Guest blog: The Playhouse by Gwyn Warren
Grandma and Dad were deeply religious people with very strict rules about what was and was not acceptable. He was far stricter than she was. We were to remain as quiet as possible on Sundays. We could spend the day reading our Bible story books Daddy had given us the Christmas before he died; but, we could not laugh or play noisy games on Sunday. If we wanted to play like normal children, we had to get far enough away from the house that Dad couldn’t hear us. So we usually went to our cousins’ house to play about 3/10 mile from our grandparents.
Jo and I were convinced that Dad didn’t like us very much. Grandma was always teasing us, laughing with us, etc., while he rarely ever smiled. We usually went to church with our cousins on Sunday morning, came back to Grandma’s to eat dinner, and then went to our cousins’ house to play in the afternoon.
Church was another big shock for us. We had gone to “town” churches all our lives where ministers spoke in a soft even voice, and you could understand every word of the sermon. Country churches were just the opposite. When the preacher (a new word for us) delivered his sermon, he got so carried away, and so loud, it was hard to decipher anything he said. His face also got really red like we used to see Daddy’s become right before he had a heart attack. Country preachers scared us.
One weekend, Mother, Jo and I went to Uncle Jim’s house for the weekend. Uncle Jim was Mother’s brother and they had a son, Richard, who was a year older than I with whom we played. When we got back to our grandparent’s house on Sunday night, it was already dark, so we just went in and went to bed.
Monday morning, while we ate breakfast, Dad told us to come outside after we finished with the dishes because he had something to show us. I doubt we had ever finished the dishes as fast as we did that morning.
When we went outside, Dad showed us a playhouse he had built for us while we were gone. He was a master wood craftsman and our playhouse was a dream. From the outside it looked just like a real house complete with front porch, sized just for two little girls. There was room inside for our doll beds, table and chairs and anything else we could round up to “furnish” our little house. Our cousins, Sue and Edmond, would come up and play with us in our little house.
Toward the end of summer, we had grown tired of playing “house” and wanted to play something different. After much discussion, we decided to play “church”. I was “elected” to be the preacher and Jo, Sue and Edmond were the congregation. We started out by singing songs we had learned in their church. Then came time for the sermon.
I first led my parishioners in prayer. So far, so good. Then I opened my Bible story book to one of my favorite stories. I started out reading in a normal tone, then raised my voice for a few sentences. I repeated this procedure several times while my “congregation” shouted “Amen!” and I even heard one “Preach it, Sister!”, which would never have been said in a country church because women weren’t allowed to speak in the church. If they had something that needed to be said, they conveyed it to their husband, and if he felt it had merit, he would speak to the congregation. I even pounded my pulpit and used a washcloth to “wipe sweat from my brow”.
Just as I was really getting “into the spirit” as they called it, a shadow covered the door. Dad looked at me with as stern a face as I had ever seen and said, “That will be enough, little lady.” With that, he left, no doubt to tell Grandma what a fine sermon I had been delivering. Wrong.
Apparently he walked around to the back of the playhouse where there was no window. After some discussion, we decided to resume our “church service”. Again, I gave it my all. And again, that shadow covered the doorway. This time, he told Sue and Edmond to go home, and for Jo and me to go in the house. When we told Grandma what had happened, she laughed till tears were streaming down her cheeks. Dad didn’t think it was a bit funny.
The next morning, when we went to our playhouse, there was a padlock on the door. Dad told us we were forbidden to play in there again. We protested that all our toys were in there and he said, “No they’re not. They are on the back porch.” Sure enough, we checked and everything that had been in our playhouse was in a big wooden crate on the back porch.
The following weekend, we again went to Uncle Jim’s to spend the weekend, coming home late Sunday night. After finishing the breakfast dishes on Monday morning, we went outside to ask Dad if we could play in our playhouse if we promised not to play church any more. To our total astonishment, while we were gone, he had completely dismantled our playhouse. Except for the fact the ground was bare where it had been, one would never have known a playhouse had ever been there.
In retrospect, I often wondered if Dad worried that he might have thwarted my ambitions to be a minister of the gospel. Nah. Like I told you earlier, women weren’t allowed to speak in the church. I’m sure if one had started to preach the walls would have crumbled.
DISCLAIMER: This little story is not to mock country churches and I hope I haven’t offended anyone. Jo and I were 7 and 8 years old respectively and this was a whole new world to us.