Given how many of my interests have their roots in religion— a) the Episcopal church buildings of Dakota Territory, b) the Akron-Auditorium phenomenon among Methodists and other Protestant denominations, c) William Halsey Wood, half of whose product was ecclesiastical, d) the Social Gospel, about which much has been written but virtually none of it is architectural; I could go on—it seems only fair to go on record about my own religious perspective. I have, after all, designed four church buildings in Agincourt and helped with a couple others.
My mother was a Congo, by which I mean that Marge had roots in the New England tradition of Congregationalism, white-painted spires and all that. I have vague recollection of attending church with her at the Argo Congregational (still there at 7438 West 62nd Place). But she departed with a suitcase of lingerie and loose cash one spring night in 1953, and my father was unlikely to continue any pattern of regular religious indoctrination. He was not only unchurched but unbaptized. Roy’s parents were Roy and Clara, one a confirmed atheist alcoholic wife-beater, but I loved him, and the other an old school Polish Catholic who had married outside her church and been marginalized by her family. So my framework for faith was anything but rigorous.
Neighbors, the Millers and their daughter Andrea, then took my spiritual welfare in hand and dutifully dragged me with them to that same Congregational (now UCC) church in Argo, where I did the usual Bible study in its basement/Sunday School room, paging rapidly through my Bible (yes I did own one) in an invariably failed attempt to be the first to parrot the verse attached to Premonitions 2:14 or 33:8 in Song of Sixpence or whatever citation had been called out to us. Do you sense my heart just wasn’t in it?
Then something creepy happened about the time that the Congregational denomination merged with several others and formed the United Church of Christ (a.k.a. UCC): little old ladies of the Mamie Eisenhower type—white gloves, pillbox hats with short veils and a disinclination to disrupt the service—began quite unexpectedly to punctuate sermons with “Praise the Lord” and “Amen” and other such blurtations that, even as a thirteen-year-old, I felt unwillingly transported to a smokey courtroom in Tennessee during the Scopes “Monkey Trail”! This was, frankly, too much. With luck, the Millers moved to LaGrange (1030 Sherwood Drive; FLeetwood 2–6762) and I was spared any further mandatory church attendance.
Grandfather, the alcoholic, died when I was six. And even after that, my grandmother, the woman who raised me, never attended Mass at Saint Blaise (the patron saint of those afflicted with diseases of the throat) in nearby Summit. She was, however, the most spiritual person of my experience—then or since. I was shown right behavior by word and deed, and wrong was pointed out to me; I was offered a value system and code of personal responsibility that has served me well, despite any inability or unwillingness to toe the line. In short, I was allowed to form my own spiritual framework and not adapt myself to one imposed by others.
In addition to Clara’s gentle guidance, in my case it also “took a village”, the Village of Bedford Park specifically, where I could at one time name everyone who lived on both sides of the three-block-long West 65th Place. I can still name many now long-dead neighbors who stepped in when my parents’ divorce took the unusual path of granting custody to my father; that just didn’t happen in the 1950s. So parents other than my own and their children, my contemporaries, served as stand-ins for the siblings I lacked.
It was an imperfect childhood, as many of you who know me can attest. I still bear its stars and its scars. But I would also not exchange it for another.