Sunday at Shiloh


Grandma parked her polished black Chevrolet under the big hickory by the corn field on the east side of Shiloh Church. Inside, Opal Tanner was already playing the piano. Her husband Donald the deacon stood solemnly at the pulpit. He called Sunday school to order at once and we went our respective reading groups. The women gathered in the pews to one side of the isle as the men shuffled downstairs. We young folks congregated next to the windows with old Musa Whitacre. The rest of my class were the two Rogers girls, Carolyn and Blanche, who were prim and quite pretty, though I was too young to be very interested in them. Besides, they were distant cousins.

Mrs. Whitacre was a frail old lady in her eighties, who smelt faintly of lavender or maybe violets. She was calm and patient and was particularly fond of new lambs. She would not have us read from our Sunday school quarterly, but had us read directly from King James. I was not one bit interested in what we read, but I always followed the passages closely out of respect for her and awe at her ability to quote them instead of reading when it was her turn.

When we had finished reading, she waited for us to get quiet. “Now,” she said. “What new things have come about during your lifetimes? What wonderful new things that never was before your time have you seen to come along? Blanche?”

“Well…” said Blanche, fingering the bright fuzzy yarn wound about her boy’s high school class ring, “we’ve finally got our satellite in space now. I’ve also read that we’ll have an oral polio vaccine sometime soon.”

“How about you, Carolyn?”

“Television,” she said, fiddling with the zipper on her white leather New Testament. Daddy and the hired hand just put up an antenna, and now we can get programs almost twice a week.”


“And what has come along in your time, Tom? What do you allow is new under the sun?”

“Oh, self-propelled combines. We saw one a-running north of town, this last fall. And stock choppers that mount on tractors like giant lawn mowers. And everybody’s taking out the hedges, now.”

“Yes. I suppose they must…” she said. “Well. I found this here journal of Mother’s when I was a-rummaging through a trunk. She was born in 1828. When I was little, she would tell how she’d curl up in her momma’s lap a-riding the wagon when they first come to Illinois. They’d pull the wagons together at night and she’d be so afraid when the wolves would set to howling.

“Well. When she had graduated from the eighth grade and had her teaching certificate, she commenced this journal. She tells in here what it was like when they had the first coal oil lamps, and how theah was an improvement come along in gun locks which allowed the men to go out into the wet. Now here, she tells about the first steam locomotive she ever saw… Uh, oh! We’ll do this next time. I see Don’s come up.”

Mom went to the piano. The men filed into the pews in back, whilst I slunk off to the short pew in the corner at the foot of the vestry closet. The congregation hushed. The deacon discussed some trivial matter of church business. I studied the backs of the women and their Sunday hats and dowagers humps, some fanning themselves placidly. I let out a loud snort at the thought of a particular ladies’ aid meeting. I covered my mouth and looked at my shoes as Carolyn turned to scold me with dancing eyes.

“Tough old hens,” I thought. I remembered the meeting where all the old dames were sitting about with napkins on their laps, cookies and saucers, conversation humming right along, when one of them discretely passed the very hairiest gas I had ever smelt in my staggering young life. There was no noise of course, But man! Did it ever stink! How was I to breathe? “Whose mean old behind was that?” I thought, searching the faces in the room for some flicker of stumbling aplomb. But there was none to be found. They went right on nibbling and sipping as if it were merely lavender sachet.

Mom played a song on the piano and then old Reverend Horace Bachelor came to the pulpit. he was tall and very dignified, with white hair and a large face which smiled easily with few wrinkles. He addressed the congregation in a conversational tone which sounded mostly like our Appalachian dialect, except for his rolled Rs, which had not quite vanished in all his years of being minister to rural churches after coming here from the Pennines in England.


He was well into his sermon and had reached a point where he was mostly reading Scriptures. The sashes of the church’s windows were all raised completely. The women fanned themselves. The cardinals and robins outside were singing. A woman clad in a bright yellow bikini drove up near the church and parked her new convertible. She got out and slammed her door, heading for the grave yard. At that, the Right Reverend looked out the window and lost his place.


“Uh…” he said, clearing his throat, flushing slightly. “Uh…” he said again, raising the crook of his finger to his nose whilst glancing up at his parishioners with wide eyes. The moment he commenced reading again in absolutely the wrong place, the congregation roared with laughter. He turned scarlet. Then he looked at us with a smile and said: “Not all the Lord’s miracles are to be found in the scriptures,” and returned to his delivery.

Tom Phipps

The Day My Brother Became my Hero

Momence train
It has been far too long to remember just what I was doing out in the yard amongst the bees and the dandelions, but it was a glorious spring day. I looked up at a rattle of bicycle fenders to see one of my brother’s chums hop from his bike, leaving its wheel spinning in the grass. “Hey Cricket!” he called, trotting straight up to my brother.
“Hey, what’s up, Ronnie?” I hollered.
They weren’t about to notice a six year old girl. After all, they were all of nine or ten. The screen door to the kitchen clacked shut behind them. I was on my feet at once to find out what they were up to.
“Yea?” said Mom, planting her ball of dough on the bread board as I stepped inside. “And Ronnie’s welcome to stay here and play all afternoon if he wants.”
“But how can he show me his new puppy? His puppy’s at his house. That’s why he came to get me.”
“Take your sister if she wants to go…”
“No way!”
“Or stay here.”
“She ruins everything,” he said, throwing down his cap. “Can’t she go to Kay’s or something?”
“They’re gone for a week, kiddo,” she said, rolling out her dough this way and that. “So how about it Carol? Want to go with Greg and Ronnie to see a new puppy?”
“Sure,” I said, in spite of Greg’s smoldering look as they tramped out the door.
“You need shoes.”
“Can I wear my brand-new red tennis shoes?”
“Oh…try to keep them clean.”
“Goodie!” I cried as I dashed over to their cardboard box on the closet floor to sniff at their new rubber before tying them mercilessly tight, since they were a full size too large. I watched my two feet walk as I stepped outside.
“I’m ready,” I said as I caught up with Greg and Ronnie at the end of the lane.
They kept their backs to me and set out, trading mumbles.
“Hey!” I cried, clopping to keep up. “This isn’t the way to Ronnie’s house. Mom’s going to…”
Suddenly Greg wheeled about, giving me a shove that nearly knocked me off balance. “No she isn’t, or I’ll fix you up a whole lot worse.”
“Why would she ever find out?” I said, knowing in my bones that I was still going to pay for this.           
“Good! Just stay far enough behind us not to be nosy and keep your mouth shut.” And with that, he and Ronnie resumed their saunter down the buckled sidewalk, past the catbirds and the daffodils, and past the privet and the picket fence which was at last replaced by parking meters and paving brick. They walked into a dime store and bought some candy.
“Could I have some?” I said. “I didn’t bring any money.”
Greg took a big bite of his candy bar. “Then you don’t get any,” he said, thrusting his chewing mouth into my face.
They looked at boy’s toys for some time and then went to the park to spend the afternoon, playing baseball. No one was about to let a girl play. I looked all about for clover in the grass to make bracelets, but there was none. I might have gone home, but Greg would get into trouble and take it out on me.
Presently it was past time to go and Ronnie was convinced that it was at least an hour late. “We’ll take a shortcut,” said Greg with a wave, as he set out at a brisk jog.
I ran along after them until we wallowed through some daylilies and clambered up a bank to the tracks with my side aching. A green heron called, somewhere beyond the chorus of cricket frogs. I could scarcely keep up. I watched the white toes of my red tennis shoes come down upon tie after tie. Once in a while, I’d slip off a tie and stumble. I was falling behind. Just as I heard a train whistle, my toe slipped off the back of a tie into a deep hole, catching me hopelessly fast by the heel and setting me down hard. There was the whistle again. I couldn’t begin to reach my laces. Greg and Ronnie were getting too far away to hear. White hot terror flooded me as I yanked and yanked on my leg.
Suddenly they were running for me, wide eyed and waving their arms. “The train’s behind you!” screamed Greg as he grabbed below my knee and pulled with everything he had. “You idiot sister!” he sobbed as Ronnie heaved from under my arms. Without warning, we were on our sides in the nodding weeds of the steep bank as the train raced by.
“My shoe!” I wailed. 
Greg shot to his feet. “I’ll get your damned shoe after the train’s past,” he said, furious that I’d brought tears to his eyes.
Mom met us at the screen door. “Just in time for supper,” she said. “Did you have fun?”
“Yea,” said Greg. “The uh, puppy’s real cute and stuff.”
“Can we get one sometime, Mom?” I caught Greg’s eye. I could see that he was ’way more than merely glad that we got home. He might have had his awful moments, but he would certainly do for a brother.
Carol Marrs Phipps