Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Bulletin Boys

Kenneth and Hunter, circa 1959
When we moved to Atlanta in the late summer of 1954, our first home, a rental, lay on the west side, a once prominent and affluent suburban area [not that had any impact on why we settled there]. While Daddy and Mother shopped for a house they could afford, we lived in “West End” on Westmont for six months and long enough for Hunter  to enroll in kindergarten and for my parents to choose a church. As religious church-goers, no pun intended, my parents took us to nearby West End Christian Church, a small but growing congregation [when we joined in the process of building a new sanctuary] of young families and well-heeled Cascade Heights dwellers.

I have no memories of “Westmont,” but Mother and Daddy fondly referred to their first house by its street name when they talked of their time there, and Hunter and Margaret both retain some vague memories.

By Christmas of 1954, my parents bought a house about ten miles south of West End on Oana, but we remained faithful attendees of West End Christian; each Sunday in rain, snow, sleet, and heat, we rode the roads, crossed the railroad tracks, and passed other churches to get there.

Kenneth's SS class, circa 1956, fourth from right pointing finger;  mother stands in the background on left
My SS class, circa 1956, fourth from left [Probably making that boy cry!}
In the fall of 1962, my parents changed us to a neighborhood church, Mary Branan Methodist, when Hunter, the oldest, began high school. They believed at this formative age it would be best for him and all of us to “have school friends who attended the same church.” Leaving West End Christian, my parents left behind many friends, most of whom they stayed in touch with as well as visited for the next thirty years.

I hold many, lovely memories of West End Christian: its Carrom game table set up in the basement, the cement pad adjacent to the new sanctuary where we played “Simon Says,” the gravel parking lot, the huge heating and air turbines in deep wells, which we climbed among, along the east side of the sanctuary, its full immersion baptismal fount with the white curtain and loud, wooden stairs, the weekly passing of a silver, communion cup tray with  teeny glasses and wafers, the fashionable hats and dresses worn by the women, the stained glass windows, the covered passageway between the old and new sanctuary, and my brothers’ collecting the bulletins.

Margaret's SS class, back row, third from left, circa 1956

Hunter's SS class, second from right, circa 1956
Highly competitive children, we played to top one another in anything and everything. Even though no serious blood was shed, my childhood teemed with arguments. We poked, prodded, pushed, yelled, fought, and made ugly faces at each other as standard daily fare. As my sister’s childhood friend Terry once told Margaret:  “All I remember about ya’ll is the fighting.” What a legacy!!

With there being four of us, only separated by a five year span, the birth order and rapidness placed my two brothers three and a half years apart. They slept in the same room where they issued ultimatums and threw down gauntlets, they later shared a paper route where they argued about work equality, and at some point in their young lives when we attended West End Christian Church, they initiated a crazy, made-up, competition over whom could collect the most bulletins after church.

bulletin sample

Neither of them remembers exactly how this “collecting of bulletins” began. I imagine this: after church in the parking lot, my parents stood with their friends and talked and talked and talked. Sometimes, they hung around for thirty or forty minutes, maybe longer, catching up on weekly events --  sharing stories of work, child-rearing, and their favorite conversation with other adults  -- “ain’t it awful?” My parents could do some talking.
Mother on left, gabbing, like she liked to do...:-)

I, who was always hungry [used to savor the communion wafer!], perhaps tugged at my mother’s skirt wanting to go home and being shushed for it. They stood around as long as others were willing, and my siblings and I would just wait. Patiently? No. But wait? Yes.

Sometimes, we waited in the car, but those stories?  Later.

My bored brothers sought entertainment, and one of them created the idea of returning to the sanctuary and picking up bulletins.

So, it began.

At first, they waited good-naturedly for most of the parishioners to leave before they ran up and down the aisles, in between pews, slipping and sliding on the tile, and picking up the bulletin from the hymnal slots on the back of the pews where a member had stuck it, diving under pews to retrieve them from the floor where they had carelessly been dropped, plucking them from the end of the pew where they had hung on a cushion, and of course, just simply pilfering them from a neat stack left on a table in the vestibule by the ushers.

ETA: Kenneth told me that they took those from a drawer in a table in the vestibule until they were told that the extra bulletins were taken to "shut ins."

Eventually, that policy of waiting stopped, and they began their competition as soon as the minister said the “amen” of the benediction.

With a war whoop and a manic rush, they dashed in between exiting church members, and vied to up the other by grabbing as many as possible; this brother versus brother became a weekly ritual.
Kenneth and Hunter, circa 1962

I have a distinct, comical memory of my brother Kenneth lying on his stomach, hands and feet splayed, and scooting rapidly and awesomely, I might add, under the pews grasping at fallen bulletins.

From time to time, I would help one or the other – probably Kenneth since he was closest to me in age, and we naturally aligned a type of defense against the older two –who were smug in their “being older” experience.

In addition, my brother Hunter, notorious in the family for his sound beatings of us in board games and cards, seemed always in need of a loss.

Kenneth and I were better athletes, so I’m guessing we gave Hunter some competition at least in the dash part, but Hunter, cunning and cerebral, probably mathematically figured out how to gather the most “church news” by dividing the rows of pews by the number of attendees or something; I don’t know if Margaret ever got in the game or not – she appeared pretty prissy and probably above it. Separated by age to me by three years, she seemed vastly removed from me and more like an adult.

After my parents stopped their chatting with their friends and we drove from church, my brothers in the back seat of the car counted the bulletins they collected and tallied their totals at each other with pride:  “I got 94” or “Ha! I got 106.”  When we got home, they filed the bulletins in the deep drawers of a lady’s old, dressing table used in their room for storage.

Did they have a score card? A money bet? Did one or the other have to pick up a chore for the winner? At some point, this competition turned into a team effort, but when did it change from competition to collusion? That answer is lost family history.

Why did they do this? I don’t know, and they don’t either.

Did my mother eventually make them toss the bulletins when they cleaned their room?

I don’t think so because I, being a natural snoop, looked in those drawers and remember seeing the bulletins so tightly packed that I could run my fingers across the tops of them as if they were manila files.

Mother probably thought the collecting of church bulletins wholesome – better than comic books or baseball cards. And, of course, they were free!

Over the years, they must have accumulated thousands.

Then they stopped.


When we changed churches? Sooner that that?

In my memory, those bulletin boys still run those aisles. 

Margaret [on right] in front of West End Christian church entrance, circa 1959
Mother and Daddy, circa 1954 :-)

ETA: After reading this, my sister emailed me and told me that "I was not too prissy and slid under those pews for my share of bulletins.  I actually think Hunter and I were the first ones to do it."

Ha. Ha. Ha.

1 comment:

  1. "no serious blood" <-- well, that's nice.

    people used to leave the bulletins at the church?! as a former bulletin-maker, i would have been insulted to the moon and back to find more than a couple. then again, if the rest of our congregation (where we had bulletins) was like me, they took 'em home for fire-starters.

    what's worse?