When I was five—maybe six—we attended an old country church outside of Dallas, Texas. The Shiloh Baptist Church congregated down a dusty road in an old cow pasture. Texans are nearly as fond of their cow pastures as they are of their churches, so you can imagine how fond everyone was of the Shiloh Baptist Church. It was a working class church.
We met in an L shaped building. There was a long corridor of classrooms connected to what the Catholics would have called the transcept, except we were Baptist so we didn’t have transcepts, or Eucharist, or incense, or any of that. Every now and then the church deacons would uncover the silver serving trays that sat on a table bearing the inscription, “This Do in Remembrance.” They’d pass out wafers and juice and my mother would tell me that the church takes communion to remember the good gifts that Jesus brings.
I don’t think we were Southern Baptist, on account of the little old lady that always sat in front of us. She was every bit of ninety, prayed in tongues, and smelled like some combination of roses, lavender, and cotton candy. Every Sunday she gave me Wrigley’s Double Mint gum and tussled my hair. One Sunday, while my mother was singing a special, I acted up and the gum-lady thumped my head. I thought it a miracle how such fragile fingers could raise such a whelp. At the end of the service she turned to my mother, smiled efferdentlessly, and recalled what a good boy I was. She handed me a stick of Double Mint and winked. That was the Sunday I learned about reconciliation.
When my sister was six—or maybe seven—she was chosen to sing a duet with a boy one year older than she. I remember a lot of fuss being made about the duet, how cute those kids were together. I felt somehow embarrassed for her, like there was something bawdy about the whole ordeal, like the two kids were doing something very adult. The other adults didn’t see it that way, so I guessed it was okay. But for me, that was the day that my sister stopped being a kid. I guess it was a type of baptism, a confirmation of sorts.
The summer before we left Dallas my mother took me to the Shiloh Baptist Vacation Bible School. Those were the days before mega-churches had themed VBS, before they set up motorcycle ramps in their parking lots so that daredevils could turn double flips and brag about how cool Jesus was. Back then we just learned stories about a sinless carpenter-savior, how he loved the little children and saved them from the devil. They gave us gold-fish and cherry Kool-Aid for a snack. A little boy pretended it was communion, passing a fish to me and saying “let us pray.” The teacher seemed most upset. Communion was not for pretend, she said. I wondered why she thought we were pretending, but I didn’t ask.
I hushed my questions and went to climb the mulberry tree instead.