Church and School

My earliest recollection of church was going to revival meetings when I was quite young and returning home in the dark. We had a touring car with side curtains (make and model unknown) and when it was cold we were covered up snugly with blankets, as there was no heater. I can remember I would always watch in the summer time for animal eyes shining out in the darkness. Somehow this fascinated me. If this doesn’t seem like I had a very religious feeling about those early days of church going, you were probably right. My first meeting with my Lord and Savior came when I was eight years old. Before that bible readings, church going and hymn singing were just times I enjoyed, but when I was eight years old I started to know Jesus and to know him as my friend and my helper in time of trouble:

Leona Rice at her 8th grade graduationIn August, 1928, just about my eighth birthday time, my mother and father, brother George and I came to the Ottawa area in eastern Kansas to visit my mother’s parents and her several brothers and sisters in that area. While we were there, my Uncle Alfred came down with typhoid fever. My mother, who was a practical nurse (usually new babies), stayed to help care for him. (Uncle Alfred and Uncle George were still unmarried and lived with Grandma and Grandma Harrison). We all started to take our typhoid shots before we went home. My dad and I left within a few days, but George and Mama stayed. My mother never took childhood diseases and felt herself immune to sickness of any kind. Even with the shots, she still came down with the illness. She arrived back home about October 1’st. Uncle Alfred was on the way to recovery. About a week later the Typhoid fever overtook her and a day or two later we heard that Uncle George had come down with it. Mama had it very hard and she never left her bed until a few days before Christmas. Her first day of really dressing and coming to the table was on Christmas Day. She was left with an impaired heart that troubled her the rest of her life. During the time of her illness, my mother’s twin sister, Aunt Sadie, and my Dad’s twin sister, Aunt Besse, took turns staying at our place to help care for her. My sister, Fern, had planned to marry Joe Merwin in October, but they postponed their marriage so Fern could be with my mother. They did marry the day after Christmas—a very simple ceremony in the judge’s office---my sister came nearly every day for a while to help with the house work for two or three months. From the time my mother came down with the disease until Christmas, I had to spend the time with my Dad’s cousin and his wife, Henry and Ora Bingaman. They were good people and were kind to me, but I was a very homesick little girl. One Sunday in church, I was especially homesick. As I sat listening to the hymns being sung, I was transported—call it a vision, call it a dream—or whatever you like, but it seemed like it was real---into the presence of Christ and as the hymn "In the Garden" was sung, I truly walked with Him in the parsonage flower garden and He told me not to be sad and not to worry. It was like a load was lifted from my being. It seems as real today as it did over 65 years ago. I can see the flowers blooming in bright rows in that garden. All summer I had enjoyed those long rows---one of zinnia, one of marigold, one of gilliardea, one of cosmos and probably another or two—and each Sunday I had skipped off around the church yard to see them---not a fancy garden, today, but back in those days in the hot dry and windy Kansas summer it was beautiful to behold. My mother just didn’t have time to spend watering and tending row upon row of flowers when we needed the food that vegetables would produce for our daily meals and canning and preserving. And Jesus walked with me there, hand in hand. And I knew he lived and the song "Jesus Loves Me" became a life long reality. Jesus has always walked with me and as in the poem "Footprints" when I’ve been so down I couldn’t walk, he has carried me. When we got out of the church on the cold November day, I didn’t go round the church to see the flowers again; for you see, the winter cold had already taken them away, but they still live on in my heart today. That day has always marked the beginning of my Christian faith. Sometimes I have strayed from the "straight and narrow", but then God and His Son have always drawn me to them again. Yes, I have strayed but Jesus has kept close to me even in my days of "falling away". And I can truly say that "In the Garden" Jesus walked with me just as the old Hymn says.

I always enjoyed reading and I enjoyed going to school. I learned to read at an early age. I remember when I was three or four that a neighbor girl, George Rice about the age of 4Perrian Brill, who was several years older than I, would patiently get me to learn to read aloud to her from old school books. By the time I started to first grade (there were no kindergarten classes at that time), I had read all the books that the usual first grader reads, so the teacher made a special class in reading for another girl, Nina Lea Rush, and I and we read the available library books. I wasn’t as far advanced in ‘rithmetic, though, and so I was kept busy. We rode a bus to school. We were the first family on in the morning and the last family off in the evening on a fifteen-mile route. It was five miles to school if we had gone straight to school. The buses were cold. Even with heave goulashes, our feet would get cold. A pipe ran along the sides of the bus close to the floor from the exhaust to provide a little heat. I always had to put on the heavy stockings, long underwear, and heavy bloomers under petticoats and wool dresses or jumpers, heavy coat, cap that fitted over my ears, mittens and scarf. I felt so clumsy and felt I could hardly walk---all this for most of the winter months. I was always glad when signs of spring and warmer weather began to appear. I was always subject to tonsillitis, croup and cold, so Mama kept me "winterized" long after I wanted to dress for spring. We always differed over how long I should wear those bulky, long underwear under my black long legged stockings. I can remember getting on the bus, sitting toward the back, and before anyone else got on the bus, I'd roll those terrible long legged underwear up, stuff them under my bloomer legs, and at least feel that no one else knew I had to wear them. In the evening, coming home from school, after everyone got off the buss, I'd roll them down again, so Mama wouldn’t know. Whether I fooled anyone, I'm not sure, but it made me feel better and in control of my own destiny---even if I really wasn’t. Time has made me believe that I didn’t really deceive anyone except myself.

I enjoyed reading to my little brother, George. One story he always wanted me to read was about a little lamb that got caught in a thorn bush and couldn’t get out and he was really hurting. He'd always want me to read it, but he was so sorry for the lamb that he'd cry. Of course, the lamb was found and his wounds were tended and it came out "happy ever after". Mama wouldn’t let me read it to George, but he would beg me to read it when Mama was outside with her garden or tending chickens. I’ve wondered these last few years why he wanted me to read it when it made him so sad. But George died at XXX years in 19xx from a heart attack, so the reason will never be known.


  1. Leona Rice taken at the time of her 8th Grade Graduation.
  2. George Rice (son of Jesse Rice), about 4 years old, taken in the Fall of 1928.  Aunt Almira took him to take this picture.  After that he would not loan her money to get an ice cream cone.  This story was told by Fern Rice Merwin.