Communion charmed me. It pained me to see the perfect little glasses and morsels of wafer in the gleaming trays pass me by. I suspect Mother’s thoughts weren’t sacred as she warned me off with dark looks and head shake. It seemed wrong to waste communion on adults when those cups were obviously child-sized. Glenda Parker boldly reached in and took two tiny cups right under her mother’s eye. She slurped the juice from one cup, then poured the juice from the other back and forth a few times before spilling it. Her mother sweetly wiped up the pew with a dainty hanky, never shooting her “the look.” With my head bowed during prayer, I saw Glenda stack and restack those cups and slip them in and out of the little slots on the back of the pew in front of her while her mother piously bowed her head in prayer. Why couldn’t God have given me to a good mother like that?
Baptism was even more interesting. The first baptism I witnessed took place in a pond. The congregation gathered around as the preacher led the candidates in one by one and dipped them backwards into murky water. I yearned to get in that line, but had been warned not to move from Mother’s side. The next baptism took place in our church’s new sanctuary. The curtains behind the choir loft opened to reveal a glass-fronted tank before a lovely mural of the Jordan River. The preacher stepped in and spoke a few words before assisting Miss Flora Mae down the steps into the tank. Miss Flora Mae’s full-skirted white skirt ballooned on the surface of the water as she descended, revealing chubby legs and white panties, an unexpected thrill for me and other less-holy onlookers. A few even snickered as Miss Flora Mae struggled to recover her dignity.
By the next baptism, the baptistry’s glass front had been painted.
With eons of sermons stretching out before me, life looked grim. Occasionally, there was a bright spot. Sometimes the preacher told a joke. I truly enjoyed church music, especially if it was something lively, like “Onward Christian Soldiers” on the hymn list. I sung along enthusically, though lots of the words did’t make sense. For the life of me, I couldn’t fathom why we sang about laundry, as in “Bringing in the Sheets (Sheaves).” There was also a Christmas carol about laundry. “While shepherds washed their socks by night (watched their flocks by night.) I thought it odd, but so much adults did seemed odd.
One special Sunday, God had a startling surprise in store for me. Mrs. Simmons, the pianist, brought her brother Eddie, a handsome young man, along to play the organ. His boogie-woogie style hymns were a vast improvement over sedate hymns. I could see some of the old ladies exchanging shocked looks, but I was entranced. I was practically bouncing in the pew when suddenly he dropped to the floor in a seizure. Mrs. Simmons shrieked and rushed to his side. He rallied and they trooped out, along with the rest of her family. I was so jealous. The preacher made an anemic attempt to salvage the service, but his flock was clearly anxious to get out and enjoy a good gossip. I genuinely enjoyed church that day.
Our little church held periodic revivals. For the benefit of those not blessed with a Southern Baptist upbringing, a revival is a series of nightly evangelical preaching services culminating with a baptismal service on Sunday for converts. There was a good bit of Hell-fire promised, so a quite a few errant souls joined up. Our small church had no baptistry, so baptism was conducted in a creek, exciting business for kids.
Dressed in old clothes, a stark contrast to usual his usual church garb, a stalwart deacon led the candidates to the preacher waiting in waist-deep water. After a few words and a prayer, the preacher dipped the candidates for baptism backwards in the murky water, then raised them up a moment later, gasping, sputtering, and cleansed of sin. It must have been quite a workout for the preacher and an unnerving experience for the baptized. Seeing the redeemed folk led from the water with their clingy garments served as a pretty good anatomy lesson for us kids, as well. Afterwards, the crowd quickly dispersed, out of concern for the soaked.
I chafed, all through the prayers and scripture, awaiting the creek side baptism, anticipating an outing with a picnic and swimming. Verily, there was no swimming for us, only baptism for the redeemed. Though Mother had warned me not to expect such a party, I’d thought perhaps I could engineer the opportunity to fall in the creek, resulting in a swim, after all. Lo, it didn’t happen with the death grip Mother had on me and Billy. My major impression of the day was disappointment.
My brother Billy and Cousin Evil Larry took the opportunity to put all they’d learned in practice the next morning. Our cat had hidden away a litter of kittens, but apparently not well enough. Billy and Evil Larry rounded up those sinful kitties and went to work on redeeming their mewing, little souls. After dunking them in the repeatedly in the water trough, a couple of them straight to Heaven, assuming the baptism worked. Mother caught the boys and saved the rest. I guess she just wasn’t into religion.