Daddy Tames the Ferocious Junior Boys

by : Janette Blackwell

Throughout World War II my Daddy had 4F draft status -- meaning he couldn’t be drafted -- as there would have been no one to farm his Montana land if he were gone.

His draft status bothered Daddy. He was young and vigorous, and he longed to fight the enemies of his country. He knew he was working hard for his country out there in the fields, but his life lacked drama. And perhaps he longed for military action more fervently on days when things weren’t going well on the farm.

Daddy and other 4F Bitterroot Valley farmers liked to talk about the war. They talked about it in the barbershop, of course, and after church on Sunday. What MacArthur and Patton ought to do to the enemy. What the army, and the navy, and the marines ought to do to the enemy. Their male hormones buzzed around rapidly, doing what male hormones do.

The men’s ferocity was only exceeded by that of the little boys, who thought nothing of wiping out an enemy air squadron on their way to Sunday school.

The junior boys of our Sunday school were especially ferocious. In fact these nine to twelve year olds were incorrigible, by the standards of the time and place. They whispered and giggled, nudged and pushed each other. They never studied their Sunday school lessons. And they openly chewed gum in church.

Several stalwart men of the Corvallis Community Church had tried and failed to whip these incorrigibles into shape. The junior boys were taught in the church auditorium, only a few feet from the adult men's and women’s classes. And whenever the teacher of the junior boys lost control of those boys, the whole auditorium heard it.

Then even worse things began to happen. At the end of our class sessions, when we good little primary children filed out of our classroom and into the auditorium for closing exercises, we were faced with a terrible sight: the junior boys had completely run amok. They were making V-shaped paper airplanes from their Sunday school handouts. Large white missiles flew everywhere in the auditorium, above the heads of the men’s and women’s Bible classes.

Occasionally a boy scored a direct hit on the pulpit and even, once or twice, on the Sunday school superintendent as he stood behind the pulpit. And it appeared, from the expressions on faces in the men’s Bible class, that they were focusing more on memories of their own boyhood than on the good Christian example of the Sunday school superintendent, who pretended nothing had hit him.

The worst of it was, of course, the example it set us little ones: pure minded children who had not known, up to that moment, that one could do anything with a Sunday school handout besides read it. Formerly innocent primary boys were seen examining paper airplanes to see how they were made. It was easy to imagine the effect these illegal missiles were having on their sensitive childish minds, the subtle seeds of corruption thus being sown.

Strong measures were needed, and the church leadership turned to Daddy to whip the junior boys into shape.

They probably felt that in Daddy they had found a disciplinary tiger. But unfortunately Daddy was not a person who enjoyed whipping other people into shape, not even little people. Of course he couldn’t say so. He was a church board member, after all, and the kind of young man the junior boys should look up to.

The European trenches may have looked especially inviting that week.

Daddy had rough going for awhile, and then, behold, he didn't.

I remember coming into the auditorium after my own Sunday school class, to find Daddy's junior boys following his every word. They didn't want the class session to end. Daddy's hand appeared to be a U.S. airplane moving steadily on its just mission. His other hand, he said, was "See, this Zero comes up and tries to shoot down the B-29, and the P-38, see, it comes in there with its guns blazing. . . ."

He and the junior boys had arrived at an understanding. If they paid attention to the Sunday school lesson and behaved themselves, there'd be time to discuss airplanes -- real airplanes -- at the end of the session. If the boys cut up and he had to spend time making them behave, the whole class period would be spent struggling with Jonah and the whale.

Their choice.