When I was eleven years old, my father decided to place my siblings and me into a fundamentalist Christian school. It was an abrupt break from my family's traditional and more moderate protestant heritage—Methodist, Presbyterian and Southern Baptist. However, the most recent incarnation, the Southern Baptists, were going straight to hell in a hand-basket, according to my father. Only recently, the Southern Baptist church that my grandparents had attended for many years had sponsored a "foot fellowship" for teens. Various old school-marms and grannies presided over a virginal, ice-cream, punch bowl. Awkward teens in sickly-sorbet-chiffons turned out resplendent in the height of central-Kentucky glamour. I, of course, was too young to attend (even if my father was less conservative than Oliver Cromwell) but had seen the girls stream past on their way to the church, their frizzled and lacquered hair balanced precariously in arrangements that only Aqua-Net could guarantee. I was envious, knowing that I would never experience the romance and beauty of a local foot-fellowship.
My dad had raged against the local Southern Baptists from his own Southern Baptist pulpit the following Sunday morning. It was the role of god's chosen people to "come out and be separate." This certainly did not include participation in dances—which led to physical contact, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, necking, petting, a series of other indecencies which could not be named from the pulpit but which every church member could imagine on their own, and a community of unwanted, illegitimate, no-good bastards. My siblings and I sat riveted in our pews, awed by the overwhelming power of our inner, sleeping giants, our libidos. We never doubted his claims. After all, our mother, was starting the sixth year of her affair with the head deacon and had produced a child "without a drop of Shelby blood in her", my mother had informed us (and half of the Sellersburg community) one night in a typical tirade. We had seen lust in action and seen its rewards—in this case, a blue-eyed, baby girl.
During this year, the year that my dad was away at law school, returning only on weekends to preach, the affair came out. It had never been a secret from us kids. Sometimes my mom even took some of the younger kids along in the car with her when she met up with Hack; the assumption was that they would sleep in the back seat while the adults were busy in the front. This was not always the case and a couple of my siblings had strange and disturbing recollections about these meetings for years afterwards. This particular year, the year after my youngest sister was born, Hack, who was approaching sixty, was subtly attempting to dump my mother and his ill-begotten offspring. My mother, bereft of all other romance, refused to give him up. We kids would lie in our beds and hear Mom and Hack arguing far into the night, moving through entreaties to threats, shrieked curses, manipulations, make-up lies, tears and hang-ups. The long and the short of it was that Hack wanted out—his wife and grown kids and grandkids were going to find out any day now. The neighborhood gossips were talking. My mother assured him, "Fuck yeah, you cocksucker, they will!"
True to her word, the next day my mom loaded us seven kids into the wood-paneled station wagon and drove us down the local "I-Way" to Hack's house where we found him and his wife reposing in lawn-chairs under their front-yard trees. My mother parked next to the road and raced up the hill, leaving us kids huddled in the car, humiliated.
"You fucking bastard!" She screeched. "I have a baby with you!" She swiveled to face Hack's wife, Diamond.
"Yeah, that's right!" She screamed, "Did you know that? I been seeing him for six years now and we got a baby!" Us kids could feel my mother's rage from the car. She was a small woman, but a mountain woman, raised to fight for what was her own. She must have been terrifying for the elderly wife.
"Your motherfuckin' husband is trying to leave his baby! Charity is his baby! She ain't no Shelby!"
Neighbors' heads were starting to poke out doors and windows. We saw Hack's youngest pot-head son Daryl slowly emerge from the trailer where he lived parked on his father's front lawn. He carried a shotgun in his hand and was stumbling, his eyes vacuous. My oldest sister, Jenny, had seen enough. She climbed out of the car and walked homeward, a good five miles, even as country people measure it. I wanted to follow, but was worried what would happen to my youngest siblings if Daryl shot my mom. I was always lookin' after the "little kids."
Daryl had joined the group and was waving his rifle unsteadily in the air above his head.
"You best go home with your children and leave my maw alone", he told my mother in a drug-sickly voice. Daryl was usually high and my mom took this into account. She began to back away, still screaming, her voice maniacal and punctuated by ragged laughter and cackling.
"Ha, ha! You'll see, cocksucker!" she told Hack, "This'll all come back on you. God won't let you abandon your child! Mark my words, you'll burn in hell for this!"
Shortly afterwards, there would come a humiliating Sunday business meetin' at which the church membership would vote to accept my father's resignation, which he hastily tendered to avoid his certain firing. Too many people knew. My mother's performance had put things over the edge. My father did not attend church that Sunday as the church voted whether or not to sack him. It was the highest turn-out for the year. My mother, ever the trouble-maker, packed all seven of us kids into the station wagon and drove us up to the church. We hid out around the corner at the Birch Grove convenience store until voting got under way. Then she herded us down into the parking lot. Her idea was for us to stick little hand-written notes onto pivotal church members' cars. The notes quoted scripture and contained helpful little reminders such as, "God hates a tale-bearer" and "It's a sin to gossip." My mom was convinced that certain neighborhood gossips, rather than her own recent demonstration, were responsible for our ousting. After we had plastered choice cars with these missives, my mother ordered us kids to flank the church sidewalk and await the end of "business meetin'." We lined up on either side, 3 kids per side, plus mom holding Charity. She demonstrated how we should hold our arms, folded flat and belligerently across our chests. She told us to stare accusingly at various old busy-bodies when they exited the meeting. She felt this would infuse them with a proper sense of guilt proportionate to their gossiping and cruelty.
"After all," she said, "I'm a woman with seven kids and only this income to feed them."
Us kids were reluctant and excited. We had never sat in the seat of judgment before and we all had a heady sense of vindication and martyrdom. The meeting let out and the verdict was in. We had been voted out unanimously. It was a trying moment for the voting members as they were forced to exit via a gauntlet of grimacing children with my mother calling out "Gossip-mongers" to certain of the old ladies who were, no doubt, guilty.
In a strange, cruel, twist of fate, both of my father's parents would die during the next two years. His mother died as a direct result of the humiliation surrounding our family name. Shortly after the firing, my mother shunted us off on her mother-in-law to take care of—my mom was still tying up loose ends with Hack and couldn't be bothered with us snotty-nose brats. My elderly grandmother couldn't control us kids; we were dirty, we were badly-disciplined, we ran amok in the neighborhood, we raced into streets and were nearly killed by cars. Social workers showed up and harassed my grandmother who had been an upstanding member of the community her whole life; that night when recounting the tale to my father she became so upset that blood vessels in her head exploded, pitching her into a coma. She was taken to the local hospital attended only by my father, my grandfather and me; in two days she was dead. A week later we were kicked out of the church parsonage and my mother moved into my grandma's house. She forced my grandfather out of the bedroom and bed that he had shared with my grandmother for thirty years, and downstairs onto the couch. The fact that my grandmother had breathed her last conscious syllables from that bed never seemed to bother my mom. The kids ran wild over the house, breaking generation's old furniture and the collected memorabilia of my grandparent's lives. As my grandfather saw one bit of his life broken after another, as he saw my mother sleep the sleep of the innocent in his wife's death-bed, as she steadfastly refused to feed him, he took to sitting outside in the yard staring bitterly at the sky and drooling onto an old coat—no doubt asking God where he had gone wrong. He became smelly and dirty very quickly and ceased to talk to anyone but my father and me—my father because he was his son, and me to daily request that I fry up some cornbread, his only meal. One day while making his daily walk around the property avoiding my mom, he fell down and broke his hip; he died a month later, a few days before Christmas. There was simply no reason to go on living.
The death of his parents destroyed the last of my father's world and he fled deeper into his faith. He had always found the Southern Baptists too liberal and with his more moderate parents dead and buried, and his ministry in shambles, he found it easy to walk away from the mainstream protestant community and into a community of religious "outsiders", the Fundamentalist Baptists.
about the author
Anonymous is a struggling artist / musician / writer / prospective-attorney who lives in New York. She is struggling because her rent is 3x what it was in Kentucky and because she actually lived through the events portrayed in this story. In fact, she is related to most of the characters.