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Conwell: The Great Horned Toad Escapade


Last updated 7/11/2012 at Noon

A couple weeks ago we attended the closing session of our two grandsons’ Vacation Bible School at Proctor Street Baptist Church.

It’s a fine church, led by a dedicated minister, supported by committed staff members, sustained by tireless volunteers, and blessed with faithful parishioners.

Now, VBS today isn’t a whole lot different than when I was in vacation bible school back in the Middle Ages. I guess the big difference is in the music today. It’s sort of what I’d call hip-hop. For all I know it might be ‘rip rap’ or ‘slip-slap’, but whatever it is, the little ones really get with it, and the message remains the same. And I have no doubt Jesus is tapping His toes right along with them.

Sitting out there in the sanctuary, I looked on as grade by grade sang their little songs they’d worked so hard on throughout the week.

I have to say, the youngsters put on a good show, and to a single one, they were all well behaved, not like some of us when we were in the spotlight.

And that brings me around to one of the worst, but most deserved spankings I ever got. Vacation bible school was right in the middle of it.

That’s right.

Now Dad was not a church-goer. Mom dutifully pulled my brother and me out of bed every Sunday and out of the mud holes on Wednesday and headed out for church.

Now up in the Texas Panhandle, horned toads abounded.

For those who have no idea what a horned toad (we called them horny toads) looked like, they were miniature creatures from Jurassic Park. Sort of light brown in color, they sported two spiked horns protruding from their heads and several smaller spikes covering their backs.

They were gentle creatures. You could turn them on their backs and rub their tummies and they’d go to sleep. There was rumor that they would spit blood in your eyes and blind you, but I never saw any evidence of it. At the same time, even when I was rubbing their bellies, I was mighty cautious to keep the little guys at arm’s length.

Biggest one I ever laid eyes on was about five or six inches long and four wide. Real old timers. Come spring, tiny horny toads were everywhere, little one-inchers, and those are the ones that caused Jerry and me all the trouble.

No, truth is Jerry and me caused Jerry and me all the trouble. For seventy years I’ve put the blame on those little horny toads, but the truth is, we two mischievous boys were the blame.

Now at our vacation bible school, we sang traditional hymns, never venturing into different types of music. For two eleven-year-old boys, standing before a congregation and singing half-a-dozen hymns gets sort of boring.

Now I had an uncle who smoked Bull Durham cigarettes. He always had empty tobacco bags around, so Jerry and I stashed a dozen or so horny toads in a bag, and he slipped it in his pocket.

We figured on turning them loose among the girls when we kids all gathered for refreshments after the service, but to our horror, the little toads slipped out of the bag while we were singing. Jerry later claimed some of the horns were sticking him through the thin cloth and he was trying to move them around. Whatever the reason, twelve or thirteen little horny toads shot out of his pocket and scattered like a covey of quail right under the feet of the choir.

Best I can recollect, we were in the middle of “Jesus Loves Me” when the screaming broke out. The word ‘loves’ turned into shrieks.

The girls in the choir clambered over the chairs, Two or three of the smaller boys shouted with glee and scrambled to catch a toad, the preacher’s face grew red, the congregation roared, and Mom fainted.

A couple little fellers must have made it into the congregation for half-a dozen or so little old white-haired ladies all around the sanctuary popped to their feet and screamed.

If today’s Child Protective Services had seen my rear and legs after my spanking, they’d probably have tried to arrest Dad, which would have been a dreadful mistake on their part.

Things were a heck of a lot different back then.

Strange isn’t it. There I was in Proctor Street Church, listening to the little ones I cherish so much and at the same time, remembering the past with sweet nostalgia.

The only thing the VBS kids turned loose at Proctor Street was the Spirit of the Lord and a lot of fun.

My younger grandson, Mikey, is shy. The first couple songs, he sort of laid back, but when the third came along, the kids were swinging their arms and bouncing around like rubber balls, the little squirt jumped feet first into the singing and dancing. I was proud as punch of that boy.

Keegan, the older of the two knows no stranger. He stood out in front of all of them, although I don’t think he was supposed to. He swung his arms and danced to all three of the songs.

But the little guy who stole the show looked to be about four or so. He bounced back and forth across the stage in time to the beat of the music, fell to the carpet, twirled on his back, leaped to his feet, did some break dancing, and dropped to the floor again.

If any of us had done that as a kid, all of our moms would have fainted and our fathers would have reached for belts.

Afterward we visited their rooms, saw their work, then drifted over to the gym for ice cream.

And there’s no doubt in my mind the Good Lord was looking down with a big smile on his face just like He did that time when a four-year-old, dressed in a black western outfit, stepped through the back doors of the sanctuary of the Wheeler Methodist Church during offering with two cap pistols in hand and told everyone ‘this is a hold-up’.

But that’s another memory for another time...


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