Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sunday Stories: I Remember Sutherland by Rodney Fye Part 1

Excerpted from the 1891 - 1991 Sutherland Centennial Book.

Because it is so long, I almost overlooked this reminiscence in the Sutherland Centennial Book. I'm so glad I didn't, as it resonates on so many levels. As I said, it is VERY long, so please bear with me as I share it over several weeks.

The best search results I have found show Rodney Fye as an 84 year old, currently living in San Diego, California. That sounds about right for a 1946 graduate of Sutherland High School. My heartfelt thanks to his wonderful family who was/is so tight knit and who raised such an intelligent, articulate man, and of course, as always, to the team who curated the Sutherland Centennial Book to preserve these stories.

Part 1
It has been nearly 45 years since I decided I would probably never find my future in Sutherland. I left Sutherland that long ago to get my education and to find my place in the world. Since then, I have become increasingly appreciative not only of the first 20 years of my life in Sutherland but also of the small-town values I’ve carried with me from those early years.

As we get older, the earliest memories we have of the forces that shaped us become stronger and more vivid. I remember a Sutherland so long ago and so far away that I sometimes wonder if the Sutherland I have come to idealize ever really did exist at all. I hope so. But I suppose I need confirmation from others that the Sutherland I remember is not one that I’ve created in my imagination. There’s a reason that’s important: If the best parts of the Sutherland I remember really did exist, perhaps there’s hope we can recreate the best parts of our past for a better future.

I remember with nostalgia a Sutherland that was at its romantic best in the 1930’s struggling through the depression years. I remember a Sutherland that was at its patriotic best in the 1940’s when we were working together to win the war. In the 1930’s, we were poor together. In the 1940’2, we worshipped together, we danced together, and we cried together and grieved together as we buried our dead together. Then after the war, when life was still simple and we could keep most of the money we made, we began to prosper together.

My mother was a Mormon convert. She had us baptized into her faith. But it was too expensive and
 inconvenient to go to North Platte for Mormon Church services there, except on very special occasions. That’s why I was raised in the Methodist Church in Sutherland, because my mother had been a Methodist and she loved the old Methodist hymns. She claimed, however, that her brothers refused to take her to church because, to their great embarrassment, she would sing “Old Black Joe” when she didn’t know the words to the hymn. She probably perfected the art of singing the wrong words and the wrong notes at the same time.

I know now from experience in my own faith something of the effort and commitment that Sutherland congregation enjoyed from such wonderful members as Pansy Cox. She painstakingly taught us children to sing “Up on the Housetop” and other children’s songs almost before we could talk. Then she coaxed those songs back out of us at the annual Christmas programs and at other specials. Ray King was another dedicated member. He managed with such good humor to teach dozens and maybe hundreds of Sunday school lessons to generations of restless young men. I was too young then to appreciate the examples these good people were setting each Sunday for a whole generation of us simply by their faithfulness.

There were other such pillars of faith I remember clearly, though I was barely in grade school: Ray’s parents were in their pew every Sunday, and toward the front of the chapel in a pew along the east side, there regularly sat an elderly Mrs. Shoup, the mother of Wesley and Bert. She spoke with great precision and authority, and I was impressed more than she ever would have imagined. I seem to remember she had a cane and she wore a fox fur stole which gave her a regal and aristocratic air whenever she stood up to bear testimony of her faith in God and to thank Him for his many blessings to her. Perhaps my memory of Mrs. Shoup standing regularly in Methodist service was why Mormon testimony meetings did not seem at all strange when I was older and began attending my own church.
Later, in high school, because so many of my friends were also either Presbyterian or Catholic, I sampled those services too, and was influenced permanently and positively by the Presbyterian Sunday School classes taught so excellently by Lucille Shoup.

More to come.

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