The Great Cave Expedition.

I suppose there were days when my parents could see trouble coming a mile away and then there were times that it popped up in the most unexpected ways. The key for any preacher is whether that trouble shows up quietly and unnoticed by the public or, heaven forbid, the church congregation sees it.

My attitude was to do my own thing and hope for the best. In the best of situations, I could carry out my plans and not be noticed by anyone. Normally, my scheme or plan was discovered when I showed up with a gash, conk, or scrape which I then had to explain. I suppose most families would say that cuts and bruises are just part of a boy growing up and call it a good day if there were no lasting injuries.

The problem with this was that my mother immediately wanted to know if there was “collateral damage”. She would go into her accident investigator mode and begin a crime scene investigation. She would survey the scene for additional casualties among the neighborhood kids or visiting relatives. Next she would inspect the contraption which usually caused the injury. It would be a modified bicycle, a homemade go-cart, an electric motor taped to a Tonka truck, or an extension cord broke into two pieces that had been used for mountain climbing.

Next would be a survey for witnesses. Did it happen in the house? Or, worst case scenario, did it happen on the front steps of the church where people may have witnessed what we were doing? That was normally the deciding factor as to whether there was punishment and how severe it was.

The injury itself didn’t matter too much in the equation. You see I figured out early on that my parents had 7 children because they only needed 5 or 6, but knew at least one of us would get knocked off. Me being number 6 and the last boy meant that I was probably in the cross-hairs.

That being said, it was around 1977 and we were living in Riley. Dad was minister of the Riley and Keats United Methodist Churches. The parsonage sat right next door to the church in Riley. This meant that the church was within our zone of play. It became an extension of our home. Our lives revolved around the church and it felt like the building was a part of the house.

This meant that sometimes there were witnesses to our “activities”. My parents would try to explain away the incident and minimize their embarrassment.

We were very fortunate at that time that my sister Laura and her family lived very close in Manhattan. She worked as a nurse and her husband a firefighter, so their son and daughter, Michael and Sandy, got to come stay with us on a fairly regular basis due to work schedules.

I remember having Michael and Sandy at our house a great deal of the time at Riley which was wonderful. Instead of a nephew and niece, I got a brother and sister to play with.

One afternoon, Michael and I discovered the door in the church foundation that led to the large crawl space. This newly found area would obviously be off-limits to everyone due to wires, plumbing, nails, spiders, snakes, etc.

I know what you’re thinking……obviously this is a cave which requires professional exploration. Furthermore, the mission had to be carried out in complete secrecy. It was a matter of national security.

We came to that conclusion as well.

I got my old army surplus helmet and green army backpack. Michael got a football helmet. We took gray tape and placed flashlights on top of our helmets. We then got an old ice tea jar and filled it with macaroni that mom had made for lunch. We put this in the old backpack along with a couple cans of pop.

For tools we had a hammer and a hatchet. We also used rope to tie ourselves together. They did this in the movies, so we felt it must have some important function. We snuck around the church and when no one was around slipped through the door into the church crawlspace.

We turned on the flashlights and began crawling under the church. It was everything you would expect to find in a 100 year old church crawlspace. There were spiderwebs everywhere and bugs. Our greatest find was the skeleton of what we figured must have been a rat.

Our exploration took us under the width of the sanctuary to the foundation wall on the opposite side of the church. At this point we decided to set up for lunch. We took the lights off the helmets to use in having lunch. We set the helmets on the ground out of the way. We ate the macaroni out of the ice tea jar and drank our pop. We’d have to freeze whenever we heard a creak in the floor above us or the sound of foot steps. This was, after all, a highly secret mission.

We eventually made our way back to the access door and out of the cave/crawlspace.

The mission was a complete success! We’d explored the cave, saw a dead rat, ate lunch, and not been discovered. All of our objectives had been achieved. As with all great secret agents, our exploits and successes would be lost to the mists of time and history.

Michael and I moved on to our next adventure with the cave exploration mission fading from memory as other things took its spot in our memory.

All was well……

Several months passed from fall to spring.

One afternoon, dad called over from the church office and asked me to come over. I said sure and went over to see what he needed. I entered the church office where dad sat behind his desk. I didn’t sense any trouble and asked what he needed. Dad then said’ ” You know the Orkin man was here today and sprayed the church for bugs”.

I must have been ill that day and didn’t have the ability to sense trouble headed my way. I didn’t see that train headed my way. I just nonchalantly asked if the spraying went ok. To which dad replied, “funny that you should ask.” As he spoke he reached down behind his desk and pulled out an old army helmet and a football helmet. “The Orkin man found more than bugs under the church”.

I was mortified as it sunk in that we had left the helmets under the church when we stopped to eat lunch. It wasn’t that they were found inside the access door, but all the way across the other side of the building where we had crawled through the dirt and spiderwebs. It would have been humerous to hear what dad told the exterminator when he saw the helmets.

Needless to say, dad couldn’t let on that he thought this was in any way funny or that we should be congratulated for nearly pulling off a perfect secret mission. Instead he had to give me the worst punishment in his arsenal. The one thing I knew was sure to cause pain, anguish, and fear.

He sternly stood up, looked me square in the eye, and without a hint of mercy said, “You just wait till you mother gets home! You’re in a lot of trouble!”


Published by John Purvis

I was born and raised in Kansas as part of a family of 7 children. My father was a minister in the United Methodist Church for 50 years. We moved, consequently, every few years to a new church. Each new location became a new chapter in the journey. I have had the privilege of knowing so many different people from varying backgrounds. I wanted to share some of the stories and adventures I have had.

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