Another Day in the Country
Repeatable old tales
© Another Day in the Country
Telling stories from the past is a family tradition in our household. My grandfather and my dad were both good storytellers. The only problem with Grandpa’s stories was that they were half in German, and most of the time that meant I had to work to understand the punch line.
My dad loved telling stories about the preacher that he interned under back in 1942. He was German and spoke English with a heavy accent.
One time, he announced that his sermon topic was going to be on the “Origin of Sin,” explaining it would be, “Vat da devil is he, vere da devil is he, and vat da devil he is doing now.” My dad used to tell this story and dissolve into laughter.
The devil was a constant presence during my childhood — someone I deathly was afraid of, a sinister spirit bent on making me fail, fall down, hurt myself or others. I didn’t have a clear picture of him — except he was a he. What does that say about our culture?
Even though I saw the devil pictured often as a creature dressed in red with horns and a spiky tail, I didn’t think the devil really looked like that.
I thought he probably would be quite good looking, very powerful, a certain glint in his eye. Was it greed, lust, evil temptation? It all looked pretty much alike to me.
As a Christian child, I was indoctrinated with all the usual unverifiable figures of angels (good and bad), God, Jesus and, of course, the devil. There was a Guardian Angel that deserved capital letters. This angel’s sole job was to keep me safe.
Since I was a pretty cautious kid, she definitely wasn’t overworked. My mother, on the other hand, was overworked trying to keep me from swimming, climbing trees, and riding horses.
I used to try to figure out that conundrum. She told stories on occasion — rare occasions, I must admit. Information about her younger years was usually gleaned from those times that we were visiting at my grandparents and everyone began telling stories.
By nature, the Schuberts were cautious about what stories they told. My grandmother Augusta, the matriarch, set the rule: If you can’t something good, don’t say it. But little by little, I got a picture of Martha, who would become my mom.
She played sports. She was a high jumper of all things. She was in school plays. She sang beautifully. She went “sledding” in winter on a scoop shovel. She milked cows.
One time, she got so disgusted at a cow she was milking who kept swishing flies with her tail and hitting Martha instead that she tied the cow’s tail to the tail of another cow standing in the next stall.
She’d solved a problem quite creatively, and then it came time to turn the cows back out into the pasture. Evidently she’d tied a pretty effective knot because one cow got her tail pulled off.
As the story goes, she never told what she had done, in her own crude way doctoring the poor cow with that stump of a tail, hoping she was never found out as the culprit. As a child, I wondered about the other cow with a tail and a half. What happened there?
I loved hearing these stories. My mother, doing something devious. Imagine! I couldn’t.
My mother also worked hard to not imprint my childhood with other mythical characters who for most people standard childhood fare: Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, hobbits, gnomes and fairy tale characters.
My world was filled, instead, with Bible characters — not quite as much fun as Santa and the Tooth Fairy because they didn’t initiate presents or interaction with kids.
I was charged, as a Christian child, never to read comic strips that came in the local paper.
I remember hearing this caution most when we were living in Kansas City and the Kansas City Star had a whole page of “funnies” every day and printed even more in its Sunday issue.
I had to sneak to read them. My Guardian Angel was chagrined, I’m sure.
Mom also was very wary of fiction — especially continued stories that were a highlight of the Saturday Evening Post. We didn’t get that magazine, but Grandpa Schubert did, and he saved each issue.
Whenever we came to visit, I’d head upstairs to his attic storeroom and read the Post, which had not only continued fictional stories but also page after page of cartoons. Every summer, I’d lie up there on the cool linoleum for hours, lost in a world of make-believe.
“You have no business in a movie theater,” my mother cautioned. “Your Guardian Angel won’t go in with you.”
I pretty much believed her, but it didn’t stop me from questioning her theories as I grew older.
I’m sure that “pretty much” was enough caution to keep me out of quite a lot of trouble. And here I am, decades and decades later, still talking about it, on another day in the country.