It had been unseasonably warm in western Pennsylvania the autumn of our seventh-grade year. And by the time our church’s fall mission conference rolled around in early November, we still had not had a freeze.
That is important in this story, as is the briefcase, and the fact that the speaker who came to our church was the same fellow who had been there the previous year.
Without all of those factors, it would not have happened.
Carole Anderson taught our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade Sunday school class, and we adored her. Not the same way we adored Ms. Reese, our red-haired PE teacher, nor Mrs. Kitman, the blond-haired, blue-eyed English teacher. Our adoration for Carole was pure, and very protective, for she had MS or MD or some kind of muscular degenerative disease and was confined to a wheelchair.
In a way, she was one of us, because society at the time tended to marginalize both junior highs and people in wheelchairs.
So this fat cat came around again, and led our mission conference, and he was the same guy who had come the year prior to that and made the promises.
Pastor B. was going through one of his weird theology phases, and this guy had come in the year before telling everyone that God had given him power to heal people. Carole had, of course, gone forward to be healed — and nothing had happened. The fat guy had gone on his way, and Carole had gone into a depression so deep that we practically had to drag her out for Christmas Eve. It lasted that long.
As luck would have it, Donny, Dennis, Debbie and I were acolytes, which meant we had access to the altar for the three nights of mission conference. Our parents should have known something was up when we volunteered to go to church three nights in a row, but at this point, even we did not know what was up. We just knew we had to do something.
The measure of our devotion as a group to Carole was this — even Robbie took part. Robbie was one of those goodie types, but his cooperation was needed because his parents owned the pond, which was essential to the plan that evolved.
This is where the part about unseasonable warmth comes in — the frogs and salamanders and other amphibians had not yet gone into deep hibernation, but were sluggish enough to be easily caught. Seventh-graders are changing, but still enough in touch with such issues to be adept at such tasks.
When the fat guy’s briefcase disappeared after the second night of mission conference, he assumed he had simply misplaced it. After all, nobody as sweet as Debbie Krepps could possibly have sticky fingers. Right?
We met after school and within an hour had caught a big bullfrog and two smaller ones. Pastor B should have known something was up when we all demanded to sit on the chancel that night, but he believed that story we told him about wanting to all be present for the final great evening.
Truth was, the code of ethics demanded we get the frogs out of there alive, if we could, after whatever happened had taken place. Catching them would probably take all of us.
Well, you can imagine the rest. The fat guy squealed like a stuck pig upon opening his briefcase. We gave ourselves away by chasing down the frogs, but they all made it alive to the pond behind the church, where they began new lives.
I got the first whipping I’d had in years, which I made worse by telling my dad it didn’t hurt anyway.
Pastor B called us into his office and demanded to know why we had done this, to which we responded we didn’t like liars and promise breakers. And Carole … well, she baked cupcakes and gave us a party instead of Sunday School class. She said it was due to the holidays, but we knew better.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at