Some time ago, a couple of my dear friends asked me to write down a few of the stories that I have told them over the years about my friends and family which they found amusing. I’ll be posting a new story each week for your entertainment. I only hope they’ll read as well as the telling.
When I was living in Oak Park, Illinois, there was a blond girl, whom I’ll call Candice, in my third grade class who went about recruiting children to join her church. Why my atheist parents consented to let me attend is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps it was because my communist father, who had been a party member in Yugoslavia, had to prove to our assigned FBI agent that he was a reformed man although statements such as, ‘History will vindicate Stalin’, often gave him away.
In any case, as the resident foreign weirdo I was thrilled to be asked to any event at all and jumped at the opportunity to go. So every Tuesday evening, Candice’s mother would pick all the kids up in what resembled a white ice cream truck but must have been a sort of proto-SUV.
Inside of the church, which was terribly plain to my eyes and bereft of icons, incense and chanting, the accouterments of my grandparents’ nominal religion, Eastern Orthodoxy, we listened to thunderous sermons of doom and gloom. The preacher’s stormy countenance was only slightly altered for the better when we joined in to sing hymns such as—What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
After the first evening, I was disabused of any romantic notions I may have had concerning American Christianity. Afterward however, we were herded down to the basement, where to my great delight, we indulged in my then twin passions, eating cookies and painting.
Each child was given a wonderful plaster plaque with a Biblical verse inscribed on it in the form of a scroll surrounded by grapes, flowers, various birds and insects, which we were to paint. While our finished work was being judged by a committee of adults, we were given three incredibly large, delicious cookies filled with chocolate chips, the likes of which I had never seen before, since my mother did not allow her children to eat sweets beyond an occasional ice cream cone.
When we finished our cookies and KOOL-Aid, another novelty, prizes were handed out for the best plaque. Try as I might, I never won and only once received honorable mention. I vowed that I would change all that, convinced as I was, that my ability as a colorist was far superior to the winners’. But I never got the opportunity since I inadvertently let it slip that I was attending church primarily because of the cookies.
Candice, enraged at my lack of piety, kicked me out of the group in front of the whole class, as only a virtuous Christian could.