15: A Nice Christian Boy

15: A Nice Christian Boy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

A Nice Christian Boy

Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark… to have been loved so deeply… will give us some protection forever.

~J.K. Rowling

A nice Christian boy… my mother’s dearest wish for me, her only child. I can only imagine her distress as I reached my thirtieth year with no prospects, Christian or otherwise. Mom didn’t pressure me, only occasionally inquiring, “Have you met anyone yet?” When I did date someone, she suppressed her curiosity, asking only a few questions: Where was he from? What did he do? How did we meet? I think that’s why the one time my mother tried to fix me up is etched so clearly in my mind.

July heat filled the air as we drove to church. The sun warmed my neck as we walked down the sidewalk, up the steps to the tall, red double doors. The steeple jutted into the blue sky and the bell echoed through town, calling all to God. Growing up, I’d driven by this little church on the corner many times, but I’d never been inside.

A committed member of the Christian church in Wallowa for decades, Mom had recently changed her affiliation and joined the Presbyterian church in Lostine, nine miles up the road. Her decision surprised me, and we talked often about how much she liked her new community and the new minister, a young man with literary interests and a modern approach to the gospel. She accepted an appointment to Deacon, taking on a new leadership role. Having lost interest in church in my teens, I didn’t usually attend when I came to visit. On this trip, however, I wanted to support Mom’s enthusiasm for her new church so I accepted her invitation.

Passing through the doors, I received a program from a smiling, older woman who greeted me by name. She looked familiar, but I had been away and couldn’t recall her name. Goosebumps prickled my arms as we entered the cool sanctuary. I immediately regretted the thin fabric of my flowered dress. I envied the sweaters and shawls of the congregants scattered in small groups throughout the pews. Elderly ladies whispered to each other, looking over their shoulders to smile and wave. I wondered if everyone returning home experienced this same enthusiastic curiosity.

We joined my Aunt Ruth and cousin Linda in a center pew near the back. They had joined her in this new congregation. Linda hugged me tightly as I passed her. Ruth clasped my hand firmly as I slipped onto the cool wood between her and Mom. I jumped as the pianist and organist joined forces in the prelude, their music echoing from floor to ceiling, bouncing off the wooden pews.

With a swoosh of black robes and a gleaming white smile, David, the minister, ascended the pulpit, and I figured out my mother’s plot. Snippets of conversation filled my head… “very handsome”… “quite intelligent”… “single”… “hope we can keep him here.” The smiles. The waves. The whispering. They were all in on it. I sat, trapped like a rat, directly in eyesight of the altar, feeling like I had a target painted on my forehead.

In a strong, clear voice, David welcomed everyone, made a few opening announcements and asked for introductions and prayer requests. Cheeks flaming, I smiled tightly as my mother stood to introduce me. More smiles and waves from the crowd. Apparently oblivious to his role in the unfolding drama, David nodded in my direction, smiling warmly. A little disarmed, I realized Mom had not exaggerated his good looks… dark hair, high cheekbones, and angular features. Wishing for magical powers of invisibility, I dropped my gaze to the floor, memorizing the speckles on the carpet as my toes gripped my sandals, digging into the soft surface.

I breathed a sigh of relief as we dropped our heads in prayer. I didn’t realize that the trouble had just begun.

It started a few lines in, during the general request for relief for the sick and the tired, comfort for the poor, and food for the hungry. As David earnestly prayed for the downtrodden, he uttered the word “hungry,” and my mother’s stomach growled like a grizzly bear just waking from hibernation. I sucked in my breath, squeezed my eyes shut, and formed a prayer of my own: “Please, don’t laugh.” God deserted me in that moment. My mother too, as she clamped her hand over her mouth and started to snicker. Burying my head in my lap, hands covering my face, I tried in vain to stifle the sound. David continued to pray, although who the prayers were for now escaped me.

Aunt Ruth chuckled briefly and regained her composure. Mother quieted. Taking deep breaths, I swallowed my laughter and sat up. Maybe no one heard us? Suddenly the back of the pew began to shake, vibrating with the rhythm of a powerful laugh. Linda! The dam burst. Snickers became full-blown, belly-splitting laughter. My mother flew from her seat, escaping through a side door. Aunt Ruth’s elbow dug into my ribs in a vain attempt to silence me. Tears stung my eyes. No amount of humiliation could stop the contagion of giggling. Only the end of the prayer and the chords of the first hymn could soothe us with enough sound to cover our sin. With the singing, my mother snuck quietly back to her seat. Mortified, I looked at my family, red-eyed and tear-streaked in our complicity. David never missed a beat.

The service continued without event, but the doxology brought the knot back to my stomach. David descended the stairs, taking his place at the door to thank everyone as they left. From each corner of the room they came. Groups of gray-haired ladies in pastel sweaters, polyester suits, and flowered cotton. Patting my back, grasping my elbows, they swept me forward in a sea of good intentions. I glanced back at my mother, in my eyes a desperate plea for help. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

They deposited me in front of him, and David began to grasp the situation. As we stood face-to-face, surrounded by hopeful busybodies, his cheeks reddened. Relieved to no longer be alone in my suffering, I smiled. The sincerity of my apology for our hysteria during the prayer eased the tension, and David clasped my hand. His smile reached all the way to his eyes. We shared a laugh at our mutual embarrassment.

Mom rescued us, coming to stand by my side, thanking David for his sermon and apologizing, again, for our outburst. As they talked, I could feel the fondness and respect between them, and warmth filled my heart. Mom slipped her hand in mine as we turned to leave.

David resigned a couple of years later. I never met him again, but felt Mom’s disappointment when he left. I don’t remember his last name or know where his journey took him, but I often wonder how his path unfolded. I wonder if anyone contacted him when my mother died. I imagine he would have felt her loss deeply. Although our acquaintance was brief, he lingers in my memory as a truly nice Christian boy.

~Amelia Zahm

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