The summer of my 7th year, 1958, I asked the Lord Jesus to come into my heart and be my Savior. This was a familiar Sunday school lesson, and I knew what to say. Caroline and Pat were members of a church close to our home, and I went there with them. One year, when our church building was under construction on a second floor, Pastor George Frank met with me between the unfinished 2 x 4 walls.
Langston Church – Ronald Lee Knauss 7- second grade
The scent of fresh-cut wood and drywall dust is still with me today. At that time and age, I was ready to make a lifetime commitment to love the Lord Jesus and to seek out HIS will for me in my life.
Pastor Frank could tell something was bothering me, and he told me, “At the end of each day, you can put all your troubles in an imaginary basket at the feet of Jesus and just leave them there. HE
will take care of them.”
Then Pastor Frank asked me, “Ronnie, do you know what the biggest spot in the Bible is?”
I had no idea what he was talking about, so I answered him, “No.”
Pastor Frank took out his Bible, looked up a verse, and said, “The Bible says in John 3:16, For God so loved the world that HE gave HIS only begotten son that whosoever believe in HIM shall be saved.” He paused and then said, “Period,” as he pointed to the period at the end of the verse.
He explained to me, “There is the biggest spot in the Bible. Some people stumble over it, that period at the end of the verse. God put that there. Nothing else can be added because Christ has already paid the price in full for our sins. You do not have to look up something else in the back of the book or try to please HIM with good works.”
Pastor Frank gave me my first Bible. I followed Pastor Frank’s direction and turned my heart over to the Lord. But my personal experience with our precious Heavenly Father had come a few months earlier in the spring.
My first Bible
My childhood was blessed by the Christian values of my family and the community I lived in. I learned from these Christians that you must take every word of the Bible as the accurate and complete word of God in faith, or not. It is our individual choice to believe fully or not at all. There is no place in the middle.
With my family, I attended a local church on a regular basis. But something was missing from the experience of fellowship. I was a believer because I was told to believe. Yet, I did not share the joy of having faith in the church teachings. I had some questions. Was the Bible a book of truth, or had something been lost in the translation?
My grandfather’s church was out in the country, surrounded by the local cemetery. The building was cold with that been-closed-to-long smell. And the piano was out of tune. I asked him once why he stayed at a small church instead of one of the fancy ones.
Pilgrim Holiness Church Breckenridge
His answer was right to the point. He said, “The larger churches have a lot of people to attend to their needs. At a smaller church, there are the same needs but fewer people to help. There is more to do at a smaller church.”
Then we talked about my faith in Jesus Christ. I asked him, “How could I love someone that I never met?” Then I told him, “I do not want to believe in the Lord just because my Sunday school lesson said to.” Grandpa listened as I continued asking him, “How can I know the Lord is real?”
My grandpa Knauss and Aunt Violet
His answer is still blessing my life today. He put me on his knee and held me close. Then he said, “You need to just ask the Lord to make Himself known to you when you pray.” Grandpa encouraged me to have a personal conversation with HIM. “Speak to the Lord the same way we talk with love towards each other.” Grandpa told me to “Simply ask the Lord for a sign that HE is there.” I was not aware that my Aunt Violet was listening to this little chat.
In 1958 winter was a little late, bringing a white Christmas, and it rained the first few days I was visiting them. My Aunt Violet and I were riding home in her car from a family get-together. It was after dark and during a bad thunderstorm. The rain was so heavy it was hard to see the road and drive the car. But it was the thunder and lightning that scared me the most. It was that quick flash of light so bright it lit up the night. Then a loud crack like a gun always followed. I was having an awful time in the storm.
Now, Aunt Violet tried to settle me down and get my thoughts off the storm. She did this by suggesting that I try to pray for what grandpa had shared with me earlier. I knew then she had heard him tell me to ask for a sign that the Lord was there.
I was blessed to grow up surrounded by men and women that knew how to pray. So, breaking into a serious prayer during a thunderstorm was no problem for me. I closed my eyes and began to pray. Soon after that, time stood still. My body was overcome with a breathtaking good feeling. I started to hallucinate colors and bright light. My aunt also experienced something sitting next to me. She was so affected that she had to pull off the road and stop the car. We just sat there, hugging each other between the flashing lightning and the roar of the thunder. She was the first to speak. “Honey, you got what you asked for. Now let’s go tell grandpa.”
Harold Forest Knauss
I was very much aware that I had experienced something spiritual and physical. Oddly enough, I was also aware this new feeling would not last, and it was slowly fading. This blessing lasted for three days, then it was gone, but the memory never fades. Members of the church came to my Grandpa’s home to see and talk to me. Some of them said that the Lord had touched me because my face had a healthy glow.
At the age of 7, I could recognize sin all at once, and it was offensive and appalling to me. Sadly, this feeling would slowly fade and leave me back in the old way of thinking. But now, I could firmly stand on the faith that the Lord Jesus had made himself known to me. Many times later, my path crossed with someone that did not have any faith to stand on. I wished they had experienced something like what happened to me as a young Christian. I thank the Lord nonstop for answering the prayer of a young man. This experience is as fresh and real today as when it happened back in the 50s. This was my greatest Christmas gift of all time. Several times during my life, when I found myself in an uncomfortable position, I was able to call upon his name to help me. And he did.
After that day in the rain, I had a desire to become some kind of a missionary. At that time, they were being killed in foreign countries, which discouraged me from wanting to go there. In Sunday School, I learned that we can be missionaries right in our own community. My idea was to use music to witness to other young people and share what I had experienced that day in the rain. I believe to those that great things are given; great things are expected, that is why the book “For generations to come” was written.
When I visited Grandpa and Grandma in the summertime, they liked to pack a lunch, then take a drive to some roadside park and have a picnic. While she traveled, Grandma would remember where these parks were and which ones she had not yet stopped at. One day Grandma told me, “Ronnie, this Sunday, we are going to have a picnic at someplace special.” Back then, there were no modern roads, just old logging trails, and the main ones were paved over. Grandma said, “We are going over to St Louis and see the FREEWAY.”
This was very interesting and exciting to see something we had only heard about. None of us had ever seen a freeway. So, we took a drive, and when we got there, we parked the car along the road and gazed in wonder at the new modern marvel before us. There, in the middle of a farmer’s field, was a big cement bridge. It was so out of place that it looked like it had been dropped from outer space. There weren’t any rivers to cross or running water for anyone to need a bridge there. This was the oddest-looking thing to us. We could not understand why someone would do such a silly thing. That was the first time I saw a freeway overpass.
Freeway construction site
I went to visit my grandparents for a week during each spring, summer, and Christmas school vacations. They had other grandchildren that lived close to them, and they saw them often throughout the year. Because they did not see me during the year, they took me with them on their summer vacation trips. I still feel like they treated me special, and it was not fair to the other grandchildren that did not get to go too. Grandpa and Grandma took me to some great sites around Michigan and as far as Watkins Glen in New York. We went by Niagara Falls on the way back home.
Grandma’s vacation to Watkins Glen & Niagara Falls
When I was about eight years old, grandma asked me where I would like to go for a trip. Walt Disney opened his theme park in 1955 when I was four years old, and ever since I heard about the place, I wanted to go there. So, this was not a hard question to answer, “Disneyland!” I said.
Grandpa and grandma did not go to movie theatres. They did not approve of some things shown in movies. And they felt that when Walt Disney made films about magic and sorcerers, this was satanic material, and they should stay away from it. I already knew how they felt about movies, so it did not surprise me when grandma said, “This summer, we are going to Pennsylvania to see some of my old relatives.”
Whenever my grandparents took a trip, my Aunt Violet came along. She was a very loving, kind, and generous lady. She was great fun to be with. She kept a log of everything she saw, did, and ate on the trip right down to the minute. I would love to have those time logs today to look at and refer to.
Harold Forest, Viva, and Violet Knauss
I remember sleeping a lot on the way to Pennsylvania. Eventually, when we got there, I woke up in the middle of a cemetery. This could not be as good as a trip to Disneyland, I thought to myself. There were my grandparents and my aunt out in the middle of a field, looking at grave markers.
Then something else in the corner of my eye got my attention. I looked that way and saw not only one, but several cannons were sitting in the fields around me. This graveyard was obviously a very special place for my grandparents, and they actually knew some of the names on the gravestones. These were Civil War heroes of their parent’s generation.
Gettysburg battlefield – Violet and Harold Forest Knauss
During that same trip back east, we visited the headquarters of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters
Grandma let me buy some souvenirs at the gift shop, and I came home with a replica of a Civil War Canon and a little wagon. I don’t know what happened to the cannon, but I still have the wagon.
Gettysburg Souvenir picture book and toy wagon
There always seemed to be negative energy shared both ways between Caroline and my grandparents. One day in my grandma’s kitchen, that energy sparked and gave me quite a shock. I had repeated a minor thing Caroline told me. She said that she had never smoked cigarettes. Something triggered a flash of anger, and grandma said, “She had done worse than that.”
Then Grandma took a big breath and put her hand over her heart, and said, “We got a call from your dad’s neighbor one night.” She continued after another breath, “And he said that he had just seen your mother throw you out of the front door of Raymond’s house into the snowbank.”
Wild horses could not hold back my Aunt Violet when she shouted her memories recollect, “What do you think your mother did next? She left you there and went into the house and shut the door.”
This was the only time in my life that I saw grandma Knauss angry. She was steaming more than a pot of eggs boiling over on the stove as she continued, “Grandpa and I had to drive down to Greenville and pick you up where the neighbor had dropped you off with some family. And we took care of you for quite some time after that.” I was only 2 ½ years old, and I don’t remember seeing much. The snow was too deep over my head.
There are all too few moments when we directly connect with someone else’s thoughts. A “gotcha ya” moment. This was one of those moments, and the two women both shut up. Neither one would
say any more about it, and they never did to me again. It offended them so much to have thoughts in their mind that made them speak out in anger that they felt it was better not to dwell on those thoughts at all.
This “gotcha ya” moment shocked me when they said this, and I got furious at them for saying something so horrible about my mother. No one could ever believe that story. My trust in them was tested, and my relationship with them changed. I knew my mother could lie to me, but could everybody be lying to me too?
I was pretty confused for some time. Not knowing what would happen, I asked Caroline about the snowbank story, and that was the end of me seeing my grandparents unless they would pick me up and take me back home. She never allowed herself to be around them again.
Caroline and Pat attended the same church with me during the 13 years I lived with them. The church members were very loving and affectionate to each other. I had a very close and personal relationship with some of the men who attended our church’s Wednesday night prayer meetings.
I looked up to these men and trusted their advice when I asked for it. So, it would feel totally normal for me as a young man to talk to these older Christian brothers about my relationship with Caroline. Wrong! I found out right away I was the only one that saw the other Caroline. They were offended and ended the conversation.
I always had a great family relationship with the members of my church. Sunday school classes taught me that we all were a family together. Being an only child, it was easy for me to adopt any family that had kids I could play with. I could talk to anyone about anything until I told them the wrong thing. I was seeking mature Christian guidance.
I loved my mother, and I was asking for help healing a sore spot between us. The reaction I got from these dear friends was a rejection of what I had shared with them. They did not want to listen to me because they said, “We know Caroline, and we don’t want to hear any more of that rubbish.”
Some of my sisters in Christ at the church hurt me more after hearing what I had said to the men. My very first response was, and I soon got more of the same, “You are a horrible young child. We
know your mother, and she is nothing like that at all. How can you talk about her that way? You are a horrible, horrible young child.” I did not know what I said was wrong, but I never said it to anyone ever again.
These men and women were my teachers of faith. How could they be wrong? Did they approve of the way my life was with Caroline? They helped lead me to the Lord, and they knew that I believed in the Bible as 100% God’s word, which says, “Honor your mother and father.” From the time I was a little kid, I believed it was a sin if I even thought about my mother doing something wrong.
Now, I had recognized a situation that was wrong, and I was willing to accept 51% of the problem between Caroline and me. While looking for help and advice, I unknowingly exposed myself as the bad little boy and the one that Caroline had been telling them about.
I only found out years later at a family reunion that when I was in the 6th grade, Caroline told the relatives that she was going to adopt out her son Ronnie because she could not handle me. When the relatives told me this, they also said, “We wondered, what could any child in the 6th grade do that was so bad that she could not handle it and put her only child up for adoption.”
From kindergarten through the 5th-grade, we heard about the first school trip we would take during our 6th-grade year to the state capital of Michigan. It was a tradition for the six graders to travel to Lansing and get to meet the state governor. But the day of my class trip, the governor was too busy to meet with us kids, so the lieutenant governor Gerald R. Ford shook our hands. Later he became the 38th president of the United States.
Baldwin Heights 6th grade 1962 – 63
I had already put out of my mind what my grandparents told me about Caroline’s actions towards me when I was a baby as NOT POSSIBLE! I could not believe they would say such a horrible thing about my mother, and I had a right to love her. But I could not understand how she could be so nice to all other people and not feel that way once and a while about me. I began thinking the problem was me, and I was the one that was wrong because I could not ever please her.
Living with Caroline was like living with two different persons. She was well-known and loved in our community because she worked for over 30 years for the doctor that delivered me. Many other times, someone said to me, “I got a shot from your mother today.” Caroline knew I did not like shots, and she would give them to me at supper time. I would like to think she did it then because she thought I would be distracted by eating, and maybe I would not mind it so much. She was very good at giving a shot, and it didn’t hurt much, but I just did not like shots.
But there was another Caroline, and I was the only one that saw her. She did not act the same way to me when other people were around.
I don’t think she wanted any witnesses on how she talked to me. If I were in public with her, she would show her power over me by saying when no one was looking, “Just wait until we get home.”
I surely did agree with her when she said, “You must be well-behaved when you go out and don’t ask for anything when you are at someone else’s house.”
Being a small boy in school, I got teased a lot. I did not like it, but I could take it. Being bullied by my mother with anger and hate was not in my capabilities to understand because I was that Christian boy they both had raised me to be. I had a personal relationship with Jesus at age 7, and his touch was still vibrantly living in my heart.
Many nights as a young Christian, I prayed, “Dear Jesus, if someone has to die tonight, would you please take me instead. They have family and people that love them, and they would be missed. Please Lord, take me instead because no one will miss me, and I’m not wanted here.”
This is a horrible thing for a young person to ask for, not his request, but the life situation that drove him to this state of mind. The Lord
never answered that prayer, and I am living proof of that.
When I was 14 years old, Caroline came home one day with a piece of paper and flashed it directly in my face. She was very elated about what she had signed at the courthouse that day. She told me, “Now I will not get into any trouble when you get into trouble, and no one can come after me for something you did wrong.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, and I had no response; I just listened to her. She felt it necessary to explain to me, “You are now an emancipated minor, and I am no longer responsible for you.”
My confusion was short-lived because she also told me, “You are going with your grandparents down south to see your dad, and maybe you will just stay there. How about that!”
Well, it sounded terrific at the time because things between us could have been a lot better. I had missed seeing Raymond from the time he left, and I always hoped to see him someday. He had remarried, and I expected to see my stepbrothers and sister and have someone to play with.
My grandparents drove me to Texas, and I met my dad for the first time in an old-style drug store that had a soda fountain. We were sitting on the stools at the counter, having some ice cream. I asked my grandma, “How will I recognize my dad when I have not seen him in so long?”
The trip to Texas
Grandma smiled and said softly to me, “You will, you will.”
Then I heard the first three words my dad said to me, “Come here, boy,” when he walked into the drug store. I had not yet heard an
adult talk to me in such a demanding way and tone of voice. He barked orders at me like he was talking to an old hound dog. I thought right then maybe this stranger is not who I want to live with. It only took a 10-minute ride in his pickup truck with his Easy Rider rifle rack to educate me why my mother had left him.
Raymond was bragging about everything. He knew more than anybody. Raymond came from Michigan himself, yet he wanted to show me how to be a Texas cowboy. He even talked like a southerner now. There was no affection between us, and it was more like, “Don’t you just love me.”
I did stay with Raymond for a few days, and I got to meet my half brothers and sister. Right from the get-go, they didn’t seem to like me at all. My dad’s new wife did her best to be friendly, but I could tell there was still some resentment towards another woman’s child from his past. I did not fit in with these people.
I don’t know why, but my new siblings made quite a lot of fun out of me being a Yankee, rather than showing any desire to bond as brother and sister.
I told grandma I wanted a brother or sister to play with. She answered, “That will never happen because your mother and dad are not together. You will have to be happy with your stepbrothers and sister.” I did try.
Stepsiblings Bonnie, Mike, and Clay
But I was glad to go back to the trees of Michigan and Pat’s house. With him acting like a referee, Caroline and I got along together the best we could. I did not talk much about Raymond anymore. Pat was my dad now. Pat and Caroline provided me with a good home, and they took great care of all my needs. I never went hungry. I still have all my teeth today, thanks to Caroline sending me to the dentist. And I never saw my parent’s car parked at a bar. But the most valuable thing they gave me was their time. And they stayed together until death separated them for six months, then they were together again with the Lord in heaven.
Pat took me to the Silver Theater in Greenville to see the movie “Old Yeller.” It was the first time I saw a film on the big screen. Pat took me there, but he would not come in with me. He dropped me off, and he sat in the parking lot until the movie was over.
The first and last thing I saw when I went through the front door was all the candy on display behind a big glass window. I remember how hard it was for me to sit in the movie seat because I did not weigh enough to keep it down, and it kept springing close, bringing my knees up to my chin.
Saturday mornings, the theater would show some cartoons, newsreels, the next part of a continuing series, maybe a short B film, and then feature films like “Old Yeller.” There would be something playing all day on the screen. I did not know this.
Silver Theater movie ticket
When Pat saw the other kids come out of the theater when the movie was over, and I didn’t, he came right in looking for me. I could hear him announce his presence at the front door when he shouted my name. I dropped my popcorn while spilling my drink and ran past the candy out the front door to the car.
Pat asked me, “Why didn’t you come out when the other kids did?”
My answer was, “I did not know that the movie was over.”
Neither Pat nor I knew what to say next, so neither one of us spoke on the way home.
Caroline and Pat were very generous with gifts for me at Christmas, and sometimes they went a little overboard. She usually asked me to mark some things in the Sears & Roebuck catalog to give her and Santa an idea of what I might like to see under the tree.
Caroline always said, “Because you are an only child, we can spend more money on just you.” But she never seemed happy giving gifts to me, and I would have traded any material gift for the chance to have a brother or sister to play with. I felt like Caroline would give me the shirt off her back, but she would not let me wear it.
Christmas at Pat’s house with his mother Rose
When I was in grade school, she gave me a stuffed Panda Bear and a purple rabbit for Christmas. I called the bear “Pandie.” It played music by winding up a key that stuck out of his back. I went to sleep with him at night, and he ate breakfast with me in the morning.
But before the year was over, Caroline threw them both away because she said, “You are too old to play with that kind of toy. Those things are for kids.”
I was not too sure what she thought I was, but I searched the trash burner and found what was left of the music box, but there was nothing left of the purple rabbit.
One winter, I felt that I had outgrown my snow sled, and I wanted a sled like the boys at school had. It was longer, and it looked like it went faster. I thought this new sled would stop the other boys from teasing me about using a “little boy’s sled.”
On Christmas morning, when I saw the unwrapped new sled leaning on the wall next to the Christmas tree, I ran into Caroline and Pat’s bedroom and told them this,
“I wanted that new sled so much, and I am so grateful that you got it for me, that you can take all the other unopened presents and give them to a poor child. Because I am glad you got me my new sled.”
There was no response from Pat, and he was still trying to sleep. But Caroline started a drama that lasted the rest of Christmas vacation, and she brought it up each year after that.
She tried waking Pat while she was yelling at me, “Why I worked hard to get the money to buy those gifts for you, and now you don’t want them.”
She went on in a rage, yelling at me and prodding Pat to get up and agree with her anger towards me.
Caroline always had the attitude about Christmas time, “It was just another day,” to water down the good times of any holiday.
Before Pat and Caroline got up to start their day, I went across M-91 to the Flat River Park and tried out my brand-new sled. A gentle hill ran down from the picnic tables all the way to the river. The fast-moving water never froze, so I had to make sure I stopped short before getting wet. The snow was perfectly glazed that morning with a thin crust of ice, and it was very slippery. I took off running and dove onto my new sled.
Surprisingly, I went faster than I had expected, traveling down the hill full of large Oak trees. The river was already too close for me, so I used my feet as breaks and dug them into the snow, trying to stop. Instead, the sled turned, a hard left, right into a tree.
The very first time I tried out my new sled, I broke the front right off it. When I got the broken sled back home, and Caroline saw it, she said, “You did that on purpose.”
I took some wire and wrapped the broken wood together and covered it tightly with black electrical tape. Pat was always complaining about me using too much of his tape for something stupid, and then he did not have any when he needed it. But this time, he did not care, and he told me that I did a good job fixing the broken sled.
My new sled
Most of the material things that Caroline gave me are now gone, but I still have the spiritual gift she taught me of saying my prayers at night. After I left her home, she would send me little parts of Bible verses that she thought would help me to be a better person. Both Caroline and Pat read the word of God until HE took them home to be with HIM.
Through their example, I have also learned, “When I get up in the morning, I try to make the first thing I do is to go down on my knees and thank the Lord for the day that is about to begin. I thank HIM for my good health and ask HIM if it is HIS will may I witness to someone today.”
Caroline could tell when her words hurt, and it seemed to please her when she used them to hurt me. But this was my mother, I had a right to love her, and I did. I called her Ma when I was younger, but she hated me calling her Ma or Mother. She would say, “Don’t call me that.” So, I started calling her Caroline.
Caroline & Pat Patten
Many of my nighttime prayers were requests to exchange places with someone else that had to die that night. They might have family that would miss them if they were gone. I felt like I was always alone, in the way, and no one would miss me if I died that night in their stead.
I always would ask the Lord for the knowledge how to stop doing things that made Caroline so mad at me. No matter what she was hung up on with her memories of Raymond, I was not. So, I said my good night prayer, and I knew HE had heard me. I ended each prayer with, “In Jesus’s name I pray, amen.” Then I left my troubles in an imaginary basket at HIS feet and went to sleep.