My hair stylist, Ruby, has been bugging me to come visit her church for years. So, finally, last weekend, we decided to give it a go.
Her church is a tiny one, a basic christian following in a small white chapel with a lovely church bell in it's small tower. There were maybe forty pews altogether. We arrived early, found Ruby waiting for us in her best dress. She took us in hand, introducing us proudly right and left as her company. We discovered a children's church group in the basement and Liv wanted to stay, so after checking to make sure that it was adequately staffed, I left her there and Bing and I went up to find a seat while Ruby took her place with the choir.
It was a great time. The preacher was a yeller, a stomper, a whisperer and obviously a man who adored his god. The choir sang with only a badly tuned piano but they were simply magnificent. I sat with Bing and closed my eyes, listening.
Hold your light, brother Robert,
Hold your light
Hold your light on Canaan's shore
What make ole Satan follow me so?
Satan ain't got nothin' for do with me
Hold your light
Hold your light on Canaan's shore....
I heard a shuddering sigh and opened my eyes, glanced at Bing. Tears were streaming down her face, her eyes closed, her hands relaxed in her lap.
I handed her a tissue after the music and she carefully mopped her eyes, not looking at me. It was just so lovely. The women singing almost made the church rise like bread dough.
Afterwards, we went downstairs to the basement to collect Liv and talk to Ruby, share the snack of cornbread and honey served with coffee or milk.
I only allowed myself two bites of Liv's cornbread, but it literally melted in my mouth, crispy on the outside and then simply popped open with lightness on the inside. The coffee was strong and full of chicory, just like I love it.
We visited with everyone. Liv came running over with her new friend, Shantalle and informed us that there was a bible class for children in two weeks. Could she go to it? I looked at Ruby, who immediately beamed and nodded, took me over to the children's bible study teacher.
The teacher was a strikingly beautiful woman in her late 60's. She was thin as a rail and her dress hung on her like a bedpost, but her smile was so serene and wide that I liked her immediately. She told me that no, one didn't need to be a member to go to the class, that it was for children aged 6-10 and that it was actually a study of the life of Jesus.
"It costs twenty dollars if you can spare it," she told me. "If you can't, don't worry about it. Just bring your little one anyway. No one is turned down. Just drop her off at 10 and pick her up at 1 and have her bring a little lunch. We eat outside every day for the week of bible school."
Liv looked up at me hopefully. I said that I supposed that would work, if she didn't mind coming right after swim team practice. Liv and Shantalle leaped up in the air together, hands entwined, ecstatic. I certainly had no objection to the cost. Good hell, I paid 200 dollars a month just for Liv's karate lessons....
Later, in the car, I asked Liv if she was truly interested in the topic or was it the friendship with Shantalle? She immediately said it was both, but that she really thought it sounded interesting. She has a children's bible at home and we've read it together, so she won't be totally unprepared. And I imagine it will be a fun experience for her.
We stopped later in the day at my sister's house to look at her new pool furniture. Patrice's grandchildren bounced up and down in the pool and Liv jumped in with them. But, on her way to the pool, Liv told my sister that guess what? She was going to take a bible class this month! Then she ran to cannonball into the pool.
My sister smiled broadly at me.
"BIBLE SCHOOL!" she mused happily. "Wow. I am impressed. Where is she taking that?"
I told her that it was at Agnetta Church.
She blanched. Her mouth opened once. Shut. Opened again.
"But...isn't that...a....a...nig....a um..black church down in the projects?" she said, pained.
I told her that no, it was not a black church, that we had gone to a worship service there and that that it was maybe three quarters black, but that they had welcomed us with open arms.
She locked her lips together prissily. "Well, of COURSE they welcomed you, you probably added some revenue to their offertory for a change."
I was so offended that I simply stared at her. I debated getting up and leaving. Decided to stay put unless she made this an issue.
We were quiet. I could see her arguments setting up space in her head like dominoes.
"Mariaaa..." she began...
"Do you think this is wise? I mean, I think it is great that Liv is going to bible school, but why not have her take a class closer to home or well...at least in a safer location? And why not with...with...children of her own kind?"
CHILDREN OF HER OWN KIND?
She knew immediately that she had said the exact wrong thing to me and backtracked.
"It's just...there are shootings in that area. Aren't you nervous about leaving her to fend for herself in that...that...element?"
I was hitting my limit.
"Patrice," I told her, "there are shootings all over the city and you know what? There are creepy ass people ALL over, in all areas of the city. You ought to know, wouldn't you?"
This was below the belt. I knew it as I said it. Just the week before, Patrice had been shocked to discover that her best friend's husband had been arrested for trying to solicit sex with a child over the internet. She had called me and we had both talked at length about how sheerly fucking scary it is to know that we had both known this guy, had attended parties with him, etc.
Patrice gave me the stink eye. I wasn't playing fair. But, then...neither was she.
I glared at her. "You are going to have to trust me here, sister," I told her. "I am Liv's parent and I am doing what is best for her. I checked this place out and I think she will be well treated, learn something and have fun. Now...get off my case and be happy that I didn't sign her up for a class in crystal ball reading, okay?"
Patrice sighed. I knew that the second we left, she would be on the phone with my other sisters, telling them the latest outlandish thing that Maria was doing. Endangering her child. Putting little Liv in a class with children who were not her element.
Patrice's husband, Tom came outside, his beer belly hanging over his pants. I sighed. I was in no mood to put up with his asshole rants.
He sat down and immediately began telling me about how much money he just made in the stock market that day. I only half listened.
Patrice, of course, could not WAIT to tell him about where Liv was taking her bible class.
Tom was less restrained. "Are you fucking NUTS?" he half shouted at me. "What kind of a mother are you? Doesn't she have plenty of white friends? Why do you push her to be just like you? Are you still having her go to the shelter to scoop up beans on those lazy ass drifter's plates with you every month? She'll bring home lice from that place, just you wait and see...."
I stood up and called to Liv that we needed to get going. She came over shivering in her towel, smiling her crooked smile at us.
"So," Tom asked her, "Your Auntie tells me that you are going to bible school at that church downtown.."
Liv said yeah, that we had gone to a church service there and that it had been "really fun."
"Were you the only white kid?" he asked her.
Liv looked confused. "Um..." she started, "I don't remember. I don't think so. I didn't notice."
Before Tom could go on, I hustled us out of there.
I had felt so clean and happy when I left that church that morning and now I felt like I needed a shower to wash off the slime from my own family.
In the car on the way home, Liv turned the radio to the classical station and hummed along to some soothing Brahm's lullaby. I looked over at her. No harm done. She had not put any thought to her uncle's question.
But, I had. It had not escaped me that Liv had not noticed if she was the only white child at the church (and actually, she is not even technically white...she is half native american.)
She simply did not notice.
This is exactly what I am trying to bring about with her. I want her to look at another's face and simply see a child, an adult, a woman, a man, a baby. I want the color to not be of any importance.
And it isn't with her.
It wasn't that way when I was growing up. I had never even known a black person, an indian person, an hispanic person until I was in college. I grew up on a farm in a tiny Iowa town and we were all white. Some were born on what we referred to as the wrong side of the tracks but that was about as far as it went.
I don't want my child to be like that.
On the other hand, I don't want to be one of those parents who go around squeezing the hands of black people, of hispanic people, of other nationalities than myself and acting like this is just so fucking cool either. I have had enough people get all excited that I am a lesbian, act like I am some sort of notch in their belt or some strange exotic oddity that they are just so tickled to experience.
I want it NOT TO MATTER.
Maybe, just maybe....when Liv has a child (IF she has one)...it will be that way. I hope so anyway.
What do you think?