My faith has been my shadow all of my life. I find it hard to reach my heart sometimes . . . a lot of the time. Faith for me has been a debate. I’m a Christian in the Annie Lamott school of faith. I simply love Jesus. God, however, I’m not so sure about. Never felt too cozy with him. Doctor Bob at Central Baptist in Anaheim had a lot to do with this, I’m sure.
I loved Bible stories in Sunday school and the songs we sang. I loved the alliteration of “I’ve got the faith that baffled the best of the Buddhist, down in my heart, down in my heart . ..” I didn’t know what a Buddhist was, but all those bs made me giddy. Then occasionally Mom would take me to church, and I’d listen about hell and how I was probably going there because how could I believe enough, be good enough, and what was this thing about Jesus in my heart? I’d pray so much and never felt that rush of assurance or peace I heard people talking about, despite crazy Dr. Bob.
I was a worrier by nature, came by it honestly from two Virgo parents. Since my dad yelled a lot, somehow I think I got him, God, and maybe Fred Flintstone (who reminded me of my dad) all mixed up together. I do have to give Mom credit. When I was really little . . . four? . . . she stormed out of the adult Sunday school after listening to how voting for Kennedy was a bad thing because he was Catholic. She voted for Nixon anyway, but she didn’t like being told what to do by a church. I’ve wondered why she let me continue going there.
I never knew there was another kind of religion until I was much older, a kinder Christianity. I knew there were Jews because my mom’s cousin Juanita married one. Mom was impressed by his manners because when he came to visit once, he made his bed. And we were practically Catholic. My dad was a retired cop from Detroit. Every three months the retired cops who moved to California and Arizona would meet in Garden Grove for the Sunshiner’s Club. This can’t be true, but it seems as though we were the only non-Catholics in the bunch.
When the Sunshiners got together, and during the heyday there might have been sixty retired cops and their wives who came, after the meeting . . . I’m not sure what they did for official business during the meeting . . . the real business came down. Lots of poker and drinking. We lived in Anaheim, so the party always ended at our house. I was a “late” child, a surprise. My dad had a vasectomy, and then my mom found out she was pregnant two weeks later. He was almost fifty when I was born. I loved the police parties because I was spoiled rotten at them in the middle of the smoking and drinking and cussing and the quieter talk of the women in the living room. Everyone smoked except my Mom. I sat on laps and took sips of beer.
My parent’s best friends were the McCauleys, an Irish/Italian couple, and the Buyaks, Polish and Mexican. My dad had been a sergeant, Mr. Buyak, a patrolman, and Mr. McCauley, a lieutenant. We rarely ate meat on Fridays because we shared meals so often with them. As mediocre Baptist (and never official ones), we didn’t do grace. But when they came over, they did. “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen. May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.” I heard this prayer more than any other while I grew up.
There were lots of shadows here, as well. I last saw Mr. and Mrs. McCauley, whom I called Aunt Jean and Uncle Gerald when I was sipping from beer cans, a week after Bill and I married. We were in southern California . . . my honeymoon to Mom’s house. Mrs. McCauley was dying. Always a small woman, she had shrunk to the size of a child, trying to breathe. The walls in their house were yellow from tobacco. A true believer in Purgatory, she was terrified to face what she thought was before her.