After moving to Texas in 1981, my family spent some time shopping for a church. One day we visited a church at Big Springs Elementary called Concordia Lutheran. They had recently graduated from holding services in a local steakhouse to the school. It was a piece-meal operation every Sunday; chairs blocking off the hallways served as classrooms and we had “runners” every Sunday fleeing from the children’s room because chairs are not a fool-proof method for corralling youngsters. There was a no microphone, no projector and no big screens. Just a podium and some chairs. Oh, and we used the school’s piano to lead us through the hymns in the red hymnal (all you Lutherans out there will know what I’m talking about!). I was four, so I didn’t understand all the reasons that lead my parents to eventually choose Concordia Lutheran to be our church. In fact, I can remember them asking my sisters and me what we thought about the churches we had visited and I recall saying that I liked the Methodist church because they had a real classroom. Alas, I got trumped on that decision…and I’m really glad I did!
Concordia Lutheran ended up being our second family throughout my entire childhood. My parents were members of one small group the whole time we went there. My dad was an usher and spent his Saturdays mowing the grass and cleaning up the property before church on Sunday. My mom was a member of the Lutheran Women’s Mission League, organized church camp outs, cooked for the bi-monthly potluck lunches, and was a faithful member of the prayer chain. My sisters and I religiously (get it?) attended Sunday school so we could collect our perfect attendance stamps to put in our Lutheran Church Extension Fund books. We also had a firm allegiance to our youth groups all the way through our high school years. That church knew how to create community and was never lacking in opportunities to be together.
My mom, always the go-getter who never did any thing half way liked to keep the members of Concordia guessing about what she might do next.
Our pastor had a tendency to be a little long winded during his sermons. He always apologized but never really changed his ways. My mom, being a joker, told him that she was going to set an alarm one Sunday to help him wrap it up. He chuckled at her elbowing, “oh Vonnie…you wouldn’t!” But she did! The next Sunday, she brought her little travel alarm clock and thirty minutes into his sermon it rang. Blushing, he wagged his finger in her direction with a smile on his face and wrapped it up. I wish I could say that did the trick for his ramblings, but for that one Sunday, we made it out of there before the Baptists overtook Luby’s.
And like any small church, we had an annual talent show. My mom signed up to be the emcee that night. She could have, like any normal person, just stood at the front and simply introduced each act as they came on. But nooooooo! She decided to dress up like Cindy Lauper and sing each introduction while the audience hysterically laughed in disbelief. She hauled her organ to the church, set it up on the far left of the stage and played one or two chords while singing her made up songs. And, of course, she had on an orange, sparkle wig, fish net stockings, fingerless gloves that went up to her elbows, painted Lee Press-On nails, and the most over-the-top blue eye shadow and red lipstick you’ve ever seen! This was the complete antithesis of my mom. She typically sported SAS shoes, button down shirts and polyester pants, short hair and no make-up. But, for that one night…she was Cindy Lauper…and it was fabulous!
My favorite church memory of my mom, by far, was the time she dressed up as a trash man/gorilla for the Halloween party. I remember she dropped me and my sisters off at the church that night with some story about how she had to work, or something, and couldn’t join us. So we were on our own, off to explore the many homemade booths and games at our church Halloween carnival. Somewhere between counting how many little girls had dressed up like Mary, mother of Jesus, and winning yet another whole cake in the cake walk, I saw this big, gorilla-type figure show up to the party. It had the face of a gorilla but it’s whole body was covered in stuffed trash bags…and it refused to speak. All the adults volunteering at the party were dumbfounded by this unexpected guest. They all took turns walking up to it to whisper guesses of who it might be. It was during my fifth round at fishing for prizes that I put the puzzle pieces together of who the mystery guest was and with both horror and amusement, I smiled, because it was my mom.
She was the “fun mom” before that term ever existed. Always up to something and unassumingly funny.
I realized recently that I am repeating my mom’s approach to motherhood 35 years later. I love being able to surprise my son with adventures and making mundane life experiences exciting. I’m pretty sure I suggest we get snow cones more than he does and will jump at any opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. That’s what I remember about the mom of my childhood and I hope it’s what my kiddo remembers about his.
Being different isn’t a bad thing. It means you’re brave enough to be yourself.
– Denyelle Nelson