Long Ago Christmas

I was a privileged child. I had no idea there was a depression on, or that my family had money problems.

True, we had moved all over from one relative's home to another in my 5 years, but we had finally settled down in Virginia where I went to school and took piano lessons. I was loved and I suppose pretty spoiled, the "only child."

It must have been my 8th Christmas. My mother took me shopping in Washington, and we were crossing the street between two big department stores. Hurrying people almost separated the two of us, but she held my hand tightly and as we started in one door behind the Salvation Army Santa I stooped down to pick up a pack of chewing gum.

Mother said the usual, and I knew better than to pick up dirty trash from the ground, but how exciting it would be to have a whole 5 pieces of gum, from a brand-new green package! And inside the door, scurrying up the aisle between all the Christmas decorations, I opened my fist and found a five dollar bill.

Five dollars! All my own, to spend any way I pleased!

What did I want most?
I think that was the year of the Shirley Temple doll craze, and that's what I wanted most. I didn't know how much Shirley cost, and Santa couldn't afford it so we never found out.

My mother got a new nightgown and my father got a pair of pajamas for Christmas.

And that's one of my childhood Christmases in my memory. Other years and memories have disappeared but that one remains vivid, the year I had all the money to spend, to buy whatever was precious to me, and I bought gifts for the most precious people in my life.

My Job And Yours

We had traveled from the East Coast—across the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians, through the dry Midwest, the High Plains and the brown grazing lands of the cattle ranches and through the high Rockies. Even the Rockies looked barren, not green with evergreens but dotted with rocks and small bushes. I was anxious to see California, and the Pacific, and my son—and to get out of that car!

Down below, in a break between two small ridges, appeared some small green trees, and as we drove on they became larger and more frequent. We could see the trees clearly and we followed that green line until we drove alongside them. The map told us that they grew next to a river, and that we were close to Lake Tahoe.

How refreshing to see those trees, and to receive their message that not all the world was dry and hot and windy. They just stood there for our reassurance. They were symbols of life and God’s care and nourishment.

Just so are we to stand—to reassure other people. We are not all called to teach, or preach, or to make a loud statement. Many times we may reach a low point, but God’s River will nourish us. All the time others may be traveling along Life’s Way through the dry and hot desert, looking for they-know-not-what. Our job may be simply to stand firm on his promises and show them the Way.

Useful Advice

Wherever God takes you--go.
Whatever the task--do it.
Wherever the challenge--accept it.
Whenever the call--answer it.
Whichever the lesson--learn it.
However dark the path--follow it.
Because wherever God takes you,
  It is worth it.

God Was My Navigator

I'm 81 years old; my husband and I used to drive anywhere we wanted to--he was Driver and I Navigator. Since he has been gone I drive as little as possible, close to home. This summer I struggled with the opportunity to be a mentor at the All God's Children Camp, the Virginia United Methodist camp for children of incarcerated mothers. The camp was six hours away from Richmond - on the Eastern Shore, across bridges and tunnels and crowded interstate highways. Finally deciding to tackle the trip, I spent a night with grandchildren on the way.

Coming home, I had to drive without spending the night and a sweet co-counselor said,
Let's pray about it.
And she held my hand and asked God to drive home with me.

When I got hot and sleepy, MacDonald's appeared on the left with a cup of hot coffee. Across the first bridge my route came to an intersection; a fireman soliciting money told me to turn to the right, following a new route number. He stopped the Friday afternoon beach traffic (stretched way back there) so I could change lanes. Then I really lost it--around the block looking for the proper route. In a scary part of town an unkempt man told me to drive one block down the street and get on another interstate--
Trust me
he said,
that will keep you away from slow country roads after dark. Trust me.

I dreaded driving west into the sun and watched one little old cloud in the clear sky. It didn't guide me but it did move across the sun. No sunshine in my face! And when it got dark, I saw a route that cut off miles from the way I had come, missing the big city and two small ones.

God held my hand, I know. The last verse at camp told me that
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
And the verse that greeted me in my children's class on Sunday:
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The Old Stone Church

Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia

In an 1840 notice in an Alexandria newspaper interested persons were to "meet and plan a house of worship free for all Christian denominations." 1830 Census statistics state that a Methodist church existed in Centreville, but nothing has been officially discovered of its site or congregation or minister. Members of Methodist Episcopal Church South built by subscription a house for public worship.

The Stone Church was built by 1854; it was the only public building of stone in Centreville, and was the building most closely connected to the Civil War. Built on Braddock Road, it was a major route for Union Troops to and from the battlefields fought near Bull Run in 1861 and 1862. In July 1861 Union soldiers, part of Tyler's "First Division" clashed with Confederate troops at Blackburn's Ford southwest of Centreville and their losses totaled eighty-three officers and men. Again in August 1862 after the Battle of Second Manassas, Union troops retreated to Centreville heights. All available houses and churches were packed with Federal wounded, more than eight thousand. Ten days after the main battle ended, in September 1862, the Union wounded were finally removed to Washington.

There is one picture, possibly taken by Matthew Brady, of the church on a barren battlefield.

At some time before 1865 the walls of the Stone Church were said to have been torn down and a simple, functional, rectangular structure of local Centreville ochre-colored sandstone averaging eighteen inches thick, with wooden gable ends was rebuilt. One entry door faced Braddock Road where there had been two. At one time there was a balcony above the northeast entry. In 1904 the church interior was damaged by fire.

It was heated by a stove in front of the altar, and there was a pump organ.

This is the way I remember Centreville Methodist Church. We were told about the blood stains on the floor and the balcony that had been built for slaves to worship.

Sometime in 1935 or 1936 my small family moved to Fairfax County, between Centreville and Manassas, to a bungalow without electricity or inside plumbing. Built above a basement with front and back porches, it had no furnace or central heat. No telephone either.

During the Great Depression, my dad had had no job for several years; we had traveled over southeast United States staying with family members, looking for work and we were to finally settle here without friends or family. I was in third grade and as the new kid on the block was eager to "fit in." Daddy finally had a job with acquaintances, but my mother also needed to belong--she had grown up in a small town with siblings and family and many friends, and that town was 700 miles away.

My mother was a staunch Baptist and we rode to the Manassas church with neighbors until she persuaded Daddy to take us to Centreville Methodist Church, thinking that since he was a Methodist they would join that church. While he never would actually join, he would"taxi" us on Sundays. Friends from school walked to Sunday School, so the church became my anchor. I wanted to join the church but my mother just couldn't bring herself to be a Methodist until the minister told her she was hindering my joining and she finally consented for us both to become full members.

We had Sunday School classes in various part of the sanctuary. It got noisy when there were several classes meeting on Sunday mornings. I played the pump organ for church and the piano later. My mother taught the "Youth Group" and the Methodist Youth Fellowship would meet in homes for seasonal parties. We met in the old mill for a Halloween party and saw the balcony room which was inhabited by a girl ghost of Civil War time, imprisoned because she was not allowed to marry a Yankee soldier. The windowsill where she gazed out was continually wet with her tears.

My mother was usually one of the last persons out of church, closing doors and windows. Once Mother, left alone, closed a huge heavy window on her hand and removed her shoe to break the window and pull her hand out. She served for awhile as church treasurer.

I remember Mr. Maxwell and Mr. Newman and Mr. Shipley and Mr. Bruce and Mr. Gray, who preached for services sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the evening. We were part of the Fairfax Charge and went to Bible School there one summer. Then we were part of the Nokesville Charge when Hugh Cummings was parttime student minister from Westminster Seminary; we had a visiting college student for a summer youth program and she stayed to board at my house and teach first grade at the Centreville School.

I began my teaching career here when I was about fifteen, taught the nursery class, with maybe five students. When I left for Madison College I never really came home to live but always the church was my home base. One summer I taught young girls at Vacation Bible School and it was a successful venture when we finally established who was to run the class (me)--I was more their peer than a teacher!

I remember Sunday School picnics in the summers, to Glen Echo Amusement Park, to beaches on the Potomac River. We would drive in a caravan of cars. I remember driving a carload when I must have been about 16. I remember cranking the freezer for homemade icecream for picnics and church socials.

In 1940 a narrow brick chimney was added to serve a furnace and provide central heating. In 1945, a wing was added to the northwest side of the 1870 building to provide space for the Sunday School. In the 50s the breezeway was enclosed. In the back yard is what looks like a grave, surrounded by a small wrought iron fence. But it cannot be a grave, because the hill is rock and could not have been excavated. Some say it was put there as a memorial of sorts.

The Methodist Church built a new sanctuary in 1966 and again in 1992. The building has been used for services by other denominations.

Centreville has become a Washington suburb and the current United Methodist church is quite large in membership. But the Stone Church still stands on its own lot, the only stone building in Historic Centreville. Some hope that it will not be dwarfed by large modern buildings in a commercial setting.

In June 1950 the minister was Mr. Brittingham who redesigned the altar with a 'dossel' and cross and the church was the site of my marriage, making it really important to me. My new husband was studying for the ministry, and Mr. Brittingham asked him to preach at another church on the Centreville Charge, but he never had the chance to preach at Centreville Methodist Church, which would have cemented my relationship. He was appointed to another church in the Virginia Conference, and I never really "came home again." Only for visits.

These are my memories, when Centreville was at a crossroad of Routes 29 and 28 and Braddock Road in Virginia, before it was a huge complex of a D.C. suburb.