Church was hard on me. All that sitting still and not talking were hard on a kid back when ADD was just called BAD. Believe me, I know. My prissy older sister, Phyllis, 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. 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. Phyllis 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 frizzy hair to notice her lipstick. The only bright spot was that she always overdid the lipstick, leading Mother to complain she looked like she fell in a lipstick barrel. I suspected a person climbing out of a lipstick would have been a little more marked up, but my day was ruined anyway, so why bother being smart aleck on the way to church.
Sunday school was okay. The teachers didn’t expect much. They were happy if we could answer a couple of questions after the lesson. Usually, we got through a few minutes early to play a little before church. I had to be careful not to get 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 in relieving the tedium of a long Sunday service. 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, seating 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, miserably penned up between Mother and Daddy.
I loved old Brother Deck Peppard, an ancient deacon. He always sat directly in front of us wearing one of two shiny old gabardine suits he must have had for forty years. His wide, brightly ties were made a remarkable fashion statement. I never could decide whether I preferred the parrot or the apples. Brother Deck lived with his two equally ancient sisters in a huge old farm house not too far from the church. Though he never missed a service, we only saw the “girls” at Halloween when they handed out huge pears from their tree wrapped in newspaper and mellowed to ripeness. The neighbors whispered they were crazy. The only crazy thing I ever saw them do was give away those wonderful pears. Anyway, back to Brother Deck. He was deaf as a post. He also had gastrointestinal issues and probably sleep apnea, an interesting combination. Anyway, as soon as the sermon was launched, Brother Deck was off to sleep, tooting us a symphony. Sometimes he sounded like a screen door flapping!
Another memorable Sunday Brother Eddie had a seizure and fell off the organ bench during the offeratory hymn, wetting his pants. His sister went screaming to his rescue and a sermon was pretty much out the window after that. That was a good day.
The first baptism held in our new glass fronted baptistry was unforgettable. The podium was moved from in front of the baptistry, so we could all enjoy the mural of the Jordan River. What we really enjoyed was the view of Miss Flora’s panties as her dress ballooned up as she entered the water. By the next baptism, the mural of the River Jordan was painted on the glass up to the waist level of the sanctified in hopes keeping our thoughts pure.
Brother Raymond, a well-known evangelist preached to our packed church one Sunday. Praised far and wide for his fascinating sermons, He was not only eloquent and erudite, a born speaker. His knowledge of scripture was legend, as he quoted long passages flawlessly, opening his beloved Bible. I did find his sermon interesting, especially when he got to the story of Baalam. He spun a tale of Baalam’s evil deeds stoking God’s anger. As Baalam’s faithful ass carried him down the road, only the ass saw the sword-wielding angel of God in their path, prepared to strike Baalam down for his wickedness. Three times she turned away, saving Baalam from the death-angel’s sword. Three times Baalam cruelly beat her for disobedience. At this point, Brother Raymond paused dramatically, pounded on the podium and boomed out. “God spoke through Baalam’s ass.!!!!” He had our complete attention! Some of the teenagers and older kids snickered first, then a few of the less pious joined in. The song-leader faked a few coughs trying to regain his composure, then snorted two giant snot bubbles out his nose. We all burst into full-fledged, knee-slapping, undeniable laughter. Brother Raymond gave it up and church was done for the day. The final prayer was short and sweet.
One Sunday morning a few years later, my sister Connie provided the entertainment for the service. She was sitting proudly near the front of the church with her new fiancé and his little niece, Amy. Connie 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.