Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Super Crow Moon

I approached this writing as a man walking alone to the gallows. What was I thinking last fall? The better question might be about what I was smoking, but to my knowledge, I was perfectly sober when I posed the question that started this project. Can you tell I have another mood going? Oh and of course, I promised myself that I would not reach back into the archives for this one, that whatever I wrote would be fresh. New. Perhaps even interesting.

As you might have noticed, there has been a paucity of news, local, national, and international. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan just wasn't enough, and we had endless hype regarding the super moon. Super moon? Yep, super moon. Every eighteen years or so, the moon is at its closest point to the Earth and also full, and that brings the news fabricators out of the woodwork. Doom and despair abound, as do the predictions of all sorts of galactic-sized calamities. You'd think the mothership was launching from the moon.

So it's Saturday morning. Let the countdown begin. Countdown to what? Lunch with Mama at Toot's. My brother is coming, as is my step-dad. Bro and I swap texts at one-hour intervals. I leave the house at 11 so there'll be time to stop and buy some flowers. Food Lion has a dozen roses for about as many dollars, and I select the yellow with a touch of red along the tips of the petals. I try not to think of the environmental and social damage done by commercial flower production in Central America. Will Mama remember that yellow roses are her favorite?

Mama and Buck are waiting in the parking lot when I reached Toots. Mama pays no attention to my arrival because she doesn't recognize my car. When I get out and walk around, Buck points to me and tells Mama I'm there, which makes her look and smile. She opens her door, and I step up with the flowers. She says they're her favorite, and she wants me to take them into the house where they won't wilt in the heat. I put them in the floor on the back seat, and we go into the restaurant.

We're lucky that the usual table is open. Getting Mama to sit at a different table can be a chore. Tim, the bro, is a little late arriving, and his chair sits open. Mama keeps asking who's sitting there. When she hears, she then asks where's Timmy. This cycle continues until Tim arrives, and we fetch some food.

I tend to eat off the salad side of the bar at Toots, though I do like the fatback, and I have a very few pieces. As is usual, we have most of the meal in silence. For as chatty as my folks can be, they do not speak while eating unless I start the conversation somehow. Where this silence comes from, I do not know, because it is not how we grew up. Some conversation does arise towards the end of the meal, and then Bro needs to leave for work. This gets Mama all hot and bothered to leave so the waitress can clear the table. This is the first time she has ever voiced such concern for the waitresses. Usually, she's running on about how short their shorts are.

We step out of the restaurant, and Mama gets lost in the parking lot, and later again when she's between our cars. When I get her buckled in, I reach into the backseat to fetch the roses. She sees them again for the first time and remarks how they're her favorite. We say our goodbyes for the umpteenth time, and they leave. Before me. That has never happened before. Usually, Buck waits and leaves last in case someone else needs some help with a stalled car or something. It is quite apparent that the burden of caring for Mama is getting to him, and doing so in ways that he cannot yet see. However, Bro and I both know that he will never agree to professional care for Mama. He will do it for as long as he, or she, lives. I doubt he could afford it anyway.

Driving home, I enter my rituals for recovery. Not so long ago, recovery involved a lot of rum, and the world might be happier if I returned to that bottle, it certainly acted happier with me then, but now I stop for coffee at the gas station. Sometimes it's Diet Coke, but today I go for something warm. In addition, recovery now includes a long walk. In this case, it's a walk to the gym about a mile away where there's a tanning booth that'll make me not itch for a while.

Towards four that afternoon, I buff up to attend a fund raiser for a woman who needs a new kidney. She has health insurance, but she needs an additional $10,000 to pay for deductibles and such. For all our vaunted advances in medicine, we certainly do make it hard for someone to receive health care. I sent a check earlier, and I'm thinking that a little social intercourse would be good change for me and my introversion. Shower. White shirt. Red kilt. Yes, red kilt. I do not recall the tartan. Decent shoes, and I'm off. I could walk to the fund raiser, but I decide to drive after I see the neighborhood it's in.

I arrive about thirty minutes after the start, and I see that the church does not have a recreation hall. The event is being held in the sanctuary, and my alarms start going off. I burned out on church ages ago, and I have little or no patience for the mess now. Church represents one of the lies I was taught as truth when growing up, and now I classify such services as simple scare tactics designed to keep people subservient and submissive while generating tax-free cash.

Entering the church, I mention to the dressed-for-Sunday woman in the vestibule that the event is not quite what I was expecting and that I might not be properly dressed. If that was the case, she could tell me to go away, and I would. Yes, fingers crossed. She does not tell me to go away. She tells me that everyone is welcome there. I smile and walk in knowing full-well just how clueless she likely is about me even if she is nice enough about it. I told you I had a mood going.

So what was I expecting? I've tried to figure that. In hindsight, there was no indication in any of the emails or other posts of any type of activity. Just a fund raiser. I suppose I was anticipating some sort of floating shower with little sweet nibbles and odd homespun entertainment. Apparently, I fabricated all that from the ambiguity of the posts. It's something I do naturally from my preferences when I process information. I fill in the blanks and gaps. It's also something that often gets me into trouble sometimes because I'll have an entire history created in my head long before an event even begins to unfold. We probably should not count the number of people I've dismissed after already experiencing the divorce. Is it any wonder I live alone?

Arriving late, I wait for a prayer to end. The sanctuary is dark because the power in the neighborhood is out, not that I knew; I just thought it was a candlelight service or something. Standing in the doorway with my head not bowed, I realize the woman from the vestibule is behind me. Suddenly, I'm fearing that she's going to pop my head for not showing the proper respect. No, she's just going to help me find a seat.

After the prayer and before the lights come on, I step into the sanctuary hoping to nab a seat in the back. That's the residual Baptist in me, wanting to sit in the back. I want to nab a chair from the stack in the corner to start a new back row, but as I step forward, a friendly woman in the back row, turns to see me. She becomes animated, waving me over, and I wiggle past the people to sit beside her, figuring she is someone I know but don't recognize. Wrong. She's smitten with the kilt.

The service was the service, eclectic and long. Three hours. Three long hours. Some of the music was good. My e-bud sang a spiritual a capella, doing so in a manner quite beyond any surface feature you would have noticed. She was dressed in a white shirt and khaki pants, which I supposed balanced my white shirt and red kilt. In the middle of the service, the minister encouraged people to get out their cell phones to send texts and emails to more people and solicit more money. My friends were safe because I had no cell service in the church, and they had the WiFi turned off, probably because of the fluctuating power.

That a minister would embrace technology during a service struck me as interesting, and I found myself thinking that I might just like this man, despite his calling. He even mentioned as a preamble that we worship in manners unchanged in 2,000 years, and he thought that needed to change. His parishioners chanted their Amen, Lords. I tend to agree even if I do not intend to revisit the scene any time soon. Sister Act alone makes clear the chasm separating the Church from the People. Here's a man far ahead of his peers using technology to accomplish a purpose while his business analogs still cower and tremble in fear that someone might be offended by a tweet or a text.

The service ends with an ancient blind man singing in a manner that would do Stevie Wonder proud. He is accompanied by an electric organ and drums, both in church. Yes, drums. In church. Oh, boy. You see my grandfather was a Primitive Baptist minister. If you've scanned the AM radio stations while driving through the Appalachians, you've heard that manner of ministry. Although the delivery is essentially unchanged from my grandfather's day, the people have. They are a whole lot meaner now than they were.

My problem is drums in church, and it really is my problem. Primitive Baptists are somewhat like the Amish in that there is very little technology in the church. In fact, the Primitive Baptist church near where I grew up only recently added running water in the bathrooms, which are located way off in the woods where the outhouses once stood. They are not near the church.

However, I was only lightly associated with Primitive Baptists back in the day. I was reared in the Free Will Baptist tradition where a single upright piano was acceptable in church. For those of you not steeped in the varieties of Baptists, you may just think a minor variation on that usual hateful and narrow-minded theme. You won't be far off, and it's not like it matters anyway. This choice in churches arose from my mother who grew up in the Free Will Baptist Children's Home in Middlesex, North Carolina. As an orphanage, it no longer exists. People and times changed, and it evolved into a home for troubled girls.

This change alarmed my mother for a time, at least until we were visiting to help outfit a new house that was to be home to a half-dozen girls in high school. My brother and I were able to pay for a couple or three rooms, and the Home considered that contribution substantial enough from the children of an alumna to offer a tour of the old place. We were walking through the building that used to be the dining hall. Along the walls were pictures of the children from decades before. Mama found and recognized her first kiss. She told us that with a twinkle in her eye as Buck blushed.

We continued the walk around the room. The faces and styles become modern. And darker too. Mama's mood was beginning to darken along with the skin tones in the pictures. Standing at the end of the pictures, the silence around us roared. The administrator leading the tour was beginning to fidget, probably worried that he might lose some money. Mama then turned and said to no one in particular, “I suppose they get tired and scared and hungry too.” Buck asked the vice-president just how much more money he needed to finish the house, and then wrote the check accordingly on the man's shoulder.

I won't be writing the check for the additional $5,000 the woman needs for her kidney transplant as it's beyond my means, but here's to hoping that someone somewhere remembers what it's like to be tired and scared and hungry too.


  1. I like. And forgot to mention today that I very much related to the Baptist wanting to sit in the very back part. :)

  2. You'll find my take on sitting in the back on your FB page. Growing up, we pretty much had assigned seats, the only exceptions being Sundays like Homecoming when we had to accommodate extra people. I am SO glad to not have to be bothered with that mess anymore.

  3. Mr. Penny,

    It's Frank Henderson and I'm the Pastor that emceed the program. Great and honest post. I applaud it. I like your honesty. It's very refreshing.

    Frank Henderson, Pastor
    XCEL Fellowship Church
    Oxford, NC

  4. Very nice Jim! My church (not baptist) has a whole live band including drums and a few electric guitars... and the pastor uses facebook and twitter all the time!

    Nice picture Diana! :-)