Friday, July 8, 2011
Sunday School Blues
My young life was blighted.
Our hairdresser must have previously worked for the military. Every day was a bad hair day. I wasn’t permitted long hair like most of the other girls. Mum’s excuse was that I possessed too many ‘cow licks’ and this affliction deemed I would spend my life with bad hair days and a short haircut.
I think the real reason was high maintenance manoeuvres necessary for looking after long hair on a pre-schooler were beyond her talents and patience.
Our hairdresser, while not actually using a bowl, managed to give me a bowl haircut every visit—a crooked one at that. After seeing Pollyanna, I was green with envy. I dreamed about long hair and wide hats with ribbons down the back. I wasn’t allowed a hat either.
I coped with the shame—most of the time.
While wandering with my brother in our neighbourhood, I didn’t think much about it. The kids in our street were predominately boys and my efforts to get them to play with my dolls called down scorn, even though I accommodated them by playing with their stupid cars in the dirt.
I was often referred to as ‘that cute little tomboy’ with those who said it never aware of my secret longings for lace gloves, ribbons, socks with bobbles, long hair and darling little purses.
I managed with the embarrassment until The Lord’s Day came around. They say religion changes everything.
And Sunday School was the place where I stuck out like a sore thumb. After copious begging, tears and promising to be good for the rest of my life, Mum relented and bought a purse.
There would be no compromise on the matter of hair, but it was still a victory. I was soon the proud owner of a purse I’d fallen in love with at first sight.
It was adorable. I sashayed into Sunday school swinging that purse as if I was a model with a thousand dollar designer handbag. I made a great show at offering time, when the basket went down the rows for us to donate our freewill gift to the less fortunate.
I accepted with demure grace all compliments that came my way. Oh the joy!
Pride cometh before a fall. And fall I did.
On the way to the car after the service Mum looked at me as if something was odd. This wasn’t unusual. I adopted my usual nervous chatter aimed at covering any defect that might be glaringly obvious to others, but I didn’t have a clue about.
“Where’s your purse, Linda?” asked Mum.
My heart sunk to my feet. It was gone. My stomach churned. I hopped from one foot to the other. Tears of despair flowed down my face.
At my obvious distress, Mum withheld the lecture that usually accompanied my misdemeanours. We searched the Sunday School building, the road, the church, the gutters and asked the teachers and other children.
I was in agony. Mum, who was renowned for never giving up, finally had to pat my grief stricken face and tell me we couldn’t do any more and had to go home. She would contact the church lost property office through the week.
I prayed. Knowing God was more inclined to listen to the penitent, I began with a list of my faults. This alone made for a long supplication.
I then expressed the things I was grateful for, my cat, a warm bed, food, Mummy and Daddy, oh yes, and even my brother although he tormented the life out of me.
I then promised God I would be good for the rest of my life, hoping this impressed Him more than it impressed my mother, who regarded me with dubious looks whenever I made this devout claim to her. I couldn’t really blame her scepticism, as this dramatic outburst was usually made before a particularly undesirable punishment was in the offing.
All to no avail. I grieved openly and without restraint, throwing myself on my bed. This was something new for me, and Mum was confused by this outpouring of emotion. After much contrition on my part and dire warning on hers, she bought another purse.
It was far less ostentatious. I bravely hid my disappointment. I would not throw a tantrum. My one and only attempt at tantrum-throwing brought such a swift and undesirable reaction from my father I’d vowed never to repeat the performance.
I grovelled with gratitude, promising I’d never let it out of my sight. It was only for church; surely I could keep track of it for a few hours a week. But no. The same scenario was repeated the following week. Mum’s patience began to wear thin.
“How the blazes can you lose something in such a short time?”
I was as puzzled as she. The harder I tried to remember, the more anxious I became. The more anxious I became, the less I remembered. Disastrously the pattern continued until I was a nervous wreck and Mum had had enough.
“You don’t deserve a blooming purse if you can’t keep track of it,” she said, upon arriving ‘at the end of her tether’. I hung my head. I deserved no less.
This left the problem of where to carry the offering. I was inclined to forgo the offering basket, but this opinion was not shared by my mother.
I was exhorted to think of the less fortunate. I was not inclined to do so. In my opinion I was The Less Fortunate.
Besides, God had not been forthcoming with helping me find my purses—find my memory, or find any possible thieves who were preying on me (one of my more imaginative scenarios).
My ever practical mother came up with an ideal solution.
Ideal for her.
She tied my offering coins in one of Dad’s handkerchiefs and safety-pinned it to the front of my dress for the world to see. Whether she thought humiliation would stimulate my brain, or was simply solving a problem still mystifies me.
So there I was; social leper, with a dodgy haircut, no ribbons or bobbled socks, adorned with Dad’s handkerchief and an ugly safety pin.
No matter how strange fashion trends become, this look will never be adopted by any group—Grunge, Goth or otherwise.
Even at four I knew this.
If you haven’t already discovered this fact, one of the hardest things to do in a hurry is untie the knot in a handkerchief while the offering basket is approaching ever nearer.
Of course the usual nervous memory lapse didn’t help, so my last minute panic was seen and snickered at by all.
After this happened a few times I went from humiliation to anger. While walking to the car listening to Mum and Dad bask in the spiritual afterglow of a particularly stirring sermon, I kicked pebbles with the zeal that was missing from my Christian experience.
“Stop that, Linda. You’ll ruin your shoes,” said Mum.
“I suppose you’ll make me wear Dad’s slippers then!”
“Don’t give your mother cheek,” said Dad. But I caught the glimmer of a curve on his lip. I slowed down and walked a few meters behind them, dragging my feet.
“Keep that up and we’ll have a talk at home,” said Mum.
“I’m not wearing Dad’s stinking handkerchief again!” I blustered defiantly.
“Oh yes you will!” hissed Mum.
“I wish I was a kangaroo with a pouch!”