When Dad traveled in his ministry, he disliked being away from his family. One of the areas in which he excelled as a father was in taking us children with him on his trips, much to our delight.
Usually only a few of us could travel with him at a time, but there were those rare occasions when the whole clan went together. One such time was when we were going to Atlanta to visit Grandmother and Granddaddy Conn.
It was a challenge to get a large family like ours into a sedan. Vans weren’t readily available in those days and we didn’t get our first station wagon until a few years later. On this particular trip, there were only ten of us children. The last two had not yet been born.
Dad sat behind the wheel of the Buick Roadmaster; Mom, holding the baby, rode “shotgun.” Philip sat between Mom and Dad with a younger brother on his lap.
Four of us bigger children were jammed across the back seat, and the remaining smaller children climbed in on top of us. Sometimes one of them might crawl up onto the back window ledge, and the others either sat on a bigger sibling’s lap, or dug out a spot for themselves on the floor.
There were no seat belt laws in those days. In fact, there were no seat belts, or at least I had never seen one.Atlanta was 120 miles south of Cleveland. Interstate 75 did not yet exist, so the only way to Atlanta was by a two lane road which led through the heart of several small towns. We had stopped at a red light in downtown Calhoun, Georgia, about halfway to Atlanta, when Mom spoke up. “It seems a little quiet in here. Who’s missing?”
“All right children,” Dad intoned, “sound off.”We all knew the routine. Philip said “One;” Sarah said “Two;” I said “Three; Paul said “Four;” Sharon said “Five.” Then there was silence. Number six, Raymond, was missing.
We made a u-turn and drove the sixty miles back home. There Raymond was, standing in the front yard, crying his eyes out. As we loaded him into the back seat and turned again toward Atlanta, Raymond sobbed, “I thought Jesus had come and I was the only one left behind.”
Dad usually called for us to sound off at the beginning of a trip, but occasionally he forgot. There was only one other time I remember us leaving someone behind. It was on one of the very rare occasions when the whole family went out to a restaurant together for a meal. We were almost finished with our dinner when someone noticed Raymond was missing again.
The trips we took with Dad were most often to his preaching appointments, but not always. When I was in third grade, Philip, Paul, and I got to miss a whole week of school to accompany him to Washington, D.C. Dad was going to the Library of Congress to do some research for a book he was writing and our teachers agreed to call it an educational trip and let us go with him. I didn’t see that the trip had anything at all to do with education. To me, it was just a lark.
We drove up to Washington, D.C. via the entire length of the famous Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Shenandoah National Park. Dad spent a couple of days at the Library of Congress, while we boys sat at a table and read. For the rest of the week, we toured our nation’s capitol.
My brothers and I were so eager so see all the sights that one morning we asked if we could please skip breakfast and go straight to the Washington Monument. Dad agreed. The line for the elevator to the top extended out the door and wrapped around the monument. We boys told Dad he could wait in line if he wished and we would meet him at the top. We started up the stairs of the 555-foot monument with enthusiasm.
About halfway up I began to feel very lightheaded, and so weak I was shaking. My brothers left me behind, so I slowly retraced my steps back down and found Daddy, who was next in line to go up the elevator. Just as I reached him, I fainted at his feet.
Dad drug me out into the fresh air, propped me up on a bench, and found me something cool to drink, and also something to eat. Until then, I did not know I was hypoglycemic. I don’t function well on an empty stomach. It was several years later, on another visit to Washington, that I first climbed all the way to the top.
Today, people are not allowed to ascend the Washington Monument on foot.Most of the big trips we took with Daddy were during the summer camp-meeting season. In the Church of God, every state had an annual camp-meeting. In many states, particularly in the South, they were held in large open-sided tabernacles and were attended by thousands of people. In areas where the Church of God constituency was smaller, the camp-meeting might be held in one of the larger local churches, a school auditorium, or a rented hall. The typical camp-meeting featured two main speakers; a morning Bible teacher and an evening evangelist. There were also other preachers who spoke in mid-morning and afternoon services. Dad was usually the Bible teacher, although he occasionally served as the evangelist.
When we were at camp-meetings, we children were required to attend the morning and evening services, but we would skip the afternoon service and do something fun, like go swimming or sightseeing. The meetings usually began on a Monday evening and Dad’s last sermon was on the next Sunday morning. That afternoon, he would drive back home with three very tired children and all our dirty laundry. Early the next morning, Dad would load up three different freshly scrubbed children and be off for his next appointment. He would do this for about eight or nine weeks every summer, and I always got to go along for two or three of them.
We went all over the United States. Mother usually had to stay home with the larger share of the children. However, after we were grown, she and Dad traveled all over the world together.
On the trips I took with Dad, we sometimes stayed in motels, but usually it was either in a preacher’s house or in a cabin on the campground. If the distance warranted it, we would stop at a motel en-route.Staying in motels was a very different experience then than it is today. There were no franchises. Every motel was a small “mom and pop” operation, and you didn’t even think of putting your money down until you had inspected the room.
When we knew we would be staying in a motel for the night, we children always anxiously read the billboards along the highway. We were looking for two things, “Free TV” and “Swimming Pool.” Television in our room was a special treat since we didn’t have one at home.
Not all motels had televisions, and many that did required you put a quarter in the slot to watch a half hour of programming. We had to be very careful with those quarter-eating TV’s. If we wanted to watch Amos and Andy for instance, we first had to know exactly when it was coming on and watch the clock. If we dropped our quarter in too late, we would miss the first part of the program. If we dropped it in too soon, our thirty minutes would be up before we saw how the program ended.
Even more desirable than a room with a television was a motel with a swimming pool, especially one that didn’t have any girls in it. All of us children loved swimming. We were allowed to swim with each other, but swimming with a girl who was not your sister was strictly forbidden.
One late afternoon in Meridian, Mississippi, Philip, Paul, and I checked into a motel with Dad. As soon as our suitcases were dropped onto our beds, we boys yanked out our swimming trunks and dashed for the pool.Just as we began our swim, I noticed a family drive up to the motel office. There was a little girl in the back seat of the car, looking out the window at us.
“Oh no,” I yelled to my brothers. “There’s a girl. I hope she doesn’t go swimming.”
We kept our eyes on her as she and her parents checked into the room beside ours. Five minutes later, out she came in her bathing suit, skipping across the parking lot in our direction.“Quick,” Paul yelled. “I think we have time for one more dive.”
In rapid succession, Philip, Paul, and I each ran to the diving board, plunged in, and swam furiously for the side of the pool. I was the slowest swimmer and the last one out of the water. Just a split second after I hoisted myself out, the little girl’s toe dipped into the pool. Safe! We boys trudged back to our room, grumbling to ourselves, and the little girl looked at us as if to say, “What’s wrong with me?” If both her foot and mine had been in the water at the same time, that would have been mixed bathing, and I would have had some heavy repenting to do when we got to camp-meeting. I wasn’t sure exactly why swimming with the opposite sex was a sin, but I thought it had something to do with people getting pregnant that way.
Once in Roanoke, Virginia, I was staying with Dad and a couple of my brothers in the biggest and newest motel I had ever seen. It was called the Holiday Inn. This place was so fancy it even had its own restaurant. One day we were eating lunch there with the Church of God State Overseer. He and Dad were talking about the marvelous new concept of the chain motel. “Just imagine,” the overseer said, “they’re going to be building these Holiday Inns all over the country, just like this one.”
The very idea boggled my mind. In large cities, we occasionally stayed downtown in a high-rise hotel. In Chicago, on our way to the Wisconsin camp-meeting, Dad asked the desk clerk to give us a room as high up as he had available. We got a room on the 22nd floor. The view from up there, down over the city and out across Lake Michigan, took my breath away and made a small town boy feel very sophisticated.
That evening, Dad walked us boys down State Street, through skid-row, to a service at the famous Pacific Garden Mission. Another time, we stayed on the top floor of a downtown hotel in Miami, Florida. We happened to be there on New Year’s Eve, on the night of the Orange Bowl Parade. The parade made a turn right under our window, which was a special thrill for me as a 15-year-old.
When we traveled with Dad, eating in restaurants was also an adventure. There was no fast food and no franchise eateries in those days. The first McDonalds I ever saw was in Wyoming, after I was an adult and had moved away from home. Like the motels, every restaurant was a local establishment and you never knew exactly what to expect.
We were on a tight budget for meals on those trips. The rule was that you ordered one of the least expensive items on the menu. I sometimes agonized over whether to have a hamburger or splurge and go for a cheeseburger. Often I ordered an egg sandwich or a grilled cheese because they were even cheaper. To this day, I never read a menu without looking at the prices first.
Philip, Paul, and I were in a restaurant with Dad on a camp-meeting trip to Covington, Louisiana, and had just finished eating our hamburgers. That’s when the waitress came by our table and announced they had fresh strawberry shortcake for dessert. She looked at Dad and asked, “Sir, would you like to have some strawberry shortcake?”
“No, thank you.”
Turning to Philip and Paul she asked each of them in turn, “Would you like any strawberry shortcake?”
I was squirming in my seat by now and fearing what I saw coming. If the waitress asked me whether or not I wanted any strawberry short cake, I saw only two options. I could say “no,” and go to Hell for lying, or I could say “yes” and risk the wrath of Daddy and my brothers for violating our travel code and busting the family budget.I gritted my teeth and awaited the dreaded question.
“And how about you, Son, do you want any strawberry shortcake?”
Not wanting to face either the wrath of God or that of my family, I gulped, “I want it, but I ain’t gonna get it.”
Dad was embarrassed. “Bring it to him,” he told the waitress, curtly.
As she disappeared into the kitchen, three sets of eyes glared across the table at me. I felt like I was going to cry. The strawberry shortcake looked beautiful and it tasted great, but I didn’t enjoy it at all.
Back in the car, Dad reprimanded me. “Son, if you’re going to travel with me, then you’ve got to abide by the rules. Why did you embarrass me like that? We’ve discussed this before, and you know we can’t afford to order dessert.”
Philip and Paul quickly jumped into the fray; only they were harder, calling me things like “jerk” and “stupid idiot.”
They all asked me, “Why didn’t you just say ‘No’?”
I was sobbing now. “But I would go to Hell if I said ‘No.’”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You won’t go to Hell for not eating strawberry shortcake.”
It took me an hour to finally get them to understand that if the waitress had asked if I was going to order any strawberry shortcake, I would have said no. But, she didn’t put it that way. She asked, “Do you want any strawberry short cake?” And to say I didn’t want any would be a lie.
Finally, I got them to understand my position, but I never was sure they agreed with it. I had all the makings of a great Fundamentalist. I took everything literally.
During the years Dad served on the General Executive Committee of the Church of God, the camp-meeting trips took on a different character. He was first elected to the Committee when he was only 32, and I was 7. Back then, the Editor-in-Chief of Church of God Publications was an Executive Committee position. Later, church polity was changed and the Executive Committee consisted of the General Overseer, Three Assistant General Overseers, and the General Secretary-Treasurer.
In every camp-meeting across America, it was tradition to have at least one Executive Committee member pay an official visit and bring a message. That meant Dad often traveled to as many as four different camp-meetings in a single week. I especially enjoyed those road trips.
On one such trip, Dad was a full day’s drive out from Cleveland, on his way further west, when he got a call from the General Overseer ordering him to return home immediately. Dad was First Assistant General Overseer at the time. The General Overseer told him he was no longer permitted to carry his children with him on official camp-meeting visits. None of the other Executive Committee members did. “This is God’s business -- church business,” the General Overseer said, “not a family vacation.”
That trip was ruined, but later other ministers appealed to the General Overseer to reconsider his position, so he allowed us to begin traveling with Daddy again.
Some ministers, those who considered themselves more dedicated and righteous than Dad, criticized him for always having us children with him. But there were others, and I believe the majority, who said Dad was setting a good example and they enjoyed seeing us with him.
On those trips, as the official representative of the Executive Committee, Dad would preach the same sermon at every camp-meeting he attended for the entire summer. After hearing the same message several times, I pretty well had it memorized.
On a southwestern trip, we went first to Bald Knob, Arkansas, for Tuesday services, then on to the Oklahoma camp-meeting on Wednesday. Dad preached in Weatherford, Texas, on Thursday, and then on Friday we made the long drive across west Texas, on a two lane road, with no air conditioning.
On that seemingly endless, hot, dusty drive Dad taught us a little poem:
The sun has riz,
The sun has set,
And here we is
In Texas yet.
Somewhere on the high plains of west Texas, Paul fell asleep and slumped across our invisible line down the middle of the back seat. According to our agreement, I had permission to hit anything on my side of the line, and I gave him a wallop. Agreement or not, Dad didn’t allow hitting. He stopped the car and told me to get out and lean over the trunk. He took off his belt and got ready to drive the foolishness of fighting out of me.
About that time, a small police patrol airplane flew in very close, swooping down and circling so low over us that we could see the facial features of the pilot. Hope sprang within me. Maybe the cop was going to land and tell Dad he couldn’t beat me. However, when the pilot saw that we weren’t broken down, but that Dad was just disciplining one of his kids, he waved, tipped his wings, and flew on down the highway. I held the distinction of being whipped in more different states than anyone else in the family.
On Saturday and Sunday, we were at the New Mexico camp-meeting in Roswell. In the previous four days, I had heard Dad preach the same sermon three times, plus I had already heard it at least about half a dozen times before that trip.It was my favorite of all Dad’s sermons: “The Five Realms of Human Affection.” It was a message about love, and at that time I don’t think I had ever heard anyone except Dad preach an entire sermon on the subject. Most camp-meeting evangelists preached about the Second Coming, Holiness or Hell.
While Dad was delivering his “love” sermon at the New Mexico camp-meeting, I sat on the front pew between the State Overseer and the evening evangelist. As the sermon progressed I would lean over, first to the overseer and then to the evangelist, and tell them what was coming next.
“Okay,” I would whisper, “here comes a funny story about this sassy little lady who shook her finger in his face and said, ‘Brother Conn, you can’t shut the mouths of God’s witnesses.’” Dad would repeat what I had just said, word for word.
I whispered again, “Now he’s going to get on an imaginary grapevine and swing all the way across the platform from one end to the other.”
Sure enough, after the congregation finished laughing at Dad’s funny story, he took hold of the imaginary grapevine and swung across the stage. The preachers on either side of me were all ears.
After the service, the overseer and evangelist both went out to eat with Dad, me, and my brothers. Over lunch, the other preachers laughingly told Dad how I had filled them in during his sermon. He failed to see the humor in it. Later that day, I got a strong warning from Daddy. I was to never again sit beside a preacher, especially a State Overseer, while Dad was up front preaching.
Camp-meeting was church big league. It was like the mightiest local church revival you ever experienced, doubled seven times over.
Where there might be an aisle runner or two in a local church, at camp-meeting you could sometimes see a dozen or more at once, streaking through the wood shavings that covered the tabernacle floor, leaving dust trails in their wake. Also, at camp-meeting you could hear world-class screamers. They had to have a special anointing to be heard above the din of the huge crowds. Most people screamed when they were getting a blessing, like when we were singing about Heaven, but not always.
The best I ever heard was at the Tennessee camp-meeting near Chattanooga. The crowd was so large that I couldn’t see who she was, but I’ll never forget the way she could scream -- and her timing was perfect.
The evangelist had ended his sermon and was pleading for lost souls to come to the altar. He was describing the agonies of Hell, and the excruciating, unending cries of the damned -- eternally alienated from God -- without hope.
Suddenly, from somewhere in the back of the tabernacle, there came the longest, most blood curdling shriek I had ever heard. It was even better than a Rebel Yell -- full of pathos and agony. It sounded like the last despairing cry of a doomed soul, chest deep in Hell and sinking fast.
That one incredible scream flushed a hundred sinners out of their seats and down to the altar. It even made me want to get saved all over again.
Even more amazing than the screamers were the tongue talkers -- especially those who gave forth messages that were followed by an interpretation. Speaking in tongues was a common occurrence in Pentecostal worship. Most of it was not intended for public display, even though it might be overheard. It was simply an ecstatic utterance, or prayer language, that was a private communication between the person talking in tongues and God.
A message in tongues was something different altogether. Many times I have seen it happen in such amazing fashion that it defied all logic or explanation. Thousands of people could be praying aloud, with a roar that would drown out the loudest screamer. Then suddenly, with no discernable prompting, every voice would fall silent -- except one. Over the hushed congregation, that one melodious strain would gush forth like a verbal artesian spring, in a language no one could understand.
After the utterance ended, all would remain perfectly still and quiet for a brief moment. Then, from somewhere in the vast congregation, another single voice would rise, this one in English, with a tone which was both comforting and authoritative. This was the interpretation.
I was at a statewide meeting in Somerset, Pennsylvania, on one such occasion. The message in tongues was given right at the end of an afternoon missions sermon about reaching the lost for Jesus. I happened to have a pen and paper with me, so I wrote down the interpretation as it came forth: “If you could see what My eyes see -- if you could hear what My ears hear -- you would know the urgency of the hour. I have looked for you but could not find you. For know this, your time is short. The time is near when no man can work. Go bring forth fruit.”
A hush fell over the congregation, but this time the silence was punctuated with sobs and groans of anguish over lost souls. The preacher seized the moment and gave an invitation. Hundreds rushed forward to pray. Many knelt at the mourner’s bench, while others prostrated themselves on the floor to seek the face of God.
Whenever such an utterance in tongues and interpretation was given, I felt I had heard the very voice of God. Pentecostals don’t put such messages on a par with Scripture; they accept them as a confirmation of what God has already spoken.
It was at the camp-meeting in Wimauma, Florida, that I first felt the Holy Ghost, when I was 15. Saturday night was youth night, and about 400 of us young people were lined up outside the huge open-air tabernacle awaiting our cue to begin the service. At seven o’clock sharp, the band struck up and we marched into the tabernacle, 200 of us down each side, and up to our pre-arranged positions in the mass youth choir.
From the choir loft, I looked out over the immense crowd and saw all 6,000 seats filled. Thousands more overflowed the tabernacle, sprawling in lawn chairs out under the Palmettos and Longleaf Pines.The choir began to sing “Like a mighty army moves the Church of God….”
The service had just begun, but people were already shouting “Hallelujah!” and waving their hankies or raising their arms in praise. Some were laughing in the Spirit; others were weeping -- or both laughing and weeping at the same time.
I was overcome with such emotion that glory bumps popped up over my entire body. It was electric, like nothing I’d ever felt before. I’d heard people talk about feeling the Holy Ghost all my life. They said it was something like electricity flowing all over your body and that’s exactly what I was experiencing. I’d prayed a thousand times that God would let me feel the Holy Ghost the way other people said they felt Him. That night my prayers were answered. I lifted my hands toward heaven and shouted aloud. “Hallelujah!” The Holy Ghost was the greatest feeling I had ever had.
Three months later, I experienced an identical feeling and it shattered my theology. It was my first week as a student at Bradley Central High School. The entire student body and faculty, more than 2,000 strong, were gathered in the gymnasium for a pep rally. The high school band struck up a tune and the football team ran out to the center of the gym floor in full dress. The cheerleaders and majorettes followed -- cavorting, twirling their batons, and shaking their pom-poms.
We all stood and began to sing. “Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…”
Suddenly, somewhere between the rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in air, goose bumps flooded over me just like the glory bumps I had felt back at the Florida camp-meeting. I was confused. What was happening? I knew it couldn’t be the Holy Ghost because I wasn’t even thinking about God. I was doing quite the opposite -- watching the majorettes and gallantly trying to fight back the demons of lust. Maybe I hadn’t felt the Holy Ghost in Florida after all.
Twice I traveled alone with Dad to camp-meetings -- one in Columbia, Maryland, and the other in Bessemer, Alabama. Dad wanted to have a special bonding time with just me. I was pleased with the attention, but preferred to travel with some of my brothers along. They were more fun.
I was 16 when Dad and I went to the Alabama camp meeting together. After the Saturday morning service, he and I shared lunch and had a little talk. Dad told me that I was at that stage of life when I might want to find a girlfriend. Saturday was youth day at the camp-meeting, and the service that evening was to begin with the traditional youth march and mass youth choir.
Dad said he was going to leave me at the campground all day long by myself while he went back to our motel and rested. When he returned for the evening service in a few hours, he wanted to see me with a date.
I was excited and nervous about the prospects. I had sat with a few girls in church before, but I didn’t have a special girlfriend, and didn’t know anyone in Alabama. I hung around the campground all afternoon and struck up a conversation with a few boys, but mostly stayed to myself.
Around four o’clock in the afternoon I was sitting on a bench beside the tabernacle, trying to think of a way to meet a girl, and watching a pair of them who had been walking back and fourth across the grounds. The one who had caught my eye was a very attractive, tall brunette, who looked about my age. Her friend was younger and not as pretty. The two girls walked past me at least four times that afternoon. All I could muster was a shy grin and “Howdy.”
I never said “Hello” because that sounded too formal. I never said “Hi” because with my speech impediment, “Hi” was a word I couldn’t say very well.
My eyes longingly followed the tall brunette as she walked by, for what I feared might be the last time, toward the cafeteria. Then, my luck suddenly changed in a way that was nothing short of a miracle. She turned, leaving her friend standing there watching from a distance, and walked directly toward me. I could hardly believe it. She was not only headed my direction but she was looking right at me. Our eyes met, but only for a moment. It was more than I could stand; I had to glance away.
In another instant there she was, standing just three feet away. “Hi, my name’s Ruth. What’s yours?”
My heart was fluttering. “Howdy, I’m Stephen.” I tried to sound nonchalant.We did some small talk about what a nice day it was and how good the services had been at camp-meeting. Then, Ruth nodded toward her friend, 100 feet away.
“That girl over there is Theresa, and I don’t know if she wants me to tell you this. But, she said you were cute and she would like to sit with you in church tonight.”
My heart sank. Ruth seemed so close yet so far away. The camp-meeting would be over the next day. I would probably never see Ruth again, so what did I have to lose? I decided to risk getting my fragile ego bruised and go for the gold.
“That’s flattering, Ruth, but actually I was hoping maybe you would sit with me in church tonight.”
Ruth’s eyes brightened and there was a note of glee in her voice she couldn’t disguise. “Oh, really! That’s very nice of you. I would be pleased to sit with you.”
We made arrangements to meet in front of the tabernacle one hour later so we could visit for a while before the youth march at six. Ruth fairly skipped back to tell the dejected Theresa the news. It was my lucky day.
I had been on the campground all day long, sweating in the 90 degree heat. In preparation for my big date, I went to the men’s room and swiped myself down as well as possible with wet paper towels and combed my hair. Then, I went to the canteen and bought a giant fifteen-stick pack of Double-Mint gum. At least I wanted my breath to smell fresh.
Ruth was radiant when we met in front of the tabernacle, five minutes before our scheduled time. She was dressed in a fresh, frilly pink and white dress that enhanced her beautiful, natural complexion.
“Why, thank you,” she smiled when I offered her a stick of my gum. “I think I will have some.”
An hour later, when we filed into the tabernacle with the youth march, and mounted the stairs to the choir, we had to pass right in front of Dad, who was seated on the platform. I was so proud of my beautiful date, and I could tell from Dad’s grin that he was proud for me too.
That night, during the middle of the service, a ferocious summer thunderstorm came up. In a deluge of rain and hail, all the people who had been sitting outside in lawn chairs ran for cover. The wind blew so hard through the open sides of the tabernacle that umbrellas popped up all the way across the congregation. Then, the power went out.
I was glad we were in the choir loft, sheltered from the wind and rain. It was still daylight outside, but with the heavy cloud cover it was almost dark in the tabernacle. With the roar of the driving rain on the roof, and no microphone, the evangelist really had to strain his gut that night. Not a single screamer or runner showed up to help him. He yelled until he lost his voice.
The Spirit was dampened for that service, but I didn’t mind. With the preacher’s back turned to the choir, we could understand little of what he was saying, so Ruth and I just sat there in the twilight and passed notes back and forth until it got too dark to read. Then she started whispering in my ear. When she did that, and her warm breath was against the side of my face, I had a heavenly sensation. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the Holy Ghost. Before the service was over, we went through my entire pack of Double-Mint.
Dad traveled overseas frequently, but only once did I get to accompany him outside the United States. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Church of God world missions, January 1, 1960. In January, 1910, R .M. Evans and Edmond S. Barr took the first Pentecostal message from Florida to the Islands. To commemorate the event, the Church chartered an entire ocean vessel, the S.S. Bahama Star, which carried more than 500 passengers from Miami to Nassau. Another ship carried an additional 200+ Church of God folk on the trip, for a total of about 750.
In 1960, there was no cruise industry as it exists today. The Bahama Star was a passenger ship which had previously made trans-Atlantic crossings. It had just been refurbished and ours was the “maiden voyage” for the re-named vessel on its new Miami-Nassau run.
When we pulled into the dock in Nassau, a large throng of Bahamian brothers and sisters were on hand to greet us. They were clapping their hands and singing “We are soldiers in the army of the Lord,” and “Sing ‘till the power of the Lord comes down….”
In addition to attending services in Nassau, we also did some sightseeing. One afternoon, while Dad was in meetings, Paul and I rented bicycles and explored some of the island on our own.
The most exciting part of the trip was when the ship’s boiler exploded on our return voyage to the United States. Paul and I had set our alarm clock so we could get up about 30 minutes before daylight. We wanted to see the sunrise over the ocean. As we were getting dressed, suddenly the power on board the ship went off. Emergency lights came on in the hallways, and porters ran frantically through the ship, banging on every door and yelling: “The ship’s on fire! Put on your lifejackets! Everyone to the lifeboats!”
Panic ensued. Pajama clad people with wild eyes and messy hair were rushing up to the top deck, fumbling with their life jackets as they went. After considerable commotion for about 20 minutes, it was announced that the fire had been extinguished and the ship was in no danger of sinking. However, we had no power and were adrift. The current of the Gulf Stream was carrying us northward.
It took 12 hours for a couple of tug boats from Miami to reach us, and then another 12 hours or more for them to tow us back. The kitchen was not in operation because of the lack of power, and most of the food supplies on board were depleted anyway. However, snacks were served.
A few people kept their life jackets on and stayed on the top deck near the lifeboats all day long. Most of the passengers relaxed, enjoyed visiting one another, and made the best of their unexpected day at sea. For a part of the afternoon I fished off the back of the boat, with tackle given me by some of the crew. I didn’t catch anything, but saw lots of flying fish. It was one of the most exciting days I had ever had.