Some background for this post: The Fox channel has a show, Trading Spaces, (or is it Trading Spouses? YouTube seems to be using “Spacing”) that shows what can happen when you take two mothers from their homes and put them into each other’s home and lives. The two are usually as different from each other as day is from night. I should add, in case you don’t already know, they are well paid for their risk of public humility.
In the video, one of the mothers, who calls herself a warrior for God is arriving home (while the Fox cameras are still rolling) from the ordeal. Made me remember the fundamentalist church I attended as a child with its teachings of hell, fire, and damnation. The woman even looked remarkably like a woman I’d known from Everybody’s Tabernacle.
How I missed this for the past couple of years I’ll never know (even though I don’t watch the show), but this video on YouTube disturbed me so much when I saw it through Firedog lake a few days ago I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It took me awhile to realize why. Heaven help us if this is the face of Christianity is all I have to say. Well, not quite.
I decided to resurrect this story from my childhood as yet another example of what we allow people from pulpits to do to us in the name of religion. Children, especially, are vulnerable.
My older sister picked me up from school early, and we’d driven straight to Grandpa’s house. Daddy had insisted we come as soon as we could get there. As we arrived we saw cars parked in front of Granny’s lantanas. Grandpa must have had another stroke. I began to pray, please god, don’t let my grandpa die, please god don’t let my grandpa die. Remembering what the preacher said about praying in Jesus’ name, I added “in Jesus’ name! Amen.”
I’d been keeping Grandpa alive with my prayers for as long as I could remember. If I prayed hard enough and believed with all my heart, God would save him this time as well.
I headed to the room where I knew he’d be and squeezed myself past the legs crowding the doorway, plopped myself onto the trunk at the foot of the bed. No one moved to stop me. I hardly dared to breathe. Grandma, in her easy chair by the bed, kneaded Grandpa’s hands like she was trying to rub the blue out of them. My father and his brothers were standing around the bed murmuring, much too worried to notice me.
Grandpa had called me his old woman from the day I was born. I looked at the old man on the bed, seeing only a stiff, toothless head with the mouth grotesquely drawn to one side. Drool formed little puddles in the folds of Granny’s embroidered pillowcase.
Grab his tongue, someone said, don’t let him swallow it!
I no longer wanted to be here, so I scurried out the same way I’d come, like a mouse, through the door to the hallway, tiptoeing past the kitchen. Breakfast dishes-a rare sight in Granny’s kitchen-sat untouched on the counter.
Sometimes I wished so hard that I couldn’t hear those voices. I made it a game-trying to be so quiet-not think at all so the voice would go away. The preacher said something else as well. Sometimes God avenged Himself. You might be spared but he could take your family away. Mothers could lose children, men their wives. The voices always made me remember I wasn’t as good as I should have been. Sometimes I put my own self ahead of others.
Beep beep! I heard Leonard shout, then I spotted him behind the rusted steering wheel of Grandpa’s abandoned Model-A. His brother Eldridge was in the passenger seat. Leonard turned the wheel violently to the right, then put on imaginary brakes as Eldridge provided sound effects.
I ran quickly to join them. “Get in, let’s go to town!” I stepped on the running board and climbed over the door that rusted shut years before. Eldridge hopped backwards onto the rumble seat.
“Hold onto your hat!” They both yelled.
We sat there, all of us, rocking from side to side, making phutt phutt noises, beeping the horn at cows in the road, Leonard announcing every move of our make believe journey. Eldridge and I responded with appropriate noises. Take me to the zoo in Jacksonville,” I shouted. “I want make sure the lion cages are locked!”
“Phutt, phutt, phutt, phutt, phutt.” I’d forgotten about Grandpa’s stroke. I didn’t think to pray one time until my aunt called us inside for supper.
Is Grandpa going be okay? I asked my aunt as she took a hot biscuit off the pan and put it on the side of my plate next to the fried chicken leg.
Well baby, we hope so, but it doesn’t look so good, she said. I ate supper in silence, and afterwards went to the side porch to wash up for bed. Dipping from the bucket, I poured water into my hands, rolled the soap between my palms to make lather for bubbles. If you had to spend valuable time washing, then you might as well have a good time doing it. Resting my palms together, I spread my fingers and palms into an “O” and blew gently.
The soapy bubbles drifted upward, one by one, as I imagined Grandpa’s spirit ascending through his navel, floating towards the ceiling, away from the body of the stranger in his bed. I began to pray again, hard this time.
The footsteps scurrying up and down the long hall shouted to me that it was too late now. I had just buttoned the top of the pajamas Leonard had given me for sleeping when Grandpa died. And I knew it was my fault. I had been having a fine old time playing with my cousins, and hadn’t prayed hard or long enough. God had gotten even with me for sure.
Getting back to the video, it was hard watching the faces of this woman’s children, and even harder at first for me to believe the whole thing wasn’t a big joke. Sadly, it wasn’t. I wondered how long it will take those children to recover from the venomous fury this woman spewed, and if–for a time–they will blame themselves for everything wrong in her life.