Virginia A. Cline
Bishop William Hanby and Squire Fouse lived in Westerville 140 years ago, both experienced freedom for the first time in their early twenties. Here's an imagined conversation between the two:
"Squire, is this your son?"
"Yes sir, Bishop, this is Willie. He was born the year after your Benjamin passed away."
"Willie, do you know what this is?" asks Bishop William Hanby holding out a coin.
"It's a penny," says Willie, his eyes lighting up.
"It's yours if you promise to save it."
"I promise," says Willie, already knowing the weight of his words at five years old.
"'Liberty' is spelled out right here," Hanby says, pointing to the tiny inscription. "And here are the most important words: 'In God we trust'."
"I was 22 before I held a penny," explains Squire Fouse, a former slave, "and when I did I couldn't feel it -- my fingers were so hardened by calluses."
"I understand, Squire," says Hanby, rubbing his hands together, remembering how they ached when he was forced to make harnesses for sixteen hours a day, without rest. "Not many people know I was penniless and on the run for my life when I came to Ohio. In my youth, I owned nothing. I was an indentured servant."
Squire looks into Hanby's eyes. In that moment he realizes that even though their skin is different, they are brothers bound by the experience of bondage.
Finally, Squire intensifies his gaze, "Is freedom the most important thing, Sir?"
"No, it's faith," replies the preacher. "I was forced to work seven days a week. I was kept from school and church. I was denied all social contact; however, my abusive owner could not keep my spirit captive. I prayed desperately for God's help and finally, He showed me what I needed to escape."
"What was it?"
"Faith -- I had to trust that God would help me. He made it possible for me to find my way through the forest. During my journey, when I thought I couldn't go on, God provided. I was aided repeatedly by kind strangers each of whom reminded me to trust in the Lord."
Hanby continues: "This experience convinced me that God wants each one of us to be our brother's keeper. This revelation so profoundly shaped my views on brotherhood that I dedicated my life to providing food and shelter to those in search of freedom. A spirit of brotherhood soon dominated my house and that spirit gave me the courage to preach against the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850."
"Was that the reason slave owners took black men back down South even though Ohio is a free state?" asks Squire as he scoops up Willie into his thick dark arms.
"That's right, and abolitionists deliberately disobeyed that law."
"But how could a minister, like you, break the law?"
"When a man-made law is in conflict with God's law, there is no compromise -- we are more bound by our Lord-given conscience," explains Hanby. "As for me and my house we serve the Lord. Just as there was light to brighten my steps through the Pennsylvania woodland at night when I could see no moon, so too did God help me to make my house a beacon of hope in the darkness."
"I know misters Stoner, Sharp, and Davis ran secret stations as part of the Underground Railroad."
"Yes and our children helped too. Benjamin was my most trusted ally." Hanby's eyes moisten as he remembers the roses in the front window as a sign of brotherhood to all who entered his beloved home. "He would share his own food and clothing, and then worship God with freedom seekers before smuggling them by wagon in the middle of the night to the next station. He told me that even on the darkest nights there was always light guiding him."
"Benjamin's spirit lives on, Bishop." Squire steps forward, resting his hand on the older gentleman's shoulder to comfort him. "Your son has made a lasting impression on our community. He's an inspiration to us. I hear folks singing 'Up on the Housetop' long past Christmastime. To ease their chores, my children sing 'Darling Nelly Grey'."
"Willie," asks Squire, "do you know who wrote that song?"
"That's Benjamin Hanby's song," says Willie jumping down from his father's arms. "I am going to be like him. I am going to go to Otterbein and when I'm a teacher, I'll make school so fun everyone will want to come."
Willie sings as he runs down Main Street toward Otterbein: "When the moon had climbed the mountain and the stars were shining too. Then I'd take my darling Nelly Gray and we'd float down the river in my little red canoe."
In 1893, Squire's son became the first black man to graduate from Otterbein.
"Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth".
Psalm 46:8 (MSG)
The Great Decorator is at it again-He's redecorating His creation. Out with the grays, browns and whites of winter--it's time for a makeover!
He rolls up His sleeves and tackles the cleaning first with plentiful doses of rain, gentle and not-so-gentle winds and intermittent bursts of sunshine. He scrubs clean the bare limbs of the trees in preparation for their new covering. Ah! The air smells fresh and clean and the sidewalks and streets are washed clean of dirty snow, rotten leaves and twigs.
The cleaning done, He begins to add color to brighten up the drab gray landscape. He chooses a warm green to carpet the earth and cover the naked trees and shrubs. Then a splash of brilliant yellow flowers in one corner, purple flowers in another, and bright pink, red, blue, and orange are all arranged carefully in His home like well-placed throw pillows.
What color for the walls? He chooses a cheery blue to cover the skies with an occasional fluffy white cloud to add some pizzazz. Of course, He uses only original artwork on the walls. His masterpiece is a dramatic bow of seven colors-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet-splashed across the blue canvas.
He adorns all His four-legged creatures with new coats or feathers or fur and they strut or fly around showing off their new Spring wardrobe. Then God adds music to set a happy mood-the wind whistles through the trees, the birds chirp cheerfully while the squirrels, lambs, cows and other animals all skillfully sing their parts in this great Spring chorus.
Seeing all the work the Great Decorator has done inspires us two-legged creatures to get into the act as well. It's time to rid our homes of cobwebs and dust bunnies, splash some brilliant color around to replace the darks of winter, take on a new art project, buy some new clothes, take a walk in the warm sunshine, whistle a happy tune, look up to heaven and blow God a kiss! It's Spring!
"Spring flowers are in blossom all over. The whole world's a choir-and singing! Spring warblers are filling the forest with sweet arpeggios." Song of Solomon 2:12 (MSG)
Decoration Day was a really fun time in small town America back in the late 40's and early 50's. It always seemed as if the number of boys on decorated bicycles had multiplied to twice their normal number. They rode their bikes up and down and all around with crepe paper or plastic woven through the spokes making a clickity-clackety noise. They were just generally making pests of themselves. When the parade started in early afternoon they were a part of it- dodging in and out of all marching in the parade and lining the streets. We girls were much more genteel, or so we thought, because we had a really important job-that of decorating the graves of the veterans buried in the cemetery.
Many of us had helped the American Legion Auxiliary collect flowers from gardens all over town the day before. We would knock on doors and the homeowner would come out and show us the flowers we could take. Then we would deliver them to the girl's locker room at the high school. The auxiliary ladies bundled and tied them in to small bouquets and gently sprayed them down with water to keep them fresh until the next day. What a sight that locker room was by late afternoon with row after row of fragrant flowers-iris, snowballs, lilacs, late tulips, peonies, and lily-of-the-valley ready for the morrow.
Our high school band only had 35-40 members but was always an important part of the parade. No spiffy uniforms, no flag corp, just a proud group of kids doing the best they knew how in white shirts or blouses with homemade white pleated skirts or white duck trousers. A black wool cape lined in orange satin that folded over the shoulders and fastened in the back completed the look.
At about 8:30 a.m. they participated in a Decoration Day ceremony at a small township cemetery in this rural county honoring the soldiers and sailors buried there. One year a brass horn quartet was supposed to play "Abide with Me" at 8:30 in the morning when it was still cold, cold, cold out. That didn't work because no one could find their beginning note. They finally gave up trying. After the ceremony we boarded the school bus and went back to our town of about 850. That afternoon at 1:30 the band would be assembling in front of the post office ready to be a part of the home town parade.
The parade wasn't long by today's standards. Leading off were seven Army, Navy and Marine Corp veterans carrying the American Flag and their rifles over their shoulders. With measured tread they marched, paying no attention to the brisk band cadence. So solemnly and proudly they led the parade and how dashing and unfamiliar they looked in their uniforms. Following would be the Scouts, 4-H Horse Club, antique cars, Legionnaires and veterans from World War I and World War II....some stooped and grey, others upright. Through it all sounded the band beating a lively beat. Lining the streets were families ready to follow at the end of the parade down the main street to the cemetery.
Our job as children of members of the American Legion on that Decoration Day was to meet at the schoolhouse where we waited with our arms full of flower bouquets to join the parade. How proudly we marched through the sun-washed streets, surely the most important part of the parade for didn't we carry the flowers to be laid on the graves of the brave?
The marchers veered to the left down Cemetery Road for two more blocks. One drummer had loosened her snares at the entrance to the cemetery for the hollow sounding-thirr pum pum pum, thirr pum pum pum. The racing around, the giggling and whispering would cease as instinctively, all were silent. Only the steady drum beat and shuffle of feet could be heard. We flower bearers would scatter throughout the cemetery quietly laying a bouquet on each serviceman's grave marked with an American Flag while the rest of the town folk walked to the sad thirr pum pum pum to the podium marked by the empty flag pole.
It was then that the flag was raised. After the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance a dignitary would give a brief talk followed by the 21 gun salute by the proud veterans who had led the parade. Then came the playing of Taps by two trumpeters from the high school band---- one by the flag pole and the other at a far corner of the cemetery echoing the other.
Day is done.
Gone the sun.
From the lake,
From the hills,
From the sky.
All is well,
God is nigh.
That is the way we honored our brave servicemen in the 1940's and 1950's -- a shining tribute on Decoration Day ... called that because that was the day we decorated the graves. Today it is called Memorial Day.
To Sissy with Love
You've always been a special aunt
throughout my life, It's true
you've been a good friend, too
And when almost four years ago
my life changed in many ways
You loved me more than ever
in those most uncertain days
When scary times I often faced
what really helped me through
Was knowing god was with me always
just as he's with you
You told me you were proud of me
and as I faced my fears
I learned to face them with a laugh
more often than with tears
Now life's thrown us another curve
but not to me, to you
And now I sit at home and wonder
just what I can do
I think the best that I can do is
simply just to pray
And write this poem to demonstrate
my love for you today
Now I do not presume to think
I know just how you feel
But always know that my concern
is very, very real
Please try to find a way to fight
be strong, be tough, be you
tell us how to help you
tell us just what we can do
I know the holidays are tough
my christmas wish for you
Is that you find a special peace
in everything you do