Little Boxes on the Hillside


“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”   Luke 18:16, NIV
The years between ages 11 and 22 were rough.  Fortunately, I had some help from the man upstairs.
As I mentioned in “Christmas 1971,” we moved from Maryland to California right after Christmas.  We moved in with my grandmother and my Aunt Cecelia in Inglewood.  Yes, that Inglewood, where “all the rappers come from” according to one of my friends.
We stayed there for eight months.  All five of us hated L.A.   I missed trees.  In L.A., instead of trees in the highway median strips, the concrete was painted green.
In August we moved back to Maryland.  My dad bought a house in Odenton in a small neighborhood of split level homes that all looked exactly the same.  (“Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky . . .”)
I started at a new school (junior high school, no less) where I did not know anyone.  This didn’t bother me as I was used to that.  I didn’t have any of my school records, however, so I had to take a placement test.
After I took the test, I sat in the guidance counselor’s office to wait for the results.   This was back when computers took up an entire room, so I’m sure the test was graded by hand.  It took all afternoon.
There was another girl my age waiting also.  We started talking and discovered we had a lot in common.  We were both military kids.  She had five kids in her family; I had four.  We talked all afternoon.  Twenty minutes before the end of the day, I got my schedule and went to class.  Ten minutes later, Elaine showed up.  We were close friends from that day on.
Elaine’s family practically adopted me.  Did they know what I was going through? I never told them. Her mother probably guessed although she never said anything to me.  Back then people did not interfere with the way other parents raised their children.
 Instead, I spent most weekends at her house.  Her house was a little box that looked exactly like mine but it had an entirely different vibe because of the marvelous people who lived in it.  They even took me on vacation with them.  It was the first vacation that did not involve staying with relatives.  Her parents rented a house on Lake Owasco in the Finger Lake region of New York. We drove up there in her family’s cavernous yellow station wagon, the kind with the “way back” seat.  It was the best vacation I had ever had.  I remember dreading the ride home because it meant I had to go home.
Elaine’s father was a military chaplain.  Her mother was one of the sweetest, most generous people I have ever met.  Both of Elaine’s parents were Christians in the purest sense of the world.   Naturally they took me to church with them.
I had been to Sunday school a few times before that, but never to church.  My parents were both ex-Catholics who despised the church.   My mother went to a Catholic boarding school as a child, where the nuns tried to make her drink tomato (pronounced “toe-mah-toe”) juice because they thought she was puny and needed building up.  How tomato juice was supposed to do that, I have no idea.
My dad was a different story.  He did go to church with his second wife Doris, but he went in order to drum up business when he sold life insurance.  He later became a Buddhist to please his fourth wife.  He was religious when it suited him.
I found Christ through my friendship with Elaine and her family.  There were two things that got me through my childhood—school and Christ.  I went to school to get away from the house and to get support.  Jesus gave me support of a different kind.  I finished school a long time ago, but I still lean on Jesus.
Was it a coincidence that Elaine, who was the same age as me, showed up at the same school on the same day and without her school records?   I don’t think so.  God put her and her family in my path to help me manage during those painful years.
It’s funny how the things we learn as children stay with us through adulthood, both good and bad.  Because I was saved so young, my faith has never wavered.
You know the coolest thing about faith?  It goes with you wherever you go.  You don’t have to remember to pack it because it’s already inside you.  You can gain or lose weight and it stays intact.  Get married, get divorced, have a baby, become a helicopter pilot, lose your job, whatever.  It’s there.  I pray every day for guidance and support as I work through this crisis.
I’ve lost touch with Elaine.  Both her parents are dead now.  I miss them all.  Her family gave me the best gift—the gift of faith.

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