Monday, August 7, 2017

Southern Sunday

“Bethany Lynn Miller, you either get out of that bed in the next 10 seconds, or I will drag you to church in your nightgown!”

I roll over, my back to her, and let out a combination snort and grunt.

“Young lady, I am not kidding. You're gonna make us all late again. Don’t make me get your daddy in here.”

I flip my pillow to the cool side and pull my quilt further up over my head. 

Like Daddy’s gonna do anything, I think.  He’s sitting in the den, drinking coffee and getting his Sunday School lesson ready.

Open Bible by Patricia Ducher 
Momma knows I’ve called her bluff.

“Now why you gotta make me act all un-Christian on Sunday? Why can’t we just have a nice, normal Sunday and go to church without a big fuss?”

From under my quilt I answer, “I don’t know, Momma, you tell me. You’re the one doing all the fussin.'”

No sooner are the words out of my mouth than I know what is about to happen. In one swoop, my sheet and quilt are in the floor, and Momma has jerked my pillow from underneath my head. I try to brace myself, but it’s too late. Morning has arrived, and it’s cold and bright and loud in only the way Momma can make it.

“Alright, smart-mouth, we are leaving in half an hour. I want you showered and dressed and presentable. You have new pantyhose in your dresser. And pin your hair back out of your face. You’re going to the Lord’s house.”

I mouth these last words with her. It’s a bit of a Sunday morning ritual.

When she clomps off to the bathroom to take the hot rollers out of her hair, I make my way to the edge of the bed. Why can’t I praise Jesus from here? I’d make a much more joyful noise from under my blanket. Instead of “Rock Springs Baptist Church,” I’ll go to “Box Springs Baptist Church.” I smile to myself, wondering how I’ll work that in on Momma. She just hates when I make jokes about the church.

I walk down the hall to the kitchen. After pouring a glass of chocolate milk, I head to the living room to see how Daddy’s lesson is coming. Daddy’s the Sunday School teacher for the “Single, Separated or Divorced Young Men” class. He always waits until the last minute to do his lessons. He says that God works best with a deadline, which explains why He created the universe in six days.

Mornin’, Daddy.”

“Morning, Miss Prissy Britches. You sure got your Momma riled up this morning."

“Yeah, yeah.  What’s your lesson about?”
“The fruits of the Spirit.”

“Sounds tasty.”

 He peers over his glasses, raising his  eyebrows at me.

“Sorry. So which one are you on this week?”

 “One of the hard ones—patience.”

“Can Momma sit in on your class?”

“Very funny. Now go get ready. And hurry, I can’t be late.”

I walk back down the hall to the bathroom, finishing my chocolate milk along the way and trying to decide what I should wear. I don’t understand why I have to dress up. Momma says that we should give our best to God and that includes our appearance. I figure Jesus wore tunics and sandals, so He probably doesn’t care if I wear pantyhose or not.

“Beth, why aren’t you in the shower?”

Momma appears in front of me. She’s in her slip and has a toothbrush in one hand and my little brother’s clothes in the other. Half of her hair is still in curlers.

“I’m headed that way, Momma. I was thirsty.”

“Well, you should have thought of that when you were layin’ in bed.”

“I’m sorry, Momma. I'm tired.”

“Don't want to hear it.  I’ve been up and down with your brother all night,” she says as she brushes by me. “Now hurry, I’ll need help getting him dressed.” She tosses his clothes on my bed.

“Why doesn’t Daddy help get him dressed?”

Momma spins on her heel and takes a deep breath. I know I’ve hit a sore spot with her.

“Because your Daddy is too busy drinking his coffee and doing his Sunday School lesson. Now go!”

I grab a towel from the closet and head toward the bathroom. I turn the water on in the shower and wait for it to heat up.

And I wait. And wait. After a good three minutes I turn the water off.


I stand and wait, determined she will have to come to me.


The door of the bathroom flies open.

“What, Bethany, what?”

“There ain’t any hot water.”

“Well, that’s what you get when you’re the last one up.”

“But I can’t take a cold shower!"

“Bethany, you have 20 minutes. Figure something out.”

Bathroom Sink 1991 by Larry Preston
And off she goes, leaving me standing there in nothing but a shower cap.

I wrap a towel around me and walk to the sink where I proceed to take what my grandmother would delicately call a “whore’s bath.” I can at least handle the cold water on one part of me at a time. 

I peel off the shower cap and brush out my hair, scanning the counter for a scrunchie. Today will definitely be a ponytail day. Jesus will just have to deal with it.

I flip my head over and use a blow dryer to fluff it up. As I stand up straight and turn the dryer off, I hear Momma’s voice from across the house.

“…help me do something this wouldn’t happen!”

“Are you saying that I shouldn’t be preparing my Sunday School lesson?”

“I’m just saying that I can’t get the kids ready and me ready, too!”

“Well that’s your job so you’re just going to have to find a way to do it!”

I tiptoe down the hall. Momma and Daddy are standing in the kitchen. He has his coat on and is waving his Bible in the air at Momma.

“Just go on to church without us. We’ll be there after while.”

“That will look really good, Barbara, us coming separate to church. You already missed last Sunday!”

“Just tell everybody that the baby threw up or something. We’ll be there later.”

“So you want me to lie?”

“Fine, Glen, then tell them you’re a selfish jackass who won’t help me do anything!”

My parents usually get along pretty well. There’s something about Sunday morning, though, that brings out the worst in all of us. This morning is no exception.

I hurry back to my room before I get pulled into the argument or yelled at for not getting ready. I rummage through my closet in an attempt to find something to wear. My father slams the front door as Momma slams his chair back under the table.

After going through every possible piece of clothing in my closet, I stick my head out the door and holler down the hall.

“Momma, have you seen my denim skirt?”

No answer.


“I heard you. It’s in the dirty clothes.” 

“Why didn’t you wash it?”

“Bethany, I’m behind on laundry.”

“But I need it.”

“Then you should have washed it yourself!”

The tone in her voice makes me decide not to push the issue. 

Why, why, why don’t I have more church clothes? Why do I spend all of my allowance on new jeans and makeup? 

I accept that I will have to wear what I wore on the previous Sunday and say a silent prayer that no one notices.

After hopping around my room doing the pantyhose dance, I pull on my dress and slip my feet into a pair of black flats. I sit down at my vanity and start putting on my face. At least something is will look good today.

No sooner than I have my foundation on than Momma is standing in my doorway. 

“I went ahead and dressed Jed. He hasn’t had breakfast yet. I need your help.”

“But Mommaaaaaa, I’m not ready yet.”

“Bethany, we are already late as it is. I cannot tolerate your whining right now. You can do your makeup in the hand-mirror while he eats his cereal."

I sigh and grab my cosmetic bag. In the kitchen, Jed is throwing a ball against the refrigerator.

Hayes by Kay Crain
“Jed, can you not do that right now?”


“Yes, I’m Bethany. We’ve established that. Now, do you want Cheerios or Rice Krispies?”


“What Jed? I’m right here. What?”

“I gotta go to potty.”


He nods and smiles, sheepishly.

I begin to undress him, wondering why in the world mom dresses him in jon jons when he's potty training. 

"I gotta gooooo..."

"I'm working on it, buddy.  Just hold--" 

The floor around him grows wet, and he begins to wail.

“I sorry, Beffie. I sorry.”

I can feel it welling up in my throat—the urge to holler “Momma” and let her deal with it. But I don’t. I’ve seen my mother at her proverbial wits end, and I know she’s headed toward the edge this morning.

“Stay here, okay? I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to get you some clothes.”

I jog down the hall to my parents’ bedroom. My mother, still in her slip, is standing in her closet, leaning face first into the clothes.



“Um, Jed spilled grape juice all over himself. Does he have anything else to wear?”

Wh grjus?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.”

She leans back from the clothes.

“Why grape juice?”

“He wanted it. Nevermind, though, I'll find him something.  We'll be ready soon."  

I leave the room before she can protest. I grab a little pantsuit out of Jed’s bureau and a towel from the linen closet in the hall.

Thankfully, Jed is still standing where I left him. After drying and dressing him, as well as hastily mopping up the floor, I hand him a chocolate Poptart from the pantry.  

"Momma said no Pop for brehfust."

"Then we won't tell her.  Go eat and stay clean."  

I grab my cosmetic bag head back to my room to finish getting ready.

Overwhelmed by Elena Oleniuc
Momma is sitting at my vanity, looking in the mirror. Her curlers are out, her still wound up like link sausages. She doesn’t seem to realize I’m in the room.

“Momma, are you okay?”

“Yes, honey, I just needed to sit down for a minute.”

I walk over to her, feeling awkward and unsure as to what I should say. She’s always so in control, handling fourteen things at once without breaking a sweat. Suddenly she looks very tired—and much older.  We're always rushing around, and I guess I don't notice things like the grey hair around her temples or the small lines around her mouth.  

“Is something the matter?”

“I just remembered that we’re having a potluck 
after church today, and I forgot to make anything.”

With her final two words, her voice breaks. 
Tears stream down her cheek, carrying her liquid eyeliner with them. I have no idea what to do except to put my arms around her. She sobs into my chest. I feel a strange tightness in my chest.  

Think, think, think.  What would Momma do if she was...well, normal Momma?

“I know what to do.  Look, Jed’s ready to go, and I can do my makeup in the car. Take your Tupperware thing.  We’ll stop at the store and I'll run in and grab a cake or pie from the bakery. We'll take it out of the container and put it in yours. No one will know.  It’s no big deal. 

Momma leans back and looks me in the eye. It’s a look I haven’t seen before, a strange mixture of curiosity and pride. It only lasts for a moment.  Suddenly, she regains her composure and stands.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He’s in the den finishing breakfast.”

“Let’s get a move on then. We’re going to miss Sunday School, but we can’t be late for preaching.”

She heads toward my door, leaving me a bit stunned in the wake of her sudden shift in mood. When she gets to the hall, she stops but doesn't turn around.

"I know right now you think I'm crazy, but this will all make sense to you someday."

And she’s gone.

Our last 15 minutes in the house are a whirlwind. Momma disappears to her bathroom. I finish slathering on my makeup and smooth out my ponytail. I even dig out a pair little pearl earrings from my jewelry box. Something extra for the Lord—and Momma.

Country Church by Jai Johnson
Momma emerges from the bathroom, somehow completely pulled together. She's managed to remove every trace of her ruined makeup and her fresh eyeliner is perfectly straight. She grabs her purse and our Bibles, and I grab Jed. She locks up as I buckle him into the car and wipe chocolate from his face.

Twenty minutes later, we are pulling into the Rock Springs parking lot, a day-old Sock It To Me cake in the cake carrier with the evidence of our little white lie stashed under the seat. Momma parks and runs Jed to children's church while I deliver the cake to the fellowship hall.

She's waiting for me outside the sanctuary door.  The usher hands me a church bulletin and shakes Momma’s hand. Momma and I make our way to up front. Daddy is already sitting in our pew. He stands up and steps into the aisle.  I pray that he chooses his words carefully before he speaks to Momma.  I could never show my face here again if she smacks him with the Baptist Hymnal.  

“Glad you could join me.  Everything okay, hon?” he says, a smile plastered to his face.

“Yes, we’re just fine,” Momma replies, through her teeth as she returns his smile. She enters the pew before me, which means I will be in the middle in every way possible.

Once we're seated, Daddy leans over me and whispers, “I'll bet you forgot the potluck.”

I hold my breath as Momma takes a deep one.

“Of course not, dear.  It's all under control."

Her smile never wavers as she turns to Sister Johnson, sitting in the pew behind us.

Maylene, I just love blouse.  That's such a good color on you."

“Why thank you, Barbara.  You're sweet to say so.  It's always good to see your smiling face."

“I'm just happy to be starting my week in the Lord's House." 

The organist finishes her song, and the preacher takes the pulpit to greet the congregation. 

My mother sits beside me, her back straight, hands folded in her lap.  She smiles as she listens to the preacher read announcements from the bulletin. I can't find a trace of the morning's troubles on her face. As the preacher prays, she takes my hand and squeezes.  I open one eye.  Her eyes are closed but she silently mouths the words--

Thank you.

The sermon is from Acts, about Stephen the Martyr.  The preacher reads, "Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power performed great wonders..."

And so does Barbara Miller, I think.

Yes, by the Grace of God we are saved. But it's by the Grace of Momma we somehow make it to church every Sunday morning.  

No comments:

Post a Comment