My mother was always a member of the Pentecostal church. She didn’t go to church a lot when we were kids, but she did make me and Margie go, just not to the Pentecostal. She sent us to a Baptist church. I don’t know if you have ever been to a Pentecostal church; if not, you have really missed something.
My mother sent us to a Baptist church because she thought we would be afraid in a Pentecostal church. The Pentecostal church in our neighborhood was a little, one-room building with the outside walls covered in red roof shingles. I wanted to go in that church so bad I could hardly stand it! Every time we went by there, I wondered what they did in there that my mother was sure would scare us.
Mother would put our best clothes on us every Sunday, and we would take our little Bibles and walk eight blocks to the Baptist church. We always walked by the little red church, and I could hear them in there having a good time. But, I did what my mother said and went to the Baptist church. We went to Sunday school and then to church. It seemed like we were there forever! I can tell you that I heard an awful lot of fire and brimstone sermons. The subjects of some of those sermons made me sure I was going to hell to burn forever and ever. These were what my daddy called hard shell Baptist.
The preacher would start out very calm and smiling, but before it was over, he would be sweating and yelling at the top of his voice how sinful all of us were. He said we had better not be out there going to bars, drinking, or dancing That was all a sin. I was too young to drink or go to bars, but I sure did like to dance. My sisters, Jeanie and Ola, had records and a Victrola to play them on. They taught me to dance the jitterbug. I just loved dancing. I guess I was a sinner, and maybe I was going to hell, too.
When we would pray in church, I was hoping God would not hold it against me because I liked dancing. I never told the preacher I liked to dance. I just couldn’t figure out why God would not like dancing. It made everyone laugh and have a good time. I really thought if God would just try it that He would like it, and then it would not be a sin. I thought the preacher should try it, too. He needed to laugh a little more. At the end of church service, they always played real sad songs and tried to get everyone to give their body and soul to God.
The preacher would say, “Come forward and confess your sins to the Lord, and you will be forgiven.”
Sometimes there would be people to go up there, confess, and give their lives to the Lord.
Now this is where I got really confused. I didn’t know what “giving your life to the Lord” meant. Would I just stop doing everything else and live for the Lord? I couldn’t quite figure that out. I asked Margie, but she didn’t know either. She told me not to worry about it. She said if I would just be quiet and good, then I wouldn’t get in trouble with God – or Mother. I should have asked somebody else.
After church was over, we would walk out the door and shake hands with the preacher. He would always tell us to bring our parents next time. I knew that would never happen because my mother went to the little red church when she did go to church, and that was seldom. She always had so much work on weekends she didn’t have time for church. And my daddy never went to church. He wanted us to go, but he would never go. I don’t know why. I suspect it was because he was a drinker.
It took me many, many years to know what kind of relationship I had with the Lord. Nevertheless, I know now, and I am at peace with Him. I won’t go into detail about it because it is very personal. I pray that all of the people on God’s earth will find the same peace I have with Him. It is a wonderful feeling, and one we can all have. God is really not complicated at all. You just relax and love Him.
We were on our way home, walking down the dirt road. I was kicking rocks.
Margie said, “Stop it! You’re messing up your good shoes!”
I stopped because I really liked those shoes. They were white with straps that buckled across my foot. They looked pretty on my feet. I only got to wear them for church or for something special. My mother bought them for me. Margie had a pair just like them. We wore the same dresses, too. Mother dressed us the same all the time, like we were twins, but we were not twins. Margie was two years older than me. Mother made all of our clothes. She could sew real good. Sometimes she made us dresses out of chicken feed bags. Long time ago they put chicken feed in real pretty floral bags. Daddy had chickens, so he bought a lot of chicken feed. They were pretty dresses, but sometimes a few of the girls would tease us about our chicken feed dresses.
All of a sudden my attention went from my shoes and my dress to the loud singing and shouting coming from the little red church. It sounded like that little building was going to fall down.
I said, “Let’s go in there.”
“No, we can’t,” said Margie.
“Because Mother would spank us for sure.”
“Next Sunday, I am going to that church.”
Margie said, “No, you’re not.”
“I am, too,” I said. “You can go or not, but I need to find out what they are doing in there.”
Nothing more was said about it. She thought I would forget about it, but I had made up my mind. I was going in there. There was nothing to be scared of. It was a church. God was in there. He wouldn’t hurt me.
We got home and changed out of our good clothes and shoes. Mother asked us how church was, and we said it was fine. We almost always went to the movies on Saturday and Sunday, so we started getting ready to go. Mother always had Sunday dinner ready right at noon or shortly thereafter. We were having fried chicken that day, and it really looked good. We had fried chicken on one Sunday and pot roast the next. My mother was such a good cook. Everyone loved her cooking. Ola and Jim always came on Sunday with the kids for dinner. Jim said no one could cook like Ellen. Ola was not a very good cook. Yep, I think it was official that Ellen Carter was the world’s best cook.
The movie started at one o’clock, so we ate real fast, got our dollar from Daddy, and started walking. We lived about a mile from the Bison Theater. All the way there, I was thinking about the little red church and how I was going in there for sure on the next Sunday.
The week went by so slowly. We were in school and had plenty to keep us busy, but I couldn’t get the church off my mind. I don’t know why I am like that. I set my mind on something I want to do, and I just become obsessed with it. I am certain that is why I got into trouble a lot when I was a kid. My mother would get so mad at me.
She would always ask me, “Ruthie, where do you get these crazy ideas?”
I never knew what to say. I would just say, “I don’t know.”
The truth is that I really didn’t know. An idea would just come to me out of the blue, and once it was in my head, it would not go away until I did whatever it was that I wanted to do. At times, it worked out fine. Then there were the times it worked out really bad, and I always got a spanking for whatever it was that went wrong.
I think I was getting used to spankings. Now, my mother would tell me to go outside and get her a switch out of the tree so she could spank me. I would drag myself out there and get the switch, take it to her, and she would wear me out with it. Most of the time I didn’t even cry.
She would ask, “Do you like getting spankings?”
I would say, “No, ma’am.”
Then she would say, “Well, I am tired of giving them to you.”
I didn’t say it, but I was thinking, “Then why don’t you stop?”
I remember after one spanking, she turned to walk away. That’s when I stuck my tongue out at her. She turned around just in time to catch me. I got another spanking that was harder than the one before. I think that was the first and only time I got two spankings at one time.
She said, “Don’t you ever stick your tongue out at me. Do you understand?”
I was crying and said, “Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am. I won’t ever do it again.”
But, of course, I did. I just never got caught again.
Sunday morning finally came around, and I was pretty excited about going to the little red church. We ate breakfast and got dressed in our church clothes and shoes, and before long, we were walking to the church. I guess Margie had forgotten what I told her the week before because I reminded her about going to the red church, and she looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
She said, “You have been in trouble all week and getting spankings. We are not doing that.
I said, “Maybe you’re not, but I am. You do what you want, but I am going in this church.”
She started to cry.
I said, “Don’t cry; you don’t have to go. You can go to the other church and pick me up on the way back. Mother will never know.”
Finally, she said, “I am going with you to make sure they don’t kill you.”
The door was open, and we looked inside. There were some folding chairs for people to sit in. In the front, there was a piano on one side and a couple of guitars leaning against the wall. There were just a few people.
Then I heard someone say, “Please come in.”
I said, “Thank you, ma’am.”
Margie and I just kind of eased in the door. We sat down in a chair in the back by the door.
The lady came up to us and started talking to us. She was real nice.
“Welcome to our church,” she said.
I said, “Thank you, ma’am.”
It seems that all I could say was, “Thank you, ma’am.”
More people started coming in. A lady sat down at the piano, and two young men had the guitars in their hands. I had never been to a church where they played guitars. I was really feeling good about this. Then, Margie started to poke me with her elbow.
I said, “What do you want?”
“Let’s go,” she said.
“No. I am staying for church.”
About that time, the music started. The piano and the guitars filled the church with music, but I did not know the song the people were singing. The music was great! I have always loved music, but this music was different than what I heard at the Baptist church. The people were kind of moving up and down and keeping time with the music. The only way I can describe it is “happy.” They sounded so happy to be singing. The guitars really added something to the song.
I thought, “I am going to like this church.”
They are waving their hands in the air and saying, “Praise God!” and “Thank you, Lord!”
We stayed for the whole service. The preacher was loud like the Baptist preacher. He told us we were all sinners just like the Baptist. About the only difference I could see in the two churches was this one sure played better music. They finally had the last song where they called on folks to give their lives to God. That is when it changed. The people were singing and waving their arms, and then two ladies began to shake and talk in a language I had never heard before. One of them fell down on the floor and was wiggling around, all the time talking in this language. I looked at Margie, and her eyes were so big they were ready to pop out! I guess mine were, too.
The music stopped, and no one went down to be saved. The preacher said a nice prayer, and suddenly it was over. I was not ready for it to be over. I wanted to hear more music. I got up out of my chair and walked to the front of the church. Margie was right behind me and holding on to the sash of my dress. I went over to the piano, and I sat down on the bench. I wanted to play it so bad. I just lightly touched the keys. No sound came out. Then the lady who played the piano during church came over to us, and she asked if we would like to play the piano.
I said, “Can we?”
“Yes, you can. For a few minutes.”
“Thank you. We never played a piano before,” I said.
“Well, enjoy yourselves for a few minutes.”
I was so happy! Margie sat down beside me, and we both got to play the piano. Margie was happy, too. I bet she was glad that we went to that little church then. I know I was. We played around for about five minutes, and we went over and thanked the lady for letting us play. She was really nice. She asked us to come back the next Sunday.
I said, “If we can, we will be here.”
When we got outside, I looked at Margie and said, “Aren’t you glad we went?”
“Yes, but if Mother finds out, we will get in trouble.”
“I don’t care. It was worth it.”
“You think it was worth a spanking?”
“Yes, I do. I love that piano, and I like that church. They have fun in there.”
“We better hurry and get home; we are already late. I think you’re crazy, Ruthie.”
We started running to get home so we would not be too late. When we got home, Mother never said a word about us being late. She was too busy cooking Sunday dinner. We changed out of our good clothes, and all the while, I was thinking about the piano. I couldn’t get it off my mind. I wanted to go back the next Sunday, but I had to worry about Margie telling on us if she got mad at me for something. She was like that. She would say it was all my idea, and I would be the one that got the spanking. Well, I had a week to think about it. I can tell you that this was not a typical day in the life of little Ruthie. I think it was one of the best days I had ever had.