A song, a prayer and a grawlix: it was never just a church to many

By Rich Tarrant

On what appears to have been a chilly autumn Sunday morning in the 1930s my grandfather paused for a moment and took the accompanying photograph. And while these shadows were frozen some years before my time began on earth the scene seen is where I spent a good deal of time in my younger days. The church is my church. The small garage behind the church was my grandparent’s garage. And the building seen just about it was my grandparent’s home and business. And the town hall (on the left) – well – it belonged to everybody. But take away the cars and it is the way I will always remember it.

The church was not just a “church” to me then or now. To be sure it is the place where I learned the words to “The Lord’s Prayer”, the “Old 100th” and to happily sing, “Jesus Loves Me”. It was also the place where my older brother and sister were married back in the 50s; the place where I spent many a Christmas Eve listening to carols reverently sung in a candlelit sanctuary; the place where I attended 2nd Grade due to overcrowding in the local school building; the place where I learned to spell the word “tomorrow”; the place where my friends and I played hide-an-seek; the place where we found it cool to situate ourselves on the stone sills of the arched windows of the basement; and the place with a storeroom under the front stairway that for one reason or another always fascinated a young boy.

In my pre-teen years my friends and I attended Sunday school in the kitchen of the church because there wasn’t any other room for us. Local attorney Tom Williams along with another Vermilionite, Dan Schisler, were the teachers – or perhaps better put – the overseers of 20 some boys ages 10 to 15 or 16. Sometimes we tried to make pancakes in the kitchen. But better than that sometimes Mr. Williams would walk all of us to the White Inn diner on Liberty Street next to George Rathbun’s store for a breakfast. Then there were times when, weather permitting, he’d organize a class hike for Sunday afternoons. We’d walk from the church through the town, the fields, the woods, across creeks, up hills and down to Cooper’s Hollow or the Fish and Game Club.

When everything changed I don’t rightly recall. Perhaps it was when the old church (dedicated in 1888) was sold and a new one was built on State Street in 1957. As old Ben Franklin said, “Not all change is progress.” And though Franklin’s words were those he placed on a tombstone for his parents, methinks the meaning is easily applied to my feelings about this church. As much as I try to tell and sell myself the fact that a church is not just a building – I don’t care what anyone says or believes – this is, and will always be, “my church”.  New ain’t better. It’s just new. And old ain’t bad. It’s just old.

This is a wonderful photograph of a yesteryear. It is a visual of a record of a sunny Sunday following services at the church. Folks leaving the service stopping to visit with their neighbors and friends – perhaps criticizing the sermon or just exchanging pleasantries / gossip. The fella on the walk near the town hall stops momentarily to light a cigarette as he waits for his spouse to catch up on their walk home. It’s a nice day: A day for a song, a prayer, and perhaps a Grawlix or two. Because like it or not – as old Ben Franklin put it again – “Not all change is progress.” And there were a lot of changes just around the corner.

Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant is Curator of the Vermilion History Museum and a son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: rnt@twc.com




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