Monday, November 26, 2007

Some things are hard to write

It's a good thing that last week I was preoccupied with food. Otherwise there may not have been any posts here. The problem was that I had some ideas but I needed them to marinate some. And I mean that I really had ideas because I was inspired to jot down notes for later reference. But the real problem is that I am a walking example of stream of consciousness -- in a crazy kind of Faulkner/Joyce kind of way. The great thing about those years spent teaching is that I have now learned to verbalize my thought process. So now my mom is less likely to say, "How does that have anything to do with what I just said?" But it's also what has made Emerald and me such great friends over the years. We don't need to verbalize the process because we can trace the steps. You should have seen the looks on her roommates' faces that time in college while I calmly explained her apparent conversational non sequitur.

But enough about that. On to the real thing. A subject that I would normally shy away from here -- religion. And my realization that I needed to lay some groundwork before I got to the main post. I may have said some of this in the past but I really don't feel like going back into the archives so bear with me.

Religion is slightly different for my mom's family than it is for my dad's but there are some things that just seem universal. At least they do in our community. And I'd put the difference down to economics.

I'll start with my dad's family because in many ways they are the easier ones. They're Presbyterian. And that's what I was raised. And I was always having to explain it since I was a kid. Because most Southerners, or descendants of Southerners, I know are either Catholic, Baptist, or Methodist. Or at least that's how it seemed to me. And so I would explain that it was basically a Protestant religion of Scotland based upon the writings of John Calvin. The same John Calvin whose work when taken to an extreme became the basis of the Puritans' beliefs. Now as a kid I really liked the Presbyterian services because they only lasted an hour. Except for once a month when there was Communion.

My maternal grandmother was Pentecostal. That meant services that usually last around three hours. And they weren't as big on education as the Presbyterians were. My mom stopped attending my grandmother's church her first Christmas home from college when the preacher gave a sermon about the dangers of getting too much education -- or something along those lines. At that time, my mother was the only person in the congregation who had decided to pursue college. She took it as a personal attack. I probably would have too if I had been in her position.

It took me many years to decide why grandmother would choose such a strict religion -- no makeup, no dancing, no going to the movies, no drinking, no smoking. And because I break all of those rules, I have never doubted that my grandmother truly loves me. (This is also the same woman who sees no problem with having openly gay people in the military. Because she says that it's not her place to judge; instead it's all about acceptance.) As I got older, I learned a little bit more of the family history. And every time my mother pisses me off, I remind myself of what her life was like and so can forgive her behavior. Some days I just get a little tired of being forgiving though. Go get some therapy already.

My grandfather apparently was quite the charmer and managed to knock my grandmother up. She was three months pregnant before he found out. Because she had no intention of telling him. His response was that they had to get married so they did. But she had never intended to marry him. Over a number of years, they had four more children. And my grandfather, who had been made to drop out of school after third grade so that he could help to support his family, worked two jobs. And when he wasn't working, he drank. A lot. And then he came home and beat the crap out of his family. My grandmother called the cops on him a number of times but she would always later drop the charges. This all ended when my mom was 14. One day he said goodbye to the kids as they went off to school. Well, at least those who were old enough. He then pulled the trigger on his shotgun and blew out half of his abdomen. He lived for a number of hours later (This is what saved my grandmother from ending up in jail. Because he told the cops that he did it and not her.) and ended up dying in surgery. He left my grandmother with five children to raise -- ages two through sixteen. And my grandmother, who had never worked a day in her life, refused to go on welfare. Instead, she cleaned houses while she went back to school to become a nurse's aide. She had wanted to be a nurse but they told her that at 34 she was too old for nursing school.

And so most of us in the family have concluded that my grandmother was doing penance all those years. For getting pregnant outside of wedlock, for marrying that man who was so mean to her. Church was a safe haven for her. Because of course her husband did not attend church.

Me? I stopped going to church when I was 17. I thought that going to church was a farce in many ways. Because going to church is also a largely social thing. And I guess that in many ways I really did believe in all those Presbyterian teachings, specifically the idea that one shows one's beliefs not only in one words but especially in one's actions, in my heart. And actually that part is still a huge part of who I am.

So for the first time ever, I am turning off comments. Because I'd really like to wait for the discussion, if any, until after you have read the next part.