Church was hard on me Church clothes were designed by the devil. My mom made fancy dresses with twirly skirts, puffy sleeves, lace, fancy collars, and gigantic sashes that tied in the back in a big bow. Just in case I might get a little comfortable, she starched and ironed them till they were so stiff they could stand alone. Getting ready for church started Saturday night with a bath and hair washing. No problem with that. The trouble started when Mother got out the hair pins and tissue paper. She clamped me between her knees and divided my hair into tiny strands wrapped in tissue paper. My hair was fine and dried quickly, so she continuously dipped her comb in a bottle of curling lotion the consistency of snot. I never got the connection between biting the plastic ends of hair pens and pain, so there was plenty of scalp scraping as she slid the pins into the curls. Knowing that my sister would suffer, too, did me little good, since she liked pretty hair and would do anything to look pretty. My wiggling and protesting didn’t help. Mother had her pride and would not suffer a daughter with straight hair on Sundays. As she clinched her knees tighter she hoped I’d have fifteen girls with straight hair. That didn’t bother me. I had no intention of having any girls or boys, straight-haired or otherwise. I was going to be a cowboy!!
My sister loved anything to do with church, making me look particularly bad. The only glimmer of hope was that she was slow and Mother threatened to leave her every Sunday. She always came flying out as the car backed out carrying shoes, makeup, and jewelry, jumping in the front seat and twisting the mirror so she could get her lipstick on straight. It was a waste of time anyway. No-one was going to see past her clown hair to notice her lipstick. When I tried dawdling around in hopes of getting left, Mother saw right through it. It was obvious I wasn’t wasting any effort getting ready lying on the floor in front of the TV watching Davy and Goliath.
Sunday school was okay. The teachers didn’t expect much, happy if we could just answer a couple of questions after the lesson. Usually, we got through a few minutes early we got to play a little before church. I had to be careful not to play too rowdy. Chairs were just waiting to snag skirt tails and snatch off sashes. I knew from experience my mother would not be happy if I showed up in church with a torn, dirty dress or missing sash.
Church started well enough. Singing was good. The words didn’t always make sense. I didn’t know why we sang about the laundry, “Bringing in the Sheets”(sheaves), but so much else didn’t make sense either so I sang along enthusiastically. It just didn’t last long enough. I tried to be still and listen to preaching. Sometimes the preacher told an interesting story when he started and another at the end, but there was a lot of not so interesting in between. Sitting still was hard. I would try counting, finding people in church whose name started with each letter of the alphabet, looking at pictures in the Bible, reading ahead in my Sunday School Book. When I wiggled or turned around , Mother looked sternly and shook her head. I knew I’d be in big trouble if I didn’t behave. It didn’t do any good to say I had to go to the bathroom. Mother always made me go right before we went in. Some kids got to look in their mother’s purse for toys or gum, but Mother wasn’t having any of that.
Some members of the congregation were dear to me, dependable for relieving the tedium of a long Sunday service. Mr. Dick Peppridge sat just in front of us in his ancient, shiny black suit. He was deaf as a post and never spoke to me, but I admired him breaking up the tedium of services periodically. He’d relax and drift off to sleep and treat us to a flatulent recital. There were no cushions on the pews, so the bursts echoed several times like a screen door flapping before dying out. Good Old Mr. Dick.
Daddy was proud of his standing in church enforcing an unbreakable rule. The seven of us had to sit together, setting a good example for the rest of the congregation. We sat in the fourth pew from the front, in the same order Sunday after Sunday. Phyllis filed in first, seated the fartherest from Daddy, since she could be depended on to behave perfectly. She was responsible for Connie, the next to the youngest. I had to sit between Mother and Marilyn, the youngest, since I needed to be where Mother could give me dirty looks without drawing attention to herself. Billy had the worst spot of all, wedged between Mother and Daddy.
Phyllis loved church and enjoyed the admiration of the saintly, making me look even more like a heathen. Instead of running wild in the parking lot after church services, she joined my parents as they talked to the other worshippers. God answered my prayers and gave her what she deserved for her prissiness one Sunday morning. Daddy and Phyllis were part of a group discussing some matter of grave importance to the congregation. Phyllis stood listening quietly as the conversation became more animated. Seizing a break in the tempo, Mr. Cornell Poleman burst in determined to make his point, even though his nose was near to bursting with congestion. Never one to waste an opportunity, he had his say, yanked his handkerchief from his pocket, ducked his head and snorted. Luckily for Mrs. Poleman, he missed the handkerchief leaving one less disgusting handkerchief in Monday’s laundry. Simultaneous with the snort, Phyllis felt a warm, repulsive flop, looked down, and saw a huge slimy slug of yellow-green congealed snot on her forearm, still warm from nasal incubation. Mr. Poleman brought her out of shock by grabbing her arm, smearing it wildly with his snowy handkerchief, while apologizing continuously. Horrified, she fled the attentive crowd for the church bathroom where she scrubbed her arm with soap and water, then Comet scouring powder. Still not satisfied, she looked for something she could use to amputate her arm. Finding only a toilet brush and the deodorizer hanging in the toilet bowl, she finally doused herself with Clorox and came on out, with Mother falsely assuring her the crowd was gone and probably no one had noticed anyway.
Our family budget was stretched to the max and at one time, our vehicle was a red Volkswagon Bug. Daddy was acutely aware of the humor involved in seeing a big man and his family of seven stuffing themselves into a Volkswagon and wanted to avoid it at all costs. He was still smarting from one of the deacons embarrassed him by quoting Hunt’s Tomato slogan, “How do you get those eight great tomatoes in one can?” We had instructions to come straight out of church and get in the car so people would be deprived of the entertainment. One Sunday morning, we had a visiting preacher and dinner on the grounds after church. Daddy lingered around talking after lunch, waiting for the crowd to clear, hoping people wouldn’t hang around just to watch us as we loaded into the red bug. Connie had gotten sleepy and gone to take a nap in the small cargo space behind the back seat as time dragged on. Eventually, Daddy waited everyone out and told us to load up. Mother was horrified to find Connie missing from the car. Who could have taken her from a busy churchyard with dozens of people around? We searched the church, the grounds, and the area close enough for a four-year-old to wander to. Just as Daddy was about to raise a search, a red Volkswagon Bug came screeching back into the churchyard. The visiting minister hurriedly pulled a tiny weeping girl from his car. Connie had gotten into his car by mistake and he had gotten nearly home before she woke and started wailing.
The visiting preacher came home with us one for Sunday dinner. He had a just gotten a new car that week and spent most of Sunday dinner talking about it. His wife had a bad heart and lay down for a nap after lunch. He whispered “She could go anytime.” This did nothing to lighten the mood. It was clear the new car was the only bright spot in their life. It would look nice at her funeral. They were from out of town so were stuck with them until time for the evening service. The afternoon looked long and hopeless. The kids escaped outdoors as soon as possible. Our house was on the edge of the farm, sitting inside a larger fenced area where Daddy raised hay and grazed cattle, horses, goats to The long driveway was several hundred yards long and fenced separately, enclosing several pecan and fruit trees, and space for parking. As goats will do, the goats had slipped through the fence and gotten in the drive. Brother Smith had parked his nice new car under the mulberry tree in full bloom. Goats love new vegetation and as it turns out, new cars. We saw several hop agilely to the roof of his new car. Before we could get to it, several more joined their friends standing on their back legs to reach the tree branches. There was a big metallic “Pop!!” and the hood caved in, leaving the goats in a bowl. They leapt off. Mother heard the racket and ran out just in time to catch the whole disaster. Her eyes were huge as her hands flew to her mouth. We hadn’t had a new car for years and now we’d be buying this preacher one. Not only that, his wife would probably drop dead on the spot and he’d have to drive a goat-battered car to the funeral.
God smiled on us. As soon as the goats jumped off, the hood popped back in the shape. This time we enjoyed the sound. We flew to inspect the roof. No apparent damage. Mother got the preacher’s keys and pulled the car to the safety of the yard. Mrs. Smith lived through the day, and as far as I know, Brother Smith had a fine new car to drive to her funeral a couple of weeks later. All’s well that ends well.
One Sunday morning, Connie provided the entertainment for the service. Sitting proudly near the front of the church with her new fiancé and his little niece, Amy, she was lovely in a beautiful yellow, spring dress. As the worshippers stood for a hymn, little Amy stood behind Connie, grasped the tail of Connie’s dress, and raised it as high as her tiny arms would reach, giving most of the congregation something truly inspiring to consider, for which God made them truly grateful.
I guess when I look back on all this, I did sometimes enjoy church.