[1973 - Clearwater, Florida]
Clapping arouses me from a deep and peaceful sleep followed by my dad's exuberant voice echoing through the furniture-less house, “Who wants to go out to lunch today?”
“Me!” is spoken in unison from four tousled heads peeking out from behind three bedroom doors.
“Well, get up and get ready for church. We are going to a new one today.”
We know the drill. After quickly dressing in our Sunday second-best set of clothing, didn’t want to look too nice; we grabbed a snack then headed out to embark on the clown-show that is the six of us and a guitar squeezing into our only car, a 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. My seven-year-old sister, Julie, goes first. My dad holds the driver seat forward and the seat belt harness down so her slim body can squeeze through the narrow gap. She climbs up over the rear seat into the “itchy wool" luggage compartment and immediately starts scratching. “It’s itchy,” she says to no one.
My nine-year-old brother, Greg, goes next and slides across to the far passenger side of the back seat. He settles in as my three-year-old baby brother Jeffrey, smiling, sits closely pressed up against Greg and gives his thigh a sweet flat-handed pat. Being the oldest at twelve, I sit directly behind the driver’s seat, only desirable because my dad’s arm can’t reach me if he starts swinging back, aiming for leg contact in frustration when our complaining reaches a crescendo. All of us are tightly packed in; the five-and-dime guitar gently placed across three laps as my Julie breathes in my ear. Mom seats herself in the passenger front seat and immediately starts fiddling with the back of her hair; fluffing and pulling and plumping.
“Does the back of my hair look alright?"
“Yes,” we all answer out of habit, not really looking.
Dad plops in the front, buckles his shoulder harness, a safety feature instilled in him when he was a pilot in the air force, and we are off.
We begin the drive to visit a new church. We do this every so often, usually when Dad wants to go out to lunch. We turn into the parking lot of a cute little chapel and go through the clown-show in reverse. Guitar, me, Jeffrey, Greg, and Julie, now covered in hives. We draw a small incredulous crowd but are used to that by now.
We walk together as a family toward the door, my dad breaking off to whisper to one of the elders, both glancing our way. My mom, the guitar and the four of us kids continue on to sit in a back-row pew. Immediately fidgety, pulling out hymnals, visitors’ cards, and little pencils, draws a stern look from Mom as Dad slides in beside her, raising eyebrows and frowning our way.
The service begins and, as usual, I fall into daydreams of horses and beaches and the restaurant lunch to be enjoyed by us later. Images of seafood and hush-puppies and tartar sauce...my reverie is interrupted by the preacher’s announcement,
“We have a special treat for you all today. A visiting family would like to bless us with a musical performance this morning.”
I hear a few “Glories” and “Hallelujahs” as Greg—guitar in hand, Julie and I make our way to the front; Jeffrey voicing his disapproval to be left behind with Mom and Dad.
Turning to face our captive audience, my brother strums a chord and we break into a lively rendition of “Do Lord.”
“Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do you ‘member me,” we harmonize as the guitar keeps us on pitch. Elderly heads are nodding and feet are tapping with a few “Amen’s!” thrown in the mix.
“I got a home in glory land that outshines the sun. Waaay beyond the blue,” we croon as Dad smiles encouragement.
One more “Do Lord” chorus and we wrap it up shuffling back to our seats “Bless their hearts," and “Precious little angels,” following in our wake. Seated again securely in the back row, my thoughts return to lunch as I cough to drown out my growling stomach.
After the service we make our way as a family toward the exit, receiving pats on the head and compliments along the way. Dad breaks off to speak to the pastor as my mom herds us to the Beetle to begin the clown-show one last time and, as always, drawing the amused incredulous crowd but with well-wishes for us this time.
Settling into our places, poor Julie scratching in anticipation of the “itchy wool" awaiting her, long purposeful strides bring Dad alongside us. A smile is on his face and a neat fold of bills in his hand. Bills donated to him out of the church offering plate by the generous congregation.
“Let’s go to Red Lobster,” he says, dropping into the driver’s seat and fastening his shoulder harness snugly across his chest.
By Lisa Owens.
Inspired by true events (1973 in Clearwater, FL).