacle is a special church with special people led by special ministers, Reverends O.R. Fauss and David Fauss. If Grandaddy Oliver F. Fauss could have seen it, he would have been proud.

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