Friday, March 18, 2011

Then and now

When I was a young girl growing up in Alabama in the early 60's my family and I would on occasion attend the local Baptist Church.  What I remember most about that experience was that every one was all dressed up.  And, that it was VERY LOUD (I'll speak more about that later in this article).  My Mom and most of  the other ladies wore hats.  Mom had quite a few hats that she wore on special occasions, but one was my particular favorite.  It was black velvet with a wide brim in front that tapered off in the back.  It also had a large ribbon bow on the front.  She looked stunning in that hat, with her hour glass figure, black tailored dress, and fake pearl necklace.  But then again, she looked stunning no matter what she was wearing.

I can't really say that we were a particularly religious family.  My parents seemed to believe in God.  But, there was no outward appearance of a solid religious practice in our family.  There was of course the family bible, used mainly to record family history.  A very large and very heavy white bible that occupied a prominent place on a bookshelf by the door in our living room.  By the door, I wonder if that was in an attempt to keep evil out.  Or, was it to keep the evil in?

So, on rare occasions, Easter Sunday or when some one died, off we went to Church.  Dressed in our Sunday finery.  My little sister and I in our patent leather shoes, frilly dresses, purses to match the shoes and white gloves.  We looked like two dolls.  The kind that people collect, but are never allowed to be played with.  Just stand there and don't get any dirt on your new clothes.

I remember sitting beside Mom trying desperately to stay awake.  There was no air conditioning and the Alabama heat was intensified in the small, packed with people church.  Mom would give us peppermint candy to suck on.  That was supposed to help us stay awake.  Some times my sister or I would get fidgety and start looking for ways to amuse ourselves.  One look from Mom had us back at attention.  That's how it was then.  Children knew not to step out of line.  You were supposed to be seen and not heard.  Don't get me wrong.  Mom was not what I would consider abusive to us.  It's just that there was a strict moral code of conduct and she did not want to be judged harshly by her peers.   

I'm a mom now.  My only child is about to enter her teen years.  We attend church regularly.  It's a non-denominational church, and there is no dress code to speak of.  People show up dressed pretty much any way that they want.  I remember a particular Sunday when one of the guys had been out camping all weekend.  He was on his way home when he decided that he really wanted to go to church.  So, he showed up, dirty and very smelly.  I was sitting three rows behind him and I could smell him.  There were a lot of whispers about him showing up that way.  No one cared about the way he was dressed, but they were quite offended by the over whelming smell of B O.  I guess one really should show some consideration to his fellow humans by not imposing unpleasant odors on them.  Or, we could have all just let it go and move on.  Easier said than done when you've got an over whelming stench wafting up your nose.  But, enough of that.

I was about to write something about my daughter.  Now, I still hold to the tradition that my mother set regarding church attire.  I have deviated just a bit.  I don't usually wear a hat.  Although I did buy one recently and actually wore it to church.  It was a little awkward for me, because every time I went to hug someone I had to grab my hat to keep it from falling off.  Not a major problem, but one that caught my attention because I did not want anyone to see my hat hair.  Yes, I can be a bit vain.

My daughter and most of the girls her age have defined their own unique fashion sense.  There are times I must admit when I just don't understand.  The mix of colors and patterns are bad enough, but I can't tell you how many times I've had a melt down because she wanted to wear a sun dress when there was four inches of snow on the ground.  "No body cares Mom."  she tells me often.  Not true I say, "I care very much. I don't want my daughter going out into the world looking like a homeless person."  Okay, my vanity is showing again.

Back then, when I was a kid attending the Baptist church, I must admit it was not a pleasant experience for me.  It wasn't just that I had to sit there for what seemed like days.  I was terrified by the threats of hell fire and damnation.  The preacher's voice was so loud, and every time he banged his fist on the lectern I felt as if I'd been struck in the chest.

As if that were not enough, it never failed that someone would be over come by the "Holy Ghost."  I didn't understand what the "Holy Ghost" was, but I was certain that I wanted no part of it.  Invariably, some woman (usually) would jump up, throw off her hat (with or without her wig) and start running up and down the aisles. Throwing herself all over  the place.  Then the Deacons would surround her, and attempt to keep her contained.  Some times they were successful, but not always.  Some of those women were big, and stronger than three men.  These were farm women, hard working and to my eyes fearless.  I certainly wouldn't try to hold one back.  Not then, and not now. 

It's been many years since I've attended a Baptist church.  I have to admit that I prefer a more peaceful, contemplative form of worship.  There is no talk of hell, or damnation of any kind.  Although there is the chance that someone will comment on whether or not you smell acceptable.  There is a lot of talk about oneness, and the loving presence of God active and available for everyone.  This style of worship is for me a better fit.  People are free to be themselves.  There are traditional families, single parent families, gay and lesbian couples, and people of varied race and ethnic backgrounds.  It's a wonderful melting pot of people who just want to love God, themselves and each other.  What more could anyone want?

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