My first suspension from school (September 1957) for fighting put me quite unintentionally into my mother’s week day routines one of which, having coffee and chat with three ladies from church, was the most excruciating. Tuesday and Thursday I was fawned over by two of the oldest ladies on earth during the commercial breaks of their favorite day-time Television shows. When they weren’t commenting on my precious looks, personality and manners their third friend scolded me for fighting at school.
The rest of the days I sat near my mom in our claustrophobic living room with its browns, lavenders and teal furnishings and watched television. It was a dreary programming for a nine year old boy. “The Price Is Right,” “Queen For A Day” “Secret Storm,” and the “Edge Of Night,” merged their various sorrows into one single voice that always seemed to whisper, “watch me, buy me, possess me.”
By Friday, 4 p.m. I was aware, deep in my soul that Sunday was coming and that Doc Withrow, Mr. Fourth Grade School Master, would have something to say about the new god of America – materialism. I was right. Of course I was.
Mrs. Esther Withrow was the treasured wife of Doc and had relayed with intricate detail the gory story of my suspension from school. He was also informed of the nature of my punishment and was concerned about what kind of useless, materialistic voodoo had infested my brain cells and invaded my thought waves.
“Your life is not to be given over to the things,” Doc said, not bothering to open our class with his traditional rambling six minute prayer. “You will accumulate things. You’ll get those things no matter what. But no thing must ever own you. To crave things is to forget the one who owns all things. He is a good Father and will give you what you need along the way. But God has made a place for you in heaven and that is where your treasure should be. Where your thinking should be.”
He opened his Bible and read from chapter 13 of Matthew. The parable of the sower. It was one parable I understood perfectly. But I had not cared to act on it much. Today wouldn’t be a good day for it either.
Doc read with passion about the destiny of the seeds and then focused all of his patriarchal energy on the seeds that fell among the thorns in verse 22:
“As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
“We know about ‘deceit’ don’t we?” asked Doc. He met my eyes soberly as he did each of the other eight boys in the class. “It is like a lie, only it has a lasting impact on who you’ll become in life if you swallow it. Today it may be the candy you want, tomorrow it may be the snazzy shoes, or it may even just be about having some time to yourself, but once that selfish deceit grows inside you it will begin to be sour and distasteful to your family and friends and it will certainly displease your God and Creator and King of the Heavenly Kingdom to come.”
“Dearest Righteous God – Warn these boys!” Doc Withrow prayed, “Not to be filled with the greed and lust for the things they see on this TV everyone seems so preoccupied with. Show them You’re the one and only true path into Your Kingdom! Amen.”
We all said amen and in a shot I was out the door and into the car. Mom was taking me to buy my own transistor radio. I could hardly wait to hear the play by play announcers for the Golden West network describe the 1 p.m. baseball game between the Giants and the Dodgers.
It would actually be many years before my thoughts of the Kingdom of God would eclipse my obsession with things and the San Francisco Giants.