On 23 June 2007, Miss Horton will celebrate her 90th birthday with family and friends in Victoria, BC, Canada.
She must have been nearly 65 when I got to know her. When I asked her why she had not married, she said that she had still not met her Prince Charming, and that she was still waiting. To the best of my knowledge, she has not married in the intervening years.
When I grumbled at home that I found reading the Bible boring, my father thought for a moment and said, “Tell God that you want to read His word and will do so, but that you find it boring. He has made the reading of His word so delightful to me, and He can for you too, if you ask Him.” I did pray. Today the word of God is delightful to me too, but between then and now, God used many circumstances and people to acquaint me with His word. One early person that He used was Miss Horton.
She was a headmistress in Clarence High School, Bangalore. To be more precise, she was the headmistress of the Primary Section, which had until recently been calling its classes Teddybears, Bunnies, Bambies, and Bees, the Bees being the senior most in the Primary section. My best friends Annamma Abraham and Gladys Mathai had been Teddybears and Bees and all.
But I joined Clarence only in Standard VIII, which was a part of the high school. One normally would not expect a newcomer in high school to be known by the Headmistress of the Primary section. But Miss Horton lead the Scripture Union (SU) classes.
Once a year, the SU people came to our school and presented the gospel by way of interesting stories and new songs. But the rest of the year, they were still active in a hidden way. They had a school teacher conduct weekly SU classes, and they also published Daily Bible Reading workbooks called God and Me for various age groups.
Miss Horton, as our SU teacher held classes on Friday evenings after school. I do not remember much about what we learnt there. Strangely, I remember that the closing hymn was always ‘Blest be the tie that binds;’ we held hands and stood in a circle to sing it. I am sure we must have learnt useful things during those meetings but it was so long ago, and so many things were happening in our lives at that time. Even our school song, in the third stanza, acknowledges that we were neck deep in ‘work and high endeavour.’
For our teachers we would thank Thee,
O fill them daily Lord,
With deep and true devotion,
To them Thy grace afford.
Bless all the hours of childhood,
The sunshine and the care,
The work and high endeavour
In which we now have share.
One SU meeting stands out because we did not have someone to play the piano, and Miss Horton felt she had to. (One would have thought that for someone from the Brethren assembly, singing acappella would be a natural thing.) To put it mildly, Miss Horton was not very good at playing the piano, and we had to hold the notes till she was ready to play the next ones.
One thing Miss Horton did as our SU teacher was to motivate us to follow the God and Me workbooks. The workbook recommended that every morning, before we left for school, we spend time with God. Before we read the portion of scripture assigned for the day, we prayed, as advised in the workbook, in the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 119:18, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Then we read the passage for the day. Next, we read a short devotional paragraph that made the reading meaningful to us. After this, we solved a little puzzle or answered a set of questions based on the reading. Finally, we prayed for God to bless the reading and help us live through the day as His children. One could do all this in 15 minutes, and if we were good and did it, we did not have to watch out for Miss Horton.
Every morning, Miss Horton would come in briskly from the side gate near an enclosed long rectangular area called “The Nursery Lane” and walk toward her office. She leaned forward as she walked, as if she were perpetually walking uphill. She would ask every child along the way, “Have you done your God and Me today,” and go on to make a more detailed comment about the passage for that day. It was amazing to me that she would do this with children of all age groups, which meant that every morning, she did four different God and Me readings, puzzle and all. As Headmistress, she must have been a very busy woman. But she found time for this. One day we will know what the Lord was able to do in the hearts of Clarencians over the years, because of her faithfulness.
I remember how she coached my friend and I to participate in an inter-school SU Quiz. That was the first time, I had to read such a large portion of scripture in such great detail. We went to Miss Horton’s office every evening after school. She taught us for about half an hour. I remember some of the details she pointed out during those classes.
- That the Bible records that 153 fish were caught, when it could have been rounded off to 150. Perhaps this underlined the fact that every person saved for eternity is precious, Miss Horton suggested.
- That John outran Peter as they ran towards the tomb of Jesus, but when he did reach the tomb, he was reluctant to go in and was nervous. But Peter joined John at the entrance of the tomb, huffing and puffing, and went straight in without any hesitation. I fell in love with simple, impetuous, unaffected Peter after those evenings with Miss Horton.
- That Jesus made to proceed on His way on the road to Emmaus when the disciples reached their destination. He went in only when they invited Him; eventually they recognised Him when He broke bread. Jesus does not force His presence or His teachings on anyone. We too must be gracious and dignified when we present the gospel.
When she was through with her lesson for the evening, she would set a kitchen timer for 10 minutes and tell us that we could chat with her till it rang. That was when we heard her say that she was still waiting for her Prince Charming. We also came to know with a keen sense of loss and wonder that she did not live her birthday one year because she was flying back to India from Canada, having boarded late on 22nd June to reach early on the 24th. We also asked her about Canada, her home and her family.
Another memory is of the jolly time we had in the SU camp in Quiet Corner at the foot of the Nilgiris mountains, where we learnt about the fruit of the Spirit. I remember how she pretended that she did not know about our midnight feast.
Miss Horton had taken us up the mountains by bus to Ooty and had shown us Hebron School where she had worked at some stage. On our way back, the girls bought whatever they could from the shops for a midnight feast. I am not sure whose idea it was to buy stickjaws. We woke up at midnight as planned and moved to the designated room, some making it across wet grass to get there. We could hear the hyenas in a distance, which added to the terror and excitement of the night. What did not go as planned was the fact that we popped the stickjaws into our mouths and wrestled with them for the next hour or so, got tired, and went back to bed. I digress.
This is a postcard that she sent me through a good friend shortly after that. I believe the date is 7 May 1980.
One day, she invited a bunch of us to her home; she stayed in one portion of the Flack residence. Again, I do not remember what she taught us, except that I was comfortable and happy. For a treat she offered us some of Mrs. Flack’s guava cheese. I remember biting off tiny bits at a time to make it last for as long as it possibly could.
Have an enjoyable 90th birthday Miss Horton, and may God bless you.
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