Ahead of their time
Oct, 27, 2011
By Bill Skiff
At Cambridge High School in the 1940s, we teenagers were blessed with two wonderful role models: Father Marcoux and the Reverend Bob Harding. Father Marcoux was the parish priest in Cambridge and Rev. Harding was the minister for the Congregational Church in Jeffersonville.
Each Friday afternoon, the two men held religious classes at our high school. These classes were well attended and enjoyed. But it was the relationship between these two religious leaders that had the most impact on us.
In those days, the two faiths were well respected. However, we kids recognized that the adults saw the two faiths as different. We did not witness much tolerance or understanding of the others’ point of views. For instance, my mother had two fears: first, that I would drink and second, that I would date a Catholic girl. I was always falling for Catholic girls who liked to drink. I never found them any different from the Protestant girls; in either case, we did not spend much time discussing religion.
When Father Marcoux and Rev. Harding entered our lives, it was a blessing. We witnessed them sharing ideas as well as their religious beliefs. We saw their deep respect for each other. We sensed that they liked us kids. Both men loved sports and attended all our ballgames, many times sitting together. They taught us many lessons, both in and out of church. I’m surprised how many apply to today’s challenges.
Rev. Harding came to Jeffersonville in 1946 to serve as the minister for the Congregational Church. It was his first church, as he was fresh out of seminary. He arrived with a new wife, a new 1946 Ford Coupe, and now had a new church. I liked all three (especially the Coupe). He let me drive it once.
One day we were playing basketball on our dirt basketball court when he came over and watched. After a while he asked, “Can I play?” and “Why are you all playing in your sock feet?” We said, ”Sure you can play” and “The reason we play in our sock feet is because we can’t get our shoes dirty. If we do our mothers will kill us. When we get home we throw our socks away and our mothers never know the difference.”
He said, “Well I guess if you can fool your mothers I can fool my wife.” He took off his shoes and started playing. He won all our hearts that day; no matter what church we attended.
One day I was having a terrible time on the baseball field. Coming in from my position, after making an error, I was swearing. Rev. Harding stopped me on the way to the bench and said, “Bill I don’t think that kind of language is a good representation of you or our church.” Because of my respect for him, and the fact that I knew he was right, I never did it again.
Father Marcoux was a robust man with a booming voice and a kind heart. He always wore the cloth, but mingled with us kids with an ease that won our trust. During his Friday afternoon classes at school he would keep the Catholic kids mesmerized with his stories and good humor. A couple of times, I skipped my religious classes just to hear him.
As a priest, Father Marcoux did not have many material possessions but loved his big black automobile. He always drove a Buick or an Oldsmobile. And he drove them like a “bat out of hell.” During my freshman year at Middlebury College, he picked me up hitchhiking home. I was terrified during the entire trip. When I looked at the speedometer — on the many flat stretches between Middlebury and Cambridge — it read 80 miles per hour. The whole time he was asking me questions about my classes, sports and my plans for the future. By the time he dropped me off in front of my house, I was exhausted from nervous tension.
Just before he left, he said, “Bill it sounds like you are doing well. Always remember what your parents and your faith have taught you, study hard, trust in the Lord, and you will do alright.” For someone who was away from home for the first time, and struggling with difficult classes, it was just what I needed to hear. I never forgot his words of encouragement
The best lesson he taught us boys came prior to an important basketball game: the state tournament at Burlington. The Catholic boys suggested we attend a Mass and have Father Marcoux give the team a blessing. After the Mass, we gathered and he blessed the team. Some of us were thinking, “How can we lose? Not only are we good, but now we have Father Marcoux’s blessing.” Just as we were walking out the door, he said, “Boys, one last thing. When you go out on the court tomorrow night, remember — the Lord will not be in uniform.”
Too bad the Lord wasn’t in uniform. We could have used him.
Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]