Growing up in the 1950s was a unique experience in itself. Add to that growing up in a large, rambunctious pastor’s family, in a three-story bright yellow home on Main Street, smack in the middle of a small town in Washington State, and you’ve got memories.
Those days our home was called a parsonage and often filled with choir practice, cub scouts, Bible studies, baby showers, piano lessons, bulletin folders, youth group, birthday parties and assorted meetings.
The parsonage was owned by and considered an extension of our church, and although that may seem intrusive in today’s world, we kids liked it. When there were church-type activities, our home would be full of fun chaos and extra friends.
Even more importantly, the rules would be somewhat relaxed, and all chores were put on hold. Our parents loved hosting, but it seemed we frequently heard “let’s get busy, we’re getting company” and later “everybody has gone, let’s clean up!” Work and ministry was how we lived, sprinkled with some occasional play.
We had a good life most days, full of activity and service. To be totally honest though, things were not always easy in our family during those years. Many folks were good to us, but occasionally some of the “church people” were not very patient with us “pastor’s kids.” It felt like they watched us very carefully. I know I’m speaking from the memory of a child, but we were told to always “set the example.” Our behavior was expected to be quite close-to-perfect. That felt like a heavy responsibility to carry, and we often didn’t do so well with the close-to-perfect part.
That attitude must have placed my folks under the expectation to also be perfect parents. Many times, they seemed stressed and felt judged for our unruly behavior, and we all felt the tension.
Overheard (by me) one Sunday when we were noisily laughing, yelling and playing “Red Light Green Light” on the church lawn: “If the pastor’s children are an embarrassment to the church, then maybe we should look for a new pastor.”
My heart still hurts when I think about that statement. We loved our dad so much, and we seemed to know he took his role in the community as a spiritual leader very seriously. I wasn’t sure at that time in my life what God must think of us. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t seem to stay out of some sort of trouble. In those years, kids didn’t know how to talk about such feelings. They probably still don’t.
My dad’s salary was quite slim for a family of seven, although we always had plenty to eat. We simply understood that our family couldn’t spend money on anything unnecessary. One fun memory is that our milk came in a huge glass jar left on our front porch from a generous church member farmer. The milk always had a couple inches of pure cream on top. We made butter from the cream and had milk at every meal. We also bought our bread in bulk from a Seventh Day Adventist bakery, and we put many loaves at a time in our giant basement freezer.
Even on special days such as Christmas or our birthdays, our gifts were mostly practical. Usually we received new pajamas and hopefully a sled or game we could all share.
One particular day, not even a holiday, an unexpected splurge did occur, and the details of that day are still very clear to me.
Our entire family had loaded up in our big orange and white Buick and made our annual trip to a dentist’s office in a neighboring town. The very kind dentist was also a member of our church and took good care of us all at a family rate. Often, while different siblings were getting their dental needs taken care of, the rest of us would window shop around downtown. There were only “downtowns” in those days, and they were glorious! I remember browsing with my mom and dad in what I think was a hardware store. My dad was carrying around my baby sister in his arms, my brothers were looking at model trucks and I was holding my mom’s hand when we spotted something amazing.
A beautifully packaged snow cone maker stood proudly on a shelf, complete with a brightly colored plastic snowman about a foot high that somehow was able to create snow cones. The only snow cone I had ever tasted was on a school outing to the Washington State Fair. The belly of this snowman was a grater for the ice cubes, with a handle on his back to turn and spit out shaved ice into colorful little cups. The kit came with a little red shovel to scoop out the ice. Numerous delightful looking flavorings in small transparent containers circled the snowman.
My eyes were mesmerized by this snowman that was apparently capable of pumping out deliciousness and fun. Eventually looking at my mom, I realized she had
a sort of longing etched on her face also. I can only guess about her quiet conversation with my dad, but at some point I heard him say, “Let’s buy this for Kay.”
They bought it!
The excitement I felt is hard to describe. I couldn’t stop smiling. I held this gift carefully in my lap all the way home. They had said “yes,” and I hadn’t even dared to ask.
I’m 64 years old, and the snow cone maker, although the grater is not as sharp as it once was and the vibrant colors have faded, has moved with me throughout my life. Many snow cones were made, and it still works.
Most importantly, I’ve kept it for so long because when I look at it, I’m reminded of how my parents chose to delight their little daughter with something not a bit practical, and most likely at a sacrifice. In a gentle way, they demonstrated God’s extravagant love for me on that drizzly day in Washington. I couldn’t express or explain it then, but the message stuck.
As many years have passed and we’ve raised our own children, I’ve been able to look at my childhood through eyes of grace for all things hard and all things good. Times were not easy.
My parents, our friends and even the stern “church people,” were most likely doing and saying what they thought was best.
Maybe, if one day, someone had just surprised them with a beautiful snow cone maker, they may have glimpsed God’s extravagant love and generous grace.
Kay Holm grew up a pastor’s kid in Washington State and attends New Life Wesleyan Church in Gillette, Wyoming.