Why Sister Alma Rose Doesn’t Go to Church
God in Heaven, light my path today. Amen
Sister Alma Rose and Mr. Truman LaFollette and Cousin Dulcie, when she was visiting, had Sunday-morning services in the chapel in Sister Alma Rose’s big old farmhouse. Sometimes Daddy and I worshiped with them. Mama liked to go, too, but she was the choir director at the Presbyterian church, so mostly she was there, at the church, with her singers on Sunday morning. The choir director before Mama only used songs from the Presbyterian Hymnal, especially “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God, Almighty,” but Mama’s choir sang works by Tallis and Bach and other classical composers, and the retired director told Pastor Scott that Mama was “uppity” because she made the choir sing in “furren languages!”
There are six churches in and around Hilltop, and I didn’t know why Sister Alma Rose didn’t go to any of them. So one Sunday morning I just asked her. “Sister Alma Rose,” I said, “how come you don’t go to Mama’s church, or the Lutheran church?” I loved the Lutheran church because it had a real bell with a rope and a bellringer and everything.
“Miss Fanny,” she said, “how many roads do y’all think there are to Heaven?” I opened my mouth to answer, but she just went on. “There’s ’bout as many as there are people,” she said, “and parsons are people just like everybody else. So these parsons are on their various roads, and they can’t see around the corners any more’n the rest of us can. But the roads they’re on, these parsons feel like they’re good roads, the right roads, and maybe they is and maybe they ain’t. So when the parsons get up to preach, they preach their own journeys and act like we all ought to go the same way as them, even if we’re starting in different places. If there was to be a great gathering in Peoria, Illinois, that the whole world was going to, and you and I are starting out in Hilltop and some other folks is coming from Boise, Idaho, does it make sense for us to say to those folks, ‘Hey, y’all need to go this way’?”
“Well, it might,” I said, “if they were headed toward Walla Walla.” Sister Alma Rose laughed and twisted my nose.
Now I’ve told you [Sister Alma Rose went on] that Daddy Pete was a praying man, but we never went to church after Ma died. He knew that everybody in the county was looking out for a wife for him, an’ there weren’t no place more likely to find folks parading these prospective brides around than at church.
But there was something else, too. Daddy Pete didn’t take to Pastor Stuart, never liked him from the start. Thought he was too pious an’ spoke his sermons too somber. In fact, I’ll tell you exactly what he called Pastor Stuart: “A hoity-toity hypocrite and a sanctimonious gasbag.”
It prob’ly weren’t right, but Daddy Pete used to ape Pastor Stuart’s preaching on the way home from church and Ma would start out protesting and end up laughing so hard she told Daddy Pete to quiet up or she’d pee right there on the path.
“The Lord GAWD WEEPS for Y’ALL, my brethren,” Daddy Pete would say in Pastor Stuart’s rumbling, righteous tones. “The Lord GAWD KNOWS y’all’s transgressions, even y’all’s DEEP, DARK THOUGHTS, that bubble up in y’all from the BOWELS of HELL brought by SATAN HISSELF… [here Daddy Pete would pause and belch a great big belch like something that might bubble up from the bowels of hell]… which you believe are hidden.” He’d say these last few words real soft-like, so’s you could hardly hear. Then, all of a sudden…
“HIDDEN! WHAT, in your in-CORR-igible arrogance, do y’all deceive yourselfs can be HIDDEN from the Lord GAWD Almighty? WHITHER can y’all flee from GAWD to hide y’all’s JEALOUSY, y’all’s GREED… and… y’all’s … LUST?” He said it like “LUSSSSST,” like he was the serpent hisself.
What really got under Daddy Pete’s skin, though, was that when church was over and Pastor Stuart shook hands with the members of the congregation, he would look straight into every man’s eyes like he could see through to his soul and discover the jealousy an’ the greed an’ the lusssst a-lurking there. But the women he shook hands with, especially the young ones, he didn’t even see their faces; he was always looking at their bosoms, trance-like. Daddy Pete said he’d swear on a Bible that runnels of spit would actually escape from Pastor Stuart’s tight-lipped smile and roll down his chin, what there was of it, which wasn’t much.
We had the little chapel here at the house, and we stopped going to the Presbyterian church and started going to the Daddy Pete church. He didn’t give no sermon or nothing, he just read from the scriptures and prayed his plain-spoken prayers. Daddy Pete had been ordained as an Elder so he served communion every Sunday.
Aunt Daisy thought it was right silly to take a perfectly good loaf o’ bread and pinch pieces off it wouldn’t feed a ant, so for communion we got big homemade cinnamon rolls dripping with butter, and we washed those rolls down with fresh cold milk. “Jesus an’ them at the Last Supper, they didn’t have no puny pinch of bread and one bitty little sip o’ wine,” she’d say. “Why, you’re right as rain, Daisy,” Daddy Pete agreed.