On a hot summer day in 1945 I was informed by my maternal grandmother, a devoted Christian Scientist, that I was about to become a “Sunbeam”. At five years old I had no idea what she was talking about, but I gathered it involved her best friend, Mrs. Tracy, the wife of the pastor of Ruleville’s First Baptist Church. Even at the tender age of five, I was somewhat confused by my religious affiliations. I had been christened in the Episcopal Church, courtesy of my paternal grandmother, who by the way was a complete agnostic, and then sent off to whatever denomination was handy at the time.
“Jesus wanted me for a Sunbeam,” and in spite of the somewhat unclear grasp of my spiritual destiny, I was hustled off to First Baptist Church. It is not unusual for young people to have a life-changing transformation when exposed to new religious experiences, and this was mine on that June morning in 1945. My moment of clarity however, had nothing to do with theology, but everything to do with Miss Elisabeth Stansell. I experienced a “Some Enchanted Evening“ moment, and my life was never quite the same.
Upon entering the Church and “looking across a crowded room,” I didn’t see the other dozen or so kids. All I saw was my vision of absolute perfection, dark brown hair and flashing eyes and the prettiest girl I could ever imagine. I knew right away that somehow “I’d see her again and again.”
Elizabeth Stansell became the central figure in my summer. My grandmother, who was a romantic at heart, managed to secure invitations for me to visit Elizabeth’s home half way between Ruleville and Drew, and we spent many summer afternoons together. By the time school started in September I was completely under Elizabeth’s spell. But midway through the first grade World War II ended, my Dad came home from Europe, and we moved to Mobile, Alabama.
When I returned to Ruleville to attend part of the second and fourth grades, I was naturally eager to see Elizabeth. But competition had reared its ugly head in the form of Buddy Jones, and though I had every intention of killing him, Buddy was very fast and elusive, and I could never catch him. My everlasting love for Elizabeth was never realized, but I was soothed in the knowledge that she grew up to marry one of God’s good guys, who took very good care of her for the rest of her life.