Childhood Memories Friday: VBS and Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross 1976

On a recent trip to my mom’s, I saw this on the wall above the toilet: a wooden painted Betsy Ross. Ah, the memories.

I made Betsy during VBS (aka Vacation Bible School) when I was 11, in the Bicentennial year of 1976.

I remember the year well. There was a woman in our church who was married to the youth pastor. Youth pastors were a new thing at the time, and I think he was our first one. Her name was Mitzi, and I thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I was so enamored of Mitzi that each Sunday after church, I came home and sketched the dress she had worn in a little desk calendar my dad had given me (he was a teacher/principal and got lots of these which he gave us kids). I particularly remember a yellow and white gingham dress she wore one Sunday that was just so … neato! Mitzi was pretty, had a not-too-objectionable husband, and two adorable little kids. I figured she probably walked on the water in her bathtub.

I learned that Mitzi would be one of my lead VBS teachers that year. I could hardly contain my excitement!

VBS happened each morning from 9-11:30 for two weeks. These days, VBS programs are typically held for a week, in the evenings. Not back then! They were quite the production. We had an opening session with pledges to the US flag, Christian flag, and the Bible. We sang the theme song, and a few others. There might be a (corny) skit, followed by an update on how we were doing raising money toward the offering goal. This money always went to something totally heart-rending (to me, at least), like maybe building a wood shelter for a family currently living in a refrigerator box. I was moved to give beyond tithing!

Then, it was back to our classrooms for game time (sword drills if I was lucky, steal the bacon if I wasn’t), recitation of memory verses, refreshments (KoolAid and generic Oreos), and the Bible story time. We also had crafts. One year, later on, I was in charge of crafts for VBS. For the entire two weeks, I had a budget of like $1.50 per child. Try buying 10 crafts for a child for $1.50 and you’ll appreciate what a challenge this was!

Betsy Ross

But for this year, perhaps because it was the Bicentennial, the church must have splurged and purchased these painted wood Betsy Ross kits. They were our craft for the entire two weeks, and when Mitzi introduced them, I was instantly entranced. How beautiful! What a great keepsake of our nation’s 200th birthday! Looking back, I’m betting the boys in the 6th grade class probably weren’t nearly as enthusiastic.

I dove into my Betsy with fervor, determined to paint her really well. I wanted to impress Mitzi! The final Thursday of VBS arrived, and hardly any of us had finished painting. Mitzi came up to me and told me I could take mine home to finish that night. AWESOME!

I completed Betsy at home, taking extra care with every brushstroke. The next day, I proudly showed her to Mitzi. She looked at it, and said, “I guess it’s okay.”

Ummmm. I guess it’s okay? I GUESS IT’S OKAY? Did my idol really just say that? I stared at Betsy. Had I made some error of which I was unaware?

And that’s pretty much what I remember of VBS 1976. Why Mitzi wasn’t too impressed with Betsy, I’m not sure. Maybe she expected me to add glitter to the flag or something. Then again, maybe she was just distracted and wasn’t really paying attention at all.

Our nation just turned 241. And Betsy is still sewing her flag, in my mom’s bathroom.

If you enjoyed this memory, you might like to read my childhood memoir, I Love to Tell the Story (affiliate link).

How about you — any VBS memories?

6 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: VBS and Betsy Ross

  1. LOL on Mitzi. “sword drills if I was lucky, steal the bacon”–I know what Sword drills are but not “steal the bacon”?? Loved this: ” had a not-too-objectionable husband….”

  2. I don’t believe I recall having heard this story before. I, too, would love to know why Mitzi reacted as she did to your rendering of Betsy.

    I’ve seen her hanging there many times, but never knew “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey would say. Now, I do.

  3. Yep Betsy hangs proudly above my commode – has for years! To add more embellishment to the Betsy Ross rendition, I also have a vintage Betsy Ross Avon bottle sitting at her feet. “Purely amazing!” you say. I could not agree more!

  4. Wow – I can’t imagine anyone telling a child that about her VBS craft! My VBS memories are similar. The only craft I specifically remember was gluing two glasses to each other (rim to rim) with flowers inside – which sounds risky now for a child’s craft. But I thought it was so beauitful and gave it to my grandmother. And instead of Oreos I remember those butter cookies with a hole in the middle – we’d put them on like rings and nibble them.

  5. Loved hearing about your VBS adventures. I think your Betsy Ross picture is so precious and I think you did a great job, even if Mitzi wasn’t impressed with it. I was never lucky enough to be able to attend VBS. I’m not sure they even existed when I was little but both my daughters attended and enjoyed going. I can’t remember them bringing home anything but colored religious-type pictures. I do remember how much they enjoyed the snacks though!!

  6. VBS was the biggest event in the month of June shortly before 4-H Fair week in mid-July! I loved going to VBS, and mine was very similar to your description. However, we never ever did anything as neat as your Betsy Ross! I remember that we did crafts, but I do not remember what we made. Back in those days, Kool-aid was the cheapest and best-loved drink of the day for kids. Usually it was either strawberry or grape. Now I shudder to think of all of that sugar! Our final VBS program was super special, and patriotism was stressed with the 3 pledges daily: Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, another to the Christian flag, and the third on to the Bible. Even yet today the pledges were included in the VBS final program at Pleasant Chapel a few weeks ago. I love tradition!

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