My mother was the church-goer in
our family. My father, like many men
who grew up in the Great Depression
Era, had no use for the fire and brimstone
nonsense. Just surviving was hard enough.
If he had anything like a religion it was
town team hard ball which he excelled at
into his fifties. And as town team games
were played on Sundays, there was a
scheduling conflict with church-going, too.
I often speculated that the church may have
snubbed him as a boy for things he
and his mother had no control over,
but these are family things that we never
And, of course, church pastors all realized
that if they got the mother to come the rest
of the family would follow. For my older sister
and I this wholesale catering to the choir
singing females backfired. My sister, now
pushing 80, has no use for religion, Christianity
or the Republican Party. As for me, I have
never had passion for much of anything,
including baseball, although I understand
the game and am thankful for that. I often
think about poetry, I suppose, but God knows
poetry doesn’t count.
My mother sent my sister and I to
the Congregational Church which was
a white clapboard building with a bell tower
in the center of town. And like the Civil War
cement statue on the town common, it was
a picture postcard you can see of hundreds
of other NH small towns just like it.
In her rebel college days my sister came
to calling the church the Congo. Once when
my mother coerced my sister to going, but did
not go herself, my sister came home saying,
“Mom, it was Pearl Sunday, why didn’t you
go?” My mother standing at the kitchen sink,
looking into the backyard said, “There’s no such
thing as Pearl Sunday.” My sister affecting
a collegiate air said, “Of course there is,”
she thumbed through a copy of Life, “it’s
right before Palm Sunday, and you know
what next Sunday is, I hope.” My mother
shot her a glance and then with narrowed
eyes looked back out the window.
I did go to Sunday school at the Congo,
but that was in a purpose built building
across the side street. I have very few
memories of being in the church itself.
Funerals for my mother and father and
many others were in the Rising Funeral
home, not in the church.
As a first grader I was sent to for what
amounted to day-care after my school
ended in June. I remember being in
the vestry which was a dark room with
high ceilings and tall folding doors
to close off the room from the sanctuary.
For some reason, and I don’t know why,
the small hairs on the back of my neck
tingle when I remember this shadowy
room. I know our normal business was
to color and drink bug juice our of paper
cups . . . but I think I saw something
happen to another child that surprised
me. Maybe an adult - and by adult I mean
a babysitting-aged girl - berating or slapping
a child or perhaps something happened
downstairs where there was a kitchen.
I don’t know what it was, but I can’t
think of this room without thinking
something evil happened that I just
couldn’t get my five-year-old mind around.
On the last day, we were let outside
to sit in a circle on the ground. The grass
was thin and patchy as it was shaded by
large Elm trees. We sat near the granite
slabs that served as steps to the vestry.
The doors were open and the shadowy
dark air rolled out and down the steps
to where we sat. There was a two story
wooden office building to the south which
made this patch of lawn little more than
The late morning sun was bright on Main
Street, but when I think of this vision
now, I have the feeling of being closed in
by an alley of history that was before my
time and which I had no control over.
At last we were allowed to rocket around
the alley as if it were a recess of sorts. Down
closer to the street, I heard my mother’s
voice and stopped cold. “Forry,” she said,
“come here.” I went to the only open,
screened window, stood on tip toes, cupped
my eyes and looked in.
My mother sat at a huge wooden desk
pounding away at a high, black typewriter.
I remember seeing the silver arms rise
up like my cap gun and make a rapping
sound. “Mommy’s got to finish these
mentions, so I can’t talk right now, but here,”
she rolled her swivel chair close to the screen
and opened it from the bottom up. “you
take this (it was a Reese’s’ peanut butter cup
– my favorite), but I want you to wait for
your sister right up there in the sun at the front
of the church where I can see you, OK?”
I nodded and she closed the screen.
“Now, you go on and wait for your sister.
I’ll be watching.”
I found out years later that my mother
worked for a magazine called The Atlantic
Fisherman. The magazine was printed
elsewhere but put together in this small
office. Every time a piece of gear was
mentioned in the magazine, my mother
would type up a letter to the manufacturer
saying his gear had been mentioned. The
hope was the letter might generate an ad.
Even today it still seems strange to me
that a magazine whose bread and butter
if you’ll excuse the pun was to record
the amount of fish caught at East Coast
ports hundreds of miles away was put
together in our town. Stranger still that
I remember all of this while I sit
and look out a window here in Thailand
that is nothing like the windows I looked
out of as a boy.
Mr. Stevens, one of my grammar school
teachers, once told the class that the most
important building in town on was
the Congregational Church. I remember
thinking that was nuts. What about the town
hall, the fire station, the library, Charlie’s Pop
Corn stand, Pierce’s (that sold Reese’s peanut
butter cups), or even Howe’s Pharmacy that
was air conditioned! And what about the
other churches in town? Why single out the
Now, I’m not so sure. The other three churches
were all imports from overseas, but the
Congregational Church comes down to us
from our New England history of black dressed
Puritans that so troubled Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Now, I’m not so sure. There’s something that
higgles my mind here, something I can’t quite
get my seventy-year-old mind around.
Now, I’m not so sure.