Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Three: "To School" (Pt.2)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 16th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

My mom's personal skirmishes with other people cause family upheaval which has unintended beneficial results for me (thank the Lord).

Musical Churches

These middle elementary years were a confusing time for me for a lot of reasons and having a friend or any childhood chums meant everything . . . even if we didn’t talk about anything substantive. Just being around other people, other points of view, all of this was a plus for me. My mind was a sponge, and I’d soak it all up, not that I’d let on to Mom. I was starting to get wiser in that area.

As a family up to that point we’d been regular Sunday church goers. Baptist. American Baptist (as opposed to the Southern Baptists). I feel the need to make a distinction here, because as an adult I’ve come to understand that there was quite a wide distinction between the two groups though I never would have understood it then. However, we were allowed to dance (though we didn’t much), we could go to movies, and we played cards. I have no idea what the Southern Baptists did to pass the time. Twiddle thumbs? Wish they could have been American Baptists? Don’t know.

Our 3rd grade Sunday school class teacher at Bethel Baptist Church encouraged us to memorize all of the books of the Bible, and if we could do so, for our efforts we’d each be rewarded with a nice decorative wall plaque with a Bible verse on it which we could hang on our bedroom wall. Being the competitive type that I was plus an all-A student in school at that time this type of assignment was right up my alley, so I went right to work on it, and memorizing things had always been my thing anyway. I don’t recall if I completed the assignment before the next Sunday, or if it took me two weeks to memorize, but I vividly recall the outcome because the results changed all of our lives forever.

Mom got into a snit with some lady at Bethel Baptist over something. I never did know what. It was always SOMETHING! And because she did, the shit hit the fan! We would no longer be attending Bethel Baptist Church. Ever again! Never!

I begged her to let us go just one more Sunday so that I could do my thing in Sunday school class and collect my little plaque, my little reward, and then we’d be out of there. Forever.


I asked my dad to intercede on my behalf, and I guess he tried a half-hearted attempt, but it didn’t get very far.


We would now be attending First Baptist Church in downtown Jackson.

Jeez! Sandi was so lucky that she was so young and in Kindergarten and didn’t understand all this stuff!

And on that first Sunday at First Baptist even my dad didn’t go, but Mom dragged us kids along, and we put up with her shenanigans. And I sat there in the pew calculating, because I was old enough and smart enough to add, subtract, multiply, and divide that this church was now our fourth church in the past five years: Ganson Street, Memorial, Bethel, and now First. All Baptist churches. We’d been changing churches like playing a game of musical chairs, and how many more women was she going to get into a snit with? How many churches were there in this town? Guess I’d have to take a look at the phone book someday and educate myself to that fact, and I actually did that just in case it ever boiled down to it. I was ready for any eventuality!

At some point, Dad finally showed up long enough for the two of them to become members there, but he bowed out from ever coming to church regularly soon after that for the remainder of our family lives except for the occasional Christmas or Easter. His heart just wasn’t in it. She’d done him in.

And the ironic part of it was that we stayed there. We seemed to have found our home. And though I never got my wall plaque, I did eventually get one for memorizing and regurgitating the books of the Bible later that year at Mrs. Edwards’ Bible Club next door to my school, so my effort wasn’t wasted.

And three very good things happened to me while at First Baptist. First, no sooner had I entered the 3rd grade Sunday school class then they presented me with a brand new copy of the Bible. One all for myself! I still have this copy of the Revised Standard Version to this very day, and I cherish it. I was impressed.

Second, a year later in the 4th grade, all 4th graders were invited to become baptized, and so I went through sort of a confirmation process to become so (though they didn’t call it that). At the culmination of this process we were all baptized, and, being Baptists, we were totally immersed.

All of these were important to me, of course, but probably the most important, well how can anything be more important than baptism? Certainly the most personally important to my growth and development (let’s put it that way), and long-lasting, was what happened to me at First Baptist later in the 3rd grade Sunday school year.

In the spring of that year, we’d been on a walking trip to the park, and on the way back our teacher began to sing songs with us (from the Sound of Music no less). She had an absolutely beautiful voice, but then she also sang in the church choir, and as we walked she taught us to sing Do Re Mi. That’s when she found out that I could sing, too. And in the timing-is-everything-department it seems that First Baptist was in the process of trying to organize a Children’s Choir and would I like to try out? Sure, but it would help a lot if you could tell my mom how much it would mean to the church. I was learning how to become a good manipulator, but it had to be something that would not cost them any money. If I wanted it, it had to be low cost or no cost or would somehow involve getting me out of the house. These are the things I’d figured out up to this point in time. I did not know why they did not like me . . . it just was, and it had always been.

And so it came to be that I became a part of the First Baptist Church Children’s Choir until I turned 13 and my voice started changing, squeaking horribly for almost two years, and I didn’t sing a note until my metamorphosis was complete. But by that time, I was actually able to join the adult choir though I never did. Should have. Never did. It would take me until much later in adulthood to find my full singing voice again so traumatic had puberty been upon my singing voice. But then my transformation during all of these years was so traumatic on so many fronts, it’s a wonder I survived at all. However, the training I received during my Children’s Choir years was priceless and would always remain with me. And somehow I got the feeling that despite my mom’s misguided efforts to screw it all up, God had worked it all out for me (in particular) somehow.

Sex Education (Of a Sort)

Looking back, I found it really easy to be confused in our house. I remember a time when we were watching television, I can’t begin to recall what program, but the guest was identified as someone by the name of Truman Capote whoever he was. And when he started talking, well, I noticed it was with a decidedly different affectation than we talk with in southern Michigan except that he talked with a very similar affectation to my dad’s uncle Frank, my great-uncle, who lived up in Grand Rapids and who had been to visit us just the summer before, and this for the first time in my life, so it was all reasonably fresh in my memory. So during a commercial break I piped up, “Why does he talk like Uncle Frank?”

“Shh. Shh” My mom and dad really wanted to hear that commercial, and I never did get an answer to my question. Ever.

When Uncle Frank had been there the summer before and whenever he was referred to in any context thereafter he was always referred to as an eccentric old bachelor whatever that was, and I was left to my own devices, and it would be years before I would figure out on my own what that meant. And what the connection there was between his speech and Truman Capote’s. And even many more years still what I had in common with either of them.

But the most damnable thing about all of this is what happened not too long afterward later in 1959. Okay, I can accept the fact that they wouldn’t talk about sex with me. Looking back, it was generational, and I suppose nobody did back then, but they were more than happy to talk with me about sex . . . just somebody else’s sex.

George Jorgensen, Jr. late in 1952 went to Denmark and underwent the first largely publicized transgender operation and came back to America as Christine Jorgensen. Christine was not shy about any of this, but as a toddler I would have missed all of this. However, in 1959 Christine resurfaced in the news again big time when she fell in love and got engaged. And the big deal erupted in her trying to obtain a marriage license which she was unable to do because her birth certificate had never been changed and still listed her as male. This had been splashed all over the news again, and my parents had been more than happy to share it with my eight-year-old-self even going into detail about the sex change operation (so I did get a bit of rudimentary sex education then, however, in reverse, and left for an eight-year-old mind to sort out).

My parents had no problem talking about somebody else’s dirty laundry. Just stay away from theirs.

(In the next installment, there's big trouble in the house AND in the neighborhood).

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Child Abuse, Child Development, Childhood, Childhood Memories, Memoir, Memories, Memories From Childhood, Memories From My Young Days, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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