Monday, February 15, 2010

The Parsonage

I have been working on a series of stories about my life as a Preacher's Kid - way back at the dawn of the Age of the Baby Boomer.  Here are three tales about the houses that our churches so generously allowed us to occupy.

The Kitchen Window

In every church community where we lived the Parsonage Committee was a group of parishioner volunteers who saw to it that the parsonage was repaired and decorated for each pastor and family.  Plumbing, heating, painting, and roof repair – the Parsonage Committee either did this work themselves or allotted funding for professional help.  Or not.  I remember when the attic of the Pavilion parsonage was invaded with bees and my dad ended up on a long wobbly ladder trying to get rid of them.  And I have a photograph of dad on that same ladder, painting the Pavilion parsonage!

When my parents moved into the parsonage at Pavilion, my mother began her decorating routine as usual.  This was in 1950 – the parsonage was probably over a hundred years old even then.  The kitchen had only a hand pump at the sink when we arrived but after my mother’s continued consternation this old dinosaur was soon upgraded to a set of real faucets (and hot water!).

The one feature of the kitchen that even the best parsonage committee could not repair was the lack of a window over the sink.  The plumbing was on an inside wall – the kitchen window was off to the left but just not the same to mom.  So she figured out an ingenious fix to this imagined flaw:  she made dad buy a set of Venetian blinds and some shelf brackets and a board.    She hung up the blinds over the new shelf, sewed a set of curtains and - voila!  A houseplant was even installed on this new “window sill.” It sure looked like a window – just enough to ease her worried soul when she was standing at the sink washing dishes.

Members of the Parsonage Committee were flummoxed at first by the arrival of this anomaly and more than one could be seen pulling up the blinds to find a blank wall underneath.  Mom was inordinately pleased with herself over this trick.

The Big Surprise

An incident connected with the Parsonage Committee in Attica sent my mother nearly around the bend, but as the Minister’s Wife she knew discretion was the better part of valor and when she was called upon, she gave a performance worthy of an Academy Award.

We had gone to the lake for our usual week of summer vacation at the cottage and when we walked into the parsonage we were nearly blinded by a newly redecorated downstairs: living room, dining room and foyer.  Some walls were covered in patterned wallpaper and on the other walls really wide stripes.  The color scheme of this delight was deep maroon, white and silver.  The pattern consisted of enormous white flowers.  The stripes even marched up the stairs to the second floor.  Mom almost keeled over on the spot but when the Parsonage Committee burst in upon us to see how we liked our “Big Surprise” mom had regained her composure and somehow managed to convince the committee of her absolute delight.

In retrospect, we were quite lucky at this relatively low-key decorating approach.  In later years my dad and step-mom lived in one parsonage (in a town which shall remain nameless) (OK – it was Honeoye Falls!) where the kitchen looked like it had been done by the set decorators on Laugh-In.  Hot pink, neon orange and enormous butterflies:    “Sock it to me!”

Polka Dots

In addition to my “suite” of two rooms upstairs in the old barn of a parsonage in Albion, down the hall was my very own bathroom (or half-bath as they are called nowadays).  I was thrilled with this little room and set about decorating it.  The plumbing fixtures were old – even the toilet seat was very beat up looking with scuffs and dings and missing paint.  It would never have occurred to anyone in those days to try to find a store and buy a new toilet seat – this one was perfectly serviceable – just ugly!

So I decided to decorate the toilet seat.  I got out my pearlized pale blue nail polish and painted polka dots over the scuffs and dings.  Mom thought I was very clever and Dad rolled his eyes and after we all got a kick out of making something old new again, we pretty much forgot all about it.  Until a member of the Parsonage Committee happened to be visiting one day and beheld this wonder for the first time.

Word spread like wildfire and I never lived that down. When I returned for the church’s anniversary celebration over 30 years later– several long-time parishioners came up to me and mentioned the polka dotted toilet seat.