My parents weren’t super religious, but for a short period, we attended church together as a family. My mom made sure that I wore a pretty dress, typically one she’d sown, and fixed my hair so that I looked especially “girly.” She often made matching dresses for my niece and I. My parents cared for my niece for several years, and she was like a little sister to me. To complete my Sunday apparel, I carried a little white patent leather purse to match my white patent Mary Janes. Of course, the color of my shoes matched the season, white during the spring and summer months and black in the fall and winter. Additionally, my mom made me wear tights, usually white, with my dress. I hated them. It was extremely uncool. I eventually convinced my mom to let me graduate to pantyhose and small heels. It was the 70’s after all and quite fashionable for a kid my age.
We attended a small Methodist church in Shady Grove, a little suburb in Bossier City, Louisiana, where I grew up. My mom signed me into childcare so she and dad could attend the “big service.” It was a traumatic event every Sunday. I was that kid, you know the screaming child who clung desperately to her mom. I don’t recall exactly how old I was during that time, but I’m guessing around the age of kindergarten – 1st grade. Little did I know then that I was experiencing severe separation anxiety, something I struggled with up through 4th grade, a symptom of attachment disorder. It was especially bad in elementary school where I experienced stomachaches daily. I was painfully shy and felt like my whole world tumbled upside down as soon as my mom “abandoned” me once again. Occasionally, I’d sit in the big service with my parents when the daycare workers couldn’t take any more of my screaming. I have not so fond memories of sitting on creaky old pews, my feet dangling uncomfortably over the edge of my hard wooden seat. I’m certain that after a while the drama of leaving me in childcare became too exasperating for my poor mom. The sermon was incredibly boring, and I couldn’t help but fidget through the whole thing. I remember a few times being taken outside for a spanking because I just couldn’t sit still, like that would fix the problem. After such a torturous experience, we’d sometimes go out to lunch at the Officer’s Club on Barksdale Air Force Base. My dad was a Lt. Colonel and a World War II pilot. He eventually retired at Barksdale. Now going to the Officer’s Club was cool. It was like a palace. The dining room was set to perfection, formal and elegant. The tables were covered in starched white linens and waiters dressed in black. My parents enjoyed going to the Club to have a cocktail. I enjoyed the biscuits slathered with sausage gravy.
My parents eventually stopped going to church. They still, however, made sure I went every Sunday. Imagine that. By then, they started sending me to a different church, Bellaire Baptist, right off of Barksdale Boulevard. Sometimes, I’d attend the “big service,” with our next door neighbors. All I can remember about that is the pastor “screaming” from the pulpit. At least it came across like screaming when I was a kid. Most of the time, I went to Sunday school class with my peers. Mom still made sure that I was dressed up, certainly no jeans, pants or shorts. I loved having my hair set in those spongy pink rollers the night before so that it was curly the next day. On Sunday mornings, a little red church bus came to our house to take me to church. Bellaire Baptist had a bus service that transported kids around our community to and from church. I’d sit in our front living room and peer out the window waiting for the bus to arrive. The driver, J.D. Harris, a very sweet man, opened the bus doors and greeted each kid with a big smile. I knew most of the kids who were picked up because we all went to the same school, Sun City Elementary. I got to church for 3 years on that little red church bus, my bible and devotional in hand. I was the kid in Sunday school class who read my weekly devotional and memorized the memory scripture faithfully. I don’t think any other kid did.
When I got to high school, I quit going to church. Socializing became more of a priority. In college, I sometimes attended church, but it was rather sporadic. Mom eventually went back to her Catholic roots. I’d go to mass with her every once in awhile. I never quite understood the whole standing up, kneeling, sitting, communion part of the service, but I do know that going to mass together encouraged her a great deal.
So the little red church bus ran for many years. Who knows what happened to it and whether the church upgraded to a fancier more modern bus. How convenient it was for parents to send their kids to church. I honestly don’t know of another church that ever ran such a service. Maybe it was a Southern thing.
So I owe it to my parents for instilling faith in me at an early age. It certainly waned during my early 20’s and has evolved greatly over the years. I don’t have time to talk about the years I spent in a cultic church much later. I’ll save that for my next book…