To borrow a catchphrase from Sophia Petrillo (Golden Girls)…”picture it”…small town Illinois, 1961…curly-haired girl in a little plaid dress, white anklets and Mary Jane shoes. This was back when a kid could walk to and from school in relative safety. So, said kid, who you have by now figured out is me, is on her way home from second grade, school papers firmly clutched to keep the stiff breeze from tearing them out of her stubby hands. The closer I got to my street, that breeze carried with it a strong unpleasant and unfamiliar scent. It made my nose burn and my eyes sting and prompted a cough. I could even taste it, but I kept on walking. I had no choice, if I was going home, but to brave the malodorous air and trudge on.
When I reached Adams’ Market, my green-sided house was in sight, but the street itself looked strange and kind of eerie. There were no cars parked on it. None at all. Dad’s Oldsmobile, Mr. Price’s Studebaker, Chief Buckner’s patrol car, the Baker’s pickup, Mr. Wiegand’s Bell Telephone truck…all of them were missing. I’d heard the preacher talk about the rapture. Was this it? Down at the far end of Penning Avenue was a peculiar contraption of a truck like I had never seen before that added to the weird, other worldly feeling in the air, and there was now no doubt where that smell was coming from. Judgment! Is this what fire and brimstone smells like?
About that time, a neighbor boy, Marion, who was closer to junior high age startled me when he came up behind and said, “You better run! Run and cross the street before that truck gets in front of your house!” I heard him, but I kept walking. I barely looked up. Again he said, “Run! Go on! It’s getting closer. Run so you don’t have to walk through it!” Walk through what?
Marion and his two brothers, Richard and Joey, seemed to be good kids. Always courteous, always polite, almost strangely so. They seemed okay….but then I’d seen Eddie Haskell on “Leave it to Beaver” who would say in one breath, “That’s a lovely sweater, Mrs. Cleaver” and then poke fun at “the Beav” with his “heh-heh” laughter in the next. So could they be trusted? I didn’t know.
And then there was that incident the summer before where I had listened to the boy who lived in the duplex next door when he said, “Come here, I’m gonna tell you a secret.” He fired a cap gun point blank into my left ear and then laughed like a hyena as he ran away. It hurt and rang for a long time and I never told a soul. I just felt stupid.
I was kind of nervous…too many weird things going on, but I decided I had had my fill of boys and feeling stupid, so nothing Marion said was going to make me run. Nothing. “He just wants to laugh at me”, I thought. I was processing all of this in my elementary school brain when Marion yells, “RUN! RUNNNN!” There was almost a doomsday urgency to his voice. “Russians!”, I thought, as any red-blooded American child of the Cold War era would think. I felt my spine tingle and my legs stiffen as a wave of panic washed over me. What is that truck anyway?? Still, he was a boy, and boys cannot be trusted. So there will be no running. Not today. None.
Well, as you know, it was not the rapture, and that terrifying tar truck continued forward and spilled its sticky, smelly black goo all the way to the end of the block…right past my house. I had no choice now but to traverse right through the oil and tar…cute little Mary Janes, white ruffled socks and all. I could hear Marion in front of his house, “Ughhh!” I turned to see him, shaking his head in disbelief. Up the concrete steps, leaving perfect black footprints, and into the house to safety I went.
Mom was usually in the kitchen, but today for some reason she was in the living room when I started in. In all the years before and since I never heard her bemoan a situation quite like she did that day. Why did you walk right through it? Why didn’t you run ahead of it? Why didn’t you listen? All the “why” questions that I had no answer to. I was puzzled. I got no credit whatsoever for having resisted the urgings of a boy to run. I thought she’d be proud. I had vanquished the male power to make me feel idiotic and inadequate, and escaped the Russians all in one day. I had been victorious! The oil and tar, I felt, was a small price to pay. My self esteem had been preserved…my Mary Janes and mom’s carpet had not.
Well, somewhere along the line, many paydays hence, I got new shoes; and although the socks were ruined, we kept them both because that’s just what you did down on Penning. Mom was able to get a bit of the tar out of the rug, but even when I graduated eighth grade, you could still see a smidge of it by the front door. It’s funny that all these years later, I still cringe when I smell tar or see an asphalt truck and Macadam roller. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with all the issues that calls to mind. But believe it or not, I did learn something from it.
I learned that warnings are important….even if you’re not sure about the person issuing them. An eight year old girl could not be held to the same standard of care as an adult. At that age, you only have a cognizant world view history of maybe five years, if that. You could not begin to amass the knowledge, reason and logic that a person even twice that age would have. But a full grown adult, someone who has all their faculties, all their powers of reason, bringing all their life experience with them, should be able to see or hear a warning and process its plausibility without much trouble.
You may not know me. You may question my motives. You may put no faith whatsoever in what I say, but I have shown up here today to warn you there is something going on. There is a feeling in the air like there’s never been in my lifetime. The third chapter of 2 Timothy is very clear in its description of what today looks …and smells like. This world STINKS. There is no other way to say it. It is a stench in the nostrils of God. Evil men and women pour out their filthy, vile imaginings, their wicked counsel onto our streets, into our schools and textbooks, films and television. It oozes into every crack and crevice of society and daily life and threatens to blacken our children and grandchildren. They know full well that their nasty concoction just may stick and at the very least stain impressionable young minds. It’s not going to get better, sorry to say, for 2 Timothy 3:13 says “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
This is just one example of what’s going on around us. If we were privy to it all, it may be too much to believe. But let me say this…even if you’re not quite sure about that preacher you’re listening to on Sunday morning…even if you question his education…even if his manner irritates you…he’s too loud or too soft spoken…you find his fu manchu annoying…he wears his shirt untucked or his hair’s pulled back in a Steven Seagal queue… if he hasn’t bought a new suit since the Eisenhower administration…even if you don’t like the messenger at all …consider. If he’s warning you to RUN, then run! RUN home to Jesus before it’s too late and you have to walk alone through the black of this world. I’d do it. I’d check my pride and run full tilt till I got home. Just RUN and take your children with you!
If you’ve already made that decision, then RUN and warn somebody else.