The summer after I finished first grade, we moved from our cozy parsonage in Berea to a trailer park in a blue-collar Ohio town.
My minister dad had embarked on another of his periodic pilgrimages to the Buckeye State, where he hoped to convert heathen northerners to the Southern Baptist faith and, in this case, also establish himself in a new, bi-vocational calling as a school guidance counselor.
While the summer lasted, our move didn’t seem so bad.
I’d ride my bike down the trailer park’s narrow streets to the park’s office. There, I’d buy myself a Barq’s root beer from a machine. I’d tool back and forth across the trailer park’s lanes, steering with one hand, a bottle dangling by its long neck from my other hand.
I bought Barq’s because the bottles were shaped like beer bottles. Even at 7, I knew the Baptists’ tee-totaling ways weren’t for me. I’d pedal and pretend I was driving a souped-up hot rod while drinking a cold brew. A secret, prepubescent rebel.
Where I’d gotten this image — me in a fast car with a cold beer — I can’t say, since none of the adults around me were partiers. I knew what I wanted, though, and imagined I’d have it for real when I was grown and no longer held hostage by fun-stifling Bible thumpers.
Then summer ended. The opening day of school came. Second grade.
My mom delivered me to my new classroom. I can still see, more than a half-century later, how it appeared to me: high, shadowy ceilings; everything dim and colorless; a roomful of bobbing, boisterous kids I didn’t know; a strange teacher instead of my beloved Mrs. Tincher from first grade.
When my mother turned to leave, I suddenly felt unmoored, bereft, terrified. I burst into tears, ran after Mom. I clung to her legs and begged her to take me home.
She tried to reassure me.
She tried to leave again. Again, I erupted into sobs and locked my arms around her.
This went on several more times.
“I’m sorry,” I remember Mom saying to the teacher. “He’s never done this before.”
She left, and I sat at my desk crying, while the other kids stared at me.
For months, this drama became our daily ritual.
In the mornings as I ate breakfast and got dressed, my mother would let our grainy black-and-white television play, mainly to distract me, I imagine.
It had the opposite effect. There was a kids’ show out of Cincinnati called The Skipper Ryle Show, or maybe it was the other local show, The Uncle Al Show, but at some point in the program this show would play a song that went, “Bend and stretch, reach for the stars. There goes Jupiter, here comes Mars.”
When I heard that tune, I knew it was time for school — and I’d break down again. I can still hear that song in my head.
This went on and on, through much of the fall. I’d weep at home. I’d weep at school. I’d lie awake at night, dreading the morning.
It got so bad my parents discussed sending me back to Berea to live with family friends.
This was my first experience with trauma. Being uprooted from my previous school and friends broke something inside me. Nobody, including me, could fix it.
Yet it got fixed. That’s the other half of the story.
One day, as the school year plodded along, I realized I wasn’t crying anymore.
Then, after a while longer, I wasn’t even particularly sad.
Then I felt pretty happy. I’d made a buddy, Todd. I’d even got myself a little girlfriend (Jerri, if I recall). I didn’t think much anymore about Mrs. Tincher or my previous classmates or Kentucky.
Ohio had become normal to me.
In the more than 50 years since, I’ve experienced my share of additional traumas, far worse ones. I’ve found that among the great gifts life gives us is the ability to adjust to almost anything. The end of a first love affair. A job setback. A scary illness. The death of a parent. The loss of a spouse.
You sag beneath some heartbreak you’re sure will crush you. You lie awake in the night, weeping on your sheets. You pine all day. Your soul wastes away.
Then, mysteriously, you come back. You never forget the losses. You’re never quite the same. But eventually, almost without recognizing it, you start moving forward.
Part of this recovery, I suppose, is simply the passing of time. Your pain dims, becomes at least bearable, as your memories fade.
Another part of it, I think, is a sort of grace at work within us humans. Just as we’re imbued with the ability to feel pain, we’re also imbued with a counterbalancing sense of hope. We suffer a tragedy, but then, find ourselves believing again, in spite of all evidence, that the future might be better. Which makes this new day bearable.
It’s just part of who we are, of how the Lord made us. We survive on hope.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.