Monday, March 24, 2008
I recently received an email from a member of The Herd about Jim Bakker preaching again on television. It generated a lot of emotions in me and brought back a lot of memories.
The article made me wonder what had happened to the place. I remember trying to visit after college, but I was turned away at the guard station. Searching on the internet I came across Standing But Not Operating,* a website documenting abandoned parks. The pictures were familiar and disturbing. Since then haven't been able to get the place out of my mind. I've dreamed about it several nights.
So I thought, for therapy, maybe I should post a little about my experience. I have no idea where this is going. I just feel the need to write about it.
My parents moved to Charlotte, NC when I was five to be involved in the Praise the Lord ministries. Off and on it was a large part of my childhood. I went to school there. My mom worked for them in a couple of different capacities. I worked at Heritage USA when I was in high school. Some of the best times I had were days I spent working in Recreation Village.
Mom worked in the mail room right after our move. She read letters and collected donations from viewers. The office building was at the site of Billy Graham's childhood home. Later, when I worked for IBM when I was in college I worked in the same office building. There was a plaque dedicated to Graham outside, but the house had been moved or demolished long before the office building was built.
Thinking about my mom working there seems odd. What did she think about when she was reading the letters and receiving the donations? I know she believed in the ministry, but were there ever any doubts? Did she ever feel odd about it? I might have to ask for her side of the story sometime soon.
Later the ministry moved to the Heritage USA property. I think they set up in the back lot or maybe the barn. I'm not clear. Because my mom was an employee we were able to attend school for free, or maybe there was some kind of discount. I was in first grade and I don't remember all of the details. Yet another thing to bring up with my mom when I see her next.
Both my brothers, my sister, and I all attended the school out at the Heritage USA property in cabins (much like this cabin), which would eventually become Recreation Village. My cabin was shared between kindergarten and the first grade. We had a divider down the middle of the cabin. There were only 10 or so students per grade.
I loved my teacher. Our class was divided into groups and we'd rotate between subjects - Math, English (reading and penmanship), and social studies. Our class also learned French while the kindergarten class learned Spanish. I don't remember any of the French. We might have been in some sort of PACE program because I remember finishing the first grade Math text and the teacher let me work in the second grade text.
The swimming pool was right next to our cabin, but I never remember swimming in it. I'm not sure where we went for lunch. We must have eaten packed lunches in our classrooms or outside on the picnic tables on nice days.
The picture above is from Tommy and James Home Page. Click the picture to go to their site. The cabin I had class in is just to the right, not shown. We used to play on the shuffle board. I'm not sure if the miniature golf course was installed at that time.
Mostly I remember being happy. It was typical for me to be in a small school and I had a best friend who I shared everything with. It was a beautiful setting and I didn't think too much about what the place stood for.
After first grade we went back to public school. I'm not sure why exactly we didn't continue in the school. Maybe it was shut down due to funding or maybe my mom changed jobs and it was no longer cheap. It was a long drive from our house, so maybe logistically it just didn't work out.
PTL would not factor in my life again for a few years.
*All of the pictures linked are from the Standing But Not Operating website. And they tell the tale of abandonment much better than I ever could. Next time I visit my parents I might try to stop by if they allow visitors in any capacity and see if I can document more clearly my memories.
P.S. This is my 500th post!
Update April 26: I found this picture on the HeritageUSA Yahoo message board. The cabin on the right at the far end (farthest away) is where I went to first grade, as far as I can remember anyway.
Read the other parts of the my story