Sunday, August 8, 2010
#23 - When the Saints Come Marching In, Part 1
Mid 70’s. My sister and I have been bundled up once again and shipped off to Granny’s for our yearly stint at Vacation Bible School every June. I had mixed feelings about these little sojourns. Staying with Granny and Peepaw for a week or so was always interesting, albeit a bit more structured than I cared for. True, there was lots of down time, as happens when you are in a strongly Christian household and many otherwise harmless activities are verboten.
On the flip side, none of our friends were anywhere around, as not only did Mom’s parents live in another town, they lived way on the outskirts of said town, a land of farms, cows, and questionable rural vehicles that surely couldn’t be passing any type of legal inspection. There were very few people our age to be found. Which meant that, if we were going to get into any entertaining trouble, we would have to do it on our own, without any encouragement or dares from companions. This lowered the relative value of any mischief.
And I wasn’t really troubled about going to “school” in the summer, an activity that most of my friends would rather die than do. I was a rather scholarly child, much to the befuddlement and wonder of most of my older relatives, as they had simply endured the 12-year learning process and then proceeded directly to the making of babies.
Someone who actually enjoyed school was an anomaly, and I was regarded with suspicion from an early age. (I’m sure that my true parental line was questioned in gossipy whispers at family reunions. I’m equally sure that my general tendency to remain quiet and just observe my surroundings also led to speculation, as the rest of the clan greatly enjoyed hollering and running about and throwing things.)
Of course, this wasn’t “real” school, per se, more like an abridged travel film concerning the plight of your soul. With juice and cookies served as refreshments in between rounds of begatting and people turning into pillars of table condiments. But they did have instructional materials, with grim drawings of unfortunate people who made bad choices, and occasional verbal pop quizzes, which pleased me. Tests were exciting challenges that I looked forward to with a relish most of the planet did not share.
So really, I didn’t mind the concept of attending Vacation Bible School each June. In fact, the concept alone, wherein I was encouraged to study, something I would have done anyway, was just dandy with me. No, the trouble reared its head when it came to some of the “classmates” who had been shoved into the VBS classroom along with me, kicking and screaming the entire way.
These people were some of the most disrespectful, intolerant, downright mean little urchins to ever be handed a juice box in the name of the Lord. And that was on a good day.
They came back every year, these fallen angels who clearly had not gleaned any redemptive or moral bits of wisdom that would keep them on the path of righteousness. They weren’t even aware that there was a path, let alone that they should be following it due to some elusive promise of a vague door prize at the end.
I don’t know why those heathens even bothered to get on the blessed red-and-white church bus that would scour the countryside every morning, collecting young souls for fellowship and rhyming games involving apostle names. It clearly wasn’t something that they did voluntarily. Perhaps anxious parents and concerned police authorities had formed some type of tribunal, deeming that the county would be safer if the little miscreants were held in religious captivity rather than allowed to go on exploratory, unsupervised missions to seedier parts of town.
Whatever the case, there they where on the bus and in the stifling classrooms with me (it seems that Jesus may have had some financial issues at the time, and it was determined that the offspring of parishioners would not notice if it was 90 degrees inside the baking brick buildings). The heathens would sit in their chairs, exposed skin sticking to the warm plastic, and their blackened hearts pumping deviltry through their veins, causing the tiny evildoers to wreak havoc near and far.
I found their behavior appalling, of course, operating under the strongly-held principle that, when one found oneself in a scholastic environment, either by choice or court-ordered edict, that one should simply sit there and absorb the knowledge, not moving a muscle for fear of missing something of great mental betterment.
In my book, one did not sniff glue and then giggle at the printed names on crayons. One did not find it amusing to pour apple juice into the wrinkled and stained brown sacks containing classmates’ primitive country lunches. And by no means should one mutter disparaging words under one’s breath so that all but the tall people could hear, comparing the Bible-quoting teachers with their unfortunate Puritan hair to a female dog in heat. It was complete misbehaved madness, and I was in utter shock at the incivility of it all.
Things got even worse when we were periodically released to run amok on the playground. One otherwise fine afternoon, as I balanced precariously on an upper rung of the jungle gym, pretending to be Shazam, inspired by a cartoon infatuation at the time, I had the displeasure of noticing that several of the demon boys had chosen some metal real estate just below me.
Instinct told me to simply leap from atop the structure, even if bones snapped, and then race to some form of safety near the gaggle of adult women who were supposed to be keeping us alive but were really only interested in the latest pregnancies occurring in the small town. Yet I stayed put, and learned some startling things that kept me awake for many nights afterwards.
For starters, I learned that there were apparently at least thirty current slang words for a woman’s vagina. To be fair, it took me a bit to figure this out, initially thinking that the demon boys were discussing games of some type. (A rousing round of “squat tag” certainly sounded promising, not having played that one before, until I surmised that one must be naked in order to achieve the desired results in this activity.) Once I got the startling picture of the true subject matter, I tried to discreetly climb higher on the jungle gym, praying that a tornado would whisk me away, back to Virgin, Kansas.
The Toto Express did not arrive, so I was left to survive as best I could as more information flowed. It seems that every one of the boys had done at least five acts of colorful abandonment with or near willing and appreciative females, despite the limiting factors that they were only ten years old and, as best I could tell, all of the available females in the region had deemed boys “gross”. Except for the teachers. No reports had yet been received concerning their thoughts on the matter.
Oh, and when these boys weren’t entertaining half the populace with their amazing exploits and supposedly record-shattering endowments, they liked to steal things. From anywhere, apparently, but Wal-Mart and K-Mart seemed to provide the best opportunities, although Otasco was in the running as well. From what I could hear, these boys had stockpiles of treasure that would make Leona Helmsley weep.
Luckily, the bell rang just then, and I was able to fling myself to the ground and rush toward the school building without giving off too much of a pansy essence. Sadly, that aroma would find me within minutes, clinging to me in death grip.
You see, the nameless administrators of this particular Vacation Bible School had planned the classes more from a “capacity” rather than a “conforming” perspective. This meant that we had several younger tykes in our room, and the frazzled teachers had to construct religion-based activities that would hopefully appeal to a wide range.
Next up on the agenda? An interpretive dance combined with a lilting little ditty name-checking several books in the Bible. The steps were very intricate, evidence of some spinster obviously having far too much time on her hands, and it took a great deal of time for the dance participants to get things right.
And those participants, of course, did not include the heathen children, who opted to remain in their seats and shoot spit wads at the slower occupants in the room. I, however, upholding the truth that attentiveness in the classroom was sacred, joined the pageant, a Redwood amongst many uncoordinated saplings. As a reward, once the session finally ended, I was graced with glowing praise from the teachers, impressed as they were with my mastery and skill.
Returning to my seat, the rude comments from the heathens made it well-known that my efforts had marked me for questionable sexuality and disgrace. I vowed never to dance again, at least not with an unappreciated audience.
This vow lasted roughly twelve hours.
Next morning, my sister and I trotted out of Granny’s house and down to the end of the driveway, were we would await the red-and-white bus of salvation. Since Granny frowned upon tidiness when it came to the Lord, we were always shoved out of the house well before the expected pick-up time. This meant that we had to entertain ourselves until the bus crested the nearby hill.
Out of sheer boredom, I began humming the ditty from the previous afternoon’s disgrace as I picked up a stick and drew pictures in the white dust of the driveway. My sister, out of her own boredom and being unfamiliar with the tune as she had been relegated to an alternate VBS classroom, inquired on the nature of my musicality. Thusly, I began singing the song in its entirety, assuming that we had plenty of time for a floor show.
Within seconds, my body began to uncontrollably accompany my vocals with physicality, performing the routine with skill and refinement. Within minutes, I had gone completely overboard, accenting all the moves with overly dramatic flourishes and bellowing like a stuck pig.
Suddenly, the mighty blare of a horn filled the country air.
I whirled around in shock. There was the VBS bus, filled to the brim with every single person going to the church, because we were one of the last stops. And right in the midst of the sea of jaw-dropped astonishment, there were the members of the Heathen Demon Boys Brigade, their dirty faces shoved up against the glass of the bus windows, delight filling their eyes at the humiliation countdown that had just begun.
The bus ground to a halt right before me, a billow of dust coating my sweating body as the doors were folded open…
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