As nightfall was well along the three of us reclined around the low yellow flame of a kerosene lantern. We sipped our pop, munched on potato chips and marshmallow pies. We talked of girls, love, sports, teachers, the future, and life. These are times a young man can for the first time articulate his thoughts to others without reproach of a scolding parent or know-it-all teachers. It’s a testing of ideas and concepts that will shape a boy’s future. It trains how to interact with a world that will soon change from boyish aspirations and idealism to adult realities and brutal disappointments. A cruel and unforgiving world awaits just beyond the flap of that tent. We did not know that then.
We spoke of making right choices in life, what will guide us, who will influence us, and what code we will live by.
“What is your code to live by?” Bart asked Sammy.
“Live for today, plan for tomorrow,” Sammy said. “How ‘bout you Bart?”
“Do to others as you want others to do to you,” Bart said. “And what about you?” He said looking at me.
“I don’t know,” I said.
They frowned and shrugged their shoulders.
“The key is belief in God,” Bart said.
“God can help you make good decisions,” Sammy said confidently.
“He can make all your decisions turn out good,” Bart said.
“What do you mean?” Sammy said.
“Let’s say you went some place your Mom and Dad said not to go. And something bad happened there; like a fire. God would allow you to save everybody,” Bart said.
“He makes bad things turn into good, if your heart is right and you believe in him.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s right,” Sammy agreed. “I know what you mean. Things like that happen all the time.”
There was a moment of silence. Sammy and Bart waited for me to proffer a theory to the stew of philosophical and religious discussion.
“Does that mean you can do anything, like anything and it will come out right, because God doesn’t want you to screw up?” I finally said.
“You’re being ridiculous,” Sammy said disgustingly.
“I don’t think so,” Bart said. Bart thought deeper and seldom spoke without thinking. “I think what you are saying is that you can spend a lifetime of jumping in front of cars or off skyscrapers thinking its all going to turn out good and that‘s tempting God, which we shouldn’t do.”
“You ever heard the one about the guy who jumped out of the fifty story building and each widow he passed on the way down he said, ‘so far so good?’” I said. “Just because things seem to be going okay doesn’t mean that we’re on the right course. It can’t be left to chance.”
“My head is hurting,” Sammy said and we all laughed. “God keeps your head from hurting.”
“How do you know there is a God?” I asked.
“For god’s sake what are you saying?” Sammy said.
“You got to believe in God.” Bart said. “Are you a communist?”
“God will punish you for that,” Sammy said.
“I’m not saying I don’t believe in god,” I said. “I ask how do you know.”
“You just know,” Bart said.
“It takes faith,” Sammy said.
“Maybe you should go to church,” Bart said. “Do you go?”
“I’m not so sure that has a lot to do with it,” I said. “Look at the people around us that go and those who don’t go. Look at Chet Winters, he treats us good and pays for more than we do. He said that ministers preached troops to go into battle to die horrible and painful deaths. He said he hasn’t been in a church sense before the war except to get married and go to his kids’ weddings. He’s the most honest man around. Have you ever worked for Orville Higgins? He’s a deacon in the Brethren Church. I caught him resetting the counter on the baler and he deducts fifty cents a meal if his wife feeds us.”
“No matter, you got to belong to a church,” Sammy said.
“What churches do you guys belong to?” I asked.
“The Methodist’s,” Bart said.
“Baptist’s,” Sammy said. “What about you?”
“I suppose a Lutheran,” I said.
“Suppose!” Bart said. “You’re not sure?”
“I’ve been to one Easter service and two weddings. That’s it. How often do you go to church?” I asked Sammy.
“I go about once a month,” Sammy said.
“Could you call yourself a student if you went to school once a month?” I asked. “That makes you a truant.”