One Morning in Sunday School
by Damon L. Fordham
Ernest Monroe Potts was truly enjoying himself that Friday afternoon.
The men of the neighborhood had not assembled at his tool shed today, so after he completed his daily regimen of handy work and gardening around his home, he picked up the afternoon newspaper and sat in his rocking chair on his porch. He smiled at his contented state, with the satisfaction of having reached a point in his life where he worked and rested whenever he wanted.
About an hour later, he saw Lucas Moore on coming toward his yard after school let out for the day. There was a time when the sight of the lad would have annoyed the old man and prevented him from spending his time in more pleasurable ways. However, the elderly sage had developed a fondness for the boy, since the child loved Ernest's stories as much as Mr. Potts loved to tell them.
Lucas pleasantly greeted the old man while the grandfatherly gentleman folded his newspaper and responded in kind. After letting the boy into his house, Mr. Potts inquired about Lucas' day at school.
"Pretty good, sir. I have some homework on something interesting."
"Oh, really? What's that?"
"Something called Greek Mirthology..mattology..."
"Greek Mythology," corrected the elder. "You're right, that is some kind of interesting. We studied that stuff when I was in school."
"Really?" asked Lucas.
"Oh yeah. Those Greeks had stories about as good as the ones those fellows and I tell after work," added Ernest with a wink. "They talked about Hercules, who was the strongest man in the world. They had some good scary ones about the Cyclops, which was a monster with one eye in the middle of his head. Let's see, and there was..."
"Do you remember any of those stories off hand right now?"
Mr. Potts glared, "Now look here boy, what'd I tell you about interrupting grown folks when they're talking? Act like you got some manners and say 'excuse me' if you have to say something while somebody else is saying something."
"I'm sorry, sir," said Lucas, with his head hung low in embarrassment. "Excuse me."
"That's more like it. I remember quite a few pretty well. One was about this fellow called Oedipus. He wanted to be the king, but in order to do that, he had to beat this monster called the Sphinx."
Lucas eyes brightened, "Isn't there a statue of that in Egypt?"
"Smart boy," answered the old man, who patted the boy on the head. "That's the same one. Anyway, the Sphinx had the head of a woman and the body of a lion, just like how it looks in Egypt right now. So the Sphinx told Oedipus that in order to defeat her and be the king, he had to solve a riddle. If he didn't give the right answer, Oedipus would die. Let's see if you can solve it. The Sphinx said, 'What has four legs, then uses two legs, and ends up with three legs?'"
Lucas thought for a moment and repeated the question. He looked up and guessed, "An insect?"
Mr. Potts smiled with his arms folded and shook his said, "No sir."
"Was it a lion?"
"Not even close," answered the old man.
Lucas gave up. "Then what is it?"
Mr. Potts leaned forward and adjusted his glasses. "Easy, you see, when a man is a baby, he crawls on his arms and knees, meaning four legs. When he's a grown man, he walks on two legs. When he's old like me, or should I say a few years older because I only use it when I want to, he uses a cane when he walks, meaning three legs."
Lucas looked in awe. "That's smart."
"Oh yeah," continued the old man. "Anyway, the Sphinx killed itself after that and Oedipus became the king by using his smarts, which shows you how far you can get ahead from using your brains. Now there was another good one about a boy, I think his name was 'Icarus' or something like that. Anyway, he had a daddy who used to make wings big enough for people to put on and flap their arms and fly like birds."
"What was the daddy's name?" injected Lucas.
"Boy," retorted Ernest, "I'm not gonna tell you again about interrupting me like that."
"Excuse me, sir."
"That's better. I don't remember the daddy's name, so let's just call him "Icarus' daddy" for right now, okay? So as I was saying, Icarus' daddy made these sets of wings. They were made out of wax and feathers, and if a man put them on and flapped their arms, this was supposed to make them fly themselves. So anyway, Icarus and the daddy were about to test them out when the daddy said, 'Boy, don't you flap your arms too close to the sun, you hear?' Icarus said, 'Yes, daddy.' And they went to fly." Mr. Potts acted out the story by flapping his arms as if they were wings.
"Well, the boy just got beside himself when he stared flying. Got all mannish, you know. Thought he was a big man now that he could fly. The daddy said, 'Hey boy, you're getting too close to the sun. Cut that fool mess out and fly down lower.' But being up in the air made Icarus think he was God Almighty himself, so he kept flying higher and higher until he left the wax dripping off the feathers. Next thing you know, he went 'AHHHHHHHHHH,' and went down like a plane without a parachute." Mr. Potts made a sound with his mouth simulating an airline speeding downward while holding his hand in that direction to indicate where Icarus was headed. "He went splash into the lake, and nobody ever saw Icarus again. Mess like that happens when your head is hard and you don't listen to older folks that have good sense."
Lucas was spellbound into silence by this tale. A short time later, he gathered his senses to ask, "Got another one?"
"Sure. There was another one I remember about a girl named Pandora. Those Greeks used to say that when the world began, there was this lady named Pandora and there was this box beside her. Now this fella that the Greeks worshipped named Zeus told her that whatever she did, not to open that box. Well, you know how some folks let curiosity get the best of them, so she sneaked on over, looked around to see that nobody was looking and carefully went ahead and slowly opened that box."
Mr. Potts dramatized these actions as he talked, which added to Lucas' enjoyment of the tale. "After that, out came all of these evil things like hatred and jealousy and violence and all that stuff. Anyway the point of that story is sort of like that first one. When people who know better tell you not to do something-don't do it."
Lucas smiled at this story. Mr. Potts was pleased by this response, so he said, "Tell you what, I'm going to give you a little Christmas present a few months in advance."
"What's that?" asked Lucas.
The old man signaled for Lucas to follow him, and the twosome went into the back yard and into Mr. Potts' toolshed. They went to the well-stocked bookshelf where Mr. Potts reached for an aged volume that was filled with fading illustrations and yellowed text, and handed it to Lucas.
"This book is really special to me. When I was a little bit older than you are now, one of the greatest ladies I ever met outside of my mama, wife, and daughter gave this to me. That was my teacher, Miss Abby Munro. So since I think you're at point where you can understand and appreciate them, I want you to have this book on Greek mythology stories. It should also help you with that homework"
Lucas was moved by the present and heartily thanked the old man.
A few days later, Lucas was in his Sunday school class at church. The teacher, Miss Carruth, was in her early thirties and the children were quite fond of her. However, she was one of the adults that viewed Lucas with some trepidation, because the child was so curious she did not have the answers to his questions and she was too proud to admit when she did not know something. She never forgot the time Lucas embarrassed her when she told the students about David killing Goliath with a stone and Lucas responded, "Wait a minute Miss Carruth, didn't the Ten Commandments say 'Thou shalt not kill?"
The children were seated in a set of pews not far from where the choir would sing during services as Miss Carruth commenced with her lesson.
"Last week, we talked about how God created the heavens and the earth in the book of Genesis, and how he created the first man and woman on earth, who were named Adam and Eve, and they lived in this place called the Garden of Eden . Well, Adam and Eve were grown people, but they were just as innocent as little children like you all are. There was also this tree in the garden called the Tree of Life, and God told Adam and Eve that they could eat anything from the garden except the fruit from the tree of life."
The children were wide-eyed and spellbound as the teacher continued in an animated fashion.
"But then a snake came in the garden, and he was really Satan the devil in disguise. He told Eve to go ahead and eat the fruit, and not to pay God any mind, since they would be Gods themselves if they ate the fruit. So Eve ate the fruit and shared it with Adam. Well, when they ate that fruit, they were no longer innocent. They realized they were naked and needed to put on clothes. So God came and punished him for their disobedience by putting them out of the garden. That how sin and all other forms of evil came into the world. That is why it is so important for you children to obey when wise adults tell you not to do things."
After she said this, Lucas excitedly raised his hand. Miss Carruth quietly groaned to herself and said, "Does anyone else have any questions?"
"I do! I do!" replied Lucas, while none of the other children had anything to say.
Miss Carruth sighed and rolled her eyes. "Okay Lucas. What is it this time?"
Lucas excitedly proclaimed, "Miss Carruth, that sounds just like a story Mr. Potts told me in his book full of Greek stories. He said a fellow named Zeus told a lady named Pandora not to open this box sort of like what you said about God telling Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit and.."
Miss Carruth opened her eyes wide and dropped her jaws in horror from this analogy. "Lucas," she hollered, "that will be enough. Let's go to the superintendant's office, now!"
"What did I do?" asked Lucas with an innocent expression.
Miss Carruth led Lucas out of the sanctuary as the other children laughed. Deacon Lemuel Barnes of the Sunday school was a retired part time insurance man and school teacher with a full gray head of hair, a brown tweed suit that matched his complexion, and thick horn-rimmed glasses. He walked with a cane and spoke with a slight whistle to his voice whenever he pronounced any word with the letter "s" that indicated that his dentures were loose, but he always carried himself in a dignified manner. He sifted through some paperwork at his desk when he heard a knock at his office door.
"Come in," said Mr. Barnes.
Miss Carruth entered the office after the instructed Lucas to stay outside. Lucas was still unsure of what the fuss was about, and stood in eager anticipation away from the door. He considered placing his ear next to the door to hear what was being said, but thought better of doing this, since he would be in more trouble if he was caught. Several minutes later, Miss Carruth exited the superintendent's office and Deacon Barnes called for Lucas to enter.
The boy nervously entered the room as the superintendant closed the door. Lucas' hands shook as he had no idea what was about to happen or why.
"Now Lucas," began the deacon as he spoke calmly and deliberately with his hands held together below his chin, "we all know that you are a rather advanced child for your years."
"What did I do wrong?" asked the boy.
"Nothing really," explained the deacon. "You see, we understand that you read a lot of other books and are exposed to a lot of different things. But that is not the case with most of the other children, or most of the adults around here for that matter, and they may not be able to digest some of the things that you know. However, do understand that in this building and in these Sunday school classes, we go by what's in The Bible, and we don't want to confuse the other children."
"I don't understand," replied Lucas.
Mr. Barnes folded his eyeglasses and placed them into his suit jacket. "I know you don't. Perhaps one day when you are much older, you will think back on this and then you will. Perhaps, you will have and good smile and laugh when you look back on this incident, but for right now, just remember that while we are here, we are to stick with The Bible."
Lucas asked, "So am I going to be punished?" "Of course not," replied the superintendent as a smile slowly began to appear on his face. He rose and patted the boy on his shoulder "In fact, I'm very pleased that you are as smart as you are. I hope that as you grow older, you'll use that intelligence for all the right things. But for right now, the other children are just not ready for those other kinds of stories. If we teach them The Bible and they hear something else at this age, it would just get them mixed up and may even make them disobedient, so just leave them alone while you're here and go back to class."
Lucas was as confused as ever, but he was happy that he would not be punished.
As the Sunday school ended about an hour later, Lucas and the children began to exit the church as the adults entered the building to begin their worship service. Mr. and Mrs. Potts also came into the sanctuary wearing their finest outfits. She wore a tasteful Sunday hat with white dress gloves to match her purse, while Ernest had on his best suit and vest with a bow tie and watch pocket chain while he held their Bible. He looked up with pride at the chandeliers that he helped design and build for the church a few years earlier. "Not a bad job if I say so myself," he said with a grin.
As the couple proceeded to greet their friends and sit in their usual pew, the organist played "Blest be the Tie That Binds" while the congregation greeted each other and found their seats before the services. A short time later, Mr. Barnes entered the sanctuary and walked up to Mr. Potts. "Ernie, may I see you for a moment?"
Mr. Potts answered jovially, "Sure Barnesy, what can I do for you?"
"Ernie," whispered Mrs. Potts with a stern expression as she tugged on the back of his suit jacket, "don't call him 'Barnesey' in public. Respect his position."
Ernest quietly replied, "Oh please. Everybody knows the two of us go way back," as he followed his friend.
The men proceeded to Mr. Barnes' office while Mrs. Potts engaged in pleasant conversation with the some other members of the congregation en route. A few minutes later, Mr. Potts returned to his seat while barely able to contain his laughter.
"Ernie," scolded Mrs. Potts, "Stop making all that noise! Church is about to start!"
Mr. Potts tried hard to regain his composure. "This is too crazy. Get this, the other day I was telling Luke some Greek mythology stories that we learned back when we were in school. Remember that one we learned about Pandora and the box?"
"It's been a while, but I remember what you're talking about."
"Luke was in Sunday school," explained Mr. Potts between his chuckles, "and when they started talking about Adam and Eve, the boy brought up Pandora's Box."
"Lord have mercy," said Mrs. Potts as she shook her head.
"I told Barnesey not to worry," explained Mr. Potts as he finished laughing, "The boy ain't dumb. He's not about to give up Jesus for Zeus anytime soon."
From the upcoming novel American Storyteller-A Novel of Folklore