This time of year always reminds me of my Grandpap. He passed away on April 9, 1999, and for the rest of my life, Good Friday will be about Grandpap’s death instead of Jesus’s death. On top of that, my grandma’s voice, Grandpap’s wife, is particularly strong in my ear this time of year. The threat of spending eternity in purgatory is not enough to get me to stop eating meat on Fridays during lent, but the fear that my grandma’s ghost will come back to beat me with the wooden spoon if I partake of a medium rare sirloin is enough to make me take up a diet of cheese pizza on Friday.
So am I being a good Christian girl or am I listening to my elders?
Indubitably, it’s the second one.
When I was a young girl, I was the pianist at our church. We went to a small Methodist church in Upstate New York. The aisle blazed with orange shag carpet, and the simple wood cross at the front of the church was replaced with a triumphant display of indistinguishable stain glass. And first, it was Pastor Stan, with a comb over to rival Donald Trump’s do and pants that must have been continuously pulling towards his feet for as much as he yanked them back up. Then there was Pastor Theva. Theva taught me one of my most important lessons about religion. The fact that more than one exists. He seemed to say, “Hey, this is what I believe in, but there are all of these other things. Believe what you will. Want to go to a bat-mitzvah?”
And we did. Go to the bat-mitzvah.
But sometimes in a weekend, I would play at four different services. By the time I was sixteen, I was churched out. I had listened to enough sermons to be able to coach even the most timid pastor into standing up on the orange shag encrusted pulpit and delivering the Sermon on the Mound from his three sheets of scribbled jibberish. And I was done.
Here came a rocky period in my life when I felt guilty for not going to church, because I’d gone every weekend for my young adult life. But when I stopped to think about why I was feeling guilty, I could only think of what Grandma Irene would say if she knew. Grandma died in 2000, so the possibility of her ghost haunting me was a very real fear. But it wasn’t about receiving God’s favor or being a good Christian that I was concerned with. It was being a good granddaughter.
So then, what was religion to me if not a sort of grandparents religion?
Now at the ripe old age of 28, I’ve learned a great deal more than my confused 18 year old self. I know the difference between what Grandpap and Irene were trying to teach me and what going to church meant. And I’m sad at times to say that the difference is greater now with the evolution of the church as an organization.
But Grandpap taught me to reflect on what is there and what is not. Grandma taught me to give it all up to that which is greater than us. And Mom taught me how to pray.