When I was a boy growing up in Box Hill at the close of World War II, I attended Box Hill State School. There was one lesson we really anticipated with joy. It was the lesson known as “RI” “Religious Instruction”. Our religious instruction teachers over the years were Mr. and Mrs. Street. He was known as “Eternity Street” from his constant question “Where will you spend eternity?”. They lived in a wooden house just down from the Baptist church, opposite Hoath’s cycle shop and the Box Hill “Reporter” building on the southern side of the Box Hill railway line. Their house had a brass plaque proclaiming “Ebenezer”. They went to a local Brethren Assembly that met in a small wooden hall in Box Hill.
Mr. “Eternity” Street was short, stocky, warm, and friendly, a man who really loved children. His wife was also short, large, with grey hair wrapped in a bun, a very ample bosom, and a huge amount of love available for any child. They were dumpy and delightful. They used to walk two miles down to Box Hill South State School and one mile to the Box Hill State School. They taught every child in the school in one RI class after the other. Their work was voluntary, unpaid, and I believe that Mr. Eternity Street retired early in order that they might devote their entire lives to teaching children about the kingdom of God.
None of us who ever had classes over the years with Eternity Street will ever forget his glorious voice that used to sing simple choruses.
“Wide, wide is the ocean,
High as the heavens above,
Deep, deep as the deepest sea
Is my Saviour’s love.
“I, though so unworthy,
Still am a child of His care,
For His word teaches me,
That His love reaches me,
On the word “everywhere”, his arms were flung out to embrace the world!
There used to be a string of choruses joined together, known as the “fruit salad chorus”. We went from one song on to the other. We kids would keep asking Eternity Street to sing the fruit salad chorus. He was happy that we showed so much interest, and we were glad that he never woke up to the fact that while we kept singing the fruit salad chorus we did not have to do any work. We used to sing such choruses as:
“The old, old story, it is ever true,
The old, old story, praise the Lord is true,
That Jesus died for me as well as you,
I love the old, old story.
“When the roll is called up yonder,
I’ll be walking in the King’s highway,
Tell me the old, old story,
I love it better every day.”
Each lesson one of them would tell us a story using flannel graphs. Sometimes the stories were a serial stretched over many weeks. I remember St. Paul getting the complete armour of God on week by week with breastplate, thigh plate, helmet, shield and sword and so on. We had stories of the miracles of the Jesus with flat roofed houses and palm trees being placed upon the flannel graph. And if we did our work well, we received little coloured cards that told us that “God is love” or “The Lord is my Shepherd”.
Those warm loving people gave us the image of a God who was warm, loving and caring.
Eternity Street always asked people he would meet his famous question: “Where will you spend eternity?”
He certainly knew his destiny. He was going to heaven. As he told us many times “When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!”.
We used to imitate him in the school yard. With great gestures we would point to heaven and say “When the roll is called up yonder (pointing up to the sky) I’ll be there (and with that would point down below our feet).
But he was sure and certain.
Just before the war ended Mr. Street came into our shop one day. I was standing behind the counter having just come home from school. He recognized me and instantly spoke to me and gave me a leaflet entitled “Where will you spend eternity?” and asked me if I would give that leaflet to my Dad. I told him I would take it down to the bake house and give it to him then and there.
True to my word I went down to the bake house where some of our bakers were standing around having a beer at the end of a long day’s work. They usually finished their work by lunchtime, and then had one or two beers, as they said, which stretched on for the next three or four hours.
I gave my Dad the leaflet with its question. He read it out aloud “Where will you spend eternity?” and laughed and swore. He screwed up the leaflet and threw it over towards the furnaces for the ovens.
My Dad was an alcoholic, a gambler, a chain smoker, a man who lived hard and worked hard. He was at that time, although unknown to me, deeply in debt. He had badly ulcerated legs which would not heal. He worked hard, drank hard and played hard.
I did not realize the impact this was having upon his health.
It was only a few weeks after this that at midnight my mother asked me to come with her while we went down the street to see if we could find my father. Frequently, he went off drinking and did not come home and we would find him still down in the bake house with his back against a warm oven wall sound asleep.
That night we found him not far from our house, just at the corner of Bank Street and Miller Street. He was lying in the gutter. He was cold and my mother realized that he was dead. He had died alone. He was still in his thirties.
I remember seeing the funeral procession go past our house up Whitehorse Road toward the Box Hill cemetery.
Big Nana had come out to look after us kids while my mother went to the funeral. We had all climbed up along the front fence and were waiting for the cars to go by. Big Nana was holding up the baby as we paid our last respects to our father. Eventually the hearse and the mourning coach and a flower coach went by and I saw my mother sitting with some other relatives all dressed in black. We called out and waved to them. They simply looked but did not wave back to us.
My Dad was leading the procession going to the cemetery.
I then suddenly remembered that he screwed up Eternity Street’s question.
Where would my Dad spend eternity? At that moment that question became the most real thing in my life. I climbed down from the front fence as the procession went on its way and walked down the side path to the back of our house. Where would my Dad spend eternity? At eight years of age that question puzzled me.
There were some people who used to laugh at Eternity Street, but at least he knew and he was certain and sure.
I often wondered about that question when I passed the spot where we found my Dad’s body as I walked home up Bank Street, along the railway line to the top of the hill, and to No.5 Miller Street, Box Hill, a great city which was only a village where the adults were kind and where the children grew up responsibly.