My brother and I spent most of our childhood nestled in the bosom of country living, nurtured by the slow, seductive pace of the South. Thinking back on those days elicits fond memories as we had the rare privilege of being immersed in a lifestyle that was a throwback to earlier times. Times when everybody in every out-of-the-way berg knew everybody else and everyone knew each other by first name. If the town had a church everybody knew the pastor and his family, especially his children, A.K.A. the preacher’s kids.
I was one of those A.K.A. children.
In my own defense I wasn’t born a preacher’s kid. But when my father chose the church as a newfound career I was forced to learn the ropes. I often wondered why my dad chose the work of God over other career paths. When I think about his life I now realize things never came easy for the man. He spent time as a merchant marine; worked at various low wage jobs and when the factory job he landed years after I was born blew up — the factory where he worked literally blew up — I guess my father believed he’d tempted fate far too many times.
That’s when he offered the family and the world an outward proclamation of faith and spent years dragging us from church to church to church. Being suddenly forced to present a pious image to those congregations of followers damned near killed me. I wasn’t pious and at that age I sure as hell didn’t understand or care to understand religion and faith.
I was a rambunctious wild child hungry to enjoy the best life had to offer. Each time we moved to a new town and met a new set of parishioners — who by the way, were strangely similar to the ones in the town we’d just left — this new destination became my oyster.
It soon became my mission, my single purpose in life, to cultivate all the pearls I could and I learned to cultivate with a passion.
But cultivating pearls is hard work, and some of those deep dives for the prize often come with brutal consequences.
There were days when I was on the receiving end of a razor strap wielded by my dad. I guess he was trying to beat some sense into me while at the same time doing his best to beat the devil out of me.
Oh, back then the devil was in me for sure.
If she were alive my grandmother would attest to it. I remember her once proclaiming I was the spawn of Satan as she ripped a tee shirt off my back. In my own defense I was trying to get the hell away from her because I refused to stand there and listen to her preach.
Despite the religious strife I was immersed in, country living was about as awesome as it could get and I discovered there were hundreds of oysters to crack and pearls to cultivate. Okay, let me describe it another way. My brother and I enjoyed slow and easy, laid back country living, and we raised all kinds of hell when we could.
We were preacher’s kids remember? About as far from sainthood as you could possibly get.
We rode horses, worked cattle, hauled hay, drove tractors, picked cotton, fished (and swam) in tanks and ponds, hunted squirrels, and rabbits and doves. We hung out at the local Dairy Queen when the town had one or spent nights sitting in front of a roaring fire and running trot lines.
It was glorious and wonderful, but then each week our trips to wonderland ended when Sunday reared its ugly head. Sunday was a day we had to be good little preacher’s kids. It stunk to high heaven but my brother and I learned the drill pretty quick. Aside from the weekly intrusion into our hellraising, life was good, unexpectedly good.
That is, until dear old dad introduced us to another insidious method for torturing children.
Brush arbor revivals.
And they usually lasted an entire week.
It was a week of soul collecting beneath the boughs of hastily constructed, open air houses of God. Preachers would come from all around and pound the portable pulpits while we the insufferable, pious (but not really) preacher’s kids swatted mosquitoes and squirmed in uncomfortable folding chairs in the front row. No slipping out the back unseen oh no! We were on display to all the heathens in the congregation. We small, hapless children had been blessed by God and even in our tender years we had the faith.
Step on up you sinners. If mere children can see and embrace the light of God surely you can.
Night after night we were forced to endure the sermonizing and the begging. We had to swat mosquitoes bigger than a Piper Cub and squirm while sweat trickled down our face and pastors tried to coax a congregation of sinners to the podium. We were forced to listen to terribly off- key songs rendered acapella by a collection of geriatrics whose hearing aid batteries had died.
As I said, it was another insidious method for torturing children.
As the week wore on competition between the gaggle of pastors heightened. They all were keeping score.
“So far Harold I have four souls. How many do you have?”
“I got two the first night, but the week ain’t over yet.”
When Friday night finally rolled around the brush arbor revival was finished. The last supplication was offered and just maybe, the last soul was saved. The issuance of that final prayer was an announcement of freedom for all the A.K.A. children. We were free, free at last, free to run in the fields next to the arbor, free to chase lightening bugs and moths and just about anything more scared of us than we were of it. We were not only celebrating the end of our servitude we were celebrating the fact that the following day would be Saturday. We were celebrating the fact that on Saturdays we could forget we were A.K.A. children.
Trust me I had no problem with Saturday.
I spent my Saturdays doing what a wild child does; letting my joie de vivre pour out with reckless abandon. I hurtled through life with an urgent desire to soak up as much as I could. I knew there was little time to waste. There were so many oysters to open and pearls to retrieve.
I knew soon enough the time would come when my father packed us up and hauled us to another no-name town, another congregation, more brush arbor revivals, more sweat, more mosquitoes and more sinners.
Oh, and let’s not forget the Sundays each week. Unfortunately, my father never did.
P.G Barnett is the author of the Gifter’s Ring series. His works, A Balance of Evil, Return of the Brethren and The Power of the Three are available for purchase. You can view comments on his blog at pgbarnett.com