GOD THE FATHER
My fifties childhood wasn’t unusual. Yes, there were only three of us in my grade school whose parents were divorced, but that made us special, not weird, that made us friends. Yes, I had experienced unforgettable but minor childhood trauma. Not wanting to go to kindergarten. Scared of the teachers. Afraid to tell the teacher or the librarian I had to pee and instead peeing on my wee self in shame. But, I didn’t know I wasn’t white, not even sure if I knew I was poor, but not being white or poor didn’t ostracize me, didn’t keep the neighborhood children from playing with me, even though I discovered only recently that they knew what I didn’t!
Kids liked coming to our home-it was lived in. We were allowed to play hard. The carpet was worn, the furniture second hand. Plastic didn’t cover our used davenport. Mom’s sewing machine was always in the dining room and pins and needles and patterns on the dining room Duncan Phyfe table. We had a television and a hi-fi. The neighbor lady whose husband worked for Wonder Bread supplied us with Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies. On summer afternoons we set up a card table in the living room and shuffled maj jong tiles (you could hear the shuffling of tiles a block away) or played Canasta or Sorry or Monopoloy. We had a second hand upright piano on our front porch that we all took turns pounding on, “Here we go up a row to a birthday party.” We played with our dolls. We dressed my baby brother in our baby girl doll clothes. In the winter we had a skating rink in our back yard, in the summer we had a sandbox that covered one-fourth of the back yard, an enclosed playhouse that took up another fourth. We had a stone fireplace to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. In the front yard we played Captain May I and Red Rover Red Rover. We played baseball in the street, only to be kept in when they, once-a-year tarred our street. Being caught ever so often with oily tar on our tennis shoes, shoes we didn’t usually have to take off when entering our home.
In second grade my writer’s voice appeared from nowhere. As children, we were taught to be charitable, even though nobody probably knew we were the receivers of charity, of turkeys at Thanksgiving and blonde blue-eyed dolls from the Salvation Army at Christmas. I wrote my first poem in second grade: save your nickels and dimes, Channel 2 needs you, bring your money to school! My teacher paraded me in front of each elementary school class where I recited my lines and solicited money for a cause. Later, in high school, when the Church solicited money from our neighbors, asking to help the poor family who needed a new roof on their house, or was it to pay the mortgage, the good Christians gave generously, but that money was never given to my mother, and shame burdened my mother until the day she died. Shame isn’t an isolated incident, shame sneaks up on you, says you’re not worth shit, says it over and over and over again-even if you’re not listening. Even if it takes a lifetime to recognize it, to name it.
My sister eagerly quit confirmation, but I needed the Church. I needed God, my only father. I needed unconditional love and forgiveness, but was love and forgiveness truly abiding in the Church? I stayed a devoted member of the Church, a member of the choir, and later editor of the church’s newsletter. Once, I even got married in the Church. At first the minister wouldn’t marry us because we were living together, supposedly that’s a sin. We lied, said we would separate until the wedding, and had a shot gun wedding.
Eventually, I ran from religion because of what I believed to be sexist, and racist practices/doctrines of the Church. I no longer folded my hands to “here is the church here is the steeple, open it up and see all the people.” However my belief, my faith in God and prayer and miracles –in love imagined-remains strong.
In fifth grade I was a participating member of a poetry club. I was sheepishly proud to see my words on blue-lined paper, mimeographed so all the fifth graders could read: “pitter patter, pitter patter/ the rain does splatter.” I belonged to a community! By sixth grade, however, my pride falleth. Emotional puberty threw me a curve ball. Although popular enough to be elected student council class representative, I still ache each time I remember having been called to attention by my teacher. Shame.
She reprimanded me for hovering in the doorway of Standish school, at recess, instead of playing on the playground with all the other kids. How could she not have known what I knew-that no other kids would play with me. That each budding bra wearing sixth grade girl had a guy she was pining for, and a girlfriend to whisper it too. I was pining to be a nun. I wanted to be Catholic. Catholic girls, although not necessarily any more popular than me, they were smart, and they had been confirmed in fourth grade.
In fourth grade, I expanded my Christian practices by holding a girls’ club, once a week, at our red formica table, in our yellow kitchen with the red cupboards where we hid the ginseng (today I wonder if it was really ginseng or just plain ol’ ginger). Our club was based on Unity’s Wee Wisdom magazine. I can’t remember, but only can imagine us, nine year old girls, praying together and drinking kool-aid. But, I do remember that my mother, a firm believer by then in the Unity church-that if you sent the church money, they would pray for you. That belief, along with our belief in the Ouija Board, brought our family the answers to many prayers. Unity also taught me to make “treasure maps”-visual prayers, an added assurance that our needs would be met. That’s probably what my Wee Wisdom Club did, cut and pasted our dreams in the pages of sample books of beautiful, sometimes flocked, wallpaper. It’s what I still do today.
In fourth grade, my Sunday school teacher asked our class if we thought a Black family should be allowed to become members of our Church. I could only subconsciously have known that I was Black, yet I wondered aren’t I already a member? Shame. The family was not allowed to join, but years later, when a new minister arrived, he and his wife arrived with several adopted black children. If I was truly white, if I truly blended in as a child, why are my memories so vivid of knowing what I didn’t know, and didn’t think others knew even though they did?
Today, the Church I had a love/hate relationship with has been transferred to Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church. “The Oromo (uh-ROH-moh) people are the largest ethnic group in East Africa. Facing persecution by the Ethiopian government, thousands of Oromos have fled to the United States since the 1970s. About 12,000 Oromos live in the Twin Cities area. There are five Oromo churches in Minneapolis-St. Paul; Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Standish Neighborhood is the largest, with 700 plus members.” http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2007/11/27/welcome-oromo-evangelical-lutheran-church-farewell-our-redeemer-lutheran-church
When I first learned of this beautiful congregation I cried. Tears of joy and forgiveness. And the music (forward through the video to the music) http://oromochurchmn.org/index.php/videos/video/march-3-2013 reminds me of my choir days, and even though I couldn’t hold a tune, I loved the music-and my heart sang, and contines to sing!