Shoulder length is perfect. That way if they get wet, I’ve got extra long, gorgeous locks. Curls worn short just look weird to me. I’m sorry if you have short curly hair and love it. Your curls probably look good, but my brown hair (with flecks of auburn) absolutely must be at least shoulder length. I had just had a trim yesterday, and Cathy the hairdresser lady had gotten it exactly right.
I twirled my aqua blue dress just a smidge side to side. The mirror smiled back at me, pleased with the gathered waist, the just-over-the-shoulder sleeves, the scalloped hems, the whole shebang. I pulled one curl down in front of my face and let it bounce up, playfully. Perfect.
“You ready, Punk?” my dad asked, peeking his head into my room. He always called me Punk.
I gave the mirror a little curtsy, turned to Papa, and said, “Yes, indeedy. Let’s go!”
“All right, then, get yer tukhus in gear. She’s already here.”
It was a bright weekend morning at the beginning of October. I knew I’d be a little chilly in my Sunday best, but I really, really, liked the aqua blue number, which fits both the inside me and the outside me.
This is kinda off the topic again, but doesn’t it seem like you always see redheads and curly haired people wearing orange and brown? I don’t get it. They never look good in orange and brown. Red hair and curly hair always look good next to aqua blue. Anyone who says differently just hasn’t put in enough work to come to the right conclusion. Since I have curly hair with some auburn flecks, I look great in aqua blue. I’m not normally all that self-impressed, by the way. But I do not apologize for my confidence when I’m wearing this dress because if there’s anything right in the world it’s how I feel when I wear that piece of woven awesomeness. And that’s what it is: the Dress of Awesomeness.
My dad waved through the window toward the street as I bounded down the stairs from my room. He gallantly opened the front door for me, gave me a hug, and shooed me out.
“Bye, Papa!” He smiled that smile that he smiles, the one that says everything I’ll ever need to know about how Papa feels about me. “Bye, Mom!” I yelled in the general direction of the kitchen where I knew she was groping around all clumsy-like, eyes half-closed, for the various implements required to make what she called Mama’s Go-Juice.
“Mmmf,” I heard in return.
“See ya, Pug,” I said to my little brother. As usual, he gave me no response and continued staring blankly at an incomprehensible episode of Ninjago.
Stepping into the brisk autumn air, I relished the way the gentle breeze caught the hems of the Dress of Awesomeness, making them tickle my knee caps. I trotted to the waiting car.
I know it’s weird, but Sundays were my favorite day because it was church day and that meant I got to hang out with Meemaw. Mom and Papa didn’t go to church. One time I asked Papa why, and he said he and Mom were already on the Safeway savings plan.
“We save fifty cents every time we buy milk with our Club Card,” he had said. “Any more would just be greedy on our part, and we’re happy to let others get all the saving they want. Gotta make sure there’s enough to go around. But you go and have fun.” One of the downsides of being old-but-young is that I get that something’s fishy here, but I don’t quite know what it is. Anyway, they didn’t go to church, which was fine by me because it meant Meemaw and I got to groove together (her words), just the two of us.
“Hi,” I said as I scooted into the front passenger seat of her unremarkably gray 1999 Nissan Maxima. It smelled like butterscotch and newspaper.
“Hey there, whippersnapper!” she said, reaching across and giving me a seatbelt-restrained hug.
“Yeah, whippersnapper. It’s what old people call young-uns. Which I am and you are, respectively. You got a problem with that?” She smirked in the most mischievous and gracious way. Raised in the South, she had insisted that Pug and I call her Meemaw — a name almost never heard outside of Texas — and she retained that ability Southerners have to combine absolute politeness with subtle insult. She had sass, and I loved that about her.
“Here’s the funnies,” she said, handing me the newspaper. “Still no Calvin and Hobbes.”
“Really?!” I said in my best fake outrage voice. “You mean the strip that’s been gone for decades still hasn’t come back to the, the — what do you call this thing? I mean, it’s like an iPad, but it’s lighter and you can fold it and throw it away…”
“Ha, ha. You know, you got a lotta lip for a wee whippersnapper. The funnies are funnier in the paper and that’s that. And even though Opus is back it doesn’t mean that all’s right in the Universe. Ever since Calvin left us, everything’s a little too on-kilter, if you catch my meaning.” I didn’t, but I smiled anyway because that’s just what you wanted to do around her.
She drove while I studiously delved into the Sunday comics. A quarter hour later, we pulled into the crumbly once-paved parking lot at the Evangelical Free Church of the Timothies. It used to be a Catholic church until they ran out of money due to the dealings of a priest who had a fancy for whiskey and no knack for keeping records. Turned out that they had to sell to the Eevy-Frees, and that gave church a wonderfully misfit feel.
“Hello, there, Miss Street,” said a smiling Pastor Bob. He always stood by the front door and greeted people by name. A nice, jovial man with a generic middle-aged guy look about him, Pastor Bob seemed perfectly suited to his job. He was entertaining but not offensive, amusing but not laugh-out-loud funny, and wise in a churchy way.
“Hi, Mr. Bob,” I replied, shaking his hand like I meant it.
“You call him Pastor Bob, young-un,” Meemaw gently scolded. “He’s got a title that deserves some respect.”
“Oh, ease up on her, Georgia,” said Pastor Bob, “all God’s children are equally loved and equally undeserving.”
“That may be true, but they ain’t equally educated or equally qualified to lead a flock. And this sheep needs to know what’s what.”
“Yes, may-um!” I said in my most exaggerated fake Southern accent, standing at attention and saluting. “My apologies Pastor Bob!” I nearly shouted.
Meemaw slapped me gently on the back of the head, holding back a laugh.
“Sheep, eh?” said Pastor Bob. “Seems to me we may have more a wolf.”
As we headed into the Koinonia Room, I soaked in the ambiance of the place — cheesy purple and white Jesus is Love banners; dusty, worn out pews with sketchy-looking green cushions; and old New King James Version Bibles with blue covers and crunchy thin pages. I liked this place. It reeked of prayer and hope and off-key-but-heartfelt singing.
I never put much truck in the whole Jesus thing, though. (Sorry, whenever I think of Meemaw, I get more Southern.) He’s God and he’s man, he lived and he died and he lives, he’s the Son of the Father but they’re the same guy — I mean, there’s only so much nonsense a girl can take before it’s clear someone’s pulling someone’s leg.
But what I loved about church was the way it made all the churchy folks act. People put on their Sunday best. Two-year-old boys wore ties and teenagers tried to look dignified. Old ladies went to the salon the day before to have their hair done just right (blue and fuzzbally). Men who would be cussing at the Bears in two hours’ time made best efforts to seem wise and humble and wealthy all at once.
And Meemaw…well, she was in her element. She knew half the smallish congregation by first name and the rest by sight. She worked the room like a greedy politician but with more panache.
We always sat in front, in the second row and just to the left. An average Sunday, it could take her a full 15 minutes to make it the 40 feet or so from shaking Pastor Bob’s hand at the door to get to her seat.
How are you, Ginger?! Meemaw would bellow at an old friend, giving her a quick hug. Sam’s treating you right, isn’t he? Well, he better be after buying himself that new fishin’ boat. Turning to see a twenty-something woman, Well, I’ll be! Miss Rachel Davenport, you sure have grown! See that the boys mind themselves, you here? Then spotting an old friend, And how is Rick doing on his chemo? You give him my best, dear, and know that I’m working up a doozy fine prayer every morning.
On this autumn Sunday, we made good time, going door to pew in just under 11 minutes. I know. I timed it.
Just as Meemaw and I settled in, the choir director, Mrs. Kernshaw, banged out her standard intro tune on the aging upright piano in the corner. As one, all heads in the room lifted and turned toward the stage, anticipating the number prepared by the house band, TimTim, led by the smirkiest scrawny guy you’ve ever seen and whose name I always forgot.
Onward, Christian soldiers!
The hymn rose up with the kind of wonkiness you hear from eight sleepy girls the morning after a slumber party when Mom announces that the pancakes are ready. There’s some willingness there, but coordination hasn’t kicked in.
Eventually, the congregation found some sense of common rhythm and a couple of similar notes, trudged through the song, and sat back down. An announcement or two followed, mainly concerning the availability of doughnuts. Then:
“Praise be to God, this morning!” Pastor Bob opened with one of his go-to lines. A few worshippers mumbled some audible but not quite understandable tones of agreement. Then his whole face changed from welcoming and calming to scrunched and troubled.
“Do we mean that, though?” he asked. “Is it true that we worship God, that we give Him praise? Because it’s truth that I’m after this morning, men and women.
“Truth. Ah, what a little word, a simple concept. Just tell me what’s what and I’ll say it like it is. Reality. No fuss, no muss. Veritas.
“And I have a truth to tell you this morning, free of charge. It means the world to me, and I want to share it.” He looked intently at the faces in the congregation. “I. Love. Jesus!”
The room erupted in a chorus of Amen! and Hallelujah! and Yes!
Pastor Bob lifted his arms, asking for quiet. “And Jesus said that He was the way, and the truth, and the life. The truth. Jesus was, Jesus is, the truth.
“Now, what does that mean, men and women, that He is the ‘truth’? Let’s look it up.” He moved behind his podium and flipped open his notes. “The dictionary defines truth as ‘that which is in accordance with fact or reality.’ And I know for a fact that Jesus was a man, was God, and lives. Jesus is REALITY!”
The church people sitting in the audience with me near lost their minds, going on with hoots and hollers and clapping.
Me, I sat there wondering what all the ruckus was about. Don’t get me wrong; I loved it, seeing all those dignified, fancied-up folks holding their hands up and losing all sense of themselves. There’s nothing nearly so fun as watching the effect of a good preaching.
But I couldn’t quite figure why they were all worked up. Even Meemaw had dropped that wily, mischiefy look she usually wears and smiled like a puppy at a squirrel convention.
Pastor Bob went on for while, talking about Jesus this and Holy Spirit that. My mind drifted in and out of the current of sermonizing, sometimes counting bald heads (23 today, if you included that swirly comb over), and sometimes actually hearing the words he was saying. At the end, though, I was caught by surprise.
“…and if you don’t believe that truth matters,” said pastor Bob, “then you don’t believe nuthin’!”
My brain glazed over as we gave our hugs and handshakes and made our way out of the hustle-bustle of post-church gabbiness and got into Meemaw’s boring Maxima to head out to Fuddrucker’s for lunch.
Sitting at one of the cluttery restaurant’s indoor picnic tables, I picked at my home fries and greaseburger.
“You okay, there, Whippersnapper?” Meemaw asked. “You’ve been looking all thinky ever since we left the Timothies. What gives?”
“Huh? Oh, I don’t know,” I said lamely.
“Spill.” Meemaw stared me down in that way she has that makes you want to say what’s on your mind, just so she won’t look at you that way anymore.
“Well, it’s what Pastor Bob said at the end today.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“He said something about believing nothing,” I said, not quite getting where I was going.
“It’s just…it’s just…I don’t think I believe anything. You know, god-wise.”
“An error I’ve been meaning to correct,” said Meemaw.
“I know. But it just made me wonder…”
“Wonder what, kid?”
“…wonder whether the opposite is true. If you don’t believe anything, does truth matter?”
Meemaw sat still for so long I thought she might have been frozen into place. After what felt like forever, she said, “Well, I guess that all depends on your perspective.”
“Finish your burger, kid,” she said in that tone that means we’re done talking.
I spent the afternoon doing normal Sunday things: finishing homework, watching TV, ignoring Pug.
As I lay in bed that night, though, the first hymn from earlier in the day came back to me. Twirling a lock of my hair, still damp from my shower, I hummed along as I recited the words in my head.
Marching as to war…
A war. Why would anyone have to fight for truth? Isn’t it just there? Reality is reality, right? When would you ever need to fight about it?
Now I get it. Sometimes reality ain’t.