Church was a trial for me. Daddy marched us into third pew from the front on the right side of church. He’d stomped out any hope of back- row giggling long before. I did look longingly at the lucky, wicked girls happily ensconced there, but had learned not to even ask to sit with a friend. We always filed in and took our seats in the same order. Daddy was first with Billy sandwiched between him and Mother. Mother held a baby on her lap. I was in easy reach next to Mother, with Phyllis and Connie, a toddler next to me. Sometimes during the service, Mother and Phyllis exchanged charges.
Phyllis, an adolescent, was the model of propriety, the darling of Sunday School teachers and choir directors. She’d have crawled to church on her hands and knees and sung a solo every Sunday if they’d let her. I compared poorly. Every Sunday I offered up excuses to avoid church. “My stomach hurts. I have an earache. I can’t find my shoes.” That last one was probably true! Billy and I could be depended upon to misbehave if allowed to sit together.
In preparation for the Sunday show, Mother spent endless hours sewing, starching, and ironing frilly dresses for us to show off at church. To ensure total misery, on Saturday night, she clamped me between her knees and twisted my fine hair into tight pin curls as I whined and wiggled. Invariably, she expressed the hope the some day I’d have fifteen girls with straight hair. Ironically, I have one daughter with curls. As final punishment, Mother wrapped my head in a scarf, and made me sleep on those damnable pins. Come morning, I was transformed into a kinky-headed mess in a Shirley Temple nightmare of a dress. I hated it.
The enforced quiet of church sermons was endless. In the days before ADD, I was BAD. My parents didn’t believe in providing distractions for restless children during church, offering up pre-sermon threats and terrifying looks, instead. I completely understood what was waiting at home if I messed up, so I passed the time manufacturing silent distractions.
Mr. Rose and Miss Bessie sat on the pew directly in front of us. He wore ancient gabardine suits with wide ties. He drifted off to sleep as soon as the preaching and his gastric system relaxed. Soon he regaled the congregation with a symphony of flabby farts. Poor Miss Bessie elbowed him to keep him awake and silent, but was no match for his system. It was a fascinating show, made all the more thrilling, since I was supposed to ignore it. How can you not notice farting in church?