Our new abode was Parkchester Apartments. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary had nice on campus housing that came with a waiting list. Somehow Parkchester was on the list of alternative sites for students needing rental housing. To the best of my memories it resembled a barracks I stayed in on a Russian Mission trip. Dredging up the memories of a seven year old, Parkchester evoked varied memories of feet. The buildings smelled like sweaty feet. It was my first experience with the steam bath that summer in the South brings to mind. The smell in the hallways was similar to taking a swan dive into a gym bag. The second memory of feet and Parkchester was that all night long the floors upstairs creaked to the sound of big feet on sagging subfloor. It just seemed like it was going to be a horrible place from the get go. My dad could be hired to terraform hostile planets. Dad invested in a Sears Coldspot air conditioner. Somehow this magical box, Willis Carrier’s greatest invention, pumping an endless circuit of Chlorodifluoromethane scrubbed the smell of stinky feet from the air of our cubicle. This micro-atmospheric processing unit transformed the thick yellow air into a little bubble of sanity in this hostile new land.
My Kindergarten days were spent at East Globe Elementary under Mrs. Esther Preston in Globe, Arizona. My First Grade year was spent under Mrs. Virginia Dolan at Central Elementary in Miami, Arizona. A cute parenthetical story from my time with Mrs. Dolan was related to a project where she asked us to draw and describe what we wanted to be when we grew up. I drew a picture and said that I wanted to be a missionary miner. I wanted to work in the mines on the weekdays, and tell people about Jesus on the weekends as a missionary. It stuck in her mind, probably because of the unusual combination of careers. Fourteen years later in 1982 at my grandfather’s funeral, I bumped into Mrs. Dolan. She asked me if I ever became a missionary miner. It was really funny because that summer I was doing mine assessment work on a copper claim, and working with a mission church on the weekend at Gilson Wash Baptist Church in San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. We laughed together at the course that my life had taken at that point. A couple of years later she sent me a graduation present with the sweetest note that said, “I am glad you became a missionary miner. I wanted to go into missions, but I was too scared.” In some ways it represents the paradigm of my life. Most of my living has been made in the dust of my trade skills. At the same time the impressions of my grandmother who was active in the Women’s Missionary Union of Trinity Baptist Church have never left me either. I wrestled for years with the question of what is my calling to missions. It has turned out over time that it is to be a layman who loves seeing the spread of the Gospel worldwide.
Our move to Parkchester and New Orleans started my third school. I enrolled in the Second Grade at Bienville School. Our stay at Parkchester, and Bienville was short because I finished the Second Grade at William Charles Coles Claiborne School near the Seminary on Campus. Bienville is one of the few schools that I don’t remember my teacher’s name, and major features of my time at the school. Cut me some slack here I think I was there for about two months, and it has been forty-five years since I was there. Man I am getting old! I remember that the food in the Cafeteria smelled kind of like some grade of ground horse meat with gravy on it. Somehow lots of cafeteria food smelled like that after that time.
Shortly our name came up on that waiting list, and we were a full-fledged seminary family. Here is where I describe a life that is all things Southern Baptist. My mom as a single woman worked in the library at the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board. Throughout the South there is that unique look that all cookie cutter Southern Baptist Churches have. What most people don’t realize is that many of those churches from the 40’s through the 70’s were built from plans distributed through the Sunday-School board. The required four pillars of the Southern Baptist Church have great theological significance. The pillars from left to right stand for The Father, The Son, The Holy Spirit, and The Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program pillar is somehow designed to carry the entire weight of the Church. I believe that the architects assembled together with acoustical and mechanical engineers to combine the perfect combination of poor acoustics, unnecessary brick work, the weight of a constantly paint flaking steeple, creaking floors, and drafty windows which are the characteristics that represent the concept “Church” to all of us who grew up there. The bathrooms have their own smell. There is this fragrant mix of heavy lead based paint and urinal cakes that take me back in time. I don’t really want to get in that time machine, but that smell could take me back if I decided to go.
All of the buildings on the campus had that same red brick Colonial look that was characteristic of Southern Baptist Churches. In the center was the chapel with pillars that stretched to sky to support a pediment that was supposed to have a towering steeple on top of it. The Southern Baptist trying to teach an object lesson about the parable of building a building without counting the cost had erected a beautiful chapel that remained topless for years. To add insult to injury they had coined a logo of this beautiful chapel with the nonexistent steeple, and placed this signature on everything that represented NOBTS. There was no mistaking that there was supposed to be a steeple on this chapel because the designer plates sold in bookstore rendered the artist’s conception of a nonexistent steeple. The inside story was that the steeple that was supposed to fit the building was too heavy for the church to support its weight. At some point in the future, probably after the advent of fiberglass, the building was retrofitted for the load. I remember looking at it on a subsequent visit to the campus after its completion thinking all is right in the world.
Dad and Mom were in school studying for the ministry, and all was right with the world.