Saturday, August 4, 2012

Which Reminds Me

Posted originally at Jaded Haven, whose proprietrix has taken down her shingle and thrown in the ink blotter. The blogging world will sorely miss her. I know I will. I had a devil of a time trying to find this essay, but given the spiritual turmoil I am currently under lately, I thought I would trot it out before it gets exiled to the circular file. 

 Little White Church Photograph - Little White Church Fine Art Print - Warren Thompson

Driving leisurely through Daphne’s archives often sends my mental carriage fishtailing out of control. If not with fits of  giggles, then with sated sighs, and every so often, rage and grief.   This essay caused my memory  to go into reverse without pausing for neutral.   Read as her skilled hand causes the wreck which follows:
Long held secrets came spilling out the summer I turned seven, killing the balancing act of my parent’s marriage.  On High Island, we attended church every Sunday morning in a white clapboard building that held no more than a hundred souls in the pews. Maybe once a month, on Saturday evenings, we’d attend tent revivals held for traveling charismatic preachers. My daddy’s family looked forward to these religious spectacles. They scared me shitless. Regular Pentecostal services are a wide world away from their Catholic, Episcopalian or Baptist equivalents. Tent revivals exist in a whole other realm. I watched my stalwart, calm faced aunts, female cousins and grandmother moan, speak in tongues, faint in ecstasy, handle snakes and dance like demons. The normally stoic male members of my family exhibited similar bouts of frightening behavior. I hated tent revivals, spending most of them hidden under my folding chair, eyes squeezed tight shut, fingers shoved in my ears, waiting to be carried out to the safety of the car and driven home.
Ah, you’ve caused me to drive the car backwards into a ditch, Daphne, and now you’ll have to sit with me for a spell. Have a Slurpee while I share my own tale of Pentecaustic Woe.

My father’s only love is the piano.  My mother once complained that he spent more time at the piano than with her, and she was going to leave him if he didn’t get off that infernal thing and watch Lucy with her on the tee-vee. Without a word, he went into the bedroom, packed her bags, left them in the hallway and went back to practicing. She never complained about it again.

By day he sold pianos at the French Market in Kansas City, at least, he made a valiant effort. By night he played in mob-owned strip clubs. His desire to be Sarah Vaughan’s accompanist was never realized – his brush with fleeting fame at that time was posing in a photograph with Lawrence Welk.

He wasn’t a very good salesman. He’d start his spiel by offering the customer advice,  then select a piano that would go with the rest of their furniture.  At the point he had to close the deal, he would demonstrate the piano’s virtues, and forgetting the customer, he would begin to play. And play. The customer, realizing he would never be able to play that well, left.  But there were occasions when he made the sale. And that was usually to a church.

Dad played the organ in our church. He was the only member who could. Our church was a small, nondenominational collective of anal, henpecked men whose wives were gossiping scolds. Our family was their main source of nourishment.

The problem the church busybodies had with my father was how he played the organ.

Musically, he was a black man in a church full of tone deaf Klansmen. His playing was a thing of exquisite blasphemy. He cast aside the Methodist three-chord blandishments and restraints  and pumped in chords and forbidden rhythms from the Devil’s own Fake Book,  inspiring lustful arousal – augmented minors, dominant sevenths and tenths vamped with a downbeat and walking bass lines. He made the Wurlitzer wail and moan with orgasmic pleasure.

Alas, in our church, there was no amen choir for such playing. There was no choir at all. Just congregational singing at its worst. I spent my time in those moments by making up new words for whatever hymn we were singing.

And then he sold a baby grand to a Pentecostal church.
The preacher, an organist himself, invited us to visit his church. My father, wary of all things Roman Catholic or Charismatic, would have declined, but for the money.  Come Sunday, the six of us showed up, dressed in our faded, Goodwill best.

The preacher had roped off a whole pew for us midway from the front to the back and we filed in, youngest to oldest.  My father sat next to the center aisle, removing the only avenue of escape.

The service started off well, with robust and joyous singing. The preacher played the organ, with his wife at the new piano.  The church members sang well, clapped their hands, and for once, my father felt kinship with a church.

After the  preacher introduced us and made announcements, the praying commenced. And such praying it was. Nothing prepared us for the praying.

“HA-LEE-LU-YAH JEEEEEEE-ZUSSS! HAMANA BAMBADA LOOGOO BODI YABISEEE! TOGOBU TUMBADA FOOPIDA CHUNGIDA! AY-MEHHHHHN!”

The six of us froze as one. I slowly opened my eyes and turned to look at my father for silent instruction. He was waxen. His eyes were as wide as mine, and he was sweating. He made no expression, and did not look back at my inquiring gaze.
My older brother likewise, was a stone.

“HAMMANA  SHEE TOGEE YODEE YODEE VOVOVOVO TANGA MENTO DODEEDODO!” continued the preacher. Everyone, save for us, had their eyes closed and hands upraised, each beseeching their Lord and Savior in his own tongue.

I looked at my little sister, Malinda, on my left, who looked back at me with the same expression I gave her. And then I looked beyond her to my little brother, Stacy, expecting the same reaction. My mouth fell open as I watched him press the palms of his hands to his mouth.

“Oh Lord, please don’t do what I think you’re gonna do!” I thought, hoping he would see the word “NO” forming on my lips and the slight shake of my head. He did, of course, but chose not to listen to his Better Angel.

“PPPPFFFFTTTTH!” he softly farted with his mouth into his hands.
My father’s stupor was over. Turning, he glared at Little Brother, his jaw clenched in rage.  I stared straight ahead, as the raucous gibbering of the congregation continued. I felt my father’s arm slide behind my neck.  With a silent flick of his wrist he slapped Little Brother’s head.

Only he missed, and hit Little Sister’s head, instead.
“Ow! Whud I do?” she cried, rubbing her head.  Dad leaned to his left a bit more and flicked his hand again. And once more, he missed Little Brother, hitting Little Sister.

I tried to stifle the laughter forming in the pit of my stomach. I struggled and failed. My whole body shook. I looked again at Little Brother and in a brief display of mercy, he quit face-farting. My eyes began to water and I bit my lip. The preacher, squawking ecstatic insanities heavenward was now moving up the aisle. He paused at each pew and placed his hands on the head of the person sitting closest to the aisle and spewed sacred gibberish, following with the only word I understood:  "Amen!”  He continued up the aisle toward us. I bit my lip hard, to stop myself from laughing. I gave a pleading look at Little Brother, who decided to play the face game.

Pulling his cheeks downward and rolling his eyes into the back of his head, he opened his mouth to show only his bottom teeth. Zombie face.

“Please, oh please oh please, just STOP!” I silently prayed.  Little Brother continued, this time pulling the sides of his head back to make his eyes squint. He sucked in his cheeks and pursed his lips, with his front teeth protruding. Chinese face.

I covered my mouth with my hands and laughed, as my whole body shook. I gave up trying to control myself and began to cry. The preacher stopped at our pew. He stopped chattering and spoke loudly in English:

“Brothers and Sisters,” he bellowed, looking directly at me. “This child is filled with the Holy Ghost!”

And with that, the entire congregation got up from their pews and surrounded us, laying hands on my head, while rapidly praying to Jesus in heartfelt, unintelligible noise. Some were overwhelmed and cried.

Once more, I froze, and waited for the blessing to pass. The preacher said, “Amen!’ and a chorus of amens followed.

There was a sermon, I believe. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was about. Little Brother sat still for the rest of the service, when he saw that I was bored with his antics.

Once we left the church and got into the car, Dad turned to look at us, his face shaking with rage.

We held our breaths, awaiting the judgment and punishment that was sure to come. Instead, he laughed. Long and hard. And we laughed with him. All the way home. Back to our neighborhood of drug addicts, drunks, wife beaters, gangs and crazy ladies.

We all got out of the car as the Crazy Lady walked slowly by.
“Goddamnsonofabitch! Goddamnsonofabitch! Goddamnsonofabitch!” she incanted. Those were the only words anyone had ever heard her say. She stopped to look at us.
“Goddamnsonofabitch!”

And we replied, “Amen!”

Please take some time and read Daphne's wonderful and hilarious piece of weirdness and the comments left by the readers. They are all brilliant, witty, and one of the reasons I will miss Daphne and her razor-sharp mind