Vacation Bible School was a chore.
Before you get all high and mighty on me, let me explain.
Granny, being in close connection to the one and only God the Father Almighty as well as the preacher, took it upon herself to take a week of vacation every year during VBS so she could serve.
Or, as she put it, make sure no one messed up her Sunday School room where she ruled the nursery.
So, for a week every summer my mornings or afternoons, whenever VBS was
scheduled, were spent at the church at the crossroads.
I always thought Granny had some special authority at the church because if we got there before anyone else did, she knew where the key was and would let us in to get things ready.
We’d enter the building with a hallowed reverence to walk towards the
stairs down to the fellowship hall so Granny could start surveying what snacks
they had and what they needed.
Not only did she run the nursery, which she truly did for a number of decades, but Granny thought herself the overseer of the church kitchen.
And just like her kitchen at home, she would fuss and complain if anything was out of place or not as well stocked as she thought it should be.
“Why are you so worried?” I asked her every time.
“Because,” was her answer. “We gotta have enough food for all the children. It’s important.”
I thought it was kind of silly. Don’t get me wrong; I was never one to turn down a snack, but I thought she was being a bit strident about the whole thing.
But Granny knew it mattered because we didn’t just have our regular kids; we had kids that had never been to our church before and this was their first impression of us.
Lots of kids showed up that we never saw again.
They didn’t come to Sunday School, didn’t ever come back for church.
They just arrived and were later picked up in a car by someone who never got out to introduce themselves or speak to the people their kids had been with all day.
I didn’t understand it.
When I got older, I started questioning why these kids appeared for a week, sometimes, a little dirty, sometimes, acting like this was their sole summer entertainment.
And when it was time for snack, some lingered, eyeing the table wanting to ask for seconds.
The snacks were not that great but when you’re a kid, a cookie is still a cookie.
There were plates loaded down with those vanilla-chocolate fake Oreos that came a million to a pack for fifty cents, some kind of tasteless rectangular coconut one, and some soft, slightly stale chocolate chip cookie that seemed like a prize. To wash them down, we had orange Hi-C or gallon jugs of grape Kool-Aid.
And Granny let them have as much as they could eat.
One day, a scruffy child approached the table with a wary eye and demanded to know where the Moon-Pies were.
Did he think we had a secret stash of good treats somewhere?
Granny told him we didn’t have Moon-Pies but we did have some mighty fine cookies and asked if she could fix him a plate.
He frowned, very disturbed by the lack of marshmallow cookies.
“My mama told me there’d be Moon-Pies; thems my favorites,” he said. “I don’t like these cookies. I gots these at home.”
Granny nodded slowly. I was waiting for her to explode as she normally did, but for some reason she didn’t.
The next morning on the way to the church, she stopped at The Store (yup, that was the name of Mr. Gambrel’s establishment – The Store; it regularly held “Going Out FOR Business Sales,” too) and bought a Moon-Pie. She never said a word as to why, but I suspect she gave it to that child that had been so vocal about the snacks.
“Should we let someone we don’t know come into our church? They don’t even want to come here,” I complained one summer.
Granny took a deep breath as she tried to explain.
Some of those kids were coming to learn about Jesus and the Lord.
Some were coming to be loved.
Some were coming to eat and be in air conditioning.
And Granny, as judgemental as she could be – and God help me, I can be just like her – told me with a quickness it didn’t matter why they were there. We were going to do what we were preaching all week and we were going to love them and be good to them.
I was shocked.
Here she was, the meanest, strictest woman I knew, and she was telling me to go out there and show all those children some kindness.
I see the signs littering the sides of the roads now, letting people know the upcoming dates of VBS at all the area churches. Each one with a different theme, but all hoping to do the same thing – the opportunity to give children a little bit of Jesus for a few days.
And if they are lucky, a cookie or maybe even a Moon-Pie.