Anthony Christian Church, September 1954. My dad is standing in the top row, third from the right. In the front row: my best friend, Joleen (1), my sister Mary (2), Frankie Ball (3), my boyfriend Howard Stewart (4), my brother John (5), my sister Ruth (6), and my mother (7).
In 1949, fences were used to corral livestock, and we didn’t have any. We didn’t need a fence, because crossing the invisible line that marked the edge of our property was unthinkable. Whenever I was outside, Mom was never far away, but I was a “free range” kid, allowed to play anywhere in the yard.
At the age of three, I didn’t feel confined. I had the whole yard to explore. The opportunity for new discoveries lay everywhere. I soon learned the names of all the bugs and insects that were common in southern Kansas. I chased butterflies but never caught one. With the building thunderstorm, I anticipated the wind and rain that would take the family to the storm shelter where light from a lantern let me visit the worlds of my picture books.
The next year in kindergarten, coloring and playing with blocks wasn’t as exciting as digging in the dirt and building roads that would take my toy cars wherever I wanted them to go. Making tiny cars collide at an intersection was much more thrilling that being told to color inside the lines and not use purple for the trees. Why not? I had never seen a purple tree, so I thought it would be great to make one. I thought I would marry my pretty young teacher, Miss Alsdorf—until I saw her engagement ring.
When I walked into my first-grade classroom, I saw education as a serious matter. I learned to read words, not just pictures. See Spot. See Spot run. See Spot run fast. See Spot run very fast. Apparently, Spot was some boy’s best friend. I didn’t have a dog, so I would have liked the story better if it had been about a lizard named Rex. In my mind, lizards were baby dinosaurs.
One day, the teacher held up a model of Earth. She called it a “globe.” With a pencil, she pointed to the spot where I lived, and I felt like I was on top of a whole new world. Directly underneath was a country called China. I knew about China from what I sang in church. Jesus loved all the children of the world: red and yellow, black and white. The Chinese were the “yellow” people, and I thought it would be neat to meet one.
That evening at a boyfriend’s house, I mentioned my discovery. “Did you know,” I said, “that the earth is round like a huge ball? If we dug a hole straight down, we would be in China.”
“Really?” He was as fascinated as I had been. “Let’s go see.”
I hadn’t considered digging, but I thought it was a great idea. We grabbed two tablespoons from the kitchen and found a spot in the front yard that we thought was probably the center point above China. After fifteen minutes of serious digging, the moonlight let us see only the top of the hole. We had dug a long way, but I couldn’t see how far.
“I wonder how close we are,” my friend said. “I’ll get a flashlight so we can see.”
That was the day I learned that goals are good only if you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Otherwise, we’ll quit as soon as we think we’re wasting our time.
Athletes give their lives in strenuous training for a short-lived glory, but we strive for a reward that will last forever. — 1 Corinthians 9:25, Frank Ball paraphrase