I have many rules about going to church. As a child, my family was always in church. Every time the doors open, we were there. And not just our church, any church my mother could drive us to. At watch service when I was around thirteen, I vowed that when I was older, I would never step foot in a church.
But, I didn’t make good on that promise. I am wont to frequent a church from time to time, so to honor my childhood vow, I have to have rules about my attendance. One of my rules is that I will not sit through a service that is running long. If someone wants to catch the Holy Ghost and “let the spirit move,” I’m going to move right on out of that sanctuary.
Another rule is that I refuse to sit beside my mother in church. There needs to be a few people between us. Partly because even though I’m 27, I still feel like she will find my hand and dig her nails into my palm when I start to zone out during the service. But it’s mostly because of what happened on that one Sunday.
My mother was my Sunday School teacher and I hated it. Everybody loved my mother because she was so nice and so sweet, but I was catching the blues in her class. All I wanted was to be nine, so I could move up to Sister Patricia’s class with Marcus and Marnie or even better, be twelve and get to have my favorite, Cousin Jewelette for a teacher like Punkin did. But no. I was seven and I was in my mother’s class. My mother was strict and at church she was even stricter. She didn’t want to be the person with bad kids that people gossiped about. Ooo look at Angie with all them bad chil’ren. That’s why she shouldn’t have had so many. There were a lot of us, but we were well behaved. My mother saw to that.
This particular Sunday morning, Mama had to leave the class to go attend to a student who had gotten hurt. Us pupils sat in the room entertaining ourselves in her absence. Almost everyone in that church was my cousin and one of my cousins was saying something ridiculous, so I turned to another cousin beside me, pointed my left- index finger at my temple, and traced circles in the air– the sign for crazy.
When my mother came back in the room, my cousin jumped up and said, “Sister Tyler, Andrea called me stupid.”
“I didn’t say you were stupid (I did think she was stupid), I did like this (making the sign again) and that doesn’t mean stupid.”
Why I felt the need to clarify my rudeness, I don’t know. As if my mother wasn’t going to be sufficiently angry at my misbehavior, I had to go ahead and top if off with a scoop of smart mouth, an abomination in the eyes of my mother.
Oh, as soon as Sunday School was over, Mama took me in the bathroom and gave me a whoopin’ with a switch from outside. She sent me off with a, “Stop that cryin’ before I give you something to cry about!” Why parents say this after you get a whoopin’, I don’t know. If you hadn’t notice, you just gave me something to cry about, hence the tears.
My mother went to find her place in the choir processional and I took my grief to a lonely pew. I sat there sobbing through the first song until my mother came down out of the choir stand and gave me my second whoopin’ of the day. Now, I was really on a roll. I was sobbing so hard and the tears were saturating my cheeks. I was blind to the world around me, so consumed was I with my hurt.
But suddenly, the church went quiet. I couldn’t hear anything; I felt like I was in a dream sequence (more like a nightmare). I looked up and met the eyes of my siblings and cousins all around the church who were giving me the most sympathetic looks. I kept looking up until I saw my mother doing the unfathomable. She was beckoning me to come to her in the choir stand.
This could not be happening to me. She is not about to make me come up there in the middle of choir’s selections. It was crazy to comply, but it would have been death to defy her. I stood up, walked down all of the rows, around the perimeter of the pulpit and then shimmied my way through the choir pews. Now of course, my mother couldn’t be an alto, a tenor, or the soprano on the end. No, she had to be that soprano standing beside the tenor section, which put her smack in the middle of the choir, so that the entire congregation could see as I received my third and final whoopin’.
For these reasons, we don’t sit together at church. We can go together, break bread together afterwards, but for those couple of hours in between, you will find me in the back of the church, praising my Jesus and testifying about how I got over.