An Excerpt From the Memoir


Religion wasn’t something I was comfortable with. All the ‘hellfire and damnation.’ in the Southern Baptist church had turned me off at a very early age. Not to mention the crazy ‘holy roller’ church Al’s step-mother dragged me to!



I don’t remember how I ended up alone with this woman, Hazel, but I’ll never forget it. I was maybe eight years old, and for some reason, I was left at her house one afternoon. Al and his father had gone hunting or fishing, and Hazel was my babysitter. I barely knew her. We didn’t visit his father often. They lived out in the boondocks in a shack surrounded by sand and scrub brush.

Hazel was an alcoholic. She would put a bottle of beer under her bed at night so she could drink it before she got out of bed in the morning. I don’t recall seeing her without a beer in her hand or nearby.

I kept myself in front of the TV most of the afternoon, and around dusk, Hazel went upstairs. I thought she might be going to bed since she’d had quite a few beers already.

A little while later she came down the stairs in a dress and donning a big flowery hat. I was very surprised to see her like that and more surprised when she said, “Get in the car, kid, we’re going to church.”

She never struck me as a church-goer, and it wasn’t a holiday, at least that I knew of. I had no choice but to go with her. We drove further out into the country and turned onto a dirt road. At the end of the road was a small wood framed building with a steeple.

There were a few more cars there but not a lot. The place couldn’t have held more than a dozen or two. We sat in the back pew. A few minutes went by and a woman in a billowy flowery smock, wearing a conical headpiece, came down the aisle. A guy started playing the organ, and things began to stir. The woman reached the lectern and began to speak. At first, I understood her but, suddenly she started speaking gobblety gook. It didn’t sound like another language, just nonsense. She was speaking in tongues.

Whatever she was saying turned the whole place into a circus. People were doing flips down the aisle, dancing around speaking nonsense, it was scary! Hazel didn’t join in, exactly, she stayed next to me. But, after a short time, she began to speak nonsense, too and, I hid under the pew.

I have no idea how long this went on but, it seemed an eternity. Then the noise abated as people exited the building and Hazel reached a hand to me. I took her hand, and we left. She didn’t say a word the whole way back.

When we reached her house, I was very relieved to see Al’s car there. He asked where we’d been and I shrugged because I simply couldn’t explain it. Hazel told him we’d gone to church.

“Oh for crying out loud,” Al’s dad said, “you took the poor kid to that crazy place?”

Hazel flipped him the bird and went upstairs.




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  1. Rena

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have never met ANYONE with the same experiences I had! I was turned off by religion when I was a young child when I was molested by the church van driver (I’ve never said that out loud before, he was also my school teacher) I think I was nine and my parents would send me to church even though they no longer went. Anyway, that got me off subject. My husband grew up Pentecostal and he took my daughter and me to a service and it’s exactly how you described it. My daughter was crying, I was horrified and I grabbed her arm and led her to the parking lot where we waited for her embarrassed father to come out and join us. I was furious, but he didn’t understand because that’s the only kind of church he’d gone to. I took him to a normal church and he kind of understood. I’ve never gone back into a church…neither has my daughter!

    • Barbara

      Thanks for verifying, Rena! The Baptist churches my grandparents went to were somewhat similar but not quite as scary. I remember one time their church had A visiting preacher who swore he could find sin in everyone there. Then, he went down the aisle and asked people to empty their pockets! One woman had a keychain in her purse that had dice on it and he went NUTS! SINNER!!!! He yelled. I’ll never forget that one either.
      My husband introduced me to the Episcopal church and I appreciated the calmness of it. But, we have had mixed experiences there, too. I prefer to feel comfortable with my beliefs and not dictated to. The church we’ve gone to most in the past 20 years was very special. One of the first times we went I commented to the minister on our way out about how I appreciated his calm and sane sermon. His response was the best! “I try not to preach,” he said!

  2. Claudia

    I can’t imagine what it would be like to experience something like that!!!

    • Barbara

      Well, I’ve never forgotten it!

  3. Haralee

    I know people who shopped for churches like this for the entertainment value, no sincerity or conviction. Fast forward 25 years and these same folks now call themselves “Christians” like I am supposed to forget their reprehensible behavior because they rebranded themselves?

    • Barbara

      Honestly, Haralee, I’m not sure I could find any ‘entertainment’ value in any of this! But, way too many so-called Christians are anything but!

  4. Lee Romano Sequeira

    WOW, what a scene, and what a bunch of crazies — flipping down the aisles and speaking in tongue? That would have either made me want to get the popcorn and watch this freak show, or it would’ve totally freaked me out worse than the Exorcist did!
    p.s. you are soooooo right about those so-called Christians in your comment to Haralee — there seem to be so many of these hypocrites among us.

    • Barbara

      Lee, at 8 years old I was too freaked out to sit back and watch, that’s for sure! Hiding was the only thing I could think of and the whole time wondering how I was going to get out of there! Thankfully she did get us back to her house!

  5. Kathy

    That’s sad that you’re first experience with a church was with a group of ignorant people. That certainly does not represent the majority.

    • Barbara

      It wasn’t my first experience in a church, Kathy, but it was a first in a Pentecostal church. It would have scared me even if I were 20!

  6. Mary

    It’s a terrible thing to do to a child. I’m not a church goer but have been a few times to various ones. I find them all theatrical and unsettling. I did go a few times to an Episcopal church and it did seem the most calm and sensible. It wasn’t all about fear.

    • Barbara

      You’re right, Mary. The Episcopal church isn’t about fear. So many other religions seem to prey on their ‘flock’ and keep them fearful. I find that completely counterproductive! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Pat

    What a story. Can’t wait to read the memoir.

    • Barbara

      Hopefully, Pat, it will be out before the end of the year!