“Bethany Lynn Miller, you either get out of that bed in the next 10 seconds, or I will drag you to church in your nightgown!”
I roll my back to her and let out a combination snort and grunt.
“Young lady, I am not kidding. You are gonna make us all late again. Don’t make me get your daddy in here.”
I flip my pillow to the cool side and pull my quilt further up over my head. Like Daddy’s gonna do anything. He’s sitting in the den, drinking coffee and getting his Sunday School lesson ready.
Momma knows I’ve called her bluff.
“Now why are you going to make me act all un-Christian on Sunday? Why can’t we just have a nice, normal Sunday and go to church without a big fuss?”
From under my quilt I answer, “I don’t know, Momma, you tell me. You’re the one doing all the screaming.”
No sooner are the words out of my mouth than I know what is about to happen. In one swoop, my sheet and quilt are in the floor and Momma has jerked my pillow from underneath my head. I try to brace myself, but it’s too late. Morning has arrived and it’s cold and bright and loud in only the way Momma can make it.
“Now, smart-mouth, we are leaving in half an hour. I want you showered and dressed and presentable. You have new pantyhose in your dresser. And pin your hair back out of your face. You’re going to the Lord’s house.”
I mouth these last words with her. It’s a bit of a Sunday morning ritual.
When she clumps off to the bathroom to take the hot rollers out of her hair, I make my way to the edge of the bed. Why can’t I praise Jesus from here? I’d make a much more joyful noise from under my blanket. Instead of “Holly Springs Baptist Church” I’ll go to “Box Springs Baptist Church.” I smile to myself, wondering how I’ll work that in on Momma. She just hates when I make jokes about the church.
I walk down the hall to the kitchen. After pouring a glass of chocolate milk, I head to the living room to see how Daddy’s lesson is coming. Daddy’s the Sunday School teacher for the “Single, Separated or Divorced Young Men’s” class. He always waits until the last minute to do his lessons. He says that God works best with a deadline which explains why He created the universe in six days.
“Morning, Miss Prissy Britches. You sure got your Momma riled up this morning.”
“Yeah, I thought for a minute she had the Holy Ghost in her. What’s your lesson about?”
“The fruits of the Spirit.”
“Now, Beth, don’t sass about the Good Book.”
“Sorry. So which one are you on this week?”
“One of the hard ones—patience.”
“Can Momma sit in on your class?”
“Very funny. Now go get ready. And hurry, I can’t be late.”
I walk back down the hall to the bathroom, finishing my chocolate milk along the way and trying to decide what I should wear. I don’t understand why I have to dress up. Momma says that we should give our best to God and that includes our appearance. I figure Jesus wore tunics and sandals, so He probably doesn’t care if I wear pantyhose or not.
“Beth, why aren’t you in the shower?”
Momma appears in front of me. She’s in her slip and has a toothbrush in one hand and my little brother’s clothes in the other. Half of her hair is still in curlers.
“I’m headed that way, Momma. I was thirsty.”
“Well, you should have thought of that when you were layin’ in bed.”
“I’m sorry, Momma. It’s early.”
“I’ve been up since 5:30 working on costumes for the children’s choir, don’t talk to me about early,” she says, walking away. “Now hurry, I’ll need help getting your little brother dressed.”
“Why doesn’t Daddy help get him dressed?”
Momma spins on her heel and takes a deep breath. I know I’ve hit a sore spot with her.
“Because your Daddy is too busy drinking his coffee and doing his Sunday School lesson. Now go!”
I grab a towel from the closet and head toward the bathroom. I turn the water on in the shower and wait for it to heat up.
And I wait. And wait. After a good three minutes I turn the water off.
I stand and wait, determined she will have to come to me.
The door of the bathroom flies open.
“What, Bethany, what?”
“There ain’t any hot water.”
“Well, that’s what you get when you’re the last one up.”
“But I can’t take a cold shower. It’s 40 degrees outside.”
“Bethany, you have 20 minutes. Figure something out.”
And off she goes, leaving me standing there in nothing but a shower cap.
I wrap a towel around me and walk to the sink where I proceed to take what my grandmother would call a “whore’s bath.” I can at least handle the cold water on one part of me at a time.
I peel off the shower cap and brush out my hair, scanning the counter for a scrunchie. Today will definitely be a ponytail day. Jesus will just have to deal with it.
I flip my head over and use a blow dryer to fluff it up. As I stand up straight and turn the dryer off, I hear Momma’s voice from across the house.
“…help me do something this wouldn’t happen!”
“Are you saying that I shouldn’t prepare my Sunday School lesson?”
“I’m just saying that I can’t get the kids ready and me ready, too!”
“Well that’s your job so you’re just going to have to find a way to do it!”
I tiptoe down the hall. Momma and Daddy are standing in the kitchen. He has his coat on and is waving his Bible in the air at Momma.
“Just go on to church without us. We’ll be there after while.”
“That will look really good, Barbara, us coming separate to church. You already missed last Sunday!”
“Just tell everybody that the baby threw up or something. We’ll be there later.”
“So you want me to lie?”
“Fine, Glen, then tell them you’re a selfish jackass who won’t help me do anything!”
My parents usually get along pretty well. There’s something about Sunday morning, though, that brings out the worst in all of us. This morning is no exception.
I hurry back to my room before I get pulled into the argument or yelled at for not getting ready. I rummage through my closet in an attempt to find something to wear and listen to my father slam the front door.
After going through every possible piece of clothing in my closet, I stick my head out the door and holler down the hall.
“Momma, have you seen my denim skirt?”
“I heard you. It’s in the dirty clothes.”
“Why didn’t you wash it?”
“Bethany, I’m behind on laundry.”
“But I need it.”
“Then you should have washed it yourself!”
I hear a tone in her voice that makes me decide not to push the issue. Why, why, why don’t I have more church clothes? Why do I spend all of my allowance on cool clothes and tennis shoes? I accept that I will have to wear what I wore on the previous Sunday and say a silent prayer that no one notices.
After hopping around my room doing the pantyhose dance, I pull on my dress and slip my feet into a pair of black flats. I sit down at my vanity and start putting on my makeup. At least something is will look good today.
No sooner than I have my foundation on than Momma is standing in my doorway.
“I need help with Jed. He hasn’t had breakfast yet.”
“But Momma, I’m not ready.”
“Bethany, we are already late as it is. I cannot tolerate your whining right now. You can do your makeup in the hand-mirror while he eats.”
I sigh and grab my cosmetic bag. In the kitchen, Jed is throwing a ball against the refrigerator.
“Jed, can you not do that this morning?”
“Yes, I’m Bethany. We’ve established that. Now, do you want Cheerios or Rice Krispies?”
“What Jed? I’m right here. What?”
“I gotta go to potty.”
He nods and smiles, sheepishly.
I begin to undress him, wondering why in the world mom dressed him in a one-piece. As I try to work his little legs out of his sailor suit, the floor around him grows wet, and he begins to wail.
“I sorry, Beffie. I sorry.”
I can feel it welling up in my throat—the urge to scream “Momma” and let her deal with it. But I don’t. I’ve seen my mother at the proverbial wits end, and I know she’s headed toward the edge this morning.
“Stay here, buddy, okay? I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to get you some clothes.”
I jog to my parents’ bedroom. My mother, still in her slip, is standing in her closet, leaning face first into the clothes.
“Um, Jed spilled grape juice all over himself. Does he have anything else to wear?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.”
She leans back from the clothes.
“Why grape juice?”
“He wanted it. But don’t worry, I’m gonna change him and I’ll be ready to go soon.”
I leave the room before she can protest. I grab a little pantsuit out of Jed’s bureau and a towel from the linen closet in the hall.
Thankfully, Jed is still sitting where I left him. After drying and dressing Jed, as well as cleaning the floor, I grab my cosmetic bag head back to my room to finish getting ready.
Momma is sitting at my vanity, looking in the mirror. She doesn’t seem to realize I’m in the room.
“Momma, are you okay?”
“Yes, honey, I just needed to sit down for a minute.”
I walk over to her. I’m not sure what to say. She’s always so in control, handling fourteen things at once. Suddenly she looks very tired—and very old.
“Is something the matter?”
“I just remembered that we’re having a potluck after church today, and I forgot to make anything.”
With her final two words, her voice breaks. Tears stream down her cheek, carrying her liquid eyeliner with them. I have no idea what to do except to put my arms around her. She sobs into my chest.
“It’s okay, Momma. Look, Jed’s ready to go, and I can do my makeup in the car. We’ll stop at the store and grab a cake or something. It’s no big deal. I’ll even sneak it in so no one will think you forgot to cook something.”
Momma stops crying and looks me in the eye. It’s a look I haven’t seen before, almost like she doesn’t know me. It only lasts for a second, though, and pats my arm and stands up.
“Where’s your brother?”
“He’s in the den.”
“Let’s get a move on then. We’re going to miss Sunday School, but we can’t be late for preaching.”
She heads to my door, leaving me a bit stunned. Before she crosses the threshold, she turns around and looks at me.
“You know, Bethany, you’re starting to turn into a young woman.”
And then she’s gone.
Our last 15 minutes in the house are a whirlwind. Momma disappears to her bathroom. I finish slathering on my makeup and smooth out my ponytail. I even dig out a pair little pearl earrings from my jewelry box. Something extra for the Lord—and Momma.
Momma emerges from the bathroom, somehow completely pulled together. Even her eyeliner is straight. She grabs her purse and our Bibles, and I grab Jed. She locks up as I buckle him into the car seat.
Twenty minutes later, we are pulling into the Holly Springs parking lot, a day-old Sock It To Me cake in my lap. Momma parks and runs Jed to the nursery while I sneak the cake into the fellowship hall as I promised.
Soon, we are standing at the sanctuary doors. The usher hands me a church bulletin and shakes Momma’s hand. Momma and I make our way to our pew up front. Daddy is already sitting there. I pray that he doesn’t say anything mean to Momma.
“Everything okay, Barb?” he says, a smile plastered to his face.
“Yes, we’re just fine,” Momma replies, returning the smile.
“Did you bring something for the potluck?”
“Yes, Glen, I did.”
“Good, I figured you’d forget.”
I halfway expect Momma to pick up a hymnal and smack Daddy. I even want to smack him. She doesn’t, though. She just keeps smiling and turns to Sister Patterson, sitting in the pew behind us.
“Maylene, I just love your hat.”
“Bless you, Barbara, you’re the sweetest thing.”
“Oh, no, there’s nothing sweeter than a Sunday morning.”
As the preacher takes the pulpit, I watch my mother out of the corner of my eye. Hair in place and a smile on her face, living proof that God must exist.