Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fig Newtons and the Marlboro Men

I've been involved with the church of Christ for almost my entire life. I started going to church at the Pink House so I would have been around 4 or 5 when I started attending church. In the church of Christ when you "go to church" you just say, "I am a member of the so and so church.." and that tells everyone that you are associated with the church. The church where I went was full of many, many characters and has made for some fantastic memories. My church was called Hillcrest. When you talk about the churches of Christ you either say you are liberal or conservative and depending on the things you do or don't do you are put into a category without much attention to the grey areas. I will save that for another blog. I will just say that Hillcrest embraced conservatism--very much! Sunday's were always an adventure to me. I can't tell you how many times I counted the rows that made up our veneered pine ceiling. We also had these Gothic inspired lights that hung precariously from the ceiling and swung ever so slightly. I would often get wrapped up in imagining who who was in harms way should the chain give way. Would that huge lantern fall straight or go at an angle? I know that they provided preaching for the imagination impaired, but had much better things with which to occupy my time.
We served communion every Sunday. I would always dread the man who walked up to say a prayer with his Bible. That meant, he had written something out and was goign to pull out his script right after he said, "would you bow with me?" I wasn't bowing I was goign to check out how many pages that fella had written. I only enjoyed that when they could not read their own writign or did not read well, then it was worth my time.
On my row (North side, 12th pew) sat my Dad, Mom, me, Grandma, and Etta Caywood, with just enough room for about three visitors. In the church of Christ you are supposed to find your place to sit and stay there. I've seen many times that a member woudl ask a visitor to move because they were in their spot. It is true! I can still remember who sat in front of me and behind me for about three pews. Etta Caywood was one of my favorite people. She was the mother of my Auntie Ilene's ex-ex husband. She married him twice for some unknown reason. Etta was the sweetest person in the world. She wore a white sweater draped over her shoulders year-round with the top button buttoned. It was a cape with sleeves. She smiled all the time, all the time, nervously fidgeting with a tissue over and over, and had the very faint smell of hand creme about her. She was very thin and about 5 feet tall. Even though she was the same age as my Grandmother she never had white hair, just a sandy grey, naturally curly old lady hair do. It resembled the hair style of Queen Elizabeth minus the intentional poofiness of her majesty and the crown of course. She had a great pink scarf that could be whipped out of her purse for the slightest breeze. She had a magic purse which contained many splendid things. Etta was always getting into her purse: clippers... nail file... throat lozenge... back to the nail file... Kleenex... coupon... folded piece of paper the contents of which could not wait to be revealed--it had to be read. She also had fig newtons. She snacked on fig newtons all during the sermon and would drive my Grandmother crazy each week as she offered, "newton, velva?" My Grandmother would always give this pursed lip indignant hufff and shake her head. All of the packaging in Etta's purse was acoustically altered to emit 10x the normal sound when rustled. One other claim to fame for Etta was the fact that she made change in the collection plate. That's right she would make change. She always gave the same amount, each week and why she didn't just come with that amount, I do not know. She would place the plate on her lap and make change, sometimes calculating future purchases and the bills she would need so as not to make change again after all she wouldn't have access to her plate.
My cousin, Tiger (the oldest of Auntie Ilene's children) and I spent many wonderful days playing at Etta's house. We were free to roam her huge yard. She lived on a corner lot and had at least an acre of property. Her house was built into a hill (living in Southwest Missouri you almost always had a house built into a hill on your street). We could play all day in that yard. Her House was very modest and immaculate. Snow white with a half rock wall and a scalloped wire fence around the front perimeter. There was the ever present smell of Pine-sol and sugar cookies with that wafting of heat that seems to fan you when you are in old ladies houses. The bathrooms of old ladies are a wonderland of discovery by the way--yet another blog for another day. She had a living room full of salmon colored furniture. And copious amounts of doilies every where. The furniture had a very interesting fabric on it, kind of like corduroy, but small little squares of raised rows. I can remember sitting in her living room and rubbing the couch because it sucked you into it's texture and took you to a far away therapeutic place for calming you nerves. Etta was an interesting cook. Her kitchen was too small to house a refrigerator so that was in her dining room. She was famous for grilling Bologna and cheese sandwiches. Frying the bologna before placing it on the melted cheese. I never had grilled bologna anywhere but there and actually never looked for it to be honest. Kraft macaroni and cheese was served along with the grilled bologna and cheese. She serve the macaroni with the butter and milk as indicated on the box but added a personal touch--she didn't stir in the cheese powder. That was taken around to each person and sprinkled on top. I always thought that was the most bizarre thing. At Halloween we always went to her house for homemade popcorn balls. Now she could make a mean popcorn ball. Stove popped popcorn enrobed in a sweet, salty, sticky, golden syrup that was to die for. They were bigger than softballs and always the first thing I would eat. I just loved her to death and logged many an hour wishing her to be my grandma.
Hillcrest had deacons who smoked outside, the Marlboro men, and were almost always late for the start of service because they were caught up talking a little too much between the puffs. There is nothing more welcoming than a cloud of Deacon smoke! I never saw these men sit down, just pace around the foyer walking away the day. If I went to the bathroom to take a break from envisioning a members sudden death by falling lanterns or became bored of the ceiling plank counting I always had to walk by "the men" and could feel their cold stare. The alpha males were watching me, and were not going to yield their territory to the likes of me--the young disheveled whipper snapper. I always wished there were other bathrooms and that I would not have to walk through that foyer.
There was a man whom I never could identify, but he fell asleep almost every week and when he was awoken would shout, "Amen!" I always knew he was awake by his holy proclamation. I did enjoy scanning the auditorium for the sleepers. But that was a risky business, because head turning was not allowed on my pew. One turn too many and I would receive the stealth thump from my Dad which came from out of nowhere and would leave me seeing black spots for minutes. My Dad has some of the hardest thumps! Man they hurt!
One lady, Mrs. Reibolt, always came to church with purple hair. I can remember asking my Grandmother, "does she mean to do that or is it an accident?" She went to the "Curl up and dye" every week for her hair to be set, surely they could pick another tint other than purple. I always dreamed of rain just to see if she would drip purple water, but never had that fantasy fulfilled.
Lastly--VBS misery. I really hated VBS. I never really had friends there and was always afraid that I would be called out to answer something and be exposed for the Biblically illiterate dumbo I was. I often wished for the power of invisibility. Most children perk up at the thought of snack time. You know they start asking for cookies about 10 weeks before VBS and ladies start baking and freezing cookies. Truck loads of cookies. Our VBS matrons carefully wrapped each "serving" in a white napkin (the kind that were dispensed by those old-fashioned diner napkin holders and used by most donut shoppes in America) neatly folded. It concealed the contents of the cookies within. They also had Kool-Aid very diluted under sweetened Kook-Aid. We were lined up single file and marched through the cookie line. One Dixie cup of Kook-Aid and one mysteriously wrapped cookie present. This was not a pleasant passage it was a mission and a chore to move those sniveling children through the line. Seconds were out of the question and asking for another stealth package because you didn't like the contents of your package was blasphemy. My package always had one store bought sandwich cookie and usually one very stale home baked cookie with nuts. I hate nuts in cookies, especially when they are frozen and stored. I could remember the ire I felt the Sunday's after VBS ended, "Be sure to stick around after church tonight because we have plenty of cookies left over from our great VBS. Help us eat up those great cookies." ARRRRGHHH!
Now that this wrinkle in my brain has been stimulated I realize that there are many, many more characters which need to be exposed. Stay tuned.


Tracy said...

gee i sure missed a lot not belongin to that church :-) Our cathoic church has no assigned seating LoL and no one made change neither (the collection baskets had long handles so no one could linger over the money - those baskets went in out of the pews too fast!) I am a fan, however, of fried bologna - yum. And i'm sorry sprinkling on the cheese powder - that just isnt right.
more stories will - more stories pleez :-)

Babsarella said...

What a fun read!!! Your writing is just incredible!!!

Sharon said...

As I read your story, it brought me back to St. Francis Catholic Church in Randolph and the exact pew we sat in, how our family was placed, each in the pew and who sat around us and the smells.....Thanks Will! That was a fun journey! Can't wait to read more about the "church ladies"!

Donna said...

The Hillcrest church. Yes.
The family is staring me down to head out to the mall so I must finish this MAMMOTH post when I get home. I just had to say.... no matter how many times I hear about Etta Caywood, I belly laugh every time!! I would have loved that woman wouldn't I??

Will said...

Yes, oh yes you would have adored her. She was a wonderful woman. The type you know would make an awesome angel food cake from scratch, but no dice! Not even a chiffon. Just popcorn balls in all of ther golden perfection. I wish I could try and pry a glob of the golden syrup off the back of my teeth right now.

Donna said...

We had a sleeping elder. I promise you he fell asleep EVERY Sunday. I loved watching that. Of course, he was listening to Mac's preaching, I don't blame him. We also had a finger nail clipper. Isn't there one of those in every congregation?? Can you imagine openly popping off fingernails to land in the laps and in the hair of all those within 5 feet??
I love your church people stories William. You have a wicked keen memory. It's amazing.