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.