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Look at what they’re wearing. Bless their hearts…

April 23, 2012

The other day during my lunch break I dashed across the street to Quiznos to pick up a sandwich. However, a gaggle of religious fanatics donning Quaker style attire blocked my path. As one woman fluttered her eyelashes from beneath her lace bonnet offering me a CD containing devotional melodies, I ducked and ran. On the way back to the office, I sprinted around them in the shape of a semicircle. Downtown Atlanta disciples seem particularly zealous, especially the man who sets up shop outside Woodruff Park. One afternoon he transitioned from screaming at all pedestrians to singling me out.

“You think you’re so cool in your heels and your little skirt and your SHADES!!!” he yelled, leaning toward me when I passed him. I stopped, lowered my vintage Christian Dior sunglasses and glared, then veered diagonally toward popsicle vendor King of Pops.

The Quiznos evangelists reminded me of a carful of Jehovah’s Witnesses who crept all the way down my parents’ half-mile driveway one peaceful Saturday morning. Mother, Daddy, Timber and I sat on the front porch reading and chatting, but froze when the group of women stepped out of their white Tercel wearing peasant dresses of the most modest of fabrics. They clomped up the hill and across the sidewalk, rustling the monkey grass with their skirts.

“Excuse me, I was hopin’ we could talk to you this mornin’ about God,” one of them whispered at the foot of the steps.

“We know God good ‘n’ well,” Daddy spoke for us. “But thank ye.”

The women pivoted in unison and made their awkward trek back to their car.

“My goodness, look at what they’re wearing!” Mother loudly gasped within their earshot. “Bless their hearts…”

Daddy never has pushed religion on me. When I turned 16, he told me I didn’t have to come to church anymore.

“You’re old enough to make yer own choices. You can figure it out fer yerself.”

I continued attending Baptist services with my parents until I graduated high school and explored various worship options while in college, including Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist and a sweat lodge hosted by a local medicine man. (Well, I almost drowned crossing a river on the way to the sweat lodge, so I gave up and went home.) Daddy intervened in my spiritual affairs only once, when I became crippled by morosity in sixth grade. I suddenly became aware of the large age gap between my friends’ and my parents. While my mother turned 37 two days after birthing me, many of my peers’ mothers only recently had rung in “the big three-oh.” Paralyzed with fear, I worried that my parents would die a decade or two before everyone else’s. During softball try-outs, I surveyed my classmates on their own anxieties surrounding death.

“Do you, like, worry your parents are going to die one day?” I asked my friend Beth while tossing her a softball.

“No.”

“But they will.”

“It’s not something I think about. That’s forever away.”

I kept fretting over the meaning of life. Everything in my bedroom stared at me emptily. The dresser squinted in cruelty; the hardwood floors, covered in transient cat fur and dust; the curtains, devoid of permanence or purpose.

After playing at my neighbor’s house one weekend, her father drove me home in his green truck.

“Mr. Meadows, what is the point of living?”

“To glorify God.”

His answer depressed me even more.

Mother had to pull me out of school a couple times and contacted the minister who married her and Daddy for advice. At one point she made me talk to him on the phone; his cookie cutter insistence that my parents’ memory will live forever exacerbated my sadness. He also suggested I read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, a book I didn’t touch until age 21. I wonder if and how it would have helped.

I truly believe that Daddy arranged a special sermon for me the following Sunday, delivered by our church’s young associate pastor G. He made a lot of the same points as my mother’s friend, but I had a crush on him and therefore took his claims to heart.

Weeks later G portrayed Jesus in the congregation’s Easter play – a gruesome portrayal of the crucifixion in the fellowship hall. As he realistically hanged from a cross, I stared at his sinewy arms and trim torso, covered by a slight piece of cloth. While everyone around me wept, I drooled.

I don’t visit that church often anymore but go with Daddy on holidays that are important to him, like Christmas and Father’s Day. We recently attended the Easter service, just the two of us. I almost began blubbering like my 11-year-old self during the hymn of benediction, sort of for the same moribund reason as I did back then. But instead of crying, I leaned my head on Daddy’s coat sleeve, closed my eyes and savored the moment.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Timber permalink
    June 15, 2012 4:34 pm

    Remember Bobbin, you also dropped your camera wading across that river! I have no idea what to get for Daddy for Father’s Day. I need some advice!

  2. June 15, 2012 4:38 pm

    Thank you for the full reminder of my clumsiness! I got Daddy an iPad cover for Father’s Day – maybe there’s another iPad accessory he needs. (I also threw a bag of bacon fat caramel corn in there for good measure.) I’ll let you know if he mentions wanting anything this weekend.

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