The sanctity of God surrounded as, like a babe running to the Holy father, I ran to the front of the church, the golden lights and heavenly colors of the stain-glass windows bathing all of the children, eight to eighty, in its glow. I ran, and I ran, my tiny feet pumping beneath me, to the altar, to the water, the haloed girl being dunked one, now twice, now three times under the water of a large bathtub. My friend was entering the kingdom of the Lord while walking in the world of man. And as I ran, flocks of followers turned their solemn heads, and laughing, lit up their eyes at the sight of me running bird-legged down the aisle to reach the isle of rebirth, where my friend came up from the water. Pulled by the hand of God in our Pastor, she was dripping with waterfalls of redemption. She was only seven and already saved. I screamed for her triumphantly, congratulating her.
Cool and collected, my friend walked into the arms of a woman holding out a towel for her, and wrapped up, she walked barefoot down the carpeted aisle, where my sullied and sinned feet had just run to meet her. I was aware of my inferiority, though no one would say it. The congregation bowed their heads, and I with them, and we all prayed thanks for this newest member of piety and grace. We prayed that others might soon follow. I prayed that I might be next. I wanted all of those eyes on me as they had been on her. I wanted to be lifted to God and rewarded.
In the auditorium, main room of worship, there were three rows of seats. Each row was made of seven rows of pews, all wooden and faded, some splintering around the edges. The windows were open to late June, but nothing could stifle the heat that brought beads of sweat to the foreheads of the parishioners who drank water from small papers cups to stymie the waves of the heavy storm-winds rolling over the even the most concentrated worshipers. The pastor stood tall and concentrated in white khakis and yellow cotton shirt. He spoke of God’s grace, and I tried my best to be good and listen. But as a child, my mind wandered. Being only seven-years-old, I was thinking of my kind. I was thinking of the children below. They were in the playrooms, the classrooms. And through games, they learned of life after death.
Just before the lessons started, down the pink carpeted stairs the thunder of little followers ran ahead of their leader (a mother, or father, of perhaps only one child in the bunch, or even an older sibling, one old enough to stay above and hear the sermon) held onto the brown and golden railing. Turning right, the small troop entered onto the white tiled floor, scattered with round tables. A kitchen waited solemnly beside the rock slab of the counter, lines with water a food ready to feed and quench its hungry and thirsty people, walking the sands of time and heat upstairs to listen to the Lord’s word. A picture of Jesus hanging on the wall put his image in my mind, and from the painting, I grabbed his hand. Held in the picture patiently, beautifully, femininely around the body of a young bleating lamb, and I took his hand in my own, and went to find the other children. The adults would stay above me for another hour before, in a throng of excited voices, they would enter into the open white-pillared room to dine and speak of their life of toil and the life of everlasting love and rest and worship.
In the classrooms, there I learned about good, about evil, about what to fear and who to love. These lower classrooms could fit fifteen small children, the walls were just as white as the rest of the church. Together, the classrooms fit over forty children of various age-groups, from infants to second-graders.The gray carpeting was scratchy and uncomfortable to sit on, but still, my best friend and I took our toys to the floor and made up worlds of magic and splendor the church might not approve of, as her mother did not. Shelves and cupboards held treasures of books and paper, of glue and glitter and trays upon trays of crayons that lit up the most permanent of pathways in my brain and through my senses, so that even now when I smell the waxy sticks of vibrant color, I am brought back to the days of waiting outside the heavy white doors to enter the place of worship, a piece of paper and a crayon placed into my young hands. My mind was too ignorant to understand, and so the churchgoers forgave the young with distraction until they were old enough to listen. For now, being quiet would have to do. And when I was quiet, there was so much to hear.
Beyond the voice of the pastor, there by the beach, just some two miles off, gulls cried to the morning in search of scraps to eat, and the waves crashed upon themselves then slowed, coming up on the beach quietly and lapping gently against its shores. I could hear the bees busily flitting from flower to wildflower among the thick brush that surrounded the church. The color of skin and fur, sand and deer, we were told not to enter the tall reeds, as that is where the deer ran, and we were too young to know how to return. Those paths only the doe and the bucks knew.
I sat in the warm green grass, not yet singed by the summer, the blades still drinking from the humidity that made my then-blonde hair stand up like the steeple atop the church, and the deer reeds, and the crayons, stood on their heads to draw. All drew on themselves to reach God, it seemed. I sat, and closed my eyes, as the children came spilling out the classrooms, out the door to the playground, where I sat in a small boat, not made for sea but for grass. Small hands and wild minds in the ship created the biggest storm just from a word, just from a “Hey now! I’ll be captain!” from a small boy, or from my own mouth. The boat was white and fit five children: children in dresses, children in shined shoes, black and glistening in the sunlight as beetles, heels clicking together in pairs in a little game of rhythm. Children who had their hair slicked back the morning of would not be yelling, “Hard to port!” as their wild manes strayed into their vision, turning the green world fire red, golden yellow, earth brown, or midnight black.
There was too a wooden train behind us that could fit eight children; black and red and black and blue and green the colors ran, but the train was perfectly still. It ran for us, the adventurers, but moved never for any other eyes. To us, the wheels screeched fire and blood against the green rails as the speed demon chased unholy bandits. To the parents, the wooden wheels only ever sank deeper into the wetted soil that shared its plot with the little river the church got its namesake from. Together, the boat and train chased each other to the wooden lighthouse, where six small bandits, all the lighthouse could hold, waited for our arrival.Armed with sticks (swords), stones (the fabled grenade no one understood the true nature of), and small pieces of grass (magical poison gas that could ensnare, freeze, or even petrify for life), the bandits prepared for fight for their lives.
Six children waited to battle thirteen; nineteen of us played while we waited for the day when we would be saved, dipped beneath the waves of salt and brine the seagulls still called to, far off. I stood up in my boat and listened to the ancient call. The white and soot winged bird flew up and rose upon the line of the horizon, reaching the highest of the pines that lined the road. It called, and it called, mournfully, almost blotting out the call of my parents telling me to resign my cap to another sailor. Today was not the day I would be saved. The other children were playing in the white boat still, as I was driven home in an old red van on a dark gray road, splashed with hope in yellow stripes.far away, far away, the seagulls cries died with the distance put between myself and them. And, with the end of their call, so came the end of the day, and the end of my play.