CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter
LIFE IN THE CHURCH BASEMENT R, 3-16-17
Mary Louise Hopkins was very old. Maybe 35, even. She was my Sunday School teacher, in the basement of Forsythe Church. Her son, Dick Book, was also very old. Fifteen, maybe even 16. He rode my school bus and was kind enough to talk baseball sometimes with this ten year old and my confreres.
When you’re ten--as I was when we moved from Indianapolis to the countryside near Forsythe Methodist Church, outside Oakland City, Indiana, and I began to ride a school bus instead of a street car—everyone the age of your parents is quite elderly, and every teenager is either a frightening bully or a cool and sophisticated and worldly role model.
I don’t know how long Mary Louise had been in the Forsythe basement when I became one of her Sunday School students, along with other “Willing Workers,” like John Kennedy and Kenny Liniger and Philip Buyher and Darrel Guimond. I know she was still there when she worked the meal after my father’s funeral, 57 years later. She was quite young then, 90, maybe even 92. She was younger still when she died, at 95.
No, I’m not demeaning her, by calling her “young lady,” the way some people do to old women. When you’ve lived a lot of years, you’re old, but Mary Louise lived all those years in the church basement. I think that’s what made her young.
We were a genially unruly bunch of boys, the Willing Workers, who hurried to the basement before anyone else could get into our corner so that we could discuss the exploits of our hero, “The Phantom,” of the comic pages. John Kennedy’s uncle bought an Evansville paper out of a kiosk on the street in Oakland City each Sunday morning before coming to the Forsythe countryside to John’s house for breakfast, so John was able to read The Phantom, a nice long half-page on Sunday, and he could give us the skinny on our jungle role model before other kids got the paper in the mail on Monday. That gave us a great advantage on the Monday school bus route of bus driver Jimmy Bigham. We knew stuff other Phantomphiles did not.
So we had two good reasons for going to Sunday School—The Phantom, and Mary Louise. When she arrived, we just automatically settled down. We might be willing to work grief on other people, but not to Mary Louise. We knew she cared about us.
That never changed. She told me how wonderful I was from age ten until I was in my seventies. Every time she saw me. Once when I was in college and came home for the weekend and showed up in church, when I walked in, she jumped up and started applauding. Everyone else joined in. Mary Louise had that effect. I’m not sure anyone else ever saw me quite the way she did. It must have been something about that basement.
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Mary Louise’s actual dates were from Nov. 7, 1917 July 16, 2013.