In 1943, my 3-year-old brother, Virgil, and I, age 5, hadn’t yet started school. Moreover, we had no television, and I don’t ever remember hearing a radio in our house. Consequently, we modeled what we’d learned at the Church of God in Wyandotte, Michigan where my father, the Rev. A. J. Allen, preached.
Virgil and I would line up our stuffed animals and dolls and sing and pray with them. Other times, we’d play “heaven and hell.”
Here’s how it worked: Outside our back door, a small concrete porch served as a pulpit. Four steps led down to a sidewalk,. One of us stood on the porch and preached about heaven to the one in hell on the sidewalk below.
My brother liked to preach, so I spent a lot of time in “hell.” He loved to wave his arms in the air and yell at me to get saved. (All that practice paid off; he recently retired from preaching.) I on the other hand, just wanted him to finish so I could preach.
Just because I was a pastor’s daughter didn’t mean I stayed out of trouble. For instance, I recall one day when Dad heard me say a dirty word.
Now, it couldn’t have been very dirty because we did not hang around people who spoke that way. Nonetheless, Dad decided to wash out my mouth with Lifebuoy soap. He laughed when that big bar of soap wouldn’t fit into my 5-year-old mouth, but I did get a taste and never again said a dirty word–at least not around Dad!
At that age, I also hadn’t yet grasped the meaning of one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not steal.” I either daydreamed or slept through most of my dad’s sermons, and Sunday School teachings went right over my head. As such, I learned my lesson on stealing not from the pulpit but from the world of real-life crime.
At a grocery store one day, I asked my mother, Mildred, for one of the candy bars on display, but she refused. I really wanted one, so when she turned away, I took a Baby Ruth and shoved it into my coat pocket. (My middle name is Ruth, and Baby Ruth bars were my favorite back then.)
To my horror, my pocket had a hole in it, so I couldn’t let go of the candy bar. As a result, I clutched that Baby Ruth tightly in my little fist as I followed Mother through the store and checkout stand, out the door and all the way home. Thank goodness it was cold out and it was a short walk home, so the chocolate didn’t melt!
At home, the truth came out when I took my hand out of my pocket to take off my coat.
“I have to go back and pay for this,” Mother said, and she did so immediately. Her reaction surprised me; I thought she would scold me and return the candy, not go back and pay for it.
When Mother returned, Dad, Virgil and I sat at our dining room table while she cut the Baby Ruth into four pieces. I got a piece of candy the same size as everyone else’s. I didn’t get spanked, and Dad didn’t bring out his Bible and pontificate on the evils of stealing. He enjoyed the chocolate as much as the rest of us.
As you can see, my parents also taught us about mercy and grace. In fact, their lesson sure beat hearing Virgil preach to me about stealing. I would’ve spent a long time in hell!
Reprinted from Reminisce Extra, March 2012 by permission.